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 pap

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.