College seminarian Felipe Jimenez has submitted this work on Gregory the Great from the course entitled Historical Introduction to Theology, which he took last semester. The course was taught by Sister Gertrude Feick, OSB.
St. Gregory the Great on Love
by Felipe Jimenez
Gregory the Great was a great bishop and theologian of the Catholic Church. As a Doctor of the Church he influenced many of the doctrines of the Catholic faith. He addressed many issues but especially "the difficult tasks that faced the Bishops of Rome during the late empire and the early Middle Ages" (McGonigle 141). As a monk, then as prefect of the city of Rome, and later as pope, Gregory the Great knew that the greatest virtue was love. He also showed with his life that the love of God and the love of one's neighbor cannot be separated.
Gregory, as a man with qualities and capabilities that the Church needed in those days, was elected pope "at a time of new leadership among the Lombards" (Moorhead 5). During his reign Gregory showed the world a great personality and many virtues. Gregory's main focus was on the virtue of love. His letters, homilies, and his Pastoral Rule are just some of his works that reveal the loving person and theologian he was. Therefore, Gregory the Great is one of the world's favorite Doctors of the Church.
St. Gregory the Great was born in the year 540 AD. He was from a wealthy family. His family was very pious. In his genealogy, he had relatives in the hierarchy of the Church. His great-great grandfather was Pope Felix III (483-492), and Pope Apapetus (533-536) was a distant uncle. His father was Gordianus who served as administrator of the Church of Rome. Gregory began his ecclesial career as the prefect of Rome and when he decided to leave his position, he transformed his family home into a monastery where he entered as an ordinary monk.
Surprisingly, he was ordained deacon by Pope Pelagius II and appointed the Pope's representative to the emperor in Constantinople. Here he wrote his commentary Morals on the Book of Job. In 1585, he returned to Rome to his monastery of St. Andrew where he soon became the abbot. Even through Gregory loved living in the monastery, it was not long before he was elected to the Chair of St. Peter when Pope Pelagius died in February 590. Gregory was consecrated pope on 3 September 590. He served as pope until his death in 604. His contribution to pastoral care had a most significant effect on the Church and made him one of the most dynamic and influential popes in papal history.
The letters of Gregory reveal the virtue of love he practiced throughout his life. As a gifted writer Gregory always addressed his audience with great prudence and charity. His letters show his capacity to discern and understand with compassion people's needs. He also managed with marvelous eloquence some of the religious and social issues of his time. Gregory, being the man of love he was, wrote to some of his close and loved friends, and in those letters we can see him bringing hope to their problems.
Gregory, in the letter written to Secundinus, an anchorite monk, explains that he was asked to write a little book of encouragement to those fighting against temptation. Gregory denied his petition but still gave some consolation to this monk. Gregory wrote, "We indeed, who live among men, are often tempted through men by the cunning enemy. But as you follow the path of your present life without human contact; you must endure an ever greater struggle the more the very master of temptation attacks you" (Martyn 890). As we can see Gregory answered Secundinus in a very humble and loving way, not as a teacher, but as a spiritual father.
We can also see his humility by using the word "we" despite the fact that the anchorite monk was more tempted by the simple fact that he was living alone. Nevertheless, Gregory in simple and humble words encouraged him to be courageous and to put his hope in the one who can help us defeat evil, our Lord Jesus Christ. Gregory continues, "For the love of Him, for whom you would even be willing to end your life, let Him protect you himself to the very end, He who has deigned to redeem the whole world for all eternity" (Martyn 895). Gregory's great love in the Redeemer helped him to lift up the soul and spirit of his beloved Secundinus and all those to whom he wrote his letters. Gregory's letters were always full of words of love. He knew that the love of Christ will sustain any one in tribulations.
Gregory's Book of Pastoral Rule showed how he led his flock with love. Gregory indeed placed his virtues in a balanced and moderate way. His great love for others showed that he was a person of correct disposition of mind because Gregory always chose the wisdom of God. In his life their was no other intention but to do God's will. As a great pope with divine wisdom, the reader can see his valuable personality and care for the people of God. Gregory displayed a strong presence when making decisions, but he always used a pastoral approach, which was a loving and merciful approach.
Gregory spent time on his rule in order to form the clergy into ministers of love and compassion. He made clear the importance of the person in Holy Orders loving others. Gregory said, "The spiritual director should be a compassionate neighbor to everyone and superior to all in contemplation" (Decacopoulos 58). Gregory clearly explained to his clergy how to love and to know how to judge and advise each individual according to their condition.
Gregory also taught how to advise or to receive those who are impatient. He says the impatient person has to be told the truth of his condition. On the other hand, the patient person "should be advised that they not pity themselves on the inside for what they appear to tolerate on the outside. The patient [person] should be told to study how to tolerate those whom it is necessary for them to love" (Demacopoulos 104). In other words, he encouraged his ministers to love their neighbor but above all to love God in the highest form which is contemplation. According to Gregory with these qualities the clergy could carry any heavy task.
St. Gregory the Great has made an impact on my life. At the beginning of this semester my group chose St. Gregory the Great as the theologian to work with in a presentation; previously I did not know anything about him. When I began to research his life and his works, I found out what a wonderful person he was. I could see in each of the works that I researched his simplicity, humility, and his great love for God and the people of God. He so tenderly refers to Jesus as "my Redeemer." He wrote as if he was only the pencil in the hand of God.
St. Gregory is a great example of what it is to be a pastoral person, loving, tender, compassionate, and kind. He always answered with love to whomever he addressed in his writings. He reminds me of the prophet Isaiah, who had a great charismatic, eloquent personality, but had a strong authoritative deliverance in his message. I could understand that for St. Gregory, most important of anything is to love. Working on St. Gregory, I had the the desire to write. Since I knew that Gregory the Great would be my theologian this semester in Sister Gertrude's class, I can see that he continues working through his inspiration and intercession to accomplish my work in my Historical Introduction to Theology class.
The result of Gregory's great work in life definitely was his great love, obedience, and the docility to do God's will. He showed that his actions were greater than his popularity. He also showed a great care for his flock as the successor of Peter. His wonderful and lovable personality were always present especially when making authoritative decisions; he always did it with a pastoral approach. Gregory knew he had to bring healing and reconciliation to his flock by the grace of divine love. He worked intensively, relying on God's grace and knowing that God was always number one. He walked as if he was seeing the invisible, just like Moses when directing the people of God to the Promised Land. Gregory always admonished himself by putting himself as the lowest of the servants of God. Gregory radiated God's love in his homilies, letters, and The Book of Pastoral Rule.
His mysterious life, the loving letter to Secundinus, and his loving guidance to his flock in his Pastoral Rule impacted my life and brought forth the desire in me to write and to practice the greatest of all virtues, the virtue of love. Therefore, Gregory is one of the world's favorite Doctors of the Church because he passed by this earth loving the people and spreading the hope and love of God.
Gregory I. The Book of Pastoral Rule. Trans. George E. Demacopoulos. New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007.
- - -. Forty Gospel Homilies. Trans. David Hurst. Kalamazoo, MI: Ciestercian Publications, 1990. Print.
- - -. The Letters of Gregory the Great. Trans. John R.C. Martyn. Ontario: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004. Print.
McGonigle, Thomas and James Quigley. A History of the Christian Tradition: From its Jewish Origins to the Reformation. New York: Paulist Press, 1988. Print.
Moorhead, John, Ed. Gregory the Great. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.