Spirituality for Today – December 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 5

The 64th Pope
Saint Gregory the Great

An image of Saint Gregory the Great the 64th PopeSaint Gregory the Great the 64th Pope

Saint Gregory the Great, the 64th Pope (590 – 604)
Other than Pope Leo I, Pope Gregory is the only pope to be awarded the title: The Great. At the time of his election, the monk Gregory neither sought nor wanted to become pope. He even wrote to the emperor to withhold imperial approval of his election. His protest was of no avail and thus he reluctantly became Pope Gregory I.

Pope Gregory was thrust into the role of both the spiritual and temporal leader of Rome. Before selling all his worldly possessions for the aid of the poor and turning his home into a monastery, he had been Prefect of Rome. The city was in civil chaos and Pope Gregory had to take on political involvement. He organized efforts in the papal lands existing in various countries to the task of taking care of the needs of the poor.

Political leadership in Italy was impotent, especially in dealing with the invading Lombards. He was instrumental in saving the city of Rome from being sacked by the Lombards. Pope Gregory addressed both Church and civil affairs in Rome. He issued much needed reforms in the Church and State, performed diplomatic service in strengthening ties to other dioceses in Europe, and sent Augustine and some companions to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons on the continent and in England. Pope Gregory possessed an affinity for the Anglo-Saxon people. In dealing with the Church in the East and with the emperor, Pope Gregory treaded diplomatically. The pope was most aware from his experiences in Constantinople before being elected pope that he should not expect any help from the East. This fact simply enforced his already energetic nature. He, however, always affirmed the primacy of the pope and of Rome as the final court of appeals for the universal Church. His favorite title was "servant of the servants of God" which reflected his monastic humility.

Not only did he employ his famous literary work, written while a monk, Pastoral Care to his administrative style, but also the monastic musical style that we know as Gregorian Chant. His monastic spirituality did create some division among the clergy who either favored the monastic approach or resented it. One of his outstanding gifts as a thinker and as a writer was his ability to meld theological thought into practical application. His writings provided a veritable manual of how the bishops and clergy should perform their pastoral tasks. He wrote a number of prayers for use in the Mass. The placement of the Our Father in the celebration of the Eucharist is attributed to him. Pope Gregory's extensive and influential writings have numbered him among the Doctors of the Church. He basically set the tone for the theologians and the ecclesiastical leaders of medieval times some centuries hence. Saint Thomas Aquinas profusely made reference to his work.

Never a man of robust health, Pope Gregory died in the year 604 and is buried in Saint Peter's Basilica. His epitaph reads, "Consul of God."

Habemus papam