Commemoration of Gregory the Great, Pastor
September 3, 2012
The Lord be with you
The Sixth Century was a century of change in Europe. To truly appreciate Gregory (540-604 ad), understanding those changes is most helpful. However, this is not the place for a 100-year history lesson. So, below, are some highlights that will give you an idea of what was happening.
Sixth Century ad Time Line
Ø 500 Scriptures have now been translated into more than 500 languages.
Ø 507 Clovis, King of the Franks, defeats the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouille.
Ø 508 Paris (now called Lutetia) established by Clovis as the capital of the Kingdom of the Franks
Ø 511 Clovis, King of the Franks, dies. The Merovingian Dynasty is continued by his sons.
Ø 521 Boëthius introduces Greek musical letter notation to the West.
Ø 525 Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysis the Little), a Roman monk and astronomer, records in his Easter Tables Jesus of Nazareth’s birthday as December 25, 753 years after Rome was founded. The date is repeated in all Christian calendars.
|Justinian's Empire in 555 AD|
Ø 527 Justinian becomes emperor of the Byzantine (Roman) Empire. He rules until his death in 565. He reconquers huge parts of the Roman Empire which were lost in the 5th century. This included Italy, Dalmatia, Africa, and southern Hispania.
Ø 529 Codification of Roman Law, Justinian’s Code, in a series of books called Corpus Juris Civilis, by the Emperor of Byzantine. Many legal maxims would be based on this code, which included the clause, “The things which are common to all (and not capable of being owned) are: the air, running water, the sea and the seashores.” The spelling of the word justice originates from Justinian’s Code. (Justinian is commemorated on November 14.)
Ø 531 Khosru I, of the Sassanian dynasty, comes to power in Persia.
Ø 532 “Eternal Peace” between the Sassanid Empire and the Byzantine Empire established.
Ø 533 Emperor Justinian begins to reconquer Northern Africa.
Ø 534 Queen Hu of China is assassinated. Northern China divides between western and eastern halves of the Wei dynasty.
Ø 535 Justinian begins to reconquer Italy
Ø 537 Saint Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism, outlines the steps for leading a devout life in what is known as the Rule of St Benedict. The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) is dedicated in Constantinople.
Ø 540 Gregory the Great born. Sassanid Empire breaks peace and invades Byzantine Empire.
Ø 542 The plague of Europe, known as the Great Plague of Justinian (a bubonic plague) ravages Europe. It would last until 593, killing half the population of Europe.
Ø 543 Byzantine general Belisarius defeat the Vandals in North Africa. (Belisarius was the main general of Justinian, responsible for many of their victories.)
Ø 547 The famous church of St. Vitale in Ravenna, known for its octagonal shape and mosaics of the Byzantine Emperor and empress, Justinian and Theodora, is completed.
Ø 552 Emperor Justinian initiates Europe’s silk industry by sending missionaries to smuggle silkworms out of China and Ceylon. Historian Procopius writes Anecdota, littered with scandalous gossip about Justinian and Theodora and their commander, Belisarius.
Ø 556 First written account of the Loch Ness monster.
Ø 560 The Hephthalites of Samarkand are defeated by a Persian-Turkish alliance and vanish as an identifiable people.
Ø 562 Peace with the Sassanid Empire reestablished.
Ø 563 Irish missionary Columba establishes a center of learning on the island of Iona.
Ø 565 Emperor Justinian dies. Nephew, Justin II seizes the throne. “Rules” until death in 578. Went insane and so his wife (573-574) and then Tiberius Constantine (574-578) ruled as regents.
Ø 568 The Lombards invade Italy, reaching Milan. Eventually all of Italy is lost to the Byzantines. “Barbarians,” who become Christians, rule.
Ø 570 Mohammad born in Mecca (His first “vision” was in 610).
Ø 578 Tiberius II, former regent, become emperor. Rules until 582.
Ø 572 Maurice, son-in-law of Tiberius II, becomes emperor. Rules until 602, when he was executed. War between the Persians and Byzantines resume, this time over Armenia.
Ø 587 First Japanese Buddhist monastery established.
Ø 589 Emperor Wen of northern China gains control of the south ending 271 years of division.
Ø 590 Pope Gregory I (the Great) begins the papacy which will reform Europe.
Ø 591 War between the Persians the Byzantines ends (again).
Ø 592 Emperor Sujun of Japan is murdered by Umako who places his daughter, Suiko, on the throne and makes her nephew, Shotoku, regent. The Lombards invade Italy.
Ø 594 Shotoku converts Empress Suiko to Buddhism, which becomes the state religion of Japan.
Ø 597 Gregory sends St Augustine of Canterbury to the British Isles to introduce Christianity. Augustine will lead the conversion of England and found a monastery in Kent town (later known as Canterbury), one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon settlements, dating from the mid-400′s.
Ø 602 War between the Byzantines and Persians resumes. (These wars left both the Byzantines and Persians crippled just when Islam was beginning to attack the world.)
Ø 604 Gregory the Great dies.
Gregory I, called “the Great,” was born in Rome around 540 to a distinguished Christian family of senatorial rank. His grandfather had been a pope after he had become a widower. Gregory as a young man had a palace and immense wealth. He was educated in the law and entered civil service. As Prefect (mayor) of Rome he presided over the Roman Senate, gathering knowledge of political and business affairs. In this role he restored economic vitality to his native city, which had been weakened by enemy invasions, pillage, and plague. Not long after Gregory’s father died, Gregory became a monk.
About 575 he turned his family home into a monastery dedicated to St. Andrew (the Festival of St. Andrew is November 30), provided for the founding of six monasteries on his father’s property in Sicily, and gave the surplus of his inheritance to the poor.
|Gregory the Great|
He reentered what he liked to call “the turbulence of life in the world” when he was ordained by Benedict I. In 579 he was sent as the papal representative to the Byzantine court at Constantinople where he increased his knowledge of the political and religious problems disturbing the empire. (During his stay in Constantinople he lived with the monks who accompanied him and apparently never learned Greek.)
He was recalled to Rome around 586 to be a counselor to Pope Pelagius II. It was a troubled time for the city. A plague spread through Rome, killing many, including the pope, and Gregory was elected his successor by popular acclaim. The year was 590. His consecration as Bishop of Rome was delayed until the approval of the Byzantine emperor could be secured. Meanwhile, Gregory ministered to the sick and dying in the then-plague-ridden city and organized penitential processions.
In 592 the Lombards invaded Rome. In the absence of secular leadership, Gregory rallied the people to defend the city and agreed to pay a yearly tribute to save Rome. The Byzantine emperor had refused aid; civil government had failed. The people, therefore, saw the pope as their protector who had assumed responsibility when they had no other helper.
Gregory showed concern for the poor and for justice, insisted upon a high standard of spirituality in Church administrators and reformed the process of raising money from the papal patrimonies so that unjust amounts of money were not collected. He put his stamp on the liturgy by reviving the “station churches” in which the pope processed and celebrated Mass on certain days; writing some prayers of the Gregorian sacramentary; changing the second petition in the three-fold Kyrie to “Christ have mercy”; ordering that Alleluia be sung throughout the year except on penitential days; fostering the development of music; emphasizing the importance of the sermon; fixing the present order of the Our Father in the Mass; and establishing a Church Year calendar still used by many church bodies in the Western world today. Gregory’s book on pastoral care became a standard until the twentieth century.
Gregory struggled with the Patriarch of Constantinople (remember Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire) who claimed to be the “ecumenical (worldwide) patriarch,” and in opposition to him Gregory claimed universal jurisdiction for the Bishop of Rome, not as lord but as “servant of the servants of God” (a title not original with Gregory but typical of his approach).(Both bishops retain these titles that assert leadership over the entire church on earth.)
Gregory’s use of monks as missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons was another important influence in shaping the future of Christian culture and institutions. In 597 he sent forty monks to evangelize Britain. The story told by Bede the Venerable (commemorated May 25) is that Gregory saw some fair-haired slaves in Rome and, being told that they were Angles, is said to have replied, “Not Angles but angels,” and decided that they must be Christianized.
Gregory is remembered for was his masterful statesmanship. As the “classical” world crumbled around him, he guided the Church into a “new” world where it could continue to bring the grace of God in Christ Jesus to souls in need. This church would be committed to reaching the lost, caring for the poor, faithful and orthodox worship. And this was the work of a man who described himself as sickly and who constantly yearned to return to monastic seclusion. Called by some the greatest man of the sixth century, Gregory forms a bridge between the ancient and the medieval worlds, and his episcopate was a model for his successors.
Gregory died on March 12, and many protestant denominations commemorate him on this day. The LC-MS, following the lead of the Roman Church, remember him on September 3, the anniversary of the day he was elected Bishop of Rome. This ensures that his day will not fall during Lent.
Prayer: Almighty and merciful God, You raised up Gregory of Rome to be a pastor to those who shepherd God’s flock and inspired him to send missionaries to preach the Gospel to the English people. Preserve in Your Church the catholic and apostolic faith that Your people may continue to be fruitful in every good work and receive the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Other things Gregory might inspire us to pray about:
- For the poor
- For social justice
- For renewed appreciation of the liturgy
- For a spirit of service
- For harried pastors and administrators, distracted by many concerns
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert