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On Gregory the Great
Zenit News Agency ^ | May 28, 2008 | Benedict XVI

Posted on 05/28/2008 7:28:40 PM PDT by ELS

On Gregory the Great

"He Was a Man Immersed in God"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 28, 2008 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience, which he dedicated to the figure of Pope Gregory the Great.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Last Wednesday I spoke about a Father of the Church little known in the West -- Romanus the Melodius. Today I wish to present the figure of one of the greatest fathers in the history of the Church, one of the four doctors of the West, Pope Gregory, who was bishop of Rome between the years 590 and 604, and who merited on the part of tradition the title "magnus" -- great.

Gregory was truly a great Pope and great doctor of the Church! He was born in Rome, around 540, of a rich patrician family of the "gens Anicia," which was distinguished not only for its nobility of blood, but also for its attachment to the Christian faith and for the services rendered to the Apostolic See. Two Popes proceeded from this family: Felix III (483-492), great-great grandfather of Gregory, and Agapitus (535-536).

The house where Gregory grew up was built on the "Clivus Scauri," surrounded by the majestic building that attested to the greatness of ancient Rome and the spiritual strength of Christianity. To inspire him with lofty Christian sentiments he counted, moreover, with the examples of his parents, Gordian and Sylvia, both venerated as saints, and those of his paternal aunts Emiliana and Tarsilia, who lived in the house as consecrated virgins in a shared journey of prayer and ascesis.

Gregory soon entered an administrative career, which his father had also followed, and in 572 he reached the top, becoming prefect of the city. This office, complicated by the sadness of that time, allowed him to apply himself to a vast range of administrative problems, gleaning from them light for his future endeavors. In particular, a profound sense of order and discipline were instilled in him. When he became Pope, he would suggest to bishops to take as model in the management of ecclesiastical affairs the diligence and respect of the laws proper to civil employees.

That life did not satisfy him, and it was not long before he decided to leave all civil posts to retire to his home and begin the life of a monk, transforming the family home into the monastery of St. Andrew in Celio.

From this period of monastic life, a life of permanent dialogue with the Lord and listening to his word, there remained in him a constant nostalgia which repeatedly and increasingly appears in his homilies. In the midst of relentless pastoral concerns, he would recall it several times in his writings as a happy time of recollection in God, of dedication to prayer, and of serene immersion in study. He was thus able to acquire that profound knowledge of sacred Scripture and of the Fathers of the Church of which he was to make use later in his works.

However, Gregory's cloistered retirement did not last long. The valuable experience that matured in civil administration, at a time weighed down by problems, the relationsips he had developed with the Byzantines, the universal esteem he had won, led Pope Pelagius to appoint him deacon and to send him to Constantinople as his "apocrisiario" -- today we would say apostolic nuncio -- to help overcome the last remains of the monophysite controversy, and above all to obtain the emperor's support in the effort to contain the Lombard invaders.

His stay in Constantinople, where he again took up the monastic life with a group of monks, was most important for Gregory, as it allowed him to gain direct experience in the Byzantine world, as well as to address the problem of the Lombards, which would later acutely test his ability and energy in the years of his pontificate.

After some years, he was recalled to Rome by the Pope, who appointed him his secretary. They were difficult years: constant rains, rivers bursting their banks and famine afflicted many areas of Italy and Rome itself. In the end, the plague was unleashed, which caused numerous victims, among them also Pope Pelagius II. The clergy, the people, and the Senate were unanimous in electing Gregory as Successor to the See of Peter. He tried to resist, even seeking to flee, but it was all to no avail: In the end, he had to give in. It was the year 590.

Recognizing in all that had happened the will of God, the new Pontiff began to work immediately with determination. From the beginning he revealed a singularly lucid vision of reality against which he should be measured, an extraordinary capacity for work in addressing both ecclesial as well as civil issues, a constant balance in making decisions, also courageous, which his mission imposed on him. An ample documentation is kept of his governance thanks to the Register of his letters -- approximately 800 -- which reflect the daily confrontation of complex questions that arrived on his desk. They were questions that came from bishops, from abbots, from clergymen, and also from civil authorities of all orders and degrees.

Among the problems that afflicted Italy and Rome at that time there was one of particular relevance in both the civil as well as ecclesial ambits: the Lombard question. To it the Pope dedicated all possible energy in the hope of a truly peacemaking solution. Unlike the Byzantine emperor, who began from the assumption that the Lombards were only rude and predatory individuals who had to be defeated or exterminated, St. Gregory looked on these people with the eyes of the Good Shepherd, concerned about proclaiming to them the word of salvation, establishing with them relations of fraternity oriented toward a future peace founded on reciprocal respect and peaceful coexistence among Italians, imperalists and Lombards. He was concerned with the conversion of young peoples and immigrants in Britain and the Lombards were the privileged beneficiaries of his evangelizing mission. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, leader of a group of monks whom Gregory sent to Britain to evangelize England.

To obtain an effective peace in Rome and Italy, to which the Pope was fully committed -- he was a real peacemaker -- he undertook a close negotiation with the Lombard King Agilulfo. This conversation led to a period of truce that lasted some three years -- 598-601 -- after which it was possible to stipulate in 603 a more stable armistice. This positive result was achieved thanks also to parallel contacts that, in the meantime, the Pope maintained with Queen Theodolinda, who was a Bavarian princess and, unlike the heads of other German peoples, was a Catholic -- profoundly Catholic.

Preserved is a series of letters of Pope Gregory to this queen, in which he expresses his esteem and friendship to her. Theodolinda succeeded, little by little, in directing the king toward Catholicism, thus preparing the way to peace. The Pope also took the trouble to send her the relics for the basilica of St. John the Baptist, which she had built in Monza, and did not fail to send her congratulations and precious gifts for the same cathedral of Monza on the occasion of the birth and baptism of her son, Adaloaldo. This queen's vicissitude constitutes a beautiful testimony of the importance of women in the history of the Church.

In the end, the objectives on which Gregory constantly focused were three: to contain the expansion of the Lombards in Italy, to remove queen Theodolina from the influence of schismatics, and to reinforce the Catholic faith, as well as to mediate between the Lombards and Byzantines in the hope of an agreement that would guarantee peace in the peninsula and consist at the same time of an evangelizing action among the Lombards themselves. Therefore, his constant orientation in the complex situation was twofold: to promote agreements on the diplomatic-political level, and to spread the proclamation of the true faith among the peoples.

Along with his purely spiritual and pastoral action, Pope Gregory was also an active protagonist of a multi-faceted social activity. With the income of the conspicuous patrimony that the Roman See had in Italy, especially in Sicily, he purchased and distributed wheat, assisted those in need, helped priests, monks and nuns who lived in indigence, paid the ransom for citizens who had been made prisoners of the Lombards, and obtained armistices and truces. Moreover, he carried out -- both in Rome as well as in other parts of Italy -- a determined effort for administrative reorganization, giving precise instructions so that the goods of the Church, useful for its subsistence and evangelizing work in the world, could be managed with absolute rectitude and according to the rules of justice and mercy. He demanded that tenant farmers be protected from the abuses of the managers of lands that were the property of the Church and, in case of fraud, that they be speedily indemnified, so that the face of the Bride of Christ not be contaminated with dishonest profits.

Gregory carried out this enormous activity despite his delicate health, which often obliged him to stay in bed for long days. The fasts he engaged in during the years of monastic life had caused him serious digestive problems. Moreover, his voice was very weak, so much so that he often had to entrust the deacon with the reading of his homilies so that the faithful of the Roman basilicas could hear him. In any case he did everything possible to celebrate the "Missarum sollemnia" on feast days, that is, solemn Mass, and then he would meet personally with the people of God, who greatly appreciated him because they saw in him the authoritative reference to obtain certainty: It was no accident that he was soon attributed the title "consul Dei." Despite the most difficult conditions in which he had to act, he succeeded in winning, thanks to the holiness of his life and his rich humanity, the trust of the faithful, obtaining for his time and for the future truly great results.

He was a man immersed in God: The desire for God was always alive in the depth of his soul and precisely because of this he was always very close to his neighbor, to the needs of the people of his time. During a disastrous and desperate time, he was able to create peace and hope. This man of God shows us the true sources of peace, from which hope stems, and so becomes a guide also for us today.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the Audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today's catechesis we turn to Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who governed the Church of Rome at the end of the sixth century and is venerated as a Doctor of the Church. Born of a noble Roman family, Gregory entered the civil service, in which he rose to the dignity of Prefect of the City, and then embraced the monastic life. Gregory's learning and experience, and his outstanding personal gifts, led to his appointment as the papal representative to the imperial court in Constantinople, and then as the Pope's secretary. In the year 590, Gregory was elected Pope. His papal ministry was marked by tireless energy and a clear vision of the grave problems facing civil society and the Church. Gregory made every effort to contain the Lombard invasion, to provide for the evangelization of that people, and to establish peace throughout Italy. In addition to his preaching, teaching and pastoral activity, he also reorganized the management of the Church's goods and ensured a more effective administration of her charitable works. At a time of great social instability, and despite his frequent ill health, Gregory proved an effective, prudent and saintly pastor, whose life and teaching continue to inspire us today.

I offer a warm greeting and prayerful good wishes to the participants in the Christian-Hindu symposium being held these days in Castel Gandolfo. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Scotland, Sweden, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

© Innovative Media, Inc.

TOPICS: Catholic; Current Events; History; Worship
KEYWORDS: generalaudience; popebenedictxvi; stgregorythegreat; stpeterssquare

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)

Pope Benedict XVI kisses a baby as he leaves after his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)
1 posted on 05/28/2008 7:28:40 PM PDT by ELS
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To: All
Previous catecheses on the Early Church Fathers:
On St. Clement of Rome -The Church Has a Sacramental, Not Political Structure (March 7, 2007)
Truly a Doctor of Unity (St. Ignatius of Antioch) (March 14, 2007)
St. Justin Martyr: He Considered Christianity the "True Philosophy" (March 21, 2007)
St. Irenaeus of Lyons: The First Great Theologian of the Church (March 28, 2007)
St. Clement of Alexandria: One of the Great Promoters of Dialogue Between Faith and Reason (April 18, 2007)
On Origen of Alexandria: He Was a True Teacher (April 25, 2007)
Origen: The Privileged Path to Knowing God Is Love (May 2, 2007)
Tertullian: Accomplished a Great Step in the Development of the Trinitarian Dogma (May 30, 2007)
St. Cyprian: His Book on the 'Our Father' Has Helped Me to Pray Better (June 6, 2007)
On Eusebius of Caesarea (June 13, 2007)
On St. Athanasius (June 20, 2007)
On St. Cyril of Jerusalem (June 27, 2007)
On St. Basil (July 4, 2007)
St. Basil (August 1, 2007)
St. Gregory of Nazianzen (August 8, 2007)
St. Gregory Nazianzen's Teachings (August 22, 2007)
St. Gregory of Nyssa - A Pillar of Orthodoxy (August 29, 2007)
Gregory of Nyssa on Perfection (September 5, 2007)
On St. John Chrysostom's Antioch Years (September 19, 2007)
On Chrysostom's Social Doctrine (September 26, 2007)
St. Cyril of Alexandria (October 3, 2007)
On Hilary of Poitiers (October 10, 2007)
On St. Eusebius of Vercelli (October 17, 2007)
On St. Ambrose of Milan (October 24, 2007)
On St. Maximus of Turin (October 31, 2007)
On St. Jerome (November 7, 2007)
St. Jerome on the Bible (November 14, 2007)
On the Teachings of Aphraates (November 21, 2007)
On St. Ephrem the Syrian (November 28, 2007)
On St. Chromatius of Aquileia (December 5, 2007)
On St. Paulinus of Nola (December 12, 2007)
On St. Augustine (January 9, 2008)
St. Augustine's Last Days (January 16, 2008)
On St. Augustine's Search for Truth (January 30, 2008)
On the Writings of St. Augustine (February 20, 2008)
On St. Augustine's Conversion (February 27, 2008)
On St. Leo the Great (March 5, 2008)
On Boethius and Cassiodorus (March 12, 2008)
On St. Benedict of Norcia (April 9, 2008)
On Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (May 14, 2008)
On Romanus the Melodist (May 21, 2008)
2 posted on 05/28/2008 7:30:38 PM PDT by ELS (Vivat Benedictus XVI!)
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To: clockwise; bornacatholic; Miss Marple; bboop; PandaRosaMishima; Carolina; MillerCreek; ...
Weekly audience ping!

Please let me know if you want to be on or off this ping list.

3 posted on 05/28/2008 7:32:54 PM PDT by ELS (Vivat Benedictus XVI!)
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What strikes me is the omission of Gregory’s enduring contributions toward unifying the western Liturgy through his sacramentary and, of course, from the appointed chants which still bear his name.

Perhaps that will be the topic for next Wednesday!

4 posted on 05/28/2008 8:13:43 PM PDT by lightman (Waiting for Godot and searching for Avignon)
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A very interesting period during the darkest of the Dark Ages. Most of the Italian people considered themselves to be Romans, though the Empire only had control of a small portion of the peninsula. The larger cities maintained local governments under the design of the Roman Civil Service. The Church had civil authority in much of central Italy, as agents of the Empire, but the peninsula was dominated by the military power of the recently invading Lombards, who were still Arian heretics at the time. The rural economy was still in the form of Roman Latifundia, great estates with tenant farmers.
5 posted on 05/28/2008 9:27:28 PM PDT by Lucius Cornelius Sulla (All of this has happened before, and will happen again!)
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He tried to resist, even seeking to flee, but it was all to no avail: In the end, he had to give in. It was the year 590.

Pope Benedict must feel a certain kinship with Gregory the Great. IIRC, he spoke of his election as an executioner's axe or guillotine that fell on him.

6 posted on 05/29/2008 7:21:21 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of Ye Chase, TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: ELS; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; nickcarraway; Romulus; ...

Visitors from the East. A Maronite Catholic bishop (left) and an Orthodox priest.

7 posted on 05/29/2008 9:35:53 AM PDT by NYer (John 6:51-58)
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To: AnAmericanMother
Pope Benedict must feel a certain kinship with Gregory the Great.

Good point. Perhaps in time Benedict XVI will also become a Doctor of the Church and merit "on the part of tradition the title magnus."

8 posted on 05/29/2008 10:54:56 AM PDT by ELS (Vivat Benedictus XVI!)
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Doctors of the Catholic Church

Saint Gregory the Great is so called because he was truly a great leader starting as a Prefect of Rome before he was thirty. Afterwards, the church flourished under his wise and holy infuence as a monk, deacon, priest, papal nuncio, and abbot. At fifty he was elected Pope by the clergy and the people of Rome.

During his day during the sixth century the church was undergoing ferocious attacks by Huns, Goths, and Lombards and rampant strife that caused great hardships and tragedy. The population of Rome plumetted from a million to 15,000 due to invasions, pestilence, and diseases. Gregory's courage, leadership, action, and prayers, helped unite the church together.

No doctor of the church or member served in more offices or position than Gregory. He was the first Pope to be declared a doctor. He shares that distinction with St Leo, the only other pontiff to become a doctor, and he was born before Gregory.

Gregory was firm and direct in removing unworthy priests from office and was a great Benedictine reformer and strengthened the respect for doctrine. He was given a place with Sts Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine as one of the four ecumenical doctors of the Western church. The below link on the Life of St Greogry the Great by Sister Catherine Goddard Clark, M.I.C.M. will provide a far superioir insight into Gregory than what is printed below.

Gregory's Life:

St Gregory, 540-604. Doctor of Hymnology, Feast Sept. 3rd.

9 posted on 09/03/2008 10:06:31 AM PDT by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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