Gregory the Great

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St. Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great (born 540, died 604) also known as Pope Gregory I, or his common title 'Gregory The Great.' He became Pope in 590 and was a vigilant guardian of the Church’s doctrine. He was the founder of numerous monasteries including a school for the training of church musicians. He collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants.[1] In his lifetime, he was a Monk, an abbot, a leader of Italy. Also, a momentous influence on the Catholic Church through doctrine, organization and discipline. Gregory of Tours tells us that in grammar, rhetoric and dialectic he was so skillful as to be thought second to none in all Rome.[2] Gregory became a patron saint of England for sending St. Augustine of Canterbury on missions there. One of Gregory's greatest accomplishments were his writings Dialogues, a book on the Lives of the Saints. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1295. Pope St. Gregory the Great is also almost singularly responsible for the evangelization of England to Christ.

Early life

Born in Rome as Gregorius to father Gordianus, a wealthy Roman senator who owned large estates in Sicily and Gregory's mother is honored as Saint Silvia. Gregory was the nephew of Saint Emiliana and Saint Tarsilla as well as the great-grandson of Pope Saint Felix III. Gregory was educated by the finest teachers in Rome. Following in his father's footsteps, he embarked upon a political career. He loved to meditate on the Scriptures and to listen attentively to the conversations of his elders, so that he was "devoted to God from his youth up".[3] It was a tumultuous time in Italian history. The fall of the Roman Empire had left Italy in a power vacuum and ravaged by different tribes. While still a young boy, Rome was first captured by the Goths. Gregory later witnessed the death of Romans at the hands of Lombards. The Lombards laid waste to cities, towns and villages. His life would be defined by overcoming six barbarian nations. Gregory had seen orthodox Catholicism replaced by pagan Anglo-Saxons in Britain, pagan Franks in Northern France, Arian Visigoths in Southern France and Spain, the Arian Ostrogoths in Italy, the Arian Vandals in North Africa, and finally the Arian Burgundians in Eastern France.[4] Pope Saint Gregory would not only bring order out of all this, but lay the foundation of the Church as it would enter the Middle Ages.

After the completion of his law studies, Byzantine Emperor Justin the Younger appointed Gregory Chief Magistrate of Rome, he highest civil dignity in the city.[5] After the death of Gregory's father, he built seven monasteries, six in Sicily and one in Rome. The Prefect Gregory, like his parents, disposed of his goods and dedicated himself to the service of his Lord in poverty, chastity and obedience. He would eventual become a Benedictine monk and settled in the monastery he constructed, Saint Andrew’s. In 578, Pope Benedict I made Gregory one of the seven deacons of Rome.


During an attack on Rome by Lombards, Pope Pelagius II sent Deacon Gregory to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople were he remained six years. In the year 586, Saint Gregory was recalled to Rome. With great rejoicing, he returned to his monastery to be acclaimed its abbot. He found Rome again beset with calamities.

Saint Gregory’s famous meeting with the English slaves took place, in the Roman Forum. He says, "What a pity that God’s grace does not dwell within those beautiful brows!” He purchased all of the slaves, brought them back with him to the monastery, cared for them, instructed and baptized them. Gregory won the permission of Pope Pelagius II to travel and preach with some of his monks to England. The people were so upset that the Pope had sent their dear Gregory to England, they demanded that he be recalled immediately, by force if necessary. Gregory returned three days after leaving. He never forgot the peoples of England, his zeal for the conversion of the heathen, and in particular of the Angles. As Pope, Gregory would send an enormous mission to England preaching the faith. It earned for Gregory the title of Apostle to the English, and for the Italian Monk Augustine, it earned the distinction of being known forever in Heaven and on earth as Saint Augustine of Canterbury.[6]

Besides barbarians, great national disasters besieged Rome. Earthquakes and floods led to famine, pestilence and plague. Pope Pelagius II contracted the plague and died soon after. At that time, it was within the power of the clergy, the senate, and the people to elect a new Pope and without any hesitation, they chose Gregory. September 590, he had first been ordained a priest, and after Saint Gregory was consecrated Pope and Bishop of Rome, in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Saint Gregory was the first monk to become Pope. His favorite title for this exalted office was "servant of the servants of God." [7] Because of the sheer inability of the rulers of the Eastern Empire to assert any civil authority over Italy and because there was no longer any military authority left in Rome, Pope Gregory was compelled to assume both offices. Gregory looked upon Church and State as co-operating to form a united whole.

Pope Gregory’s constant care was for his bishops and priests. Early in his pontificate, he published his Pastoral Rule on the duties of a bishop. For centuries, these writings remained the textbook of the clerical life.

On the first of each month, and on the holy days in between, the Pope would assist and oversee the distribution of meat, fish, vegetables, wheat, corn, oil, cheese, wine and clothing. Gregory sought all the food and wood in the papal lands that could be gathered to provide for the needs of his impoverished people.[8] From that time forth the varied populations of Italy looked to the Pope for guidance, and Rome as the papal capital continued to be the centre of the Christian world thanks to St. Gregory.


The last years of Gregory's life were filled with every kind of suffering. He died March 12, 604. Immediately, he was laid to rest in front of the sacristy in the portico of St. Peter's Basilica. Since then Gregory's relics have been moved several times.


  • Wrote the four books of Dialogues.
  • "Liber pastoralis curae" known as Pastoral Duty (sometimes translated as Pastoral Care), book on the office of a bishop.
  • 815 letters composed in 14 books.
  • "Opera S. Gregorii Magni"
  • "Epistolae"
  • "Moralia in Job", a commentary on the book of Job according to the literal, moral, and spiritual senses of Scripture.
  • homily on the Gospels

See also


  1. Pope Saint Gregory the Great Star Quest Production Network
  2. Pope St. Gregory I ("the Great") Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. Pope St. Gregory I ("the Great") Catholic Encyclopedia
  4. The Life of Saint Gregory the Great
  5. Saint Gregory the Great Catholic Online
  6. The Life of Saint Gregory the Great
  7. St. Gregory the Great Crossroads Initiative
  8. The Life of Saint Gregory the Great