#64 - Pope St. Gregory the Great
Pope from September 3, 590 - March 12, 604 A.D.
Died: March 12, 604 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Gregory.
Born to an aristocratic Roman family around 540, St. Gregory was a public servant into his thirties, then retired to be a monk. He was a fan of the great St. Benedict, devoting a whole book to the saint's life and miracles, and encouraged the spread of monastic life during his papacy. Pope Pelagius II called Gregory away from his life of solitude in order to serve as papal nuncio in Constantinople. After the pope’s sudden death from the plague, Gregory was elected on February 3, 590 and reluctantly accepted.
As pope, he kept a seemingly infinite number of plates spinning at once. It was Gregory who is owed thanks for spreading the faith in England -- he sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and companions there as evangelists -- and for keeping the faith alive among the Franks (ancestors of the French). He combatted the emperor on several new laws, but made sure to approach each situation with proper humility: as a loyal subject rather than a man on equal footing. Due to the depleted infrastructure in Rome by that time, Gregory was tasked with handling everything from feeding Rome’s poor, to managing the vast amounts of property owned by the Church, to rebuilding aqueducts and discussing the most profitable ways to use cattle. A meticulous and generous man, he left the Church in far better shape than he found it, hence his title, “The Great.”
St. Gregory, now recognized as a Doctor of the Church, died on March 12, 604. He was acclaimed as a saint almost immediately. His feast day is celebrated September 3 in the Latin (Western) Church and March 12 in the Eastern, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches.
What was he known for?
St. Gregory the Great was perhaps most known for being a great writer and teacher, having authored four books, several sermons, and over 850 letters that still survive to this day. Here are some quotes from this great saint:
“Have confidence in the compassion of our Creator. Reflect well on what you are now doing, and keep before you the things you have done. Lift up your eyes to the overflowing compassion of heaven, and while He waits for you, draw near in tears to our merciful Judge.”
“No one does more harm in the Church than he who has the title or rank of holiness and acts perversely.”
"If we knew at what time we were to depart from this world, we would be able to select a season for pleasure and another for repentance. But God, who has promised pardon to every repentant sinner, has not promised us tomorrow. Therefore we must always dread the final day, which we can never foresee. This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion.”
St. Gregory’s fingerprints are all over several liturgical customs that still exist today. The Our Father’s current placement in the Mass, various prayers recited according to liturgical season, and some additions to the Roman Canon all originated from him. Gregorian Chant, though it bears his name, perhaps only came from Gregory in seed form; the first appearance of that attribution appeared nearly three centuries after Gregory’s death.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 597, The King’s School was founded in Canterbury, England. Begun by St. Augustine and his Benedictine brothers and still in operation today, it’s believed to be the oldest continuously-operating school in the world.
Coming Monday....Pope Sabinian
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Gregory I (“the Great”) -
Pope Gregory I -
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St. Gregory the Great
on Friday, March 29 at 2:00AM