Pope Gregory the Great 540 - 604 A.D.
Getting a glimpse in this man’s life has been very interesting. He was born into a very wealthy family in Rome. Rome had fallen from its glory and the barbaric hordes had overran it 6 times. The city had been ransacked. Gregory’s family were elite members of the Roman nobility and were also strong Christians.
So Rome was a very different place.
“Gregory was descended from Roman nobles with a strong legacy of Christian faith. He was related to two previous popes (Felix III and Agapitus I), his aunts were nuns, and his parents joined cloisters in their later years. He was raised in Rome when it was only a shell of its former glory.
By the age of 30, he was the chief administrative official of the city, responsible for finances, police, provisioning, and public works—an experience that helped him hone his administrative skills and, together with his personal wealth, gave him the opportunity to create six monasteries.
Yet Gregory remained dissatisfied, and upon his father's death in 574, he converted his house into a monastery and retired to a life of contemplation and prayer. During these years, the happiest in Gregory's life, he began a detailed study of the Scriptures. Here he also ruined his health with fasting, a sacrifice that would precipitate his early death.”
His administrative skills did not remain unappreciated. In 577 Pope Benedict appointed Gregory one of the seven deacons of Rome, and Pope Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople in 578 as representative to the imperial court, then later recalled him to serve as his confidential adviser.”
“Famine struck in 570 and the year 589, and the year 589 brought down upon the countryside “a deluge of water...such as is believed not to have existed since the time of Noah,” which washed out whole farms, carried off corpses of men and cattle, and obliterated highways.
At Rome, the waters of the Tiber crept up the city walls, broke over them, and crashed into the low-lying sectors as people ran screaming ahead of them. It was said that “a great mulitude of serpents, and a dragon of astonishing size, passed by the city and descended to the city.” This was straightway followed by “a very grievous pestilence called inguinal” (ie., of the groin). In its train came another scrourge chillingly described by Paul the Deacon as “a scab disease of such a kind that no one could recognize his own dead on account of the great swelling and inflammation.”
Gregory was meanwhile diligently pursuing his chosen vocation in St. Andrews monastery at Rome. Always frail of body, rended faint by fasting, and afflicted by gout and bouts of malaria, he had decided as a young man to leave the life of public service that his family characteristicly followed. Instead, he believed, his vocation was to serve God as a monk, through prayer, mediation and contemplation of the Divine Light within that gives clarity to the mind and peace to the soul. Twice before he had been summoned from his monastic life to serve the church in the world, but now in the year 589, at the age of almost 50 he was finally at peace.
And so he might have continued, except that God had other ideas. To Gregory’s heartfelt chagrin, an urgent summons arrived from Pope Pelagius II, and the need was undeniable and immediate. With famine and plague simultaneously besetting Rome, said Pelagius, the citizens were panicking. Where could they turn? Government itself had seemed to have disappeared; the Church must bear the whole burden, and he needed help. So Gregory agreed to become Pelagius’s assistant, but worse was to follow. Early in 590, Pelagius himself died of the plague; dread and despair now truly gripped the populace.
They would do prayer walks….During one of these processions, writes Paul the Deacon, eighty people fell dead in a single hour. Was this God’s answer?
Then, glowing above the massive mausoleum of the Emperorer Hadrian, Gregory beheld a fearsome vision. It was the Arcangel Michael, he said, God’s warrior, sword in hand period. But look! There was something else. The Great Angel was sheathing his sword, not brandishing it! The plague had been halted, Gregory declared. And so it had. Meanwhile, the citizenry had reached an unshakeable decision. Gregory must become their next bishop. His horror at such a prospect became the stuff of legend. An occasionally summons to meet some crisis was one thing. But the Bishop of Rome? From such an office there could be no escape - it was a lifetime sentence.
He sought to flee the city, says the document called The Earliest Life of the Gregory the Great, written by “An Anonymous Monk of Whitby.” Finding all the city gates guarded to prevent his escape, he had himself smuggled out in a barrel and then hid in a nearby wood, but the people, guided by a heavenly vision found him and brought him back. Less dramatic testimony to his reluctance also exists. He wrote a letter begging the Emperor Maurice to not confirm his election, but the city officials intercepted it and substituted a contrary plea of their own.
He becomes Pope and now must look after the Church. From https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/archangels-michael-gabriel-and-raphael/
“His favorite title for this exalted office was “servant of the servants of God.”
From “The Christians” Volume Five, page 208:
“He even took charge of routine civic needs - raising money, for example, to repair aqueducts. By now, in the estimation of church historian W.H. Hutton (Cambridge Medieval History), Gregory was the actual ruler of Rome and central Italy, both spiritually and temporally, although this could not be openly recognized.”
From “The Christians” Volume Five, page 211:
Meanwhile, his enthusiasm for missions bore lasting fruit. ...All over Western Europe as powerful transmitters of divine grace, through lives dedicated wholly to God, often appointing them as bishops. He urged monasteries to operate according to rule, preferably the rule of Saint Benedict, whom he greatly admired, and to whom he dedicated the entire second book of his four Volume Dialogues. The monk’s service to God must be two-fold, Gregory believed. He must seek God in the contemplative life, while also working out the Christian’s duty to his fellow man. Those who aspired to “the citadel of contemplation” should first prove themselves in action amongst God’s people in the world.
Gregory’s liturgical and musical accomplishments exhibit the same theme: service to God and man. He wanted the best physical expression attainable of this duality, and his contribution to the Roman liturgy and sacred music is impressive. He established the Roman Schola Cantorum (school of singers) at the lateran, from instance, and his name is closely linked with the plain song style of liturgical singing commonly known as “Gregorian Chant.”
His Liber Regulae Pastoralis became the vertiable textbook of the medieval episcopate, and continues in use today guiding Catholic bishops. England’s future King Alfred reputedly translated into it Old English, and it circulated in Gaul. In the ninth century, Hincmar, Archbishop of Rhiems, reported that every bishop at his consecration was given a copy.
Nothing evidences this better than his most ambitious work, the Magna Moralia, an extensive allegory based on Job. A bibical subject that few ancient commentators and not many modern ones, hasten to tackle.
In this thirty-five volume work, totalling more than five hundred thousand words, Gregory, a man for whom pain had become a way of life, thought to bring meaning and purpose to the suffering that much of his flock was day by day enduring.
...There is a story, possibly legendary, but known to English school children, which tells of Gregory walking through the slave markets in the Roman Forum and noticing a group of tall, fair haired captives. When informed they were Angles from Britian, he noted that this seemed appropriate, “for they have angel faces,...”. The incident is said to have made such an impression on Gregory, then an abbot that he asked for and was granted permission to lead a mission to these people. That mission was aborted (with Gregory being recalled after three days on the road), but seems likely that he never quite forgot about his barbarian angels.
So, seven years after being consecrated bishop of Rome, Gregory calls upon the energetic and reliable Augustine, a veteran church administrator and monk, much like himself to restablish a Roman presence in Britian.
This next paragraph is from the Christians, but it is unrelated to Pope Gregory the Great, (as far as I know); but the story “arrests” me in the Holy Spirit, and so I have included it as it is from the same time frame - From “The Christians” Volume 5, Page 221:
The mysterious man in the cell
Reknowned for his prophecies and spiritual discernment, a monk named Barsanuphius lived in strict isolation in Gaza, Palestine. Little is known of his pre-monastic life, but he seemed to have ben born an Egyptian sometime around the year 540. Only the abbot Seridus ever saw him, when delivering the monk’s ration of bread and water. Although Barsanuphius received many letters from corrsepondents across Christendom requesting his counsel, his fellow monks began to suspect he was no more than an invention of the abbot. To prove his existence, the recluse emerged, washed the feet of his colleagues, and he rentered his cell. Barsanuphius believed there were “three men perfect before God,” whose prayers, by God’s grace, protected the entire world: John of Rome, Elias of Corinth, and “another in the diocese of Jerusalem” ie. himself. After his death, a blast of fire supposedly surged from the doorway of his cell.