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St. Gregory the Great

St. Gregory the Great by Brenda Nippert

Artist Narrative:

Saint Gregory was a great man of the church who did many things in his life time. He was born in Rome in about 540, his father was a wealthy senator. His mother, Sylvia, is also a Saint. Gregory received an excellent education, he became prefect of the city of Rome. He gave up his political career to become a monk and built seven monasteries. The church called him to be a special deacon, forcing him to enter the public life once more. His writings are of great importance to the church, he is considered a church father and is a Doctor of the church. He was very concerned with bringing the faith to England. During his time, Rome was constantly being overrun with attackers causing him much strife. Finally, Gregory was made pope, even though he didn't want the honor. He organized the church as it had never been before and he structured the liturgy. He did so much for church music, composing and organizing the service, that the music became known as Gregorian chant making him a perfect patron for musicians, composers and singers.

His feast day is March 12.

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Gregory was the prefect of Rome before he was 30. After five years in office he resigned, founded six monasteries on his Sicilian estate and became a Benedictine monk in his own home at Rome.

Ordained a priest, he became one of the pope’s seven deacons, and also served six years in the East as papal representative in Constantinople. He was recalled to become abbot, and at the age of 50 was elected pope by the clergy and people of Rome.

He was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery. He is known for his reform of the liturgy, and for strengthening respect for doctrine. Whether he was largely responsible for the revision of “Gregorian” chant is disputed.

Gregory lived in a time of perpetual strife with invading Lombards and difficult relations with the East. When Rome itself was under attack, he interviewed the Lombard king.

An Anglican historian has written: “It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great.”

His book, Pastoral Care, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline. In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily Gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called “the Great,” Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.

Gregory was content to be a monk, but he willingly served the Church in other ways when asked. He sacrificed his own preferences in many ways, especially when he was called to be Bishop of Rome. Once he was called to public service, Gregory gave his considerable energies completely to this work. Gregory’s description of bishops as physicians fits in well with Pope Francis’ description of the Church as a “field hospital.”

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