Pope Saint Gregory 1 was born at Rome about the year 540, the son of a celebrated and wealthy family that had given two popes to the church – Felix III (483-492) and Agapitus (535-536). Early in life he held political office in Rome, and seemed to have a brilliant secular career before him. He had long wrestled inwardly, however, with the problems of the evangelical counsels and of the citizen of the City of God as a resident in the secular city.
Finally, he renounced all his worldly aspirations, sold his inherited possessions, the proceeds of which he distributed to the poor and otherwise used for the building of seven Monasteries, six on his family’s estates in Sicily and the seventh, dedicated to the patronage to St. Andrew, in his parental home in Rome. Here in his seventh monastery on mount Celio he himself resided as a monk, practicing the rule of St. Benedict in such austerity that he destroyed and endangered his very life. Yet, in his later years he looked back in nostalgic sorrow to his monastic years as a happiest of his life.
Gregory had spent only a comparatively short time in his monastic retreat when he called upon by Pope Benedict I(574-578)to serve him as regional Deacon. Under Benedict’s successor, Pope Pelagius II, Gregory was made, in 579, Appocrisarius an ambassador of sorts, to the Constantinopolitan court of the emperor Tiberius II. Only in 585 was Gregory able to return his monastery, where he soon he was made abbot.
When Pope Pelagius died of plague in February 590, Gregory was called to succeed him by the unanimous vote and acclaim of the Roman clergy, senate, and people. He sought to escape so burdensome an office, but was finally consecrated on September 3, 590.
Gregory was Bishop of Rome for fourteen years. Only two Popes are given the title “the great”: Leo I, his predecessor of a century and a half, and Gregory himself. It was Gregory who led antiquity into the middle ages, and he who laid the foundations of the medieval papacy that governed the Western world after the calamitous wars and invasions that completed the fall of the Western empire in the sixth century. His excessive fasting undermined his health and brought on the stomach trouble that remained a life long trial for him.
Gregory as a writer
In speaking of the letters of Gregory the great it is necessary to distinguish the terms regesta and registrum. A regesta is a calendar or catalogue of letters, summarizing their content. We have many of such letters. Among them belongs the letter of Philip Jaffe. The name of the work is Regesta Pontificum Romanorum. A registrum is an ordered archival copy of letters in full; and Gregory the Great is the first Pope to have kept a registrum of his letters.we mention about his letters because there are 854 preserved.
The fourteen books of Gregories letters are a source of information of the first order for his pontificate. They deal with the church, the emperor, the Bishop the monasticism and the missionary and the social aspects of the church, and are a rich source for an understanding of the Theology, Liturgy, Psychology, History and Sociology of the age. The letters reveal Gregory as a capable administrator and throw light on his as it was applied to particular persons and situations. Most of all, they reveal Gregory with his accomplishments and failures, his talents and limitations; they portray the 6th century Roman who became the saintly man of God. Gregory’s letters furnish the best evidence for the validity of the judgment of history in according him the title “Great.”
b. SCRIPTURAL HOMILIES
Gregory’s text book was the Bible, and many of his writings are scriptural homilies or conferences. The forty homilies on the gospel, delivered in 590 to 591, shows the importance of the homily in the liturgical celebrations of Sundays and feasts. These are pastoral talks in which he often introduces stories to make the doctrine graphic. Historical conditions in which he lived, with war and plagues as constant, explains his stress on the end of the world, death, hell, and heaven. His aim was to have the people constantly ready to meet their judge.
Gregory’s longest work is the Book of Moral. This is an exposition to the book of Job. Begun as conferences to the monks when Gregory was in Constantinople, the work grew to 35 books.
HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE OF POPE Gregory THE GREAT
The influence of Gregory began in his own life time because; his letters and writings were circulated widely in the east and the west. By his position as a bridge between the ancient and the medieval world, Gregory was an instigator of the Anglo-Saxon and the Carolingian culture. The Benedictines looked to Gregory as their own and gave his works world wide diffusion. To the Middle Ages he was the mouth piece of the Christian way of life and was a first class authority in moral, essential, and mystical theology. In moral theology Gregory is the most frequently cited of the latin Fathers. In 242 articles of the second part of the Summa theologia St. Thomas Aquinas cited him 374 times.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF POPE GREGORY THE GREAT
He affirmed the primacy of Rome
He could win the favor of the emperor and the people when he intervene to protect Italy from the attack of Lemborts. The Roman emperor was sure to lose the war with them therefore the emperor requested Gregory the great to have a dialogue with the Lembore to make peace treaty. Pope Gregory could influence them and save the kingdom from great war
Pope Gregory also won the heart of people by distributing the wealth of the church to the poor during a famine. In return the people began to love the church.
Pope paid a special attention to preach the gospel among the gentiles and made many changes in the liturgy. He published a new missal and composed a special music for liturgy which is called the Gregorian Chant.
He insisted the importance of the Eucharist and promoted the mass intention for living and the dead. Besides he also promoted the veneration of the saints and their relics.
He taught the baptism would wipe away the original sin and also other sins are forgiven in confession.
Gregory also confirmed the teaching on purgatory. He explained it as a particular period of purification before the final judgment.
The representation of Gregory in art continues a tradition widespread in the middle Ages that he received his teachings directly from the Holy Spirit. He is usually pictured aswriting or dictating to Peter the Deacon, with a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, resting on his head, and its beak in his mouth. Peter the Deacon of Rome affirmed that he saw this happen. A passage in Gregory’s homilies on Ezechiel supplied a further basis for this tradition. He said there that often the meaning of a scriptural text came to him while he was actually preaching, that God gave it to him for the sake of the people, and that himself was learning while he was teaching.
Bro. Joseph T Felix
1. Jurgens, A. William, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol.3, Bangalore, Theological Publications in India, 1984.
2. Rush, C.A, “Gregory, The Great,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol 6, USA, The Catholic University Press, 1967.
3. Thomas, Peter, Lecture on Church History, 22 Junn.