Gregory The Great And The Roman
Gregory the Great was born about 540. In 573 he was appointed prefect of
the city of Rome, but resigned the following year to become a monk. Having
been ordained deacon, he was sent in 579 to Constantinople as papal
apocrisiarius, or resident ambassador at the court of the Emperor. In 586
he was back in Rome and abbot of St. Andrew's, and in 590 he was elected
Pope. As Pope his career was even more brilliant. He reorganized the papal
finances, carried through important disciplinary measures, and advanced
the cause of monasticism. His work as the organizer of missions in
England, his labors to heal the Istrian schism, his relations with the
Lombards, his dealings with the Church in Gaul, his controversy with
Constantinople in the matter of the title "Ecumenical Patriarch," and
other large relations and tasks indicate the range of his interests and
the extent of his activities. As a theologian Gregory interpreted
Augustine for the Middle Ages and was the most important and influential
theologian of the West after Augustine and before the greater scholastics.
He did much to restore the prestige of his see, which had been lost in the
earlier part of the sixth century. He died 604.
Additional source material: Selections from the writings of
Gregory, including many of his letters, may be found in PNF, ser.
II, vols. XII and XIII; see also A Library of the Fathers of the
Holy Catholic Church (Oxford).
The selections under this section are arranged under four heads: (1)
Relations with Gaul; (2) Relations with Constantinople; (3) Relations with
the Schism in Northern Italy; (4) Relations with the Lombards; for English
mission, v. infra, § 100.
1. Relations with Gaul.
(a) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Vigilium, Reg. V, 53. (MSL, 77:782.)
The following letter was written in 595 in reply to a letter from
Vigilius, bishop of Arles, asking for the pallium (DCA, art.
"Pallium," also Cath. Encyc.) and the vicariate. For the
relation of the Roman see to the bishop of Arles as primate of
Gaul, see E. Loening, Geschichte des deutschen Kirchenrechts.
The relation of the vicariate to the papacy and also to the royal
power is indicated by the fact that the pallium is given in
response to the request of the king. The condition of the church
under Childebert is also shown; see § 98 for canons bearing on
simony and irregularities in connection with ordination.
As to thy having asked therein [in a letter of Vigilius to Gregory]
according to ancient custom for the use of the pallium and the vicariate
of the Apostolic See, far be it from me to suspect that thou hast sought
eminence of transitory power, or the adornment of external worship, in our
vicariate and the pallium. But, since it is known to all whence the holy
faith proceeded in the regions of Gaul, when your fraternity asks for a
repetition of the early custom of the Apostolic See, what is it but that a
good offspring reverts to the bosom of its mother? With willing mind
therefore we grant what has been requested, lest we should seem either to
withhold from you anything of the honor due to you, or to despise the
petition of our most excellent son, King Childebert.
I have learned from certain persons informing me that in the parts of Gaul
and Germany no one attains to holy orders except for a consideration
given. If this is so, I say it with tears, I declare it with groans, that,
when the priestly order has fallen inwardly, neither will it be able to
stand outwardly for long.
Another very detestable thing has also been reported to us, that some
persons being laymen, through the desire of temporal glory, are tonsured
on the death of bishops, and all at once are made priests.
On this account your fraternity must needs take care to admonish our most
excellent son, King Childebert, that he remove entirely the stain of this
sin from his kingdom, to the end that Almighty God may give him so much
the greater recompense with himself as He sees him both love what He loves
and shun what He hates.
And so we commit to your fraternity, according to ancient custom, under
God, our vicariate in the churches which are under the dominion of our
most excellent son Childebert, with the understanding that their proper
dignity, according to primitive usage, be preserved to the several
metropolitans. We have also sent a pallium which thy fraternity will use
within the Church for the solemnization of mass only. Further, if any of
the bishops should by any chance wish to travel to any considerable
distance, let it not be lawful for him to remove to other places without
the authority of thy holiness. If any question of faith, or it may be
relating to other matters, should have arisen among the bishops, which
cannot easily be settled, let it be ventilated and decided in an assembly
of twelve bishops. But if it cannot be decided after the truth has been
investigated, let it be referred to our judgment.
2. Relations with Constantinople.
(b) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Johannem Jejunatorem, Reg. V, 44. (MSL,
77:738.) Cf. Mirbt, n. 180.
On the title "Ecumenical Patriarch."
The controversy over the title "Ecumenical Patriarch" was a result
of Gregory's determination to carry through, as far as possible,
the Petrine rights and duties as he conceived them. The title was
probably intended to mark the superiority of Constantinople to the
other patriarchates in the East, according to the Eastern
principle that the political rank of a city determined its
ecclesiastical rank. It seemed to Gregory to imply a position of
superiority to the see of Peter. As it certainly might imply that,
he consistently opposed it. But it had been a title in use for
nearly a century. (Cf. Gieseler, KG, Eng. trans., vol. I, p.
504.) Justinian in 533 so styled the patriarch of Constantinople
(Cod. I, 1, 7). For the difference in point of view between the
East and the West as to rank of great sees, see Leo's letters on
the 28th canon of Chalcedon, A. D. 451, supra, in § 86.
At the time when your fraternity was advanced in sacerdotal dignity, you
recall what peace and concord of the churches you found. But, with what
daring or with what swelling of pride I know not, you have attempted to
seize upon a new name for yourself, whereby the hearts of all your
brethren would be offended. I wonder exceedingly at this, since I remember
that in order not to attain to the episcopal office thou wouldest have
fled. But now that thou hast attained unto it, thou desirest so to
exercise it as if thou hadst run after it with ambitious desire. And thou
who didst confess thyself unworthy to be called a bishop, hast at length
been brought to such a pitch that, despising thy brethren, thou desirest
to be named the only bishop. And in regard to this matter, weighty letters
were sent to thy holiness by my predecessor Pelagius, of holy memory, and
in them he annulled the acts of the synod,(246) which had been assembled
among you in the case of our former brother and fellow priest, Gregory,
because of that execrable title of pride, and forbade the archdeacon whom
he sent according to custom to the feet of our Lord(247) to celebrate the
solemnities of the mass with thee. But after his death, when I, an
unworthy man, succeeded to the government of the Church, I took care,
formerly through thy representatives, and now through our common son and
deacon, Sabianus, to address thy fraternity, not indeed in writing, but by
word of mouth, desiring thee to refrain thyself from such presumption; and
in case thou wouldest not amend I forbade his celebrating the solemnities
of the mass with thee; that so I might appeal to thy holiness through a
certain sense of shame, and then, if the execrable and profane assumption
could not be corrected through shame, I might resort to canonical and
prescribed measures. And because sores that are to be cut away should
first be stroked with a gentle hand, I beg of thee, I beseech thee, and,
as kindly as I can, I demand of thee that thy fraternity rebuke all who
flatter thee and offer thee this name of error, and not consent to be
called by a foolish and proud title. For truly I say it weeping, and out
of deepest sorrow of heart attribute it to my sins, that this my brother,
who has been placed in the episcopal order, that he might bring back the
souls of others to humility, has, up to the present time, been incapable
of being brought back to humility; that he who teaches truth to others has
not consented to teach himself, even when I implore him.
Consider, I pray thee, that by this rash presumption the peace of the
whole Church is disturbed, and that it is in contradiction to the grace
poured out on all in common; in which grace thou thyself wilt be able to
grow so far as thou thyself wilt determine to do so. And thou wilt become
by so much the greater as thou restrainest thyself from the usurpation of
proud and foolish titles; and thou wilt advance in proportion as thou art
not bent on arrogation by the humiliation of thy brethren. Certainly
Peter, the first of the Apostles, was a member of the holy and universal
Church; Paul, Andrew, John--what are they but the heads of particular
communities? And yet all are members under one Head. And to bind all
together in a short phrase, the saints before the Law, the saints under
the Law, the saints under grace, all these making up the Lord's body were
constituted as members of the Church, and not one of them has ever wished
himself to be called "universal."
Is it not the fact, as your fraternity knows, that the prelates of this
Apostolic See, which by the providence of God I serve, had the honor
offered them by the venerable Council of Chalcedon of being called
"universal"?(248) But yet not one of them has ever wished to be called by
such a title, or seized upon this rash name, lest, if in virtue of the
rank of the pontificate, he took to himself the glory of singularity, he
might seem to have denied it to all his brethren.
(c) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Phocam, Reg. XIII, 31. (MSL, 77:1281.)
Epistle to Phocas congratulating him on his accession.
Phocas (602-610) was a low-born, ignorant centurion whom chance
had placed at the head of a successful rebellion originating in
the army of the Danube. The rebellion was successful, and the
Emperor Maurice was murdered, together with his sons. Maurice had
been unsuccessful in war, unpopular with the army, and his
financial measures had been oppressive. Phocas was utterly
incompetent as a ruler, licentious and sanguinary as a man. His
reign was a period of horror and blood.
Gregory to Phocas. Glory to God in the highest, who, according as it is
written, changes times, and transfers kingdoms, because He has made
apparent to all what He has vouchsafed to speak by His prophet, that the
most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He
will [Dan. 4:17]. For in the incomprehensible dispensation of Almighty God
there is an alternating control of human life, and sometimes, when the
sins of many are to be smitten, one is raised up through whose hardness
the necks of subjects may be bowed down under the yoke of tribulation, as
in our affliction we have long had proof. But sometimes, when the merciful
God has decreed to refresh with His consolation the mourning hearts of
many, He advances one to the summit of government, and through the bowels
of His mercy infuses in the minds of all the grace of exultation in Him.
In which abundance of exultation we believe that we, who rejoice that the
benignity of your piety has arrived at imperial supremacy, shall speedily
be confirmed. "Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad" [Psalm
96:11], and let the whole people of the republic, hitherto afflicted
exceedingly, grow cheerful for your benignant deeds. Let the proud minds
of enemies be subdued to the yoke of your domination. Let the sad and
depressed spirit of subjects be relieved by your mercy. Let the power of
heavenly grace make you terrible to your enemies; let piety make you kind
to your subjects. Let the whole republic have rest in your most happy
times, since the pillage of peace under the color of legal processes has
been exposed. Let plottings about testaments cease, and benevolences
extorted by violence end. Let secure possession of their own goods return
to all, that they may rejoice in possessing without fear what they have
acquired without fraud. Let every single person's liberty be now at length
restored to each one under the yoke of the holy Empire. For there is this
difference between the kings of the nations and the emperors of the
republic: the kings of the nations are lords of slaves, but the emperors
lords of free men. But we shall better speak of these things by praying
than by putting you in mind of them. May Almighty God keep the heart of
your piety in the hand of His grace in every thought and deed. Whatsoever
things should be done justly, whatever things with clemency, may the Holy
Ghost, who dwells in your breast direct, that your clemency may both be
exalted in a temporal kingdom and after the course of many years attain to
heavenly kingdoms. Given in the month June, indiction six.
3. Gregory and the Schism in North Italy.
Among the results of the Fifth General Council of Constantinople,
553, was a wide-spread schism in the northern part of Italy and
adjacent lands. The bishops of the western part of Lombardy, under
the lead of the bishop of Milan, together with the bishops of
Venetia, Istria, and a portion of Illyricum, Rhaetia Secunda, and
Noricum, under the bishop of Aquileia, renounced communion with
the see of Rome, and became autocephalic. Even bishops in Tuscany
abandoned communion with the see of Rome because the council and
Vigilius had condemned Theodore, Theodoret, and Ibas (v. supra,
§ 93). Justin II attempted to heal the schism, and his verbose
edict may be found in Evagrius, Hist. Ec., V, 4. A serious
problem was presented to the Roman see. In dealing with them,
however, it was possible to treat each group separately. On
account of the Lombard invasion the bishop of Aquileia removed his
see to Grado. Gregory the Great had some success in drawing the
schismatics into more friendly relations. But not till 612 was the
see of Aquileia-Grado in communion with Rome. A rival bishop was
elected, who removed his see to old Aquileia. See extract from
Paulus Diaconus (f). And the opposition was maintained until
about 700. The Milanese portion of the schism had long since
ended. Of Gregory's epistles several bearing on the schism are
available in PNF, ser. II, vols. XII and XIII: Reg. I, 16; II, 46,
51; IV, 2, 38, 39; V, 51; IX, 9, 10; XIII, 33.
(d) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Constantium, Reg. IV, 2. (MSL, 77:669.)
Gregory to Constantius, Bishop of Milan. My beloved son, the deacon
Boniface, has given me information from a private letter of thy
fraternity: namely, that three bishops, having sought out rather than
having found an occasion, have separated themselves from the pious
communion of thy fraternity, saying that thou hast assented to the
condemnation of the three chapters and hast given a solemn pledge. And,
indeed, whether there has been any mention made of the three chapters in
any word or writing whatever, thy fraternity remembers well; although thy
fraternity's predecessor, Laurentius (circa 573), did send a most strict
security to the Apostolic See, and to it a legal number of the most noble
men subscribed; among whom, I also, at that time holding the praetorship of
the city, likewise subscribed; because, when such a schism had taken place
about nothing, it was right that the Apostolic See should be careful to
guard in all respects the unity of the universal Church in the minds of
priests. But as to its being said that our daughter, Queen
Theodelinda,(249) after hearing this news has withdrawn herself from thy
communion, it is perfectly evident that though she has been seduced to
some little extent by the words of wicked men, yet when Hippolytus the
notary and John the abbot arrive, she will seek in all ways the communion
of the fraternity.
(e) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Constantium, Reg. IV, 39. (MSL, 77:713.)
In reply to a letter from Constantius of Milan informing Gregory
that the demand had been made upon him by the clergy of Brescia
that he should take an oath that he, Constantius, had not
condemned the Three Chapters, i.e., had not accepted the Fifth
General Council, Gregory advises him to take no such oath.
But lest those who have thus written to you should be offended, send them
a letter declaring under an imposition of an anathema that you neither
take away anything from the faith of the synod of Chalcedon nor receive
those who do, and that you condemn whatsoever it condemned and absolve
whatsoever it absolved. And thus I believe that they may soon be
satisfied. As to what you have written to the effect that you are
unwilling to transmit my letter to Queen Theodelinda on the ground that
the fifth synod is named in it, for you believed that she might be
offended, you did right not to transmit it. We are therefore doing now as
you recommended, namely, only expressing approval of the four synods. Yet
as to the synod which was afterward called at Constantinople, which is
called by many the fifth, I would have you know that it neither ordained
nor held anything in opposition to the four most holy synods, seeing that
nothing was done in it with respect to the faith, but only with respect to
three persons, about whom nothing is contained in the acts of the Council
of Chalcedon;(250) but after the canons had been promulgated, discussion
arose, and final action was ventilated concerning persons.
(f) Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum, IV, 32, 33, 36. (MSL,
The continuation of the schism in Istria and the rise of the two
patriarchates of Aquileia. The Emperor Phocas and the title "Head
of All the Churches."
32. In the following month of November [A. D. 605] King Agilulf concluded
peace with the Patrician Smaragdus for a year, and received from the
Romans twelve thousand solidi. Also the Tuscan cities Balneus Regis
[Bagnarea] and Urbs Vetus [Orvieto] were conquered by the Lombards. Then
appeared in the heavens in the months of April and May a star which is
called a comet. Thereupon King Agilulf again made a peace with the Romans
for three years.
33. In the same days after the death of the patriarch Severus, the abbot
John was made patriarch of old Aquileia in his place with the approval of
the king and Duke Gisulf. Also in Grados [Grado] the Roman(251)
Candidianus was appointed bishop. In the months of November and December a
comet was again visible. After the death of Candidianus, Epiphanius, who
had formerly been the papal chief notary, was elected patriarch by the
bishops who stood under the Romans; and since this time there were two
36. Phocas, as also has been related above, after the murder of Maurice
and his sons, obtained the Roman Empire and ruled for eight years. At the
request of Pope Boniface(252) he decreed that the seat of the Roman and
Apostolic Church should be the head of all churches [caput omnium
ecclesiarum], because the Church of Constantinople in a proclamation had
named itself first of all. At the request of another Pope Boniface,(253)
he commanded that the idolatrous rubbish should be removed from the old
temple which bore the name of the Pantheon, and from it a church should be
made to the holy Virgin Mary and all martyrs, so that where formerly the
service not of all gods but of all idols was celebrated, now only the
memory of all saints should be found.
4. Gregory the Great and the Lombards.
The Lombards entered Italy 568, and gradually spread over nearly
all the peninsula. The territories retained by the Emperor from
the conquests of Justinian were only the Exarchate of Ravenna, the
Ducatus Romanus, and the Ducatus Neapolitanus, the extreme
southern parts of the peninsula and Liguria. The Lombards were the
last Germanic tribe to settle within the Empire, and like so many
others they were Arians. Theodelinda, the queen of the Lombards,
was a Bavarian princess and a Catholic. Her second husband,
Agilulf, seems to have been favorably disposed to Catholicism, far
more so than Authari, her first husband.
(g) Paulus Diaconus, Historia Langobardorum, IV, 5-9. (MSL, 95:540.)
Paulus Warnefridi, known as Paulus Diaconus (circa 720-circa 800),
was himself a Lombard, and in writing his History of the
Lombards shows himself the patriot as well as the loyal son of
the Roman Church. To do this was at times difficult. The work is
one of the most attractive histories written in the Middle Ages.
For nearly all of his history, Paulus is dependent upon older
sources, but he restates the older accounts in clear and careful
fashion. The connection between the various extracts is not always
felicitous, yet he has succeeded in producing one of the great
books of history. For an analysis of the sources, see F. H. B.
Daniell, art. "Paulus (70) Diaconus" in DCB. The best edition is
that by Bethmann and Waitz in the MGH, Scriptores rerum
Langobardorum et Italicarum saec. VI-IX, also in the 8vo edition.
There is an English translation of the entire work in the
Translations and Reprints of the Historical Department of the
University of Pennsylvania.
5. At that time the learned and pious Pope Gregory, after he had already
written much for the benefit of the holy Church, wrote also four books
concerning the lives of the saints; these books he called Dialogus, that
is, conversation, because in them he has introduced himself speaking with
his deacon Peter. The Pope sent these books to Queen Theodelinda, whom he
knew to be true in the faith in Christ and abounding in good works.
6. Through this queen the Church of God obtained many and great
advantages. For the Lombards, when they were still held by heathen
unbelief, had taken possession of the entire property of the Church. But,
induced by successful requests of the queen, the king, holding fast to the
Catholic faith,(254) gave the Church of Christ many possessions and
assigned to the bishops, who had theretofore been oppressed and despised,
their ancient place of honor once more.
7. In these days Tassilo was made king of Bavaria by the Frankish king
Childebert. With an army he immediately marched into the land of the
Slavs, and with great booty returned to his own land.
9. At the same time the patrician and exarch of Ravenna, Romanus,(255)
went to Rome. On his return to Ravenna he took possession of the cities
which had been taken by the Lombards. The names of them are: Sutrium
[Sutri], Polimarcium [near Bomarzio and west of Orte], Horta [Orte], Tuder
[Todi], Ameria [Amelia], Perusia [Perugia], Luceoli [near Gubbio], and
several others. When King Agilulf received word of this, he at once
marched forth from Ticinus with a strong army and pitched before the city
of Perusia. Here he besieged several days the Lombard duke Marisio, who
had gone over to the side of the Romans, took him prisoner, and without
delay had him executed. On the approach of the king, the holy Pope Gregory
was so filled with fear that, as he himself reports in his homilies, he
broke off the explanation of the temple, to be read about in Ezekiel; King
Agilulf returned to Ticinus after he had settled the matter, and not long
after, chiefly on account of the entreaties of his wife, Queen
Theodelinda, who had often been advised in letters by the holy Father
Gregory to do so, he concluded with Gregory and the Romans a lasting
peace. To thank her for this, the venerable priest sent the following
letter to the queen:
Gregory to Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards. How your excellency has
labored earnestly and kindly, as is your wont, for the conclusion of
peace, we have learned from the report of our son, the abbot Probus. Nor,
indeed, was it otherwise to be expected of your Christianity than that you
would in all ways show assiduity and goodness in the cause of peace.
Wherefore, we give thanks to Almighty God, who so rules your heart with
His lovingkindness that, as He has given you a right faith, so He also
grants you to work always what is pleasing in His sight. For you may be
assured, most excellent daughter, that for the saving of much bloodshed on
both sides you have acquired no small reward. On this account, returning
thanks for your good-will, we implore the mercy of God to repay you with
good in body and soul here and in the world to come. Moreover, greeting
you with fatherly affection, we exhort you so to deal with your most
excellent consort that he may not reject the alliance of the Christian
republic. For, as I believe you yourself know, it is in many ways
profitable that he should be inclined to betake himself to its friendship.
Do you then, after your manner, always strive for what tends to good-will
and conciliation between the parties, and labor wherever an occasion of
reaping a reward presents itself, that you may commend your good deeds the
more before the eyes of Almighty God.
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