Pope Gregory I, also known as Pope St. Gregory the Great served as Pope from 3rd September 590 to 604 when he died. Pope Gregory is renowned for his exceptionally prolific writings and his dialogues. He is also considered to be a reformer and proficient administrator. More importantly he is credited with establishing the medieval papacy, which held and exercised secular as well as spiritual power.
Pope Gregory was born in Rome around the year 540 to a wealthy senator named Gordianus, who would later renounce the world to become a deacon of Rome. He was born during difficult times when cities and trade had declined, and vicious cycles of wars, famine and disease (the plague) had ravaged the countryside soon after the re-conquest of Italy (535-554) by Justunian. However, Gregory came from a well placed family as his family owned property and estates. His family may have shared distant relations with an eminent patrician family, while his ancestors held high ecclesiastical positions. His great grandfather was Pope Felix III (served 483-492).
Gregory joined public service quite early in his life, and soon after acquiring the usual thorough education, Gregory was appointed the Prefect of Rome at the age of 30. He was later appointed the Chief Magistrate of Rome by Emperor Justin the Younger in 574 at the age of 33 years. It is widely believed that St. Gregory might have gone through legal training before getting into public service.
Early Involvement in the Church
Gregory’s conversion to a monastic life in the year 574 was not abrupt but sprang from a lifelong conflict between a personal passion for contemplative purity, as well as a public duty to serve other people in the “pollution” of earthly affairs. Gregory went on to denounce secular life and established a monastery dedicated to St. Andrew on family property at Caelian Hill. He went on to establish six more monasteries of his family’s land in Sicily and still retained adequate property to bequeath to the church in the later years.
Pope St. Gregory the Great was first appointed as a deacon in 579 by Pope Pelagius II and sent as legate to Constantinople. While in Constantinople, he lobbied greatly for help against the Lombards. Between 585 and 586 he went back to Rome and resumed the office of deacon. In the year 590, Gregory was elected to succeed Pelagius II as pope. It is said that Pope Gregory accepted the position unwillingly.
Achievements and Contributions
Pope St. Gregory realized many achievements and made numerous contributions to both the religious sphere and the secular sphere. In terms of personal achievements, he became prefect of Rome at the age of thirty and was the first Pope to come from a monastic background. Within the administrative circles, he is credited with the establishment of papal supremacy in Spain, France and England. It is said that he was more powerful than the emperors of Rome and even challenged the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople during the battle between the West and the East. Gregory saw the realignment of the barbarian allegiance from their alliance to Arian Christians to Rome. He also helped in the realignment of Lombards, Franks and Visigoths to Rome. He is also credited with numerous reforms in Roman worship during his time. His influence on Gregorian Chant, was no small matter. Additionally, he was known to be extremely philanthropic. Some of the music he influenced can likely be found on these albums.
Pope St. Gregory the Great died on March 12th 604. During his lifetime in the Roman Catholic Church, he was responsible for composing numerous works and contributing significantly to the Liturgy of the Mass and the Office. He is remembered as one of the four Great Deacons of the Latin Church. He is also the Patron of Teachers.