March 12: Pope St Gregory I the Great, OSB, Class II


Pope St Gregory I (540-604), known as 'Dialogus' in the Eastern Churches because of his Dialogues, Book II of which is the Life of St Benedict, is one of those few popes who truly deserve the accolade 'the Great'.

St Gregory was born into a noble and pious Roman family.  He had two popes in his ancestry; both of his parents Gordian and Sylvia, are venerated as Saints; and his father's sisters, Aemiliana and Tharsilla, lived in their own home as consecrated virgins.

St Gregory he initially pursued a secular career, and at one time was Prefect of the city of Rome.  St Gregory's decision to became a monk around 574, and to convert his family home into a monastery, was almost certainly inspired by the arrival in Rome of Benedictine monks fleeing from the destruction of Monte Cassino around that time.  Indeed, St Gregory explicitly drew on their testimony when he came to write his famous Life of St Benedict.

In 578 the then pope appointed him a deacon, and he was sent as ambassador to Constantinople in 579, where he spent six years, embroiled in the complex ecclesiastical politics of the East.

He was elected pope in 590.

St Gregory's renown arises on several fronts: his theological works, homilies and commentaries on Scripture; his great liturgical reforms; his dispatch of a monastic mission to convert England and much more.

St Gregory's Life of St Benedict

From the point of view of Benedictine spirituality however his greatest importance lies in the composition of the Life of St Benedict. 

The Life has been much disdained in recent years: ignored and disparaged as mere hagiography intended to edify rather than actual fact by many; and even its very authorship impugned by a revival of sixteenth century protestant attacks enthusiastically embraced by many even of St Benedict's own order! 

Fortunately as even the most eager advocates of this conspiracy theory have been forced to admit, the case for St Gregory's authorship of the Life is actually clear cut.  Whether that will lead to a true revival in the use of the Life as one of the two foundational documents of the Order, as tradition has always held, or instead see modernist-rationalist attempts to undermine its historicity and validity remains to be seen, though there are some promising signs, as I've pointed out over at my other blog.

In any case, St Gregory the Great is an important saint for the Church in general and Benedictines in particular.  Pope St Benedict XVI has given two General Audiences on the saint, the first of which can be found here.

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