Saint of the Issue: Pope Saint Gregory the Great

by Peter G. Klapes


Pope Saint Gregory the Great, son of Gordiunus, a wealthy Roman Senator, was born around approximately 540 A.D. in Rome. When the Saint was six years old, the Goths captured Rome, marking the beginning of a period of capture and abandonment. Although details of his education are sparse, there exist accounts that laud Gregory’s abilities in rhetoric and dialectic. The Saint’s mother Silvia is honored as a saint, and two of his aunts, Tarsilla and Emiliana have been canonized. It is clear that religion played a significant role in Gregory’s young life.

Saint Gregory lived on the monastery of Saint Andrew for approximately three years, a time that he identified as the happiest period of his life and characterized as “an ardent quest for the vision of our Creator.” In 578 A.D., Gregory was ordained as one of the seven deacons of Rome. Subsequently, in 579 A.D., Pelagius II chose Gregory as his apocrisiarius, or ambassador to the imperial court in Constantinople. During this time, he arrived in Constantinople to appeal to the emperor for military aid against the Lombards, a Germanic tribe who ruled Italy from 568 A.D. to 744 A.D.

Although he mourned the loss of his tranquil, contemplative life as a monastic, Gregory became Pope in 590 A.D. During his papacy, he developed an affectionate position on missionaries. In 596 A.D., Pope Gregory sent a mission, headed by Augustine of Canterbury, to Britain to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Catholicism. At its conclusion in 635 A.D., the mission had established Christianity in Southern Britain.

In the Eastern Churches, Pope Gregory is also known as Saint Gregory the Dialogist for his Dialogues, a collection of four books that speak of the wonders and miracles done by monastic holy men in Italy during the fifth century. Much of his other writing survives, including a theological commentary on the Book of Job, and approximately sixty sermons and 854 letters. In fact, in iconography, Saint Gregory is often depicted writing, with the image of a dove speaking into his ear. John the Deacon’s 873 A.D. biography of Pope Gregory associates the Gregorian Chant with Pope Gregory. Furthermore, while in Constantinople, Gregory opposed a treatise written by Eutychius, the then-Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, which stated that the resurrected body “will be more subtle than air, and no longer palpable.” The arbiter of the dispute, the Byzantine emperor Tiberius II Constantine decided in favor of Gregory’s position and order Eutychius’s book to be burned.  

In the Catholic Church, Saint Gregory the Great is celebrated on September 3, the day of his consecration. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Gregory the Great is celebrated on March 12, occurring during Great Lent, when his Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is used. Saint Gregory is also recognized in the Church of England on September 3, and in the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on March 12.

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