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For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor, 540-604
Best known in this age, perhaps, for the chants that take his name, Pope Gregory contributed much to the Church besides a music form. Born and raised in a patrician family at a time when the Roman Empire was disintegrating, Gregory received the best education available in Rome and began his career as a public official. At the age of thirty, the Lombard invasion came alarmingly near Rome. Gregory, who was then prefect of Rome, the highest civil office in the city, showed some of the wisdom and leadership that were to characterize him later and helped to avert the invasion.
Gregory felt a higher calling, however, and eventually left civil service to devote himself to God. Though he was one of the richest men in Rome, Gregory gave up his wealth to turn his house into a monastery under the patronage of St. Andrew. Shortly after, the pope ordained him as a deacon and sent him as ambassador to the emperor’s court in Constantinople.
Recalled to Rome in about 586, Gregory returned to his monastic life and was soon elected abbot of his community. In 590, a terrible plague hit Rome and among its victims was the pope. Gregory was immediately and unanimously elected pope, and consecrated pope on September 3, 590.
Soon after becoming pope, Gregory wrote the Regula Pastoralis, a work that addresses the office of a bishop. In it, he declared that a bishop should, first and foremost, be a physician of souls whose chief duties are preaching and the enforcement of discipline. The work was an immediate success and for hundreds of years provided the guidance for the pastoral mission of a bishop.
In temporal affairs as well, Gregory filled a huge void. The Lombards had continued their aggressive moves into Italy and no help was forthcoming from Constantinople. When, in 593, they reached the gates of Rome, it was not the prefect or the military that went out to meet them, but Pope Gregory. The pope persuaded the Lombard king to withdraw his army. Some years later, when his efforts to affect a settlement between the emperor and the Lombards failed, Gregory negotiated his own treaty with the Lombard king which finally left Rome and its surrounding districts in peace and, effectively, no longer under the Byzantine emperor.
As pope, Gregory introduced many reforms in the Church, and preached often on the scriptural readings of the day. Many of his homilies still exist. In addition to the many sermons and letters that he wrote, in 593, he published Dialogues, a collection of tales of visions, prophecies, and miracles gathered from oral tradition. This was one of the most popular books of the middle ages.
Gregory was an ideal landlord according to Alban Butler. He directed his overseers to treat his vassals and farmers with charity, advancing money to those in need. In turn, his tenants flourished and were content and money flowed into the papal coffers. His many charitable gifts saved multitudes from starvation in these stressful times.
Gregory was canonized a saint by acclamation almost immediately after his death. For all of his works, only a few of which have been mentioned here, he has been called St. Gregory the Great. He is the patron of singers. We celebrate his memorial on the anniversary of the date on which he was consecrated as pope, September 3.
Gregory's message today: Gregory would have preferred the quietude of the monastic life. Having given him many talents, God had other plans for Gregory. Sometimes we are called upon to minister in ways that are not ones which we would choose for ourselves. If this is what God is calling us to do, we must respond with our best efforts just a Gregory did.