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date: 05 July 2020

Gregory (1) I, 'the Great', pope

Gregory (1) I, the Great, pope 590–604 ce, of senatorial and papal family; probable prefect of Rome c.573; subsequently monk; deacon, 578; apocrisiarius (lit. ‘delegate’, a church official) at Constantinople, 579–585/6 (despite his poor Greek); then adviser to Pope Pelagius II. When pope, despite ill-health, he valiantly administered a Rome stricken by flood, plague, and famine, shrunken in population and isolated and threatened by Arian (see arianism) and pagan Lombards. He reorganized papal estates for Rome's supply, centralizing their administration through appointments, paid imperial troops, appointed officers, and negotiated with the Lombards. He devotedly served the Byzantine empire as the ‘holy commonwealth’, but sometimes acted independently of emperor and exarchs. Warfare and political fragmentation limited his powers, but expectation of the Day of Judgement sharpened his sense of spiritual responsibility for the world. As churchman, he upheld ecclesiastical discipline in Italy and Dalmatia, maintained authority in the vicariate of Illyricum, restructured the dioceses of his dwindling patriarchate, and laboured to convert Jews and pagan rustics. He urged Church reform on the Merovingians, reviving the vicariate of Arles at their request. He struggled (against imperial opposition) to end the Three Chapters schism in Venetia and Istria, and (with small success, and perhaps small need) to suppress African Donatism. He worked to convert the Lombards through queen Theodelinda, and organized a mission to the Anglo-Saxons (596). In the east, he maintained papal appellate jurisdiction, and was friendly with the patriarchs of Alexandria (1) and Antioch (1). With Constantinople, he quarrelled over its patriarch's title Oecumenical, wrongly seen as challenging Rome's primacy. Generally, though, he was sensitive to local religious traditions.

A contemplative at heart, he saw episcopal duties as a necessary, but uncongenial extension of his monastic vocation into the secular world. His diaconal appointments favoured monks, alienating Rome's secular clergy. No original theologian, he was an eloquent moralizer and mystic, striving to make sense of his beleaguered world, and transmitting much patristic thought to the Middle Ages. His Moralia in Iob proved enormously popular; his Cura pastoralis remains a mirror for priest and bishop. His Dialogues (whose authenticity has been challenged) inspiringly portrayed the Italian Church as ascetic, preaching, thaumaturgic, but episcopally controlled. His Homiliae in Ezechielem, preached to the besieged city, movingly lament Rome's decay. He defended sacred art, reformed the Roman liturgy, and perhaps established a choir school. He conventionally condemned bishop Desiderius of Vienne for inappropriately teaching classical culture, and suspected its influence on potential monks, but conventionally acknowledged its utility in biblical studies; his straightforward, rhythmically skilful prose shows rhetorical training. (Many letters, though, are chancery-drafted.) A chief founder of the papal states, and of papal prestige in the post-Roman west, his leadership, and vigorous sense of Rome's political and Christian traditions, justified his epitaph as ‘God's consul’.



Migne, Patrologiae Cursus 75–9, including principal life by Johannes Diaconus.Find this resource:

Gregory VII, Registrum Epistolarum, ed. P. Ewald and L. M. Hartmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (1891–1899).Find this resource:

D. Norberg, Corpus Christianorum, series Latina 140A (1982).Find this resource:

(with comm.), Gregory I., Homiliae in EzechielemFind this resource:

and Moralia, ed. P. Verbraken and M. Adriaen, Corpus Christianorum, series Latina 142–144 (1963–1979).Find this resource:

Texts and translations

Sources chrétiennes with Fr. trans.: Moralia (1952–74).Find this resource:

Dialogues (1978–80).Find this resource:

Comm. in Canticum Canticorum (1984).Find this resource:

Homiliae in Ezechielem (1986–90).Find this resource:

Comm. in Reg. I (1989).Find this resource:

Reg. Epp. (1991).Find this resource:

Cura (1992).Find this resource:

Eng. trans.:

J. Bliss (trans.), Morals on the Book of Job (1844–50).Find this resource:

J. Barmby (trans.), Selected Epistles of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, Books IX–XIV (1894).Find this resource:

H. Davis (trans.), Pastoral Care (1950).Find this resource:

O. J. Zimmermann (trans.), Dialogues (1959).Find this resource:


J. Richards, Consul of God (1980).Find this resource:

J. Fontaine and others, Grégoire le Grand (1986).Find this resource:

C. Straw, Gregory the Great (1988).Find this resource:

R. Godding, Bibliografia di Gregorio Magno, 1890–1989 (1990).Find this resource:

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