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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Rulers > Gregory the Great


Gregory the Great
"Servant of the Servants of God"
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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Gregory the Great
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"Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable."

Gregory, before he became pope, happened to see some Anglo-Saxon slaves for sale in a Roman marketplace. He asked about the race of the remarkable blond men and was told they were "Anglos." "Not Anglos, but angels," he was said to reply. As a result, it is said, Gregory was later inspired to send missionaries to England.

Timeline

500

Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite writes

524

Boethius completes Consolation of Philosophy

529

Justinian publishes his legal Code

540

Gregory born

604

Gregory dies

622

Muhammad's hegira: birth of Islam

Though apocryphal, the story shows a devout Gregory concerned about the spread of Christian faith. But this was but one facet of Gregory's extraordinary talent and energies.

Noble beginning

Gregory was descended from Roman nobles with a strong legacy of Christian faith. He was related to two previous popes (Felix III and Agapitus I), his aunts were nuns, and his parents joined cloisters in their later years. He was raised in Rome when it was only a shell of its former glory.

By the age of 30, he was the chief administrative official of the city, responsible for finances, police, provisioning, and public works—an experience that helped him hone his administrative skills and, together with his personal wecaptionh, gave him the opportunity to create six monasteries.

Yet Gregory remained dissatisfied, and upon his father's death in 574, he converted his house into a monastery and retired to a life of contemplation and prayer. During these years, the happiest in Gregory's life, he began a detailed study of the Scriptures. Here he also ruined his health with fasting, a sacrifice that would precipitate his early death.

Called again to service

His administrative skills did not remain unappreciated. In 577 Pope Benedict appointed Gregory one of the seven deacons of Rome, and Pope Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople in 578 as representative to the imperial court, then later recalled him to serve as his confidential adviser.

In 589 a flood destroyed the grain reserves of Rome, instigating a famine and then a plague that swept through Rome and killed Pope Pelagius. Gregory was elected to succeed him. Though he had tried to refuse the office, once elected, he went to work with vigor.

To deal with the famine, Gregory instituted a city-wide penance, fed people from the church's granaries, and organized systematic relief for the poor.

Gregory then set himself reforming the church. He removed high officials "for pride and misdeeds," enforced celibacy, replaced lay officers with monks, and initiated a reorganization of "the patrimony of Peter," the vast land holdings of the church. The efficient and humane management of these estates brought in the revenue necessary to run the church as well as perform tasks the imperial government was neglecting.

An attack by the Lombard invaders in 592 and the inaction of the imperial representative forced Gregory to negotiate an end to the siege of Rome. When the imperial representative broke the truce in 593, Gregory purchased a separate peace treaty with tributes from the church coffers. By this time in Roman history, the pope had become the unofficial civil ruler of Italy, appointing generals, arranging relief, rallying cities to the defense, and paying the salaries of soldiers.

Pastoral care

Gregory also was actively concerned about the work of priests. He wrote a book of instruction for bishops, On Pastoral Care, in which he wrote, "Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable." It became a manual for holy life throughout the Middle Ages.




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