Pope Gregory I

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Gregory I
Bishop of Rome
Pope Gregory I.jpg
Pope Gregory I in modern illustration of illuminated manuscript style, depicted in likely vestments of the early medieval era
Church Catholic Church
Diocese Diocese of Rome
See Holy See
Papacy began3 September 590
Papacy ended12 March 604
Predecessor Pelagius II
Successor Sabinian
Consecration3 September 590
Personal details
Birth nameGregorius Anicius
Rome, Eastern Roman Empire
Died(604-03-12)12 March 604 (aged 64)
Rome, Eastern Roman Empire
Buried St. Peter's Basilica (1606)
ParentsGordianus and Silvia
Feast day
Venerated in
PatronageMusicians, singers, students, and teachers
Other popes named Gregory

Pope Gregory I (Latin : Gregorius I; c.540 – 12 March 604), commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was the bishop of Rome from 3 September 590 to his death. [1] He is known for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, the Gregorian Mission, to convert the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons in England to Christianity. [2] Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope. [3] The epithet Saint Gregory the Dialogist has been attached to him in Eastern Christianity because of his Dialogues. English translations of Eastern texts sometimes list him as Gregory "Dialogos", or the Anglo-Latinate equivalent "Dialogus". [4]


A Roman senator's son and himself the prefect of Rome at 30, Gregory tried living in a monastery but soon returned to active public life, ending his career and the century as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator. During his papacy, he greatly surpassed with his administration the emperors in improving the welfare of the people of Rome, and he challenged the theological views of Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople before the emperor Tiberius II. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France and sent missionaries to England, including Augustine of Canterbury and Paulinus of York. The realignment of barbarian allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory saw Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths align with Rome in religion. He also combated the Donatist heresy, popular particularly in North Africa at the time. [4]

Throughout the Middle Ages, he was known as "the Father of Christian Worship" because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day. [5] His contributions to the development of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, still in use in the Byzantine Rite, were so significant that he is generally recognized as its de facto author.

Gregory is one of the Latin Fathers and a Doctor of the Church. [6] He is considered a saint in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and various Lutheran denominations and other Protestant denominations. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. [7] The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory greatly, and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good Pope. [8] [9] He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers. [10]

Early life

The exact date of Gregory's birth is uncertain but is usually estimated to be around the year 540, [11] in the city of Rome, then recently reconquered by the Eastern Roman Empire from the Ostrogoths. His parents named him Gregorius, which according to Ælfric of Abingdon in An Homily on the Birth-Day of S. Gregory, "... is a Greek Name [sic], which signifies in the Latin Tongue, Vigilantius, that is in English, Watchful...." [12] The medieval writer who provided this etymology [13] did not hesitate to apply it to the life of Gregory. Ælfric states, "He was very diligent in God's Commandments." [14]

Gregory was born into a wealthy noble Roman family with close connections to the church. His father, Gordianus, a patrician [15] who served as a senator and for a time was the Prefect of the City of Rome, [16] also held the position of Regionarius in the church, though nothing further is known about that position. Gregory's mother, Silvia, was well-born, and had a married sister, Pateria, in Sicily. His mother and two paternal aunts are honored by Catholic and Orthodox churches as saints. [16] [4] Gregory's great-great-grandfather had been Pope Felix III, [17] the nominee of the Gothic king, Theodoric. [18] Gregory's election to the throne of St Peter made his family the most distinguished clerical dynasty of the period. [19]

The family owned and resided in a villa suburbana on the Caelian Hill, fronting the same street (now the Via di San Gregorio) as the former palaces of the Roman emperors on the Palatine Hill opposite. The north of the street runs into the Colosseum; the south, the Circus Maximus. In Gregory's day the ancient buildings were in ruins and were privately owned. [20] Villas covered the area. Gregory's family also owned working estates in Sicily [21] and around Rome. [22] Gregory later had portraits done in fresco in their former home on the Caelian and these were described 300 years later by John the Deacon. Gordianus was tall with a long face and light eyes. He wore a beard. Silvia was tall, had a round face, blue eyes and a cheerful look. They had another son whose name and fate are unknown. [23]

Gregory was born into a period of upheaval in Italy. From 542 the so-called Plague of Justinian swept through the provinces of the empire, including Italy. The plague caused famine, panic, and sometimes rioting. In some parts of the country, over a third of the population was wiped out or destroyed, with heavy spiritual and emotional effects on the people of the Empire. [24] Politically, although the Western Roman Empire had long since vanished in favor of the Gothic kings of Italy, during the 540s Italy was gradually retaken from the Goths by Justinian I, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire ruling from Constantinople. As the fighting was mainly in the north, the young Gregory probably saw little of it. Totila sacked and vacated Rome in 546, destroying most of its population, but in 549 he invited those who were still alive to return to the empty and ruined streets. It has been hypothesized that young Gregory and his parents retired during that intermission to their Sicilian estates, to return in 549. [25] The war was over in Rome by 552, and a subsequent invasion of the Franks was defeated in 554. After that, there was peace in Italy, and the appearance of restoration, except that the central government now resided in Constantinople.

Like most young men of his position in Roman society, Gregory was well educated, learning grammar, rhetoric, the sciences, literature, and law; he excelled in all these fields. [16] Gregory of Tours reported that "in grammar, dialectic and rhetoric ... he was second to none...." [26] He wrote correct Latin but did not read or write Greek. He knew Latin authors, natural science, history, mathematics and music and had such a "fluency with imperial law" that he may have trained in it "as a preparation for a career in public life". [26] Indeed, he became a government official, advancing quickly in rank to become, like his father, Prefect of Rome, the highest civil office in the city, when only thirty-three years old. [16]

The monks of the Monastery of St. Andrew, established by Gregory at the ancestral home on the Caelian, had a portrait of him made after his death, which John the Deacon also saw in the 9th century. He reports the picture of a man who was "rather bald" and had a "tawny" beard like his father's and a face that was intermediate in shape between his mother's and father's. The hair that he had on the sides was long and carefully curled. His nose was "thin and straight" and "slightly aquiline". "His forehead was high." He had thick, "subdivided" lips and a chin "of a comely prominence" and "beautiful hands". [27]

In the modern era, Gregory is often depicted as a man at the border, poised between the Roman and Germanic worlds, between East and West, and above all, perhaps, between the ancient and medieval epochs. [28]

Monastic years

On his father's death, Gregory converted his family villa into a monastery dedicated to Andrew the Apostle (after his death it was rededicated as San Gregorio Magno al Celio). In his life of contemplation, Gregory concluded that "in that silence of the heart, while we keep watch within through contemplation, we are as if asleep to all things that are without.". [29]

Gregory had a deep respect for the monastic life and particularly the vow of poverty. Thus, when it came to light that a monk lying on his death bed had stolen three gold pieces, Gregory, as a remedial punishment, forced the monk to die alone, then threw his body and coins on a manure heap to rot with a condemnation, "Take your money with you to perdition." Gregory believed that punishment of sins can begin, even in this life before death. [30] However, in time, after the monk's death, Gregory had 30 Masses offered for the man to assist his soul before the final judgment. He viewed being a monk as the 'ardent quest for the vision of our Creator.' [31] His three paternal aunts were nuns renowned for their sanctity. However, after the eldest two, Trasilla and Emiliana, died after seeing a vision of their ancestor Pope Felix III, the youngest soon abandoned the religious life and married the steward of her estate. Gregory's response to this family scandal was that "many are called but few are chosen." [32] Gregory's mother Silvia herself is a saint.

Eventually, Pope Pelagius II ordained Gregory a deacon and solicited his help in trying to heal the schism of the Three Chapters in northern Italy. However, this schism was not healed until well after Gregory was gone. [33]

Apocrisiariate (579–585)

Illumination in a 12th-century manuscript of a letter of Gregory's to Leander, bishop of Seville (Bibl. Municipale, MS 2, Dijon) Moralia in Job MS dragonslayer.jpg
Illumination in a 12th-century manuscript of a letter of Gregory's to Leander, bishop of Seville (Bibl. Municipale, MS 2, Dijon)

In 579, Pelagius II chose Gregory as his apocrisiarius (ambassador to the imperial court in Constantinople), a post Gregory would hold until 586. [34] Gregory was part of the Roman delegation (both lay and clerical) that arrived in Constantinople in 578 to ask the emperor for military aid against the Lombards. [35] With the Byzantine military focused on the East, these entreaties proved unsuccessful; in 584, Pelagius II wrote to Gregory as apocrisiarius, detailing the hardships that Rome was experiencing under the Lombards and asking him to ask Emperor Maurice to send a relief force. [35] Maurice, however, had long ago determined to limit his efforts against the Lombards to intrigue and diplomacy, pitting the Franks against them. [35] It soon became obvious to Gregory that the Byzantine emperors were unlikely to send such a force, given their more immediate difficulties with the Persians in the East and the Avars and Slavs to the North. [36]

According to Ekonomou, "if Gregory's principal task was to plead Rome's cause before the emperor, there seems to have been little left for him to do once imperial policy toward Italy became evident. Papal representatives who pressed their claims with excessive vigor could quickly become a nuisance and find themselves excluded from the imperial presence altogether". [36] Gregory had already drawn an imperial rebuke for his lengthy canonical writings on the subject of the legitimacy of John III Scholasticus, who had occupied the Patriarchate of Constantinople for twelve years prior to the return of Eutychius (who had been driven out by Justinian). [36] Gregory turned to cultivating connections with the Byzantine elite of the city, where he became extremely popular with the city's upper class, "especially aristocratic women". [36] Ekonomou surmises that "while Gregory may have become spiritual father to a large and important segment of Constantinople's aristocracy, this relationship did not significantly advance the interests of Rome before the emperor". [36] Although the writings of John the Deacon claim that Gregory "labored diligently for the relief of Italy", there is no evidence that his tenure accomplished much towards any of the objectives of Pelagius II. [37]

Gregory's theological disputes with Patriarch Eutychius would leave a "bitter taste for the theological speculation of the East" with Gregory that continued to influence him well into his own papacy. [38] According to Western sources, Gregory's very public debate with Eutychius culminated in an exchange before Tiberius II where Gregory cited a biblical passage ("Palpate et videte, quia spiritus carnem et ossa non-habet, sicut me videtis habere, or "touch me, and look; a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see that I have." [39] ) in support of the view that Christ was corporeal and palpable after his Resurrection; allegedly as a result of this exchange, Tiberius II ordered Eutychius's writings burned. [38] Ekonomou views this argument, though exaggerated in Western sources, as Gregory's "one achievement of an otherwise fruitless apokrisiariat". [40] In reality, Gregory was forced to rely on Scripture because he could not read the untranslated Greek authoritative works. [40]

Gregory left Constantinople for Rome in 585, returning to his monastery on the Caelian Hill. [41] Gregory was elected by acclamation to succeed Pelagius II in 590, when the latter died of the plague spreading through the city. [41] Gregory was approved by an Imperial iussio from Constantinople the following September (as was the norm during the Byzantine Papacy). [41]

Controversy with Eutychius

In Constantinople, Gregory took issue with the aged Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople, who had recently published a treatise, now lost, on the General Resurrection. Eutychius maintained that the resurrected body "will be more subtle than air, and no longer palpable". [42] Gregory opposed with the palpability of the risen Christ in Luke 24:39. As the dispute could not be settled, the Byzantine emperor, Tiberius II Constantine, undertook to arbitrate. He decided in favor of palpability and ordered Eutychius' book to be burned. Shortly after both Gregory and Eutychius became ill; Gregory recovered, but Eutychius died on 5 April 582, at age 70. On his deathbed Eutychius recanted impalpability and Gregory dropped the matter. Tiberius also died a few months after Eutychius.[ citation needed ]


Gregory was more inclined to remain retired into the monastic lifestyle of contemplation. [43] In texts of all genres, especially those produced in his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. [44] When he became pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition to the throne of Peter and praising the contemplative life of the monks. At that time, for various reasons, the Holy See had not exerted effective leadership in the West since the pontificate of Gelasius I. The episcopacy in Gaul was drawn from the great territorial families, and identified with them: the parochial horizon of Gregory's contemporary, Gregory of Tours, may be considered typical; in Visigothic Spain the bishops had little contact with Rome; in Italy the territories which had de facto fallen under the administration of the papacy were beset by the violent Lombard dukes and the rivalry of the Byzantines in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in the south.[ citation needed ]

Pope Gregory had strong convictions on missions: "Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also." [45] He is credited with re-energizing the Church's missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew's, where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. [46] The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory's worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate. [47]

It is said he was declared a saint immediately after his death by "popular acclamation". [1]

In his official documents, Gregory was the first to make extensive use of the term "Servant of the Servants of God" (servus servorum Dei) as a papal title, thus initiating a practice that was to be followed by most subsequent popes. [48]


The Church had a practice from early times of passing on a large portion of the donations it received from its members as alms. As pope, Gregory did his utmost to encourage that high standard among church personnel.[ citation needed ] Gregory is known for his extensive administrative system of charitable relief of the poor at Rome. The poor were predominantly refugees from the incursions of the Lombards. The philosophy under which he devised this system is that the wealth belonged to the poor and the church was only its steward. He received lavish donations from the wealthy families of Rome, who, following his own example, were eager, by doing so, to expiate their sins. He gave alms equally as lavishly both individually and en masse. He wrote in letters: [49] "I have frequently charged you ... to act as my representative ... to relieve the poor in their distress ...." and "... I hold the office of steward to the property of the poor ...."

In Gregory's time, the Church in Rome received donations of many different kinds: consumables such as food and clothing; investment property: real estate and works of art; and capital goods, or revenue-generating property, such as the Sicilian latifundia, or agricultural estates. The Church already had a system for circulating the consumables to the poor: associated with each of the main city churches was a diaconium or office of the deacon. He was given a building from which the poor could apply for assistance at any time. [50] [51]

The circumstances in which Gregory became pope in 590 were of ruination. The Lombards held the greater part of Italy. Their depredations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city itself was crowded with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople and appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail.[ citation needed ]

Mass of St. Gregory, c. 1490, attributed to Diego de la Cruz, oil and gold on panel (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Mass of St. Gregory, c. 1490, attributed to Diego de la Cruz, oil and gold on panel (Philadelphia Museum of Art).jpg
Mass of St. Gregory , c. 1490, attributed to Diego de la Cruz, oil and gold on panel (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

In 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. In doing so he evidenced a talent for and intuitive understanding of the principles of accounting, which was not to be invented for centuries. The church already had basic accounting documents: every expense was recorded in journals called regesta, "lists" of amounts, recipients and circumstances. Revenue was recorded in polyptici, "books". Many of these polyptici were ledgers recording the operating expenses of the church and the assets, the patrimonia. A central papal administration, the notarii, under a chief, the primicerius notariorum, kept the ledgers and issued brevia patrimonii, or lists of property for which each rector was responsible. [52]

Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve needy persons and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: "I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out ... I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children's shoes and forty bushels of grain ...." [53] Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind. He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their trouble. [54]

Money, however, was no substitute for food in a city that was on the brink of famine. Even the wealthy were going hungry in their villas.[ citation needed ] The church now owned between 1,300 and 1,800 square miles (3,400 and 4,700 km2) of revenue-generating farmland divided into large sections called patrimonia. It produced goods of all kinds, which were sold, but Gregory intervened and had the goods shipped to Rome for distribution in the diaconia. He gave orders to step up production, set quotas and put an administrative structure in place to carry it out. At the bottom was the rusticus who produced the goods. Some rustici were or owned slaves. He turned over part of his produce to a conductor from whom he leased the land. The latter reported to an actionarius, the latter to a defensor and the latter to a rector. Grain, wine, cheese, meat, fish and oil began to arrive at Rome in large quantities, where it was given away for nothing as alms. [55]

Distributions to qualified persons were monthly. However, a certain proportion of the population lived in the streets or were too ill or infirm to pick up their monthly food supply. To them Gregory sent out a small army of charitable persons, mainly monks, every morning with prepared food. It is said that he would not dine until the indigent were fed. When he did dine he shared the family table, which he had saved (and which still exists), with 12 indigent guests. To the needy living in wealthy homes he sent meals he had cooked with his own hands as gifts to spare them the indignity of receiving charity. Hearing of the death of an indigent in a back room he was depressed for days, entertaining for a time the conceit that he had failed in his duty and was a murderer. [54]

These and other good deeds and charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople. The office of urban prefect went without candidates. From the time of Gregory the Great to the rise of Italian nationalism the papacy was the most influential presence in Italy.[ citation needed ]


Liturgical reforms

John the Deacon wrote that Pope Gregory I made a general revision of the liturgy of the Pre-Tridentine Mass, "removing many things, changing a few, adding some". In letters, Gregory remarks that he moved the Pater Noster (Our Father) to immediately after the Roman Canon and immediately before the Fraction. [56] This position is still maintained today in the Roman Liturgy. The pre-Gregorian position is evident in the Ambrosian Rite. Gregory added material to the Hanc Igitur of the Roman Canon and established the nine Kyries (a vestigial remnant of the litany which was originally at that place) at the beginning of Mass. He also reduced the role of deacons in the Roman Liturgy.[ citation needed ]

Sacramentaries directly influenced by Gregorian reforms are referred to as Sacrementaria Gregoriana. Roman and other Western liturgies since this era have a number of prayers that change to reflect the feast or liturgical season; these variations are visible in the collects and prefaces as well as in the Roman Canon itself.[ citation needed ]

Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches, Gregory is credited as the primary influence in constructing the more penitential Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, a fully separate form of the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite adapted to the needs of the season of Great Lent. Its Roman Rite equivalent is the Mass of the Presanctified used only on Good Friday. The Syriac Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts continues to be used in the Malankara Rite, a variant of the West Syrian Rite historically practiced in the Malankara Church of India, and now practiced by the several churches that descended from it and at some occasions in the Assyrian Church of the East. [57]

Gregorian chant

Antiphonary of Hartker of the monastery of Saint Gall Gregory I - Antiphonary of Hartker of Sankt Gallen.jpg
Antiphonary of Hartker of the monastery of Saint Gall

The mainstream form of Western plainchant, standardized in the late 9th century, [58] was attributed to Pope Gregory I and so took the name of Gregorian chant. The earliest such attribution is in John the Deacon's 873 biography of Gregory, almost three centuries after the pope's death, and the chant that bears his name "is the result of the fusion of Roman and Frankish elements which took place in the Franco-German empire under Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors". [59]


Gregory is commonly credited with founding the medieval papacy and so many attribute the beginning of medieval spirituality to him. [60] Gregory is the only pope between the fifth and the eleventh centuries whose correspondence and writings have survived enough to form a comprehensive corpus. Some of his writings are:

Gregory wrote over 850 letters in the last 13 years of his life (590–604) that give us an accurate picture of his work. [65] A truly autobiographical presentation is nearly impossible for Gregory. The development of his mind and personality remains purely speculative in nature. [66]

Opinions of the writings of Gregory vary. "His character strikes us as an ambiguous and enigmatic one," the Jewish Canadian-American popularist Cantor observed. "On the one hand he was an able and determined administrator, a skilled and clever diplomat, a leader of the greatest sophistication and vision; but on the other hand, he appears in his writings as a superstitious and credulous monk, hostile to learning, crudely limited as a theologian, and excessively devoted to saints, miracles, and relics". [67]

Identification of three figures in the Gospels

Gregory was among those who identified Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, whom John 12:1–8 recounts as having anointed Jesus with precious ointment, an event that some interpret as being the same as the anointing of Jesus performed by a woman that Luke (alone among the synoptic Gospels) recounts as sinful. [68] Preaching on the passage in the Gospel of Luke, Gregory remarked: "This woman, whom Luke calls a sinner [69] and John calls Mary, [70] I think is the Mary from whom Mark reports [71] that seven demons were cast out." [72] Today Biblical scholars distinguish the three figures, but they are all still popularly identified. [73]


Saint Gregory the Great by Jose de Ribera Gregorythegreat.jpg
Saint Gregory the Great by José de Ribera

In art Gregory is usually shown in full pontifical robes with the tiara and double cross, despite his actual habit of dress. Earlier depictions are more likely to show a monastic tonsure and plainer dress. Orthodox icons traditionally show St. Gregory vested as a bishop holding a Gospel Book and blessing with his right hand. It is recorded that he permitted his depiction with a square halo, then used for the living. [74] A dove is his attribute, from the well-known story attributed to his friend Peter the Deacon, [75] who tells that when the pope was dictating his homilies on Ezechiel a curtain was drawn between his secretary and himself. As, however, the pope remained silent for long periods at a time, the servant made a hole in the curtain and, looking through, beheld a dove seated upon Gregory's head with its beak between his lips. When the dove withdrew its beak the pope spoke and the secretary took down his words; but when he became silent the servant again applied his eye to the hole and saw the dove had replaced its beak between his lips. [76]

Ribera's oil painting of Saint Gregory the Great (c.1614) is from the Giustiniani collection. The painting is conserved in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome. [77] The face of Gregory is a caricature of the features described by John the Deacon: total baldness, outthrust chin, beak-like nose, whereas John had described partial baldness, a mildly protruding chin, slightly aquiline nose and strikingly good looks. In this picture also Gregory has his monastic back on the world, which the real Gregory, despite his reclusive intent, was seldom allowed to have.[ citation needed ]

This scene is shown as a version of the traditional Evangelist portrait (where the Evangelists' symbols are also sometimes shown dictating) from the tenth century onwards. An early example is the dedication miniature from an eleventh-century manuscript of Gregory's Moralia in Job. [78] The miniature shows the scribe, Bebo of Seeon Abbey, presenting the manuscript to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II. In the upper left the author is seen writing the text under divine inspiration. Usually the dove is shown whispering in Gregory's ear for a clearer composition.

The Mass of St Gregory, by Robert Campin, 15th century Mass of Saint Gregory (1440) by Robert Campin.jpg
The Mass of St Gregory , by Robert Campin, 15th century

The late medieval subject of the Mass of St Gregory shows a version of a 7th-century story that was elaborated in later hagiography. Gregory is shown saying Mass when Christ as the Man of Sorrows appears on the altar. The subject was most common in the 15th and 16th centuries, and reflected growing emphasis on the Real Presence, and after the Protestant Reformation was an assertion of the doctrine against Protestant theology. [79]

Famous quotes and anecdotes

19th century mosaic in Westminster Cathedral, Non Angli sed Angeli Westminster Cathedral Non Angli sed Angeli si Christiani.jpg
19th century mosaic in Westminster Cathedral, Non Angli sed Angeli



The relics of Saint Gregory are enshrined in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.[ citation needed ]


In Britain, appreciation for Gregory remained strong even after his death, with him being called Gregorius noster ("our Gregory") by the British. [95] It was in Britain, at a monastery in Whitby, that the first full length life of Gregory was written, in c. 713. [96] Appreciation of Gregory in Rome and Italy itself, however, did not come until later. The first vita of Gregory written in Italy was not produced until John the Deacon in the 9th century.[ citation needed ]


Tomb of Saint Gregory at St. Peter's, Rome Tomb of pope Gregorius I.jpg
Tomb of Saint Gregory at St. Peter's, Rome

The namesake church of San Gregorio al Celio (largely rebuilt from the original edifices during the 17th and 18th centuries) remembers his work. One of the three oratories annexed, the oratory of Saint Silvia, is said to lie over the tomb of Gregory's mother.[ citation needed ]

In England, Gregory, along with Augustine of Canterbury, is revered as the apostle of the land and the source of the nation's conversion. [97]


Italian composer Ottorino Respighi composed a piece named St. Gregory the Great(San Gregorio Magno) that features as the fourth and final part of his Church Windows (Vetrate di Chiesa) works, written in 1925.[ citation needed ]

Feast day

The current General Roman Calendar, revised in 1969 as instructed by the Second Vatican Council, [98] celebrates Saint Gregory the Great on 3 September. Before that, it assigned his feast day to 12 March, the day of his death in 604. Following the imposition of Pope John XXIII's Code of Rubrics in 1961, celebration of Saint Gregory's feast day was made practically impossible, as John XXIII's reforms forbade the full observance of most feasts during Lent, during which 12 March invariably falls. For this reason, Saint Gregory's feast day was moved to 3 September, the day of his episcopal consecration in 590, [99] as part of the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI.

St. Gregory the Great window at Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania) Window, St. Gregory the Great, Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania).jpg
St. Gregory the Great window at Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania)

The Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite continue to commemorate Saint Gregory on 12 March which is during Great Lent, the only time when the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which names Saint Gregory as its author, is used.[ citation needed ]

Other churches also honour Saint Gregory: the Church of England and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod on 3 September, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada on 12 March. [100]

A traditional procession is held in Żejtun, Malta, in honour of Saint Gregory (San Girgor) on Easter Wednesday, which most often falls in April, the range of possible dates being 25 March to 28 April.[ citation needed ] The feast day of Saint Gregory also serves as a commemorative day for the former pupils of Downside School, called Old Gregorians. Traditionally, OG ties are worn by all of the society's members on this day.[ citation needed ]

See also

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Pope Boniface III was the bishop of Rome from 19 February 607 to his death. Despite his short pontificate he made a significant contribution to the Catholic Church.

Pope Boniface IV was the bishop of Rome from 608 to his death. Boniface had served as a deacon under Pope Gregory I, and like his mentor, he ran the Lateran Palace as a monastery. As pope, he encouraged monasticism. With imperial permission, he converted the Pantheon into a church. In 610, he conferred with Bishop Mellitus of London regarding the needs of the English Church. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church with a universal feast day on 8 May.

Pope Gregory II was the bishop of Rome from 19 May 715 to his death. His defiance of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian as a result of the iconoclastic controversy in the Eastern Empire prepared the way for a long series of revolts, schisms and civil wars that eventually led to the establishment of the temporal power of the popes.

Pope Sergius I was the bishop of Rome from 15 December 687, to his death, and is revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic church. He was elected at a time when two rivals, Paschal and Theodore, were locked in dispute about which of them should become pope. His papacy was dominated by his response to the Quinisext Council, the canons of which he steadfastly refused to accept. Thereupon Emperor Justinian II ordered Sergius' arrest, but the Roman people and the Italian militia of the exarch of Ravenna refused to allow the exarch to bring Sergius to Constantinople.

Pope Victor III

Pope Victor III, born Dauferio, was the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 24 May 1086 to his death. He was the successor of Pope Gregory VII, yet his pontificate is far less impressive in history than his time as Desiderius, the great abbot of Montecassino.

Pope Sabinian was the bishop of Rome from 13 September 604 to his death. His pontificate occurred during the Eastern Roman domination of the papacy. He was the fourth former apocrisiarius to Constantinople to be elected pope.

Pope Vigilius was the bishop of Rome from 29 March 537 to his death. He is considered the first pope of the Byzantine papacy. Born into Roman aristocracy, Vigilius served as a deacon and papal apocrisiarius in Constantinople. He allied with Empress Theodora, who sought his help to establish Monophysitism, and was made pope after the deposition of Silverius. After he refused to sign Emperor Justinian I's edict condemning the Three Chapters, Vigilius was arrested in 545 and taken to Constantinople. He died in Sicily while returning to Rome.

Pope Constantine was the bishop of Rome from 25 March 708 to his death. One of the last popes of the Byzantine Papacy, the defining moment of Constantine's pontificate was his 710/711 visit to Constantinople where he compromised with Justinian II on the Trullan canons of the Quinisext Council. Constantine's was the last papal visit to Constantinople until 1967.

John IV of Constantinople

John IV, also known as John Nesteutes, was the 33rd bishop or Patriarch of Constantinople. He was the first to assume the title Ecumenical Patriarch. He is regarded as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church which holds a feast on September 2.

April 6 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics) day in the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar

April 5 — Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar — April 7

The Patrologia Graeca is an edited collection of writings by the Christian Church Fathers and various secular writers, in the Greek language. It consists of 161 volumes produced in 1857–1866 by J. P. Migne's Imprimerie Catholique, Paris. It includes both the Eastern Fathers and those Western authors who wrote before Latin became predominant in the Western Church in the 3rd century, e.g. the early writings collectively known as the Apostolic Fathers, such as the First and Second Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, Eusebius, Origen, and the Cappadocian Fathers Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa.

A homiliarium or homiliary is a collection of homilies, or familiar explanations of the Gospels.

Papal selection before 1059

There was no uniform procedure for papal selection before 1059. The bishops of Rome and supreme pontiffs (popes) of the Catholic Church were often appointed by their predecessors or by political rulers. While some kind of election often characterized the procedure, an election that included meaningful participation of the laity was rare, especially as the popes' claims to temporal power solidified into the Papal States. The practice of papal appointment during this period would later result in the jus exclusivae, i.e., a right to veto the selection that Catholic monarchs exercised into the twentieth century.

Byzantine Papacy Byzantine domination of the Roman papacy, 537 to 752

The Byzantine Papacy was a period of Byzantine domination of the Roman papacy from 537 to 752, when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for episcopal consecration, and many popes were chosen from the apocrisiarii or the inhabitants of Byzantine-ruled Greece, Syria, or Sicily. Justinian I conquered the Italian peninsula in the Gothic War (535–554) and appointed the next three popes, a practice that would be continued by his successors and later be delegated to the Exarchate of Ravenna.

Lateran Council of 649 Christian synod

The Lateran Council of 649 was a synod held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran to condemn Monothelitism, a Christology espoused by many Eastern Christians. The Council did not achieve ecumenical status in either East or West, but represented the first attempt of a pope to convene an ecumenical council independent of the Roman emperor.

Placidia Palace

The Placidia Palace was the official residence of the papal apocrisiarius, the ambassador from the pope to the patriarch of Constantinople, and the intermittent home of the pope himself when in residence at Constantinople. The apocrisiarius held "considerable influence as a conduit for both public and covert communications" between pope and Byzantine emperor.

Roman Plague of 590

The Roman Plague of 590 was an epidemic of plague that affected the city of Rome in the year 590. Probably bubonic plague, it was part of the first plague pandemic that followed the great plague of Justinian, which began in the 540s and may have killed more than 100 million Europeans before spreading to other parts of the world and which lasted until the end of Late Antiquity. The plague was described by the bishop and chronicler Gregory of Tours and later chronicler Paul the Deacon.


  1. 1 2 Huddleston, Gilbert (1909). "Pope St. Gregory I ("the Great")"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Gregory had come to be known as 'the Great' by the late ninth century, a title which is still applied to him. See John Moorhead, Gregory the Great, (Routledge, 2005), p1
  2. Flechner, "Pope Gregory and the British" Histoires de Bretagnes 5, p. 47
  3. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 22.
  4. 1 2 3 "St. Gregory Dialogus, the Pope of Rome". oca.org, Orthodox Church in America . Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  5. Christian Life and Worship (Dissertations in European Economic History), 1948, 1979, Gerald Ellard (1894–1963), Arno Press, ISBN   0-405-10819-2 ISBN   9780405108198, p. 125.
  6. Livingstone, E. A., Augustine and his opponents, Jerome, other Latin Fathers after Nicaea, Orientalia (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 1996), p. 415.
  7. F.L. Cross, ed. (2005). "Gregory I". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press.
  8. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter VII
  9. Little, Lester K. “Calvin's Appreciation of Gregory the Great.” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 56, no. 2, 1963, pp. 145–157. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1508681. Accessed 19 Oct. 2020.
  10. "St. Gregory the Great". Web site of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
  11. Gregory mentions in Dialogue 3.2 that he was alive when Totila attempted to murder Carbonius, Bishop of Populonia, probably in 546. In a letter of 598 (Register, Book 9, Letter 1) he rebukes Bishop Januarius of Cagliari, Sardinia, excusing himself for not observing 1 Timothy 5.1, which cautions against rebuking elders. Timothy 5.9 defines elderly women to be 60 and over, which would probably apply to all. Gregory appears not to consider himself an elder, limiting his birth to no earlier than 539, but 540 is the typical selection. Dudden (1905), page 3, notes 1–3. The presumption of 540 has continued in modern times – see for example Richards, Jeffrey (1980). Consul of God. London: Routledge & Keatland Paul.
  12. Ælfric (1709). An English-Saxon Homily on the Birth-day of St. Gregory: Anciently Used in the English-Saxon Church, Giving an Account of the Conversion of the English from Paganism to Christianity. Translated by Elstob, Elizabeth. London: W. Bowyer. pp.  4.
  13. The translator goes on to state that "Paulus Diaconus, who first writ the life of St. Gregory, and is followed by all the after Writers on that subject, observes that 'ex Greco eloquio in nostra lingua ... invigilator, seu vigilant sonnet." However, Paul the deacon is too late for the first vita, or life.
  14. The name is Biblical, derived from New Testament contexts: grēgorein is a present, continuous aspect, meaning to be watchful of forsaking Christ. It is derived from a more ancient perfect, egrēgora, "roused from sleep", of egeirein, "to awaken someone." Thayer, Joseph Henry (1962). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm's Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti Translated Revised and Enlarged. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
  15. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Gregory the Great". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Thornton, pp 163–8
  17. Whether III or IV depends on whether Antipope Felix II is to be considered pope.
  18. Dudden (1905), page 4.
  19. Richards
  20. Dudden (1905), pages 11–15.
  21. Dudden (1905), pages 106–107.
  22. Richards (1980), page 25.
  23. Dudden (1905), pages 7–8.
  24. Markus pg 4–5
  25. Dudden (1905), pages 36–37.
  26. 1 2 Richards (1980), page 26.
  27. Richards (1980), page 44.
  28. Leyser pg 132
  29. Cavadini pg 155
  30. Straw pg 47
  31. Markus- pg 69
  32. Consul of God, Richards. Pg 26
  33. Gregory the great and his world pg 3
  34. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 8.
  35. 1 2 3 Ekonomou, 2007, p. 9.
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 Ekonomou, 2007, p. 10.
  37. Ekonomou, 2007, pp. 10–11.
  38. 1 2 Ekonomou, 2007, p. 11.
  39. Luke 24:39 – "touch me, and look; a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see that I have."
  40. 1 2 Ekonomou, 2007, p. 12.
  41. 1 2 3 Ekonomou, 2007, p. 13.
  42. Smith, William; Henry Wace (1880). A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines: Being a Continuation of 'The Dictionary of the Bible': VolumeII Eaba – Hermocrates. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 415. The dictionary account is apparently based on Bede, Book II, Chapter 1, who used the expression "...impalpable, of finer texture than wind and air."
  43. Straw pg 25
  44. Cavadini pg 39
  45. Dudden pg 124
  46. Dudden pg 99
  47. 1 2 Richards pg 228
  48. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Servus servorum Dei"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  49. Dudden (1905) page 316.
  50. Later these deacons became cardinals and from the oratories attached to the buildings grew churches.
  51. Smith, William; Samuel Cheetham (1875). A dictionary of Christian antiquities: Comprising the History, Institutions, and Antiquities of the Christian Church, from the Time of the Apostles to the Age of Charlemagne. J. Murray. pp.  549 under diaconia.
  52. Mann, Horace Kinder; Johannes Hollnsteiner (1914). The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages: Volume X. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd. p. 322.
  53. Ambrosini & Willis (1996) pages 66–67.
  54. 1 2 Dudden (1905) pages 248–249.
  55. Deanesly, Margaret (1969). A History of the Medieval Church, 590–1500. London, New York: Routledge. pp. 22–24. ISBN   9780415039598.
  56. Eden, Bradford L. "Gregory I, Pope", Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia, (Christopher Kleinhenz, ed.), Routledge, 2004 ISBN   9781135948801
  57. Chupungco, Anscar J. (1997). Handbook for Liturgical Studies. Liturgical Press, p. 17. ISBN   0-8146-6161-0. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  58. Kenneth Levy, Gregorian Chant and the Carolingians(Princeton University Press 1998 ISBN   9780691017334), p. 7
  59. Gregory Murray, Gregorian Chant According to the Manuscripts (L. J. Cary & Co. 1963), pp. 3–4
  60. Straw pg 4
  61. 1 2 RA Markus, Gregory the Great and his World, (Cambridge: CUP, 1997), p15
    • Gardner, Edmund G. (editor) (2010) [1911]. The Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. Merchantville, NJ: Evolution Publishing. ISBN   978-1-889758-94-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  62. "A Papyrus Puzzle and Some Purple Parchment". British Museum. 12 February 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  63. Ambrosini, Maria Luisa; Mary Willis (1996). The Secret Archives of the Vatican. Barnes & Noble Publishing. pp.  63–64. ISBN   9780760701256.
  64. R.A. Markus "Gregory the Great and his world" pg I
  65. Gregory the great and his world. pg. 2
  66. Cantor (1993) page 157.
  67. Luke 7:36–50;Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9
  68. Luke 7:37
  69. John 12:3
  70. Mark 16:9
  71. "Hanc vero quam Lucas peccatricem mulierem, Ioannes Mariam nominat, illam esse Mariam credimus de qua Marcus septem daemonia eiecta fuisse testatur" (Patrologia Latina 76:1239)
  72. Ingrid Maisch, Mary Magdalene: The Image of a Woman through the Centuries (Liturgical Press 1988 ISBN   9780814624715), chapter 10
  73. Gietmann, G. (1911). "Nimbus". XI. New York: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Robert Appleton Company.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  74. For the various literary accounts, see B. Colgrave (ed), The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great, 1985, Cambridge, 157, n.110
  75. Catholic Encyclopedia article – see links, below.
  76. Saraceni, Carlo; Emil Kren; Daniel Marx (1996). "St. Gregory the Great". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
  77. Bamberg State Library, Msc.Bibl.84
  78. Rubin, Miri, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture, pp. 120–122, 308–310, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN   0-521-43805-5, ISBN   978-0-521-43805-6 Google books
  79. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN   9781403917232 / ISBN   9781403938695
  80. Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum , II.i. http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bede/bede2.shtml
  81. 1 2 Hunt, William (1906). The Political History of England. Longmans, Green. p. 115.
  82. The earliest life written a generation earlier than Bede at Whitby relates the same story but in it the English are merely visitors to Rome questioned by Gregory (see Holloway, who translates from the manuscript kept at St. Gallen). The earlier story is not necessarily the more accurate, as Gregory is known to have instructed presbyter Candidus in Gaul by letter to buy young English slaves for placement in monasteries. These were intended for missionary work in England: Ambrosini & Willis (1996) page 71.
  83. Benedict I or Pelagius II.
  84. Dudden pg 317
  85. Homilies on Ezekiel Book 1.11.6. For the text in manuscript, see Codices Electronici Sangalienses: Codex 211, page 193 column 1, line 5 (external links below.)
  86. Letter of Pope Gregory I to John the Faster.
  87. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book I section 27 part II. Bede is translated in Bede (1999). McClure, Judith (ed.). The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Greater Chronicle; Bede's Letter to Egbert . Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780192838667.
  88. Gregory the Great. The Letters of Gregory the Great. Trans. John R. C. Martyn. 3 vols. (2004). Book VI, Epistle XII.
  89. Richards pg 232
  90. Pope Gregory I, Moralia, sive Expositio in Job, published by Nicolaus Kessler Basel, 1496.
  91. Theories of Art: From Plato to Winckelmann
  92. H. Ev. 2.37.9; Dial. 4.58.1
  93. H. Ev. 2.34.15
  94. Champ, Judith (2000). The English Pilgrimage to Rome: A Dwelling for the Soul. Gracewing Publishing. pp. ix. ISBN   9780852443736.
  95. A monk or nun at Whitby A.D. 713 (1997–2008). Holloway, Julia Bolton (ed.). "The Earliest Life of St. Gregory the great". Julia Bolton Holloway. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
  96. Richards pg 260
  97. "Sacrosanctum concilium". www.vatican.va.
  98. Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), pp. 100 and 118
  99. "The Calendar". 16 October 2013.


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Catholic Church titles
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Pelagius II
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