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Saint Gregory the Great

Saint Gregory the Great
  • Century: 6th & 7th Century
  • Patronage: Monastic Life
  • Feast Day: September 3rd

St. Gregory was born in 540, in the city of Rome. Gregory means in Greek, “to be diligent in God’s Commands”.  When Gregory was a child, Justinian I, emperor of the Roman Empire ruling from Constantinople, retook Italy from the Goths.  The war was short, and was over by 552.  Shortly after, in 554 the Western Roman Empire had vanished, in favor of the Kings of Italy.  Italy was then united as one country, “Rome”, and there common language shared was the very last of now known, “classical Latin”.  

From 542, the Plague of Justinian swept through the provinces of the empire, including Italy.  It caused famine, panic, and rioting.  1/3 of the population was wiped out or destroyed.  Totila destroyed Rome in 547, but in 549 he invited those back that were from there, it is believed that Gregory and his parents were among them.  Gregory had been born into a wealthy noble Roman family with close connections to the church.  Gregory’s great-great grandfather had been Pope, Felix III.  Gregory’s father held a position called the “Regionarius” in the Roman Church.  Gregory was well educated with Grgory of Tours, and was second to none.  When his father was alive, he took part in Roman political life, and at one point was “Prefect of the Ciy”.  

Gregory had a deep respect for the monastic life, and he viewed being a monk as a quest for the vision of our Creator.  He had three paternal aunts that were Nuns, renowned for their sanctity.  The eldest, just prior to passing away, had a vision of their ancestor Pope Felix.  Gregory concluded in contemplation, that “in that silence of the heart, while we keep watch within, through contemplation, we are as if asleep to all things that are without”.  This is a “how” you can enter into an interior life with God.  Eventually, Pope Pelaguis II ordained him a deacon.  He went on to be ordained a Priest.  

Gregory was eventually resolved to retire into the monastic lifestyle of contemplation, but was forced back into a public Church life, as pope.  When he became Pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition of the Throne of Peter, and praising the contemplative life of the Monks.  He was credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe.  He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian Mission, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England.  The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany.  As Gregory was very Orthodox, the preaching of the Catholic Faith and the elimination of all deviations from it, was a key element in his worldview, and it constituted as one of his major accomplishments, through teachings.  

He died in 604, at the age of 64, and was declared a saint immediately after his death by “Popular Acclamation”.  In his official documents, he was the first to make extensive use of the term, “Servant of the Servants of God”, as a Papal title, initiating a practice that has been followed by most popes.  

Practical Take Away

St. Pope Gregory the Great came from a long family that worked in the Church, his great-great grandfather was Pope Felix III.  Even as a younger man, he worked in the Government in Rome, but was drawn to the monastic life, and became a Monk.  Eventually, he too, was called to be Pope – and he accepted with humble servitude, missing the monastic life.  He even started the official Papal slogan, “Servant of the Servants of God”.  He gave up what he wanted out of life, to follow the plan that God had for him, and in doing so, earned a place among the great Saints.  What part of what “we” want, are we willing to give up to follow God?  God’s plan for each and every one of us, will assure us our place among the great Saints – don’t forget to search out God’s calling for our lives.  St. Gregory the Great can help us to discern that, if we call upon his intercession to help us out.