SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT (c.540-604), pope and Doctor of the Church – Patron saint of popes, students, educators, England, and those suffering from gout and the plague.
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Gregory the Great, a central figure of the medieval Western Church and one of the most admired popes in Church history.
Born about the year 540 into a noble Roman family, Gregory received a classical education in liberal arts and the law. He also had a strong religious formation from his devout family, particularly from his mother, whose name was Silvia.
About the age of thirty, Gregory had advanced to high political office in Rome, during what was nevertheless a period of marked decline for the city. Some time after becoming the city’s Prefect (high administrative official), Gregory chose to leave civil administration to become a monk during the rise of the Benedictine Order.
After three years of a strict monastic life, he was called personally by Pope Pelagius II to assume the office of a deacon in Rome. From Rome, he was dispatched to Constantinople in order to seek aid from the emperor for Rome’s civic troubles, and to aid in resolving the Eastern Church’s theological controversies. Gregory returned to Rome in 586, after six years of service as the Papal representative to the Eastern Church and empire.
Rome faced a series of disasters caused by flooding in the year 589, followed by the death of Pope Pelagius the next year. Gregory, then serving as abbot in a monastery, reluctantly accepted his election to replace him as the Bishop of Rome in 590. Despite his initial reluctance, however, Pope Gregory I began working tirelessly to reform and solidify the Roman liturgy, the disciplines of the Church, the military and economic security of Rome, and the Church’s spreading influence in Western Europe.
As pope, Gregory brought his political experience to bear in both Rome and Constantinople, in the task of preventing the Catholic Church from becoming subservient to any of the various groups struggling for control of the former imperial capital. And, as the former abbot of a monastery, he strongly supported the Benedictine movement as a bedrock of the Western Church. In addition, he sent missionaries to England, and is given much of the credit for the nation’s conversion.
In undertaking these works, Pope Gregory saw himself as the “servant of the servants of God”. He was the first of the Bishops of Rome to popularize this now traditional papal title, which referred to Christ’s command that those in the highest position of leadership should be “…the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35b).
Even as he undertook to consolidate papal power and shore up the crumbling Roman West, Pope Gregory maintained a humble sense of his mission as a servant and pastor of souls. From the time of his election in the year 590 until his death on March 12, 604, he utilized his office as chief shepherd of the flock by constantly helping the poor and strengthening the faith. He also wrote extensively on moral and theological issues.
In later years, the achievements of Pope Gregory brought him renown in both religious and political circles, who in turn honored him with the title of “Pope Gregory the Great”.
The remains of Saint Gregory the Great are interred under the Altar of Saint Gregory in the Clementine Chapel in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and he has been given a place with Saints Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome as one of the four key Doctors of the Western Church.
We commemorate his feastday on September 3.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Gregory the Great)
“Father, You guide Your people with kindness and govern us with love. By the prayers of Saint Gregory, give the Spirit of Wisdom to those You have called to lead Your Church. May the growth of Your people in holiness be the eternal joy of our shepherds.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”