Pope Gregory the Great

Excerpt from Chapter 8 of Christ’s Faithful Servants, copyright 2023

. . . In 579, the Church sent Gregory to Constantinople as an ambassador to the eastern Roman Empire. For seven years he lived the simple life of a monk amidst the luxury of the Empire’s capital. In 586, Gregory returned to Rome to serve as secretary to the pope and as abbot of St. Andrew’s. Four years later, Gregory was selected as pope, succeeding Pope Pelagius II who had succumbed to an epidemic of Bubonic Plague. Gregory reluctantly left St. Andrew’s again, never to return.

Pope Gregory. Pope Gregory continued to live the simple life of a monk, but he was no simpleton. His wise administration of the Papal properties significantly increased Church revenues, which he used to help the poor, to ransom prisoners of war, and to promote Christianity throughout western Europe. In 596, he sent monks as missionaries to Britain, where Christianity had almost died out after the Roman Empire’s defeat there. Together with Christians from Ireland, they won most of the people of Britain to Christ. The leader of that mission, Augustine,[1] became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and established the first Benedictine monastery in Britain. Similar missionary efforts helped restore northern Italy, Spain, and North Africa to orthodox Roman Catholicism.

In 590, the papacy was still part of the eastern Roman Empire, at least in name. But when that Empire went to war against the Lombards of northern Italy, and Gregory found himself facing a war he did not want, he wisely made peace with the Lombards on his own. Gregory made peace with his enemies whenever possible, but resisted with wisdom and courage when war was necessary. In his fourteen years as pope, he increased both the territories and the prestige of the papacy. He called himself servus servorum Dei—”the servant of the servants of God.” Although Gregory did not originate the phrase, he certainly popularized it. Most subsequent popes have adopted this description in reference to themselves. . . .

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[1]. This is not the famous Augustine of Hippo whom we discussed in Chapter 4. He died in 430.