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Gregory i, Pope

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commonly called GREGORY THE GREAT, great-grandchild of popa Felix II, was born at Rome about 541. Having received an education suitable to his rank, he became a member of the senate, and filled other employments i in the state. The emperor Justin II appointed him praefect or governor of Rome (A.D. 573). This office he quitted soon after the death of his father, when he came into the possession of immense wealth, the greater part.of which he devoted to the establishment of monasteries, six of which he founded in Sicily and one at Rome, dedicated to St. Andrew, into which he retired himself, and was soon after ordained a deacon. Pelagius II sent him (about A.D. 578) as his snuncio to Constantinople to secure the favor of the emperor, who had been alienated by the ordination of the pope without the imperial consent. He succeeded in his mission. On his return he assumed the government of his own monastery of St. Andrew, and at the same time was secretary to the pope. On the death of Pelagiu, Gregory was chosen pope by the clergy and the people, and much against his will, this election was confirmed by the emperor Maurice (A.D. 590). He was installed as pope September 3, 595.

No sooner was the ordination completed than, according to custom, the new pope drew up his confession of faith, and sent it to the other patriarchs, viz. to the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. In this confession he professed to receive the four Gospels, the first four Councils, to reverence the fifth, and to condemn the Three Chapters. He adds, "Whoever presumes to loosen the persons. whom the councils have bound, or to bind those whom the councils have loosened, destroys himself and not them." Thus is it apparent that even in the 6th century the authority of the councils was equal to that of the holy Scriptures. His first object after his promotion was the latter regulation of his own see, and household, and especially it the Sicilian churches, which the Council of Nice had placed more immediately under the see of Rome than any others; the African Donatists and Manichaeans also claimed his attention, and the Jews experienced some degree of favor from him. He assisted Theodolinda, queen of the Longobards, isconverting that people to the Catholic feith. He likewise sent missionaries into Sardinia, and zealously supported the mission to England to bring the British into relations with Rome. It was previous to his exaltation to the pontifical chair that seeing one day in the slave-market at Rome some Anglo-Saxon children exposed for sale, and being struck by their comely appearance, he is said to have exclaimed, "They would be indeed not Angli, but angels, if they were Christians," and from that time ha engaged his predecessor, Pelagius, to send missionaries to England. (See ENGLAND, CHURCH OF).

At home he exerted himself strenuously for the restoration's of clerical discipline. The celibacy of the clergy was riveted upon the Romish system by the measures taken by Gregory. His course of action invariably was directed to strengthen the power of the Roman see; and, in fact he was the father of the medimeval Roman system. He held monastic institutions in great favor, made strict rules concerning them, and granted them special privileges. This feature of his career gained him the title of pater monachorum. One of the marked events of his pontificate was his contest with John, patriarch of Constantinople, who had assumed the title of OEcumenical, or universal Bishop (A.D. 595), which Gregory called "proud, heretical, blasphemous, antichristian, and diabolical" (Epist. 5:18), and assumed to himself, is opposition, the title of Servant "of Servants" (Servus servorusn Dommieni). "Whom do you imitate," says he, addressing the patriarch, "in assuming that arrogant title? Whom but him who, swelled with pride, exalted himself above so many legions of angels, his equals, that he might be subject to none, and as might be subject to him?" It was then, in the opinion of Gregory, imitating Lucifer for any bishop to exalt himself above his brethren, and to pretend that all other bishops were subject to him, himself being subject to none. And has not this been for many ages the avowed pretension and claim of the popes? We declare, say, define, and pronounce it to be of necessity to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff," is a decree issued by Boniface VIII in the fourteenth century. "The apostle Peter," continues Gregory, was the first member of the univernal Church. As for Paul, Andrew, and John, they were only the heads of particular congregations; but all were members of the Church under one head and none would ever be called universal." The meaning of Gregory is obvious, viz.. that the apostles themselves, though head of particular congregations or churches were nevertheless members of the Church universal, and some of them even pretended to be the head of the whole Church, or to have power and, authority over the whole Church, that being peculiar to Christ alones. This agrees with whet he had said before, addressing himself to the patiarch, viz. If none of the apostles would be called universal, what will you answer on the last day to Christ, the head of the Church universal? You who, by arrogating that name, strive to subject all his members to yourself?" For it was not the bare title of universal bishop that thus alarmed Gregory, but the universal power, and authority which he apprehended his rival aimed at in assuming that title. Gregory adds: "But this is the time which Christ himself foretold; the earth is now laid waste and destroyed with the plague and the sword; all things that have been predicted are now accomplished; the king of pride, that is Antichrist, is at hand; and what I dread to say, an army of priests is ready to receive him; for they who were chosen to point out to others the way of humility as meekness are themselves now become the slaves of pride and ambition." Here Gregory treats the bishop of Constantinople as the forerunner of Antichrist for taking upon him the title of universal bishop.

In the year 596, Gregory sent Augustine, abbot of his own monastery of St. Andrew at Rome, to convert those of the English who yet remained heathens, and under his auspices Christianity was established in the northern parts of the island. (See AUGUSTINE); and (See ENGLAND, CHURCH OF).

In several contests with the emperor Maurice, Gregory avowed his obligation to submit in temporal questions to the imperial commands. There was a long step to take between Gregory I and Gregory VII. (See PAPACY). In the year 601 the centurion Phocas rebelled against Maurice, slew him and his family atrociously, and usurped the throne. "Never," says Maimbourg, "was there a more infamous tyrant than this wicked man" (Hist, du Pontif. de St. Gregoire, pages 179, 181). The greatest stain upon the pontificate of Gregory is that, instead of hurling his papal anathemas against Phocas, he flattered the murderer, and praised God for his accession to the throne. "The Almighty has chosen you and put you on the throne to banish by your merciful disposition all our griefs.... Let the heavens rejoice; let the earth leap for joy... "It is poor excuse given by some of the Roman writers in Gregory's behalf that Maurice had sided against the pope in his disputes with the patriarch of Constantinople. Phocas, in return, established the supremacy of the see of Rome over all other sees.

The last years of Gregory's life were passed in great suffering from gout and other diseases, but he retained his vigor of mind and will to the end. He died March 12, A.D. 604. Gregory's career presents many contradictions. He was a man of great natural kindess, of indomitable energy, and determined will. His life was entirely devoted to the interests of the papal see; which, in. his mind, were identical with the interests of the kingdom of Christ. If he did not, as has been charged, burn the Palatine library, he despised and discountenanced classical learning. His special attention was given to the Roman liturgy: he reformed the Sacramentary of Gelasius, and put the order of the mass (Canon missae) very nearly into the shape in which it now exists. See MASS. Besides other less important ceremonies, added to the public forms of prayer, he made it his chief care to reform the psalmody, .being excessively fond of sacred music. He arranged and improved the chants in use, and composed others for the psalms, the hymns, the prayers, the verses, the canticles,the lessons, the epistles, the gospels, the prefaces, and the Lord's prayer. He likewise instituted an academy for chanters, for all the clerks, as far as the deacons exclusively; he gave them lessons himself; and the bed in which he continued to chant in the midst of his last illness was preserved with great veneration in the palace of St. John Lateran for a long time, together with the whip with which he used to threaten the young clerks and singing-boys when they sang out of tune. (See GREGORIAN CHANT).

In theology Gregory was a moderate Augustinian he held to, predestination, but not an unconditional predestination. He held also to the value of good works and penance as restoratives; and, in fact, he furnished a basis for the later system of works of supererogation, etc. He may be called the inventor of the doctrine of Purgatory, and of the modern Romish doctrines of Masses and Transubstantiation. The better side of his life and character is set forth strikingly by Neander in his Denkwurdigkeiten. The following extract will show how far later bishops of Rome have wandered from the spirit of the earlier ones as to the use of the Scriptures: It was Gregory's strenuous endeavor to extend the study of the Scriptures among the clergy and the laity. He says in a sermon, 'As we see the face of strangers, and know not their hearts until these are opened to us by confidential intercourse, so, if only the history be regarded in the divine word, nothing else appears to us but the outward countenance. But when, by continual intercourse, we let it pass into our being, the confidence engendered by such communion enables us to penetrate into its spirit. Often, he observes elsewhere, when we do.something, we believe it to be meritorious. But if we return to the word of God, and understand its sublime teaching, we perceive how far behind perfection we stand. A bishop whom Gregory: advised to study the Scriptures had excused himself on the plea that the troubles of the times would not permit him to read. Gregory showed him the barrenness of this excuse, referring him to Romans 15:4. 'If,' he replied, 'the holy Scripture is written for our consolation, we should read it more the more we feel oppressed by the burden of the times'" (Neander, Light in Dark Places, N.Y. page 127).

Gregory was a very voluminous writer. His letters amount to eight hundred and forty; and besides them he wrote a Comment on the Book of Job, comprised in thirty-six books; a Pastoral, or a treatise on the duties of a pastor, consisting of four parts, and, as it were, of four different treatises; twenty-two Homilies on the prophet Ezekiel; forty Homilies on the Gospels, and four books of Dialogues. The Comment on the Book of Job is commonly styled Gregory's Morals of Job (Moralia), being rather a collection of moral principles than an exposition of the text. It is translated into English in the Library of the Fathers (Oxford, 4 volumes, 8vo). That work and the Pastoral were anciently, and still are, reckoned among the best writings of the later fathers. "The Pastoral, in particular, was held in such-high esteem by the Gallican Church that all bishops were obliged by the canons of that Church to be thoroughly acquainted with it, and punctually to observe the rules it contained; nay, to remind them of that obligation, it was delivered into their hands at the time of their ordination. As for the dialogues, they are filled with alleged miracles and stories so grossly absurd and fabulous that it would be a reflection on the understanding and good sense of this great pope to think that he really believed them; the rather as for many of them he had no better vouchers than old, doting, and ignorant people. He was the first, as has been said, who discovered purgatory, and it was by means of the apparitions and visions whichhe relates in his dialogues that he first discovered it; so that the Church of Rome is probably indebted to some old man or old woman for one of the most lucrative articles of her whole creed. In this work Gregory observes that greater discoveries were: made in his time concerning the state of departed souls than in all the preceding ages together, because the end of this world was at hand, and the nearer we came to the other the more we discovered it!" His liturgical works are (1) Liber Sacramentorum; (2) Benedictionale; (3) Liber Antiphonarius; (4) Liber Responsalis. There have been more than twenty editions of his collected works. The best editions are the Benedictine (Paris, 1705, 4 volumes, fol., and also Venice, 1768-76, 17 volumes, 4to), and in Migne's Patrol. (Paris, 1849, 5 volumes, 4to). A recent edition of his Pastoral has been published by Westhof (De pastorali cura, Munster, 1860). Fuller accounts of Gregory and his times are given in Lau, Gregor I, nach seinem Leben und seiner Lehre (Lips. 1845); Margraff, De Greg. I vita, dissert. historica (Berl. 1845); Pfahler, Greg. d. Grosse (Frankf. 1852, 2 volumes). See also Maimbourg, Hist. de Saint G. le Grand (Par. 1686); Wiggers, De Gregorio Magno (Rostock, 1838 sq., 2 parts); Neander, Church History, volume 3 passim; Mosheim, Church Hist. cent. 6, part 2, chapter 2, note 29; Hase, Church History, §130; Hook, Eccl. Biog. 5:497; Clarke, Succession of Sac. Lit. 2:354; Bayle, Dictionary, s.v.; Dupin, Ecclesiastical Writers (7th. century); Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 21:789; Milman, Latina Christianity, 1:429-432; Bower, Lives of the Popes, volume 2; Neander, Hist. of Dogmas, pages 385, 413, 418; Methodist Quarterly Review, 1845, page 524.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Gregory i, Pope'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/g/gregory-i-pope.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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