FOR an understanding of Gregorys 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 Gregorys accession, as well as the province of Africa from the Vandals.
But the Emperors 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 Alboins 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 Gregorys 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 p. viib 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. Peters 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 ecclesiæ, or Guardians of the Church, who were required to be authorized by letters from Rome under the Popes 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 p. viiib 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 Siciliæ; 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 glebæ, 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 massæ, each of which might comprise several fundi; and it was customary to let these massæ 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 Gregorys 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 p. ixb 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 Gregorys 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 Gregorys full approval of coercive measures (see e.g. Lib. IX., Ep. 49; Lib. XI., Ep. 46) 1257 ; 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 Gregorys 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 Agnoitæ, who taught a certain limitation of our Lords 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).
p. xb 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 emperors 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.
Beyond the episcopal jurisdiction of the bishops of Rome over their own proper diocese, which comprised only the city of Rome, and their metropolitan jurisdiction over the seven suffragan bishops of the Roman territory—viz., those of Ostia, Portus, Silva Candida, Sabina, Præneste, Tusculum, and Albanum,—they had long exercised a more extended patriarchal jurisdiction, which (according to Rufinus towards the end of the fourth century) seems originally to have extended over the suburban provinces which were under the civil jurisdiction of the vicarius urbis, including the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. But, being the only patriarchs of the West, they had long exercised authority, more or less defined, over a much wider area, including Northern Italy, with its metropolis at Milan, Illyricum East and West, and Northern Africa. It is not necessary to attempt any review here of the growth, as years p. xib had gone on, of such extended jurisdiction, or of the degree and kind of authority over Churches that had been consequently claimed. Nor need we consider now the well-known instances of resistance to such authority, as notably in Africa by St. Cyprian in the third century, and at a later date in the same province when Zosimus was pope, in the case of Apiarius. 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. Still, even in some provinces where his authority was not openly disputed, there appears to have been, at any rate, jealousy of its exercise. For proofs of this in Africa, see II. 47, n. 1; IV. 34, n. 1 ; IX. 58, n. 1. For a notable instance in Western Illyricum, in the case of Maximus, bishop of Salona, see III. 47, and note there. At Ravenna also, the seat of the Exarch, there seems to have been jealousy of the claims of Rome, seeing that John, bishop of that See, in a letter to Gregory, though expressing himself as personally devoted to the Roman See, says that he had provoked no little ill-will of many enemies against himself for his defence of its authority (III. 57).
In Gaul, under the Merovingian princes, there are no signs of any dispute of the popes spiritual jurisdiction, which was constantly asserted, over the Churches there: but the ancient Celtic Churches of the British islands still retained their independence. This last fact is apparent, not only from what Bede relates of the attitude of the British and Scottish Christians towards Augustine and the Roman mission, but also from the tone of the letter of the Irish Columbanus to Gregory, which will be found among the epistles (see Lib. IX., Ep. 127). With the Church in Spain, after its renunciation of Arianism under King Reccared at the beginning of Gregorys episcopate, he seems to have had little communication. He corresponded indeed with his friend Leander, of Seville, about the Kings conversion, and wrote a letter to the latter (IX. 122), who had sent an offering to Rome. Further, he sent into Spain the abbot Cyriacus, who had been employed to bring about the assembling of a Council in Gaul, commending him in a somewhat adulatory epistle to one Claudius, who appears to have been a person of influence in the court of Reccared (IX. 120). But for what special purpose he was sent does not appear. There is, moreover, a long document, comprised under XIII. 45 in the Benedictine edition of the epistles, relating to two bishops who were said to have been uncanonically deposed, for the adjudication of whose case one John, a defensor ecclesiæ, is said to have been sent, and to have pronounced sentence. But this epistle is not found in all codices; nor does it appear from it, even if it were considered genuine, whether Johns decision was accepted in Spain. On the whole, there is no sufficient evidence, but rather the contrary, of papal jurisdiction being recognized at that time in Spain as it certainly was in Gaul. It remains only to note the historical fact, that the whole Eastern branch of the Church Catholic never at any time submitted itself to the Roman See, notwithstanding occasional appeals to it by bishops or others when suffering under grievances.
With regard to Gregorys 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 ecclesiæ 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. Peters See. p. xiib But we nowhere find him asserting it in such a way as to merge the general episcopal commission in the Papacy, or to interfere with the canonical exercise of their independent jurisdiction by other patriarchs of ancient Apostolic Sees. He sent according to custom, after his accession, his confession of faith to the four Eastern patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, as to brethren: he never, even where his jurisdiction was acknowledged, interfered with the free election of bishops by their several Churches, except where he saw some canonical impediment, reserving only to himself the right of confirming the election (see e.g. Lib. II., Ep. 6; Lib. V., Ep. 17, &c.): and, lastly, his memorable emphatic protest against the assumption of the title of Universal Bishop by the patriarchs of Constantinople, with his total renunciation of any right of his own to assume such a title, has often been quoted as a standing protest against such papal supremacy as has subsequently been claimed and exercised. He seems to have regarded the See of St. Peter as everywhere supreme only in the sense of its being its prerogative to conserve inviolate the catholic faith and observance of the canons, wherever heresy or uncanonical proceedings called for protest and correction. He writes thus to John, bishop of Syracuse, “Si qua culpa in episcopis invenitur, nescio quis ei [Sedi apostolicæ] subjectus non sit: cum vero culpa non exigit, omnes secundum rationem humilitatis æquales sunt” (Lib. IX., Ep. 59). Again, to the defensor Romanus, “Si qua unicuique episcopo jurisdictio non servatur, quid aliud agitur, nisi ut per nos, per quos ecclesiasticus custodiri debuit ordo, confundatur?” (Lib. XI., Ep. 37). Again to Eulogius of Alexandria, protesting against being addressed as Universal Pope, and against the expression, sicut jussistis, “Quod verbum jussionis peto a meo auditu removere, quia scio qui sum, qui estis. Loco quim mihi fratres estis, moribus patres. Non ergo jussi, sed quæ utilia visa sunt indicare curavi.…Nec honorem esse deputo in quo fratres meos honorem suum perdere cognosco. Si enim universalem me Papam vestra sanctitas dicit, negat se hoc esse, quod me fatetur universum. Sed absit hoc.” (Lib. VIII., Ep. 30). Further, there is the notable fact, that he distinctly accords to the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch equal shares with himself in the primacy of St. Peters See;—to the former on the ground of his See having been founded by St. Mark, who had been sent by St. Peter; to the latter because (according to the Clementine tradition, which he takes for granted) St. Peter had been for seven years bishop of Antioch before he went to Rome. To Eulogius of Alexandria he writes, “Cum ergo unius atque una sit sedes, cui ex auctoritate divina tres nunc episcopi præsident, quicquid ergo de vobis boni audio, hoc mihi imputo. Si quid de me boni creditis, hoc vestris meritis imputate, quia in illo unum sumus qui ait, Ut omnes unum sint, sicut et tu Pater in me, et ego in te, et ipsi in nobis unum sint” (Lib. VII., Ep. 40. Cf. V. 39; X. 35; XIII. 41). He wrote thus in his anxiety to induce those two patriarchs to support him in his resistance to the assumptions of Constantinople; but his view of the principality of St. Peters See not being vested exclusively in the See of Rome remains no less distinctly on record. The view to which he gives expression of the unity of the three Sees may perhaps have arisen thus. The tradition of the peculiarly Petrine origin of the Roman See, and hence its claim as of divine right to supremacy, having come by this time to be accepted in the West, the undoubted ancient jurisdiction, independently of Rome, of the great patriarchal sees of the East in their own regions, had to be accounted for in accordance with this theory: and hence they too were regarded as deriving their authority from St. Peter. Accordingly we do not find Gregory in any of his letters to the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch addressing them in a tone of command. It is true that in one letter to Eulogius of Alexandria he remonstrates with him urgently for allowing (as was alleged) simony in his diocese; but it is brotherly remonstrance only (Lib. XIII., Ep. 41).
[There is indeed a passage in one of Gregorys Epistles (II. 52) which has been taken p. xiiib to imply a claim to jurisdiction over them. (See note on passage in Mignes Patrologia.) Natalis, bishop of Salona, had disregarded the admonitions of two successive bishops of Rome; and Gregory writes to him, “Quod si quilibet ex quatuor patriarchis fecisset, sine gravissimo scandalo tanta contumacia transire nullo modo potuisset.” But the intended meaning may be, not that such contumacy towards Rome would have been scandalous even in one of the great Eastern patriarchs, but that it could not have been passed over by them if shewn towards themselves in their own patriarchates. The words, it is true, suggest the former meaning, but the latter seems more likely to have been intended.]
On the other hand, towards the patriarch of Constantinople, when he considered him guilty of uncanonical procedure, he assumed a distinctly authoritative attitude. On his own authority he declared null and void (as his predecessor Pelagius II. had done) the synod at which the title of œcumenical bishop had been conferred on the Constantinopolitan patriarch (Lib. V., Epp. 18, 21); he entertained the appeal to himself of the two presbyters John and Athanasius, reversed their condemnation by the patriarch of Constantinople, and ordered their restitution (Lib. VI., Epp. 14, 15, 16, 17, &c.); and in a letter to John of Syracuse he says, “Nam de Constantinopolitana ecclesia quod dicunt, quis eam dubitet sedi apostolicæ esse subjectam?” (Lib. IX., Ep. 12.) For the See of Constantinople, though now patriarchal, was not even an ancient sedes apostolica: its bishop had indeed been assigned honorary rank (τὰ πρεσβεῖα τῆς τιμῆς) next after the bishop of Rome by the general Council of Constantinople (a.d. 381), but this only on the political ground of Constantinople being new Rome: patriarchal jurisdiction had indeed been confirmed to it over the Metropolitans of the Pontic, Arian, and Thracian dioceses by the 28th Canon of the Council of Chalcedon (a.d. 451); but this Canon had been repudiated at the time by Pope Leo of Rome. Hence the popes were ever peculiarly jealous of any new assumption, or uncanonical proceedings, on the part of the Constantinopolitan See, the ascendancy of which signified to them imperial domination rather than primitive ecclesiastical order or prerogative: and hence it is not to be wondered at that on the assumption of a title that seemed to imply universal supremacy Gregory was at once in arms, and asserted strongly all the authority that he believed to be inherent in his own Apostolic See. Such assertion, however, had no immediate effect in the absence of power to enforce it: it was disregarded at Constantinople: the Emperor Mauricius, who alone could have given practical effect to it, was appealed to by Gregory in vain; and, though Phocas, who succeeded him, is said to have issued a decree that “the Apostolic See of St. Peter, that is the Roman Church, should be the head of all Churches” (Anastasius Bibliothec.), yet it is an historical fact that neither Constantinople nor the Churches of the East generally, ever submitted to the claims of the Roman See.
There is no record of the year of Pope Gregorys 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 p. xivb 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 Prætor 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 husbands death), and the sisters of Gordianus, Tarsilla and Æmiliana (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 Cælian, “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 p. xvb 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 Emperors 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 popes 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 Emperors 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. p. xvib 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 popedom, 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. Mens 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 Emperors 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 Emperors confirmation of his election having arrived at Rome, he is said to have fled in disguise from the city, and hid himself in a p. xviib 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 Gregorys 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 Gregorys 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 Patrologiæ Tomus LXXV. Sancti Gregorii magni; Præfatio 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.
Book I. Indiction IX. (a.d. 590–1.)
This first book introduces us at once to a view of the new popes immediate vigilance and activity in affairs secular and sacred that demanded his attention. (1.) We find him providing without delay for the efficient and just management of the patrimony of St. Peter, which has been spoken of above; and this especially in Sicily, whither (as has been also said above) he sent Peter the subdeacon as his agent with large powers. To him also he gave charge to keep him fully informed of all that was going on, and further committed to him ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the bishops of the island, directing him among other things to convene synods annually, p. xviiib and requiring the bishops to submit to his control (Ep. I). This, however, seems to have been only a temporary arrangement, since in the following year he appointed Maximian, bishop of Syracuse, who had been a monk with himself and his peculiar friend in the Monastery of St. Andrew, to act as his vicar in the island. Such vicarial jurisdiction, however, was only conferred on Maximian personally, as was specified at the time (Lib. II., Ep. 7), and was not continued to his successor, though he also received the pallium. [It may be here observed that this decoration, in the time of Gregory, though usually conferred on Metropolitans, did not of necessity imply metropolitan jurisdiction. Cf. Epp., Lib. IX., Note to Ep. 11.] At a later date we find Romanus the Defensor, who had been made Rector patrimonii in Sicily, charged apparently with an oversight of the churches similar to what had been entrusted to Peter (Lib. IX., Ep. 18; Lib. XI, Ep. 37). (2.) We find him also, through his commissioned subdeacons, at once careful to correct the irregularities of monks in Campania, Sicily, Corsica, and other smaller islands; such as their migrating from monastery to monastery, wandering about exempt from rule, and even taking to themselves wives, or having women resident in the same buildings with themselves (Epp. 41, 42, 50, 51, 52). (3.) Frequent directions are given for charitable donations to such as needed them (e.g. Epp. 18, 24, 39); and his apocrisiarius at Constantinople is charged to move the Emperors in behalf of the natives of Sardinia, who were said to be oppressed illegally by the duke of the island (Ep. 49). (4.) For the due election of bishops to vacant Sees, and the visitation of Sees during vacancy, in the case of Churches under his acknowledged jurisdiction, he gives careful orders, as e.g. in the case of Ariminum (Epp. 57, 58), of Menavia in Umbria (Ep. 81), and Saona in Corsica (Ep. 78). The canonical rule, which he was careful to observe, was to leave the people of the place (clergy, nobles, and commonalty) free to elect their own bishop; but still reserving to himself power to reject any unfit person. Thus, in one case, he rejects one Ocleatinus as a candidate for the See of Ariminum (Epp. 57, 58), and in another, in consequence of delay on the part of the electors, he departs from his usual practice by himself appointing a bishop of Saona (Ep. 80). Over remiss or criminal bishops, as soon as he hears of their defaults—whereof, as of other things, he seems to have been speedily informed by his agents—he loses no time in bringing his authority to bear. It was in this, his first year, that he began a long continued correspondence with and with respect to Januarius, Bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia, who appears to have been a frivolous old man of very doubtful character (see Ep. 62, and reff.). Also with and with respect to Natalis, the convivial bishop of Salona in Western Illyricum, with reference both to his own habits and to his quarrel with the archdeacon Honoratus (see Ep. 19, and note with reff.). (5.) There will be found also in this first book letters of sympathy and friendship, such as he never ceased to write, some of which are to pious ladies of rank, including one to Theoctista, the Emperors sister (Ep. 5), which is further interesting as containing a specimen of his usual way of interpreting Holy Scripture allegorically. Peculiarly charming as illustrative of his warm and abiding friendship is his long continued correspondence, begun in this year, with or with regard to Venantius, who had relinquished monastic for married life (see Ep. 34, and note with reff.). (6.) To be noted also in this Book, are his ineffectual attempts, though apparently supported by the Emperor, to bring the Istrian bishops to submission in the matter of the” Three Chapters” (see Ep. 16, and notes), and his invoking of the secular arm for suppression of what remained of the Donatist schism in Africa (see Ep. 74, and notes). (7.) Lastly, we find, in Ep. 43 to Leander of Seville, the first intimation of the important event of the conversion to Catholicity of Reccared, the Visigothic King of Spain.
Most, if not all, of the subjects above noted, or the like, recur frequently in subsequent years. It may suffice to have drawn attention to them here, noting only in connexion with the following books any new subjects that appear of special interest.
p. xixb Book II. Indiction X. (a.d. 591–2.)
(1.) We meet in this book with the first allusion to the operations of the Lombards in Italy (Ep. 3); and hence this may be a suitable place for giving a brief sketch of Gregorys dealings with regard to them in the light thrown on the subject by his epistles. The Lombard King, Agilulf (as has been said above, p. vii.), had his headquarters at Ticinum (Pavia), the extensive dukedoms of Beneventum and Spoletum in Southern Italy being in the possession of his dukes. Early in the year before us (the 10th Indiction), it appears that Ariulf, duke of Spoletum, was believed to be marching either towards Ravenna or Rome. (See Ep. 3, which is dated in the Collection of Paul the Deacon and in Cod. Colbert. “die V. Kalend. Octob. Indict. 10,” i.e. 27 Sept., a.d. 591.) Later in the same Indiction Gregory becomes aware of his approach, and addresses letters (Epp. 29, 30) to officers in command of the imperial forces with the purpose of urging them to meet the impending danger. Subsequently in the same year it appears from a letter to the Bishop of Ravenna (Ep. 46) that Ariulf was already besieging Rome. Gregory in this letter gives a sad account of the savagery of the besieger outside the walls, his own illness and depression, and the difficulties he had to contend with. He complains, in this as in other letters, of the conduct of Romanus Patricius, the Exarch at Ravenna, who would neither send aid nor sanction terms of peace. Further, troops had, he says, been withdrawn from Rome before the siege, so as to leave it insufficiently defended; and the soldiers of a legion that remained there, not receiving their pay, had refused to man the walls. In these straits Gregory appears at length to have come to terms with Ariulf on his own responsibility; for doing which he was afterwards blamed and reproached as having been duped by Ariulf. (See Lib. V., Ep. 40.) The peace, however, was not of long duration. The Exarch (probably soon afterwards, though the date is not clear) marched himself to Rome, and on his return seized certain cities—Satrium, Polimartium, Horta, Tudertua, Ameria, Perusia, Luceoli, and others—which had been ceded to the Lombards under treaty—perhaps that which Gregory himself had made. (Paul. Diac. De gestis Longobard, IV. 8. Cf. Epp., Lib. V., Ep. 40.) Agilulf, the Lombard King, incensed by this breach of faith, now came with an army from Ticinum, recaptured Perusia, and again besieged Rome. In a letter addressed some time afterwards to the Emperor (Lib. V., Ep. 40), Gregory gives a lamentable account of the misery that had ensued. Since the departure of Ariulf, he says, “troops had still further been withdrawn from the city for the fruitless defence of Perusia, the supply of corn had failed, while from the walls they saw Romans led away with ropes round their necks like dogs to be sold in France.” He, with the præfect of the city, also called Gregory, and the military commander Castorius, had done all they could under extreme difficulty to guard the walls, for which he complains they afterwards got no thanks, but rather blame for neglect of duty in letting the corn run short. He himself, when the besiegers arrived, had been delivering his well-known course of homilies on Ezekiel, which he had been obliged to break off abruptly. The last ends thus:—“Let no one blame me if henceforth I cease my speaking, since, as you all see, our tribulations have increased; we are surrounded on all sides by swords; on all sides we are afraid for imminent danger of death. Some return to us with their hands cut off; others are reported to us as taken captive or slain. I am now forced to withhold my tongue from exposition, for my soul is weary of life.” How long this siege lasted, or on what terms of agreement Agilulf at length departed, we are not told. Whatever arrangement was made, it was evidently due to Gregory alone. Paul the Deacon says only (De gest. Longob., IV. 8), “that King Agilulf, matters being arranged, returned to Ticinum;” and adds, “and not long afterwards, at the suggestion especially of his wife Queen Theodelinda, as the blessed Gregory p. xxb often admonished her in his letters, he concluded a most firm peace with the same most holy Pope Gregory, and with the Romans.” But it is plain from epistles written subsequently that it was not till some years later that anything like a settled truce was concluded: for it was not till the second indiction, i.e. a.d. 598–9 (if the letters are rightly arranged, as they appear to be, by the Benedictine editors), that we find letters of thanks from Gregory to King Agilulf for peace at length concluded, and to Theodelinda for her good offices (Lib. IX., Epp. 42, 43). In the meantime, as appears from various letters, Gregory continued to urge the Emperor or the Exarch to arrange terms of peace, for which he asserts, though he was not believed, that Agilulf was prepared. He declares also that he could have himself made a separate peace with him so as to secure himself and Rome; but that he had been unwilling to do so, having the welfare of the whole republic at heart. He implies that the Exarch and his adherents were but serving their own ends in opposing terms of peace, their own exactions and oppressions during the continuance of hostilities being even more intolerable than the ravages of the Lombards (see Lib. V., Epp. 40, 42). In an urgent letter to the Empress Constantina he complains also of the cruel oppression of the natives of Sicily and Corsica under colour of raising funds for the war, and begs her to plead with the Emperor, for his own souls sake as well as for real advantage to the republic, against the use of such iniquitous means (Lib. V., Ep. 41). These letters (if rightly placed) were written in the 13th Indiction (a.d. 394–5), and in the next we find a letter to one Secundus at Ravenna, in which negotiations with Agilulf with a view to peace are spoken of as still going on, which this Secundus is urged to further (Lib. VI., Ep. 30). But it was not, as has been already said, till the 2nd Indiction (a.d. 598–9) that any definite terms appear to have been agreed to (see Lib. IX., Epp. 4, 6, 42, 43, 98): and then, it seems, only for a limited time (see Lib X., Ep. 37;—“indicantes cum Langobardorum rege usque ad mensem Martiam futuræ quartæ indictionis de pace, propitiante Domino, convenisse”); and even so, Gregory does not appear to have felt secure: for in a letter written at this time to Januarius, bishop of Cagliari in Sardinia, alluding to the peace that had been made, he warns him to guard the island well in view still of possible danger from the Lombards (Lib. IX., Ep. 6. Cf. also Lib. X., Ep. 37). After the expiration of this truce (which, as has been seen, was from some time in the 2nd Indiction (588–9) to March in the 4th Indiction (a.d. 601), probably for two years), hostilities having again broken out, a second truce was concluded in September, a.d. 603, as appears from Paul the Deacon (De gest. Longob., IV. 29), until April, a.d. 605: and that Gregory had been instrumental in procuring it through the influence of Queen Theodelinda on her husband, may be concluded from what he says in the last letter he addressed to her, not long before his death (Lib. XIV., Ep. 12).
We thus see how indefatigably active Gregory was in the political sphere of things. Lasting peace or security for Italy at that trying time it was beyond the power of man to bring about: but whatever was done towards mitigation of distress, and temporary cessation of hostilities, or approaches to better understanding with the Lombard King, appears plainly to have been due to Gregory. Nor should we leave out of sight his provision for the redemption of captives taken in war, whether out of ecclesiastical funds or others entrusted to him for the purpose, or by the sale, which he cordially sanctioned, of the sacred vessels of churches (IV. 17, 31; VII. 13, 26, 28, 38; IX. 17, &c.).
(2.) Attention may be directed to epistles 22, 23 in this book in connexion with the spiritual jurisdiction exercised by Rome over East as well as West Illyricum.
(3.) We may observe also the important import of epistle 41, with regard to the exemption of monasteries from episcopal control by Gregory. The constitutions, De privelegiis monasteriorum, therein contained were afterwards promulged by a council under him (called Conciliæ Romanum III., sive Lateranense) in April, a.d. 601, being signed by 20 bishops, 14 presbyters, and 3 or 4 deacons.
p. xxib Book III. Indiction XI. (a.d. 592–3).
The following notable incidents are referred to in this Book :
(1.) Two instances of the authority exercised (as above said) over the Illyrian Churches being, for a time at least, resisted or disregarded, and of the support of the Emperor being sought, and more or less obtained, in such resistance or disregard. The first instance was in the case of Adrian, bishop of Thebæ Phthioticæ in Eastern Illyricum, as to which see note to Ep. 6. The second and more serious one (which has been already alluded to) was in the case of Maximus, elected and consecrated bishop of Salona in Western Illyricum, in defiance of Gregorys prohibition and excommunication. In this case the resistance was pertinacious and long continued, and it was not till after seven years that the matter was compromised and communion restored. A summary of the proceedings, with reference to all the epistles bearing on the case, will be found in a note to Ep. 47.
(2.) As illustrative of the relations between Rome and Constantinople, the case of John of Chalcedon and Athanasius of Isauria, whose appeal to the Roman See was entertained by Gregory. See note to Lib. III., Ep. 53.
(3.) The beginning of remonstrances, continued through two years, with the metropolitan bishops of Ravenna with regard to their assumption of dignity above that of other metropolitans, expressed especially by their use of the pallium on other occasions than during Mass. From the letters on this subject we may detect, as has been said above, some jealousy at the seat of the Exarch of the authoritative claims of the Roman See. See Lib. III., Ep. 56, with note and reff.
(4.) The conduct of Gregory, at once outspoken and submissive to imperial edicts, with respect to the recent prohibition by the Emperor of soldiers becoming monks. See Ep. 65, note and reff. The incident illustrates well Gregorys habitual deference to the authority of the state, except in matters purely spiritual.
(5.) His requirement of Jews not being allowed to obtain or keep possession of Christian slaves. There are other letters on this subject, viz. IV. 9, 21; VI. 32; VII. 24; IX. 36, 110. Even slaves already in the lawful possession of Jews, on declaring their desire to become Christians, were to be thenceforth free without any compensation to their owners; only that pagans bought by Jews simply with a view to sale might, on their declaring such desire, be sold by such Jews within three months after their purchase of them; but only to Christian masters. It may be here observed that, though such provisions seem hard upon Jewish owners, and though Jews were legally prohibited from proselytising or building new synagogues, yet we find Gregory in other respects very tender towards them, repeatedly forbidding their being at all molested in the synagogues they had, or being in any way persecuted into accepting baptism (I. 10, 35, 47; VIII. 25; IX. 6, 55; XIII. 12). Those on the estates of the Church might indeed be drawn towards Christianity by the prospect of reduced rents (II. 32, V. 8), but all compulsory conversion of them is denounced as wrong and unavailing (e.g. I. 47). On the other hand, with some apparent inconsistency, pagan peasants on the estates might be compelled to conform by intolerable exactions being laid upon them in case of their refusal (IV. 26), and idolaters or diviners were to be reclaimed, if freemen, by imprisonment, or, if slaves, by stripes and torments (IX. 65).
Book IV. Indiction XII. (a.d. 593–4).
In this book we may note:
(1) The continued refusal of many at least of the bishops in Liguria, as well as in Istria and Venetia, to assent to the condemnation of the “Three Chapters” by the fifth Council, and with them of Theodelinda, the Catholic Lombard queen. See Ep. 2 and notes, with Epp. 3, 4, 38, 39.
p. xxiib (2.) The case of Paul, a bishop in Numidia, as indicating the continuance of disinclination to submit fully to the Roman See in the African provinces. See Ep. 34, with note. Cf. also Ep. 7, and IX. 58, 59.
(3.) The directions given by Gregory, and, as thereby shewn, the custom of the Church, with regard to the anointing of the baptized (Ep. 9, and Ep. 26, with note); and also his belief in the miraculous efficacy of the relics of saints, shewn in many other Epistles, but especially in Ep. 30 of this book.
Book V. Indiction XIII. (a.d. 594–5).
(1.) This year is memorable for the commencement of Gregorys earnest protest, continued through his subsequent life, against the title of Œcumenical, or Universal, Bishop (or Patriarch) assumed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The title itself was not a new one. It appears to have been occasionally given during the fifth century as a title of honour to patriarchs generally, the first known instance being when Olympius Episc. Evazensis gave it to Dioscorus at Concil. Ephes. ii. (Gieslers Eccles. Hist. 2nd Period, 1st Division, Ch. iii., § 93, note 20; with ref. to Mansi, vi. 855). Justinian also had styled the patriarch of Constantinople “Œcumenical Patriarch” (Cod. i. 1, 7; Novell. iii., v., vi., vii., xvi., xiii.). The first known protest against it from Rome was on its assumption, a.d. 587 1258 , by John Jejunator at a synod at Constantinople, when Gregorys predecessor, Pelagius II., had disallowed the acts of the synod in consequence, and had withdrawn his apocrisiarius from communion with the patriarch (Epp. V. 18, 43; IX. 68). Gregory himself also had, as appears from the epistles above referred to, remonstrated through his representatives at Constantinople with the patriarch on the subject, and had received a letter from the emperor desiring him to let the matter rest (V. 19). But he was now provoked to resolute action by having received a communication from the patriarch in reference to the case of John the Presbyter, wherein the title of “Œcumenical Patriarch” was repeatedly assumed (ib.). The peculiar warmth of feeling and strength of language that mark his lengthened correspondence on the subject, are accounted for not only by the old jealousy felt at Rome (which has been noticed above) of any claim of Constantinople, in mere virtue of being the imperial city, to the prerogatives of an ancient Apostolic See, but also by the title being viewed as not being one of honour only, but as meaning really assumption of spiritual authority over the Church at large. Such assumption could only rest on the fact of Constantinople having come to be the imperial city: it had neither a shew of divine right, nor Apostolic tradition, nor canonical authority to go on. Rome, though for himself also Gregory earnestly disclaimed the title of Universal Bishop, was at any rate an. ancient apostolic See, and viewed at that time generally as representing the authority of the Prince of the Apostles, to whom Christ himself had given the keys. But no such ancient prestige or apostolical commission could possibly be claimed for Constantinople: its ascendency over the whole Church would simply mean imperialism, and imperial domination over the whole Church would in fact have been likely to be its practical result: and thus, in his determined protest, Gregory might well feel himself to be contending for heavenly as against earthly jurisdiction, for Christ as against the world, for God as against Cæsar.
The following is a summary of the correspondence that ensued in this and following years:—
In this year Gregory despatched five letters to Sabinianus, his apocrisiarius at Constantinople:—1. p. xxiiib A long one to be delivered to John Jejunator, the Patriarch (Ep. 18), dated Kal. Jan. Indict. 13 (i.e. Jan., a.d. 595), containing earnest remonstrances against pride in general, and against this display of it in particular, and expressing the hope that stronger measures may not be needed. 2. A private one to Sabinianus (Ep. 19), in a bitter tone against the patriarch, attributing the mildness of the letter now addressed to the latter to the Emperors orders, but promising another by and by, such as would not be relished. 3. A long one to the Emperor Maurice (Ep. 20), earnestly desiring him to disallow the title, and, if necessary, coerce the patriarch to compliance. While acknowledging the Emperors pious desire to promote peace among the Bishops, he contends that the only means to this end was to quell the assumption of the patriarch, the inconsistency of which with his ascetic habits, and his affectation of humility, are pointed out ironically. 4. Another to the Empress Constantina (Ep. 21), whose good disposition towards the Roman See he had heard of from Sabinianus. His object is to enlist her influence with the Emperor and his sons in the matter; and it is observable how, in addressing her, he speaks in a way he does not venture on to the Emperor, of the peril to her own soul if St. Peter should be dishonoured, to whom the power of binding and loosing had been given. 5. A long one to be transmitted through Sabinianus to the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch (Ep. 43), with the purpose of inducing them to join him in his protest. He represents the offensive title as an infringement on the rights and dignity of all patriarchs, not claiming in this letter any peculiar authority for the Roman patriarchate above the rest. He bids them not be afraid of the Emperor in the event, which he hopes will not ensue, of his continuing to support the Constantinopolitan patriarch, but to be ready to face all consequences.
In the following year (Lib. VI., Indict. XIV., i.e. a.d. 595–6) we find an epistle, dated August (i.e. August, a.d. 596), to Eulogius, the patriarch of Alexandria only (Ep. 60), expressing surprise that the latter, in a letter received from him had not even alluded to the subject of the former epistle which had been addressed to the two patriarchs. It seems as if Eulogius had either been afraid to provoke the emperors displeasure, or had attached less importance to the title than did Gregory himself, and so had maintained a discreet silence. In this epistle Gregory expresses the view, which has been alluded to above, of the sees of Rome and Alexandria being both in a sense St. Peters, in virtue of the latter having been founded by St. Mark, whom St. Peter had sent. He had previously, in a letter to Anastasius of Antioch (V. 39), intimated a similar view of the See of Antioch being also in a certain sense St. Peters; and in a subsequent letter to Eulogius (VII. 40) he sets forth more distinctly and at length his noteworthy position of all the three patriarchal Sees of Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria, having together the prerogatives of St. Peters See.
In the following year (Indict. XV., a.d. 596–7) John Jejunator died, and was succeeded by Cyriacus, to whom Gregory wrote on receiving his synodical letter, addressing him in a friendly tone (Ep. 4), but urging in the course of his letter the rejection of the offensive title. He wrote again (Ep. 31) especially on the subject, still courteously, but pressing the matter strongly. To the emperor we find two letters; the first (Ep. 6) approving of the appointment of Cyriacus, but without any allusion to the burning question; the second (Ep. 33), after receiving one from the emperor, in which the desire had been expressed that the emissaries of the new patriarch should be honourably received at Rome. To this request Gregory replies that he has so received them, and admitted them to communion with him, hoping for the best; but that his own representatives at Constantinople would by no means be allowed to communicate with Cyriacus, unless the title were renounced. The emperor had said that the matter was a frivolous one. “Yes (says Gregory) the title is indeed frivolous, but its meaning and its consequences are serious;” and he repeals his continual assertion that whosoever assumes it is the precursor of Antichrist. In this year also he continued his p. xxivb efforts to induce the patriarchs Anastasius and Eulogius to join him in his protest. Anastasius, it seems, had not, like Eulogius, ignored the subject in his reply to the letter that had been addressed to both, but had said that in his opinion the matter was of little moment and not worth making a disturbance about; at the same time addressing Gregory in flattering terms. Gregory, in his reply (Ep. 27), which is somewhat ironical, insists again. To Eulogius also he writes again (Ep. 40), deprecating the too deferential manner in which he had been addressed by this patriarch, and setting forth his view of the oneness of the three sees. The offensive title itself is not in this letter specifically referred to. There is also a second letter to the two patriarchs jointly, explaining what had been done so far since the accession of Cyriacus, and reiterating his protest against allowance of the title. In the succeeding year (Lib. VIII., Indict. I., a.d. 597–8) there is again a letter (Ep. 30) to Eulogius, who appears to have written a third time to Gregory, at length alluding to the title so far as to say that he did not now use proud titles in addressing certain persons, but still apparently not prepared to take any action. As if to make up for such inaction, he had seemingly been profuse in his compliments to Gregory, using the expression, “as thou hast commanded,” and calling him “Universal Pope.” Such language Gregory, in reply, earnestly protests against, disclaiming for himself, as much as for any other bishop, the name of Universal. In the following year (Lib. IX., Indict. II., a.d. 598–9) we find two letters; one of which is an encyclical one (Ep. 68), to Eusebius of Thessalonica and other Eastern bishops, in view of a synod about to be held at Constantinople, warning them against being cajoled there into assenting to the title, and threatening them with excommunication in case of their complying. From the second letter assigned to this year, which is again to Eulogius (Ep. 78), it would seem that the synod at Constantinople had been held, and that Eulogius himself had been there, though what had been done does not appear. The letter is in reply to one which had been received with reference to a different subject from Eulogius; and Gregory complains that the latter had still said nothing about the most important subject of all, namely the title. He supposes Eulogius to be waiting till he himself shall take decided action; and he accounts for his own apparent delay by saying that he had been unwilling to be himself the immediate author of schism. It seems as if he had felt at a loss what to do. His remonstrances with Cyriacus and the emperor had been entirely unavailing; he had failed to move the two great Eastern patriarchs, or the bishops of the East generally, to take up the question; and he shrank from so serious a step as breaking off communion with the whole Eastern Church. And so matters appear to have rested. We find no further epistle on the subject till four years later (Lib. XIII, Indict. VI., a.d. 602–3), when in a short letter (Ep. 40) to Cyriacus, with whom he appears to be still in communion, he urges him once more to give up the title. There are in the same year two letters, and one in the previous one (XII. 50), as well as two (X., 35, 39) in the third indiction, to Eulogius, in which the subject is not alluded to.
(2) We observe in this year the sending of the pallium to Virgilius, bishop of Arles in Gaul, and with it his delegation (Epp. 53, 54, 55) as the Popes Vicar in the Kingdom of Childebert. As has been said above (see p. xii.), the spiritual authority of Rome over the Gallican Churches was not disputed; and Gregory exercised it vigilantly by means of letters to bishops, and to royal personages, labouring among other things to move them to put down simony, clerical immorality, and other prevalent abuses, and to assemble synods under authority from Rome for the correction of crying evils. But, though we find no resistance to his spiritual authority, neither do we find any evidence of his appeals to the consciences of the potentates of Gaul having had much practical effect in the directions indicated. Doubtless in a difficult field of action he did what he could; nor need we doubt that the p. xxvb authoritative voice from Rome was at any rate some check on violence and disorder, though the results may not be very apparent in history.
The main divisions of Gaul at this time were Austrasia on the Eastern side, including part of what is now Germany, Burgundy to the West and South, and the smaller Neustria on the North-west. The limits as well as the possession of these territories were continually changing during the contests between the descendants of Clovis, some or other of whom ruled the whole of Gaul; all now professing Catholic Christianity. In the Indiction now before us (Indict. XIII., a.d. 594–5), as is pointed out in a note to Ep. 53, Childebert II., then aged about 25, ruled by far the greatest part of Gaul; and hence the jurisdiction intended to be conferred on Virgilius, when the pallium was sent him, may be taken as equally extensive. We find no instance of spiritual authority so claimed being disputed in Gaul.
Book VI. Indiction XIV. (a.d. 595–6).
(1) This year is memorable for the mission of Augustine to England, the progress of which, as indicated by the epistles, may be summarized as follows. The missionaries having left Rome, probably in the early spring of the year 596, and proceeded as far as the South coast of France, and having there turned faint-hearted, Augustine himself returned to Rome for leave to relinquish the enterprize. Gregory sent him back to his companions with the letter, addressed to them, numbered Ep. 51 in this sixth book. It is dated X. Kal. Aug. Indict. 14, i.e. 23 July, a.d. 596. For a view of the circumstances see note to vi. 51. He was now charged (as he does not appear to have been when first sent forth) with various letters of commendation, intended to speed him on his journey: viz. to the bishops of Marseilles, of Turni (al. Turon:—Tours?), of Arles, Vienne and Autun, to Arigius, designated as Patrician of Gaul, to Theodebert and Theoderic, the two boy-kings of Austrasia and of Burgundy, and to their powerful grandmother Brunehild, who at this time ruled Austrasia as the guardian of Theodebert. The course of the missionaries, after leaving Marseilles, would naturally be up the valley of the Rhone, and so northward as far as Autun, most at least of the letters above named being such as might be delivered on the way. Thence to their place of embarcation for the Isle of Thanet we find no intimation of their route, except that, in passing through Neustria, they were well received and aided by Clotaire II. (nephew of Charibert, the deceased father of Bertha), who at that time ruled the country, having his capital at Soissons. This appears, though there is no extant letter of commendation on this occasion to Clotaire, from a subsequent letter to him (XI. 61).
The landing of the missionaries on the Isle of Thanet was, according to Bede, in the following year, a.d. 597 (H. E., I. 25, V. 24). It must have been early in the year, so as to allow time for the events, to be next noticed, which took place before its close. The next allusion to the mission found in the Epistles is Gregorys exulting announcement to Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria, of its remarkable success, and of the baptism of more than ten thousand Angli as early as the Christmas of the same year, 597 (VIII. 30). The date is definitely given in the letter to Eulogius;—“in the solemnity of the Lords Nativity which was kept in this first indiction”—The first indiction being from September, 597, to September, 598. In the meantime, as appears from the same letter, Augustine had already been consecrated bishop. The letter says vaguely “a Germanis Episcopis”: but, according to John the Deacon (Vit. S. Greg. II. 36), and Bede (H. E., I. 27), it was to Virgilius, bishop of Arles, that Augustine had gone, as directed by Gregory, for consecration.
The next batch of Epistles throwing light on the progress of the mission (after two others, IX. 11 and 108, wherein Queen Brunehild and Syagrius Bishop of Autun are thanked for their attention to the missionaries on their progress) is in Book XI, and thus assigned p. xxvib to Indiction 4, i.e. A. D. 600–1, some three years after the aforesaid letter to Eulogius. It comprises fourteen Epistles, some of which bear their own dates, and others are shewn by their contents to have been written at the same time. It is true that the dates of the dated epistles vary in different mss. with regard to the time of year; but all the mss. agree in giving the same Indiction, viz. the fourth. The occasion of writing was when Augustine, according to Bede and John the Deacon, had sent the presbyter Laurentius and the monk Peter to Rome, to seek instructions on certain points, and to ask for more missionaries: whereupon, we are told, Gregory sent back the messengers accompanied by Mellitus, Justus, Paulinus, Rufinianus, and others, with replies to Augustines questions, instructions for the constitution of the Church in Britain, the pallium for himself, and books, utensils and relics for the Churches (Joann. Diac. in Vit. S. Greg., II. 36, 37; Bede, H. E., I. 27, 29). We might have supposed from the narratives of John the Deacon and Bede that Augustine had sent Lawrence and Peter to Rome on his return to Britain after his own consecration by the bishop of Arles, and that the new band of missionaries had been sent out without delay. But the dates of the epistles shew, as has been seen above, that several years had intervened, at any rate, between Augustines return and the sending out of the new missionaries. And indeed Bede himself intimates this in his recapitulation of events (H. E., V. 24), though not in his narrative. For, having given a.d. 597 as the date of Augustines first arrival in Britain, he gives a.d. 601 as that of the sending of the pallium with “more ministers, among whom was Paulinus.”
The letters which these new missionaries carried with them were to the bishops Virgilius of Arles (Ep. 55), Desiderius of Vienne (Ep. 54), Aetherius of Lyons (Ep. 56), Arigius of Vapincum (Ep. 57), with a circular to various bishops of Gaul (Ep. 58); also to Queen Brunehild (Ep. 62), to kings Theodebert, Theoderic, and Clotaire (Epp. 59, 60, 61): to Augustine himself (Ep. 65), together with a long reply (Ep. 64) to his questions 1259 , to Ethelbert king of Kent (Ep. 66), and probably at the same time to Bertha his queen (Ep. 29) 1260 .
One more letter relating to the mission in Book XI. remains to be noticed; viz., Ep. 76, to Mellitus, which was sent after the rest, being intended to overtake the new band of missionaries on their journey through Gaul. Its main purpose seems to have been to modify what had been said in the letter to Ethelbert as to the destruction of heathen temples. See Note to Ep. 76. This is the last extant epistle referring to the English mission.
(2) To be noted also in this book is the first of the ten epistles addressed to the notorious queen Brunehild in Gaul (VI. 5). On her alleged character, and Gregorys mode of addressing her, see note to the epistle.
p. xxviib Book VII. Indiction XV. (a.d. 596–7), and Book VIII. Indiction I. (a.d. 597–8).
Though no historical events of importance come for the first time before our notice in these books, attention may be drawn (1) to Gregorys policy of protecting monasteries from episcopal domination (VII. 12, 43; VIII. 15); (2) his sanction of the sale of church plate for charitable purposes (VII. 13, 38); (3) Specimens of his letters of spiritual counsel, especially to pious ladies of rank (VII. 25, 26, 30; VIII. 22).
Book IX. Indiction II. (a.d. 598–9)
Noticeable in this book are, (1) Gregorys renewed efforts, on Romanus Patricius being succeeded by Callinicus in the exarchate, to reclaim the Istrian bishops to communion with Rome (Ep. 9, 10, 93, &c.); (2) his interesting letter with reference to the ancient liturgical usages of the Roman Church (Ep. 12); (3) the correspondence between him and the Visigothic king Reccared in Spain, assigned to this year (Epp. 61, 121, 122); (4) his continued efforts to bring about the assembling of synods and correction of prevalent abuses in the Church of Gaul (Ep. 106, &c.); (5) the remarkable letter to him of the Irish saint Columbanus, illustrating the differences with regard to the computation of Easter between the Roman and Celtic Churches, and the attitude of the latter towards the Roman See (Ep. 127).
Book XI. Indiction IV. (a.d. 600–1).
Noticeable in this book are—
(1) The letter to Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, with regard to the use and abuse of pictures in Churches (Ep. 13).
(2) Two long letters to ladies of rank at Constantinople (Epp. 44, 45), the first of which is interesting, as in other ways, so for the account contained in it of supposed miracles at the monastery of St. Andrew in Rome, shewing, as many other epistles do, Gregorys firm belief in miraculous interventions; while the second is remarkable, not only for its spiritual counsels, but also for its expression of Gregorys views on the unlawfulness of married persons entering monasteries without mutual consent; on the efficacy of baptism; and on various points of doctrine.
(3) The letter to the bishops of Iberia, setting forth the various ways of reconciling various kinds of heretics to the Church, and containing a specimen of Gregorys controversial skill in his refutation of Nestorianism (Ep. 67).
(4) Evidence of Gregorys unremitted efforts to correct the immorality prevalent among the clergy in Gaul, shewn in his letter to queen Brunehild on the subject (Ep. 69).
(5) The letters relating to the English mission, notice of which has been forestalled under Book VI.
Book XIII. Indiction V. (a.d. 602–3).
In this Book we may note—
(1) Continued correspondence about the Church in Gaul, with references to a church, monastery, and hospital, founded by queen Brunehild at Autun, and to the synod for correction of abuses, long desired by Gregory, for the holding of which she had now requested a fit person to be sent from Rome (Epp. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
(2) The important event of the accession of Phocas to the empire (November, a.d. 602), with the letters of Gregory on the occasion to him and to his wife Leontia (Epp. 31, 38, 39).
The tone of high compliment—nay, of adulation—which marks these letters has been justly regarded as a blot, much to be regretted, on the lustre of Gregorys character. There p. xxviiib is indeed no reason to conclude that he knew so far of the peculiar blackness of the usurpers character, as depicted by contemporary historians, and evinced by his disastrous and sanguinary reign. And, seeing that it appears from Epistle 38 that he had had no apocrisiarius resident at Constantinople towards the end of the reign of Mauricius, it may be that he had not been fully informed of the cruelties that accompanied the accession of Phocas to the imperial throne;—how, for instance, five sons of the former emperor had been murdered in succession before their fathers eyes, and then the emperor himself, their bodies being thrown into the Tiber, and their heads exposed in Constantinople till putrefaction began. But, however this might be, Gregorys high-flown compliments addressed to the new potentates, and his excessive exultation on their accession, cannot but strike one as unseemly as well as premature. Nor is it pleasant to observe his exultant way of speaking of the fall of the late emperor, whose sad fate called for so much sympathy, and to whom he had himself once written in such terms as these:— “Since a sincere rectitude of faith shines in you, most Christian of princes, like a light sent from heaven, and since it is known to all that your Serenity embraces with all your heart the pure profession which wins the favour of God” (VI. 16). Again, “Amidst the cares of warfare, and innumerable anxieties which you sustain in your unwearied zeal for the government of the Christian republic, it is a great cause of joy to me, along with the whole world, that your Piety ever keeps guard over the faith whereby the empire of our lords is resplendent” (VI. 65). Again, about him, only some two years before his death, in a letter to the patriarch of Jerusalem, “Thanks should be given without cease to Almighty God, and prayer ever made for the life of our most pious and Christian lord the Emperor, and for his most tranquil spouse, and his most gentle offspring, in whose times the mouths of heretics are silent, &c.” (XI. 46). Doubtless Maurices inefficiency with regard to the Lombards had been exceedingly provoking, and perhaps still more so to Gregory himself, his support of the Patriarch of Constantinople in his assumption of the offensive title. And perhaps the gout from which Gregory appears to have been suffering intensely at the time may partly account for his having given vent as he did to feelings of irritation long suppressed. Then, with regard to his adulation of the new potentates, some excuse may be found in prevalent usage, or his own habitual deference to the powers that be, or his policy (apparent also in his letters to Brunehild) of enlisting their support by flattering addresses to the cause of religion and the Church. But still a painful impression remains; though, on the other hand, it may be observed with truth that few great historical characters of whom so much is known are stained by so few disfiguring blots as that of Gregory. It may be presumed that a prominent motive of his paying court to the rising suns was his hope of getting their support against the patriarch. He does not indeed refer distinctly to the title; but in his letter to Leontia (whom, rather than the emperor, with characteristic address, he warns about her spiritual prospects being dependent on the favour of St. Peter) we can hardly mistake the covert allusion. If so, his policy was not fruitless. For, though there is no sufficient foundation for the statement of Baronius, that Phocas formally conferred on pope Boniface III. the title of “Universal Bishop” which had been assumed by the patriarch, there seems to be no good reason for doubting that the new emperor took the popes part against Cyriacus, who had offended him by his protection of Constantina and her daughters, and that, when Boniface, who had been Gregorys apocrisiarius at Constantinople, himself became pope, an imperial edict of some kind was issued in favour of the claims of Rome. The words of Anastasius, the biographer of the popes towards the end of the ninth century, with reference to it are these: “He (i.e. Boniface) obtained from the emperor Phocas that the Apostolic See of St. Peter, that is, the Roman Church, should be the head of all Churches, because the Church of Constantinople wrote itself the first of all Churches.” The authority, however, of Anastasius, who lived in a time of hierarchical forgeries, cannot be relied on without reserve.
p. xxixb Book XIV. Indiction VII. (a.d. 603–4.)
In the course of this indiction (on the 12th of March, a.d. 604) Gregory died. The seventeen Epistles assigned to this last half-year of his life (one of which is dated December) shew no abatement of his care for all the Churches, or his activity in correspondence, notwithstanding his excessive affliction from gout, leaving him sometimes hardly able to speak, which he alludes to in his letter to Theodelinda, the Lombard queen (Ep. 12). This letter was probably written shortly before his death, since he speaks in it of the queens messengers having left him between life and death, though he still contemplates the possibility of recovery. It is a peculiarly interesting one, not only for this reason, but also as being his last to her. He congratulates her in it on the recent baptism of her infant son Adulouvald in the catholic faith, sends for him a cross containing, as he alleges, wood from the true one, and also jewelled rings for his sister; he bids her thank her husband for peace concluded, and influence him, as she had ever done, to continue it; and he promises her an answer, in case of his recovery, to certain arguments against the condemnation of the Three Chapters by the fifth council, which she had sent for his consideration. It thus appears that to the end of his life he had failed to convince the Lombard queen on this subject, notwithstanding his influence over her, and the cordial relations ever subsisting between them.
The view opened to us through this long series of letters into the mind and character of the great Gregory is of peculiar interest. The man himself stands out before us therein self-disclosed; his very faults and frailties, which a panegyrist would have veiled, giving life and reality to the picture. We may observe in the first place how conspicuous throughout is his unhesitating faith. No cloud of doubt seems to have cast its shadow on his certainty of the truth of Holy Writ and Christianity, and of the divine authority of the Catholic Church, speaking through Fathers and Councils as its exponents. Nor were either his temperament or his training such as to expose him to philosophic questionings. No less clear is the sincerity of his life as inspired and guided by his religious faith. Whatever inferior human motives may appear sometimes, there can be no doubt that his paramount aim was to devote himself to Gods service. As was to be expected from the religious ideas of his age, his theory of the Christian life was ascetic in the extreme. Continual compunction, fear of judgment, fastings, tears, almsgiving, and heavenly contemplation, formed his ideal of holiness. Even lawful marriage he seems to tolerate, as a Zoar of escape from temptation, rather than to approve: and for a man to enjoy life as most people aim at doing—to sit, as it were, under his vine and under his fig-tree—appeared to him at any rate fraught with danger. Hence the more of both sexes that were able, and could be induced, to leave the active duties of life for monastic seclusion, the better he regarded it for them and for the world in whose behalf they might thus have leisure to pray. Still, on the other hand, such ascetic views were not found incompatible in his case with tender regard for others in their earthly joys and sorrows, and interest in their family life, as expressed in many kind and sympathetic letters to friends; and he was ever ready to meet their temporal as well as spiritual needs. His charitable donations in all directions were bounded only by his means; all oppression of the poor had in him a resolute opponent; nor can we but be struck by his keen sense of justice and regard for it in all his dealings. His gentle breeding, aided by Christian culture, induced a tone of courtesy, with delicate consideration for the feelings of others, in his letters generally; and he usually softens even rebuke with gentleness. Partly, it may be, to this habit may be traced the tone of flattery, which has been remarked on elsewhere, in his letters to potentates, or to others whom it was his purpose to conciliate; which was such indeed in some cases as to lay him open to a charge of insincerity. On the other hand, however, it is to be remembered p. xxxb that, when strongly moved, he could write with very outspoken boldness, not without a vein of cutting irony, even to the Emperor. Witness his two letters (V. 40; VII. 33) to Mauricius on the two subjects that appear above all others to have distressed and irritated him. In such letters—and especially in some to various correspondents about the title of “Universal Bishop”—there are symptoms, no doubt, of much personal irritation, intensified perhaps by gout, under provoking circumstances. But, if his politic flattery in some cases, and his irritability in others, are to some minds disappointing in a saint, they are interesting to a student of human nature: and it is greatly to his credit that they nowhere indicate any merely selfish aims, but rather zeal—however alloyed by policy or by bitterness—for what he honestly believed to be the cause of God.
As a divine he merits his title of a Doctor of the Church. He was, indeed, neither original nor deeply learned; as a mystical interpreter of Scripture he was fanciful, and often, from our point of view, absurd; owing to his visionary turn and his uncritical credulity he may have fostered, and perhaps originated, some fond fables and superstitions, such as infected the general belief of Christians in the middle ages: but he grasped and set forth clearly the orthodox doctrines of the Church; in treating difficult theological questions he displays from time to time no small power of thought and argument; as a preacher of essential Christian morality he was ever sound and true; nor has anyone more insisted on spiritual communion of the individual soul with God, or more strongly maintained the principle of justice, mercy and truth being of the essence of religion.
His diplomatic and practical talents, and his unwearied industry, have been already spoken of, and need no further notice in this brief final survey, the intention of which is to view him rather in his character as a saint and a divine.
“Prayer should ever be made for the life of our most pious and Christian lord the Emperor, and his most tranquil consort, &c., in whose times the mouths of heretics are silent, since, though their hearts seethe with the madness of perverse opinion, they presume not in the time of the catholic Emperor to utter the wrong things they think” (Lib. IX., Ep. 49).xxiib:1258
That this was the date may be inferred from Gregory, in Epistle XLIII. of this fifth book, speaking of the synod having been held eight years ago.xxvib:1259
Another letter to Augustine (Ep. 28), though placed in Book XI. by the Benedictine editors, may have been written in some previous year. It is one of congratulation on reported success, and of warning against elation. It seems to refer to the same news, received from Britain, that Gregory announced to Eulogius of Alexandria in his letter to him, a.d. 598, and resembles that letter in its exultant tone. Containing in itself no intimation of its own date, it seems more likely that it was written about the same time with the letter to Eulogius than that Gregory should have let several years elapse before finding an opportunity of congratulating Augustine on his success.xxvib:1260
The only reason for doubting whether the letter to Bertha was sent at the same time with that to Ethelbert, is that in the former the queen is exhorted to move her husband to follow her faith, whereas in the latter the king is addressed as already a Christian. The letter to Bertha is shewn by what is said in it to have been written after the arrival in Rome of Laurence and Peter, and that to Ethelbert, from its date, to have been sent by Mellitus and his companions when they left Rome for Britain. But there is nothing to shew that the letter to Bertha might not have been sent previously. It may be that the news of the kings conversion did not reach Rome till after the arrival there of Lawrence and Peter, and that Gregory had found an opportunity, before sending to Britain the new band of missionaries, of despatching a letter to the queen, urging her to bring it about. There would be time enough for his doing so, since the sending of Mellitus seems to have been delayed for a considerable time, owing, it may be, to Gregorys state of health at the time. See Preface to XI. 64. On the other hand, the language used in the letter to Bertha may possibly only mean that she ought to move her husband to greater zeal in propagating the faith, already embraced by himself, among his subjects. The exact date of Ethelberts baptism is not known. Bede only says that he allowed the missionaries to preach freely before being himself converted, and that, after his conversion, he compelled no one to accept Christianity. It may, then, be only his reported lukewarmness in this regard that Gregorys exhortation to Bertha refers to.