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Fathers Of The Church, Catholic Edition

FOR an understanding of Gregory’s position, and of the purport of a great part of those of his epistles which are translated in this Series, a brief survey of the state of things, politically and ecclesiastically, at the time of his accession may in the first place be of service. There was now no separate Emperor of the West; what remained of the once great Western Empire being governed in the name of the Eastern Emperor, who had his court at Constantinople, by the Exarch of Italy, resident at Ravenna. The Kingdom of the Goths in Italy had ceased to be, the country having been recovered from them under Justinian about half a century before Gregory’s accession, as well as the province of Africa from the Vandals.

But the Emperor’s hold on Italy was limited and precarious, a large portion of it being already occupied by the Lombards, whose first invasion, under Alboin, had been in 568: and accordingly Gregory, writing in the thirteenth Indiction (a.d. 594–5), speaks of their having been in Italy for twenty-seven years, and in the sixth Indiction (a.d. 602–3) of their having been there for thirty-five years [Epp., Lib. V., Ep. 21, and Lib. XIII., Ep. 38]. Subsequently the Lombard King Autharis had advanced on Alboin’s conquests, and is said to have proceeded to Rhegium, at the very toe of Italy, and there, riding up to a column on the shore through the tidal waves, to have touched it with the point of his spear and said, “So far shall extend the boundary of the Lombards” (Paul. Warnefr., de gestis Longob., III. 33]. Autharis died in the first year of Gregory’s popedom [Epp., Lib. I., Ep. 17], and was succeeded by Agilulph, previously duke of Turin, whom Theodelinda, the widow of the deceased king, had selected as her consort. Under him, his royal seat being at Ticinum (Pavia), the Lombard dominion included the greater part of Northern Italy, reaching northward to the Alpine passes, the two great dukedoms of Spoletum and Beneventum in Southern Italy, with partial hold on Tuscia and elsewhere. The only parts that now distinctly acknowledged the sway of the Exarch were the Exarchate of Ravenna, on the eastern side of Italy, with Istria and Venetia further north, the duchies of Rome and Naples on the western side, portions of territory at the heel and toe of Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. But beyond the limits of their actual occupation the Lombards kept the country in a continual state of disturbance and alarm; a great part of it appears to have been debatable ground, and no one could say definitely to whom it belonged.

No previous invaders seem to have been viewed by contemporaries with more horror, or painted in blacker colours, than the Lombards. Their Arian Christianity does not appear to have rendered them less odious than heathens would have been, or to have softened their alleged savagery. Gregory repeatedly in his letters speaks in the strongest possible terms of the misery of Italy “among the swords of the Lombards:” and it was doubtless the state of general distress thence arising, together with disorganization of the country from other causes, and the prevalence of calamity on whatever side he looked, that caused him continually to express his conviction that the signs of the times betokened the speedy approach of the Second Advent. It is in connexion with such a state of things that he stands out prominently as a political administrator of no common order. His position was one of peculiar difficulty. Though virtually, as bishop, the ruler of Rome, he was not a temporal potentate with power to act independently. He was but a subject of the Emperor, as he continually acknowledged, under the dominion of the Exarch of Ravenna, and possessed theoretically of spiritual jurisdiction only. And in his efforts to do good he was continually thwarted. He complains repeatedly in his letters of the insufficient aid afforded him by the distant Emperor, the counteraction of his own designs by the Exarch, and the corruption and iniquitous conduct of the imperial officers in Italy, which in more than one place he describes as even more trying than the oppressions of the Lombards. Still, in virtue of his high and influential position as bishop of old Rome, his commanding character, his indefatigable zeal, and his diplomatic talents, he did exert great political influence; and whatever success was attained in the defence of Italy against further aggression, or in effecting truces with the enemy, to him alone such success appears to have been due. Many of the letters translated in this volume shew his activity in this regard. A short summary of what may be gathered from them will be given below. All Europe, to the north of Italy, was now severed from the Western Empire. Britain had long been relinquished: the old provinces of Gaul were ruled and contended for by the descendants of Clovis of the Merovingian dynasty: Spain, with Narbonensian Gaul, was an independent Visigothic kingdom. The relations of these kingdoms to the Empire were at this time amicable; and it was in ecclesiastical, and not temporal, matters that Gregory had dealings with them, as will appear below.

His talents and activity in secular affairs were shewn also in his management of the possessions in various quarters with which the See of Rome had been endowed, known as “St. Peter’s patrimony.” In Sicily especially, and also in Campania, Calabria, Dalmatia and elsewhere, and to a small extent in Gaul, the Roman Church held lands so called, over all of which Gregory exercised personal superintendence by letters to his various agents, shewing a remarkable knowledge of the state of things in the several localities, and giving minute directions. While, on the one hand, he took care that the Church should not be defrauded of her just dues, on the other hand we find him repeatedly and strongly forbidding any unjust claims, or any oppression of the natives who cultivated the Church lands. The patrimony was commonly managed, under him, by agents on the spot, called rectores patrimonii, and often by deacons, or subdeacons, sent from Rome, to control the ordinary rectores, or act in the same capacity. We find bishops also in some cases acting as rectores. There was also a class of officials called defensores ecclesiae, or Guardians of the Church, who were required to be authorized by letters from Rome under the Pope’s hand (see V. 29; IX, 62; XI. 38). These letters of appointment, of which we have specimens in V. 29 and XI. 38, specified the protection of the poor as their primary duty. But their office had a much wider scope. We find them commissioned, not only to carry out various works of charity, but also to maintain the rights and property of churches, to rectify abuses in monasteries and hospitals (see e.g. I. 52; XIV. 2), to see to the canonical election of bishops (e.g. X. 77), and to the supply of episcopal ministrations during the suspension or incapacity of the holders of Sees (XIV. 2), to assist bishops in the exercise of discipline (X. I), and even to rebuke and coerce bishops themselves when negligent of duty (III. 36; X. 10; XIII. 26, 27; XIV. 4). In some cases they were also themselves rectores patrimonii (IX. 18). Further, they constituted a schola, as did also the notaries and subdeacons; and in the first Indiction (a.d. 598) Gregory appointed that seven of their number should thenceforth be dignified with the name of regionarii (as was already the case with the notaries and subdeacons), which gave them rank, and entitled them to sit in assemblies of the clergy (VIII. 14). Though entrusted with such large powers in matters ecclesiastical, they do not seem to have been of necessity in sacred orders, and might marry and have families (cf. III. 21; XII. 25). Some were subdeacons, as Anthemius, subdeacon and defensor of Campania (VII. 23). They might be apt, it seems, to take too much upon them: for we find Romanus, the defensor of Sicily, sharply rebuked for trenching on the prerogatives of a bishop (XI. 37). Though entitled, by special commission from the Roman See, to call even bishops to account, they were not to usurp their junctions. In some cases we find sworn notarii (otherwise called chartularii) attached to the patrimonies in addition to the rectores. Thus Adrian receives instructions as being notarius Siciliae; and, on his being made rector, Pantaleo is appointed notarius (XIII. 18 and 34).

Notable among the subdeacons invested with authority for the number and particularity of the letters addressed to him is Peter, whom Gregory sent at once in the first year of his pontificate to Sicily, not only to look after the patrimony there and after the supply of corn sent annually thence to Rome, but also, for a time at least, to exercise delegated authority, in matters ecclesiastical, over the bishops of the island (see Lib. 1., Ep. I). From the letters to this Peter we learn a good deal about the way in which the lands of the patrimony, in Sicily at least, were cultivated, and how the revenues were derived from them. (See especially Lib. I., Ep. 44.) They were cultivated by native peasants, called by Gregory rustici, or coloni, who enjoyed the fruit of their labour, subject only to customary dues to the lords of the land; in this case to the Roman See. The principal dues we find referred to were, in the first place, a kind of land-tax, called burdatio, and further, the tithe of all the produce, which might be paid in kind, but seems to have been often commuted for a money payment. Among the prevalent abuses which Gregory peremptorily required to be corrected were excessive valuation of the tithe, irrespective of the current price of corn, when a money equivalent was paid, and in other cases the use of measures of too large capacity, and exactions in various ways of more than was fairly due. He orders schedules to be made and authorised, copies of which were to be given to the rustici in all the farms of the church, shewing what their legal payments were, so as to guard against their being wronged in future. There were other customary payments of smaller amounts, such as fees on the marriage of peasants, which, under limitations, he allows to be continued. It appears also from Lib. XII., Ep. 25, that these rustici, or coloni, were ascripti glebae, so as not to be allowed to migrate from the estate (massa) to which they were attached, or to contract marriages beyond its limits. The several estates constituting the patrimony were called massae, each of which might comprise several fundi; and it was customary to let these massae to farmers (conductores), who were left to deal with the rustici, or coloni, being themselves responsible for a certain amount, whether in money or produce, to the officials of the Church. Gregory directed, among other things, that these conductores, should not be arbitrarily disturbed in their holdings, and that, on their death, members of their family should succeed them, guardians being appointed in case of their children being under age. Sicily was of great importance to Rome, as being a corn-growing country from which especially the Romans were supplied. Among Gregory’s temporal responsibilities was that of seeing to a regular and adequate supply, a failure in which might be followed by famine in Rome: and we find him attentive to this duty, giving particular directions as to the procuring, storing, and shipping of the corn. (See e.g. Lib. l., Ep. 2, 44, 72.) In fact, provision generally for the welfare of the Roman citizens, and the general charge of the city, seems to have devolved upon the Pope. And it was doubtless his responsibilities in this regard, together with his more general political ones, in addition to his “care of all the churches,” that caused him so continually to bemoan in his letters the billows of worldly business, incident to his office, which overwhelmed him, and hindered his advancement in the spiritual life. Remarkable, indeed, must have been his mental activity and his varied abilities, in that he was able, as appears from his epistles, to make himself accurately acquainted with, and personally attend to, so many matters, finding time also for theological composition and letters of spiritual counsel, and retaining his religious aspirations in the midst of all. And all this is the more striking when one considers the distressing state of health, especially from gout, of which he continually complains, and the fact also that, with his strong monastic predilections, matters of worldly business would be likely to be peculiarly distasteful to him. We get a further view of his multifarious engagements from what his biographer, John the Deacon, tells us of his having himself seen to the fourfold distribution—to the bishop, the clergy, the fabrics and services of the churches, and the poor—of the revenues of the See; his having himself caused to be sought out, and kept a list of, the recipients of charity; and himself taught the choristers in the Orphanotrophium which he had himself founded in Rome. It appears to have been his principle and practice to rely on others for nothing which he could possibly do himself.

With regard to the state of things in the ecclesiastical sphere during Gregory’s popedom, it may be observed first, that there was now a comparative cessation for a time of controversial warfare. The battle no longer raged over Arian, Nestorian, Monophysite, or Pelagian heresies; the Monothelitic controversy had not yet begun. Catholic orthodoxy, as defined by the first four Councils, was accepted generally, and enforced by the imperial power, with Gregory’s full approval of coercive measures (see e.g. Lib. IX., Ep. 49; Lib. XI., Ep. 46) ; while outside the limits of the Empire it was professed and upheld by the Frankish rulers of Gaul, and at length at the commencement of Gregory’s reign accepted in Spain by the Visigothic Reccared. The Lombards, indeed, with their king Agilulph, were still Arians; but his queen Theodelinda, with whom Gregory corresponded, was herself a devout Catholic. Hence he was not called on to come forward prominently in the field of controversy, for which indeed he does not appear to have been peculiarly fitted. For, though able to state clearly, and give the received reasons for, accepted dogmas, he nowhere evinces any great originality of conception, or depth of insight of his own. He is content to rest on authority; that especially of the four Councils, which he regards as the unassailable bulwarks of the true faith (see I. 25; III. 10; IV. 37), or of ancient fathers of the Church. Nor does he seem to have been well versed in the past history of controversy. An instance of his imperfect knowledge in this regard is found in the letters which he wrote after receiving from Cyriacus, the newly-appointed bishop of Constantinople, his confession of faith, in which Eudoxius, who had been prominent in the course of the Arian controversy, was condemned. Gregory had never heard of this noted heretic, though he had come across the name of a sect called Eudoxiani, and, not finding his name in the Latin books he was able to consult at Rome, he takes objection to his condemnation by Cyriacus (Lib. VII., Ep. 4); and it was not till he had consulted Eulogius of Alexandria, who was more learned than himself, that he was satisfied; and this simply on being informed that ancient fathers of repute had condemned this Eudoxius. “We know him (he writes) to be manifestly slain, against whom our heroes have cast so many darts” (VII. 34; VIII. 30). Again, in writing to the same Eulogius against the sect of Agnoitae, who taught a certain limitation of our Lord’s human knowledge, he appears to draw all his arguments from what he found in Augustine and other Latin Fathers, and he rejoices to hear that Eulogius had found the Greek Fathers (whom he himself, being wholly ignorant of Greek, was unable to consult) consentient (Lib. X., Epp. 35, 39).

But one subject of controversy there was, which especially troubled him; viz., that of “the three Chapters” (tria capitula), consequent upon the condemnation of the documents so-called, and of their deceased authors, at the instance of the Emperor Justinian, by the fifth General Council (a.d. 553). This condemnation had been in fact forced upon the Church by the Emperor in the said Council under his presidency at Constantinople, in spite of the protest of the great majority of the Western bishops, and of the then bishop of Rome, Vigilius. The grounds of objection to the condemnation were, that it was held to contravene the Council of Chalcedon, at which two of the writers whom it was proposed to condemn—Theodoret and Ibas—had been expressly acquitted of heresy; that to anathematize the dead, whatever their opinions might have been, was wrong; and further, that the condemnation was intended to conciliate the Monophysites, to whom the writers in question had been peculiarly obnoxious, and was in fact a concession to their heresy. Nor can it be doubted that a design to conciliate the Monophysite party, still strong and resolute in spite of its condemnation at Chalcedon, had been a main motive with Justinian in forcing a decree against the Three Chapters on the Church. Vigilius, however, had afterwards yielded to pressure, and assented, however inconsistently, to the condemnation of the Chapters; as did his successors in the See of Rome, including Gregory. Consequently several Churches of the West had renounced communion with Rome; and the schism thus arising—as in Liguria, which was under the metropolitan of Milan, and still more decidedly in Istria and Venetia under the metropolis of Aquileia—continued throughout the reign of Gregory. He in vain endeavoured, either by remonstrance or by trying to enlist the emperor’s aid, to bring back the Istrian bishops to conformity; and it must have been distressing to him, that even the Lombard queen, Theodelinda, who was so orthodox a Catholic, and whom he esteemed so highly, and corresponded with so cordially, herself could not be induced to accept the fifth Council, so far as the condemnation of the Three Chapters was concerned. In his last extant letter to her, written in the year of his death, he regrets that severe illness prevented him from replying to certain arguments on the subject by an abbot, Secundus, which she had sent for his consideration, but transmits to her a copy of the Acts of the fifth council, and again repeats his constant protest that his acceptance of that Council by no means implied any disparagement of the previous councils, or of the Tome of pope Leo (Lib. XIV., Ep. 12). Further, the schism of the Donatists still lingered in the African provinces, though no longer powerful, and though a series of Imperial edicts had been issued for their suppression. We find Gregory, in many letters, urging measures against them, and more rigid enforcement of the penal laws.

With regard to the spiritual authority over the Church at large, claimed in the time of Gregory, and by him asserted, and the extent to which such claims were then acknowledged, the following remarks may be made. For our present purpose it may be enough to say that the bishop of Rome was now generally acknowledged to be not only the sole Patriarch in the West, but also the highest in rank of all the bishops of Christendom.

With regard to Gregory’s own view of the prerogatives of the Roman See beyond the limits of its proper metropolitan or patriarchal jurisdiction, he undoubtedly claimed for it a primacy not of rank only, but also of authority in the Church Universal; and this of divine right, as representing the See of the Prince of the apostles. Such claim had come, in his day, to be the tradition of the Roman Church, which he accepted as a matter of course, and handed on. In assertion of this claim he says in more than one place, “Petro totius ecclesiae cura et principatus commissa est;” and again, “quis nesciat sanctam Ecclesiam in apostolorum principis soliditate firmatam. . . . Itaque, cum multi sint apostoli, pro ipso tamen principatu sola apostolorum principis sedes in auctoritate convaluit” (Lib. VII., Ep. 40); and he certainly regarded the like authority as residing still in what was called St. Peter’s See.

There is no record of the year of Pope Gregory’s birth: It was probably about a.d. 540, some ten years after Benedict of Nursia had founded the Benedictine order. He was well born, his father Gordianus being a wealthy Roman of senatorial rank, bearing the title of “Regionarius,” which denoted some office of dignity. He received the education usual with young Romans of his rank in life, and is said to have been an apt scholar. The historian Gregory of Tours, who was his contemporary, states that in grammar, rhetoric, and logic he was considered second to none in Rome; and he also studied law. Such education, however, fell somewhat short of what we should now call a liberal one, leaving him, as it did, entirely unacquainted. with any language but his own, and so a stranger to all Greek literature; with no apparent taste, that he anywhere displays in his writings, for art, poetry, or philosophy; and with scanty historical knowledge. He was, with regard to intellectual equipment, an educated Roman gentleman of his day, and no more; regarding the Roman nation as paramount in the world, and not aspiring beyond the studies thought sufficient for Roman citizens of rank, at a time when study of Greek literature and scientific culture had died out at Rome. In later life also, when he had time to devote himself to study and contemplation, he confined himself, with a purely devotional purpose, to Holy Scripture, in which (though of course only in the Latin version) he was thoroughly versed, or to the orthodox Latin Fathers, St. Augustine being his favourite. His condemnation of the study of classical heathen literature by Christians, appears strikingly in his letter to Desiderius (Lib. XI., Ep. 54). Still his early education, though thus limited, fitted him well for dealing with practical matters, for grasping the bearings of subjects that came before him, and for expressing himself clearly and often forcibly thereon; though his style is not free from the artificiality that was probably encouraged by the rhetorical training of his day. He was intended for, and at first pursued, secular occupations suitable to his rank in life; and at an unusually early age (certainly before 573, when he would be little more than 30 years of age) he was appointed by the Emperor Justin II. to the dignified office of Praetor Urbanus. In this early period he does not appear to have been distinguished by any peculiar saintliness of practice or demeanour. He dressed, at any rate, conformably to his rank: for Gregory of Tours speaks of the striking contrast of the monastic garb which he afterwards assumed with the silk attire, the sparkling gems, and the purple-striped trabea, with which he had formerly paced the streets of Rome. But, on the other hand, there is not the least reason to suppose that he had ever been loose or irreligious.

He had been religiously brought up. His father Gordianus is said to have been himself a religious man: his mother Silvia (who lived in ascetic seclusion after her husband’s death), and the sisters of Gordianus, Tarsilla and AEmiliana (who lived in their own house as dedicated virgins), have obtained a place in the calendar of saints: and his biographer, John the Deacon, speaks of his early training having been that of a saint among saints. He never, in his own writings, alludes to any crisis in his early life at which he had become convinced of sin, saying rather (as in one of his letters) that, while living in the world, he had tried to live to God also, but had found it hard. But on the death of his father (the date of which is not known) his religious aspirations took a decided form; he kept but a small part of the patrimony that came to him, employing the rest in charitable uses, and especially in founding monasteries, of which he endowed six in Sicily, and one, dedicated to St. Andrew, on the site of his own house near the Church of St. John and St. Paul on the Caelian, “ad clivum Scauri” which he himself entered as a monk, and of which he was eventually elected abbot. The religious views of his age, in which he fully shared, would of necessity suggest to him the monastic life as the highest form of saintliness; and he may have been especially moved by the recent example of St. Benedict of Nursia, whom he greatly admired, and of whom he has left us in his Dialogues many interesting records. In the ardour of his devotion, his life in the monastery appears to have been ascetic to an extreme degree. He is said by his biographer to have been fed on raw vegetables (crudo legumine), supplied to him by his mother, who had become a recluse in a neighbouring cell; and his fasts made him continually ill, and endangered his life. He tells us himself in his Dialogues of one Holy Week towards the end of which he fainted from exhaustion, and was hardly kept alive: but before losing consciousness, being shocked at the idea of breaking his fast before Easter Day, he had requested the prayers of a very holy monk called Eleutherius; and the result was that, returning to consciousness, he remembered nothing of his previous pangs, felt no longer any craving for food, and could have continued his fast a day longer than was required. (Dialog., Lib. iii. c. 33.) Such was the idea then entertained, and by him shared, of the way of attaining to the highest holiness. However he survived all, though the very weak health of which in his subsequent life he continually complains may have been due in part to such extreme self-discipline. Nor did he, it is said, relax his habits of study and prayer in consequence of the debility induced by his asceticism. It seems not to have precluded even energetic action of a practical kind. For it was at this period of his life that, according to John the Deacon his biographer, the well-known incident occurred of his seeing the English youths in the Roman slave-market, and obtaining the leave of pope Benedict I. to undertake a missionary enterprise for the conversion of the Angli, on an expedition for which purpose he had already set forth when the pope, moved by the remonstrances of the Roman people, recalled him to Rome.

Having thus become a devout monk, he remained one in heart throughout his life. His habits of life were, as far as they could be, still monastic while he sat upon the papal chair; and he never lost, and often gave expression to, his ardent longing for a return to monastic seclusion, as alone allowing closeness to God, as well as peace and happiness. See, for instance, what he says on this subject soon after his accession to the Emperor’s sister Theoctista (Epp., Lib. I., Ep. 5), or, after longer experience, to his old friend Leander of Seville (Lib. IX., Ep. 121).

But he was not allowed to enjoy for long the seclusion he so much desired; being summoned from his monastery by the pope to be ordained one of the seven deacons of Rome, and afterwards sent to Constantinople to be the pope’s apocrisiarius (or responsalis) at the imperial court. There is some doubt as to which pope it was that thus ordained and commissioned him. From a combination of what is said by his biographers, Paul the Deacon and John the Deacon respectively, it seems most probable that it was Pope Benedict I. who summoned him from his monastery and ordained him, perhaps with the view of sending him to Constantinople, and that it was Pelagius II. (who succeeded Benedict a.d. 578) under whom he was actually sent. The office of apocrisiarius was usually filled by a deacon; and hence it is not unlikely that his employment in that office had been in view from the first, when he was called from his monastery and ordained. The popes at this time were in special need of an able representative at Constantinople for procuring, if possible, some effective aid against the Lombards, the Exarch at Ravenna having been appealed to in vain. Gregory remained at Constantinople for several years, probably from a.d. 578 to a.d. 585, first under the Emperor Tiberius, and then under Mauricius, who succeeded to the Empire a.d. 582. There is no extant record of instructions sent to him from Rome till a.d. 584, when Pope Pelagius wrote to him, representing the miserable state of Italy under the Lombards, the imminent danger of Rome, and the inaction of the Exarch, and directing him to press the Emperor for succour. He also desired him to send back to Rome the monk Maximianus, who, together with other monks of his monastery, had accompanied Gregory to Constantinople. This, his official residence in the imperial city, could not fail to be of advantage to him in the way of preparation for his subsequent position, as giving him a practical knowledge of the state of parties there, the ways of the court, and the conduct of political affairs. He also made friends of position and influence there, with whom he afterwards corresponded; among whom may be named Theoctista, the Emperor’s sister, who had charge of the imperial children, Narses a patrician, Theodorus, physician to the Emperor, Gregoria, lady of the bedchamber to the Empress, and two patrician ladies, Clementina and Rusticiana. All these were religious persons, over whom he had gained influence, which he did not allow to die. He also formed at this time the intimate acquaintance of Leander, Bishop of Seville, who happened to be sojourning in Constantinople, and to whom he wrote afterwards very affectionate letters. It was at his instigation that he began, while at Constantinople, the Magna Moralia, or Exposition of the Book of Job, which he also dedicated to him in its completed form (Moral. Libri., Epist. Missoria, c. 1; Epp., Lib. V. Ep. 49). For he found time from secular business for devotion and study with the monks who had followed him from Rome, including his particular friend Maximianus, as has been already mentioned.

“By their example (he writes in his Introduction to the Magna Moralia, above referred to) I was bound, as it were by the cable of an anchor, when tossing in the incessant buffeting of secular affairs, to the placid shore of prayer. For to their society, as to the bosom of a most safe harbour, I fled for escape from the rollings and the billows of earthly action; and, though that ministry had torn me from the monastery, and cut me off by the sword of its occupation from my former life of quiet, yet among them, through the converse of studious reading, the aspiration of daily compunction gave me life.” He was engaged also at one time in a long dispute with Eutychius, the Constantinopolitan patriarch, who had written a treatise on the nature of the body after the resurrection, maintaining that it would be impalpable, and more subtle than air. Gregory maintained its palpability, alleging in proof that of the risen body of Christ. The Emperor Tiberius at length took cognizance of the dispute, and decided it in favour of Gregory, ordering the book of Eutychius to be burnt. The disputants are said to have been so exhausted by the long controversy that both had to take to their beds at its close (Joan. Diac., Lib. I., c. 28, 29).

Gregory was at length (probably a.d. 585) allowed by Pelagius to return to Rome and reenter his beloved monastery; and it was now probably that he was elected to be its abbot. But Pelagius appears still to have made use of him, a letter from that pope to Elias bishop of Aquileia on the subject of “The Three Chapters” being attributed by Paul the Deacon to the pen of Gregory (De gestis Longobard., Lib. III.).

That period of peace, lasting some five years, Gregory constantly refers to, and doubtless with complete sincerity, as the happiest part of his life. It was interrupted by the death of Pelagius II., who fell a victim to an epidemic disease then raging on the 8th of February, a.d. 590, when we are informed that the whole clergy and people of Rome concurred in electing Gregory to the papacy, as the only man for the place at that time of peculiar trial. In addition to the general distress and alarm caused by the advancing Lombards, the Tiber had overflowed its banks, destroying property and stores of corn, famine was feared, and fatal disease prevailed. Men’s hearts were failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that were coming on the earth. Gregory himself often speaks of the signs of the time as betokening the coming end of all things; and in one of his letters he compares Rome to an old and shattered ship, letting in the waves on all sides, tossed by a daily storm, its planks rotten and sounding of wreck. If anyone could pilot the ship through the storm, there seems to have been a general feeling that the man was Gregory. He was most unwilling to undertake the task. When an embassy was sent to Constantinople for obtaining the Emperor’s confirmation of the election, he sent at the same time a letter imploring him to withhold it. But the letter was intercepted by the prefect of the city, and another sent in its place, entreating confirmation. Meanwhile Gregory employed himself in preaching to the people, and calling them to repentance, in view of so many symptoms of the wrath of God. He instituted at this time the “Septiform Litany,” to be chanted through the streets of the city by seven companies—of clergy, of laymen, of monks, of nuns, of married women, of widows, and of children and paupers—who, setting out from different churches, were to meet for common supplication. It was at the close of one such procession that the vision (not mentioned by any contemporaries, or by Bede) was afterwards said to have been seen, to which the name of the Castle of St. Angelo is attributed; the story being that, on approaching the basilica of St. Peter on the Vatican, Gregory saw above the monument of Hadrian an angel sheathing his sword in token that the plague was stayed. At length, the Emperor’s confirmation of his election having arrived at Rome, he is said to have fled in disguise from the city, and hid himself in a forest cave, to have been pursued and discovered by means of a pillar of light that disclosed his hiding-place, to have been brought back to the city in triumph, conducted to the church of St. Peter, and there at once ordained, on the 3rd of September, a.d. 590 (Paul. Diac., c. 13; Joan. Diac., I. 44).

The four Eastern patriarchs at this time, to whom, according to custom, he sent letters immediately after his accession continuing his confession of faith, were John (known as Jejunator, or the Faster) of Constantinople, Eulogius of Alexandria, Gregory of Antioch, and John of Jerusalem; to whom is added in the address at the head of the circular letter, “Anastasius, ex-patriarch of Antioch,” who was indeed the true patriarch, having been deposed by the mere secular authority of the Emperor, Justin II. (Evagr. H. E., V. 5). Consequently Gregory, though not venturing to ignore the patriarch in possession, addressed the deposed one also in his circular, and wrote him also separate letters, in which he recognized him as the rightful patriarch, and undertook to intercede with the Emperor Maurice in his behalf (I. 8, 25, 26). On the restoration of Anastasius to his See (a.d. 593) by the Emperor on the death of the interloper, Gregory wrote him a warm congratulatory letter (V. 39).

Of the other patriarchs John of Constantinople was succeeded during Gregory’s pontificate (a.d. 596) by Cyriacus, and John of Jerusalem by Amos, and he (a.d. 600 or 601) by Isacius (see XI. 46). But the patriarchs of Jerusalem, though their position was recognized, were not at that time of any great influence or importance.

A brief summary may now suitably be given of some leading events of Gregory’s pontificate in the order suggested by the successive Books of his Epistles, which correspond to the years of his reign. His biographer John the Deacon says of him that, having been pope for a little more than thirteen and a half years, he left in the archives (in scrinio) as many books of Epistles as he had reigned years, the last, or 14th, book being left incomplete because of his not having completed the 14th year of his reign (Joan. Diac. Vit. S. Greg., IV. 71). Accordingly the Benedictine Editors of his works have arranged his extant epistles, according to what, to the best of their judgment, they conceived to have been the original order, in 14 books, answering to the successive years of his pontificate. Previous editions had given them in 12 books only, and many of them evidently placed wrongly in order of time. (See Patrologiae Tomus LXXV. Sancti Gregorii magni; Praefatio in Epistolas.) Hence, supposing the Benedictine arrangement to be on the whole correct, we have in the successive books as now arranged reference to the historical events of the successive years to which the books are assigned. The dates given to the books are according to the Roman method of Indictions, one Indiction being a period of 15 years, and the successive years of each of such periods being called the 1st, 2nd, 3rd year of the Indiction, or the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Indiction, and so on to the 15th. Each Indiction year began with September; and Gregory, having been ordained on the 3rd of September, a.d. 590, which was the commencement of the 9th year of the then Indiction, the date of the first book of the epistles, corresponding to the first year of his reign, is given as Indiction IX.

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