A Garner of Saints – Gregory the Great

detail of a stained glass window of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, by Syrius Eberle, date unknown; parish church of Saint Benedict in Odelzhausen, Dachau, Bayern, Germany; photographed on 17 October 2015 by GFreihalter; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Pope and doctor of the church, born at Rome in 540, his father being a senator. In his youth he studied philosophy, and made great progress, being appointed chief magistrate of Rome. However, he contemplated taking up the religious life, and on his father’s death he founded seven monasteries. One day as he was writing in one of these monasteries in which he was the superior, an angel came to him in the guise of a shipwrecked man and asked for his pity. Gregory gave him six pieces of silver, but the man almost immediately came back declaring he had lost much but received little. Although he received six more pieces he came again, and when Gregory heard that there remained nothing more in the monastery but a silver porringer, in which his mother had sent him some soup, he gave that, and the man went away joyful, but afterwards revealed himself as an angel. Gregory next retired to a cell, and took the habit of the Benedictine order, but on a fearful plague breaking out at Rome, he came and ministered to the sick. Pope Pelagius dying at this time, Gregory was elected to succeed him in 599. After considerable reluctance he accepted .the position, though he bore his new dignity with great humiliation. It was this Gregory, who on discovering the captive Saxons in the market-place at Rome, declared that they were not Angles but Angels, and sent Augustine to convert their race. Such was his reputation for sanctity, that John the deacon, his secretary, says that he saw the Holy Ghost in the shape of a dove perched on his shoulder as he was writing his homilies. After he became pope it was his custom to entertain twelve poor men at his table. One evening he counted thirteen, and he called his steward and asked the reason. The steward replied that there were no more than twelve. After supper Gregory called the unbidden guest, and asked his name. I am the poor man, he replied, whom you formerly relieved; my name is Wonderful, and through me you shall obtain whatever you ask of God. On one occasion when Gregory was performing mass, one of them near him doubted the divine presence in the elements. The holy man prayed to God, and the doubter beheld a vision of the Saviour descending upon the altar surrounded by the instruments of His passion. Soon after his election Gregory ordained that processions should be made to avert the plague, and the picture of the Virgin, said to have been painted by Luke, was carried before. The infection fled before the picture, while singing was heard in the air, and above the mole of Hadrian Gregory saw the archangel Michael sheathing his sword, by which portent he understood that the plague had ceased. The Empress Constantia, desiring some relics of Peter and Paul, sent a request to Gregory; but he refused to disturb their remains, though he sent her a part of the consecrated cloth (Brandeum) which had enfolded the body of John the Baptist. The empress contemptuously refused this gift, whereupon Gregory laid the Brandeum upon the altar, and after praying, took up a knife and pierced it, and from it blood flowed as out of the living body. A monk, in defiance of his vow of poverty, secreted three pieces of gold. On hearing of this Gregory excommunicated him, and shortly after the monk died. Gregory was filled with horror that the man had been cut off unrepentant and without absolution, and he wrote on a scroll a form of prayer and absolution which he commanded a deacon to read over the monk’s grave. That night the monk appeared to the pope in a vision, and revealed to him his release from torment. Trajan the emperor was once hastening to war, when he was met by a widow who besought him to avenge the innocent blood of her son. Trajan promised to hear her on his return, but she persisted, and asked who would do her justice if he perished. And Trajan replied, “He who succeeds me.” But the widow answered, “What will it profit you if I receive justice from another.” Then Trajan descended from his horse and avenged her. It is further related that one of Trajan’s sons riding recklessly through the city killed a widow’s son, and when she came to complain to him, he gave her the offender in the place of her lost son, and richly dowered her. When Gregory recalled these acts of mercy, he went to Saint Peter’s and wept bitterly on reflecting that Trajan was lost. Then the Deity answered, “Behold I have heard your petition, and have released Trajan from eternal damnation.” Gregory died in the year 604. He was the author of several works, introduced the Gregorian chant, and was the first pope to make use of the title Seriius Servorum Dei. 12th March.

Attributes

  • The dove on his shoulder or head; he is dressed as pope and frequently holds a book.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Gregory the Great”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 April 2017. Web. 25 September 2017. <>