Skip to main content
Select Source:

Gregory I, Saint

Saint Gregory I (Saint Gregory the Great), c.540–604, pope (590–604), a Roman; successor of Pelagius II. A Doctor of the Church, he was distinguished for his spiritual and temporal leadership. His feast is celebrated on Mar. 12.

Early Career

Gregory was born to a wealthy patrician family and at the age of 30 he was made prefect of Rome, Rome's highest civil office. He felt the call to monasticism, however, and converted (c.575) his home and others of his houses into Benedictine convents. Later (c.586), he reluctantly became abbot. In 578 he was made a deacon of Rome. From 579 to c.586 he was ambassador at Constantinople, then he served as chief adviser of Pelagius II. When commencing a missionary voyage to England, he was recalled to Rome and accomplished his aim only by sending St. Augustine of Canterbury (596) and a later mission (601). He was elected pope by acclamation, accepting against his will and despite chronic illness.

Papacy

The two chief features of Gregory's lasting work are the enforcement of the papal supremacy and the establishment of the temporal position of the pope. Gregory not only legislated minutely and carefully for his immediate charges, but he interfered when necessary outside Italy; e.g., he attacked Donatism in Africa and simony in Gaul. Most significantly, he refused to recognize ecumenical as a title of the patriarch of Constantinople, since that title was not consistent with the divine vicegerency of the pope.

The exarch of Ravenna, representative of the Byzantine emperor in the West, claimed secular jurisdiction over Rome, and Gregory acknowledged it de jure. However, the exarch, Romanus, did nothing to help the city when it was threatened by a Lombard attack in 592. Gregory, as bishop of Rome, took command and negotiated a peace. It was ignored by the exarch, and the Lombards resumed their attack on Rome. Since Romanus deferred making peace, Gregory began independent negotiations, a new affront to the imperial dignity and an extralegal act.

In his dealings with the Lombards and the exarch, Gregory showed that if the emperor would not defend the pope, the pope would defend himself and by doing so would make himself temporally independent. Thus he set a precedent that enabled the papacy to prevent the total destruction of Rome. Yet Gregory was the important exponent of the doctrine of divided powers: the emperor was God's vicar in things temporal, the pope in things spiritual.

Gregory's encouragement of monasticism was significant historically, and his insistence on clerical celibacy and the exemption of the clergy from trial in civil courts bore great fruit later. St. Gregory contributed to the development of the Gregorian chant or plainsong. He was succeeded by Sabinian.

Bibliography

Gregory's works included Moralia (tr. Morals on the Book of Job, 1844–50); Dialogues, lives of saints, including St. Benedict, a widely read work all through the Middle Ages; Liber pastoralis curae (various Eng. tr., Pastoral Care, Pastoral Charge, and Pastoral Rule); homilies on the Gospel; and many invaluable letters. The Gregorial Sacramentary, a revision of the Gelasian Sacramentary (see Gelasius I, Saint), and the Gregorian antiphonary are spurious. See also F. H. Dudden, Gregory the Great (2 vol., 1905; repr. 1967); E. C. Butler, Western Mysticism (3d ed. 1968).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gregory I, Saint." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Apr. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gregory I, Saint." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gregory-i-saint

"Gregory I, Saint." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gregory-i-saint

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Gregory I (the Great), Saint

Gregory I (the Great), Saint (540–604) Pope (590–604), one of the Fathers of the Church. Gregory devoted himself to alleviating poverty and hunger among the Romans. His reforms included changes in the Mass. He also initiated the conversion of the Lombards, sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury to convert the Anglo-Saxons, and encouraged monasticism. His feast day is March 12.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gregory I (the Great), Saint." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Apr. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gregory I (the Great), Saint." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gregory-i-great-saint

"Gregory I (the Great), Saint." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gregory-i-great-saint

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.