St. Gregory the Great (540-604), Pope and Doctor

August 30, 2011

The Pastor's Page

St. Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great in stained glass window at St. Clement in Minneapolis.

September 3 is the anniversary of Pope St. Gregory the Great’s ordination as Bishop of Rome in 590 AD. His feast is not celebrated on the anniversary of death because March 12 falls in Lent.

Gregory was born in Rome in 540 into a prominent family. His father was a senator, and he followed him as a public servant, first in a number of lesser offices, then as Prefect. Gregory desired to enter religious life, resigned his post, and left government work altogether.

Gregory converted his family home to a monastery and began to liquidate much of his personal wealth, using some to fund seven different monasteries in Rome and Sicily, and a large amount was distributed to the poor. For the next few years he was a monk in seclusion, and he spent his time in prayer and meditation, living simply, rigorously observing the Rule of St. Benedict.

Gregory was ordained a deacon by Pope Pelagius II in 578 and then sent by the pope as his personal legate to Constantinople (579-585). He returned to Rome in 586 and became abbot of St. Andrew’s Monastery. After a brief missionary venture to England and a stint as papal secretary, Pope Pelagius died in 590, and Gregory was elected unanimously as his replacement. He vehemently protested, finally relented, and he was consecrated on September 3, 590.

Pope Gregory was a tremendous leader and organizer. There was a plague in Rome; he spearheaded the relief effort. There were many poor and starving; he coordinated a food distribution network. The Lombards attempted to invade; he negotiated a treaty, appointed the highest military officers, and insured that the soldiers would be paid properly.

He worked diligently to reorganize the Church. He helped to establish the Papal States, developed a code of conduct for bishops, enforced clerical celibacy, replaced irresponsible clergy, facilitated better cooperation between the churches of Spain and France, and sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and a number of other monks as missionaries to England.

Gregory had a deep love for the liturgy, particularly liturgical music. He promoted “plainsong,” a form of chant which became known as Gregorian Chant. He placed the Lord’s Prayer within the Mass, developed other texts for the Eucharistic Prayer, and wrote a number of Prefaces, especially for Easter, Christmas, and the Ascension.

He wrote extensively on moral and theological subjects. His best known works are Moralia, a mystical and allegorical exposition of the Book of Job; Dialogues, the miracles and deeds of the saints of Italy; Pastoral Care (Rule), his treatise on how the bishop should serve as a shepherd; Forty Homilies on the Gospels; and Homilies on Ezekiel, a discourse for clerics and monks.

He died on March 12, 604. He is one of the four great doctors of the church, along with Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome. He called himself the “servus servorum Dei,” the servant of the servants of God. He is best known as the patron saint of music. He is also the patron saint of singers, popes, scholars, teachers, schoolchildren, and the victims of plague.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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