None of us are all good, and few of us are all bad. We often struggle with decisions, sometimes finding our well-intended efforts producing unfortunate results. Thus with Gregory. Born in Rome about 500 years after Christ, his family provided wealth and rank, and he became mayor of Rome at 33. After his father’s death, Gregory gave his inheritance to the church and the poor, turned his mansion into a monastery, and became a monk.
He was consecrated as Pope Gregory I on September 3, 590, and did much good. He had been burdened for the evangelization of England since seeing blond, blue-eyed British boys being sold in the Roman slave markets. “They are Anglos,” he reportedly said. “Let them become angels.” He sent Augustin to evangelize the British Isles.
Gregory also appointed wise and competent men as church leaders, and he fought apostasy. He encouraged the Visigoths to turn from heresy to orthodox doctrine. He wrote evangelistic tracts to barbarian tribes, and upheld biblical morality. He prepared a training manual for clergy. He wrote liturgy and popularized the Gregorian chant.
But Gregory also established the dogmas of purgatory and the Mass. He encouraged the worship of relics (the remains of deceased Christians), and popularized unlikely legends about the saints. He glorified the past and held tradition equal with Scripture. He drew wild, allegorical lessons from the pages of the Bible. And he claimed universal jurisdiction over Christendom.
With Western Europe in chaos and the Roman Empire shattered, Gregory assumed broad civil control. He ruled most of Italy. He raised an army and defeated the Lombards. He negotiated treaties to avoid Rome’s destruction. He ransomed captured individuals. He collected taxes and supplied food and services to the poor. He, in effect, turned the church into the state.
In so doing, Gregory became the father of the medieval papacy—with all the good and bad that that entailed.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. … I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.” (John 18:36,37b)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 3.