Spirituality for Today – February 2014 – Volume 18, Issue 7

The 90th Pope
Saint Gregory III

An image of Saint Gregory III, the 90th PopeSaint Gregory II, the 90th Pope

Pope Saint Gregory III (731-741) – A native of Syria, Pope Gregory was elected with the momentous support of the people. He would be the last of the popes who followed the custom of requesting approval of their election from the emperor.

In the East, iconoclasm (the prohibition of sacred images) was the policy. Pope Gregory vigorously tried to convince the emperor to turn away from that practice, but to no avail. In response, the pope called a synod that condemned iconoclasm and excommunicated anyone who adhered to it. Of course, the emperor and patriarch of Constantinople would fall under that sentence. The emperor had the papal envoys, having reached Sicily, arrested and detained. One managed to escape and bring the papal decree to Constantinople. Infuriated, the emperor sent a fleet, which foundered in rough seas, to attack the pope and claimed papal territory for Constantinople. The pope resisted all of these efforts, but stopped short of denying the authenticity of the emperor and the empire. In spite of the trials between the two powers, this act of loyalty by the pope was gratefully received by the emperor and would prove very important in the papal conflict with the Lombards.

Looking to the north, Pope Gregory made Boniface, the very successful missionary to the Germanic peoples, an archbishop with the authority of establishing new dioceses. The pope also paid much attention to the growth and well-being of the Church in England. Perhaps in response to iconoclasm, the pope took measure to erect beautiful sacred images in Rome and built an oratory in Saint Peter's basilica within which he would eventually be buried.

Habemus papam