Pope St. Gregory the Great
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Pope Gregory I (540 – 604), commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was the bishop of Rome from 590 to his death. He is known for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, the Gregorian Mission, to convert the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons in England to Christianity. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope. The epithet Saint Gregory the Dialogist has been attached to him in Eastern Christianity because of his Dialogues.
A Roman senator’s son and himself the prefect of Rome at 30, Gregory lived in a monastery he established on his family estate before becoming a papal ambassador and then pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator. During his papacy, his administration greatly surpassed that of the emperors in improving the welfare of the people of Rome, and he challenged the theological views of Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople before the emperor Tiberius II. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France and sent missionaries to England, including Augustine of Canterbury and Paulinus of York. Gregory helped realign barbarian allegiances such as the Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths with Rome in religion. Because these groups had been previously aligned with the much larger Christian heresy of Arianism, regaining their allegiance would influence and shape later medieval Europe. He also combated the Donatist heresy, which was popular particularly in North Africa at the time.
Gregory is a Church Father, a Doctor of the Church, and considered one of the four “Great Doctors”. He was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and various Lutheran denominations. The Protestant Reformer John Calvin admired Gregory greatly and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good Pope.
- Pastoral Rule
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Quotes and Excerpts:
LETTERS (inter A. D. 590-604]
LETTER OF POPE GREGORY I TO JOHN, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, THE SAME BEING SENT ALSO TO THE OTHER PATRIARCHS, EULOGIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, GREGORY OF ANTIOCH, JOHN OF JERUSALEM, AND ANASTASIUS, EX-PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH. February, 591 A. D.
[1, 24 (al. 25)]
I confess that I receive and revere, like the four books of the holy Gospel, four Councils, to wit: that of Nicaea, in which the perverse doctrine of Arius is destroyed; that of Constantinople, also, in which the error of Eunomius and Macedonius is
overthrown; the first also at Ephesus, in which the impiety of Nestorius is judged; and that too of Chalcedon, in which the wickedness of Eutyches and Dioscurus is reproved. These
Councils I embrace with full devotion and I keep to them with fullest approval; for on them as on a cornerstone rises the structure of the holy faith, and whoever does not hold fast to their solidarity, whatever else his life and conduct may be, even if he is seen to be a stone, still, he lies outside the building.
LETTER OF POPE GREGORY I TO LEANDER, BISHOP OF SEVILLE.
April, 591 A. D.
But in respect to the triple immersion of Baptism, no truer response can be given than what you have already sensed, that where there is one faith a variation in usage does no harm to Holy Church… It cannot be in any way reprehensible to immerse an infant in Baptism either thrice or once, since with three immersions the Trinity of persons may be signified, and in one, the singleness of their Divinity.
LETTER OF POPE GREGORY I TO JANUARY, BISHOP OF CAGLIARI.
May, 594 A. D. (Fratris et coepiscopi nostri]
It has come to our attention that some have been scandalized because we forbade presbyters to touch with chrism those who are to be baptized. And we did this, indeed, in accord with the ancient custom of our Church; but if some are in any way distressed on this account, we allow that, where bishops are lacking, presbyters may touch with chrism, even on their foreheads, those who are to be baptized.”
LETTER OF POPE GREGORY I TO THE EMPRESS CONSTANTINA AUGUSTA.
June, 594 A. D. [Serenitas vestrael
Let my Most Tranquil Lady know that it is not the custom of the Romans, when they give relics of the saints, to presume to touch any part of the body. But only a cloth is put into a box (2) and placed near the most sacred bodies of the saints. When it is taken up again it is deposited with due reverence in the Church that is to be dedicated, and effects so powerful are thereby produced, that it is as if their bodies had actually been taken there. It happened in the time of Pope Leo of blessed memory, as has been handed down by our forefathers, that, certain Greeks being in doubt about such relies, the aforesaid Pontiff made a cut with a scissors in this same cloth, and from the very incision blood flowed forth.
LETTER OF POPE GREGORY I TO BRUNHILDA, QUEEN OF THE FRANKS.
July, 596 A. D. [Epistolarum vestrarum]
[6, 55 (al. 50)]
The tone of your letter, which shows a religious spirit and the earnestness of a pious mind, causes us not only to commend the purpose of your request, but also to grant willingly what you demand.. Accordingly, greeting Your Excellency with due honor,
we inform you that to Leuparic, the bearer of this letter, through whom also we received your communication, and whom you described as a presbyter, we have handed over, in accord with Your Excellency’s request, with the honor due them, certain relics of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
LETTER OF POPE GREGORY I TO BISHOP QUIRICUS AND OTHER
CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF GEORGIA [ASIATIC IBERIA]. June 22,
601 A. D. [Quia caritate nihil]
[11, 52 (al. 67)]
We have learned from the ancient institution of the Fathers that those who, in heresy, are baptized in the name of the Trinity, when they return to the Holy Church are to be recalled to the bosom of Mother Church either by anointing with chrism, or by the imposition of the hand, or by a profession of faith alone . . . because the holy Baptism, which they received among heretics, re-engages in them the powers of cleansing at that time when
they are united to the faith in the bowels of the Holy and Universal Church. But as to those heretics who are baptized not in the name of the Trinity, when they come to the Holy Church, they are baptized, because that was not Baptism, which, situated in error, they received not in the name of the Trinity. Nor can this be called a repetition of a Baptism, which, as was stated, was not given in the name of the Trinity.
MORAL TEACHINGS DRAWN FROM JOB (inter A. D. 578-595]
[4, Pref., 3]
Whoever is not loosed by the waters of rebirth remains bound by the first chains of guilt. But what is accomplished with us by the water of Baptism is achieved among the ancients, either by faith alone in respect to infants, or by the power of sacrifice in respect to adults, or, in respect to those who were of Abraham’s progeny, by the mystery of circumcision.
[9, 34, 54)
The Lord certainly does not spare the criminal, because He will not leave the crime unavenged. For either the man repents his crime and punishes himself, or God vindicates it with the man and strikes him. Never, therefore, is sin spared, because never is it forgiven without having been avenged.
[25, 11, 28)
You must know that sin can be committed in three ways. It is done either in ignorance, in weakness, or of set purpose (20). And certainly the sin committed in weakness is more grave than that done in ignorance; but that done of set purpose is much more grave than that done in weakness.
[33, 21, 40]
The good we do is both of God and of ourselves. It is God’s through prevenient Grace, ours through obedient free will. For if it is not God’s, why do we give thanks to Him in eternity? And again, if it is not ours, why do we hope that a reward will
de given us? It is not improper that we give thanks; for we know that we were anticipated for God’s gift, And again, it is not improper that we seek a reward, because we know that by obedient free will we chose to do what is good.
DIALOGUES [A. D. 593 aut 594]
Peter: I should like to know whether or not we must believe in a purgational fire after death.  Gregory: Everyone is presented in judgment just as he is when he departs this life. But nevertheless, it must be believed that there is, for the sake of certain lesser faults, a purgatorial fire before the judgment, in view of the fact that Truth does say that if anyone speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit it will be forgiven him neither in this world nor in that to come (3). In this statement we are given to understand that some faults can be forgiven in this world and some in the world to come.
HOMILIES ON EZECHIEL IA. D. 593]
[2, 8, 9]
Consider it carefully, please, and tell me, if you can: How was the
Red Sea divided by a staff [of Moses]; how did the hardness of the rock, at the blow of the staff, gush forth a wave of water; how did the dry staff of Aaron flower; how did the Virgin, Aaron’s descendant, conceive and remain a virgin, even in giving birth?
HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS [A. D. 590-591]
[2, 34, 15]
We cannot do penance worthily unless we know what penance really is (10). For to do penance is both to weep for wicked deeds done, and not to do anymore what we would have to weep over. For anyone who deplores some sins but still commits others either dissimulates in doing penance, or does not know what penance is.
Behold, the same Virgin and handmaid of the Lord is also called
“Mother”. Indeed, she is the Lord’s handmaid because the Word.
before all ages, was the only begotten Son and equal to the Father; she is truly his Mother because, in her womb, he became man by the work of the Holy Spirit and from her flesh.
The most blessed and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, can be
called by this name, ‘mountain”. Yes, she was a mountain, who by
the dignity of her election has completely surpassed the height of
every elect creature. Is Mary not the lofty mountain? For God, to achieve the conception of the eternal Word, raised the summit of her merits above the choirs of angels, up to the threshold of the Godhead.
-In I Regum 1:5
The most blessed and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, can be
called by this name, “mountain”. Yes, she was a mountain, who by the dignity of her election has completely surpassed the height of every elect creature. Is Mary not the lofty mountain? For God, to achieve the conception of the eternal Word, raised the summit of her merits above the choirs of angels, up to the threshold of the Godhead.
Isaiah said in a prophecy,
“In the last days, the mountain of the
LORD’s house will be made the highest mountain” (Is 2:2). And this mountain has been made the highest mountain, because Mary’s height has shined out above all the saints. For, just as a mountain implies height, so the house signifies a dwelling place. Therefore she is called mountain and house, because she, illuminated by incomparable merits, prepared a holy womb for God’s Only-begotten to dwell in.
On the other hand, Mary would not have become a mountain
raised above the peaks of the mountains had not the divine fecundity raised her above the angels. Further, she would not have become the Lord’s house had not the divinity of the Word assumed humanity and come to dwell in her womb.
Mary is justly called mountain rich in fruits, because the best fruit
was born from her, namely, a new man. And the prophet, considering how beautiful she is, adorned in the glory of her fruitfulness, cries out:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a
branch shall grow from his roots’ (Is 11:1).
David, exulting in the fruits of this mountain, says to God,
“Let the peoples praise you, O Lord, let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its fruit” (Ps 67:6-7). Yes, the earth has yielded its fruit, because the Virgin did not conceive her Son by man’s doing but because the Holy Spirit stretched out his shadow over her. Therefore the Lord says to David, king and prophet, “I will place the fruit of your womb upon your throne” (Ps 132: 11).
So says Isaiah, ‘And the fruit of the earth shall be exalted’ (Is 4:2). For him whom the Virgin bore was not only a holy man but also the mighty God. Elizabeth refers to this fruit when she greets the Virgin and says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (LK 1:42).
Mary is rightly called mountain of Ephrem because, while she is
raised up by the ineffable dignity of the divine birth, the dry branches of the human condition flower again in the fruit of her womb.
-In I Regum 1:5
Pope Gregory I on Matthew 12:32:
And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
“From this sentence, we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come” (Dial. 4, 39).
Pope Gregory I
“Your most sweet holiness, [Bishop Eulogius of Alexandria], has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors. . . . And, though special honor to myself in no wise delights me . . . who can be ignorant that holy Church has been made firm in the solidity of the prince of the apostles, who derived his name from the firmness of his mind, so as to be called Peter from petra” (Letters 40 [A.D. 597]).
Pope Gregory I
“It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on the Sabbath day. What else can I call these [men] but preachers of Antichrist, who when he comes will cause the Sabbath day as well as the Lord’s day to be kept free from all work. For because he [the Antichrist] pretends to die and rise again, he wishes the Lord’s day to be held in reverence; and because he compels the people to Judaize that he may bring back the outward rite of the law, and subject the perfidy of the Jews to himself, he wishes the Sabbath to be observed. For this which is said by the prophet, ‘You shall bring in no burden through your gates on the Sabbath day’ [Jer. 17:24] could be held to as long as it was lawful for the law to be observed according to the letter. But after that the grace of almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has appeared, the commandments of the law which were spoken figuratively cannot be kept according to the letter. For if anyone says that this about the Sabbath is to be kept, he must needs say that carnal sacrifices are to be offered. He must say too that the commandment about the circumcision of the body is still to be retained. But let him hear the apostle Paul saying in opposition to him: ‘If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing’ [Gal. 5:2]” (Letters 13:1 [A.D. 597]).
Gregory the Great
“Neither faith without works nor works without faith is of any avail, except, perhaps, that works may go towards the reception of faith, just as Cornelius, before he had become one of the faithful, merited to be heard on account of his good works. From this it can be gathered that his performance of good works furthered his reception of faith” (Homilies on Ezekiel 1:9:6 [A.D. 593]).
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