Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Gregory II, Pope

illustration of Saint Gregory II, Pope, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberMost authorities agree in stating that Saint Gregory II, a worthy namesake and successor of Saint Gregory the Great, was born at Rome, and that his father’s name was Marcellus. At an early age he entered a Benedictine Monastery, and became so famous for his learning, that Pope Sergius removed him from his cell to take charge of the Papal Library. This office he continued to hold under the three succeeding Popes, till Pope Constantine, recognising his solid piety and profound accomplishments, made him a member of the Sacred College. At this time a heresy was raging in Greece, and generally throughout the East. To stamp it out on the spot, Pope Constantine proceeded to Constantinople, taking with him his Court, and among the rest of the Cardinals, Saint Gregory; for he wished Gregory to be the champion of the Church against the Sectaries. Our Saint’s powerful arguments and moving eloquence were completely successful in causing the heretics to admit their error.

This brilliant triumph led to Saint Gregory’s being named Pope on the death of Constantine. Our Pontiff’s first care was to restore the city, whose churches, public buildings, and walls were everywhere falling to ruin. Amongst the other Benedictine houses that claimed his attention was Monte Cassino, which had lain in ruins for 130 years after its destruction by the Lombards. It was now thoroughly restored. It was by Saint Gregory’s command and under his guidance that Saint Boniface undertook his mission to Germany and succeeded in winning over to the true Faith whole provinces of that country.

As formerly the frenzy of Mauritius had been directed against Saint Gregory the Great, so now the Emperor Leo Isauricus assailed Saint Gregory II. This monarch’s violence was aimed especially at the pictures and statues of the Saints. An edict was published even in Rome, for Rome, as well as the greater part of the West, was then subject to the Eastern Emperor, ordering, under pain of exile and death, the destruction of all sacred images and pictures, whether in private houses or in churches. At first Saint Gregory tried to soften Leo’s violence by writing him a mild yet firm remonstrance; but when this remonstrance only inflamed the Emperor with greater fury, the Pope bade the Bishops from their Cathedrals everywhere to plead the cause of the Saints and to denounce the impiety of the Emperor. He also convened at Rome a Synod of seventy-nine Bishops, by which Leo was excommunicated, and Rome and the rest of Italy absolved from their allegiance to him. The Romans hastened to acknowledge Pope Gregory II, not only as the Head of the Church, but also as their Temporal Sovereign.

When what had been done in Rome and throughout Italy was known in Constantinople, the rage of the Emperor knew no bounds. Marinus, with a band of assassins, was despatched to slay the Pontiff; but he was overtaken by a Divine judgment, he fell dead of apoplexy, before he could execute his wicked purpose. A similar fate awaited Paulus, a patrician, who was secretly sent to Rome with the same object. He and his fellow-assassins were seized by the Romans, and paid the penalty of their crime with their lives. Leo, twice baffled in his attempts to get Saint Gregory assassinated, set out against Italy with a large armament, intending to glut his vengeance with wide-spread slaughter. By the Divine help this expedition perished in the waters of the Adriatic. Rome and Italy were saved, and their security for the future was ensured by an alliance with the King of Gaul.

The close of our Saint’s Pontificate, peace being now restored, was marked by the same good works by which its beginning had been distinguished. Besides three Monasteries which he built, nearly all the churches and religious houses owed to Saint Gregory II, if not their foundation, at least their restoration, or some addition to their splendour and wealth. This most watchful and energetic Pontiff died A.D. 731, after having ruled the See of Peter for fifteen years.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.