Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Gregorius I. (The Great), bp. of Rome
Gregorius (51) I. (The Great), bp. of Rome from Sept. 3, 590, to Mar. 12, 604; born at Rome probably c. 540, of a wealthy senatorial family. The family was a religious one; his mother Silvia, and Tarsilla and Aemiliana, the two sisters of his father Gordianus, have been canonized. Under such influences his education is spoken of by his biographer, John the deacon, as having been that of a saint among saints. Gregory of Tours, his contemporary, says that in grammar, rhetoric, and logic he was accounted second to none in Rome (Hist. x. 1). He studied law, distinguished himself in the senate, and at an early age (certainly before 573) was recommended by the emperor Justin II. for the post of praetor urbis. After a public career of credit, his deep religious ideas suggested a higher vocation; and on his father's death he kept but a small share of the great wealth that came to him, employing the rest in charitable uses, and especially in founding monasteries, of which he endowed six in Sicily, and one, dedicated to St. Andrew, on the site of his own house near the church of SS. John and Paul at Rome. Here he himself became a monk. The date of his first retirement from the world, and its duration, are uncertain, as are also the exact dates of subsequent events previous to his accession to his see; but the most probable order of events is here followed. During his seclusion his asceticism is said to have been such as to endanger his life had he not been prevailed on by friends to abate its rigour; and it may have partly laid the foundation of his bad health in later life. Gregory Turonensis speaks of his stomach at this time being so enfeebled by fast and vigil that he could hardly stand. Benedict I., having ordained him one of the seven deacons (regionarii) of Rome, sent him as his apocrisiarius to Constantinople, and he was similarly employed in 579 by Benedict's successor Pelagius II. After this Gregory resided three years in Constantinople, where two noteworthy events occurred: his controversy with Eutychius, the patriarch, about the nature of the resurrection body; and the commencement of his famous work Magna Moralia. Recalled by Pelagius to Rome, he was allowed to return to his monastery, but was still employed as the pope's secretary. During his renewed monastic life and in his capacity of abbat he was distinguished for the strictness of his own life and the rigour of his discipline. One story which he tells leaves an impression of zeal carried to almost inhuman harshness. A monk, Julius, who had been a physician and had attended Gregory himself, night and day, during a long illness, being himself dangerously ill, confided to a brother that, in violation of monastic rule, he had three pieces of gold concealed in his cell. This confession was overheard, the cell searched, and the pieces found. Gregory forbade all to approach the offender, even in the agonies of death, and after death caused his body to be thrown on a dunghill with the pieces of gold, the monks crying aloud, "Thy money perish with thee" (Greg Dial. iv. 55).
On Feb. 8, 590, Pelagius II. died, Rome being then in great straits. The Lombards were ravaging the country and threatening the city, aid being craved in vain from the distant emperor; within famine and plague were raging. Gregory was at once unanimously chosen by senate, clergy, and people to succeed Pelagius; but to him his election was distressing, and he wrote to the emperor Mauricius imploring him not to confirm it. His letter was intercepted by the prefect of Rome, and another sent, in the name of senate, clergy, and people, earnestly requesting confirmation. Before the reply of the emperor reached Rome, Gregory aroused the people to repentance by his sermons, and instituted the famous processional litany, called Litania septiformis. The emperor confirmed the election of Gregory, who fled in disguise, was brought back in triumph, conducted to the church of St. Peter, and immediately ordained on Sept. 3, 590 (Anastas. Bibliothec. and Martyrol. Roman.).
After his accession he continued in heart a monk, surrounding himself with ecclesiastics instead of laymen, and living with them according to monastic rule. In accordance with this plan a synodal decree was made under him in 595, substituting clergy or monks for the boys and secular persons who had formerly waited on the pope in his chamber (Ep. iv. 44). Yet he rose at once to his new position. The church shared in the distress and disorganization of the time. The fires of controversy of the last two centuries still raged in the East. In Istria and Gaul the schism on the question of the Three Chapters continued; in Africa the Donatists once more became aggressive against the Catholics. Spain had but just, and as yet imperfectly, recovered from Arianism. In Gaul the church was oppressed under its barbarian rulers; in Italy, under the Arian Lombards, the clergy were infected with the demoralization of the day. The monastic system was suffering declension and was now notoriously corrupt. Literature and learning had almost died with Boëthius; and all these causes combined with temporal calamities led to a prevalent belief, which Gregory shared, that the end of all things was at hand. Nor was the position of the papacy encouraging to one who, like Gregory, took a high view of the prerogatives of St. Peter's chair. Since the recovery of Italy by Justinian (after the capture of Rome by Belisarius in 536) the popes had been far less independent than even under the Gothic kings. Justinian regarded the bishops of Rome as his creatures, to be appointed, summoned to court, and deposed at his pleasure, and subject to the commands of his exarch at Ravenna. No reigns of popes had been so inglorious as those of Gregory's immediate predecessors, Vigilius, Pelagius I., Benedict, and Pelagius II. He himself describes the Roman church as "like an old and violently shattered ship, admitting the waters on all sides, its timbers rotten, shaken by daily storms, and sounding of wreck" (Ep i.).
Gregory may be regarded, first, as a spiritual ruler; secondly, as a temporal administrator and potentate; lastly, as to his personal character and as a doctor of the church.
Immediately after his accession he sent, according to custom, a confession of his faith to the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, in which he declared his reception of the first four general councils, as of the four gospels, and his condemnation of the Three Chapters—i.e. the writings of three deceased prelates, Theodorus, Theodoret, and Ibas, supposed to savour of heresy, and already condemned by Justinian and by the fifth council called oecumenical. The strong language in which he exalts the authority of the four councils as "the square stone on which rests the structure of the faith, the rule of every man's actions and life, which foundation whoever does not hold is out of the building," is significant of his views on the authority of the church at large, while his recognition of the four patriarchs as co-ordinate potentates, to whom he sends an account of his own faith, expresses one aspect of the relation to the Eastern churches which then satisfied the Roman pontiffs. He lost no time in taking measures for the restoration of discipline, the reform of abuses, the repression of heresy, and the establishment of the authority of the Roman see, both in his own metropolitan province and wherever his influence extended. That jurisdiction was threefold—episcopal, metropolitan, and patriarchal. As bishop he had the oversight of the city; as metropolitan of the seven suffragan, afterwards called cardinal, bishops of the Roman territory,i.e. of Ostia, Portus, Silva Candida, Sabina, Praeneste, Tusculum, and Albanum; while his patriarchate seems to have originally extended (according to Rufinus, H. E. i. [x.] 6) over the suburban provinces under the civil jurisdiction of the vicarius urbis, including Upper Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. But being the only patriarch in the West, he had in fact claimed and exercised jurisdiction beyond these original limits, including the three other vicariates into which the prefecture of Italy was politically divided: N. Italy, with its centre at Milan, W. Illyricum, with its capital at Sirmium, and W. Africa, with its capital at Carthage. Before his accession a still wider authority had been claimed and in part acknowledged. As bishops of the old imperial city, with an acknowledged primacy of honour among the patriarchs, still more as occupants of St. Peter's chair and conservators of his doctrine, and as such consulted and appealed to by various Western churches, the popes had come to exercise a more or less defined jurisdiction over them all. The power of sending judges to hear the appeals of condemned bishops, which had been accorded to pope Julius by the Western council of Sardica in 343, had been claimed by his successors as perpetually belonging to the Roman see and extended so as to involve the summoning of cases to be heard at Rome; and a law had been obtained by Leo I. from Valentinian (445) by which the pope was made supreme head of the whole Western church, with the power of summoning prelates from all provinces to abide his judgment. On the assumption of such authority Gregory acted, being determined to abate none of the rights claimed by his predecessors.
In the year of his accession (590) he endeavoured, though without result, to bring over the Istrian bishops, who still refused to condemn the Three Chapters. With this view he appointed a council to meet at Rome, and obtained an order from the emperor for the attendance of these bishops. They petitioned for exemption, saying that their faith was that formerly taught them by pope Vigilius, and protesting against submission to the bp. of Rome as their judge. The emperor countermanded the order, and Gregory acquiesced.
In 591 his orthodox zeal was directed with more success against the African Donatists. It was the custom in Numidia for the senior bishop, whether Donatist or Catholic, to exercise metropolitan authority over the other bishops. Such senior now happened to be a Donatist, and he assumed the customary authority. Gregory wrote to the Catholic bishops of Numidia, and to Gennadius, exarch of Africa, urging them to resist such a claim (Ep. i. 74, 75), and the Donatist bishop was deposed, but the sect continued in Africa as long as Christianity did. This is not the only instance of Gregory, like others of his age, not being averse to persecution as a means of conversion. In Sicily he enjoined rigorous measures (summopere persequi) for the recovery of the Manicheans to the church (Ep. iv. 6); there, and in Corsica, Sardinia, and Campania, the heathen peasants and slaves on the papal estates were by his order compelled to conform, not only by exactions on such as refused, but also by the imprisonment of freemen, and the corporal castigation (verberibus et cruciatibus) of slaves (Ep. iii. 26; vii. ind. ii. 67), and in France he exhorted queen Brunichild to similar measures of coercion (Ep. vii. 5). On the other hand, there are three letters of his, written in the same year as those about the African Donatists, which evince a spirit of unusual toleration towards Jews. They are addressed to three bishops, Peter of Tarracina, Virgilius of Arles, and Theodorus of Marseilles. The first had driven the Jews from their synagogues, and the last two had converted a number by offering them the choice of baptism or exile. Gregory strongly condemns such proceedings, "because conversions wrought by force are never sincere, and those thus converted seldom fail to return to their vomit when the force is removed." (Ep. i. 34, i. 45; cf. Ep. vii. ind. i. 26, vii. ind. ii. 5, vii. 2, 59.) Yet he had no objection to luring them into the fold by the prospect of advantage, for in a letter to a deacon Cyprian, who was steward of the papal patrimony in Sicily, he directs him to offer the Jews a remission of one-third of the taxes due to the Roman church if they became Christians, saying, in justification, that though such conversions might be insincere, their children would be brought up in the bosom of the church (Ep. iv. 6, cf. Ep. xii. 30). In such apparent inconsistencies we may see his good sense and Christian benevolence in conflict with the impulses of zeal and the notions of his age.
Gregory was no less active in reforming the church itself. Great laxity was prevalent among the monks, of which the life of Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order, affords ample evidence. Several of Gregory's letters are addressed to monks who had left their monasteries for the world and marriage. He issued the following regulations for the restoration of monastic discipline: no monk should be received under 18 years of age, nor any husband without his wife's consent (in one case he orders a husband who had entered a monastery to be restored to his wife [Ep. ix. 44]); two years of probation should always be required, and three in the case of soldiers; a professed monk leaving his order should be immured for life; no monk, though an abbat, should leave the precincts of his monastery, except on urgent occasions; under no pretext should any monk leave his monastery alone, on the ground that "Qui sine teste ambulat non rectè vivit." He provided for the more complete separation of the monastic and clerical orders, forbidding any monk to remain in his monastery after ordination, and any priest to enter a monastery except to exercise clerical functions, or to become a monk without giving up his clerical office; and further exempting some monasteries from the jurisdiction of bishops. This last important provision was extended to all monasteries by the Lateran synod, held under him in 601.
He was no less zealous in his correction of the clergy. Several bishops under his immediate metropolitan jurisdiction and elsewhere he rebuked or deposed for incontinency and other crimes. His own nuncio at Constantinople, Laurentius the archdeacon, he recalled and deposed. From the clergy generally he required strict chastity, forbidding them to retain in their houses any women but their mothers, sisters, or wives married before ordination, and with these last prohibiting conjugal intercourse (Ep. i. 50, ix. 64). Bishops he recommends to imitate St. Augustine in banishing from their houses even such female relatives as the canons allow (Ep. vii. ind. ii. 39; xi. 42, 43). In Sicily the obligation to celibacy had, in 588, been extended to subdeacons. This rule he upheld by directing the bishops to require a vow of celibacy from all who should in future be ordained subdeacons, but acknowledging its hardship on such as had made no such vow on their ordination, he contented himself with forbidding the advancement to the diaconate of existing subdeacons who had continued conjugal intercourse after the introduction of the rule (Ep. i. ind. ix. 42).
He also set himself resolutely against the prevalent simony, forbidding all bishops and clergy to exact or accept fee or reward for the functions of their office; and he set the example himself by refusing the annual presents which it had been customary for the bishops of Rome to receive from their suffragans, or payment for the pallium sent to metropolitans, which payment was forbidden to all future popes by a Roman synod in 595.
In 592 began a struggle in reference to discipline with certain bishops of Thessaly and Dalmatia, in the province of Illyricum. Hadrianus of Thebes had been deposed by a provincial synod under his metropolitan the bp. of Larissa, and the sentence had been confirmed by John of Justiniana Prima, the primate of Illyricum. The deposed prelate appealed to Gregory, who, after examining the whole case, ordered the primate to reinstate Hadrianus (Ep. ii. ind. xi. 6, 7). He also ordered Natalis, bp. of Salona in Dalmatia and metropolitan, under pain of excommunication, to reinstate his archdeacon Honoratus whom he had deposed (Ep. ii. ind. x. 14, 15, 16). In both instances he appears to have been obeyed. Not so, however, in the case of Maximus, who succeeded Natalis as bp. of Salona and metropolitan in the same year. Maximus having been elected in opposition to Honoratus, whom Gregory had recommended, the latter disallowed the election, and wrote to the clergy of Salona forbidding them to choose a bishop without the consent of the apostolic see. Meanwhile the emperor had confirmed the election. After, protracted negotiations, lasting 7 years, during which 17 letters were written by Gregory, the emperor committed the settlement of the dispute to Maximianus, bp. of Ravenna, with the result that Maximus, having publicly begged pardon of the pope and cleared himself from the charge of simony by an oath of purgation at the tomb of St. Apollinaris, was at last acknowledged as lawful bp. of Salona (Ep. iii. ind. xii. 15, 20; iv. ind. xiii. 34; v. ind. xiv. 3; vi. ind. xv. 17; vii. ind. i. 1; vii. ind. ii. 81, 82, 83). In the West beyond the limits of the empire Gregory also lost no opportunity of extending the influence of his see and of advancing and consolidating the church. Reccared, the Visigothic king of Spain, renounced Arianism for Catholicism at the council of Toledo in 589, and Gregory heard of this from Leander, bp. of Seville, whom he exhorted to watch over the royal convert. He sent Leander a pallium to be used at mass only. He wrote to Reccared in warm congratulation, exhorting him to humility, chastity, and mercy; thanking him for presents received, and sending in return a key from the body of St. Peter, in which was some iron from the chain that had bound him, and a cross containing a piece of the true cross, and some hairs of John the Baptist (Canones Eccles. Hispan.). There is no distinct assumption, in these letters, of jurisdiction over the Spanish church, and this is the only known instance of a pallium having been sent to Spain previously to the Saracen invasion. The ancient Spanish church does not seem to have been noted for its dependence on the Roman see (see Geddes, Tracts, vol. ii. pp. 25, 49; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. vol. ii. p. 188). With the Frank rulers of Gaul Gregory carefully cultivated friendly relations. In 595, at the request of king Childeric, he conferred the pallium on Virgilius of Arles, the ancient metropolitan see, whose bishop pope Zosimus had confirmed in his metropolitan right, and made vicar as early as 417. Not long after Gregory began a correspondence with queen Brunichild, in which he exhorts her to use her power for the correction of the vices of the clergy and the conversion of the heathen. Another royal female correspondent, cultivated and flattered with a similar purpose, and one more worthy of the praise conferred, was Theodelinda the Lombard queen. To 599 is assigned the extensive conversion of the Lombards to Catholicism, brought about after the death of king Antharis through the marriage of this Theodelinda, his widow, with Agilulph duke of Turin, who consequently succeeded to the throne. With this pious lady, a zealous Catholic, Gregory kept up a highly complimentary correspondence, sending her also a copy of his four books of dialogues.
Over the church in Ireland, then bound by no close tie of allegiance to the see of Rome, he endeavoured to extend his influence, writing in 592 a long letter to the bishops.
Not content with thus influencing, consolidating, and reforming the existing churches throughout the West, he was also a zealous missionary, and as such the founder of our English, as distinct from the more ancient British, Christianity. [[[../../A/Augustinus, Aurelius|Augustine]].]
Of his relations with Constantinople and the Eastern church, the year 593 affords the first example. Having heard of two presbyters, John of Chalcedon and Anastasius of Isauria, being beaten with cudgels, after conviction on a charge of heresy, under John the Faster, then patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory wrote twice to the patriarch, remonstrating with him for introducing a new and uncanonical punishment, exhorting him to restore the two presbyters or to judge them canonically, and expressing his own readiness to receive them at Rome. Notwithstanding the patriarch's protest, the presbyters thereupon withdrew to Rome and were received and absolved by Gregory after examination (Ep. ii. 52, v. 64). In other letters we find him saying, "With respect to the Constantinopolitan church, who doubts that it is subject to the apostolical see?" and "I know not what bishop is not subject to it, if fault is found in him" (Ep. vii. ind. ii. 64, 65). But the most memorable incidents in this connexion are his remonstrances against the assumption by John the Faster of the title of oecumenical or universal bishop. They began in 595, being provoked by the repeated occurrence of the title in a judgment against an heretical presbyter which had been sent to Rome. The title was not new. Patriarchs had been so styled by the emperors Leo and Justinian, and it had been confirmed to John the Faster and his successors by a general Eastern synod at Constantinople in 588, pope Pelagius protesting against it. Gregory now wrote to Sabinianus, his apocrisiarius at Constantinople, desiring him to use his utmost endeavours with the patriarch, the emperor, and the empress, to procure the renunciation of the title; and when this failed, he himself wrote to all these in peculiarly strong language. The title he called foolish, proud, pestiferous, profane, wicked, a diabolical usurpation; the ambition of any who assumed it was like that of Lucifer, and its assumption a sign of the approach of the king of pride, i.e. Antichrist. His arguments are such as to preclude himself as well as others from assuming the title, though he implies that if any could claim it it would be St. Peter's successors. Peter, he says, was the first of the apostles, yet neither he nor any of the others would assume the title universal, being all members of the church under one head, Christ. He also states (probably in error) that the title had been offered to the bp. of Rome at the council of Chalcedon, and refused. Failing entirely to make an impression at Constantinople, he addressed himself to the Eastern patriarchs. He wrote to Eulogius of Alexandria and Anastasius of Antioch, representing the purpose of their brother of Constantinople as being that of degrading them, and usurping to himself all ecclesiastical power. They, however, were not thus moved to action; they seem to have regarded the title as one of honour only, suitable to the patriarch of the imperial city; and one of them, Anastasius, wrote in reply that the matter seemed to him of little moment. The controversy continued after the death of John the Faster. Gregory instructed his apocrisiarius at Constantinople to demand from the new patriarch, Cyriacus, as a condition of intercommunion, the renunciation of the proud and impious title which his predecessor had wickedly assumed. In vain did Cyriacus send a nuncio to Rome in the hope of arranging matters: Gregory was resolute, and wrote, "I confidently say that whosoever calls himself universal priest, or desires to be so called in his elation, is the forerunner of Antichrist." At this time he seems to have gained a supporter, if not to his protest, at any rate to the paramount dignity of his own see, in Eulogius of Alexandria, whom he had before addressed without result. For in answering a letter from that patriarch, he acknowledges with approval the dignity assigned by him to the see of St. Peter, and expresses adroitly a curious view of his correspondent, as well as the patriarch of Antioch, being a sharer in it. "Who does not know," he says, "that the church was built and established on the firmness of the prince of the apostles, by whose very name is implied a rock? Hence, though there were several apostles, there is but one apostolic see, that of the prince of the apostles, which has acquired great authority; and that see is in three places, in Rome where he died, in Alexandria where it was founded by his disciple St. Mark, and in Antioch where he himself lived seven years. These three, therefore, are but one see, and on that one see sit three bishops, who are but one in Him Who said, I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you." But when Eulogius in a second letter styled the bp. of Rome universal pope, Gregory warmly rejected such a title, saying, "If you give more to me than is due to me, you rob yourself of what is due to you. Nothing can redound to my honour that redounds to the dishonour of my brethren. If you call me universal pope, you thereby own yourself to be no pope. Let no such titles be mentioned or ever heard among us." Gregory was obliged at last to acquiesce in the assumption of the obnoxious title by the Constantinopolitan patriarch; and it may have been by way of contrast that he usually styled himself in his own letters by the title since borne by the bps. of Rome, "Servus servorum Dei." Evidently Gregory and his opponents took different views of the import of the title contended for. They represented it as one simply of honour and dignity, while he regarded it as involving the assumption of supreme authority over the church at large, and especially over the see of St. Peter, whence probably in a great measure the vehemence of his remonstrance. In the different views taken appears the difference of principle on which pre-eminence was in that age thought assignable to sees in the East and West respectively. In the East the dignity of a see was regarded as an appanage of a city's civil importance, on which ground alone could any pre-eminence be claimed for Constantinople. In the West it was the apostolical origin of the see, and the purely ecclesiastical pre-eminence belonging to it from ancient times, to which especial regard was paid. Thus viewed, the struggle of Gregory for the dignity of his own see against that of Constantinople assumes importance as a protest against the Erastianism of the East. It certainly would not have been well for the church had the spiritual authority of the bps. of Rome accrued to the subservient patriarchs of the Eastern capital.
As a temporal administrator and potentate Gregory evinced equally great vigour, ability, and zeal, guided by address and judgment. The see of Rome had large possessions, constituting what was called the patrimony of St. Peter, in Italy, Sardinia, and Corsica, and also in more remote parts, e.g. Dalmatia, Illyricum, Gaul, and even Africa and the East. Over these estates Gregory exercised a vigilant superintendence by means of officers called "rectores patrimonii" and "defensores," to whom his letters remain, prescribing minute regulations for the management of the lands, and guarding especially against any oppression of the peasants. The revenues accruing to the see, thus carefully secured, though with every possible regard to humanity and justice, were expended according to the fourfold division then prevalent in the West—viz. in equal parts for the bishop, the clergy, the fabric and services of the church, and the poor. This distribution, publicly made four times a year, Gregory personally superintended. His own charities were immense, a large portion of the population of Rome being dependent on them: every day, before his own meal, a portion was sent to the poor at his door; the sick and infirm in every street were sought out; and a large volume was kept containing the names, ages, and dwellings of the objects of his bounty.
A field for the exercise of his political abilities was afforded by his position as virtual ruler of Rome at that critical time. His letters and homilies gave a lamentable account of the miseries of the country, and he endeavoured to conclude a peace between Agilulph, the Lombard king, who was himself disposed to come to terms, and the exarch Romanus. These endeavours were frustrated by the opposition of Romanus, who represented Gregory to the emperor as having been overreached by the crafty enemy. The emperor believed his exarch, and wrote to Gregory in condemnation of his conduct. In vain did Gregory remonstrate in letters both to the emperor and to the empress Constantina, complaining to the latter not so much of the ravages of the Lombards as of the cruelty and exactions of the imperial officers; but though small success crowned his efforts, whatever mitigation of distress was accomplished was due to him.
In 601 an event occurred which shews Gregory in a less favourable light, with respect to his relations to the powers of the world than anything else during his career. Phocas, a centurion, was made emperor by the army. He secured his throne by the murder of Mauricius, whose six sons had been first cruelly executed before their father's eyes. He afterwards put to death the empress Constantina and her three daughters, who had been lured out of the asylum of a church under a promise of safety. Numerous persons of all ranks and in various parts of the empire are also said to have been put to death with unusual cruelty. To Phocas and his consort Leontia, who is spoken of as little better than her husband, Gregory wrote congratulatory letters in a style of flattery beyond even what was usual with him in addressing great potentates (Ep. xi. ind. vi. 38, 45. 46). His motive was doubtless largely the hope of obtaining from the new powers the support which Mauricius had not accorded him in his dispute with the Eastern patriarch. This motive appears plainly in one of his letters to Leontia, to whom, rather than to the emperor, with characteristic tact, he intimates his hopes of support to the church of St. Peter, endeavouring to work upon her religious fears.
Gregory lived only 16 months after the accession of Phocas, dying after protracted suffering from gout on Mar. 12, 604. He was buried in the basilica of St. Peter.
Immediately after his death a famine occurred, which the starving multitude attributed to his prodigal expenditure, and his library was only saved from destruction by the interposition of the archdeacon Peter.
The pontificate of Gregory the Great is rightly regarded as second to none in its influence on the future form of Western Christianity. He lived in the period of transition from Christendom under imperial rule to the medieval papacy, and he laid or consolidated the foundation of the latter. He advanced, indeed, no claims to authority beyond what had been asserted by his predecessors; yet the consistency, firmness, conscientious zeal, as well as address and judgment, with which he maintained it, and the waning of the power of the Eastern empire, left him virtual ruler of Rome and the sole power to whom the Western church turned for support, and whom the Christianized barbarians, founders of the new kingdom of Europe, regarded with reverence. Thus he paved the way for the system of papal absolutism that culminated under Gregory VII. and Innocent III.
As a writer he was intellectually eminent; and deserves his place among the doctors of the church, though his learning and mental attitude were those of his age. As a critic, an expositor, an original thinker, he may not stand high; he knew neither Greek nor Hebrew, and had no deep acquaintance with the Christian Fathers; literature for its own sake he set little store by; classical literature, as being heathen, he repudiated. Yet as a clear and powerful exponent of the received orthodox doctrine, especially in its practical aspect, as well as of the system of hagiology, demonology, and monastic asceticism, which then formed part of the religion of Christendom, he spoke with a loud and influential voice to many ages after his own, and contributed more than any one person to fix the form and tone of medieval religious thought.
He was also influential as a preacher, and no less famous for his influence on the music and liturgy of the church; whence he is called "magister caeremoniarum." To cultivate church singing he instituted a song-school in Rome, called Orphanotrophium, the name of which implies also a charitable purpose. Of it, John the deacon, after speaking of the cento of antiphons which Gregory had carefully compiled, says: "He founded a school of singers, endowed it with some farms, and built for it two habitations, one under the steps of the basilica of St. Peter the Apostle, the other under the houses of the Lateran Palace. There to the present day his couch on which he used to recline when singing, and his whip with which he menaced the boys, together with his original antiphonary, are preserved with fitting reverence" (Vit. Greg. ii. 6). It is generally alleged that, whereas St. Ambrose had in the latter part of the 4th cent. introduced at Milan the four authentic modes or scales, called, after those of the ancient Greek music, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixo-Lydian, St. Gregory added to them the four plagal, or subsidiary, modes called Hypo-Dorian, Hypo-Phrygian, Hypo-Lydian, and Hypo-Mixo-Lydian, thus enlarging the allowed range of ecclesiastical melody.
His Septiform litany was so called from being appointed by him to be sung by the inhabitants of Rome divided into seven companies, viz. of clergy, laymen, monks, virgins, matrons, widows, and of poor people and children. These, starting from 7 different churches, were to chant through the streets of Rome, and meet for common supplication in the church of the Blessed Virgin. He also appointed "the stations"—churches at which were to be held solemn services in Lent and at the four great festivals; visiting the churches in person, and being received with stately ceremonial.
His extant works of undoubted genuineness are: (1) Expositio in beatum Job, seu Moralium lib. xxxv. In this celebrated work (begun at Constantinople before he was pope and finished afterwards) "the book of Job is expounded in a threefold manner, according to its historic, its moral, and its allegorical meaning. The moral interpretation may still be read with profit, though rather for the loftiness and purity of its tone than for the justness of the exposition." As to the allegorical interpretation, "names of persons, numbers, words, even syllables, are made pregnant with all kinds of mysterious meanings" (Milman, Hist. of Latin Christianity). (2) Libri duo in Exechielem: viz. 22 homilies on Ezekiel, delivered at Rome during its siege by Agilulph. (3) Libri duo in Evangelia: viz. 40 homilies on the gospels for the day, preached at various times. (4) Liber Regulae Pastoralis, in 4 parts; a treatise on the pastoral office, addressed to a bp. John to explain and justify the writer's former reluctance to undertake the burden of the popedom. This work was long held in the highest esteem. Leander of Seville circulated it in Spain; the emperor Mauricius had it translated into Greek; Alfred the Great translated it into English; a succession of synods in Gaul enjoined a knowledge of it on all bishops; and Hincmar, archbp. of Rheims in the 9th cent., says that a copy of it was delivered, together with the book of canons, to bishops at their ordination, with a charge to them to frame their lives according to its precepts (in Praefatione Opusculi 55 Capitulorum). (5) Dialogorum libri IV. de vita et miraculis patrum Italicorum, et de aeternitate canimae. The authenticity of this work has been doubted; apparently without adequate grounds. It is written in the form of dialogues with the archdeacon Peter, and contains accounts of saintly persons, prominent among whom is Benedict of Nursia, the contemporary founder of the Benedictine order. It abounds in marvels, and relates visions of the state of departed souls, which have been a main support, if not a principal foundation, of the medieval doctrine about purgatory. The Dialogues were translated into Anglo-Saxon by order of Alfred (Asser. Gest. Alf. in Mon. Hist. Brit. 486 E). (6) Registrum Epistolarum, in 14 books, of which the 13th is wanting; a very varied collection of 838 letters to persons of all ranks, which gives a vivid idea of his unwearied activity, the multifariousness of his engagements and interests, his address, judgment, and versatility. (7) Liber Sacramentorum. This, the famous Gregorian Sacramentary, was an abbreviated arrangement in one vol., with some alterations and additions, of the sacramentary of pope Gelasius, which again had been founded on an older one attributed to pope Leo I. John the deacon says of Gregory's work, "Sed et Gelasianum codicem, de Missarum solemniis multa subtrahens, pauca convertens, nonnulla superadjiciens, in unius libelli volumine coarctavit" (Joann. Diac. in Vit. Greg. ii. 17; cf. Bede, H. E. ii. 1). The changes made by Gregory were principally in the Missae, or variable offices for particular days; in the Ordo Missae itself only two alterations are spoken of as made by him, viz. to the part of the canon beginning, "Hanc igitur oblationem," he added the words, "Diesque nostros in tua pace disponas, atque ab aeterna damnatione eripi et in electorum tuorum jubeas grege numerari"; and the transference of the Lord's Prayer from after the breaking of bread to its present place in the canon (Ep. ad Joann. Syrac. lib. ix. Ep. 12). Whatever uncertainty there may be as to the original text of Gregory's sacramentary as a whole, it is considered certain that the present Roman canon and, except for certain subsequent additions, the ordinarium are the same as what he left. [SACRAMENTARY in D. C. A.] (8) Liber Antiphonarius, a collection of antiphons for mass. To what extent this was original, or how far it may have been altered since Gregory's time, is uncertain.
Of the following works attributed to Gregory, the genuineness is doubtful: (1)Liber Benedictionum; (2) Liber Responsalis seu Antiphonarius; (3)Expositiones in librum I. Regum; (4) Expositiones super Canticum Canticorum; (5) Expositio in vii. Pss. Paenitentiales; (6) Concordia quorundam testimoniorum sacrae Scripturae. There are also 9 hymns attributed to him with probability.
Of his personal appearance an idea may be formed from a description given by John the deacon of a portrait preserved to his own day (9th cent.) in St. Andrew's monastery, "in absidicula post fratrum cellarium"; which he concludes to have been painted during the pope's life and by his order. That this was the case is inferred from the head being surmounted, not by a corona, but by a tabula ("tabulae similitudinem"), which John says is the mark of a living person, and by the appended inscription:
"Christe patens Domine, nostri largitor honoris
Indultum officium solita pietate guberna."
The figure is of ordinary size, and well formed; the face "most becomingly prolonged with a certain rotundity"; the beard of moderate size and somewhat tawny; in the middle of his otherwise bald forehead are two neat little curls twisting towards the right; the crown of the head is round and large; dark hair, decently curled, hangs under the middle of the ear; he has a fine forehead; his eyebrows are long and elevated, but slender; the pupils of the eyes are of a yellow tinge, not large, but open, and the under-eyelids are full; the nose is slender as it curves down from the eyebrows, broader about the middle, then slightly curved, and expanding at the nostrils; the mouth is ruddy; the lips thick and subdivided; the cheeks regular ("compositae"); the chin rather prominent from the confines of the jaws; the complexion was "aquilinus et lividus" (al. "vividus"), not "cardiacus," as it became afterwards, i.e. he had in the picture a dark but fresh complexion, though in later life it acquired an unhealthy hue. (See Du Cange for the probable meaning of the words.) His countenance is mild; his hands good, with taper fingers, well adapted for writing. The dress he wears is of interest—a chestnut-coloured planeta over a dalmatica, which is precisely the same dress as that in which his father is depicted, and therefore not then a peculiarly sacerdotal costume. [Gordianus.] He is distinguished from his father by the pallium, the then form and mode of wearing which are intimated by the description. It is brought from the left shoulder so as to hang carelessly under the breast, and, passing over the right shoulder, is deposited behind the back, the other end being carried straight behind the neck also to the right shoulder, from which it hangs down the side. In the left hand is a book of the Gospels; the right is in the attitude of making the sign of the cross (Joann. Diac. in Vit. Greg. 1. 4, c. 83). John describes also his pallium, woven of white linen and with no marks of the needle in it; his phylactery (or case for relics), of thin silver, and hung from the neck by crimson cloth, and his belt ("baltheus"), only a thumb's breadth wide—which, he says, were preserved and venerated on the saint's anniversary, and which he refers to as shewing the monastic simplicity of Gregory's attire (ib. c. 8).
Our chief authorities for the Life of Gregory are his own writings, especially his letters, of which a trans. (Selecta Epp.) is in Lib. of Post.-Nic. Fathers. Among ancient writers Gregory of Tours (his contemporary), Bede, Paul Warnefried (730), Ado Trevirensis (1070), Simeon Metaphrastes (1300), Isidorus Hispalensis, have detailed notices of him. Paul the deacon in the 8th cent., and John the deacon, a monk of Cassino, in the 9th cent., wrote Lives of him (Greg.Op. ed. Benedict). The Benedictine ed. of his works has a fuller Life, using additional sources. An important work on Gregory the Great, his Place in Thought and History, was pub. by the Rev. F. H. Dudden, in two vols. 4to, 1905 (Lond., Longmans). A cheap popular Life by the author of this art. is pub. by S.P.C.K. in their Fathers for Eng. Readers; see also a monograph on Pope Gregory the Great and his Relation with Gaul, by F. W. Kellett (Camb. Univ. Press).