Gregory the Great

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  • Topic: Pope, Rome, Holy See
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  • Published : April 17, 2012
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Formative Years Before the Papacy
Gregory the Great was born as Gregory, sometime between 540 and 545, to parents of good station. He grew up in Rome, and was educated as best as was possible. At the time, the (College of Rome?) had fallen from prominence into ruin after losing all of its grants and incomes from the Emperor Justinian and the educational culture of Rome was diminishing quickly as the city was torn between wars and invasions. Still, Gregory was educated to the educational standards that remained and it is important to remember that he was gifted with intellect and acumen and always showed the highest prowess at his studies.

The purpose of this paper is to delineate Gregory’s pontificate, and the ways in which he used or empowered papal authority during the middle ages. It is, therefore, appropriate to begin this paper with a review of the formative years that foreshadow his appointment to the papal see.

Due to his lineage, Gregory was as, a young man, in a fortunate position of wealth, education, and popularity. This position was made all the more rare considering the overall health of the city of Rome, at the time, was in great disrepair after many years of war and political upheaval.

Although it would decline in the following century, the office of Urban Prefect held the highest secular power in Rome as Gregory entered adulthood. In 573, he was appointed as the Urban Prefect of Rome, and became an overseer of all civil responsibilities and concerns. Within the same year, both the Patrician Narses and Pope John III died, and Gregory alone was left to face the Lombard invasions, pestilence, poverty and famine.

Perhaps this unwanted, unforeseen position of sole responsibility provided Gregory’s resistance to political office for the rest of his life, because shortly after, Gregory rescinded his wealth and station and become a monk. He spent three years in spiritual solitude in a monastery, where he most likely practiced monasticism under the Benedictine Rule, before he was ordained by Pope Benedict as a Seventh Deacon of the Roman church and, shortly after became a Papal Apocrisarius when he was sent to Constantinople to seek aid in dealing with the Lombards.

Gregory’s sojourn in Constantinople developed in him the mentality that would shape his future pontificate. Gregory remained in Constantinople for six years and saw the succession of three separate emperors, yet he his labors at the task he had been sent to accomplish remained fruitless. At the time the empire was besieged all around with wars, attacks, and invasions and what little wealth it had was already engaged in these scuffles. After years and years of pressing for aid, Gregory realized the help would never come from Constantinople. Later on, as Pope, with his city under attack once again, he always knew he must rely on his strengths to preserve his city and his people. This autonomy, though necessary, would set the trend of the Pope’s isolation from the Eastern sees and increase papal authority forever. Writings of Gregory the Great that advance Papal Authority

When Gregory was chosen as Pope in 590 it was not a position he desired or sought actively, in fact, it was a position he dreaded and begged to not receive. Nevertheless, Gregory was chosen as Pope, and upon being chastised for not wanting to become Pope wrote Liber Pastoralis Curae in response. This Book of Pastoral Rule was the blueprint for how Gregory thought a Pope should rule, and he tried to govern by this writing for the rest of his episcopate.

In the first part of Liber Pastoralis Curae Gregory describes pastoral authority as the “government of souls” which is the “art of arts”. Just as doctors are physicians of the flesh bishops are physicians of the soul, it is their job to cultivate healthy souls and cure diseased soles by tolerant or stern means as necessary. And just as one would practice medicine if they had no knowledge or training in it, the bishop must...
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