Horace k. Mann








A.D. 590-795




Since the appearance of Bower’s History of the Popes, no complete attempt has, I believe, been made to publish in an English dress, and in a form which could in any way be called either full or scientific, the Lives of the Popes of the early Middle Ages. That Bower may be well replaced will doubtless be readily conceded when it is remembered how notoriously prejudiced against the popes he was—so prejudiced that his greatest opponent was John Douglas, the Protestant Bishop of Salisbury—and that his history is now one hundred and fifty years old. And there is scarcely need to call attention to what has been done to advance our knowledge of the History of the Middle Ages during that interval. Not only have the sources of that history been published in a more accurate manner, but fresh historical documents have been brought to light in very considerable number. This is especially true of the history of the Papacy.

It has been said that no complete attempt has been made to replace Bower. Brief Manuals of the Lives of the Popes have been published, and there is an English translation of the short lives of Artaud de Montor. Political sketches of the Papacy have been written, like Greenwood’s Cathedra Petri; and much may be gleaned of their history from such books as Milman’s History of Latin Christianity, and the History of the City of Rome by Gregorovius, now in course of translation into English. But none of these works aims at giving anything like a full, authoritative or systematic account of the life of each succeeding pope. Some of them are of the shortest; some merely, in the simplest sense, popular and without any pretension of being based on the original sources; while others, if full and scientific, only treat of one or other portion of the doings of the popes.

The history of many of the later popes has indeed been well treated of by Ranke, whose work has long been before the English public. In more recent years Creighton has written on the Popes of the Reformation Period, and still more recently has the history of the popes from the fifteenth century onwards been most admirably and fully penned by Dr. L. Pastor, whose splendid biographies of the Popes of the later Middle Ages are now being published in an English translation by Kegan Paul & Co.

But while in Meyrick’s Lives of the Popes a simple account of the early Roman pontiffs is given, it may, I think, be safely asserted that, apart from the publication of a few biographies of certain distinguished popes (such as Bowden’s Life of Gregory VII), nothing has hitherto been done to improve upon Bower’s narrative of the Popes of the early Middle Ages. This want I have endeavoured to supply. With what success must be left to others to determine. The ground I have gone over and have yet to travel is anything but new ground. It has been well worked by men of other countries. My task will, to a large extent, but consist in making known to my countrymen, in the language they love, the labours of other men in other lands; or in bringing together the results of such isolated work on individual popes as already exists in English.

But it will, of course, cease where Pastor has begun, if not before. That is to say, it will certainly not extend beyond the accession of Martin V in 1417. For, with that pontiff’s life, the full biographies of Pastor commence.

It may be asked why, in writing of the Popes of the early Middle Ages, I do not begin before the very end of the sixth century, and why in making a volume of the Popes and the Lombards, I only begin with St. Gregory I, seeing that other popes before him came into contact with those barbarians? To these queries I would reply, in the first place, that historians are not agreed as to when the Middle Ages should be said to begin; and that, in the absence of any unanimous verdict, they may be defined to commence after the invasion of Italy by the Lombards, the last of those Germanic hordes whose fierce onslaughts broke up the Roman power in the West, when the East and West were beginning to show unmistakable signs of complete separation both in religion and politics, and when, out of the confusion of the wreck of Western Roman civilisation, the modern nations were beginning to emerge.

And to the second question I would answer that, though it is true that the Lombard invasion (568) took place in the pontificate of John III, and that he had two successors before St. Gregory the Great, I decided to omit the biographies of John III, Benedict I, and Pelagius II (either because they were unimportant, or because any prominent question that was raised in their time came up again under Gregory I, and could be treated of in any account of him), and to begin only with Gregory the Great. And to this course I was moved by positive reasons not a few. First, to Englishmen, he is naturally the most interesting of all the popes. He begins a century—the seventh. With him, too, may be said to commence the series of contemporary biographies in the Liber Pontificalis. A great deal, comparatively speaking at least, is known of him. Born before the invasion of the Lombards, he was the first pope, as far as is known, who came into personal contact, so to speak, with them. And, finally, he was far the grandest figure of his age.

In conclusion, I would state that, at the risk of appearing pedantic, I have given profuse references to the original sources. This I have done that what is both naturally and justly sure to be called the bias of a Catholic priest in favour of the popes may be the more readily watched. And I have freely quoted the very words of the contemporary authorities, not only because some idea of their style, and of that of the authors of their age, may be acquired by the perusal of them, but because my own experience, and that of others which has been brought to my notice, have convinced me that many derive considerable pleasure from reading the very words of the authors on whose sense and veracity they have to rely.

It only remains for me to thank very sincerely, in the first instance, my old friend the Rev. Mark Habell, B.A., for his very great kindness in carefully revising for me the proof-sheets; and, in the second, my Bishop, the Right Rev. T. W. Wilkinson, of Hexham and Newcastle, for granting me access to the splendid library of Ushaw College; and Dr. H. W. Newton, Mayor of Newcastle-on-Tyne, Basil Anderton, Esq., B.A., and the authorities generally of the Public Library of the City of Newcastle, for their courtesy in permitting me free use of the books in the Reference Library.





SABINIAN (604-606)


ST. BONIFACE IV. (608-615)

DEUSDEDIT (615-618)

BONIFACE V (619-625)

HONORIUS I (625-638)


JOHN IV (640-642)

THEODORE I (642-649)

ST. MARTIN I (649-654)

ST. EUGENIUS I (654-657)





A.D. 590-604.



                           MAURICE, 582-602. PHOCAS, 602-610


                           AUTHARI, 584-590. AGILULPH, 590-615


                           ROMANUS, 590-597. CALLINICUS, 597-602.




THAT the reader may be able to appreciate to their full extent the difficulty of the work that Gregory was called upon to take in hand, and the true nobility of his mind and character, a brief survey at least must be taken of the state of the civilised world at the time when he became Pope. Against the manifold evils which this survey will bring to our view had Gregory, it might be said almost single-handed, to struggle, that all which Christian civilized men hold dear might be preserved. Whether the student of this period of history look to the East or to the West, and whether he look at the physical aspect of their various countries, or at the moral and intellectual condition of their peoples, he will find much to sadden him. The effect of the frequent blows by which the barbarians in the fifth century smashed to pieces the Roman Empire in the West, and of their wanderings in great army-nations over its broken ruins in the sixth century in search of a resting-place, proved fatal not only to law and order, to religion and morality, to house and temple, but even to the very soil. For the barbarians, and famine and plague that lurked in their train, not only brought death to the wretched citizens of the Empire, but they so devastated whole tracts of country that they have remained barren wastes to this day. “Death” wrote Salvian (c. 485) begot death”. “Not the Castle on the rock, not towns on lofty cliffs, not cities by the running rivers have been able to escape the craft and warlike fury of the barbarians”, is the sad wail of the poet. And to come to the days at which this history begins, we have the word of Gregory himself:

“Lo! throughout Europe everything is in the hands of the barbarians. Cities are destroyed, fortresses dismantled, provinces depopulated. There is no one left to till the soil. Idolaters are daily glorying in cruelly shedding the blood of the faithful”.

Learning, which had for a long time been on the wane both in the East and West with the declining empire of Rome, had by the seventh century fairly disappeared in an abyss of ignorance. So that when St. Gregory ascended the Throne of the Fisherman, apart from a little learning in Rome, and a great glare but not much substance of it in Constantinople, it was only in distant Ireland that intellectual culture could be said to have had a place whereon to lay its head. However, when he made England Catholic, Gregory prepared another home wherein learning found a refuge. In the countries themselves of the old civilisation, in the West especially, there was small hope indeed of the revival of their ancient civilisation. To the great pontiff of Rome, to that untiring Christian watch man on the Seven Hills by the Tiber, must our eyes turn as to almost the sole hope of a return in Europe to the arts and sciences of civilised life.

In the countries of the Eastern Empire civilisation was fast disappearing, on the one hand under the inroads of the Persians and other barbarians, and on the other under the weak tyranny and maladministration of many of its rulers, who would be great at least in the number of their dogmatic edicts. Their constant vain interference in matters of religion, their action in the Arian, semi-Arian, Nestorian and Monophysite heresies and in the controversy on the Three Chapters, did but serve to accentuate those differences in faith on which the minds of the Easterners were fixed to the detriment of everything else. So that when the undivided attention of emperor and people ought to have been given to the advances of the Persian, the Avar, the Slav and the Lombard, the attention of the one was largely taken up with teaching bishops the truths of religion, and of the other in disputing about abstruse theological propositions. In the din of religious controversy they drowned the noise made by the barbarians who were thundering at their gates. They turned against one another the violent energy that should have been directed against their external foes; and they rendered their minds unfit for practical endeavours against the barbarian by being engrossed with the effort of determining the exact theological purport of the learned works of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret and Ibas! Its after history shows that the East did not belie the sad promise it gave in the days of Pope Gregory I. Its after history proved that civilisation left to the care of the Eastern Empire would have perished for ever. What Goth and Persian began, Saracen and Turk completed. The Saracen commenced his work of destruction a few years after the death of Gregory, had soon torn away the fairest provinces of the empire and laid upon them that general blight under which they are still festering. The Oriental patriarchs, i.e. those of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, within the century which followed the death of Gregory, had lost practically all their liberty at the hands of the Moslem. The Patriarchs of Constantinople, who under their emperors had had but little of it, finally lost that little at the hands of the Turk. With the loss of freedom these patriarchs and their subjects of course soon lost their learning and culture. After, the days of Gregory, distinguished Greek and Oriental ecclesiastics, who had once shed so much lustre on the Church by their transcendent abilities, were only conspicuous by their rarity. The patriarchs of Constantinople would fain have concealed their slavery even from themselves; and while, with ever-increasing power, the Roman pontiffs were taking the title of “Servant of the Servants of God”, they, with decreasing influence, would have grander titles. Mere creatures of imperial masters, they would be Universal Patriarchs. In his devoted struggle for faith, morality and freedom, then, Gregory neither received a helping hand nor scarce heard an encouraging voice from the emasculated East.

A view of the West would scarcely give Pope Gregory more consolation than the contemplation of the East. Ireland was indeed Christian and in the enjoyment of a comparatively high state of learning and civilisation, and was preparing to send forth to the continent of Europe those missionaries, who throughout the seventh century laboured so successfully to spread the faith or morality of Christ in Gaul, in Belgium, in Switzerland and even in Italy. But in England the Angles and Saxons had driven in direful disorder the Britons with their civilisation and Christianity into Cornwall, Wales and Brittany, and had again enveloped this island in the darkness of barbaric ignorance and paganism. Germany, that seething centre which had poured forth the hordes that overwhelmed the Western Empire, was still fiercely pagan. The various kingdoms of which France was then composed, although Catholic in name, were suffering from the countless evils which are the result of constant internecine strife, and still contained within their boundaries many professed heathens. Spain had become the home of the Visigoths and their Arianism. And Italy, once the very centre of the world’s power and civilisation, and destined to be the source to which the Western world newly civilised was to turn for its religion—what is to be said of it ? Wretched indeed was its plight in the days of Gregory. In the history of Rome and Italy we see a law of the physical order exemplified in the political. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. From Rome and Italy had gone forth century by century conquering armies that overran the world. And century by century invading hordes poured down into Italy to avenge the world’s defeats. The centuries during which Italy smiled beneath the “Roman peace”, were followed by centuries during which the face of the country was seared by war, famine and pestilence. Rome, which had sacked the chief cities of the world, and which Cicero had looked forward to standing ten thousand years, was, after its first capture by Alaric, the Goth, in 410, taken more than once again even before the birth (540) of Gregory by different barbaric nations. As Cardinal Newman tersely put it: “First came the Goth, then the Hun, and then the Lombard. The Goth took possession, but he was of a noble nature and soon lost his barbarism. The Hun came next, he was irreclaimable but did not stay. The Lombard kept his savageness and his ground. He appropriated to himself the territory, not the civilization of Italy; fierce as the Hun and powerful as the Goth, the most tremendous scourge of Heaven”. During the sixty-two years (493-555) that the supremacy of the Ostrogoth lasted, Italy enjoyed a measure of peace and prosperity; but during the two centuries of Lombard domination there was nothing but war and wretchedness for Italy and Rome. Again was Italy one battlefield. The Lombards were ever at war either with the wretched Italians, with the Franks and the Greeks, or with themselves. Such being the social and political condition of the East and West, it will not surprise anyone to read in the letters of Gregory that in the Church simony was rife both among the Greeks and Latins, and that in the West not only were idolatrous practices widespread, but that idolaters were still to be found in Sardinia, Gaul and even Italy.

As our estimate of the character and conduct of St. Gregory and his successors in the seventh and eighth centuries must largely depend on the view taken of the Lombards and their rule, it will not be out of place to discuss them and their doings for a brief space longer. When the Lombards first appear on the pages of history at the very beginning of our era they are set down as having their abode about the mouth of the Elbe and described as worse than the Germans in ferocity. During the course of the next few centuries they moved southwards, and when, with hordes of other barbarians, with their wives and children and such belongings as they had, they poured into Italy (568) from the north-east, its most vulnerable point of attack, and overran great part of it during the early manhood of Gregory, their fierce cruelty was still conspicuous. They were indeed possessed of a wild recklessness that passed for courage, and oft displayed a rough and ready justice that wins admiration from men who are not unfrequently wont to see justice hampered by forms of law. But Arians or pagans in religion, they persecuted the Catholics subject to them, and treated the conquered Italians with contempt. Especially did they rage against the clergy and the monasteries, and amongst the latter destroyed the famous Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino (589). The Lombards were in Italy what the Normans were afterwards in England. They behaved to the conquered Italians in the same arbitrary manner as the Normans did to the Anglo-Saxons, or as the Turks now often do to their subject Christians. They were an army of occupation, and as such were hated by the people. We can hence easily understand how the provinces that were not subject to them dreaded them. So poorly were the Lombards united among themselves that although their third ruler, Authari, is depicted, rightly or wrongly, as planting his lance on the shore of Rhegium to show that the Southern Sea alone was to be the border of his kingdom, the Lombards never succeeded in conquering all Italy. Rome never fell into their hands, nor did they ever subdue the Duchy of Naples. And it took them nearly two hundred years to overthrow the Exarchs of Ravenna. As these free states only naturally wished to retain their freedom, who would deny them the right of getting help when and where they could, and of using every fair means in their power to remain free? It will be important to bear these considerations in mind when the relations between the Popes and the Lombards come to be noticed.

When Gregory became Pope Italy was, for the most part, under the dominion of the Lombard kings, who resided at Pavia. Their power was helped or resisted, as the case might be, by thirty-six hereditary dukes. Of these, who were all more or less independent, the chief ones were the Dukes of Spoletum and Beneventum. Partially separated from the northern half of the Lombard kingdom by the line of forts along the Flaminian Way, which for a long time remained in the hands of the Empire, they were, on that account, enabled to act with less dependence on Pavia, and often showed their autocratic power by making war on their king. The districts of Italy not ruled by the Lombards were subject to a greater or less degree to the “Roman” emperor. His representative, an exarch, who had supreme civil and military authority, resided at Ravenna. In addition to a province under his own immediate jurisdiction, known, in the most restricted application of the term, as the “exarchate of Ravenna”, there were subject to the exarch the Duchies of Istria, Venetia, and Rome, the Pentapolis, Calabria, Bruttium, Sicily, and a number of towns along the coast of Liguria forming the province of Maritima Italorum. A few isolated places here and there, such as Naples and Salernum, were also “imperial”. The exarchate comprised the modern Romagna with the marches, or valleys, of Ferrara and Commachio. A maritime Pentapolis, viz., the cities of Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Sinigaglia, and Ancona, along with an inland Pentapolis, viz., Jesi, Cagli, Gubbio, Fossombrone and Urbino, and the city of Osimo, constituted the Duchy of the Pentapolis. The Duchy of Rome extended from Civitavecchia (the old Centumcellae) to Gaeta and Formia along the coast, and inland from Civitavecchia to the course of the Tiber from Amelia and Narni, with the southern portion of the present province of Rome and the small northern part of the present Campania around Gaeta and Fondi. The Duchy of Venetia included the towns of Concordia, Oderzo (the ancient Opitergium) and Altinum with the islands of Chioggia, etc., of the lagoons. The island of Grado, of which we shall hear plenty in this volume, Trieste (the ancient Tergeste) and Pola were the principal belongings of the Duchy of Istria. The Duchy of Calabria, which included part of Apulia, seems to have been formed with Bruttium in the seventh century by the Emperor Constans “into a single administrative district, with the official name of Calabria, which, when the Empire lost most of the true Calabria, clung to the toe” of Italy as far north as the river Crathi. These great divisions of Italy had not the boundaries assigned to them above for any great length of time. They were constantly fluctuating. But on the whole, the sway of the Lombards increased, if but slowly. More or less isolated from many of his dependencies by intervening hostile Lombard territory, and often having as much as he could manage in his efforts to keep the Lombards out of Ravenna, the exarch had naturally but little control over the more distant provinces of Italy that were supposed to be subject to him. Left to themselves, they had to look after themselves. And long before the Image controversy in the eighth century caused the people of many of the duchies to openly throw off all allegiance to the emperors at Constantinople, many of them were practically independent. Thus we shall see the Romans, abandoned by exarch and emperor, turn to the popes in their temporal as well as in their spiritual necessities. The “temporal power of the Popes”, declares even Gibbon, “insensibly rose from the calamities of the time” 

In passing from the public affairs of his times to Gregory himself, as an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ priest in communion with the See of Rome, and writing in ‘Northumbria’, I cannot do better than begin with the words of another Anglo-Saxon cleric in communion with the See of Rome, who wrote also in Northumbria, about Gregory the Great some twelve hundred years ago. “The Holy Catholic Church”, says the monk of Whitby in his little preface, “never ceases to celebrate her teachers in every nation, who, rejoicing in the Lord, she glories, were sent to her by the will of Christ; and, in faithful writings, hands down their memory to future ages, that they may place their hope in God, and, not forgetting His works, may seek to do His will; so we too, to the best of our ability, and with the help of God, may treat of our master, and describe him whom with all the world we may call Saint Gregory”. Like the greater number of those whom the Church honors as saints, Gregory was of noble birth, and sprung from a family of saints. Arguing with De Rossi from inscriptions, it is the opinion of the learned that Gregory belonged to the patrician family of the Anicii, a family famous in the annals of the State and of the Church. A Lucius Anicius Gallus subdued the Illyrians and became consul B.C. 163; and in 541, about the year of Gregory’s birth, the last ‘consul ordinarius’ (as opposed to the perpetual consulship of the emperors) was no less a personage than Flavius Anicius Faustus Albinus Basilius. No less famous in the history of the Church was the Anician family. Speaking of the virgins it had given to the Church of God, St. Augustine wrote “The descendants of Anicius make a more generous choice in giving their illustrious family the glory of foregoing marriage than in multiplying it by fresh members, and by imitating in the flesh the life of angels rather than by increasing the number of men through physical birth… May virgins desirous of securing the splendor of the Anicii make choice of their holiness”. It is also said that to this family belonged the patriarch of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict (d. 543). Whether Gregory belonged to this family or not, it is certain that his family was saintly. His ‘Atavus’ (third or fourth grandfather) was Pope St. Felix III (483-492), who had been married before he had taken sacred orders. His mother, Sylvia, and his aunts Tharsilla and Emilina, are counted amongst the saints. His father, the Senator Gordianus, before his death, joined the ranks of the clergy and became a ‘regionarius’, i.e., one of the seven regionary deacons who looked after the interests of the poor in the seven regions into which the ecclesiastical authorities had divided the city. The same uncertainty prevails about the date of Gregory’s birth as about the other chief events of his life before he became Pope. It must, however, have been about the year 540. Whenever he was born, it was in the paternal mansion on the Clivus Scaurus, a declivity of the Coelian Hill, a home in the very midst of the architectural glories of ancient Rome, and where the Church dedicated to our Saint now stands. On one side of his home was the Lateran palace of the popes, and opposite to it the palace of the Caesars on the Palatine, at that time still intact. The destruction of the great classical monuments of ancient Rome took place mainly during the Middle Ages; and we have no less an authority than that of Belisarius bearing testimony to the wonderful grandeur of Rome even at the time of the early days of Gregory. When, in 546, Totila, King of the Goths, had resolved to make of Rome “pasture land for cattle”, Belisarius wrote to dissuade him from putting such a barbaric idea into execution. “Beyond all doubt Rome surpasses all other cities in size and in worth. It was not built by the resources of one man, nor did it obtain its magnificence in a short time. But emperors and countless distinguished men, with time and wealth, brought together to this city architects, workmen, and all things needful from the ends of the earth; and left as a memorial to posterity of their greatness the glorious city, built by little and little, which you now behold. If it be injured, all ages will suffer. For thus would the monuments of the worth of the ancients be removed, and posterity would lose the pleasure of beholding them”.

Of Gregory’s early youth, passed in the midst of such elevating surroundings, we know nothing. But great must have been the impression made upon his youthful mind by the troubles he saw inflicted on Rome by its rapidly succeeding captures by Totila, Belisarius and Narses. These early impressions, deepened by similar calamities he saw inflicted on different parts of Italy by the Lombards throughout the course of his life, were doubtless the cause of the vein of melancholy which pervades his writings. This tinge of sadness, which led him to see in these political disasters a prelude to the approaching end of the world, is noticed by most of Gregory’s biographers and cannot but be observed by anyone who will take the trouble to read almost any portion of his writings. In his early studies he displayed a tenacious memory, good judgment, a zeal for learning and a respect for antiquity. He soon had the greatest reputation in Rome for certain branches of knowledge.

He must have begun early to take a part in the government of the city, for in 573 we find him Prefect or chief magistrate of Rome with the care of its public buildings and corn supply. Called, however, to higher things, Gregory for a long time resisted the voice of God. But riches and worldly dignities could not satisfy him. And after founding six monasteries in Sicily out of his inheritance and after converting even his home on the Coelian into another, he gave up everything he had in the world and became a Benedictine monk in the house where he was born. “And he who was wont to go through the city clad in the ‘trabea’, and all aglow with silk and gems, served the altar of God clad in a worthless gown”.

In the cloister he devoted himself with all the fervent energy of his character to the work and austere life which become a monk. Indeed, in the matter of austerities he pushed them too far, brought himself to death’s door, and injured his health permanently. This, however, did not interfere with his happiness. And in later years he often expressed keen regret at the loss of his peaceable life in his monastery on the Coelian. It is quite characteristic of the man that in the cloister he was not merely a monk, or ‘servant of God’ (servus Dei), as monks were then emphatically called, but a monk of monks, or ‘servant of the servants of God’, as he already signed himself even before he became Pope. He was not, however, suffered to remain long in the enjoyment of that monastic peace, by which, though still in the body, he was enabled to live out of and above it.

Pope Pelagius II (578-590) made him one of the seven regionary deacons of Rome who had to superintend the ‘serving of tables’ in their respective districts. It was while going his rounds in this capacity that he is said to have encountered those Saxon slave boys who so filled his mind that he could not rest till he had done something for his ‘Angels of the North’. Soon after his ordination as deacon, Pelagius did but add to the burden of temporal affairs already laid on Gregory’s shoulders. The Pope sent him (c. 579) as his apocrisiarius or nuncio to Constantinople, trusting that by his birth and talents the accomplished deacon might be able to procure some help for Italy against the Lombards, These papal nuncios date in the main from the days of Justinian, the first of that name who sat on the imperial throne at Constantinople; and they received the Greek appellation (apocrisiarii), given them by the writers of those times, from the fact that it was their business to carry out the ‘answers’ or instructions which had been given to them by those who sent them. For the same reason they were sometimes called by the Latin name of like meaning—‘responsales’. To be sent as apocrisiarius to Constantinople was to graduate for the Papacy. When the Eastern emperors had arrogated to themselves the right of confirming the papal elections, it was clearly of moment, in order to avoid disagreements, that men should be chosen as popes who would not be wholly unacceptable to the emperors. And it was, moreover, very advantageous for the Church that such should be elected to fill the Chair of Peter as were acquainted with the Church and State in the East. Hence we find Vigilius, Pelagius I, St. Gregory, and Sabinian, all of whom had been apocrisiarii at Constantinople, elected popes.

To form conjectures as to the thoughts of men on any given occasion is the work not of the historian but of the poet or novelist. For once, however, play may be given to the fancy, and on that authority may be set down the ideas that passed through the mind of Gregory on his journey to Constantinople. When driving south, along the Appian Way and passing by Forum Appii and the Three Taverns, the young apocrisiarius thought with tenderness of the brethren going thus far to meet St. Paul when he came to Rome after his appeal to Caesar. Threading his way through the Caudine Forks there may have flashed to his mind with pride the dash made for them by his countrymen when Rome’s star was in the ascendant. And if not before, certainly when he reached Egnatia and found there a scarcity of water, he must have thought of “Gnatia Lymphis iratis exstructa”, and how amusingly Horace had long before described this very journey he was now making to Brundusium. Tossed about on the Adriatic when crossing to Dyrrhachium, his imagination will have conjured up Caesar and his fortune in a small boat, the sport of the waves. Arrived at Dyrrhachium, Gregory continued his route by the Via Egnatia, one of the greatest military roads of the Empire, and which even Cicero, some five hundred years before, had spoken of as connecting “us with the Hellespont”. In passing by the lofty Lychnidus (a town which will appear again more than once in these pages) could Gregory have speculated as to whether the Slavs, of whose ravages in Illyricum he often speaks with anxiety in his letters, would ever be masters of it and found there a capital? When he came to Thessalonica, it is more than likely he may have left a letter for its metropolitan, as he was a papal vicar. Journeying on through Amphipolis and Philippi again, he thought of St. Paul and his travels “round about as far as unto Illyricum” (Rom., xv. 19). By the time he had reached Cypsela on the Hebrus in Thrace, the Via Egnatia had traversed 500 miles, and had still many a weary mile to run. Arrived at Perinthus, then called Heraclea, where most of the roads which led to Constantinople met, his thoughts began to turn more definitely to his journey’s end, Constantinople. He reflected how its bishops, from being simple suffragans of Heraclea, had become patriarchs, and how with imperial aid they had even pushed themselves above the ancient patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria. He wondered where their ambition would end. At length the Via Egnatia terminated, and Gregory entered Constantinople by the ‘Golden Gate’ at the south-west corner of the city.

Of the official work which Gregory had to perform in the Eastern capital of the Empire, a good idea can be got from a letter of instructions to him from Pelagius II which has been preserved. The Pope informs Gregory that he has sent to him the notary Honoratus, who, fresh from Ravenna, is thoroughly acquainted with the condition of affairs in Italy, and along with the notary, Bishop Sebas­tian Honoratus will give Gregory all the necessary informa­tion, and, should the latter think fit, the notary will tell the emperor (Maurice) of all the disasters which, against their plighted word, the perfidy of the Lombards had inflicted on the peninsula. The bishop too had promised the Pope to point out to the emperor the dire straits in which the whole of Italy lay. “Wherefore”, continues Pelagius, “consult together how you can, as quickly as possible, bring aid to our necessities. For the republic (i.e., the empire) is in such a desperate pass here that, unless God move the compassion of the emperor to grant to us a Master of the soldiery and a Duke, we are utterly helpless; for Rome is particularly defenseless, and the exarch writes that he cannot send us any help, as he declares that he has not force enough to defend Ravenna. May God therefore move him to come at once to our assistance before the troops of the unspeakable race are able to seize the places still held by the republic”.

Besides spending much of his time in trying to obtain from the emperor men and munitions of war for Italy, which Maurice would not (probably because he could not) spare, Gregory had to use his influence at Constantinople for others besides the Pope. Municipal authorities appealed to him to protect their rights against the tyranny of imperial officials. And Gregory obtained from Maurice a confirmation of the rights possessed by the civic authority of Naples over certain islands.

In the midst of all these secular affairs which his position forced Gregory to attend to, he endeavored, as far as his business engagements would allow him, to lead the same life of prayer and study that he had done in his monastery of St. Andrew. Several of his fellow monks attached to him by the bonds of love had followed him to the imperial city. Gregory regarded this as brought about by God, “that by their example as by an anchor he might be bound fast to the quiet shore of prayer, whilst he was ceaselessly tossed about by the waves of secular business”. In the midst of all the worries and vexations which accompany dealings with the great, Gregory, urged on by his monks, and especially by St. Leander, Bishop of Seville, who had come to Constantinople to solicit aid for St. Hermenegild against his father Leovigild, delivered homilies to them on the book of Job. In this work, remarks the Lombard deacon, Gregory so treated of the virtues and vices that he seemed not so much to explain them in words as to make them stand out in living forms. Whence, concludes Paul, he must have attained to the perfection of those virtues, the effects of which he set forth so well. Thus, though residing in the splendid palace of ‘Placidia’, the usual residence of the papal apocrisiarii, though constantly engaged in intricate diplomatic negotiations, and necessarily coming into daily contact with men and women who, in that gay and corrupt centre of civilization, were of the world worldly, Gregory still contrived to live, to a very large extent, the retired, studious and mortified life he had led in his Roman monastery.




Before Gregory returned from his mission to Constantinople, he was the means of withdrawing Eutychius, the patriarch of that city, from error. The patriarchs of Constantinople seem to have had a natural bent towards unsound doctrine, and Eutychius was no exception. He taught that after the general resurrection our bodies will be impalpable, more subtle than air, seemingly calling in question the identity of our present bodies with our risen ones, Gregory argued with the patriarch not only with learning, but what is more important, with sweetness. At first, indeed, he only got the better of the argument. The patriarch, though beaten in discussion, wrote a book on his theories. The dispute came to the ears of Tiberius. To listen to and even to give dogmatic decisions on theological subjects was a weakness with the Greek emperors. Tiberius would have the disputants before him. After hearing the arguments of both sides, he concluded to burn the work of Eutychius. In the end Gregory gained the patriarch as well as his argument. For on his deathbed (582), in the presence of some of Gregory’s friends, Eutychius grasped the skin of one of his hands by the other and said, “I confess we shall all rise with this flesh”.

But if Gregory found it necessary, whilst still nuncio, to raise his voice against heresy in the person of the patriarch, he found it equally necessary to defend others from a similar charge. Actuated, it would seem, by motives of envy, many persons took pleasure in ascribing various heretical tenets to certain pious Christians; among others, at least later on, to Theoctista, the sister of the Emperor Maurice. Many who were thus accused betook themselves to the papal apocrisiarius, and as he could not find that they really held any false doctrines at all, he not only did not pay the slightest heed to the accusations, but received the heretics into his friendship and defended them against their accusers.

Despite all this varied work accomplished by Gregory at Constantinople, and despite the fact that he there made many life-long friends, he left the imperial city (585 or beginning of 586), after standing god-father (585) to Theodosius, the son of Maurice, without ever thoroughly mastering the Greek language. His sojourn at Constantinople had lasted perhaps some six years, and if his efforts to obtain a Roman army for the deliverance of Italy from the hated Lombard were not successful, no doubt his representations had something to do with the money sent to the Franks by Maurice to induce them to attack the Lombards. Between the years 584-590 the Franks had invaded Italy four if not five times. And if they did not make much headway against the Lombards, their ravages would have helped to make the latter ready to conclude a three years’ truce with the exarch Smaragdus. It was during the early months of this truce that Gregory was recalled to Rome.

Once back in Rome, Gregory was soon again inside his beloved monastery. But a man with his capacity and secretary willingness for work was not to be allowed to remain in peaceful retirement. He was called by the monks to rule them as their abbot and by the Pope to help him (as his secretary) to rule the Church.

His principal task as secretary was to write to the bishops of Istria, who were in schism on account of the so-called Three Chapters. This complicated controversy, like all the other religious controversies of this period, had its origin in the East and in the Arian heresy. Nestorius, who, after he had been educated in the school of Antioch under Theodore of Mopsuestia, became patriarch of Constantinople in 428, taught that there were two separate and distinct persons in Our Lord, and that consequently Our Lady was not Mother of God but only mother of the man Christ, in whom “God dwelt as in a temple”. He was supported in his errors by the able Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, and by the writings of his master Theodore of Mopsuestia, by Ibas, of the great school of Edessa, who was afterwards bishop of that city, and many others. Nestorius was, however, condemned in the third ecumenical council of Ephesus (431). One of those who had been very active against Nestorius was the monk Eutyches. His zeal led him into the opposite error. He denied the two natures of Our Lord. “As”, he said, “a drop of water let fall into the ocean is quickly absorbed and disappears in the vast expanse, so also the human element, being infinitely less than the divine, is entirely absorbed by the divinity”. This ‘Monophysite’, or ‘one nature’ doctrine, was naturally opposed among others by Theodoret and Ibas. Eutyches was condemned in the fourth ecumenical council of Chalcedon (451). Sometime before this date Theodore of Mopsuestia had died in communion with the Church, and so a council held at Antioch about 440 refused to condemn his works. And as Theodoret and Ibas condemned Nestorius at Chalcedon, that council did not condemn their works, as, by their own declaration, they did so sufficiently themselves. Though the Monophysites were condemned, they were not extinguished. However, like all heretics, they split up into endless parties, and the Encyclicons, Henoticons and other dogmatic in­terferences of the Roman emperors only made matters worse.

Under Justinian I (527-565) a new controversy arose which played into the hands of the Monophysites. Theodore Ascidas, metropolitan of Caesarea, to divert attention from certain heretical doctrines, ascribed to the great Origen, of which he was a supporter, turned the mind of the emperor, who was very fond of issuing dogmatic decrees, to the writings of Theodoret, etc. Justinian, very much exercised at the time with schemes for uniting the Acephali (a branch of the Monophysites) to the Church, was assured by Theodore that all he had to do was to anathematize Theodore of Mopsuestia and his writings and those of Theodoret and the letter of Ibas, Bishop of Edessa, to the Persian Maris, i.e., the so-called Three Chapters. The Council of Chalcedon, urged Ascidas, showed favor to Theodoret and Ibas. Condemn them and the Acephali will become reunited to the Church. Justinian accordingly issued an edict (c. 544) condemning the Three Chapters, and compelled Pope Vigilius, when at Constantinople, to do the same (548). The condemnation was reaffirmed by the fifth ecumenical council of Constantinople (553). The emperor did not succeed in his object. Though no opposition was raised to the decrees of the fifth council in the East, the Acephali were not gained. On the contrary, the Monophysites were delighted. The Council of Chalcedon had declared Theodoret and Ibas orthodox, and therefore, they insinuated, had approved their writings. Theodoret and Ibas condemned—the Council of Chalcedon was condemned. While the Monophysites were thus in high glee, the Catholics were placed in a dilemma. They could not accept the Three Chapters because they were heretical as a matter of fact; and if they anathematized them, the unlearned and unthinking many would suppose that the Council of Chalcedon, which declared the authors of the Three Chapters orthodox, was being anathematized. The latter was exactly what did take place in certain parts of the West. Doubtless partly because they would mistrust what had been done in the East under the personal influence of the emperor, and certainly partly because, more or less ignorant of the writings of Theodore, etc., they did not fully understand the decisions of the fifth council, some of the Western bishops formed a schism. Despite the express declaration of Justinian to the contrary, some of the Westerns persisted in maintaining that his edict and the decrees of the council of Constantinople were aimed at those of Chalcedon and were framed in the interests of the Monophysites. The schism, however, had duration only in the north-east of Italy, where the bishops of Venetia and Istria paid no heed to the admonitions of Pope Pelagius I, the successor of Vigilius; but under the influence of Paulinus of Aquileia (557-569), assembled in synod (c. 557) and condemned the fifth council. The ‘barbarity of the Lombards’ forced Paulinus to take the treasures of his Church and fly to the little island of Grado at the mouth of the Isongo, and near Trieste. Soon after this Paulinus died, and after the brief rule of Probinus, was succeeded by Elias (571-586). It was to this Elias and the other schismatical bishops of Istria that Pelagius II bade Gregory write (585-6). Though little or nothing seems to have been effected at the time by the three letters which Gregory wrote, he partially healed the schism when Pope. It was not, however, finally closed till about the year 700.

In the first of the three letters, the Pope assured the Istrian bishops and their metropolitan that it was the troubles of the times which had hindered him from writing to them before. Now that by the mercy of God, through the exertions of the exarch Smaragdus, they had obtained the blessings of peace, he hastened to beg them to cease rending the Church by schism. He wrote to them because the command of Christ was upon him, “to confirm the faith of his brethren” (St. Luke XXII, 31-32), and he bade them remember that the faith of Peter, to whom the Lord had given the commission to feed all the sheep and to whom He had entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven (St. Matthew XVI, 18), could not fail or be changed. He proceeded to tell them what that faith was, assured them that he received the Council of Chalcedon as he did the first three General Councils, and concluded by exhorting them most pathetically to unity, that there might be one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father of all.

The Istrian bishops made no attempt to reply to the Pope’s contentions. They simply sent him a statement of their decisions. Accordingly in a second letter, Pelagius reminded them of the danger of keeping so long apart from the Universal Church, “for the sake of superfluous questions and of defending heretical chapters”. To bring the trouble to an end, he begged them to send suitable persons to Rome, with whom the difficulties might be properly discussed; or, if they were afraid of distance and the quality of the times, he bade them hold a synod at Ravenna to which he would send those who would give them every satisfaction.

Having no case, the bishops in schism would do neither the one thing nor the other. Like children they would only reiterate with obstinacy what they had made up their minds about. In a third very long letter, to which Gregory is thought to allude, when in his letter to the bishops of Iberia he speaks of the “Book of Pope Pelagius on the Three Chapters”, the Pope expresses his astonishment at their conduct, the more so on account of the mild manner in which he has treated with them. However, he must strive to bring them back to that unity which their schism is blurring. He goes on to show that what was done in the time of Justinian did not militate against the Council of Chalcedon; but that as the fifth council was merely concerned with persons, the Istrian bishops were simply seeking for a cause of quarrel under a show of peaceful words, and despising the authority of the Fathers, whilst pretending to follow it. “By your letter you contend that you were led by the Apostolic see itself not to consent to what was done under the Emperor Justinian, because in the beginning of the affair the Apostolic see, through Pope Vigilius, and all the heads of the Latin provinces, stoutly resisted the condemnation of the Three Chapters. We hence note that what ought to have won your consent has torn you from giving it. Latins, and inexperienced in Greek ways (Graecitas), whilst ignorant of the (Greek) language they learnt their mistakes slowly. The more readily, therefore, ought they to be believed after their acknowledgment, inasmuch as their firmness did not shrink from the contest until they learnt the truth” ... “If, then, in the matter of the Three Chapters one view was held whilst the truth was being sought, but another when the truth was discovered, why should a change of opinion be objected to this see as a fault, when a similar change in the person of its author (S. Peter) is humbly reverenced by the whole Church?” Gregory then proceeds to show by extracts from their works that Theodore, Ibas and Theodoret all, as a matter of fact, put forth heretical pro­positions, and therefore, of course, deserved to be condemned. And he very pertinently remarked with regard to Theodoret: “How rash must he be who would defend the writings of Theodoret, when it is certain that Theodoret himself condemned them”. He concludes by once again affirm­ing that he receives the Council of Chalcedon as he receives the first three ecumenical councils; and assuring his correspondents that he looks to God to give effect to his words.

The zeal of the Pope, however, had but little effect, at least at the time. But the exarch Smaragdus, of opinion that a little force might succeed where words failed, seized Severus (586-606), the successor of Elias, and some others, and forced them by threats to communicate with the orthodox John of Ravenna (588). However, on his return to Grado, finding himself unpopular, Severus repudiated his submission. A fit of insanity prevented the exarch from renewing his violence. He was replaced by Romanus (589-597).

When he became Pope, Gregory continued to labor to put an end to the schism. A few months after his accession he wrote to blame Severus for his relapse, pointing out to him that it was a less evil not to know the truth than not to remain in it when learnt, and bidding him come to Rome with his adherents, in accordance with the will of the emperor, that their contentions might be examined in a synod. With this letter went a body of soldiers under the command of a tribune and an imperial life-guardsman. Alarmed at this strong action on the part of the Pope, the schismatics appealed to the emperor. One of their letters has come down to us. Following a very common precedent of ecclesiastics in trouble with their proper superiors, they offered to submit their case to the emperor himself as soon as the Lombards should be overcome and peace restored to Italy. And at the same time, to put pressure on the emperor, they declared that if force were employed against them, the metropolitan of Aquileia would soon lose his authority over his province, as his subjects would turn to the neighboring archbishops of Gaul. This representation, signed by ten bishops, produced its effect. Fearful of anything happening which might in any way lessen his hold on Istria, “the emperor Cesar Flavius Mauricius Tiberius, Faithful in Christ, the Peaceful, Mild, Mightiest, the Beneficent, Alamannicus”, dispatched a letter “to the most holy Gregory, the most blessed archbishop of the fostering city of Rome and Patriarch”. After informing Gregory of the letters and request he had received from the schismatics, and assuring him that he was well aware that the Pope correctly imparted the doctrine of the Catholic Church to all, the emperor continued: “Since therefore your Holiness is aware of the present confusion in Italian affairs, and knows that we must adapt ourselves to the times, we order your Holiness to give no further molestation to those bishops, but to allow them to live quietly, until, by the providence of God, the regions of Italy be in all other respects restored to peace, and the other bishops of Istria and Venetia be again brought back to the old order (viz., doubtless the political order). Then by the help of your prayers, all measures will be taken for the restoration of peace, and the removal of differences in doctrine”.

As this whole question of the Three Chapters had been raised by one of the predecessors of Maurice, Gregory had certainly some reason to complain of such a mandate as this—a mandate he regarded as obtained surreptitiously. However, he did not cease to importune the emperor on the subject with the greatest zeal and freedom. He moreover encouraged those of the laity who were aiding him in the good work of reconciliation. And he entered into correspondence with individual bishops among the schismatics, who had expressed a wish of discussing the situation with him. Certainly at first no striking results followed Gregory’s work. In 593 we read of the return to Catholic unity of a deacon, and in 595 of a monk. But after the death of the exarch Romanus (596 or 597), an impossible man, at least to the Pope, we find Gregory commending to his successor, Callinicus, several people who have returned “to the solid rock of the Prince of the Apostles” (599). In the same year Gregory had the pleasure of receiving the adhesion of the inhabitants of the island of Caprea, “which appears to be the island in the lagunes at the mouth of the Piave, upon which was soon to arise the city of Heraclea, the precursor of Venice”. And before he died, Gregory learnt that Firininus, Bishop of Trieste, had abandoned the schism. From what we know of the persecution that Firininus had to endure at the hands of his metropolitan Severus, and from the fact that many of those reconciled to the Church went to live at Constantinople and in Sicily, there can be no doubt that well-grounded fear of persecution at the hands of the remaining schismatics kept many from returning to the Church.

The schism was unfortunately not confined to Venetia and Istria. Three bishops cut themselves off from communion with Constantius of Milan (to whom Gregory had sent the pallium in September 593), who on account of the Lombards was residing at Genoa. And what was worse, they managed to seduce from her allegiance to the Church the Bavarian Catholic princess, Theodelinda, formerly the wife of Authari, but since 590 the wife of Agilulph. However, through the prudence of Constantius, and the words of Gregory, the disaffection of the Lombard Queen, who showed herself the Pope’s faithful fellow-worker in all his efforts for the conversion of the Lombards, did not last long, Gregory impressed on her that the men who had led her astray neither read themselves nor believed those who did read. He made it plain to her that he received the Council of Chalcedon as he received the three General Councils, and that he condemned anyone who either added to or subtracted anything from the four Councils, especially that of Chalcedon about which there has arisen a question of faith in certain ignorant men. After this confession of faith on the part of the Pope, it is only right that the Queen should have no further mistrust of the Church of St. Peter. “Stand firm in the true faith, and fix your life in the rock of the Church, in the confession of the Prince of the Apostles, lest your tears and good works should avail naught, if not done in the true faith”.

Gregory had to combat the schism even in Asiatic Iberia. But it is one man that soweth and another that reapeth. It was not till about a hundred years later, at the synod of Pavia in 698, that the schism of the Three Chapters was closed, that the harvest from the seed sown by Gregory I was gathered by Sergius I.

The one act which is recorded of Gregory as abbot took place in the year in which he was elected Pope, and shows him animated by the same ideas of discipline which filled the breast of the general who is said to have shot a soldier for stealing a turnip after he had issued special orders against looting. One of his monks, Justus by name, who had been a physician before he came to the monastery, and had been most attentive to Gregory himself in his frequent illnesses, confessed when dying to his brother Copiosus, also a doctor, that he had secreted three golden solidi. For a monk to possess money was of course against the rule of the Benedictine Order. The coins were discovered among Justus’ medicines, and the affair was reported to the abbot. Overwhelmed with grief, Gregory reflected on what he had best do “for the benefit of the dying man and for an example to his living brethren”. He accordingly forbade the monks to visit the dying man, and told Copiosus to let Justus know that this was done on account of his breach of the rule. When the poor monk died, Gregory ordered his body to be cast into a ditch and the money to be thrown on the top of him, whilst all exclaimed, “Thy money perish with thee!” Gregory assures us that his conduct had the desired effect. The monk died in the greatest sorrow for his fault, and the rest of the community became extremely particular about the observance of their vow of poverty. However, after thirty days Gregory was touched at the thought of the sufferings the poor monk would be enduring in Purgatory, and accordingly gave orders for Mass to be offered up for him every day for a month. At the end of that period Justus appeared to his brother and assured him that his sufferings were over and that he had been received into Heaven.




The time had now arrived when, in the designs of God, Gregory was to take on his own shoulders the cares he had helped Pope Pelagius to bear, and which his abilities, piety and experience fitted him to cope with. A moment’s reflection will suffice to make it clear how deep and varied that experience was. The years that he had held the praefectship of the city had enabled him to gain a clear insight into the workings of its civil administration; and as one of the regionary deacons he had got in touch with its ecclesiastical government. Apocrisiarius at Constantinople, he must have learnt something of the relations between the East and West in matters affecting both the Church and State. As a monk and abbot of the monastery of St. Andrew he became acquainted with the monastic life and its needs.

The close of the year 589 saw the swift yellow Tiber in flood. Great portions of Rome were soon under water, many monuments of antiquity were undermined, and some thousands of bushels of grain, which were stored up in the granaries of the Church, were destroyed. A bubonic plague followed in the wake of the flood and Pope Pelagius was one of its first victims (February 7, 590). The plague waxed furious, and very many houses of the city were rendered tenantless. “But because the Church of God cannot be without a ruler, the whole people chose Gregory Pope”.

Gregory’s was the only dissentient voice. At a loss what to do to avoid the honor he dreaded, Gregory wrote to the Emperor Maurice and begged him not to confirm his election. Contested elections had furnished the State with an excuse for concerning itself with the elections of the popes. The disputed election of Boniface I (418-422) had given the Emperor Honorius an opportunity of intervening in the matter. When Italy fell under the sway of the Teutonic barbarian, still greater liberties were taken with the natural rights of the Church. And a council at Rome (502) had to condemn a decree of Basil, prefect of the praetorium for the Herulan Odoacer, which had forbidden a successor to Pope Simplicius (t483) to be chosen without the approval of the king. Troubled elections enabled Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, to go so far as actually to nominate Felix IV (526-530). When by the valor and skill of Belisarius and Narses, Italy was recovered for the Empire, Justinian and his succes­sors followed the lead of the barbarian and claimed the right of confirming the papal elections. In later times we shall see the popes justly struggling against this assumption.

Whilst the answer of the Emperor Maurice was awaited, the plague was raging in Rome. Gregory made use of the occasion to remind the people of the necessity of ever keeping before their minds the judgments of God, which they ought to have averted by a salutary fear of them. “See”, he cried, “the whole people struck by the sword of God’s anger, smitten down by sudden death. For death anticipates sickness. Men are dying, not one by one, but in groups”. He therefore invited them to join in a Sevenfold Litany which was to be celebrated at dawn on the following Wednesday, and assigned the churches at which were to assemble the different groups, who were to join in the great procession to St. Mary Major’s, (1) The clergy in general with the priests of the sixth region were to start from the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian by the Roman Forum; (2) The abbots and their monks with the priests of the fourth region from the Church of SS. Gervase and Protase on the Quirinal; (3) The abbesses and their nuns with the priests of the first region from the Church of SS. Marcellinus and Peter, not the one on the Via Labicana, two miles out of Rome, but the one described as ‘juxta Lateranis’, on the modern Via Merulana, and which figures as a titular church in a council held at Rome by Pope Gregory (595); (4) All the children with the priests of the second region from the Church of SS. John and Paul, near Gregory’s home on the Coelian; (5) The laymen with the priests of the seventh region from the Church of St. Stefano (the protomartyr) Rotondo near the Lateran; (6) All the widows with the priests of the fifth region from the Church of St. Euphemia, now destroyed, but formerly near the Church of St. Pudentiana; (7) All the married women with the priests of the third region from the Church of St. Clement.

On the appointed day, whilst the people in their seven great companies walked to the basilica sadly chanting the Kyrie Eleison, so fiercely did the plague rage that in a single hour no less than eighty men fell to the earth and died during the procession. St. Gregory of Tours, from whom we have all these particulars, gathered them from one of the deacons of his church who was at Rome at the time. This penitential devotion of the Sevenfold Litany may have become annual. At any rate, it is plain from Gregory’s register that it was repeated a few months (September 603) before he died. Possibly there may have been some pestilence then again devastating the city in connection with the famine, which we know was raging when Sabinian became Pope.

Just as round great warrior kings like Prince Arthur, our own Alfred and Charlemagne, legends of imaginary fights gather, so round Gregory, justly the admiration of after ages, accumulated many a pretty story. It came to be told how, when the great procession, on its way towards St. Peter’s on the Vatican, crossed the Tiber by the bridge opposite the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the whole people, with trembling joy and gratitude, beheld the angel of wrath on top of the Mausoleum sheathing his deadly sword as a sign that the plague was at an end. From that hour the Mausoleum changed its name, and has been known ever since as the Angel’s Castle (the Castle of Sant' Angelo).

At length the plague ceased, and a letter came from the emperor in which he expressed his pleasure that his friend had been raised to the honor of the Papacy, and giving the required consent for his consecration. For Maurice had received full information of what had been done at Rome from Germanus, the prefect of the city, who had caused Gregory’s messenger to be seized and had opened all the letters of which he was bearer, substituting letters of his own. Disappointed in his hopes of the emperor’s interference in his behalf, Gregory resolved to escape from the dreaded dignity by flight. But his movements were carefully watched; he was seized, hurried off to St. Peter’s, and consecrated (September 3, 590).

Here again has legend been busy. According to it, Gregory contrived to get himself taken out of the city by some traders in a basket. For in fear lest by flight he might endeavor to escape the honor it was known that he dreaded, the gates of the city were all carefully watched. For three days Gregory managed to hide himself in caves, but at night on the third day, after many prayers and fasts on the part of the people, he was found by a column of light resting over the place where he was.

What, however, was the people’s joy was Gregory’s profound regret. “The congratulations of strangers”, he wrote to Paul the Scholastic, “on the honor to which I have been raised do not weigh upon me. But I am distinctly grieved that you, who know my wishes so well, should felicitate me, as though I had received a promotion. The highest promotion for me would be to work my own will, which, as you well know, is to earn a wished-for retirement”. To John the Faster, the famous patriarch of Constantinople (582-595, September 2), who was afterwards to come into collision with Gregory : “I know how earnestly you tried to escape the episcopal yoke yourself, and yet you did nothing to prevent the same burden being imposed upon me. Clearly you love not me as you love yourself. Since, weak and unworthy, I have taken in hand an old and much battered bark, into which the water pours in all parts and the rotten timbers of which, beaten daily by direful tempests, threaten shipwreck, I pray you for God’s sake stretch out to me the helping hand of your prayers”. To the emperor’s sister Theoctista he writes in the same strain : “I have returned to the world, pretending that as a bishop I am leaving it. I am bound to greater cares than ever I was as a layman. I have lost the solid joys of retirement, and whilst externally seeming to rise, I have fallen internally. I grieve that I am driven from my Maker’s face. The emperor has given orders for an ape to become a lion. He can doubtless cause the ape to be called a lion, but he cannot make it become one”.

Gregory was not, however, the man to be content with sitting down and groaning under the burden which the will of God had placed upon him. He was resolved to carry the load as far forward as he could. Although the weakness of his stomach was always troubling him, and although especially during the last five or six years of his pontificate he was constantly suffering from gout, he managed to get through more work than any ten of the secular or ecclesiastical rulers of his age were capable of—to use the striking expression of Herder, in his Thoughts on the History of Mankind. “I am so oppressed with the pains of gout and with my troubles that life is most wearisome to me”, is the constant burden of Gregory’s letters.

After a word or two on Gregory’s synodical letter, we will make a beginning of narrating his life as Pope by considering his work for his own home, so to speak, i.e., for the city of Rome. In accordance with the custom of his age, a custom certainly in vogue in the days of Gelasius I, Gregory dispatched his synodical letter to John of Constantinople, Eulogius of Alexandria, Gregory of Antioch, John of Jerusalem, and Anastasius, ex-patriarch of Antioch. The first and longer portion of this epistle is taken up with unfolding, in the language of his Regula Pastoralis, what manner of man a bishop ought to be, in the course of which he incidentally reminds them of the supremacy of St. Peter in the Church. In conclusion he begs their prayers, placed as he is in the midst of daily troubles which threaten to overwhelm the mind and to kill the body. He will not fail to pray for them. Hence, helping one another by prayer, they will be like men walking along a slippery road holding one another by the hand. Each one can put his foot down more securely because he is supported by his neighbor. He declared that he received the four ecumenical councils as the four Gospels; “for in them as in faced stone the structure of the faith was built up”; and that he venerated in like manner the fifth council (of Constantinople, 553). Though Gregory himself vouches for the practice of this interchange of synodical letters between the great patriarchs on the occasion of the election of a new one, only a few of those of the popes have been preserved.

In Rome itself Gregory showed himself a true pastor indeed to his people. He broke to them the bread of life which nourishes the soul and that which nourishes the body. His mind and his money were ever at the service of the Roman people. He was practically their temporal ruler as well as their spiritual head. As their priest we find him going about from church to church preaching to them, and regulating their spiritual affairs by councils held in Rome and by decrees. To preach to them he made use of the ancient Roman practice (observed in a modified form to this day) of making stations. At a church previously marked out, the Pope, a body of the clergy and the people assembled, to walk thence in solemn procession to the church of the station, where the Pope delivered a homily, and solemn or High Mass was celebrated. The church of the station was sometimes the church where was buried or where was specially honored the saint whose glorious death (spoken of as his birthday, dies natalis or nativitatis) was being that day celebrated. Sometimes, on the occasion of some more solemn feast day or more special event, one of the greater basilicas was selected to serve as the church of the station.

And so of the forty homilies of Gregory on the Gospels, either preached by him or read in his presence by a notary to the people, some were delivered in churches in the city dedicated to different saints of lesser fame; one at least (the 28th) in the basilica of SS. Petronilla, Nereus and Achilleus in the cemetery or Catacomb of Domitilla on the Via Ardeatina; and several in the more important basilicas of St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St Mary Major, St. Clement, etc. “In the apse and behind the altar” of the basilica of St. Petronilla, just mentioned, “stood the marble episcopal chair from which St. Gregory read his 28th Homily; it was removed by Leo III in the eighth century to the church of SS. Nereus and Achilleus. Near the niche (in the apse) a curious graffito is preserved on the wall, representing a priest, dressed in the casula (the prototype of the modern chasuble), preaching to the people, a record of St, Gregory’s sermon”. And it is interesting to English Catholics to know that the Church of St. Silvester in Capite, given to them by Leo XIII in 1890, once echoed to the voice of the Apostle of Our Nation. In it he delivered his 9th Homily. That our readers may form for themselves an idea of the discourses delivered by Gregory to the people at the stations, discourses which from their practical character deservedly earned for themselves a great reputation in the Middle Ages, this very 9th Homily may well be given here.

“The Gospel of today, my dearest brethren, earnestly bids us beware lest we who have received more than others in this world be hence more heavily judged. The more has been given to us, the greater the account we shall have to render. Hence he ought to be the more humble and the more ready to serve God, who sees that he will have a greater account to render. The man who went abroad calls his servants and gives them talents to trade with. After a long time he returns to demand an account as to how they have been used. Those who bring him gain he rewards; but he condemns the unprofitable servant. Now who is that man who went into a far country but Our Redeemer who went to Heaven with the flesh he had assumed? For the natural place for the flesh is the earth, which is, as it were, taken to a foreign land when by Our Redeemer it is transported to Heaven. But when going abroad that man gave of his goods to his servants, inasmuch as he gave spiritual gifts to the faithful. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. The five talents are the five bodily senses—viz., the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The two represent intellect and will. The one signifies intellect. Now the one who received five talents gained other five. For there are some who, although they know not how to penetrate the internal and the mystical, still, with minds fixed on Heaven, teach truth to whomsoever they can, and from the external gifts they have received double their talents. And whilst they restrain themselves from the waywardness of the flesh, from seeking after earthly things and from taking sinful pleasure in what they see around them, by their warnings they keep others from the same evil courses. And there are some, too, who, endowed as it were with two talents, have received intellect and will, and comprehend the subtleties of internal things and in externals work wonders. And so preaching to others by their understanding and their works, they also from their trading, as it were, gain a twofold profit. Well is it said that both the five and the two talents reap profit, because whilst to both sexes the preaching is addressed, the talents received are, as it were, doubled. But the man who received the one talent went his way and hid his lord’s money. To hide one’s talent in the earth is to bury oneself in the things of this world, not to seek spiritual profit, and never to raise one’s heart from earthly thoughts. For there are some who have intelligence but are only wise in what concerns the flesh. And when the lord returns, the servant who has doubled what was entrusted to him is praised, and to him the lord says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things I will place thee over many: enter thou into the joy of thy lord”. For few indeed are all the goods of this present life, though they may seem to be many, in comparison with an eternal reward. But the servant who would not employ his talent approached his lord with words of excuse: “Lord, I know that thou art a hard man, thou reapest where thou hast not sown, and gatherest where thou hast not strewed. And being afraid I went and hid thy talent in the earth; behold here thou hast that which is thine”. The unprofitable servant says he feared to put out his talent to interest, whereas he ought only to have been afraid of returning it to his lord without interest. There are many in the Church who are like this servant. They fear to tread the way of a better life, but do not fear to lie in sloth. Hence the lord replied to the idle servant, “Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury”. To commit money to the bankers is to preach to those who can put the preaching into practice. But, as you see our danger if we hold the lord’s money, so my dearest brethren earnestly think of your own; for an account will be demanded of you of what you are now hearing. But let us hear the sentence passed on the unprofitable servant: ‘Take away, therefore, the talent from him and give it to him that hath ten talents’. With reason is the one talent given to the servant that had the five rather than to the one that had the two. For the one that had the five was really the poorer, as he had only external gifts. Finally there is added : ‘To everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall abound, but from him that hath not that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away’. Yes! for who hath charity hath every gift, and who hath it not, loses the gifts which he seemed to have acquired. Hence, my brethren, in all that you do see that you guard charity. And true charity is to love your friends in God and your enemies for God”. In conclusion Gregory urges that there is no one but has received at least one talent, and he points out that he must use that talent for the honor of God and the good of his neighbor. If a man’s talent be merely that he has a rich friend, he may well fear that he may be condemned for not employing his talent, if, when opportunity offers, he does not intercede with him in behalf of the poor. Let this much of this homily suffice to show the character of Gregory’s addresses to the people. That they teem with allegory does not render them unpractical.

These forty homilies on the Gospels were dedicated by Gregory to his friend Secundinus, Bishop of Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily, and sent to him in 593. He complains that many of them had got into circulation without receiving his corrections. They had been taken down when he delivered them; and he likens those who did so to starving men who will not wait for the food to be cooked, but eat it half raw. He tells Secundinus that he has arranged the homilies in two volumes. In the first were the twenty which his weak health had forced him to get read by his notaries; in the second those he had preached himself. That there might be a standard text by which any copy might be corrected, Gregory assured his friend that he had deposited a complete collection of the homilies in the scrinium (or archives) of the Roman Church.

Gregory also preached to the people, but not at the stations, a number of homilies on Ezechiel. These, interrupted in their delivery by the siege of Rome (593), and corrected eight years after as best he could in the midst of his troubles, Gregory sent, at his request, to Marinianus, Archbishop of Ravenna. In sending them he remarked that he was aware that Marinianus was in the habit of drinking deep of the works of Ambrose and Augustine. And he added that with that knowledge he would not have forwarded his own homilies, was he not convinced that the occasional use of a little coarser food made one turn again with greater avidity to the more refined.

To improve the people, Gregory knew it was necessary to improve the priest. And so, from the very beginning of his pontificate, he issued a variety of decrees for the reformation of various blameworthy customs which had sprung up in the Roman Church. As many at least of these decrees were confirmed in the synod held by Gregory, July 5, 595, the enumeration of those issued by it will show the nature of the reforms which he was striving to introduce. The decrees of the synod, signed by twenty- three bishops and thirty-five priests of titular churches, related to six subjects,

(1) By the first, the ordaining of deacons merely with the view of utilizing their voices for singing is strictly forbidden for the future. The deacons have to preach and look after the poor. The Gospel in the Mass must be sung by them, but everything else must be chanted by the inferior clergy.

(2) Henceforth the personal needs of the Pope must be attended to not by lay servants, but by clerics or monks, that they may be witnesses of his private life.

(3) The rectors of the patrimony of the Church are not to act like the officers of the public revenue and place ‘titles’ (boards bearing the name of the owner of the property) on lands which they imagine to belong to the Church. Such conduct implies defence of the goods of the Church by force and not by right.

(4) In honoring us the intention of the faithful is to honor St. Peter. But it behoves our infirmity ever to recognize itself and to decline honors. From love of the rulers of this See an undesirable custom has arisen. When their bodies are carried forth for burial, the faithful cover them with dalmatics, and then, tearing these to shreds, they keep the pieces as relics. They are eager to take from the bodies of sinners, but never think of taking a portion of the cloths that enwrap the bodies of the saints. For the future these coverings must never again be placed on the bodies of the deceased pontiffs.

(5) Following the old regulation of the fathers, it is strictly forbidden to any cleric to exact money for the conferring of orders, the pallium or the necessary documents relating thereto. A present in every way freely offered may be accepted.

(6) With regard to such slaves belonging to the Church as wish to become monks, they must be thoroughly tested before being received into a monastery, otherwise there would soon be no slaves left.

Besides these decrees for the salvation of the Romans, Gregory found it necessary, in order to counteract the doctrine of certain puritanical people in Rome, to inform “his most beloved children, the citizens of Rome”, that the laws regarding the observance of the Sabbath were not to be rigidly stretched, and that of course they might wash themselves on Sunday! It was high time that such an instruction was given to the “Pope’s children”. For it will scarcely be believed, though it is nevertheless a fact, that a simple Irish saint (S. Conall, who died before 594), on a visit to Rome at this period, and zealous about everything Roman, thought these puritanical habits were approved at Rome, and introduced them into Ireland when he returned home. O'Curry tells us of a Law of Sunday, not indeed a general law enacted at Tara, “but simply a rule brought from Rome (by S. Conall) for the observance of Sunday as a day totally free from labor, with certain unavoidable exceptions. (But) ... No out or indoor labor ... no shaving ... no washing the face or hands!”

We might have been sure that when Gregory became Pope he would not have forgotten his monastery on the Coelian. Not only did he make of its abbots and monks his confidants, not only did he send them as bishops to various parts of the world, but he was at pains to secure their possessions and privileges. Some six hundred years after the death of Gregory another abbot of St. Andrew’s came (1240) before another Pope Gregory—the Ninth—and showed him a sheet of papyrus almost dropping to pieces with age. However, the writing on it could still just be read, and showed that it was ‘a charter of privilege’ which Gregory I had granted to the abbot Maximus or Maximianus just 650 years before! The said abbot begged the Pope to have an authentic copy of the ancient papyrus made, and then to ratify it under his seal. This Gregory IX consented to do, and it is through his bull of 1240 that we have the ‘privilege’ of 590 and learn these interesting particulars. The charter 2 is addressed by Gregory, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God, to his most beloved son Maximus, and sets forth that the Pope owes a debt of gratitude to the monastery of St. Andrew, because it was there that he took the habit of a monk and began a new life. He therefore confirms to it for ever, and forbids anyone, even a Pope, to alienate from it the property which he and others have made over to it. Gregory in this document specifies property which he made over to the monastery three years before. Now it happens that the very deed making over that property has been preserved. The deed is dated December 28, 587. In it Gregory, “an unworthy deacon of the Apostolic See” and “Servant of the Servants of God”, makes over to the abbot Maximianus, and through him to the monastery of St Andrew, certain farm properties, with their slaves, serfs, and their appurtenances of all kinds, which had been left to Gregory by a certain Desiderius, vir clarissimus. 

The deed, as full of redundant phraseology as any modern legal document of a similar nature, is signed by Gregory, and witnessed by a vir clarissimus, a vir honestus (burgher) and notary public (tabellaritis) of the city of Rome, and a reader (lector) of the title of St. Mary. Gregory’s interest in his own monastery is only a sample of his interest in the monastic order in general. But of that more will be said in another place.

Before turning to narrate deeds which show Gregory in light of Head of the Church, or of a temporal ruler and landlord, we may pass from considering him as Bishop of Rome to treat of his conduct as Metropolitan of Italy and Patriarch of the West. The Pope’s metropolitical jurisdiction in Italy extended over all Italy (with the exception of the archdioceses of Ravenna, Aquileia, and Milan), Sicily and Corsica. And consequently his relations with those parts were more close than even with the rest of the West. To him pertained directly the government, through bishops approved by him personally, of the Church in that wide district. What that rule meant may be gathered from his own words: “When in the monastery I was able to restrain my tongue from useless words, and to keep my mind almost continually intent on prayer. But after I placed the pastoral burden on the shoulders of my heart, the soul could not concentrate itself, because it wandered over many things. For  I am compelled to examine into cases, sometimes of churches, sometimes of monasteries, and often to deliberate upon the lives and actions of individuals. Sometimes I have to take up the affairs of the citizens, sometimes to groan under the invading swords of the barbarians, sometimes to fear the wolves that steal in to the flock committed to my care. Sometimes I have to take charge of affairs lest help be wanting to those on whom the rule of discipline is binding; sometimes to endure plunderers with equanimity, sometimes to resist them for the sake of preserving charity”. Of Gregory’s over eight hundred extant letters by far the greater number, as might be expected, are taken up with the business of his metropolitical duties. And how numerous those were we may judge not merely from the general terms of the extract just quoted, but from such a fact as this—that in “the first year of his pontificate, in spite of the difficulties and complications attending removal or erection of Sees, he dealt with no less than fifteen deserted churches”. The terrible campaigns of Belisarius, Narses and Alboin had played dreadful havoc not only with Christian discipline but with the ecclesiastical organization of Italy. And so “the necessities of the times urge us and the decay of the population compels us to spend anxious thought on the best way of helping destitute churches”.




Of Sicily Gregory took especial care. There had the Sicily, greater part of his ancestral estates been situated, there were the most valuable patrimonies of the Church, and thence came most of the grain for the support of the people of Rome. The very first letter in Gregory’s Register is addressed to “the Bishops of Sicily”. In it he informs them that he has sent one of his subdeacons to represent him throughout the province of Sicily, and that to him he has entrusted the management of the whole patrimony of the Roman Church. This subdeacon was Peter, with whom Gregory had been on terms of intimate friendship from his youth, and who is the same as the Peter whom he addresses in his Dialogues. With him the Pope bids the Sicilian bishops hold a council once a year at Syracuse or Catania to regulate what pertains to the good of the province and of the churches, to the succor of the poor and the oppressed, and to the correction of abuses. And, having in view the tendency of the Sicilians to quarrel and to the vendetta, he concludes by exhorting them to show by their harmonious action that their meetings are those of bishops, and to keep far away from them “hatred, the source of crimes, and jealousy, the internal, most abominable decay of souls”. But if Gregory increased the burdens of the bishops of Sicily in one direction, he lightened them in another. According to ancient custom they were bound to present themselves in Rome every three years. Gregory extended the term to five years. Further, to prevent constant appeals to Rome “on small matters”, and thus to facilitate the transaction of business, he appointed (October 591) Maximianus, Bishop of Syracuse, his vicar, so that there would be an authority on the island itself for the settling of any but very important affairs, the so-called causas majores. The civil governor, Justin, the praetor of Sicily, is also written to and exhorted to keep the peace with the bishops, having God ever before his eyes, and on no account to fail in dispensing just judgment. Among the other commissions given to Peter, was to bring back under control the monks of the city of Taurus, then situated somewhat to the north of Reggio, in the province of Bruttium, and now no longer in existence. Dispersed apparently by some inroad of the Lombards, they were wandering about all over Sicily. This incident is worth recording, as it sheds light, a wild light certainly, on the state of the times.

The Sicilian patrimonies will be discussed when we depict Gregory as a landlord.

Heartbroken at the devastation which he saw the Lombards everywhere inflicting on Italy, Gregory’s distress was rendered still keener when the rumor reached him that they were planning a descent on Sicily. Pointing out to the bishops of Sicily what they would have to expect if the Lombards landed in Sicily, he exhorts them to try and turn away the anger of God by ordering litanies, and by all leading a better life. “For prayer is offered to no purpose where conduct is bad”




From Gregory’s letters dealing with Corsica many interesting particulars may be gathered. There, as everywhere, matters, civil and religious, were in dire confusion. Harried, at least by the Lombards, the unfortunate inhabitants were so taxed by their rulers that they were reduced to selling their children to pay the tribute which was wrung from them, and at last to take refuge with the unspeakable Lombards themselves. For, as Gregory might well ask in his letter to the empress in behalf of the oppressed islanders, “How could they suffer more cruelly at the hands of the barbarians than to be so oppressed as to be forced to sell their children?” Hence he never ceased trying to get officials of the right stamp sent to the island. And of course he did not fail to look after their religious welfare. He encouraged the bishops who were successfully laboring to bring, or to bring back, to Christianity the still numerous idolaters; and for the spiritual benefit of the island sent there a body of monks under the abbot Orosius. And that they might not be easily scattered by marauding Lombards, as other monks before them had been who dwelt in a monastery in the open country, he directed his agent or defensor in Corsica to sail round the island with Orosius and pick out a spot near the sea which was either naturally strong or could be easily fortified. A sign of the times indeed!




Gregory’s relations with Sardinia and with the archdioceses of Ravenna, Aquileia and Milan were the same as with Spain, Gaul and Illyricum; that is to say, his ecclesiastical dealings with all those parts were in the main conducted through the metropolitans of the various districts of those countries.

Passing easily from Corsica to Sardinia, the letters in Gregory’s Register reveal the same corruption among the imperial officials, the same oppression of the poor as in Corsica. The venality of the judges greatly interfered with the Pope’s efforts for the conversion of the many pagans who were still to be found in the island, especially among the rural population. For not only did they accept money from the heathens that they might be allowed to go on offering their idolatrous sacrifices, but they continued to wring the same money from them even after they had been baptized and had given up idolatry.

When called to task for such base rapacity, the judges replied that they had promised such fees (suffragium) for their positions that unless they got money, even by such methods, they could not fulfill their undertakings. Corruption, therefore, was seated in high places. This offering of money to obtain appointments had been forbidden by Justinian. But it went on, to the increasing misery of the provincials.

Nothing daunted by the difficulties which cropped up to prevent Gregory from accomplishing this good work of the conversion of the rustic pagan islanders (against the performance of what great act do they not spring up?), he labored on. He begged the co-operation of the landlords, and conjured the bishops of the island to stir themselves up if they would avoid his displeasure. And considering that the heathens, “living like beasts, were utterly ignorant of God”, and were steeped in all kinds of degrading superstitions, he thought it well to put a little pressure on them to bring them to the truth. He accord­ingly ordered that such of them as were on Church lands and remained obstinate in their paganism should have their taxes raised, that the inconvenience hence arising might bring them to the truth. Later on (July 599) he advises that severer measures (stripes and imprisonment) be employed, at least against certain classes of the pagans, probably against such as practiced what was cruel or seductively injurious to the simple. If these methods may seem to some those of a tyrannical proselytizer, it must never be forgotten that the savagely cruel and the wildly licentious are inseparably connected with paganism. The first principles of humanity and civilization imperatively demand that the ferocious and outrageously licentious elements of heathenism be put down if necessary by force. And hence we see our own government, in the different countries where it comes in contact with paganism, suppressing many heathen customs, such as suttees, witch-finding, etc., by main force.

In Sardinia, as elsewhere, the Jews, who were there very numerous, found in Gregory a merciful defender of their just rights.

But the imperial officials on the island, mere self-seekers, showed themselves as incompetent as they were unjust. Repeatedly warned by the Pope to prepare to repel a descent of the Lombards, they allowed themselves and the island to be caught unprepared. Gregory had therefore good reason to write to Januarius (October 598): “If proper notice had been taken of the warning letters I wrote both to you and to Gennadius (the exarch of Africa), the enemy would either not have made any descent upon you at all, or if they had they would have suffered the losses they have been able to inflict”. And although negotiations for peace between Agilulph and the exarch Callinicus were then on the point of being definitely concluded, Gregory exhorted Januarius to see that the walls were ceaselessly guarded till the treaty of peace was finally signed. The treaty was apparently duly sealed, but it was only for a short truce; and some nine months after the last letter (viz, in July 599) Gregory wrote to advise Januarius that he did not think Agilulph would renew the treaty of peace, and that, therefore, whilst there was still time, he should look to the victualling and fortifying of his own metropolitical city, Caralis (Cagliari), and other places. Truly the temporal as well as the spiritual ruler of the world at that time was Gregory the Great.

This same Januarius of Cagliari gave Gregory a great deal of trouble. A well-meaning, simple-minded man, he was incapable of displaying energy in either spiritual or temporal matters. And when, galvanized by Gregory’s letters or from some other cause, he did launch forth, it was generally in the wrong direction. One Sunday before Mass he went and ploughed up a neighbor’s harvest, and after Mass had his boundary stones dug up! For such vagaries, for exacting funeral fees, and for general torpor, Januarius was in constant receipt of authoritative letters from Gregory, who, considering the aged metropolitan’s simplicity, old age and ill-health, was most considerate to him. However, through Vitalis, the rector of the patrimony, he excommunicated for two months the advisers of Januarius in the matter of the harvest.




A different character was John of Ravenna. A Roman, and, like Gregory himself, brought up in the bosom of the Holy Roman Church, he was sent by the Holy See to Ravenna, after being consecrated bishop in 578. To him, as one of his special friends, Gregory dedicated his Pastoral Care and expressed his great grief at his death (January 11, 595). To him also Gregory committed the care of certain of the bishops who belonged to the Pope’s jurisdiction as metropolitan, because the interposition of the enemy prevented them from coming to Rome. Correspondence between them was frequent. Gregory had, however, occasion to write to him letters of expostulation and reprimand. Whether from hereditary Roman pride and haughtiness, or from undue elation at being the archbishop of the city which boasted the residence of the emperor’s representative, the exarch, and which was consequently the centre of the civil and military administration of imperial Italy, John began to arrogate to himself various privileges which were not his due. Word soon reached Gregory that John was doing various things that were opposed to both the custom of the Church and to Christian humility, “which”, as the Pope neatly puts it, “is the priest’s only proper pride”. Among other points urged against John was that of wearing the pallium at forbidden times. To Gregory’s remonstrance, John replied warmly, in a letter now lost, citing as an excuse for his conduct a privilege which John III had granted (September 569) to a former archbishop of Ravenna. In reply, after reminding him that it was contrary to ecclesiastical custom for him not to have submitted with patience to his correction even had it been unjust, Gregory shows the archbishop that the custom everywhere was that the pallium had only to be worn during Mass, and that he had failed to prove any exceptional privilege. He must therefore conform to the general custom. However, to do honor to John, and despite the opposition of the Roman clergy, the Pope concedes the use of ‘mappulae’ (ornamental vestments worn only by the Roman clergy) to his ‘first deacons’. In acknowledging the receipt of this letter, “a compound of honey and vinegar”, as he calls it, John asked whether it was likely he could have wished to go against that most Holy See, which gives its laws to the universal Church, and to preserve the authority of which he had incurred much hostility. Conscious to himself that he had done nothing but what had been done before him, he is consoled in the midst of his trouble by the reflexion that sometimes fathers chastise their children to make them purer, and that “after this devotion and satisfaction you may not only preserve the old privileges of the holy Church of Ravenna, which is yours in a very special way, but may grant it new ones”. John concludes by begging the Pope not to diminish the privileges which the Church of Ravenna has hitherto enjoyed, and assuring him of his obedience meanwhile. Somewhat over a year later (October 594) Gregory granted the archbishop leave to wear the pallium four times a year during the solemn litanies, till such times as the ancient custom of the Church of Ravenna could be thoroughly examined. For this concession Gregory discovered that he received fair words from John in his letters, but that the archbishop let his tongue loose against him at home. His duplicity and pride were severely reprimanded by Gregory; for, as he said, he could not tolerate any arrogant assumption of rights. And he took care to let John know that he had instructed his apocrisiarius (Sabinian) at Constantinople to find out from the leading bishops (i.e., the eastern patriarchs, etc.), who had from 300 to 400 bishops under them, what was the custom with them as to the times of wearing the pallium. Most touching, however, was the conclusion of the letter: “Be straightforward with your brethren. Do not say one thing and have another in your heart. Seek not to seem greater than you are, that you may be greater than you seem. Believe me, when I reached my present position I was animated with such feelings of love towards you, that had you been willing to reciprocate them, you would never have found one who would have loved you better or served you with more zeal. But I must confess that when I learnt your words and conduct I shrank back. I beg you, therefore, by Almighty God, to amend what I have pointed out, especially the vice of duplicity. Permit me to love you. For it will be for your benefit both in this life and the next to be loved by your brethren. To all this reply not in words but by your conduct”

To change his conduct not much time was allowed to John. He died very shortly after (January 11, 595) the receipt of the last-mentioned letter. His successor, Marinianus, was also a Roman. He had been one of Gregory’s friends in the monastery, and was asked for by the Ravennese when Gregory had rejected the two candidates they had chosen. Marinianus seems to have proved rather a small-minded man, whom Gregory had to admonish that “Our Redeemer expects from a priest not gold but souls”. Marinianus imagined that he was doing good if he looked after the temporalities of his See in a close-fisted manner and continued to live like a monk. Gregory, however, did not. He wrote to one of his friends at Ravenna to rouse up the archbishop, to tell him that with his position he must change his mind, that he must not think that prayer and study were enough for him, and that if he does not want to carry in vain the name of bishop he must act. Narrow-mindedness, however, was the worst fault of Marinianus. He was free from the ambition which besmirched the character of his predecessor, and, as we shall see, of many of his successors. He never lost the friendship of Gregory. To him the Pope dedicated his homilies on Ezechiel; and when he was ill nothing could exceed Gregory’s kindness to him. He consulted the most learned physicians in Rome on his case, sent him their opinions, and though at the time like to die himself, he begged the archbishop to come to Rome, so that he might take care of him.

After premising that sufficient has been said of Gregory’s relations with the metropolitan of Aquileia in schism, and that, in connection with the same schism of the Three Chapters, Milan, which figured as a metropolitan See as early as the fourth century, has been also treated of, we may pass on to some of the important metropolitan Sees of Illyricum. In the division of the empire made by Constantine, Illyricum was divided into Western and Eastern. Western Illyricum embraced the Roman province of Illyricum (which stretched from the rivers Arsia and Dravus to the Drilo, and was bounded by Macedonia and Moesia Superior), Illyricum Proper, i.e., most of modern Albania (from the Drilo to the Ceraunian Mountains, and bounded on the east by Macedonia), Pannonia and Noricum. Eastern Illyricum included Dacia, Moesia, Macedonia, and Thrace, all south of the Danube. These two Illyricums (less Thrace), which were comprehended in the later Dioceses of Illyricum, Dacia, Macedonia, and Thrace, were subject to the Pope as Patriarch of the West. And so in his letter to the Emperor Michael (September 25, 860), Nicholas I, in substantial accord with Innocent I (402-17), averred that of old were subject to the Roman Church the Old and New Epirus, Illyricum, Macedonia, Thessaly, Achaia, Dacia Ripensis, Dacia Mediterranea, Moesia, Dardania, and Praevalis, i.e., all the country south of the Danube to the sea, with the exception of Thrace. Now in Eastern Illyricum Gregory had two vicars. One resided at Prima Justiniana, anciently Scupi, and now Scopia or Uskup, on the Axius (now Vardar), the principal river in Macedonia, and his powers extended over the Latin portion of Eastern Illyricum, over the civil diocese or government of Dacia. The other was the bishop of Thessalonica, whose metropolitan jurisdiction extended over Greece and the Greek portion of Eastern Illyricum, over the civil diocese of Macedonia. The apostolic vicariate of Thessalonica, established by Pope Damasus or his successor, originally embraced the whole of Eastern Illyricum, i.e., the civil dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia. But Justinian, anxious to glorify his birth­place (Scupi), founded there a fine city, gave to it his name (Justiniana Prima), transferred to it the residence of the Praetorian Prefect of Illyricum, and made it a metropolitan See over the bishops of Dacia. At the same time Pope Vigilius declared the new metropolitan his vicar.

Gregory’s extant correspondence shows that he was in constant communication as a ruler with Illyricum, both western and eastern, with its vicars, its metropolitans and its bishops. Acting in conjunction with the imperial authority, Gregory directed a letter to “all the bishops throughout Illyricum” (May 591), on the subject of providing means of livelihood for those bishops who had been driven from their Sees by the incursions of the dreaded Avars with their subject Slavonic tribes. The Avars, a Turanian people, of the same stock as the Huns before them, and the Hungarians after them, invaded the Roman Empire towards the close of the reign of Justinian, settled on the Middle Danube, soon founded a large loosely-jointed empire of marauders which they almost as soon lost at the hands of the Slavs (early part of seventh century), and were finally crushed by Charlemagne. Whilst Gregory was Pope their wild ravages did a great deal of damage in Illyricum. The Avars and Slavs were one of the troubles of Gregory’s life. And if at one time he is elated with news of their defeat, at another he is depressed by their success. “Concerning the Slavs, who are so seriously threatening you”, writes Gregory to Maximus, Bishop of Salona, the metropolitan See of Dalmatia, “I am very much afflicted and grieved. I am afflicted by what I suffer in you, I am grieved because through Istria they have begun to find a way into Italy”. One of the results of the Avar incursions was that through the destruction of their episcopal cities many of the Illyrian bishops were rendered destitute. Maurice, who was very much disposed to take the initiative in matters ecclesiastical, wrote to Jobinus, the prefect of the praetorium of Illyricum, ordering that the bishops whose Sees were yet intact should support those who had lost theirs, and instructing Jobinus to inform the Pope of the arrangement he had made. In his letter to the Illyrian bishops, Gregory added his injunction to that of the emperor. He reminded them that over and above the command of an earthly sovereign there was that of the Eternal King by which we have to help in their bodily necessities even those who have caused us trouble, not to say our brethren and bishops. He concluded his letter by assuring the bishops whom he wished to give hospitality that he did not give their destitute brethren any authority in their dioceses.

We have various other authoritative communications of Gregory to bishops both of Western and Eastern Illyricum. Just before the dispatch of the last-mentioned letter, he had sent (March 591) off another to one of the Dalmatian bishops, Malchas, in which he commissioned him to compel Stephen, bishop of the important city of Scodra (Scutari), on the Barbana, to submit a dispute he had with one of the court of the prefect of the praetorium of Italy to arbitration. Malchas had also to see that the award was put into effect.

In connection with Eastern Illyricum there is a letter of Gregory to Felix, Bishop of Sardica, now the capital of Bulgaria, Sophia, and then in the province of Dacia Mediterranea, reminding Felix that from what he himself expects from his own subjects he ought to understand what obedience requires. Gregory expresses the sorrow he felt when he was informed by John of Prima Justiniana of the way in which he (Felix) set at nought the commands of his metropolitan. Gregory impresses on the recalcitrant bishop that he will have to obey; but in one of his happy phrases adds: “But you will do well if you will let your mature reflexion make you what canon law will force you to become”. John had himself just received the pallium and had been recognized as papal vicar by Gregory. Informed by the bishops of Eastern Illyricum that their unanimous choice and the consent of the Emperor Maurice had fallen on John, and in response to their request, Gregory authoritatively ratified their choice, recognized his consecration, sent him the pallium, and nominated him his vicar, according to custom. The subject of this letter was probably not the same man as the John of P. Justiniana with whom Gregory had the difficulty concerning Adrian, Bishop of Thebes, in 592. But if Gregory concurred with the emperor’s choice in the matter of John’s consecration, he would not have him deposed in accordance with the emperor’s wishes. Maurice wanted his deposition on the ground of his ill-health, and that the times required that the cities should not be without the care of their bishops lest “they might be destroyed by the enemy”. Evidently in the days of Gregory he was not the only bishop who was as much the military or civil governor as the ecclesiastical superior of his See. He pointed out to the emperor that it was against the canons that a bishop should be deposed on account of sickness. “Depose him I cannot, lest I defile my soul with sin”. The Pope, however, instructed his apocrisiarius at Constantinople to suggest that an auxiliary might be given him who would do all the active work. John was not deposed. Gregory was still in correspondence with him in March 602.

Despite the accession of authority which the will of Justinian had brought to the bishop of his new city, Gregory made it plain that the first bishop of Eastern Illyricum was still the bishop of Thessalonica. In his Register there are two letters of the Pope to various metropolitans mentioned by name. In each case it is Eusebius of Thessalonica who occupies the first place. Of course Eusebius was one of the many with whom Gregory corresponded. At one time the Pope is bidding him examine certain clergy suspected of heresy, at another he is warning him that his (Gregory’s) letters had been corrupted by their bearer, and, on the other hand, defending Alcison, Bishop of Corcyra, from oppression at the hands of his metropolitan’s officials.

Other events, which we prefer to relate in illustration of Gregory’s dealings with the emperor, will also avail to further elucidate his action in Illyricum,




The famous sixth canon of the first council of Nice Africa, recognized as belonging to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt and Libya, which latter included the Pentapolis “and the parts of Libya about Cyrene” (Acts II. 10). Our present concern is with the remaining portion of North Africa. The Church in North Africa was for many ages in a most flourishing condition. It had produced such men as Tertullian, St. Cyprian and St. Augustin. But before the middle of the fifth century it had been rudely shattered by the savage Vandals from Spain. Their rule, or rather misrule, though never to be forgotten for its ferocity, did not last long. In 535 Africa was re-added to the Roman Empire by the genius of Belisarius. However, some twelve years before the coming of Belisarius, the persecution of the Catholics had ceased with the advent to the throne of Hilderic (523). Efforts were at once made to reorganize the Church. Councils were held (525 and 535) and Rome consulted. At Gregory’s accession Africa was divided into six provinces, presided over, like the various provinces in Italy, by an exarch. Counting westwards from Libya, the provinces were Tripolis (the country of the Three Cities, Sabrata, or Abrotonum, Oea and Leptis Magna), Byzacium or Byzacene, Proconsular Africa, Numidia, Mauritania Sitifensis and Mauritania Caesariensis.

With regard to the ecclesiastical organization of these provinces, it may be safely stated that it was exceptional, but not so safely what it actually was. The most important bishop in Northern Africa was the bishop who had his episcopal throne at Carthage, and who exercised the rights of a metropolitan over all the provinces. Constantine the Great wrote to him in connection with Numidia and Mauritania as well as with proconsular Africa, and speaks of him as the head of, or as the one who presides over, the latter Church. And the great council of Hippo-Regius (393) recognized the position of the bishop of Carthage when it decreed (can. 1 and 4) that certain matters of interest for all the African provinces had to be settled by him. The bishop of Carthage then was not only the metropolitan, as the African title had it, of his own province of proconsular Africa, but was the metropolitan of the remaining provinces. In these latter, neither the first of the subordinate archbishops or primates (again called the bishop of the first See), nor, presumably, the subordinate primates themselves, had their episcopal thrones in any fixed city. They succeeded to their position as primate, and ultimately as first primate, by some automatic arrange­ment agreed to among themselves. The consequence was that the See of the first primate was often to be found in some very second-rate town. The classical authority for this statement seems to be a letter of Gregory, in which he asked the exarch of Africa to cause the bishops to be admonished: “Not to make their primate from the order of his position, setting aside merit; since before God it is not a more elevated station that wins approval, but a better conducted life. And let the primate himself reside, not, as the custom is, here and there in different towns, but in one city, according to his election”. Following in the wake of St. Leo IX (1049-1055), it has been generally agreed among historians that it was length or duration of episcopal consecration which settled the acquisition of primatial dignity. In his note to this letter, however, Ewald not unnaturally fails to see how number of years of ordination can be got out of the words, ex ordine loci. Doubtless not directly; but, though automatic arrangements, by which ecclesiastical preeminence in a province might be settled other than that of seniority may be imagined, promotion by age must be acknowledged to be in every way the most likely. If this be conceded, Ewald’s difficulty would be solved, and the explanation of Leo IX stands good. For age would settle the position (ordo) of the primates among themselves, and then the senior amongst them would become the primate of the first See.

It remains to be settled what was the relation of the Pope to the Church in Africa. Did he treat with the Bishop of Carthage as with one of the great patriarchs, or as with one of the great metropolitans of the West? That is, did he deal with the African Church as Patriarch of the West, or only as head of the whole Church? A letter of Pope Siricius to the African bishops (ad. an. 386) is sometimes quoted as deciding the matter in favor of the former supposition, viz., that the Pope ruled Africa as patriarch. In the letter in question, Siricius inserted the canons of a council just held in Rome. By the first of these, the ordination of a bishop “without the knowledge of the Apostolic See, i.e., of the primate”, was forbidden. But it is pointed out that this was an encyclical letter, and would have to be interpreted according to the custom in vogue in the different parts to which it was sent. Hence in Africa it might simply mean that no bishop must be consecrated without the knowledge of the primate (of the province). There is no doubt that, although the bishop of Carthage never had the power of the patriarchs of Antioch or Alexandria, he may very well have had a more independent jurisdiction than, say, the Bishop of Thessalonica. But as the African Church owed its origin to the See of Rome, and as Gregory exercised very direct control over the African Church, it may well be treated of when that Pope is being considered as Patriarch of the West. Because men are very prone to prefer their long-accustomed mumpsimus, the bishops of Africa were probably not at all pleased when Gregory’s wishes in connection with their mode of electing their primate by seniority instead of by merit were made known to them. For it is certain that they had petitioned Gregory’s predecessor for the confirmation of their ancient customs, “which long usage had preserved up till then from the time of their first conversion from Rome”, or, keeping closer to the original, “from the beginning of their orders (received from) Bl. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles”. It fell to Gregory to reply to the petition of the Numidian bishops. But though he might express a wish that they should themselves alter their customs, with the conservative spirit which has generally animated the popes of not interfering with established custom, Gregory consented to allow their customs, “whether for constituting their primates or other matters”, to remain inviolate, as it was at least clear that they were not “opposed to Catholic faith”. However, he would not permit that anyone, who had formerly been a Donatist and had afterwards become a bishop, should ever become a primate, even if their position, (ordo, obtained, as we have said, by seniority), entitled them to the rank.

Next it is the primate of Africa, Dominicus of Carthage, who asks Gregory for the confirmation of his privileges. “Lay aside all anxiety on that matter”, replied Gregory, “and let your fraternity hold to the ecclesiastical privileges concerning which you write. For as we defend our own rights we preserve those of all the other churches. For favor I will not grant to anyone more than he deserves, nor at the suggestion of ambition will I take away from anyone what is his due. For in all things am I anxious to honor my brethren and to advance them as far as possible without detriment to the rights of others”.

We have now to turn to another of the African provinces, to Byzacium, and to the judging of its primate by the Pope. Crementius, thought by Hartmann to be the same as Clementius, Primate of Byzacium, had been accused of some crime (what, is not stated), a notice of which had been brought before the emperor. “In accordance with the canons”, he referred the matter to the Pope. At first Crementius was able to set everybody at defiance. He had no difficulty in buying the support of an important imperial official for forty pounds of gold. Then, finding that the emperor was urgent in pressing the Pope to move in the matter, and that his fellow-bishops were contriving to make things objectionable for him, Crementius appealed to Rome, declaring that he was subject to the Apostolic See. Though Gregory doubted the sincerity of his appeal, he took occasion therefrom to remark to John of Syracuse, into whose hands he was entrusting the investigation of the case, that “Where there was question of fault among bishops, he did not know what bishop was not subject to it”. Nearly four years after the bishop of Carthage was still unjudged. Various affairs, but most of all “the enemies that rage on all sides of us”, the Lombards, had prevented the Pope from pushing on the case. In March 602, in a letter “to all the bishops of the province (council as it was called) of Byzacium”, Gregory entrusted the task of examining the charges against their primate to the bishops of his province, that if proved they might be canonically amended, and if shown to be false an innocent brother might be freed from galling accusations”. He begged them not to be influenced by blandishments of any kind, but “to gird themselves up to find out the truth, for God’s sake, like true priests”.

Not only this case of Crementius, of whom no more is known, but divers others show Gregory’s supreme authority in Africa. Now he is defending a priest or deacon against a bishop, and now ordering the trial of bishops charged with beating their clergy and with simony or with encroaching on the diocese of another. Then there are letters to the primates exhorting them to be careful in the matter of those they raise to sacred orders, and not to confer them on boys or for gold; and to the civil authorities, asking them to co-operate with the bishops in efforts to restore discipline, naturally much upset by the rapid rise and fall of the rule of the Arian Vandals, and to repress the avarice of their own subordinates. We shall return to Africa when we come to tell of Gregory’s efforts to heal the schism of the Donatists.




The course of our investigations leads us now to the country whence came (about 427) the Vandals to Africa, viz., to Spain. Of all the provinces of the Roman Empire, Spain had been one of the finest. To the imperial throne it had given perhaps the greatest number of those who had been any ornament to it—Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Pagan literature had been ennobled by the writings of the Spanish Seneca, Christian beautified by the poems of Prudentius. In the Chair of Peter had sat Damasus, and in place of Peter’s successor at the first ecumenical council had figured in deserved honor Hosius of Cordova. But in Spain, as in the other provinces of the empire, a disease, which even Christianity could not arrest, was eating its way. The corruption of the heart of the empire spread to its members. An earnest of what worse was to come, a horde of Suevi and other barbarians, crossed the Pyrenees (about 260), and for some twelve years laid waste the land by fire and sword. This storm then passed away, but in the beginning of the fifth century burst another which was to devastate the whole country. First came Alans, Suevi and Vandals, and divided the country between them, only to have to fight for it against the Visigoths. The Alans were annihilated, the Suevi driven into the fastnesses of the North-West; the Vandals left Spain (c. 427) for Africa. But this did not mean peace for the wretched Spaniards or their country. Not only were the Suevi constantly descending in arms from their mountains, but the Romans, who had never lost their hold on the sea-coast towns, especially in the South-East, were ever pushing forward from the latter quarter by fomenting any disturbance that might arise. And with Arian Visigoth persecuting Catholic Spaniard, with raiding Frank and Suevi, and with one Visigothic king ascending the throne over his assassinated predecessor, there were disturbances enough. However, when Gregory came to have spiritual authority over Spain, whether as Patriarch of the West or as Head of the Universal Church, matters had taken a turn for the better. The Suevi had been finally subdued under Leovigild (570-587); and the Arian persecution (of which more later) terminated by the conversion of his son Recared to Catholicity. Thus, with the exception of the South-East portion, still belonging to the Roman Empire, Spain was ruled in the year 590 by a Catholic sovereign of the nation of the Visigoths, Recared (587-601).

There is no need, however, to be told that religion, learning and morality were not in a satisfactory state in Spain in the year 590. Here we shall merely pause to note in this connection an interesting letter addressed to “the most Blessed Lord Pope Gregory” in the early years of his pontificate by Licinianus, Bishop of Carthagena. In the course of passing a most favorable judgment on the Pope’s Pastoral Rule, and asking that his other works might be sent to him, he gives an indication of the decay of learning in Spain. “Necessity”, writes the bishop, “compels us to do what you say ought not to be done. For if no duly instructed person can be found who can be advanced to sacred orders, what is left to be done but to ordain some ill-instructed person like myself? You say that the uninstructed must not be ordained. But let your prudence consider whether to know Jesus Christ and Him Crucified may not be enough. If it is not, no one here can be said to be instructed. And we shall have no priests if we are only to have duly qualified ones ... I know your precepts must be obeyed, that only such be ordained as apostolic authority orders. But such are not to be found ... We are therefore left in this difficulty. Either those must be ordained who ought not to be, or there will be no one to celebrate the sacred mysteries”.

His friendship with St. Leander of Seville would have been quite enough to turn Gregory’s thoughts towards Spain. A regular correspondence was kept up between the two; and in August 599 Gregory sent the pallium to his friend “only to be used during the celebration of mass. Whilst sending it, I ought also to send you word how you should live. I do not, however, because your virtuous life has anticipated my words. How far I am overcome by work and weakness you may estimate from this short letter, in which even to him whom I greatly love I say little”. It would seem that by sending him the pallium Gregory made Leander his vicar in Spain, i.e., in the Visigothic portion of it.

Of the five provinces into which Constantine divided Spain itself, while three, Lusitania, Galicia, Tarragona, were wholly in the hands of the Visigoths, part of Baetica and Carthagena were still, as we have said, in the hands of the Romans. Had this portion been administered in the interests of its inhabitants, a course which would also have been in the interest of the empire, instead of remaining Roman till only about the year 616, it would have served as a base from which the rest of the peninsula might have been won back to the obedience of the Caesars. But like Africa and the parts of Italy still under the Romans, it was administered solely in the interests of the greedy imperial officials who ruled it. Of Gregory’s further relations with Spain, apart from correspondence in connection with the conversion of the Visigoths (which will be spoken of in another place), but very little is known. However, towards the close of his pontificate he seems to have come into collision in Roman Spain with one of the avaricious and insolent governors just alluded to. In 603 Roman Spain was apparently under the rule of the ‘glorious’ Comitiolus. If it be lawful to draw conclusions, from the one-sided account of the affair which has reached us, this ‘glorious’ official behaved in the most high-handed manner with regard to two bishops, Januarius of Malaga and a certain Stephen. On the pretext that they had entered into a treasonable correspondence with the enemies of the empire, he had contrived to get some other bishops to pass sentence of deposition against them and ordain others in their stead. He then expelled them from their Sees by force, though they claimed the benefit of sanctuary, and plundered their property. The ill-treated bishops at once appealed to Rome. Gregory took up their case, in the justice of which, from the cast of the documents he drew up for their cause, he evidently believed. And he dispatched the defensor John to Spain (August 603) to thoroughly investigate the affair on the spot. It is from the papers with which the Pope furnished him on that occasion that all our acquaintance with the affair is derived. They were three in number. The first, called a capitulare, gave the defensor the most elaborate instructions as to how he was to conduct his investigations and enquire into the validity of all the proceedings which had been taken against the bishops. These instructions show at once Gregory’s knowledge of the processes of law and the practical, painstaking care with which he himself examined the cases which came before him. John was directed to examine, with regard to the trial to which the bishops, or at least Bishop Stephen, had been subjected, whether it had been conducted in accordance with the prescribed forms, of law, and whether the accusers and witnesses were distinct persons. He was to examine into the gravity of the case and see whether it was deserving of exile or of deprivation, then whether the testimony had been given on oath, in presence of the accused, or had been committed to writing, and whether the accused had had permission to reply and defend himself. John was further ordered to look into the characters of the accusers and witnesses and see whether they were needy, and so more naturally open to be bribed, or whether they had any enmity against the accused. He had also to enquire whether their evidence was mere hearsay or whether they spoke from their own knowledge and so forth. The second instrument with which John was furnished was a list of the laws of the State against which, if the case as put by the exiled bishop were true, their opponents had run counter, or which were likely to be involved in the reopening of the affair. This list of imperial enactments serves to illustrate the fact (otherwise well known) that the ideas of Christianity and the laws of the Church had so deeply influenced the Christian emperors that their laws were largely framed in accordance with those views. Among the laws cited by Gregory were acts decreeing the punishment of death against those who violated the rights of sanctuary, or inflicted any injury on a bishop in church. Deprivation of office and a heavy fine was the punish­ment decreed against the secular official who caused a bishop to be dragged before him without an imperial commission. For it was the law of the empire that bishops had to be tried by their metropolitans. And if, adds Gregory, it be urged that the said bishop Stephen had no metropolitan or patriarch, the cause ought to have been brought for settlement before the apostolic See, which is the head of all the churches, a course which the bishop, who regarded the bishops of the neighboring province as prejudiced, is known to have desired.

John was also furnished with a copy of a formula, according to which he was to pronounce sentence, if Januarius proved to be innocent; and with a commission, to visit, on his way to Spain, the Island of Capria (Cabrera, near Majorca), and reform, if necessary, the discipline of a body of monks there. Whether or not the papal defensor carried out these injunctions is not known; but “obvious”, as the non-Catholic authors of the Histoire Universelle now in course of publication, note, is the effective supremacy of the Bishop of Rome in Spain. This authority was exercised over the whole of Spain, till its subjugation by the Moors in 711. For that Witiza (701-709), the last but one of the Visigothic kings of Spain, bad as he may have been, prohibited his subjects under pain of death from corresponding with or yielding obedience to the popes is the most baseless of assertions.



         Crossing the Pyrenees and avoiding a narrow strip of land (Septimania) touching the Gulf of Lyons, which was in the hands of the Visigoths, we enter the country of the Franks. Of all the Germanic tribes who won for themselves a home in the Roman Empire, the Franks were the noblest. Soon after the beginning of their conquests, salted with Catholicity, they formed an enduring kingdom. The Ostrogoths of Italy, the Visigoths of Spain, the Vandals of Africa passed away and left little or no trace behind them. But the Franks gave their name to a land famous to this day in the annals of the world’s history. And it would never do for a Catholic historian not to treat of France, a country that has never ceased to be Catholic, and a country at all times great, even from time to time in its crimes; and which, while never mean, hypocritical or sordid, has often been the wonder and admiration of the civilized world for its deeds of startling glory.

The name and fame of the Franks was made by Clovis. This chieftain led his wild warriors from their homes about the lower Rhine into Gaul, broke to pieces the last remnant of the Roman power there, overran the whole of it, and died (511) master of most of it. Some twenty years after his death (534) almost the whole of the present France, and a considerable portion of the modern Germany, had been completely subjugated by the Franks. But for several centuries no strong kingdom arose out of the ashes which they made. At the root of the trouble during those ages was the unfortunate custom which prevailed (a custom in the matter of private property fatally reintroduced into modern France) of kings dividing their territories among all their sons. Hence endless plots, counterplots and civil wars, and the constant aggrandizement of turbulent nobles at the expense of king and people alike. To these potent causes of fearful disorder among the Franks in Church and State, was added the large proportion of incompetent rulers among the descendants of Clovis. The disease, viz., excess, which always with fatally degenerating effects attacks more or less barbaric races brought into contact with a high state of material civilization, did not fail to assail the Franks. Excess begot monsters and imbeciles. And so Gregory of Tours can only describe the character of Chilperic of Neustria (d. 584), by calling him “the Herod and Nero of our times”. His queen Fredegonda (Fredegundisd. 597), in every way infamously worthy of her spouse, and Brunichildis (Brunhild, Brunehautd. 613), the wife of Sigebert of Austrasia, goaded to desires of vengeance by the crimes of Fredegonda, kept all the Frankish kingdoms in a wild turmoil for thirty years.

When St. Gregory became Pope, all Gaul, not for the first time in its history, was divided politically into three parts—Neustria (though this name did not come into use till later), Austrasia and Burgundy. Neustria (between the Loire and the Meuse—the western kingdom) was then ruled by Clotaire II (584-628); Austrasia by Childebert II (Hildebert), 575-596, and Burgundy by Guntram (561-593). Austrasia, the eastern kingdom, may be said to have stretched from the Meuse to the Rhine, and even down to the Danube. Burgundy was more or less the valley of the Rhone. Childebert II, who was the son of Brunichildis, became the lord of Burgundy and Aquitaine on the death of Guntram (593). Clotaire II lived to be sole king of the Franks (613-628).

When it is remembered that in addition to the causes of disorder just specified, ecclesiastical positions were, through the interference of kings, one and all to be got for money; that neophytes laymen unprepared for the clerical state, were consecrated bishops, and that mad tyrants like Chilperic, who published verses, “in which there was not a trace of metre”, and added Greek letters to the Roman alphabet (ordering that his new characters should be taught in the schools and that old parchments should be cleaned with pumice stone and rewritten with his letters), took to legislating on the Blessed Trinity—when these additional facts are borne in mind, it will be easy to conclude that the task Gregory had before him to effect a reformation of manners in Frank-land was greater than one man could accomplish. Things were so bad that the very nobles themselves thus complained to Guntram of Burgundy. “The whole people is sunk in vice. Everyone takes pleasure in doing what is wicked. No one fears the king or respects the nobility. If anyone attempts to remedy the evils, there is straightway a tumult among the people. No ruler is safe who has not learnt to hold his tongue”.

Among the Franks, indeed, there was no wholesale conversion from paganism or from error to be effected. For had not Clovis been baptized (496) some hundred years before Gregory became Pope, and had not the Franks followed his example? But in a hundred years the Franks, as we have seen, had not quite changed the color of their skin or lost their spots! Their worship of brute force had not been eradicated, and so their Christianity was still of the muscular type. The line of demarcation between might and right was not broad to them. Much had yet to be done ere the Franks could be got to adopt the moral obligations which follow from the acceptance of the Christian faith. In the days of Gregory not only were simony and the intrusion of laymen into episcopal sees rampant among the Franks, but their kings were disposed to regard the bishops merely as a class or division of their lay nobility, and the property of their sees as crown lands, only crown lands which could be more easily confiscated and disposed of at their will than those in the hands of their more warlike nobles. Gregory tried to give true freedom to the bishops of the Franks, by striving to unite them more closely with one another and with the See of Rome. The history of the Christian world has shown plainly that when in full communication and dependence on the popes, then are the bishops truly free in the exercise of their spiritual duties and respected by men who do not wish to have their beliefs as well as their civil duties regulated by Caesar. The Liberties of the Gallican Church in later ages made the bishops of France mere tools of the king and justly, at length, hateful to their flocks. Throwing off the yoke of Rome has made the present Anglican bishops subject to a woman and her mixed lay tribunals. Separation from Rome has placed the bishops of Eastern Europe and the East under a Russian despot or a Turkish Sultan. For the spiritual freedom of themselves and their people it is an evil day when bishops cut themselves adrift from the bark of Peter.

To unite the bishops of the Franks to the Holy See, Gregory acceded to the united request of Childebert II and Virgilius, Bishop of Arles, and made the latter his vicar in the kingdom of Childebert, which then embraced Austrasia, Burgundy and Aquitaine, and sent him the much-coveted pallium (August 12, 595). The letters which the Pope dispatched on that occasion to Virgilius, to Childebert and to the bishops of his kingdom are models of the way in which unpalatable truths may be presented so as to be accepted by the one who hears them. As regards Virgilius himself, he (the Pope) has heard of his great charity and never imagines that in asking for the pallium and to be the Pope’s vicar Virgilius is merely thinking of external honor and glory. He is rather as a good child turning to his mother. Hence as he (the Pope) cheerfully grants what has been asked of him, he confidently looks for greater episcopal zeal in one who has received increased honor. He has heard that in Gaul and Germany simony and the ordination of neophytes is extensively practiced. Virgilius will doubtless put them down. “If men in building are careful to have the walls properly dried before they put weight upon them, and the sap out of the wood before they fix it in its place, why should we have unprepared men in the Church?”. Gregory concludes his letter by definitely naming Virgilius his vicar, and sending him the pallium. Bishops are not to go away any distance without the authority of the new vicar, who, if any more difficult question concerning the faith or any other important question arises, is to try and settle the matter in a synod of twelve bishops. If it cannot be there decided, it must be referred to the Pope. Gregory makes all these arrangements in accordance with ancient custom. The giving of the pallium to the bishops of Arles can be traced back to Pope Symmachus, who, in 513, gave it St. Cesarius of Arles. And some hundred years before that (viz., in 417) Pope Zosimus is known to have made Patroclus, Bishop of Arles, his vicar, and to have decided that the bishops of the provinces of Vienne and Narbonensis Prima and Secunda, were to be consecrated by the Archbishop of Arles; that from all Gaul questions were to be referred to Arles for answer, unless the importance of the subject required the Pope’s investigation, and that bishops were not to go any distance without ‘litterae formatae’ from the metropolitan of Arles.

In writing to inform Childebert that, in accordance with his wishes, he has named Virgilius, whom he elsewhere calls metropolitan of the Gaulshis vicar, he says: “Certain matters have come to our knowledge which grievously offend Almighty God and inflict the greatest possible harm on the honor and reverence due to the priesthood. Hence we beg that with the co-operation of your power these matters may be thoroughly corrected, lest whilst things go on which are opposed to your devotion, either your kingdom or your soul may suffer through the fault of others”. Needless to say, the things which Gregory thereupon proceeded to denounce were simony and the ordination of neophytes. The king would not put an untried general at the head of his armies; let him then see to it that untried men be not made leaders of souls.

With the same ends in view, viz., to promote episcopal unity and to improve the state of the clergy in the different kingdoms of the Franks, Gregory listened to the request of Brunichildis that the pallium might be conferred on Syagrius of Autun. After the death of Childebert II (596), Brunichildis became regent to her two grandsons Theoderic (Thierry) and Theodobert. Gregory was willing to grant the favor because he knew that Syagrius was in the good graces of Brunichildis, and he trusted that by his influence a council might be got together and the evils that choked the Church among the Franks lessened. For some cause or other in this particular instance Gregory consulted the Emperor Maurice about the bestowal of the pallium. However, despite the combined desire of Brunichildis and the emperor, Gregory only granted it on certain conditions.

He expresses himself as pleased with all he has heard about Syagrius, and especially with what he did to help forward the mission of St. Augustine to England. But two points have delayed the transmission of the pallium, he says. The first was the fact that the queen’s messenger who had come for the pallium was infected with the schism of the Three Chapters. Before leaving the messenger and going to the second point, his answer to Gregory’s question, “Why he was separated from the Universal Church”, is so typical of what so many who are today in error and schism might truly say, that it cannot be passed over. He declared that he knew not. He understood neither what he said nor what he heard. The second point was that Syagrius had not himself asked for the pallium. And in accordance with ancient custom it was only bestowed on those who made a formal request for it. However, to oblige the queen, Gregory sent the pallium to Candidus, the rector of the patrimony of the Roman Church in Gaul, on the understanding that if Syagrius and some of his suffragans presented a petition for it, it would be granted to him. Of course the Pope in return for his acquiescence to her wishes begs Brunichildis to repress simony, lest, as he wisely adds, it may sap the strength of your kingdom; not to suffer laymen to be consecrated bishops, to try to bring back to the unity of the faith those who have gone astray on the Three Chapters, since not reason but malicious ignorance has caused them to fly from the Universal Church and the four patriarchs, and to put down the remains of idolatry, the worship of trees or the heads of animals. The Pope exhorts her to do all this, lest God inflict on her people the scourge of perfidious nations (apparently the Avars), with which he has chastised many.

When Syagrius had complied with Gregory’s requirements, the pallium was duly conferred upon him, and by virtue “of a concession of our authority”, the Pope decided that “proper regard being paid to the rights of metropolitans”, the See of Autun was in future to rank after that of Lyons. The letter by which the grant of these privileges was conveyed to Syagrius closed with an exhortation on the subject of the holding of a synod. Gregory was thoroughly convinced that if the bishops of the Franks could be drawn together in council the evils under which the Church among the Franks was groaning would be lessened, if not eradicated. Syagrius must therefore use his influence “with our most excellent sons, the kings of the Franks”, and strike with all his power that the Pope’s orders concerning the gathering of a council be put into effect.

To bring together the Frankish bishops had been an object for which Gregory had already worked for years. The evils which clamored for immediate remedy had been pointed out to the kings, and the bishops had been warned not to presume to disobey the Archbishop of Arles when he called them together.

Further enlightened as to the wretched state of the Church in the land of the Franks by a visit to Rome of Aregius, Bishop of Gap, Gregory made a determined effort in the July of 599 to get the bishops together under the presidency or direction of, or in the presence of his envoys Aregius and the abbot Cyriacus, a friend of the Pope frequently employed by him on important business. Brunichildis, Theoderic and Theodobert, her grandsons, and the metropolitans Syagrius of Autun, Etherius of Lyons, Virgilius of Arles, Desiderius of Vienne were all alike called upon to promote the synod which the Pope had ordered. The deaths of Cyriacus and Syagrius may have had something to do with the failure of this effort of Gregory. The principal cause was the supineness of the bishops. Undaunted by failure, Gregory returned to the charge about two years after (June 601). Brunichildis was reminded, “Bad priests are the ruin of the people. Who can intercede for the sins of the people, if the sins of the priests who ought to pray for men are greater? But since neither interest to look into nor zeal to punish the evils which exist moves those whose business it is to bestir themselves in these matters, I direct my letters to you, and if you give the word I will send, with the consent of your authority, one who with other bishops will look into and amend these things”. And this time not only are the kings of the east and the south, Theodoric and Theodobert, appealed to again to hold a synod, but the same request is addressed to Clotaire of Neustria. Some success seems to have attended this last effort of Gregory for the reformation of manners among the Franks. According to an old biographer of St. Betharius, Bishop of Chartres, a council was held at Sens this year (601) to put down the abuses complained of by the Pope. But if this council was not very influential, Clotaire did not forget the wishes of Gregory. After he became sole ruler of the Franks, he assembled their bishops to the number of 69 at Paris in 614 or 615. Important decrees were passed relative to the freedom of election of bishops, to simony, to the immunity of the clergy (except with leave of the bishop) from secular judges, to the inviolability of ecclesiastical property, etc. These decrees were accepted and confirmed by the king. But though most useful in themselves and published with the fullest ecclesiastical and civil authority, it is to be feared that they did not effect any great reformation. Political events were setting too strongly towards general confusion and disorder to admit of any particular decrease in the vices against which Gregory worked so untiringly. Owing either to the disordered state of civil affairs in Italy and Frank-land having actually prevented intercourse, or to the paucity of historical documents of the seventh century having failed to inform us of it, that age will not be found to be conspicuous for numerous relations between the Popes and the Franks.

For the flattering terms in which he often spoke of Brunichildis in his correspondence with her, Gregory is frequently blamed. But it must not be forgotten that she had helped forward the mission for the conversion of England, a work which the Pope had so greatly at heart. And there is a very natural tendency in everyone to speak of others as he finds them, in his own case. And while it is agreed that “her really atrocious crimes were, I think we can safely say, all committed after the death of Gregory”, it yet remains to be proved that she was as black as she is painted. It has been asserted that the darkest lines in her character were drawn by an author who did not write until a hundred years after her death. It may, indeed, be further contended that Gregory’s letters to Brunichildis are only a sample of very many of the others, and that they are all too courtly, not direct enough. But Gregory’s style of writing was, in that respect at least, in accord with that of the great ones of the empire in his time. Besides, his whole conduct furnishes proof enough that he invariably acted on the principle enunciated by St. Francis of Sales, when he said that more flies are caught by a spoonful of honey than by a whole barrel of vinegar. And the man, who, situated as Gregory was, only having at his command moral forces but imperfectly comprehended and so but little dreaded by Brunichildis, should have taken in hand to drive the beautiful but semi-barbaric Austrasian queen, would not have had the common sense possessed by the Apostle of our nation.

Gregory did not, however, fail to put their duties in a quiet way both before the son and the mother. To Childebert he wrote: “Inasmuch as the royal dignity excels that of other men, so surely does the glory of your kingdom exceed the kingdoms of other nations. In the midst of kings it is not exceptional to be a king, but to be a Catholic, when others have not merited it, is glory enough. As the splendor of a great lamp illuminates the darkness of the night by the brightness of its light, so does the brightness of your faith shine and gleam in the dark perfidy of other nations. Whatever glory other kings have you have; but in this they are completely overshadowed, since they have not the greatest of all gifts, which you have. In order that they may be eclipsed in deeds as they are in faith, let your Excellency always show yourself merciful to your subjects; and if anything should offend you, do not punish it uninvestigated. Then truly will you best please the King of kings, Almighty God, when, by restraining your power, you think less is lawful to you than you are able to command”. To Brunichildis herself he often tendered lessons similar to those he gave her son. To quote one instance, when exhorting her to call together a synod, he wrote : “When you have subdued the enemy you have within you, then offer sacrifice to God that with His help you may conquer your external foes; and with what zeal you contend against His enemies, you will find Him helping you. But believe me, as I have learnt after much experience, what is gathered together by sin, is soon expended to our own loss. If you do not want to lose anything through injustice, take care to acquire nothing with injustice. For with regard to the goods of this world, sin is the cause of loss”.

Whatever may have been her faults, it is allowed that Brunichildis was a great queen, and Gregory co-operated with her as far as he could. And so, at her request, he endeavored to negotiate a peace between her and what he called the republic, i.e., the empire. And at her request also he issued a decree forbidding anyone—king, bishop or anybody else—to tamper with the possessions of a hospital which had been built by Bishop Syagrius and the queen; and denouncing deprivation of his dignity and of the “Body and Blood of Our Divine Redeemer” against anyone who knowingly contravened his decree. “A charter”, notes Montalembert, “in which, for the first time, the direct subordination of temporal power to spiritual is clearly set forth and recognized”. And, indeed, to such as rightly spurn the doctrine of the right divine of kings to govern wrong, and believe that Christ submitted all men to his Church in the matter of moral right and wrong, it can only be regarded as natural that wrongdoing kings should be as subject to the Church’s censure as wrongdoing beggars.

Besides these efforts to build up the Frankish Church on correct principles, Gregory was equally solicitous over individual cases of injustice or ecclesiastical discipline. To the instances hereupon cited by Abbot Snow, from whom this quotation is taken, the following will serve to bring out Gregory’s care for the honor of his brethren in the episcopate as well as his love of justice. Etherius of Lyons wished to deprive of his diocese a poor bishop who had lost his reason. This the Pope will not allow. A bishop may be degraded for a crime, but not for illness. If, in a lucid interval, decided Gregory, he chooses to resign, another may then be consecrated in his stead. Otherwise a vicar must be appointed to manage the affairs of the diocese. If he survive the present afflicted bishop, he should be consecrated in his stead.

When Gregory’s work for the conversion of England has been chronicled, the reader will have seen the immense influence exercised by Gregory throughout the entire West, whether as its Patriarch or as Head of the Universal Church.




What gave a special color to the life of Pope Gregory were his dealings with the fierce Lombards. He was in close contact with them one way or another from the time he began his public life till his death. They were his chief trouble, his lifelong cross. Naturally did he exert himself to the utmost to check their advance. As he was a man of great unselfish virtue, so was he of course a man of great patriotism. And to a Roman of the Romans, such as Gregory was, what could be more abhorrent than the triumphs of savage Lombards over Italians. Some authors go out of their way to find reasons for Gregory’s regarding the Lombards with such hostility, for their ever being to him both in his mind and in his speech most objectionable, unspeakable (nefandissimi). With some it is because he was ambitious, with others because the Lombards were Arians or pagans. The fact is that Gregory loved his country, of which the Lombards were barbaric foes. Something has already been said of them, from which an idea of their barbarity may be gathered. A special student of their history, Dr. Hodgkin, thus writes of them:

“Everything about them (the Lombards), even for many years after they have entered on the sacred soil of Italy, speaks of mere savage delight in bloodshed and the rudest forms of sensual indulgence; they are the anarchists of the Volkerwanderung whose delight is only in destruction, and who seem incapable of culture”. On their unteachableness, and on the length of time required to civilize them, Gregorovius also insists. “This rude people ... was incapable of receiving the ancient civilization which it found in Italy, otherwise than through the instrumentality of the Church ... More than 150 years were, however, required before the work of Lombard civilization was accomplished, and this interval constituted one of the most terrible periods in the history of Italy ... The Goths had protected Latin civilization, the Lombards destroyed it”.

Bursting through the Predil Pass (568), when Gregory was a young man of about thirty years of age, and when Italy was only just beginning to breathe again after the campaigns which had destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom, a motley crowd of Lombards, Saxons and other Teutonic tribes inundated Northern Italy. Before the death of John III (561-574) they had encircled the walls of Rome. “Like a sword from its sheath the wild hordes of the Lombards flashed upon us; our multitudinous people withered before them. Cities were depopulated, strong places thrown down, churches burnt, monasteries of men and women destroyed, estates desolated, and the land cleared of its owners. Where before there were crowds of men, there now roam the beasts of the field”. And again, on the death of John’s successor, Benedict I (579) we are told that after him Pelagius II was consecrated at once without waiting for the consent of the emperor, “because the Lombards were so closely investing Rome that no one could leave it”. On both occasions its walls or the gold of the Church, or both, saved the city and caused the encircling Lombards to turn to easier conquests.

Either because they despised them, or because the Persians in the East, and the Avars and Slavs in Europe, occupied all their attention, the emperors of Constantinople did nothing to oppose the progress of the Lombards in their fair province of Italy. Their representative at Ravenna in the year 590, the exarch Romanus, would neither fight them nor let the Pope make peace with them. Gregory understood that if the Lombards were to be resisted successfully, it could only be by his own exertions. He would have to try all the resources of his energy, his diplomatic skill and his spiritual authority. He put them all in operation and saved Rome. He looked to the city defenses, to the posting of sentries. He raised and paid troops, he sent forth generals to cities in danger of capture. He exhorted the ecclesiastical authorities everywhere always to see to the political safety of their cities, and he directed generals in the field. Writing on the 27th September 591, he thus addresses Velox, a general stationed on the Flaminian road to watch the movements of Ariulf, the second duke of Spoleto: “I told your Glory some time ago that I had soldiers to come to you at your present quarters; but as your letter informed me that the enemy were assembled and were making inroads in this direction, I decided to keep them back. Now, however, it seems expedient to send some of them to you, praying your Glory to give them suitable exhortations, that they may be ready to undertake the labor which falls upon them. And do you, finding a convenient opportunity, have a conference with our glorious sons Martius (or Maurice?) and Vitalian; and whatever, by God’s help, you shall jointly decide on for the benefit of the Republic, that do. And if you shall discover that the unutterable Ariulf is breaking forth either towards Ravenna or in our direction, do you fall upon his rear and exert your­selves as becomes brave men”. At another time other commanders are advised to effect a diversion by raiding the enemies’ country should Ariulf advance on Rome. All this anxiety on account of the Lombards it was which caused Gregory to call himself rather bishop of the Lombards than the Romans. But withal he would only employ against them means that were scrupulously fair and open. He would not employ his diplomatic skill to destroy the Lombards by intriguing with their different dukes and playing off one against the other. “Briefly point out to our most serene lords”, wrote Gregory to his apocrisiarius, Sabinian (afterwards Pope), at Constantinople, “that if I their servant had wished to mix myself up with the death of the Lombards, that people would today have neither king, nor dukes, nor counts, but would have been split up in the utmost confusion. But because I fear God, I dread being concerned in the death of any man”. In the midst of all these troubles what most afflicted Gregory was that those who ought to have been a source of strength and comfort to him only gave him additional worry. And the bitter cry escaped him that worse than the swords of the Lombards was the mutinous spirit of what ill-paid troops the emperor left in Rome and the malicious jealousy of the exarch, the lord Romanus.

After this general sketch of Gregory’s dealings with the Lombards, we may now more usefully discuss them in chronological order. Authari, who died a few days after Gregory’s consecration, was succeeded by the warlike Agilulph (Free-helper), Duke of Turin, sometimes spoken of by the shorter form of his name, Ago. For to him the Catholic Bavarian princess Theodelinda, the widow of Authari, had given her hand. After the three years’ peace (585-8) concluded between the exarch Smaragdus and Authari had expired, hostilities, of course, broke out again. And in 590, the first year with which we are directly concerned, the Lombard dukes, Ariulf of Spoleto and Arichis (or Arogis) of Benevento, were engaged in cutting off communication between Ravenna and Rome, by subduing the fortified cities which commanded it, and in seizing other cities by force or treachery within fifty miles of Rome itself. Rome was, of course, the goal which was aimed at by Ariulf. To do what he could to stop his advance, Gregory dispatched a governor to Nepi, endeavored to stir up and guide the energy of the generals in the field, and to counteract the treasonable influences at work in Suana (now Sovana). In vain. Ariulf appeared (July 592) before the walls of Rome; while Naples, to which Gregory had dispatched as military commander the magnificent tribune Constantius, was being beset by Arichis. Worried by the inaction of the exarch Romanus, and by the lack of spirit of the Theodosiac legion whom want of pay rendered loth to man the walls; distressed by the sight of men killed or mutilated by Ariulf, no wonder that Gregory fell ill, and in his abandonment by all resolved to make peace with Ariulf on his own authority. This he seems to have done; and the Duke of Spoleto, prevailed upon by Gregory’s eloquence, spiritual power or gold, drew off his troops (before the end of July 592) and left Rome in peace. Whether indignant at this independent action on the part of the Pope, or simply because he was now ready, Romanus at length marched to Rome. What he did there, except take more troops away, is not known. However, a peace which he could not make he was able to break. He retook Sutrium (Sutri), Polimartium (Bomarzo), Hortae (Orte), Tuder (Todi), Ameria (Amelia), Luceoli (Ponte Riccioli, near Cantiano) and certain other cities, thus again opening up communication between Ravenna and Rome and separating the two Southern Lombard dukes from their king. But “while the king was yet a great way off, he had not sat down to consider whether with one thousand men he was able to meet him who was coming against him with ten thousand”. His precipitate and ill-considered action only raised a greater storm. It brought down Agilulph from Pavia in a fury. The important stronghold of Perugia was soon in his hands again, and he marched on Rome (593). From the city walls “the heartbroken Pontiff saw Romans, with ropes round their necks like dogs, being led away to be sold as slaves in Frank-land (Francia)”.

When the news of Agilulph’s advance reached Rome, Gregory was engaged in expounding to the people the prophet Ezechiel. He had already delivered twelve homilies, when word was brought to him “that Agilulph had crossed the Po and was hastening to besiege Rome”. Well might he go on to ask how a mind full of fear and apprehension could penetrate the mystic sense of the prophet. However, for a time he persevered in address­ing the people on the prophet’s visions. But now the lurid light of blazing cities is reflected in his discourses. “Everywhere”, sighs Gregory, “do our eyes behold sorrow; at all times are our ears assailed with groans. Cities are destroyed, ... the country turned into a desert ... Of the people, some we see led into captivity, some maimed, some slain ... Rome herself, once the mistress of the world, in what a state is it now! Beaten to the ground on all sides by its ever-increasing woes, by the desolation of its citizens, and by the attacks of the enemy ... Where is the senate, where the people? ... We few who remain are daily exposed to the sword ... The very buildings we behold crumbling around us”. 

The wild warriors of Agilulph draw nearer to Rome. The homilies are stopped. “No one will reproach me if after this my lips are silent ... On all sides are we surrounded by the sword ... Some come back to us with their hands cut off, others we hear are captured, others killed. I am forced to cease from continuing my exposition: ‘for my soul is weary of my life’ (Job x. 1)”.

Gregory, however, did not expend all his energies merely in talking. He was essentially one of those men “who pray as if everything, depended on God, and work as if everything depended on their own exertions”. Despite the efforts to prepare for a siege which had been made by the military men, Gregory saw that if Rome, with its weak walls, and want of men and corn, was to be saved, it must be by his exertions. And as Leo the Great went forth to meet Attila, so Gregory the Great went forth to meet Agilulph. On the steps of St. Peter’s, which was then outside the walls, the barbarian king and the Christian bishop met. And so “overcome was the king by the prayers, so affected by the wisdom and religious gravity of so great a man, that he broke up the siege of the city and returned north (594)”—to quote the exact words of the writer, who in Northern Italy, about the year 649, continued the Chronicle of Prosper,

By his character as a priest and a man Gregory had indeed once again saved Rome, and removed the horrors of war from its neighborhood. But with this partial success he was not satisfied. He would obtain for all Italy the so much needed blessing of peace. Before, however, showing what efforts he made to accomplish this end, clearness of narrative will be better served if we relate how his saving Rome brought him as sole reward from his civil superiors a sharp letter from the Emperor Maurice. It would seem that Romanus, to explain away his abortive expedition which had only resulted in endangering the city of Rome, suggested to the emperor that he had put his troops in motion to effect a diversion, because, despite Gregory’s assurance to the contrary, it was certain that Ariulf had no real intention of making peace. At any rate, Maurice, thus perhaps partly deceived, wrote a very hot letter (now lost) to the Pope, in which the latter was made out to be a fool and blamed for what he had done. In this the emperor showed himself very like his subordinate Romanus. Unable to do anything himself, he could only blame or mar what had been done by another. In his reply (January 595), respectful but firm, Gregory says that the emperor in practically calling him a fool is not mistaken. “If I had not been a fool, I should never have borne what I have done here amidst the swords of the Lombards. In not believing what I stated, that Ariulf was sincerely ready to make peace with the Republic (the empire of course), you set me down as a liar ... If the captivity of my country did not daily extend, I would gladly hold my tongue on the subject of insults and derision directed against myself. But while I am called a liar, Italy is being still further dragged under the yoke of the Lombards. Believe if you will all evil of me; but in the cause of Italy, give not readily your ear to everybody, but trust facts rather than words”. He exhorted the emperor not to be quick in anger with bishops, but like the great Constantine to reverence them on account of their Master. In fine, after reviewing the course of events, he unselfishly defends the conduct of the military leaders in Rome during the siege, “for I am ready to suffer any adversity”; and concludes: “Sinful and unworthy though I be I trust more in the mercy of Jesus than in the justice of your piety”.

Notwithstanding the ungrateful treatment he received at the hands of the emperor and his representative in Italy, Gregory still toiled on to bring about a general peace.

The great difficulty in the way was the exarch Romanus, a man typical of the empire itself at this period, weak but pretentious. Safe himself behind the walls and marshes round Ravenna, he would not condescend to treat with Agilulph, who was really master of the situation, either before or after the siege of Rome. Gregory tried to move him through the influence of a mutual friend. “Know then”, wrote Gregory to their common friend, “that Agilulph, the Lombard king, is prepared to make a general peace (or truce rather) if my lord, the patrician, will submit to arbitration ... You know well how absolutely necessary for all of us such a peace is. Exert yourself, therefore, with your wonted wisdom, that the most excellent exarch agree to this without delay, lest the peace negotiations should appear to come to naught through him, which is anything but desirable. If the exarch will not come to terms, the king again promises to make a special peace with me. But we know that in that case several islands and other places will certainly be lost. Let, then, the exarch think over these matters, and hasten to make peace, that at least we may have an interval of rest during which the forces of the empire may, with God’s help, be the better prepared for resistance”. Gregory, then, did not want peace because he was a coward who wanted “peace at any price”; but because he had sense enough to see that the empire, at that time, could not fight.

Romanus, however, would not incline to peace or war; and Gregory could only beg his friends to pray that God would free him “from the body of this death”, as he cannot express what he has to suffer from the Lord Romanus, whose malice towards him, he complains, is worse than the swords of the Lombards. And yet the swords of the Lombards were at this time cutting his heart to pieces. For his country, “given over to the swords of the barbarians, had scarce an inhabitant, and yet saw men daily die”. And so, on through the years 596, 597, and into 598, it is the Lombards, the Lombards! But in 597 hope began to dawn to the afflicted Pontiff. “Romanus the exarch died, and was succeeded by Gallinicus (properly Callinicus), who entered into negotiations for peace with Agilulph”. These events took place probably in 597; and, though in the beginning of the following year Gregory found it necessary to insist that no one in Terracina should be excused from taking his share of sentry duty, he was able to announce in October, that through the exertions of his envoy the preliminaries of peace had at length been agreed to. The shifty conduct of Ariulf, who at first would not act in harmony with his king' on the matter, kept back the definite signing of the peace for a time. Letters of thanks, however, addressed before the close of the year to the Lombard king for granting the peace, and to his queen, Theodelinda, for forwarding it, would seem to show that hostilities had definitely ceased before the advent of 599. The peace or truce was to last till March 601. In his letter of thanks to the king, Gregory deemed it necessary to beg him to command the different dukes to keep the peace strictly, as he knew but too well how much they were disposed to act on their own account.

We can imagine with what fervor Gregory returned thanks to God and St. Peter (to whose intercession he attributed the safety of Rome), that at length there was a respite in the shedding of the blood of the wretched peasantry, to which he touchingly turns in his letter to Agilulph just quoted. “Hitherto war had been the normal relation between the empire and the Lombard invaders: henceforward peace, though doubtless a turbulent and often interrupted peace, prevailed”—is the rather rosy reflection of Dr. Hodgkin on what he justly describes as the Papal Peace. But Gregory had an eye to the future. During the period of repose he issued his warnings to prepare again for war, as he felt grave doubts whether the truce would be renewed.

His surmises proved to be well grounded. An act of treachery on the part of Callinicus caused war to break out (601) with greater fury than ever. The Lombards secured the co-operation of the fierce Avars, subdued Padua and other places which had hitherto defied their power, and defeated the exarch beneath the walls of Ravenna (601-3). Callinicus was accordingly recalled, and Smaragdus, for the second time, became exarch of Ravenna (602). Still the war went on; and again are the letters of Gregory ringing with the cries which the thought of the slaughter of men drew from him. But Smaragdus was a much more capable man than his predecessors. He realized that he could not cope with the Lombards. He accordingly first secured a short truce of thirty days, and then in September (603) a longer one, which was to last till April 1, 605. Gregory, then, was to die while peace smiled upon the land he loved so well. And he was to die working for its continuance. Among his last half dozen letters, when he could scarcely speak for pain, and the cold hand of death was upon him, there is a letter of his (December 603) to Theodelinda, in which he begs her to thank her husband for the peace, and, as was her wont, to influence his mind in the direction of peace for the future. Gregory must indeed have been a child of God, for he was certainly a peacemaker.

This sketch of our saint’s dealings with the Lombards will at least show what a trial they were to him. Truly it may be said that day and night throughout his long pontificate they were never absent from his mind. In his letters, in which that mind is seen so clearly, it is often the gout that is troubling him, sometimes the Lombards and the gout together, but always the Lombards. “My tongue as well as my pen fails me in any effort to tell what I have to suffer from the swords of the Lombards, from the iniquities of the judges (the imperial officials), from the pressing importunity of business, from the care of those subject to me, and the pain of my body”, is Gregory0s lament to Anastasius of Antioch. He was ever in fear of them because they could never be trusted, the more so as it made no matter to many of the dukes what their king bound himself to do. As we have seen, they made war or peace pretty much as they listed and whenever a suitable opportunity presented itself. Seeing then that, unaided, Gregory kept Rome from being crushed, Gibbon had good reason to note that it would have become a mere pile of ruins like Babylon and Carthage had it not had in the popes a vital principle which sustained it under the blows of the barbarians; that Gregory might justly be called “the Father of his country”; and that in the attachment of a grateful people he found the best right of a sovereign.

Moreover it must never be forgotten that in preserving the political independence of Rome, Gregory prevented the whole of Italy, and through it the whole of Europe, from being absolutely lost in intellectual darkness. If the Lombards were distinguished for anything, it was for their ignorance. On this point both the great historian of Italian literature, Tiraboschi, and that distinguished authority on Italy’s political history, Muratori, are agreed. Tiraboschi says that there is not a title of evidence that any of the Lombards either cultivated literature themselves or gave their protection or patronage to it. In all their laws, he adds, no mention is made of any kind of literary pursuit whatsoever. And Muratori reckons, as by no means the least of the evils wrought by the invasion of the Lombards, the introduction of a ferocious ignorance—and this with all his Lombard prepossessions. These barbarians only esteemed arms. And the Italians, apart from their want of good masters, had plenty to do amidst the rumors and horrors of war without devoting themselves to the study of letters. By keeping Rome free from Lombard rule, therefore, Gregory preserved it from complete intellectual decay under the shadow of Lombard ignorance, and through it not only Italy, but to a great extent Europe also. By thus preserving the sacred tradition of learning in Rome, he merited on this second and higher title that temporal power which his political action induced the people to yield to him. Even the cynical Milman could not but point out: “In the person of Gregory, the Bishop of Rome first became, in act and influence, if not in avowed authority, a temporal sovereign. Nor were his acts the ambitious encroachments of ecclesiastical usurpation on the civil power. They were forced upon him ... The virtual sovereignty fell to him as abdicated by the neglect or powerlessness of its rightful owners”. It is to be hoped that the reader will bear in mind the reflections of this paragraph on Pope and Lombard when the efforts of the popes to stave off Lombard domination by the sword of the Frank come to be told.




The Lombard question has shown us Gregory in contact with the emperor at Constantinople. Elaborating the relations between them will only serve to show that the contact referred to was quite typical of their mutual dealings, which brought little else to Gregory but vexation of spirit. However, just as in the matter of making peace with the Lombards, his diplomatic caution and prudence, joined to a quiet firmness and pertinacity, generally enabled him in the end to get his own way in the questions in which their views differed.

In theory, at least, after their conversion to Christianity, the Roman emperors, renouncing the title of Pontifex Maximus, gave up all claims to interfere in matters of the soul and conscience. These matters were to be left to the decision of God’s representatives on earth, the bishops. In practice, however, like all other absolute monarchs since, masters of men’s bodies, they could not refrain from looking on themselves as masters of their souls too. And by their edicts they were ever placing themselves in opposition to that fundamental doctrine of Revelation (whether it be question of the Old or New Testament) that there are things of Cesar’s indeed which must be rendered to him, but that there are also things of God which have to be rendered to Him. Christians, with St. Paul, honor the King, but they fear God. And because they would not have their consciences regulated for them by Roman emperors, Christians had in the days of persecution offered their lives to the executioner in thousands and tens of thousands. They were often called upon to do the same, when the Roman emperors, who called themselves Christians, following in the footsteps of their pagan predecessors, issued dogmatic edicts. But with the empire proclaimed Christian, and with the principles of Christianity recognized by the State, the Christian Roman emperors were not permitted to act with the same impunity as their pagan predecessors. Their interference in matters of religion was resisted in the name of a Higher Power. And there was always one voice at least raised to remind them of their duty as Christians. That monitor was the Bishop of Rome. And so some hundred years before Gregory took up the same role, Gelasius plainly told (494) the dogmatizing emperor Anastasius: “On two hinges turns the ruling of men. One of these is the holy authority of the priesthood, the other the secular power of princes ... In questions of doctrine the emperor is dependent on the decision of the Church, and has no right to force the faithful to follow his opinions”.

What, then, had been the mind of the children of God in the city of God from the very beginning of the human race was, of course, the mind of Gregory. And he frequently gave that mind a voice. In his own domain or province Caesar must be obeyed. But if he steps outside it, he must be resisted; for decrees of emperors against the laws and canons of the Church are vain.

Men’s best interests are no doubt best served when the Church and Caesar work in harmony, just as in each man it is best when nature and grace work together. Where, however, there is friction, it is essential for man’s happiness that recalcitrant nature should be subdued by grace. In the same way, where the State, acting outside its legitimate sphere, comes into adverse contact with the Church, the former must give place. And that the two should come into collision from time to time is only in accordance with the nature of things. For even given the best of intentions on the part of the representatives of both Church and State, it is only natural that they should sometimes disagree as to what in any given case were their particular rights. But just as in man himself the struggle between nature and grace is greater at one time than another, so the struggle between Church and State has varied at different periods. During the reign of Maurice it cannot be said to have been at all acute.

Gregory’s great desire was to have the One Church and the One Empire in harmony for man’s spiritual and temporal welfare. And so in the letter soon to be discussed, and to which all this argument is a sort of introduction, Gregory tells Maurice: “Power over men has been given by God to the Piety of my Lords, that those who aspire after good may be helped, that the way to heaven may become more easy to find, (in a word) that this world’s kingdom may serve that of the next”. To the emperor’s representative, the exarch Callinicus, he wrote (May 599) in the same strain: “You will the more readily be victorious over your foes, if you bring back under the yoke of the true God those whom you know to be His enemies, and in proportion as you attend with a sincere and earnest will to the interests of God, in that proportion will you forward your own interests among men”.

With such convictions, it will not surprise anyone that when Maurice took to legislating as to what men should do or what they should not do in working out their salvation, if not the servile patriarch of Constantinople, at least Gregory should offer resistance to him. The more so that it was the Pope’s noble contention that “the emperor of the Romans was the lord of free men”.

In the course of the year 592 the emperor issued a decree that no one who was actually engaged in any public office should embrace the ecclesiastical state, i.e. etc., join the ranks of the secular clergy; and he made it illegal for such a one or for a soldier to enter a monastery until the period of his service was over. With his wars in Europe against the Avars and Slavs, and in Asia against the Persians, and with his greed for gold, Maurice was in want of all the soldiers and money he could get. Hence he did not wish that his soldiers should become monks, and still less that the curialeswho were responsible for the revenue in the various provinces, should shirk their onerous duties. The first part of the law, which only reaffirmed a decree of Constantine, and which had been approved by some of his predecessors, Gregory had no difficulty in tolerating himself. For he argued that it was only too likely that those civil servants who wanted to became secular priests really only wanted to change one occupation in the busy world for another which would be less burdensome to their private fortunes. But because he believed that some men could only save their souls if “they sold all they had and followed Jesus” by that road, he felt it was his duty to oppose the latter portion of the decree, as an undue interference with the liberty which was each man’s right. He was unwell when the ordinance reached him. But a protest was needed, and as soon as he was able he indited a letter to the emperor, beginning with the words : “He is criminal in the sight of Almighty God, who is not straightforward in all His dealings with the most serene Lords”. Hence he could not give his sanction to that part of the law which prohibited civil servants and soldiers entering a monastery. He pointed out that the monastery which received such persons and their effects would be responsible for their debts. “I am in dread of this constitution because by it the way to heaven is barred to many ... Many can lead a good life in the world, but many cannot be saved unless they leave all things. Although I am but dust before my Lords, I cannot keep silence before them, because I think this decree is against God, the Author of all things. Power over all men has been given from heaven to the piety of my Lords to help the good towards heaven. And now a decree has been made that a man cannot become a soldier of Jesus Christ unless he has completed his term of earthly military service or become disabled. Lo! thus to thee, through me the lowest of His and thy servants, Christ makes answer saying, ‘From a notary I made thee Captain of the Guard; from Captain of the Guard, Caesar; from Caesar, Emperor, and not only that, but father of Emperors yet to be. I have committed My priests to thy keeping, and wouldst thou withdraw thy soldiers from My service?’ Most pious Lord! I pray thee answer thy servant. What reply wilt thou make to thy Lord, when He comes and says these things to thee at the judgment?

“But perhaps you think that there is no such thing as the honest conversion of a soldier to the monastic life. I, your unworthy servant, know how many converted soldiers in my days have wrought miracles in the monasteries which they have entered. But by this law not even one such soldier is to be allowed the privilege of conversion.

“Let my Lord inquire who first issued such a law (the allusion is to Julian, the Apostate), and let him then more carefully consider if this one ought to be made. Let him consider this also, that he is hereby forbidding men to renounce the world at the very time that the world’s own end is drawing near ... May your piety mitigate the severity of this law ... To obey you, I have sent the law all over the world, and, on the other hand, because the law is not in accordance with the interests of God, I send you this letter”.

Gregory, however, did not send it direct to Maurice. He enclosed it in one to his friend, the physician Theodore, begging him to present it to the emperor on some favorable occasion. The precise effect of this spirited protest is not known, but it was not without fruit. For in a letter addressed to the various metropolitans, Eusebius of Thessalonica, etc. (November 597), in which he again sends them notice of the law, Gregory bids them not to allow civil servants to enter monasteries till they have cleared themselves of their obligations to the state, nor soldiers till after a three years’ probation. He concludes by assuring them that such a course has received the emperor’s approval. Whilst negotiations with the imperial court on this subject were proceeding, Gregory caused a similar regulation to be issued with regard to the slaves of the Church who wished to become monks i.e., they were to be well tried in the lay dress. No doubt this decree served as the basis on which Gregory came to terms with the emperor on the matter.




Another affair which brought the Pope more or less in opposition with the emperor was the case of Maximus of Salona, a case which dragged on for six years (593­599). If Maurice did not overtly favor Maximus, nay, if in words he supported Gregory, he not only allowed himself to intercede for Maximus, but certainly did nothing to check the open and violent advocacy of the claims of the usurper by his officials.

Natalis, Bishop of Salona, near Spalatro, the capital city of Dalmatia, had given both Gregory and his predecessor some trouble on account of the laxity of his life in the matter of the pleasures of the table, and on account of harsh treatment of his archdeacon, Honoratus, who had opposed his excesses. After having had to threaten (592) to deprive Natalis of the use of the pallium and of Holy Communion, Gregory had the happiness of seeing him return to his duty. On the death of Natalis, he wrote (March 593) to the subdeacon Antonius, the manager of the patrimony of the Roman Church in Dalmatia, bidding him to see to the prompt and canonical election of a successor to Natalis, and to the sending of the decree of election to him (Gregory), that, as in past times, the elect might be consecrated with his consent. Much to the Pope’s pleasure, who respected the man for his virtue, the clergy elected the above-mentioned archdeacon Honoratus. But the bishops of Dalmatia, worldly-minded men, objected to the choice of Honoratus. Their conduct brought down upon them a sharp letter from the Pope, who “by the authority of Blessed Peter”, forbade them “to impose their hands” on anyone for the vacant bishopric without his permission. However, if Honoratus were proved to be unworthy of the dignity, they might consecrate anyone upon whom the unanimous free choice of all might fall, with the exception of Maximus, of whom he has had a very sinister account (November 593).

The next thing that Gregory heard was that there had been a great commotion in Salona. Word was brought to him that many of the supporters of Honoratus had been treated with the greatest cruelty; that his rector had barely escaped with his life, and that with the aid of the bought troops of the exarch Romanus and under cover of a filched or forged mandate of the emperor, no other than Maximus had been consecrated. Though conscious that Maximus dared not have defied him had he not felt that he had material force at his back, still Gregory would not allow the fear of this world to interfere with his duty. He at once (April 594) wrote to Maximus, the presumptuous intruder into the See of Salona. Gregory let him know that he was convinced that the mandate (jussio) he (Maximus) had produced was not genuine, because he knew that it was the intention of the emperor not to meddle with the causes of bishops, and concluded by forbidding him, and those who had consecrated him, to perform any episcopal function or to celebrate Mass until he had been assured by letters from the emperor or his own apocrisiarius that he (Maximus) had procured a real jussio from the emperor. “And if you dare to act against this injunction, anathema to you from God and St. Peter, so that the sight of the punishment which has been meted out to you may serve as an example to the whole Catholic Church”. Unread, Maximus had this letter publicly torn up. He then devoted himself to trying to obtain the countenance of the emperor and to blacken the character of the Pope. Gregory thereupon wrote to his apocrisiarius Sabinian to meet the charges of Maximus, making it quite plain to the deacon that he was determined not to put up with the bishop’s insolence. “I am prepared to suffer death rather than allow the Church of Blessed Peter to be degraded in any way in my time. You know my disposition. I bear for a long time. But when once I have made up my mind to bear no longer, I cheerfully face every difficulty”.

Gregory had need of all his firmness. Maximus so far prevailed upon the emperor that the latter expressed a wish that the Pope should recognize him as bishop, and receive him with honor when he came to Rome. In writing to the empress (June 1, 595) Gregory declared he would fall in with the emperor’s wishes to the extent of passing over the fact of the ordination of Maximus without his consent. He could not, however, leave unexamined the charges brought against him of being elected by simony and of having said Mass after he had been excommunicated; nor was it right that, with such charges urged against him, and unanswered, he should be received with honor. “If the causes of bishops who are entrusted to me are through the patronage of others settled by our most pious Lords, what is left for unfortunate me to do in this See? I assign to my sins that my bishops take no heed of me, and against my authority betake themselves to secular judges ... I will await his coming (to Rome) for a brief space, but if he puts it off long, I will not put off striking, him with canonical punishment”.

Peremptorily summoned to come to Rome within thirty-days, Maximus failed to put in an appearance; and when some of the clergy, true at length to the call of duty, fell away from him, he took to persecuting them. At last, however, whether because he found it hard to go on “kicking against the goad”, or because, touched by grace and the forbearance of Gregory, he was really moved to penitence, Maximus began to make serious efforts to get reconciled to the Pope. He succeeded in inducing the exarch Callinicus, who was on good terms with the Pope, to use his influence with him to allow his case to be tried at Ravenna. Overcome by the exarch’s importunity, as he says himself, Gregory at length consented; and commissioned the archbishop of Ravenna, Marinianus, to examine whether the election of Maximus was simoniacal, and whether he was aware that he was excommunicated when he said Mass. And in case Maximus regarded Marinianus as prejudiced against him, the Pope named Constantius of Milan as joint judge.

A contemporary document, inserted in Gregory’s register, tells us how Maximus came to Ravenna, and, casting himself on the ground before all the people, cried out: “I have sinned against God and the Most Blessed Pope, Gregory”. In this position he remained for three hours; and then before the tomb of St. Apollinaris he swore that he had not been guilty of simony or breach of his vow of chastity. After the Pope had received full information as to the satisfaction which Maximus had offered, moved to compassion, he sent him the pallium in token of reconciliation (599). Next year Gregory is sympathizing with Maximus on the incursions of the Slavs as though nothing had happened between them. His firmness and kindness had overcome the powers of this world and saved a soul.




Of all Gregory’s dealings with the Eastern emperors, the one most discussed is his attitude towards the usurper Phocas. Most non-Catholic and some Catholic writers seem to have little hesitation in condemning the Pope of a display of revengeful cruelty in the congratulatory letters he wrote to Phocas and his empress on the occasion of the former’s seizure of the imperial throne and his subsequent murder of Maurice and his family.

But to one who has followed the career of the saint up to this epoch, and who has noted his invariable extreme charity when dealing with those who have opposed him, but who is himself previously acquainted with the cruelty of Phocas to Maurice, these letters, especially on first reading, bring such a shock that an explanation is instinctively looked for. The question at once arises to the mind of such a reader—Can Gregory have known all the circumstances attending the usurpation of Phocas when he wrote these letters? And to one who believes in the ‘law of continuity’, to anyone who holds that a good man does not suddenly become bad, or a kind and forgiving man harsh and revengeful, the answer No will come at once. Mature reflection, too, and study of the affair will, we venture to think, compel the endorsement of the spon­taneous negative. A preliminary examination of the facts of the case certainly proves that there is no evidence that Gregory was assuredly in possession of the knowledge of the ‘ins and outs’ of the affair. Nay, it does more, it furnishes us with solid grounds for believing that he was utterly ignorant of the details of the revolution when in the month of May 603 he penned the documents in question.

First for the facts of the case. As his reign progressed, the Emperor Maurice stained an otherwise fairly estimable character by avarice. This vice led him to try to shear a rather dangerous ram, the army. The result was that a mutiny, by no means the first in his reign, broke out among the soldiers. Phocas, a simple centurion, was proclaimed emperor, and was duly crowned by the patriarch Cyriacus (November 23, 602). One of his first acts, on being told by one of the factions in the city, “Begone! Reflect how matters stand! Maurice still lives!” was to cause Maurice and his sons to be put to death (November 27).

Then on April 25th (603) there came to Rome the icona (images) of the Emperor Phocas and his wife Leontia. They were received with the (customary) acclamations in the basilica Julii of the Lateran (palace) by all the clergy and senate: “Graciously hear us, O Christ! Long life to the emperor and empress Phocas and Leontia!” Then the most blessed and apostolic Lord Pope, Gregory, ordered the images to be placed (as usual) in the oratory of S. Cesarius in the palace (on the Palatine)”. To this official account, prefixed to the thirteenth book of Gregory’s letters, John the Deacon adds that favorable letters from both the new emperor and empress were also brought for the Pope along with the images. To these friendly advances Gregory sent three letters in answer, two to Phocas himself (one certainly in the month of May), and one to Leontia. The first letter to Phocas is one of congratulation on his accession, and runs thus: “Glory be to God in the Highest, who, as it is written, ‘changeth times and taketh away kingdoms’ (Dan. II, 21); and who maketh known to all what He hath deigned to say by His prophet: ‘The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and He will give it to whomsoever it shall please Him’ (ib. IV. 14). In the incomprehensible dispensation of Almighty God, His methods of governing our lives vary. Sometimes when the sins of many must be punished, a man is raised up by whose severity the necks of those subject to him are oppressed by the yoke of tribulation, which in our own sad case we have long experienced. Sometimes, however, when the God of mercy has decreed to comfort with His own consolation the hearts of the sorrowing multitude, He raises to the supreme power one through whose merciful disposition He pours out upon all the grace of His own blessed happiness. We believe that we shall be speedily refreshed with this happiness in abundance, we who rejoice that the benignity of your piety has reached the summit of imperial greatness. ‘Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad’ (Ps. xcv. 2), and may the whole republic, till now in grievous affliction, rejoice at your kindly deeds. May the haughty minds of our enemies be subdued beneath the yoke of your power. And (on the other hand) may the broken and depressed spirits of your subjects be encouraged by your pity. May the power of heaven's grace make you terrible to your enemies, and may paternal affection make you beneficent to your subjects. May the whole republic, dislocated under the pretext of law, which is destroying peace, have rest in your most prosperous times. May exactions under the cover of sham wills and donations have an end. May each one enter into the secure possession of his own, so that he may joyfully hold without fear what he has acquired without fraud. Under your paternal rule may each one’s liberty be renewed. For there is this difference between the kings of the nations and the emperors of the republic, viz., that the kings of the nations are the lords of slaves, but the emperors of the republic are the rulers of freemen. But we can say all this better by prayer than by expressing hopes. May Almighty God in all your thoughts and deeds hold the heart of your piety in the hand of His grace, and may the Holy Ghost dwelling in your breast mercifully guide all that has to be done with justice and pity, so that from this earthly kingdom your clemency may after many years reach the kingdom of Heaven”.

The second letter to Phocas, the new emperor, is taken up with the business of sending a papal apocrisiarius to Con­stantinople. Phocas in his favorable letters had evidently expressed his regret that he had not found, on his accession, a representative of the Pope in the imperial city. Gregory replied that the reason of it was that, owing to the unsettled and difficult nature of the times, the Roman ecclesiastics looked forward with dread to being sent to reside in the imperial palace, and he had not been willing to put pressure upon them. However, after it had become known that he (Phocas) had mounted the imperial throne, there had been a change of feeling, and he had ordained deacon the bearer of these presents (Boniface), for the purpose of sending him to Constantinople.

The letter to Leontia is practically the same in sentiment and expression as the first to Phocas. Gregory would have her show herself another Pulcheria, who was herself a new Helena, and love the church of St. Peter. These last two letters are set down in the register as belonging to the month of July 603. But as it cannot be doubted that the letter to Leontia would be written and dispatched at the same time as the letter to her husband, it may be safely concluded that they also were written in May; but, as not unfrequently happened, were not entered into the register till later. Boniface, too, would doubtless accompany the imperial envoys on their return journey.

Still keeping to the domain of facts, it is certain that in the days of Gregory, and long after, news often travelled very slowly. This, too, not only during the winter, when there was no communication by sea, but even during the rest of the year,—what with the lack of letter carriers, of which Gregory often complains, the incursions of barbarians, etc. If the statement of Agnellus of Ravenna, that it took more than three months to go to Constantinople and back from Ravenna, is to be understood as applying generally to all seasons of the year, it will help one to understand more definitely how slowly news then travelled. Further, in connection with the overland route between Italy and Constantinople, we have the positive assurance of Priscus, in the fourth volume of Muller's Fragmenta Hist. Graec., that for a fast traveler it took no less than thirteen days to get from Constantinople only as far as Sardica. And in the present case it is allowed that as late as February 603, when Gregory addressed a letter to his friend Rusticiana at Constantinople, he was still ignorant there had been any change in the government. Hence it must be regarded as highly probable that the first full account he had received of the downfall of Maurice, and the elevation of Phocas, was from the ambassadors of the latter. And we may be sure that their story would not put their master’s share in the revolution in any but a more or less innocent light. This they could the more easily do, because, as Gregory had no apocrisiarius at Constantinople, he could not check their story with authentic information received from another reliable source. Finally a word or two must be said about the personal relations between Gregory and Maurice. At first they were very cordial. As apocrisiarius, Gregory had stood godfather to Maurice’s son, Theodosius (585). The conduct of Maurice, however, whether in church or state, could not fail, as time went on, to cause the intercourse between them to become less friendly. His decree with regard to soldiers not entering monasteries showed that Maurice was as ready to interfere in ecclesiastical matters as any other Roman emperor. And to this conclu­sion from that decree Domitian, the metropolitan of Armenia, and a respected relative of the emperor, drew Gregory’s attention. In writing back to him Gregory, quoting a proverb, observed; “With regard to Maurice you say well that in his (recent) action, I should judge of his stature by his shadow, i.e., in the lesser things that he does I should see indications of greater things”. More momentous interference was not long in coming. As we shall see, Maurice supported the ambition of his patriarch John, the Faster, when he assumed the title of ecumenical patriarch. The emperor’s action in State affairs, too, was as distasteful to Gregory as his policy in Church matters. He could not keep patient under the irritating line of conduct which Maurice suffered Romanus to pursue in his dealings with the Lombards, and his heart was wrung, as we have seen, with the tales of bitter oppression of the provincials which reached him from all sides, and which Maurice not only allowed to go unpunished, but to a certain extent imitated himself. However, the Pope and emperor never openly quarreled. The emperor sends the Pope money for the poor, and the Pope insists on prayer for the imperial family.

After this brief statement of the facts of the case, it may be asked what sort of a letter should we naturally expect a Pope to write on hearing no more than that an emperor, who had once been his friend, but who had by ways direct and indirect caused him much annoyance and trouble, had been deposed by the army for avaricious conduct, and that he had been replaced by one who was an utter stranger to the Pope? He would doubtless write as diplomatic a letter as he could, saying as little as possible in condemnation of the late emperor or in praise of his successor. He might further, while carefully refraining from uselessly offending the sovereign now in power, strive to teach him his duty by expressing wishes as to what he would like to see done better in the future. Now such exactly are the letters of Gregory to Phocas. He only indirectly refers to Maurice, observing, what is undoubtedly certain, that through him he has been under the yoke of tribulation. In one short sentence only does he congratulate Phocas on his accession. But not one word does he say in his praise. For if he use the terms “your piety”, etc., of Phocas, everybody knows that, in the high-flown mode of address then in vogue at the court of Constantinople, such titles were the official due of the emperors, just as “your glory” was the right of a magister militumIn a word, the letters to Phocas are one long wish, and to this attention has been directed in the letter cited above by the use of italics to show where in the original a wish is expressed by the use of the subjunctive mood. In fine, had Gregory written the letters in question with full knowledge of all that had been done by Phocas, it would still, it would seem, be certain that it would be altogether incorrect to say that he indulged in either “virulent abuse” or “fulsome flattery”. The remarks of John the Deacon on these letters, though not altogether on the right lines, for Gregory did not praise Phocas, are interesting as bringing out the idea of the Pope with regard to the style of expression he adopted in many of his letters. “By these praises Gregory either so soothed the new rulers that, hearing what they ought to be, they might become milder than Maurice had been, whose disorders they knew had upset the times; or because he thought they would not become tyrants since he saw them so devoted to himself and the Church. For as he would freely condemn the vices of any, and would never permit anyone to act against the canons and ancient customs, so he would not altogether deny to anyone what was of custom”. As Gregory died well within the year after the dispatch of these letters, and as no more of his letters to Phocas are known, there is no means of deciding as to what was his opinion of Phocas when the truth about his character began gradually to come to his knowledge.

But it was not only the civil powers at Constantinople Gregory which gave Gregory trouble. He had also to come into title of adverse contact with its spiritual ruler, with its patriarch. This was in connection with the high-sounding title of ecumenical patriarch assumed by the patriarch John, the Faster. It is important that a correct idea of this controversy should be formed, as all manner of false conclusions have been drawn from an erroneous view of it.




Before, however, the details of the controversy are narrated, the position of Gregory with regard to that of the four other patriarchs and the other bishops of the Christian world should be put in a clear light. Into the question as to the origin of the papal primacy, its duration and title deeds, so to speak, it is no part of the biographer of Gregory to enter. To elucidate the point in hand, it will be enough to state that the popes were unquestionably the rulers of the Universal Church, at least, when the seat of empire was transferred by Constantine from Old Rome, as it then came to be called, by the Tiber, to New Rome, by the Bosphorus—that is to say, before there was even a bishop of Constantinople, much less a great patriarch. When Byzantium was transformed into New Rome and renamed Constantinople, to use the words of a non-Catholic writer, “Ecclesiastically Old Rome maintained the primacy. It was more apparently to have been called the city of St. Peter, than to have been the city of the Caesars”. Certainly Gregory maintained that he was the head and ruler of the whole Catholic Church, and so he was regarded by the whole Catholic world, whether in East or West, whether by clergy or by laity. Hence Gregory reminds John, the Faster, of the time when he (the Pope) was called upon to undertake government of the Church; or, as he elsewhere expresses it, when he took upon himself the cultivation of the Lord’s land. To him, therefore, the Apostolic See is the “head of the faith”, while the other churches are its members, or it is simply “the head of all the Churches”. And it is so, because its ruler “holds the place of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles”. Consequently he who does not obey the Pope's injunctions “is separated from the peace of Blessed Peter”. The decrees of councils have binding force only if they receive the assent of the Apostolic See. So that if a body of bishops in synod are subject to the See of Rome, still more so individual bishops. “If there be a question of fault in a bishop”, i.e. if there be a matter calling for the exercise of jurisdiction, “I know not what bishop is not subject to the Apostolic See”. And this applied in the mind of the Pope not only to the rank and file, as it were, among the bishops, but to their superiors the patriarchs. The dependence of all the four patriarchs (viz. Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem) is touched on in one letter; and in another that of the patriarch of Constantinople in particular. “As regards what is said of the Church of Constantinople, who doubts that it is subject to the Apostolic See?”—asks Gregory in a letter to John, Bishop of Syracuse. It is to be observed that, throughout, Gregory attributes the pre-eminence of his See, of the Roman Church, not to any temporal cause, as, for instance, because Rome used to be the “mistress of the world”, but solely to the will of God.

And this position which Gregory claims for himself and his See was acknowledged to be his by the whole Christian world in his time both in theory and practice, both in words and in deeds, and by clergy and laity alike. Eulogius, patriarch of Alexandria, declared that Peter still occupied his chair in the person of his successors, and John of Ravenna would not dare to oppose that “most holy See which gives laws to the Universal Church”. The dependence of the Church of Constantinople, in particular, was assiduously professed by both the Emperor Maurice and the patriarch Cyriacus. What was “professed” by Maurice had been the subject of a decree of the Emperor Justinian, and was to be of another by the Emperor Phocas. And what was equally professed by Cyriacus had been acknowledged in practice by his predecessor John the Faster himself, as the appeals from John to the Pope (to be discussed hereafter) show. As an evidence of the feeling of the laity, even in the East, with regard to the authoritative position of the bishop of Rome in matters of religion, a fact (not often quoted) which occurred in the early years of the same half of the century in which Gregory was born may be quoted. It is recorded by John of Antioch, who is supposed to be the same writer as John Malalas, and to have lived about AD 700, in one of the fragments of his history which have been preserved. The ambition of a commander and the discontent brought about by the injudicious treatment of a large number of soldiers on the part of the Emperor Anastasius I, as well as the latter’s monophysitic beliefs, caused a rebellion. In 514, 50,000 men marched from Moesia on Constantinople. Anastasius only saved his position by promising the malcontents that they should have their dues, and that the Church of Old Rome should be permitted to settle the religious matters in dispute.

But while bent on asserting his position in the Church, Gregory made it plain that it was the authority of a father he wished to exercise and not that of a tyrant. He called himself and proved himself “Servant of the Servants of God”, and gave it as a rule to his friend the subdeacon Peter, the rector of the papal patrimony in Sicily, that “the more reverence is shown to the apostolic See by the other churches, the more solicitous does it become it to be in watching over them”. To the Bishop of Carthage he wrote: “As I defend my own rights, so am I careful to preserve to the different churches their rights”.

Such being Gregory’s position in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and such his views on that position, it was only natural, nay, it was only right and proper, that he should resist any attempted encroachment on it. And it was only to be expected that he should watch with the greatest jealousy any move in that direction made at Constantinople. It was matter of history that the bishop of Constantinople had at first been merely a suffragan of the metropolitan of Heraclea. Gregory saw him a patriarch, and had himself practically acknowledged him to rank before the other patriarchs. Knowing, as he had good reason to, the tendencies of the emperors of Constantinople to interfere in matters of religion, the Pope understood too that any increase in power and influence required by the patriarch of Constantinople meant a further step forward in the enslavement of the Church by the State. For the patriarchs of Constantinople were mere creatures, mere tools of their emperors.

Accordingly when Gregory found that John the Faster was bent on retaining his hold of a comparatively new title, that of' Ecumenical bishop or patriarch, he determined to oppose its assumption with all his power. As far as the patriarchs of Constantinople were concerned the title was, as has been said, comparatively new. It seems to have been given to them for the first time by the Emperor Justinian, when in an edict he styled Epiphanius “ecumenical patriarch”.

But, as Hartmann, in a note to one of Gregory’s letters on this subject, observes, the title of universal or ecumenical had been already given to the popes Hormisdas, Agapetus and Boniface II, by the clergy of the East, though the popes had never used it themselves. And indeed there was a sense in which the title could be applied to the popes and to the popes only, and it was the signification given to it when it was later on assumed by them, or rather when they allowed it to be given them. Presuming the title to designate the “bishop of bishops” or “the overseer of all the bishops of the Christian world”, it then belonged to the bishop of Rome and to him alone. If it be used of a partial jurisdiction, to signify that one has ecclesiastical control over a part of the Christian world, then the title of ecumenical could be bestowed on any bishop, and especially on any metropolitan. And at least later on, and when the protests of the popes had made an impression, it was in that sense that the Greeks maintained that the title was used by them. In the preface to his translation of the Acts of the 7th General Council (the second of Nice, 787), which he dedicated to John VIII, that most remarkable of ninth-century ecclesiastics, Anastasius, the librarian, who, according to many, was both an antipope and the friend of popes, a man of learning and a man of action, assures us that when at Constantinople he took the Greeks to task for their use of the title, they replied: “That they did not call their patriarch ecumenical (which many have interpreted, universal) because he held the primacy of the whole world, but because he ruled a certain portion of the world inhabited by Christians. For”, continues Anastasius, “the Greek work oikomene may mean in Latin not merely the world, from the universality of which the word comes to mean universal, but also a habitation, or a habitable place”. Finally the title of ecumenical or universal bishop may be understood in a sense in which it would be wrong, according to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, to apply it even to the Pope. It may mean that the ecumenical bishop is the sole bishop of the world, that the world is his diocese, and that others who may bear the name of bishops are merely his agents and have no rights of their own. Whereas it is, of course, Catholic doctrine that a Catholic bishop exercises the ordinary acts of his office by virtue of his own powers. It was in this last sense that Gregory chose to understand the meaning of the title. Hence his deduction: “If there be one universal bishop, then you (the various metropolitans to whom the letter was addressed) are not bishops”.

In either of the more obvious significations of the title, ecumenical, viz. the first and last, it is plain that the patriarch of Constantinople could have no lawful claim to it. And in attaching the meaning he did to it, Gregory showed how far it was capable of being pushed by ambitious men. He was therefore bound to oppose its assumption as well to protect his own position, which under the aegis of such a title could be the better assailed, as to restrain the unbridled ambition of the patriarchs of Constantinople. The selection of a title capable of such indefinite extension was certainly not made at random. Without doubt the aims of the patriarchs of Constantinople were to be furthered under its cover. What those aims were may be preferably stated in the words of a non-Catholic writer: “It was the aim of the patriarchs of Constantinople to hold the same position in Eastern Christendom that the bishop of Rome was acknowledged to hold in Universal Christendom. In order to accomplish this aim they had two problems to solve. One problem was to reduce the large independent Sees of the East—Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem—under the jurisdiction of Byzantium; the other problem was to prevent the interference of the Pope in the affairs of the East, and thereby induce him to acknowledge the patriarch of Constantinople as a pontiff of ecumenical position like his own. The first of these objects was directly aimed at, as we are expressly told, in the persecutions organized by John of Sirimis (patriarch of Constantinople under Justin II); the second was essayed by John, the Faster, who assumed the title of Ecumenical bishop. So Mr. Bury, in his useful and most scholarly work, often already cited.

To turn to the historical details of the controversy, at a council held in 588 at Constantinople, in connection with another matter, John the Faster assumed the title of Universal. Pope Pelagius II, however, annulled the acts of the synod and forbade his apocrisiarius to com­municate in sacris with John. When Gregory succeeded Pelagius, he tried to induce John to renounce the title by representations made to him through his apocrisiarius. Gregory had become acquainted with John when he had himself been an apocrisiarius, and the austerities of the man had won Gregory’s respect for him. But when he found that, like the Pharisee of old, John could fast, give alms and pray long prayers, and yet be full of pride and “love ... the first chair in the synagogue” (St. Matt. c. XXIII), he saw it was necessary to denounce him. Even in a letter to the Pope concerning an appeal to him from a priest under the jurisdiction of Constanti­nople, John “styled himself universal Patriarch almost in every line”. Gregory now took up the matter in earnest. Sabinian was instructed not to communicate with John in sacris, unless he renounced the title; and in the first half of the year 595, in June, or from January to June, he dispatched letters on the subject to the emperor and empress, to the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria, to John himself, and to the apocrisiarius Sabinian. The letter to the emperor is the first that we meet with in the register, is perhaps the most important of them, and may be given at greater length as a sample of the others. It is a letter at once respectful but bold, argumentative and eloquent. It opens with praise for the emperor, who, among his other cares, has found time to labor to promote sacerdotal harmony, inasmuch as he realized that “the peace of the empire was bound up with the peace of the universal church. For what human power, my most serene lord, or what stout arm would dare to raise its impious hands against your most Christian empire, if, with one accord, both by their prayers and by a good life, the priests were to invoke the Redeemer for you? Or what barbaric sword would so cruelly smite the faithful, if the lives of us who are called bishops, but are not, were not loaded with evil deeds? But when we leave what is really ours and seek after what is not ours, we make our sins help the swords of the barbarians. Our faults sharpen the weapons of the foe and depress the power of the empire. For what excuse shall we make .... we who by our deeds teach evil and only by words inculcate what is good? Our flesh is worn away with our fastings but our minds are puffed up with pride. Our body is covered with worthless raiment, but in conceit of heart we surpass those clad in purple. We lie on ashes, and yearn for what is above us. Teachers of humility, but leaders of pride, we hide the teeth of a wolf behind the face of a sheep. With all this we may indeed impose upon men, but we are still known to God”. If he would be successful in his wars, Maurice is urged to apply a remedy to this case and thus bring peace into the Church, which is being disturbed by the introduction of pompous and inflated titles. “To all who know the Gospel it is clear that by the words of Our Lord the care of the whole Church was committed to Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. ... Yet he was not the universal Apostle. But that most holy man, my fellow-bishop John, would be called universal bishop ... 0 tempera! 0 mores!”

“Europe is in the hands of the barbarian .... and yet priests who ought to be lying weeping in ashes on the ground hunt after titles of vanity and take delight in new and impious names”.

All this is, of course, aimed at John, the Faster.

After pointing out that many of the patriarchs of Constantinople had not only been heretics, but even heresiarchs (e.g. Nestorius and Macedonius), Gregory infers: “If anyone in that Church arrogates to himself that title, then the whole Church falls with the fall of the one who has the name of universal”.

The popes have never assumed this title, though it has been given them, “lest all the bishops be deprived of their due meed of honor whilst some special honor be conceded to one”.

It is for the emperor to curb one who contemns the canons, and by this title even dims the honor due to himself. “I am the servant of all bishops as long as they live like bishops. But he who proudly raises himself up against Almighty God and the decrees of the Fathers, will, I trust to God, never be able to bend me, no, not even with the sword”.

In a letter to the empress, very similar in line of thought to the above, Gregory thanks her for the part she has taken “in the cause of Blessed Peter against the proudly humble”. After speaking of the twenty-seven years of trouble the Church has experienced at the hands of the Lombards (568-595), he says: “And still this Church (of Rome), which at one and the same time for the clergy, for monasteries, for the poor, for the people, and, moreover, for the Lombards, is ceaselessly spending so much money, is moreover burdened with the trouble of all the churches which are grievously afflicted by this pride of one man, although they do not venture to speak out openly on the matter”.

The patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch are exhorted not to concede the obnoxious title, as, if one man be called Universal patriarch, the rights of the other patriarchs are outraged. If John does not abate his pride, the Pope will have to seriously consider what steps must be taken against him.

Writing to John, in the same tone of authority in which he wrote to other Eastern patriarchs, in order to induce him to lay aside his usurped title, Gregory expresses his astonishment that one who had professed himself unworthy to be called a bishop at all should now despise his brethren and aspire to be called sole bishop. The whole letter to John is an exhortation to humility. “My dearest brother, love humility with all your heart, humility by which harmony among all the brethren and unity in the whole Church can be preserved”. After a lengthy exhortation to this virtue, Gregory concludes: “If thy brother shall offend against thee, go and rebuke him between him and thee alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shall gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them, tell the Church. And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican (S. Matt, XVIII). I have endeavored with lowly words once and twice by my apocrisiarii to correct an offence against the whole church, and now by my own writing. Whatever humility would dictate to me to do, I have done. But if I am set at naught in my correction, I must employ the Church”.

In connection with the preceding letters, the Pope sent another to his apocrisiarius Sabinian, giving him instruction as to his conduct in the matter. To please the emperor he must hand the last-cited letter to the patriarch. If that should not prove effective, he (Gregory) would send another which would not be gratifying to the pride of the ecumenical patriarch. “But I hope to Almighty God that his hypocrisy will soon be brought to naught by the Supernal Majesty. I marvel, however, that he should have been able so to deceive you, dear friend, that you should allow our lord the emperor to be persuaded to write admonishing me to live in peace with the patriarch. If he would act justly, he should rather admonish him to give up that proud title, and then there would be peace between us at once. You little thought, I can see, how craftily this was managed by our aforesaid brother John. Evidently he did it to put me in this dilemma. Either I must listen to our lord the emperor, and so confirm the patriarch in his vanity, or not listen, and so rouse the imperial mind against me”.

“But we shall steer a straight course in this matter, fear­ing none save God Almighty. Wherefore, dear friend, tremble before no man; for the truth’s sake despise all you may see exalting themselves against the truth in this world; confide in the favor of Almighty God and the help of the Blessed Peter; remember the voice of truth, which says: 'Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world' (1 John IV. 4), and do with fullest authority, as from us, whatever has to be done in this affair”.

“For after we have found that we can in no way be defended (by the Greeks) from the swords of our enemies, after we have lost, for our devotion to the Republic, silver, gold, slaves and raiment, it is too disgraceful that we should, through them, lose our faith also. But to consent to that wicked word is nothing else than to lose our faith. Wherefore, as I have written to you in previous letters, you must never presume to communicate with him”.

Not long after the arrival of these letters in Constantinople, the Faster was called upon (September 2, 595) to give an account of his stewardship to the sovereign Master of us all. After the death of John, the emperor made every effort to allay the heat of the controversy, without, however, insisting on the surrender of the disputed title. He took a long time in nominating a suc­cessor to John, and when one was named it was a friend of Gregory, one whom he had known as apocrisiarius, and one whom he thought very suitable for the position. Maurice also urged the Pope to receive graciously the envoys (responsales) of Cyriacus, who were bringing to Rome the synodical letter of the new patriarch. He furthered endeavored to persuade the Pope that there was no cause for making trouble in a mere idle name, such as was “ecumenical”. This point was also put forward, possibly on the emperor’s initiative, by Anastasius of Antioch.

Though his heart was wounded “by the assumption of” the proud and profane title Gregory received the envoys and synodical letter of Cyriacus, because, as he said himself to the emperor, he knew what was due “to the unity of the faith and ecclesiastical harmony” (VII. 30), and that in itself, of course, the title did not necessarily imply any heresy. Nay, to promote good feeling he bestowed “more than the customary honor” on the envoys, and caused them to assist him when saying Mass. For there was no reason, he said, why the envoys from Constantinople should not assist him, who, by the mercy of God, had not fallen into any error of pride, though his own apocrisiarius was not to assist at Mass one who had either himself committed a fault of elation or had not corrected it when committed by others.

But while congratulating Cyriacus on his new dignity, Gregory bade him take away all occasion of scandal' and in replying to his synodical letter, plainly told him that he could only have true peace with him (the Pope) when he had given up “the pride of the profane name”. And both Anastasius of Antioch and the emperor were told plainly that the title was not a mere idle word but a dangerous novelty. “I would beg your Imperial piety to reflect that some idle (or frivolous) things are perfectly innocuous, but others highly injurious. Certainly when Antichrist shall come and shall call himself God, will not that be very silly, but yet very pernicious at the same time? If we merely look at the size of the word, it has but two syllables, but if we look at the (implied) weight of wickedness, there is a whole world of mischief. Hence I confidently assert that, whoever calls himself, or would be called by others, universal bishop, is, in his pride, a forerunner of Antichrist, because in his pride he sets himself above all others”.

Hoping that a mild answer would turn away wrath, Cyriacus wrote to the Pope and told him of his love for him. But Gregory promptly told him to show that love by taking away the cause of disagreement between them. As this was not done, Gregory could not be induced to allow his apocrisiarius to communicate with Cyriacus. And while he would not allow Eulogius of Antioch to give him the title, he forbade the metropolitans of Illyricum, Eusebius of Thessalonica, etc., who were subject to his jurisdiction as patriarch, when invited to a synod at Constantinople, to concede it to Cyriacus. For although it is true that “without the authority and consent of the apostolic See, whatever may be enacted there can have no force, still in God’s name I warn you not to allow assent (to the assumption of the title) to be wrung from you by persuasion, or by blandishment, by rewards or punishments”.

Though only a few months before he died Gregory once again exhorted Cyriacus to lay aside the obnoxious title (July 603), his tender words were powerless against the conceit of the puppet patriarch of Constantinople.

Whilst the brute force of Phocas was exerted during the pontificate of Boniface III, who had apparently been the bearer of the last-mentioned letter, the patriarchs of the imperial city dropped their “universal”. It was, however, resumed by them on the first opportunity. After that period, when the title was given to the popes, as it often was, especially by the Easterners, they ceased to protest against its application to themselves. Because in its most obvious and orthodox sense of overseer of all the bishops of the world, it really belonged to them. “To whom”, wrote Leo IX to the patriarch Michael Cerularius, “after Jesus Christ could this title be more suitably applied than to the successors of St. Peter?” However, as the same pontiff notes in the same passage, “it is certain that it has not been assumed, up to this, by any of his (St. Leo I) successors”.

Though the patriarchs of Constantinople thus assumed a title which, taken in most of its possible senses, was an attack on the Pope’s right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the whole Christian world, in the days of Gregory they had not, in either theory or practice, thrown off the spiritual submission due from them to the bishop of Rome. To cite an appeal case or two from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of Rome, will be to throw out this truth in bold relief. 

There appeared in Rome, about the same time (593), it would seem, a certain John, a priest of Chalcedon; and, from a monastery situated amid the mountain fastnesses of far Isauria, a monk named Athanasius, also a priest. Both assured the Pope that, despite their assertions to the contrary, they had been condemned of heresy by their patriarch, John the Faster. And with a severity as notoriously hard upon others as upon himself—an infallible proof that his sanctity was not real—John had even had the poor monk scourged in the church of St. Sophia. The two priests appealed to the Pope for justice. After several letters from him requiring that the particulars of these affairs should be sent to him, a letter came to Rome from Constantinople pretending ignorance of the whole matter. Though it bore the patriarch’s name, Gregory in his reply to it said that if it was in truth John’s letter, then, though so called, he (the Pope) was not really observant, as he had formed a very different opinion of John to what he found him in fact to be. If the patriarch was in truth ignorant of what had been done, how shameful that such things should happen at his door, and he not know! But if he really did know and said he did not, then it would be far better that food should go into his mouth, rather than untruth fall from it. Gregory, however, goes on to declare his belief that the letter was not written by the patriarch himself, but by a certain young man of the world, a favorite of John. For, as so often happens with men of weak character, the Faster had, it appears, fallen under the influence of a youthwho in the words of Gregory “neither feared God nor regarded man”. The Pope goes on to declare that his desire is to live at peace with all men, especially with John, “whom I truly love, if indeed you are still the man I once knew. For if you do not observe the canons, and are striving to overturn the decrees of the Fathers, I know not who you are”. Had he not had every reason to fear the evil influence exerted over John by the young man he had just spoken about, he (Gregory) would not have availed himself of the powers which the canons gave him, but would have sent back the appellants to John, Even as it is, John may either restore the two priests to their offices and leave them in peace, or he may himself try them again, if he carefully observe the canons. But if he will not do either of these things, he (Gregory), though not anxious to quarrel with the patriarch, will receive the appeal made to him.

Gregory concludes this strong letter of reprimand to John by severely animadverting on his treatment of the monk. “What the canons say of bishops who would win respect for themselves by the use of the scourge, your fraternity knows well. We have been made pastors, not persecutors. The great preacher (St. Paul) says: “Reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine” (2 Tim. IV. 2). It is a new and unheard-of style of preaching which would exact faith by the aid of the rod”. But with characteristic kindness he adds: “If you are not determined to quarrel with me, you will find him ready to go to all reasonable lengths”. The him was the apocrisiarius Sabinian. Gregory, however, made it very plain to his friend Narses at Constantinople that he was determined at all costs to make John do what was right and obey the decrees of the apostolic See, if need should arise.

Seeing that the Pope was not going to be trifled with, John duly dispatched to Rome—and this while the Universal controversy was well under way—deputies with the minutes of the proceedings taken against the two priests in the East. For some time “the swords of the barbarians” gave Gregory so much anxiety that he had no leisure to devote to examining into the charges. About a month, however, after he had thus given John notice of the cause which had delayed the investigation of the appeal, the Pope examined the case of John of Chalcedon in the synod of July 5, 595. John was accused of being a Marcianist, an accusation which, by the way, was brought against the Emperor Maurice at the time of his downfall. According to Simocatta, Maurice’s biographer, Marcianism was a farcical kind of heresy. On careful examination, the case against John broke down completely. The Faster’s deputies knew no more about what was understood by Marcianism than we do. Though apparently spitefully anxious to prove John a heretic, they were utterly unable to do so. Consequently, Gregory quashed the previous decision against him and “by our verdict declare him a Catholic, and free from every stain of heresy”. In informing the emperor and the Faster of his decision, Gregory begged them to receive John kindly. He was not molested.

The case of Athanasius dragged on longer. He was charged with having in his possession a book full of heretical propositions. This fact seems to have represented all that could be urged against the unfortunate priest. The examination of the suspected volume necessitated an inspection of the decrees of the council of Ephesus. Gregory accordingly wrote to his friend Count Narses to get him an old copy of the acts—an old one, because he suspects the latter ones. The Pope of course had copies of the acts of the council; but, under the circumstances, he wanted a copy such as was in circulation among the Greeks. “Though”, as he said, “the Roman codices are much more authentic than the Greek, because, if we lack your quickness, we have not your deceit”.

The volume was at length found to be heretical; but, as Athanasius averred, he had read it in all simplicity, and as he tendered the Pope an entirely orthodox profession of faith. Gregory, after forbidding him to read the book again, declared that he was a true Catholic and gave him full permission to return to his monastery and to his former position. A month or two later Cyriacus was duly informed by the Pope of the decision he had come to, both with regard to John and to Athanasius.

These two cases, if not very interesting in themselves, are, it must be repeated, very instructive, as they prove that the Patriarch of Constantinople, and, a fortiori, the other patriarchs, were in Gregory’s time subject to the See of Peter. Even Fleury felt himself compelled to take notice that the patriarch submitted to the jurisdiction of the Pope, as he sent his deputies with letters and with summaries of the trials that had already been held concerning these cases in the East. In the days of the first Gregory there was only one Roman Empire and one Christian Church. The Emperor at Constantinople was the head of the one, the Pope at Rome the head of the other.




That we may not suppose that Gregory’s life was one solid bitter struggle, without one grain of alloy of comfort, we must not lose sight of the joy which he experienced from the conversion of nations, and notably of the Anglo-Saxon race. We shall see that in the case of Gregory, as in that of all men, the sweet and the bitter are mingled together in life, and that, if it must ever be the lot of the popes, as the spiritual representatives of God's truth on earth, to bear the brunt of the attacks of the powers of falsehood and darkness, it will be always theirs to enjoy in an especial manner, as the head of the Christian army, the triumphs of religion.

In the middle of the fifth century (449) there landed on these shores, never again to leave them, Angles and Saxons. These Teutonic tribes, who came from the lands between the Elbe and the Rhine, fierce heathen pirates, were accounted by the Romans the most dangerous of their enemies. Bishop Sidonius, who was alive when they landed in Britain, tells us how they despised danger if they won booty, how they laughed at the tempest and cared not for shipwreck. The storm was their refuge in retreat and their cosign of vantage in attack. Their best loved was the god of War. The steed consecrated to the god was well-nigh as sacred to them as the god himself. And if they were freemen and the sons of the free, they were cruel as the sea they loved so well.

The resistance offered by the Britons to these fiercest foes of the Roman Empire in the West was of the stubbornest. Nowhere would the Briton live side by side with the Saxon. But the numbers or the fighting powers of the native were not equal to those of the invader. In about a hundred years the Angles and Saxons had stamped out the British and their Christianity from all parts of Great Britain, except Wales, Cornwall and the hilly north-west of what is now called England, and from the Highlands of Scotland.

Mention has already been made of what is said to have first caused Gregory to take an interest in the Anglo-Saxon people, some fifty years after they had been in possession of most of our island. The incident was his meeting with slave children of that race in the forum, and the impression that their blue eyes and golden hair made upon his imagination. The traditionary story of his conduct on that occasion, which the early Anglo-Saxon biographer of Gregory calls “narratio fidelium”, has been told how often? To be told once again will but prove its simple charm. Struck with the beauty of the slave-dealer’s wares, Gregory questioned the man about them. Understanding they were heathens, he cried out: “Alas! that the author of darkness should have such fair faces, and that such beautiful forms should have no inward grace”. He asked the dealer : “Of what nation are they?”. “Angles”, was the answer. “Angels, rather”, said the Saint. To the further statements that they came from the province of Deira, and that their king’s name was Aella, he replied: “Of a truth they are de ira, plucked from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ”. And alluding to the king’s name, he concluded: “Alleluia! the praises of God must be sung in those parts”.

This simple play upon words, quite in Gregory’s style, shows at least the cheerful hope of the conversion of the Angles which at once took possession of the Saint’s mind. He at once betook himself to the Pope, begged him to send missionaries to England, and offered himself as one. After much persuasion Pelagius II consented to let him go. Gregory made his preparations as secretly and as quickly as he could, and was soon on his way. The fact of his departure, however, soon transpired. Quite in their wonted manner the Roman populace worked themselves into a furore immediately. They beset the Pope with loud cries that by letting Gregory go he had offended St. Peter and destroyed Rome. Pelagius had to yield to their clamors, and horsemen were dispatched post­haste to order Gregory to return.

It may be gathered from the chronicle of the Anglo-Saxon noble Ethelwerd that Gregory bought the slaves he found in the market. It is certain, at any rate, that to forward the work of England’s conversion, which he ardently longed for, and carefully thought about from his first sight of its people, he commissioned the steward of the patrimony of the Roman Church in Gaul to buy English slave boys of seventeen or eighteen years of age to be trained for God in monasteries.

At length, in the sixth year of his pontificate, the time seemed to Gregory to have come to make the attempt to convert his “Angels of the North”. He had himself acquired considerable influence in Gaul, through which his missionaries would have to pass, and he had prepared the monks of his monastery on the Coelian for the great work. He had heard of the great power possessed by Ethelbert of Kent. It had been told him that he had even taken to himself a Catholic wife. Bertha, the daughter of Charibert I, king of Paris, and it was even rumored that the fierce Angles were wishful to have the truths of Christianity preached to them. Accordingly, in the early summer of 596 he dispatched to bring the light of Christianity to cloudy England, not one or two preachers, but the prior of his monastery, Augustine, and a whole community of monks. As Dom. Leveque has pointed out, he imitated the political action of the ancient Romans. To subject a country they established colonies in it. So Gregory, to bring the English beneath the sweet yoke of Christ, sent forth a spiritual colony as it were.

But at the very outset it looked as if the hopes of the pontiff were to be dashed to the ground. When the little band of monks landed in France they were met by a number of timid souls, who drew out for them in blackest colors the difficulties of their enterprise. They were going to men who were more ferocious than the beasts of the forest. Discouraged by all they heard, they sent Augustine back to report to the Pope “on the hardships of the journey, and the disheartening intelligence” which had come to their ears. Their envoy, however, soon returned, bringing letters of encouragement from Gregory. He reminded them it was better not to begin good works than to give them up when begun. He bade them not to lose heart, but to persevere for the sake of the eternal reward they would reap for their toils. He regretted he could not have his wish and share their labors. He also wrote to Virgilius of Arles and other bishops, to Brunichildis and other secular rulers among the Franks, exhorting them to do all they could to help and encourage the missionaries he is sending to the Angles. Reinspirited by this prompt action of the pontiff, the devoted band, strengthened in number by some Frankish priests, to act as interpreters, continued their journey and landed at Ebbsfleet (or Richborough, perhaps) in the spring of 597. “Blest was the unconscious shore on which they trod”.

This is not the place to enter into the details of the work of St. Augustine. Suffice it to say here that Ethelbert of Kent, the king in whose dominions they landed, was baptized (June 2, 597), and thousands of his subjects after him, influenced by the sublime doctrines which were taught by the saint and his companions, but still more by the winning beauty of their lives and their miracles. For, as seems always to happen on the first preaching of Christianity to a people, its truth was confirmed to the English by the wonders wrought by God through his servant Augustine.

Before the close of the eventful year 597, in accordance with the commands he had received from the Pope, Augustine crossed over to France and was consecrated bishop by Virgilius of Arles, the Pope’s vicar in Gaul (December 5, 597). On his return to England, he at once sent messengers to Gregory to tell him of the progress the faith had made among the Angles and of his own consecration, and to ask for information on some dozen questions which he submitted to the Pope. The good news of the spread of the faith cheered Gregory in his illness. But his sickness and his difficulties in connection with making peace with the Lombards prevented him from replying to Augustine’s queries till the middle of 601.

Then, during that little respite of his cruel agony, he resumed his wonted activity. On the 1st of June he wrote to Augustine, the bishop of the Angles: “Glory be to God in the highest, who has caused the grain of wheat which has fallen to the ground to die (St. Luke II. 14) and to bring forth fruit in abundance, that He might not reign alone in heaven whose death is our life, whose weakness is our strength ... and whose love sends us to seek even in the island of Britain for brothers whom we knew not ... Who can express the joy of all faithful hearts that the English nation, through the grace of God and thy brotherly labor, is illumined by the light of the holy faith”. Then follows a long exhortation to Augustine to be on his guard lest the miracles, which God has deigned to work through him for the benefit of the English, should cause him to entertain proud thoughts and thus lose his soul. “Very great restraint, then, must be put upon the mind in the midst of signs and miracles, lest perchance a man seek his own glory in these things, and rejoice with a merely private joy at the greatness of his exaltation. Signs are given for the gaining of souls, and towards His glory by whose power signs are wrought ... If there is joy in heaven on one sinner doing penance, what joy must there not have been on the conversion of a whole people”.

But Gregory did not content himself with simply sending a letter to Augustine. In accordance with the latter’s request, he sent him a fresh company of monastic laborers, and he provided them with a supply of everything necessary for divine worship and with “very many books”. “Many of these were works of great beauty: mediaeval pilgrims who visited the abbey (at Canterbury) saw there the Biblia Gregoriana, written upon rose-colored leaves, showing strange reflections in the light. On a shelf above and behind the high altar, surrounded by reliquaries of every shape, were placed psalters, acts of the martyrs and books of the gospels, bound in chased silver and mounted with beryls and crystals—all presents from the great pope. It is possible that these books—these primitiae librorum—even survived till the (so-called) Reformation. The library of Corpus Christi at Cambridge and the Bodleian at Oxford possess two ancient books of the gospels said to have formed part of St. Gregory’s gift”. Father Bron, from whose work this passage has been taken, says, however, that experts seem now to be agreed that neither of these MSS. can date back to the days of Gregory; whereas Grisar, who calls special attention to the beautiful miniatures with which the Cambridge MS. is adorned, is of opinion that they (the miniatures and hence the MS.) might belong to a period much before Gregory, and that if they were executed in his pontificate, they are certainly copies of more ancient models.

Gregory also wrote out letters of recommendation for his new missionaries to eleven bishops, three kings and one queen of the Franks, so that they might everywhere on their journey meet with kindness and hospitality. He tells his episcopal correspondents that he knew that their zeal would naturally have moved them to accord help to men who were laboring for souls; but that as the glow of a fire is intensified by blowing upon it, so their zeal would be quickened by his words.

Mellitus and his companions were, moreover, bearers of a ‘pallium’ for Augustine and of a letter for him, in connection with it, in which the Pope tells him that he grants him the use of it during Mass time and “to ordain twelve bishops in different places, who are to be subject to your jurisdiction ... To the city of York we wish you to send a bishop ... who may also ordain twelve bishops and enjoy the rank of a metropolitan”. Augustine was, however, to retain the primacy over the whole Church in England during his lifetime. Various other regulations were laid down by the Pope for the future government of the church of the Angles, which it is the less necessary to set down as the force of circumstances—pagan reactions, etc.—rendered the carrying of them out unpractical. The letter closed thus: “Your fraternity is to have, subject to you, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only those bishops whom you shall have ordained yourself or who shall have been consecrated by the bishop of York, but also all the bishops of Britain, so that from the words and life of your holiness they may receive the rule of the true faith and a good life”. Gregory had, it may be noted in passing, clearly no doubt that spiritual jurisdiction over the Britons in Wales, etc., who were already Christians of a sort, was as much acknowledged to be his as that over the new converts.

Naturally the Catholic queen, Bertha, and her newly converted husband were not left unhonored by papal letters. The queen is thanked in glowing terms for what she has done to help Augustine, and congratulated on the share she has had in converting her husband and the people. But she is earnestly exhorted to strengthen the king’s mind in the love of the Christian faith and of God, so that he may be anxious for the complete conversion of his people; and assured that the good she is doing is being talked of not only at Rome but everywhere, and has even reached the ears of the emperor at Constantinople. Evidently the good Pope thoroughly understood that a word to a woman about the good opinion the world had of her would not be thrown away. And he could not do more in that direction than mention the emperor. For to the barbarians there was no higher embodiment of the power and greatness of this world than “the most serene prince at Constantinople”.

In his letter to Ethelbert, that king is urged to guard with care the deposit of faith he has received, to spread the knowledge of it among his people, to over­throw the temples of the idols (advice afterwards recalled)—to be, in short, another Constantine—and to hearken to the voice of Augustine.

To this latter the Pope sent long answers to the questions the archbishop had asked of him. These replies formed a document which was to become “the rule and code of Christian missions”. Some few have indeed called the authenticity of it in question. But while Grisar goes so far as to allow that it represents what was taken down from Gregory’s verbal exposition, its authenticity may safely be admitted with Hartmann, Haddan and Stubbs, etc.

In response to direct queries, Gregory laid it down that the diocesan revenues were to be divided into four parts, one for the bishop and his household for their support, and to enable the bishop to exercise hospitality; the second for the clergy; the third for the poor, and the fourth for the repair of churches. But he advised Augustine, inasmuch as he had been brought up under monastic discipline, to live with his brethren and have all things in common with them.

For a liturgy for the new church the Pope, in a most broad-minded spirit, bade Augustine, whilst bearing in mind that of Rome to which he had been accustomed, choose what he found appropriate in any church and fix that as the liturgy for England.

On the principle that the Church of the Angles was in its infancy, and therefore to be indulged, Gregory for the time being relaxed to some extent the discipline of the Church, which in those days most wisely prohibited marriages between those related to one another even in the seventh degree. He also gave various other important decisions relative to the married life which have more in common with moral theology than papal biography. However, in view of modern customs with a certain section of society, it may be useful to note how severely he animadverted on the ‘depraved custom’ of mothers handing over their children to be suckled by other women.

The last act of Gregory for his beloved Angles of which we have any knowledge was the dispatch of a letter he addressed to Mellitus after he had set out with the documents already mentioned. By this he recalled, after much thought, the advice he had given to Ethelbert to destroy the temples of the gods. They must not be destroyed, is his final decision to Mellitus. The idols in them must be destroyed; but they are themselves to be purified by the sprinkling of holy water, and must have altars and relics placed in them. The people will be more easily drawn to places to which they have become accustomed.

Gregory’s labor for the conversion of England was now over. He had brought our country within the pale of civilization and put it on a fair way to becoming Catholic. He had accomplished a work which, though grievously shaken in the sixteenth century, we may hope will never be undone. The torch of Catholic truth he lit in our land has never been quite extinguished. It is now beginning again to burn brightly. May its luster ever go on increasing and never again be diminished!

What had been accomplished in England Gregory had himself poetically described even in the midst of his commentary on Job, so full was he of the good work that had been wrought. “By the shining miracles of his preachers has God brought to the faith even the extremities of the earth ... In one faith has he linked the boundaries of the East and the West. Lo! the tongue of Britain, which before could only utter barbarous sounds, has lately learned to make the alleluia of the Hebrews resound in praise of God. Lo! the ocean, formerly so turbulent, lies calm and submissive at the feet of the saints, and its wild movements, which earthly princes could not control by the sword, are spellbound with the fear of God by a few simple words from the mouth of priests; and he who, when an unbeliever, never dreaded troops of fighting men, now that he believes fears the tongues of the meek. For by the words he has heard from heaven, and the miracles which shine round him, he receives the strength of the knowledge of God, so that he is afraid to do wrong and yearns with his whole heart to come to the grace of eternity”.

In all the work of Gregory for the conversion of our country, we see combined the zeal for souls which we look for in a saint and the practical, and withal kindly, common sense which has always distinguished Englishmen in dealing either with business affairs or with their fellow-men. But if Gregory worked hard and well for England, he did not labor for men who had no gratitude. His name was always breathed with love in Catholic England. He was to the English their apostle, as our first historian, the Venerable Bede, takes notice. In the century following his death it was decreed, by the council of Clovesho or Cliff in 747, that his feast, the feast of' our father Gregory, should be kept as a holiday of obligation through England; and we find this decree renewed at the council of Oxford in 1222. And whenever Catholic Englishmen at least praise “the men of old”, their apostle and father Gregory will not be absent from their thoughts. Of him in especial will they think when they say with Ecclesiasticus (c. 44), “Let us now praise men of high renown, and our fathers in their generation ... such as have borne rule in their dominions, men of great power and endued with their wisdom, ... and ruling over the present people and by the strength of wisdom instructing the people in most holy words”.





Another event, which in his own words brought “unspeakable joy” to the heart of Gregory, was the conversion of Recared, the Visigothic ruler of Spain, and his people. The details of the affair were sent to the Pope by his friend Leander, Bishop of Seville, whom he had met at Constantinople. The bishop’s object in visiting the imperial city was to obtain help for the Catholic Hermenigild, who was in arms against his father, the Arian Leovigild. For in the breakup of the Roman Empire in the West, the Visigoths, who seized the Iberian Peninsula, were, like the rest of the Teutonic barbarians who called themselves Christians at all, Arians. And Leovigild (572-586), one of the greatest of the Visigothic kings, though (as very often happens in the case of such rulers who would have no other will but their own on every subject) a most tyrannical one, endeavored by persecution to force his Catholic subjects to become Arians. This tyranny resulted in the rebellion (580) of his son Hermenigild, whom he had associated with himself in the government of the realm, but who had become a Catholic through the exertions of his uncle St. Leander and through the influence of a Catholic wife, a Frankish princess.

Hermenigild, not knowing”, says the good old bishop, Gregory of Tours, “that the judgment of heaven was pressing on him, inasmuch as he had devised such measures against a father, even though he was a heretic”, failing to obtain any substantial aid from the Romans, whose power in Spain Leovigild had broken, fell into the hands of his father. Finding that exile could not force his son to deny his faith, Leovigild permitted or ordered a certain Sisebert to put him to death in prison (Easter 585 or 586). By his death, as even Gibbon observes, Hermenigild atoned for any crime he may have been guilty of in his rebellion. And if Hermenigild is canonized, it is not because he took up arms against his father, but solely because he died a martyr. He chose death rather than life at the cost of apostasy. Finis coronat opus!

The blood of Hermenigild and that of the other Catholic martyrs was, as usual, the seed of the Church. When Recared, his brother, became king (586-601), he followed in the footsteps of his martyred brother, and in a great council of the nation at Toledo (May 8, 589) he made a public profession of the Catholic faith. And as a Catholic, so also a Roman. It was therefore decreed that there should remain in full force the decisions of all the councils and the synodical letters of the holy bishops of Rome. The king’s abjuration of Arianism was soon followed by that of his subjects. So that after some two hundred years of heresy, the Visigoths joined their Roman fellow-subjects in professing Catholicity.

A letter which Recared wrote to Gregory (596-9) showed that if he could not write Latin he could manage to express that his sentiments towards the person of the Pope were those of a thoroughly loyal Catholic. He told the Pope that it had been his wish to write to him, “who stood pre-eminent among the bishops”, at the time of his conversion, but that the business concerns of his kingdom had prevented him. He had already sent an embassy to the Pope, with presents for St Peter, but its members had barely escaped with their lives from the wreck of their ship. However, he now sends Gregory a golden chalice studded with gems, which he trusts may be worthy of the first of the apostles; and begs in return for one of the Pope’s golden letters. In conclusion he expresses his love for Gregory, and begs his prayers for himself and his people.

Further, in a letter now lost, he begged the Pope to help forward negotiations he was then carrying on with the emperor, especially on the basis of a treaty which Justinian had made with one of his predecessors. For, though most distinguished for his piety and love of peace, Recared had frequently to take up arms to stem the aggressions of the Romans, who were anxious to recover the ground they had lost under Leovigild.

In due course Recared received “the golden letters” he was so anxious for. In one of them Gregory told the king that he could not write to the emperor because he had not been able to discover what the terms of the treaty in question were, inasmuch as a fire had destroyed almost all the documents of the time of Justinian, and it would never do to have to write to a person and tell him to produce documents which told against himself. Recared must then strive to bring about peace. Peace! It was the one cry of Gregory in the midst of wars; the one cry of the true vicar of the Prince of Peace.

In his letter of thanks for Recared0s presents, he praises him for bringing the whole Gothic race from Arianism “into the solidity of the true faith”. He often speaks, he says, with admiration of the king’s doings to his friends, and contrasts the king’s labors for souls with his own inactivity. He congratulates him also in holding firm, despite of offers of money for the contrary, to the law he has made to prevent Jews from keeping Christian slaves. But he would have him beware lest the good he has done should inflate him with vanity. “We send you”, are the Pope’s concluding words, “a little key from the most holy body of St. Peter (as an earnest of his blessing), in which is enclosed a little iron from his chains, so that what bound his neck when he was led to martyrdom may loose you from all your sins. We also send you a cross in which there is some wood of the true cross and some hairs of Blessed John the Baptist. May the intercession of His Forerunner ever enable you to have the joy of Our Saviour”

Before his death there came to Gregory’s heart joy even from the Lombards. Such of them as were Christians in any sense were Arians like the Visigoths. But a very large number of them were heathens, and like other Teutonic tribes, worshipped streams and trees, hills and valleys, and even serpents. Their own laws reveal the fact that even under Liutprand they practiced divination by means of trees and the heads of animals. But more than their Arianism or their idolatry, their brutal ignorance made the conversion of the Lombards slow. However, it had made some progress ere death came to the suffering Gregory. In the very beginning of his pontificate (January 591) he wrote a short but earnest letter to all the bishops of Italy, urging them to do their very best to convert the Lombards. “With all your might, by the power of persuasion, hurry them on to the true faith; preach to them without ceasing the Kingdom of God”. The work of bringing the Lombards into the Church was very much forwarded by the exertions of their queen, the Catholic Theodelinda, of whom Prospers Continuator says, “That she nourished the Lombard race not only by her royal power but also by the affection of her piety”. No doubt it was owing to her influence that Agilulph showed himself very differently disposed towards the Catholics than his predecessor Authari had done. Authari had forbidden, by a law issued at Easter 590, his Lombard subjects from being baptized in the Catholic faith. His death before the following Easter Gregory regarded as a divine punishment for his tyrannical edict. But so favorable did Agilulph show himself to the Church, that it was even said that before his death he had himself become a Catholic. Although the words of St. Columbanus, in his letter to Boniface IV, seem to show that there was no truth in the report, it is certain that the king allowed his infant son Adalwald to be baptized a Catholic. The queen at once forwarded the good news to the Pope, who “though in imminent danger of death”, had still the heart to rejoice at the happy tidings and the strength to write yet one more letter, one of the last half-dozen of his letters which we have. “The letter you sent us from Genoa has made us sharers in your joy that, by the grace of God, a son has been given you, and that that son has been given to the Catholic faith”. The new king must be brought up in the fear of God.

The ‘Three Chapter’ question was still on the queen’s mind; for in her letter she had begged Gregory to reply to certain points urged by the abbot Secundus, probably the Secundus of Trient, one of the principal authors on whom Paul the Deacon drew for his Lombard history. This the Pope promises to do, if by the will of God he should recover his health. Meanwhile he sends Secundus a copy of the acts of the council which was held in the time of Justinian, “that he may study them and see that all he has heard against the apostolic See and the Catholic Church is false”. To the young king he sends certain small relic cases, containing a relic of the true Cross, etc., and to his sister three rings.

The work of the conversion of the Lombard nation, begun in the days of Gregory and King Agilulph, went on vigorously after the death of those two men during the joint reign of Theodelinda and her son. But the ignorance and turbulence of the Lombards made their Catholicity long a-coming; and the tide of conversion ebbed and flowed more than once before it came to the full in about the eighth century,




Among the results of the Vandal occupation of Africa was the expulsion of a barbarous and idolatrous people, who bore the appropriate name, Barbaricini. They betook themselves to Sardinia, settled in the mountains near Cagliari, and soon proved a very great nuisance to the inhabitants. Consequently, as Sardinia belonged to the province of Africa, Justinian ordered Belisarius, when in command there, to nominate a duke for Sardinia, and that to watch the Barbaricini the duke should take up his abode close to their mountain home.

To bring these savages and many of the peasantry of the island, who were still pagans, to Christianity and civilization, Gregory dispatched a special mission, as the clergy of the island do not seem to have been very zealous. His efforts were greatly aided by the military successes of the Duke of Sardinia (594), who only granted the cowed barbarians terms of peace on condition of their embracing Christianity. For this wise measure he was greatly praised by the Pope, who undertook to make the duke’s merits known to the emperor without delay. Gregory also begged him to help, to the best of his ability, those whom he had sent out to work for the idolaters’ conversion—a request he also preferred to Hospito, the chief of the Barbaricini, to the chief men in Sardinia, and later (October 600), to the praeses of Sardinia. But, as has been already noted, the good work which was being accomplished by the zeal and energy of Gregory was to a considerable extent retarded by the oppression of the judge of the island, or praeses, who wrung money out of the poor heathens both for sacrificing to idols and for not doing so.

It is most interesting to note how, in the midst of all these spiritual concerns, Gregory had still an eye to business. The victories of the duke had resulted, as a matter of course in those times, in a considerable number of the Barbaricini being thrown upon the slave market. The Pope sent one of his notaries over to Sardinia to buy a number of them at a fair price who might be useful in his various hospitals.




Passing over Gregory’s work for the conversion of other in different parts of Europe, and turning to Africa, whence the Barbaricini came, his exertions to close the schism of the Donatists may suitably terminate our account of his successful efforts to enlarge the fold of the Church.

The fall of the Vandal power in Africa brought but little relief to its people. They had been persecuted by the Vandals for their religion; they were now ground down by the exactions of the Byzantine officials for their gold. Their endeavors, with the aid of the Moors, to throw off the Byzantine yoke were repressed with such violence “that the population of the country was fearfully decimated. They had indeed peace after so many miseries, but they were all beggars”. Taking advantage of the troubles of the times, the Donatists once more raised their heads. Overwhelmed by the logic of St. Augustine, and by the civil power, to which they had been the first to appeal, but which had afterwards found it necessary to take active measures against their violence, they now made another effort to regain their old position in the country. Having, as it would seem, secured the connivance of the exarch Gennadius, they so freely lavished their gold “that the Catholic faith was publicly sold”. For what the Donatists were ready to buy, some of the Catholic clergy, who had been disorganized during the violent times through which they had had to pass, were ready to sell. And where the schismatics failed to effect their purpose by the glitter of gold, they tried that of the sword. Many of the Catholic clergy were violently expelled from their churches.

Under the name of Donatism these African sectaries taught what under other names other heretics have taught since, and had taught before the days of Donatus, the Great, and Donatus of Casae Nigrae, who gave their name to them in the beginning of the fourth century. They held that the validity of the sacraments depended on the morality of the priest who administered them, and that only the good belong to the Church. Of course the corollary to these propositions was that they, being the good, formed the real Catholic Church. Hence they re-baptized those who went over to them from the Catholics.

To check their advances, Gregory urged the bishops of Africa to meet in council and practically in all his letters to that province never failed to exhort the clergy to bestir themselves against the aggressive schismatics. At least one synod was held on this subject—apparently of one province only—under Dominic of Carthage (594). Its acts were duly forwarded to the Pope. In acknowledging their receipt, Gregory praises everything which had been done with one exception. He is afraid lest the last decision of the synod may give umbrage to the primates of the other ‘councils’ or provinces. The decision to deprive of their property and dignity those who neglect to take cognizance of heretics would only result in internal dissension, and hence in less effective work against error.

Gregory, however, did not confine himself to endeavoring to excite the zeal of the clergy against the schismatics; he wrote also to the civil authorities to induce them “to suppress their attempts and to bend their proud necks beneath the yoke of truth”“For it is well known that if heretics acquire the power of doing hurt, they rage furiously against the Catholic faith to apply the poison of their heresy, to ruin, if possible, the members of Christ’s body”. The prefect of the praetorium, i.e. the civil governor of Africa under the exarch, was written to in the same strain. And even the Emperor Maurice was exhorted not to let his enactments against the Donatists remain a dead letter. He was assured that the Pope had it on the authority of bishops from Africa that there the judgment of God was not held in awe, nor the edicts of the emperors in respect.

Holding, as he did, that all baptized Christians were subjects of the Church, and being full of zeal for the salva­tion of men’s souls, Gregory evidently thought it right (after all other measures had failed) to use some degree of force to bring those back to the right path of the Christian faith who might have strayed from it. He would have this force applied by the State, as the physical protector of the Church, when requested by it to do so. The zeal of Gregory, and perhaps the force of the imperial jussio, seem to have had their effect. At any rate the Donatists are never again mentioned in the letters of Gregory; and they certainly disappeared for ever in the Saracen flood which overwhelmed Africa in the following century.

The barque of the Catholic Church, with the successors of St. Peter at the helm, sails onward through the ages, and one hostile craft after another, that has threatened destruction to Peter’s ship is engulfed by the ocean of time, and leaves no trace behind it but its name registered on the pages of history!




In the midst of his dealings with the great ones in Church and State, with patriarchs and with metropolitans, emperors and with exarchs, and in the midst of the weighty cares with which the concerns of nations, of Frank and Anglo-Saxon, of Visigoth and Lombard, filled his mind, Gregory found time to listen to the troubles of the poor and to look after individual souls. And if in contemplating his intercourse with the mighty, or with the nations of the earth, we are struck with admiration at his courage, his energy, his power of keeping in touch with the affairs of the whole world, when we behold him exerting himself for the poor and the oppressed, and striving with the most delicate and tender attentions to win back to the cause of God a soul that has deserted His standard, our hearts glow with love of the man who showed himself in deed as well as in word “the Servant of the Servants of God”. In illustrating here this side of Gregory’s character, no notice will be taken of his truly regal almsgiving. Of that a later page will speak.

In the interest of a poor man Gregory thus addresses the bishop of Syracuse: “Such wicked deeds are reported to us as wrought in your province that we believe, if God have not mercy on it, it will be soon destroyed. The bearer of these presents has come to me and complained with tears that some years ago a man on the estate of the Church of Messina stood godfather to him, and that, as the result of a rather rough kind of persuasion, he married one of his godfather’s slaves, by whom he had several children. Now it is said that the godfather has torn his wife away from his godson and sold her to another. If this story be true, you, my friend, will see how unspeakable and cruel an act has been committed. Hence we bid you thoroughly look into this matter with all that zeal which we know you display in holy things. And if the man’s story shall prove to be correct, you will not only see to the repairing of the injury which has been done, but hasten to inflict such punishment as will satisfy the justice of God. Moreover, bitterly reprove the bishop (of Messina), who has neglected to punish his officials for the performance of such disgraceful deeds, and let him know that if any similar story comes to me con­cerning any of those who are dependent on him, I will proceed not against the delinquent, but against himself”.

The wrongs of even pagan slaves are not beneath the Pope’s notice. He insists on freedom being given to certain pagan slaves whom some Samaritans had bought and circumcised. Alexander Frigiscus, a serf, must have his wages paid in full; and the bishop of Naples must either persuade or, by the aid of the prefect of the praetorium of Italy, compel one John, a vir clarissimus and a palatinus or agent of the imperial exchequer, to refrain from unduly harassing the guild or society of the soapmakers.

We cannot refrain from quoting yet one more letter. It shows that especially in his dealings with the poor, who find it so hard to approach the world’s great ones for equity, Gregory preferred generosity to justice even when the Church was the sufferer. “Gregory to Romanus the Defensor: Although what belongs to the Church may not be alienated, still the severity of the law may be sometimes relaxed at the call of mercy, especially when the amount given will not overburden the donor, and will somewhat relieve the poverty of the receiver. Now Stephania, the bearer of these presents, with her little child Callixenus (the son of her late husband Peter), has come here and earnestly besought me with tears, on account of the great poverty of Callixenus, to cause to be restored to the child a house in Catania, which his late mother-in-law Mammonia had presented by deed of gift to the Church. Stephania further asserts that Mammonia had no right to bequeath the house, inasmuch as it belonged to Callixenus. Our beloved deacon Cyprian, indeed, who has examined into the case, reports that the contention of Stephania is groundless, and that her son has no right to the house. However, that we may not appear to have paid no heed to the tears of Stephania, and to have followed rather justice than mercy, we order you to give up the house to Callixenus. Because, as we have said, in questions admitting of doubt, it is better to incline to mercy rather than justice, especially when by the surrender of a small thing the Church will not greatly suffer, and on the other hand the poor and the orphan will be mercifully assisted”.

The history of Venantius, as far as the register of Gregory makes it known to us, gives us an insight into his thoughtful and tender care for individual souls. Venantius, a man of good standing in the world, had become a monk; and then, unhappily, proving false to his vows, had left his monastery and married a lady of high degree. Before he became Pope, Gregory had endeavored to bring him to a sense of his duty; and when he was raised to the supreme Pontificate he did not forget him. “Many foolishly thought that when I was raised to the Episcopate I should decline to speak or to write to you. But it is not so; my very position compels me, and I cannot be silent ... Whether you wish it or not, I shall speak; for with all my strength I wish either to save you or to free myself from, the charge of your loss. Remember what habit you have worn, and placing before you the thought of the eternal severity, consider to what you have fallen ... If Ananias deserved death (Acts V. 2 f) for taking away from God the coins that he had given, think what peril you will incur in the Divine judgment who have withdrawn not coin but yourself from Almighty God, to whom you have vowed yourself in the monastic habit ... But I know when my letter is received, friends will forthwith assemble, literary clients will be summoned and you will seek counsel in a case of life from the abettors of death, who love not you but your goods, who say nothing to you but what will please for the time. Such were the counselors, as you will re­member, who led you into the guilt of such a crime. To quote a secular author, all things are to be deliberated with friends, but first deliberate over these friends ... If, then, you believe that I love you, come here to the threshold of the Apostles and use me as a counselor”.

Though his exhortations were all to no purpose, Gregory did not cease to correspond with Venantius, allowed Mass to be celebrated in his house, and even wrote to John, Bishop of Syracuse, asking him to continue to allow Mass to be said there (or even to say it himself)—a practice that John had given up owing to some quarrel he had had with Venantius. What an unrestrained violent sort of man Venantius was, may be gathered from this, that Gregory had to blame him for sending his armed men to work their will in John’s palace in the course of the quarrel. When at length, on a bed of sickness himself, the Pope learnt (August 599) that Venantius was ill also, he again exhorted him in a quiet way to fear the severe judgment of God; and as they were both suffering from the same complaint, gout, he humorously remarked that, “Whilst the pains of the gout greatly increased in them, they made them decrease from life ... And since we have often sinned by gratifying the flesh, we are purified by the affliction of the flesh. Hence we must realize that if present pain cause the conversion of the sufferer, it is the termination of former faults; but if it does not induce the fear of God, it is but the beginning of pain to come”. Soon after the dispatch of this beautiful letter, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety, he sent another to console the two daughters of Venantius, to prepare them for the approaching death of their father and to promise them his protection. At the same time he sent an earnest communication to John of Syracuse, to beg him in the first place to use every effort to make Venantius think of his soul and to resume his religious habit even at the eleventh hour; and then to protect the interests of the two daughters. Whether the Pope's desires were attended to by Venantius we know not. But after his death, Gregory did not forget the orphans. He sent them a letter of encouragement and told them he was looking forward to their coming to Rome: “Inasmuch as you will get some comfort from me and I shall get no little joy from your presence”. He thanks them for the little present of two articles of clothing which they have sent him, and which they would fain have had the Pope believe they had worked themselves. But in a lightly bantering manner he tells them that they are sailing under false colors, and seeking to get credit from the toil of others, as he very much doubts if they have ever touched a spindle in their lives. However, he concludes, that little matter does not sadden him, as he trusts they read the Holy Scripture, so that when, by the will of God, they are married, they may know how to live and to keep their houses in order.




Besides the care of all the churches throughout the world, Gregory had to look after the property of the Church, which, if not to be found all over the Christian world, was to be found at least in all the countries composing the patriarchate of the West. This property, known as the patrimony of the Church, or of St. Peter and not unfrequently as the patrimony of the poor, consisted of considerable estates not only in and about Rome, but also in various parts of Italy, north, south, and centre; of Istria, of Southern Gaul, of Dalmatia and Illyricum, of Africa, of Corsica and Sardinia, and especially of Sicily. Some twenty-three patrimonies are known by name. Of the Italian patrimonies, we shall hear again of that of the Cottian Alps; and of that of the Appian Way, it is interesting to note that we have a list of the farms that compose one of its estates not only in one of Gregory’s letters, but in an extant marble inscription. For a patrimony was made up of a number of estates, and each estate of a number of farms. Certain German authors, who are not afraid to attempt to raise a very lofty building on a very small foundation, have endeavored to form some estimate of the total extent of the lands, with which, in the course of hundreds of years, the piety of the faithful, e.g., of Gregory himself, had endowed the Church. One author puts the area of the patrimonies at 1360 square miles, and calculates the revenue arising therefrom at 200,000 gold solidi, (£120,000) in money and 500,000 in kind. A second estimate gives 1800 square miles. Compared with some of the fortunes of even private individuals under the earlier Empire, this income was not large. Dill, in his excellent work on Roman Society in the last century of the Western Empire, gives the annual income of Pallas, the freedman of the Emperor Claudius, as £384,000. “Even up to the fall of Rome, a senatorial income of the highest class, exclusive of what was derived from the estates in kind, sometimes reached the sum of £180,000”. Still, for the close of the sixth century the patrimony of St. Peter was considerable. The vast estates of the Church Gregory managed through his agents, who were known, in the descending scale, as rectores, defensores and actores or actionarii. To do all that lay in his power to ensure a conscientious discharge of their duty on the part of these officials, he not only chose them out of the clerical body, among the deacons or subdeacons, but by various regulations endeavored to impress upon them the importance of their office. For it was the business of the defensors in looking after the patrimonies of St. Peter, not merely to see to the interests of the poor and of those who, in straits, commended themselves to the Church (as it was called), or sought its protection and patronage, but also to intervene in ecclesiastical affairs where bishops were concerned. So great was their power that sham defensors even presumed to harass bishops, and Gregory found it necessary to advise the bishops of Sicily not to heed those who were not furnished with papers for them, either from himself or from the “rector of our patrimony”.

To duly impress upon the defensors the dignity of their office, Gregory formed them into a college and bestowed on the first seven of them the regionary dignity that was possessed by the regionary deacons and notaries.

The head of the seven became the primicerius of the defensors, just as there was a primicerius of the seven regionary notaries. To this college candidates were attached by the solemn presentation of a deed of appointment before the body of St Peter. The form of the document was as follows: “Provided that you have no impediment in your condition or person, and that you are not a cleric attached to another Church, and that the statutes of the canons do not forbid it, it is our desire that, for the benefit of the Church, you undertake the office of Defensor of the Church, and whatever shall be commanded you by us for the welfare of the poor, you will honestly and diligently execute. You will use the privilege, which after mature deliberation we have conferred upon you, so as to show your fidelity in fulfilling our commands, and shall render to us an account of your actions, subject to the judgment of God”.

Before entering into more minute details regarding the duties of the defensors and Gregory’s careful management of the patrimonies, a few words may be said on the cultivators of the soil of the Church’s estates, with the result, it may be hoped, of making those details more intelligible. The ecclesiastical lands, like those of land­owners generally in the Roman Empire in the days of Gregory, were cultivated by slaves and by coloni or serfs, otherwise known as the rustici (peasants) of the Church.

These, with the conductores (managers or stewards) of the estates and farms, together formed the familia of the Church. The coloni, though freemen, were attached to the soil (adscripti glebes), and changed hands with the slaves and other effects of a farm, whenever the farm to which they were attached was sold. Though “attached to the soil”, the serfs were not debarred from working for pay, doubtless in their spare time, off their own estate. The product of their labour was collected, perhaps generally in kind, by managers or stewards (conductors) who were set over the farms (fundus or conduma) and over the estates. These conductores were not to be nominated by the rectores for a considerationGregory did not approve of their being often changed, and he knew well they would be if a commission were to be made out of their appointment.

Some of the patrimony of the Church was not thus cultivated in its direct interests and under the direction of the defensor or rector. Portions of it were held in emphyteusis. That is to say, for a fixed rent land was leased by a deed (by copyhold—scripta), generally for three generations, but sometimes in perpetuity. Though many came to Rome to beg for a lease to be granted to them, they did not all get their request complied with. Gregory feared—and his fears were in time proved to have been well grounded—that such lands might be easily lost to the Church. Hence he was careful to grant such leases only under severe restrictions.

When a defensor or rector set out from Rome for the scene of his labors, he was not only furnished by the Pope with letters of recommendation to the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of his district, but also with a letter of instructions (capitular). One such document addressed to the subdeacon Peter (the Peter of the Dialogues and the rector of the great Sicilian patrimony) has come down to us; or, more strictly, a letter of Gregory to Peter on the capitulare. As the Sicilian patrimony was the most important, and as we have a good many letters of Gregory regarding it, simply to treat of it will be to show what was being done concerning the other patrimonies.

Peter is told to read his letter of instruction’s over and over again with the greatest care. Every effort must be made to prevent bishops from mixing themselves up in secular matters, except where necessity compels them in their concern for the interests of the poor.

“It has come to my ears”, continues Gregory, “that during the past ten years from the time of the defensor Antoninus, many persons have suffered violence and wrong at the hands of the Roman Church, and that men openly complain that their borders have been invaded, their slaves enticed away, their movable property taken from them by the strong hand, with no pretence of judicial process. Pray, in all these things, let your experience exercise the most strenuous vigilance, and let this letter be your warrant for the restoration of whatever you may find to have been violently taken away or wrongfully detained in the Church's name during these ten years ... You will bring me in a more profitable return if you accumulate the reward of a good conscience than if you bring back. We are informed also that many complain of the loss of slaves, saying that any runaway slave who professes himself to be under ecclesiastical law is at once claimed by the Church’s bailiffs (rectores), who, without any judicial decision in their favor, back up the slave’s assertions by violence. All this displeases me as much as it is abhorrent to the spirit of justice and truth ... Let any slaves now in the Church’s power, who were taken away without a judge’s order, be restored before any proceedings are taken; and if any such do lawfully belong to the Holy Church, let the right to them be asserted against their alleged owners in a regular and orderly action ...

“But if, on the other hand, you see some piece of property which you think justly belongs to the Church, beware of defending our right even to this with the strong hand ... Whatever reasonably belongs to the poor ought to be defended by reason, lest otherwise our unrighteous action in a good cause should make even our just claims seem unjust in the sight of Almighty God.

“May the noble laymen and the glorious Praetor love you for your humility and not abhor you for your pride. So act that your humility may not make you slack, nor your authority rigid”.

Besides this letter, treating of the general attitude which Peter had to take up with regard to the different branches of his duty, Gregory dispatched many other letters to him dealing with particular cases. He had, for instance, to go and settle a boundary dispute between some tenants of the Roman Church and the monastery of St. Theodore at Palermo; to see to the filling up of certain parishes whose pastors had fallen away; to give help to certain poor people who are specified by the Pope; to rein close wandering monks; to contribute both in kind and in money to the expenses for festivities in connection with the dedication of a church; to protect certain Jewish converts from persecution by their brethren on account of their conversion; to purchase and send to Rome large quantities of corn in view of a scarcity there, but at the same time to take care that the coloni of the Church were not harassed in the collection of it; and to restore property taken from the Church of Taormina by the actionarii of the Roman Church, and to help the bishop of the same Church to recover certain monies that had been lost.

Turning now to the 42nd letter of the last book of Gregory’s letters and to the 38th in the 2nd, we find them full of most interesting details regarding the position of the tenantry of the Church. In these two letters, besides treating of specific cases, Gregory lays down many general principles according to which he would have the rectores behave to the peasantry.

In buying corn from the coloni, the stewards are not to try and beat down the price in seasons of plenty; but they must, under all circumstances, pay at the rates fixed by the state. Further, the coloni were not to be required, on one count or another, to give more than 18 pints (sextarii) to the peck (modius). Sixteen pints was the exact equivalent to the peck; but the Pope allowed 18 to be insisted on to cover losses of various kinds. As much as 25 had sometimes been extorted from the oppressed colonus.

An even greater abuse, which Gregory vehemently denounced, consisted in making the peasants pay their dues at the rate of 73 solidi to the pound (libra) of gold instead of 72. As 24 siquilae made up the solidus, one solidus and a half would be equivalent to 36 siquilae. Hence in exacting 73 solidi to the pound, each of the proper 72 solidi to the pound had been increased by half a siquila. To put a stop to this and other exactions of a variable character, Gregory decided that all extras were to be done away with. The amount of the rent might be increased, according to the financial capability of the colonus, but then nothing more was to be extorted from him. To prevent a recurrence of these wrongs a proper written agreement was to be drawn up, setting forth the amount of the rent to be paid, and handed to the colonus, so that he would fully understand the limit of his obligations. But to be just all round, the Pope arranged that the money that used to accrue to the rector from these little extras should be deducted for him from the total rent charge.

Peter was to “look before all things” to the weights and measures. If he found any false ones they were to be immediately broken. Informed that the payment of the first installment of the ‘burdatio’ (which is explained to be an imperial land tax due in January, May and September) pressed heavily on the coloni, because having to pay before they had themselves received any of the results of their toil, they borrowed money at ruinous rates of interest from the public tax collectors (actionarii), Gregory ordered the defensor to make himself responsible for the tax and to get the money back by degrees from the colonii as they earned it. From a subsequent paragraph of this same letter, it has been calculated that the annual burdatio paid by the Sicilian patrimony to the imperial exchequer was £92.

Various dues were required from peasants on their marriage. The fees, according to the Pope's ruling, were not to exceed one solidus (12s.), and if the parties were poor, a less sum was to be paid to the steward.

Besides various individual cases dealt with in this letter by Gregory, many other general directions are also contained in it. It concludes with ordering that it be read to all the coloni of the patrimony, that they might learn their rights. They were also to be furnished with copies of it. By the coming judgment, Peter is urged to carry out the Pope’s wishes. “You have heard what I want, see that you put it into execution”. Gregory would not have “the treasury of the Church defiled by unholy gain”.

The other letter cited above is fuller of small details. Undoubtedly this attention to trifling points shows us the greatness of Gregory’s mind which nothing escaped. And the way he managed “his own house” is an earnest of the way “he took care of the Church of God”. The letter plunges into minuticae at once.

Cows too old to calve and useless bulls must be sold at once, that the price of them may be good for something. Of the herds of mares on the patrimony, the Pope would have Peter keep but 400 of the younger ones for breeding purposes. The rest were then to be sold. Those which were retained were to be distributed one by one to the stewards of the different farms, who were to make a small annual return for them. “For it is beyond a joke to have to pay £60 a year for men to look after the herds and not to get 60 pence from the herds themselves”.

Of the particular cases treated of in this letter, the case of the monk Pretiosus cannot be passed over, as it gives us a touching picture of the Pope’s anxiety to be just in other matters besides money. “You know how much I am grieved in mind because, for a fault which was not serious I vehemently upbraided the monk Pretiosus and sent him away from me, sad and full of bitterness. Accordingly I wrote to his bishop that I should be glad if he would send Pretiosus back to me. He, however, did not want to do so. And I cannot and ought not to give him pain; because, busy with God’s work, he must be rather supported with consolation than repressed with severity. Meanwhile, as I hear, Pretiosus himself is quite disheartened because he does not return to me. As I said, I do not want to grieve his bishop, who does not wish to let him come, so that between the two I know not what to do. Do you then, if your wisdom is greater than your little body, so arrange this matter that I may get my way and the bishop be not put out”.

In this, as in many other of his letters, Gregory is very urgent that prompt restitution be made if any act of injustice has been perpetrated, by the officials of the Church. In carrying out this injunction Peter must not be swayed by fear or favor.

Although sick, Gregory expresses a wish that Peter would come over and visit him. But before he comes he must see that his place is filled by two rectors, one for the patrimony round Syracuse and another for that round Palermo, and that the two have previously secured the good graces of the scribones (officers of the imperial body-guard who collected certain of the taxes), and of the praetor, by the gift of some small presents. He must also bring with him the rents of the 9th and 10th indictions (September 590 to September 592) and all his accounts. But owing to the equinoctial gales he was not to leave Sicily till after St. Cyprian’s day (September 14).

“You have sent me”, concludes the Pope, “one miserable horse and five good asses. The horse I cannot ride, because it is such a wretched specimen, nor any of the good asses, because they are asses. If you are really anxious to oblige me, I must ask you to bring with you something respectable”.

Writing to the defensors to be just, Gregory wrote to the coloni to be obedient, to do what was right and to earn respect for themselves, not only from bearing the name of the “family of the Prince of the Apostles”, but still more by being distinguished for their virtues. Well may the mediaeval proverb, “It is good to live under a crook”, have taken its rise from the conduct of Gregory the Great as a landlord.

In estimating the position of Gregory with regard to his vast patrimonies, the proposition that some of them at least “were real principalities, sometimes including cities and entire provinces, in which the Pope exercised, through officers appointed by himself, all the rights of a temporal lord”, is nearer the truth than the one which lays down that they “were not ruled but owned as an English noble­man owns his estate”. For what Gibbon had long ago remarked, viz., that the Pope’s agents “had acquired a civil and even criminal jurisdiction over their tenants”, is amply borne out by Gregory’s letters; and puts the Pope’s position as a landowner on a far higher plane than that of an English noble. It is the part which this wealth and power, added to his spiritual authority, forced Gregory to take in the affairs of Italy, which induces modern authors to consider him the real ruler at least of non-Lombard Italy. “Gregory I, in spite of the respectful tone of his letters to Maurice and Phocas, was the civil potentate in Italy”. The germ of the temporal power of the popes took root in the days of the first Gregory, to come forth in the days of the second Gregory.

It will perchance ere this have crossed the mind of the practical reader to seek information as to what became of the revenues which accrued to the Holy See from these vast patrimonies, and of the sums which pious persons, from the emperor downwards, sent to the Pope. They were used by Pope Gregory to defray the great ex­penses necessarily entailed by dealings with the clergy and laity of the whole Catholic world, and by the sending of missionaries to the heathen; by intercourse with the great ones of this earth, and by keeping embassies at Constantinople and Ravenna; by the Lombard war, with paying troops and buying peace, and by the redemption of captives and slaves; and above all, by his countless acts of almsgiving exercised in behalf not only of the people of Rome, but in behalf of people of all ranks throughout the civilized world.

In the sixth century men looked to the popes not only for guidance in spiritual matters but for help in their bodily necessities. The famous Cassiodorus, the Roman minister of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, thus wrote to John II, who died but a few years before the birth of Gregory: “You are the chief of the Christian people; with the name of Father you direct everything. You, to whom its guardianship has been entrusted, must look to the safety of the people. We have to regulate some things, but you everything. Your first concern indeed is to give spiritual food to your flock, but you cannot neglect their temporal needs. For as man is made up of soul and body, so it is the business of a good father to nourish them both”. This view of the duty of the common father of all Christians was not only thoroughly understood by Gregory and expressed by him in words; it was more. It was put into practice by him in a most remarkable manner.

As charity is said to begin at home, an enumeration of the charitable deeds of Gregory may well begin with a description of what he accomplished in that way in the city of Rome itself. And here we may avail ourselves of the edifying picture sketched for us by John the Deacon, in the second book of his biography. What he tells us is amply borne out by the unimpeachable testimony of the Pope’s letters.

To those poor whom the calamities of the times brought to Rome, Gregory gave daily support, inviting twelve of them to his table, perhaps to the great stone one which is still shown in Rome as that at which he served the poor in person. On the first of every month he distributed to the poor generally, corn, wine, cheese, etc., according to the season, and to the nobles of the city delicacies of various kinds. Nor were the clergy forgotten. From time to time an aureus (12 shillings) found its way to them. And the nuns, to whose piety Gregory ascribes the salvation of Rome, not only received thousands of pounds a year, but grants of hundreds for present needs. To many, quarterly payments in gold and silver were made; and every day was cooked food conveyed to the sick, with some special dishes for the bashful poor. So that, says the deacon, the Church came to be regarded as a storehouse open to all. To ensure that no deserving person should be passed over, Gregory caused a list to be compiled in which were set forth the names and status of all those who were living not only in Rome and the neighborhood, but also in more distant cities. This list formed a large volume, which was preserved in the archives of the Lateran palace, and was still to be seen when John the Deacon told us of its existence. How searching was Gregory’s care of the poor may be gathered from this incident, also preserved for us by the worthy deacon. On one occasion a poor man was found dead in a common lodging-house. Fearing that he might have died of want, Gregory refrained from saying Mass for some days, as though he had himself been the cause of the man’s death. With justice might John assert that he gave freely to all who asked and to all who did not ask him for help.

Gregory seems to have been just as eager to give as any miser ever was to accumulate. He encouraged generosity in others; he blamed his rectors for not making known to him the needs of the poor or the distressed, for whom he would allow the very sacred vessels of the altar to be sold; and he gave expression to the annoyance that he felt when he was not asked to help the poor, the more so, as he said, that he would only be asked for what belonged to the poor. His alms found their way everywhere. Bedding, clothes and money were sent as far as Mount Sinai. And not only did he merely give, but he gave with such grace as to double the value of whatever he did give. An aged abbot of a monastery in distant Isauria had asked the Pope to send him 50 solidi for the needs of his establishment; but thinking he had asked too much, he had proceeded to lower his request to 40, and had even suggested that perhaps he ought to have begged for even less. To this Gregory: “Because I find you have acted towards me with such consideration, I must behave in the like spirit. I have therefore sent you the 50 solidi, and for fear that might be too little I have sent you 10 more, and lest even that might not be sufficient I have superadded 12 more” (i.e. 72 solidi in all, or one pound of gold). “In this you have shown your love for me that you have presumed to place the full confidence in me that you ought to have done.”

But with all his unbounded generosity, Gregory did not give indiscriminately or with careless prodigality. He is willing that the rector of the Campanian patrimony should give the abbot Felix a large quantity of lead for roofing purposes or for water-pipes, if only he is convinced that the proposed building will serve some useful purpose. The monks of a monastery at Tropea (near modern Monteleone), in the patrimony of Bruttium, can have their wants supplied, if they are leading a good life and are in real need.

Hence, too, any loss of money through negligence annoyed him very much. Information brought to him that Pascasius, Bishop of Naples (through devoting his attention to the building of ships instead of to the performance of his episcopal duties and to hearkening to the advice of the wise), had already lost over 400 solidi, brought down on the subdeacon Anthemius, the Campanian rector, a severe letter from Gregory. Anthemius ought not to have put off calling the bishop to account. He must do so at once, before either some of the clergy or some of the nobility. Disliking, as a sensible business man, the loss of money or property, he took pains for its preservation. The ravages of the Lombards had caused a great many of the clergy to fly with the sacred vessels of their churches to Sicily. There through accident and design a great number of them were lost. When Gregory was informed of this state of things he at once ordered his rector there to make the strictest search for them. When recovered they were to be carefully catalogued, and, when a receipt had been got for them, deposited with the different bishops of Sicily, till such time as they might be restored on the conclusion of peace. Not to quote all the letters of Gregory under the pretext of illustrating his princely charity, mention will only be made of one more, as it also brings out the fact that in him the sublimest charity walked hand in hand with shrewd business. Again it is a question of the sub-deacon Anthemius. The spring of 596 had seen Arichis raiding the Campanian plain. He had returned to Beneventum with a numerous train of captives. The grief of Gregory was, as he said himself, only to be estimated by the magnitude of the disaster. He at once sent money for the redemption of the prisoners. Still, though he instructed Anthemius to redeem not only such freemen as were unable to pay their own ransom, but also those slaves whose ransom their masters could not afford, he was careful to remind the rector to redeem the captives at as low a rate as possible, and to send to him a careful list of all he redeemed. If charity “covereth a multitude of sins”, Gregory’s must have been well hidden.




Among those who turned to the Pope for justice, denied them everywhere else, were the ever-oppressed Jews. And in him they found what the Jews in every age, including our own, have found in the Roman pontiffs, a ruler more tolerant towards them than any of their other masters. In the Middle Ages, the Jews, everywhere persecuted, called Rome their “paradise on earth”. We have many letters of Gregory written in behalf of the Jews. He will not have them injured, deprived of their synagogues, prevented from holding their religious festivals, nor forcibly baptized. “For those who are not Christians must be won to the unity of the faith by mildness and kindness, by admonition and persuasion”. One of the persuasive methods used by the Pope was to cause the rent of those Jews on the Church’s patrimonies to be somewhat reduced if they expressed a willingness to become Christians. But he would not have them or their belongings ill-used, as Bishop Victor of Palermo found to his cost, when Gregory insisted on his making restitution for damage done to some of the Jewish synagogues, in his episcopal city. In thus seeing that the Jews got justice, Gregory showed that he was not only a Christian bishop and a theologian, but a ruler who had thoroughly grasped that the strength of a state depended upon the union of its people, and that that union could be cemented by nothing but by justice for every man. Side by side with the enunciation of abstract principles of justice in behalf of the Jews, we find placed the practical deductions of the soundest common sense. On one occasion it had come to his ears that a certain convert from Judaism had forcibly taken possession of a synagogue in Sardinia where there were then a great many Jews. He at once ordered the synagogue to be restored to them, and laid it down: “The civil laws do not permit the Jews to erect new synagogues; at the same time they allow them the undisturbed use of their old ones. That Peter and his supporters may not pretend that they have acted as they have simply from zeal for the faith and to force the conversion of the Jews, you must (this to the metropolitan of Sardinia) point out to them that moderation is to be their rule in these matters. The Jews must be drawn to the Church by their own will, not forcibly pushed into it. For it is written: ‘I will freely sacrifice to thee’, and ‘With my will, I will give praise to him’. Let your holiness then, with the aid of those who, like yourself, condemn Peter's violence, endeavor to make peace between the people of your city; because, especially at this time, when there is every fear of a descent of the enemy (the Lombards), you ought not to have a divided peopled”. If the emperors at Constantinople had always acted on the lines here marked out by the Pope, a very different front would have been presented to the Moslems. It were very desirable, too, that those who nowadays are so fond of lauding the Iconoclastic emperors, for their noble efforts to root up superstition (Oh! that blessed word superstition! How efficaciously its free use serves to gloss over flaws in weak arguments!), as incarnated, as it were, in Image-worship, should contrast Gregory’s treatment of the Jews and that of their idols, the emperors.

But if Gregory’s efforts to secure justice for the Jews were such that, whenever they had a grievance they flocked to him to have it remedied, he made equally manifest his determination that they should abide by the existing laws, especially those which had been devised to stop their proselytizing.

Owing to the power possessed by masters over their slaves, Jewish masters were able to put a considerable amount of pressure on such Christian slaves as they might possess to force them to give up their religion. This was not unnaturally strongly resented by Christians generally. Besides, it was thought an indignity to the Christian religion that Christians should be subject to Jews. Hence the latter had been forbidden, even by Constantine, to keep Christian slaves. The prohibition found a definite place in the laws of the empire, and took its place in due course in the codes of the barbarians and the synodal decrees of the Church. This law, through the collapse of the Empire in the West, or through their wealth, the Jews were enabled in many parts to set at naught with impunity. Its enforcement was constantly insisted upon, however, by the Pope, and this, too, whether before bishops or lay officials. He, of course, was equally resolute on what was a necessary corollary to this line of action—viz., that such slaves of Jews as wished to become Christians and fled to a Church for that purpose should be set free.




This compulsory liberation of certain slaves from Jewish masters was one of the means made use of by the Church to bring about the total abolition of slavery. Slavery was literally part and parcel of ancient civilization. And whatever view the Church might take of it, it was clearly impossible for her to change the whole social order of the world all at once. And, indeed, had she been able to do so, the experience of modern times has shown that the sudden compulsory liberation of multitudes of slaves is of more or less doubtful benefit to the slaves themselves. But what we find the Church doing from early times was to prepare the way for the gradual extermination of slavery by asserting the natural equality of all men, and by giving men a high motive to induce them to free their slaves—pointing out to them that such a line of conduct was a most fitting act of gratitude to offer to God, who by His Son’s death had freed all of us from the slavery of sin. “Since our Redeemer mercifully assumed our human flesh, that the grace of His divinity might break the bonds of slavery by which we were held, and restore us to our original freedom, it is a wholesome act, by the benefit of manumission, to restore to the liberty in which they were born, men whom in the beginning nature brought forth free, and whom the law of nations has made bondsmen”. Such is the preamble of the act of manumission in which Gregory declared free and Roman citizens two of the slaves of the Roman Church—“being moved”, as he said, “by reflection on this matter”.

 And if, in later times, “it seemed”, even to the unspeakable Lombard, “the very greatest gain that slaves should be brought from slavery to freedom”, the reason given is that of Gregory—“because our Redeemer deigned to become a slave to purchase liberty for us”. And if in later times the Franks freed slaves, they so far copied the formula of Gregory in doing so, that they not only freed them to honor Our Lord, but even declared them Roman citizens. Gregory did not live to see rooted up the noxious weed of slavery, firmly established as it was by a growth of thousands of years. But he began the task of eradicating it, and, instructed by him as to the best way of destroying it, the Church did at length succeed in stamping it out of all Christian countries.




Occupied as Gregory thus was with the spiritual and temporal needs of the Church's children, with the concerns of emperors, kings and peasants, with pagan and heretic, and with all the multifarious external relations in general of the Church Catholic, he found time to attend to what may be called the inner life of the Church, to her intercourse, so to speak, with her Divine Founder, to the way in which she expresses herself to Him in her liturgy. That Gregory, as a matter of fact, did interest himself in improving the liturgy, we know not only on the late testimony of John the Deacon, but also on that of the Pope himself. For he tells us he had been asked how he hoped to repress the Church of Constantinople if in all his (liturgical) arrangements he followed the customs of that Church in everything. Various points had been adduced by the Pope’s questioner to show that in his changes he had followed the customs of Constantinople. For instance, the fact that he had altered the position in the Mass of the Lord’s Prayer was alleged in proof of the accusation. “We say the Lord’s Prayer” replied Gregory, “immediately after the Canon, because the apostolic custom was that the consecration of the Host took place in connection with the Lord’s Prayer only. And it seemed to me very unsuitable that we should say over the Host the Canon composed by a scholastic, and should not say over His Body and Blood the prayer composed by Our Redeemer Himself. Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer among the Greeks is said by all the people, among us by the priest alone”. But while, in conclusion, asking his critics, “In what have we followed Greek customs when we have either brought back our old ones or established new and useful ones?” and assuring them with regard to the Church of Constantinople that no one doubted that it was subject to the apostolic See, he concludes, as might be expected from such a broad-minded man: “Still if that Church or any other has anything good, whilst I restrain my inferiors from what is unlawful, I am prepared to follow them in good. For a fool is he who thinks he shows that he then holds the first position when he disdains to learn the good he may see around him”.

With regard to the position of the Lord’s Prayer, it is said: “Its ancient place in the Roman rite was at the actual fractio, or breaking of the bread before communion. Between the fractio and the communion no prayer appears in the Roman Orders, where, in all likelihood, the Lord’s Prayer occurred before the time of Gregory”. But if it is now no longer certain what was the exact change made by Gregory in the position of the Our Father in the Mass, it is not to be wondered at if we do not know what were the exact changes he effected in the Sacramentary. Grisar supposes that what alterations he did make were effected in the early years of his pontificate, and in connection with his attention to the devotion of the stations. According to John the Deacon, Gregory’s work in this direction consisted in alterations made to the Sacramentary bearing the name of Pope Gelasius (492-6). And just as that Pope’s edition (or that edition by whomever drawn up) was only an adaptation of the liturgy as he found it, so Gregory’s Sacramentary—the groundwork of the Roman Missal as we have it today—was only a revised version of the issue of his predecessor. To Gregory’s orderly mind the liturgical productions of the preceding century seemed defective in arrangement, and to him they also appeared too long and too much scattered through different books. Accordingly, while changing the order somewhat of the prayers in the earlier edition, and adding a few of his own, he cut out a great many, and brought them together in one volume for the convenience of the celebrant.

After this it might be thought a comparatively easy task to decide what were the changes effected by Gregory. All that would be necessary would be to compare the Sacramentary of Gelasius, of which a new edition has been recently published at the Clarendon Press, with that of Gregory, and the task would be accomplished. There is, however, this difficulty in the way. There is no longer extant a copy of the original Sacramentary of Gregory. By the addition of a supplement to the original work, and by the gradual fusion of that supplement with the primary text, the true Sacramentarium Gregorianum was lost.

“Though”, says Bishop, in an isolated later MS., “a trace of the primitive distinction (viz., between the original text and the supplement) may still be found, the true Gregorianum and the supplement were, by the close of the tenth century, so fused into one whole that it was impossible to distinguish any longer the component parts of what now passed as the Gregorianum Sacramentarium. And it is the book thus fused which, practically speaking, forms the Roman missal of today”.

When and where and to what extent additions were first made to Gregory’s Sacramentary, it seems now impossible to say. But when Charlemagne was carrying out his reforms in Church matters he found it necessary to write to his friend Pope Hadrian I. for an unadulterated copy of the work. This he received. Here we must leave the Sacramentary of Gregory in the hope that it may be given to some fortunate scholar also to receive it from some neglected corner in one of the archives of France or Germany.

With his attention fixed on the Church’s liturgy it was impossible that the question of music and singing (ever an integral part of liturgy) should fail to claim some share of his regard. As we have already seen, the very first canon of the council he held in Rome in 595 shows at least that he had given some thought to it. And tradition has always connected his name with extensive and beneficial improvements in the matter of musical notation. Some few writers, indeed, brushing aside, without adequate grounds, the statements of John the Deacon, would deny to Gregory any share whatsoever in advancing the science of music.

The statements of John the Deacon are as follows: “For the glory of God’s House, in imitation of Solomon, the Wise, and on account of the sweetness of the compunction evoked by music, Gregory composed with the greatest care an Antiphonary, a cento of chants, or, a cento for the cantors”. To perpetuate his work, we are assured by the same biographer that he founded a school of singers endowed it with lands, and erected two buildings for it—one in connection with the Basilica of St. Peter and the other with the Lateran Palace. There to the present day, continues John, are preserved, together with his original Antiphonary, the couch on which he used to recline when singing (as his gout would prevent him from standing) and the rod with which he threatened the boys! The great pontiff, whose mission was to emperors and to kings, could find time and not think it beneath his dignity to instruct small boys in the music of the Church.

But the work of Gregory on the Antiphonary (the volume or volumes in which were collected the parts of the Mass or the Divine Office which had to be sung) is vouched for not merely, as some suppose, by John the Deacon, but by others before his time. In the first half of the ninth century, the distinguished abbot of Reichenau, Walafrid Strabo, wrote that it was the received opinion that, besides re-ordering the masses and the consecrations, the Blessed Gregory had practically thrown the music of the Church into the convenient form it had preserved down to his day, “as it is, moreover, expressly stated in the beginning of the antiphonary itself”. And in the preceding century our own Egbert of York specifies the Antiphonary and Missal of Blessed Gregory, as brought into England by St. Augustine, and tells us that he himself saw in Rome both the Sacramentary and the Antiphonary of the Pope.

Finally, among the letters, or fragments of letters, of Leo IV discovered by Mr. Bishop, there is one to an abbot Honoratus, who is bitterly blamed by the Pope for not appreciating “the sweetness of the Gregorian music”and his liturgy, and thus differing not only from the Roman See (the supreme head of religion, the mother of all churches, and your mistress), but from all who in the Latin tongue praise God and who sing at all. With the greatest exertion did Pope Gregory invent this chant, that by artificially modulated sound he might draw to the Church not only ecclesiastics, but also the uncultivated. The abbot is, in conclusion, threatened with excommunication if he does not follow the teachings of Pope Gregory in the matter of music and liturgy. This highly interesting fragment has been printed most fully by Hirsch-Gereuth.

Further recent researches into the mass of unpublished manuscript music of the Middle Ages have brought to light a remarkable fact, which of itself goes far to establish the truth of the tradition as to the reforms in music initiated by Gregory. The result of these investigations has been summarized in the Dublin Review for October 1897. In the words of that article may well be stated the fact above alluded to: “All the plain-song MSS., from the 8th to the 14th or 15th centuries, to whatever nationality they belong, agree in presenting the melodies in precisely the same form”. This fact, of course, points to a common and authoritative origin for the chants. “Such conformity between documents of different ages, together with the proofs we have given above (the words of John the Deacon, etc.), seems to be quite sufficient to reassure timid minds with regard to the lapse of the two centuries which separate St. Gregory from our earlier MSS. If, during eight centuries, in spite of the ... errors of copyists, etc., the chant of the great Pope has passed unscathed through a period of decadence, why should we fear that the Gregorian melodies could be lost or altered in a lapse of time relatively so short?”

But if it be asked more closely what precise change did the Pope effect in the music of the Church, as he found it, so that for all future ages it was to bear his name and be known as the Gregorian chant—the answer must obviously be largely conjectural. However, of the eight tones which now compose the Gregorian chant four are supposed to have existed before his time, and to them he is supposed to have added other four, each a fourth below the existing tones. So that the general scale of the sounds in the eight tones extended from the la grave (i.e., the a in the first space in the modern base clef) to the sol of the second octave (i.e., the g on the second line of the treble clef). “He made use of the old Latin notation to represent the tones, and employed the first seven letters of the Roman alphabet, in capitals and small print, as the signs of the two octaves”.

However all this may be, there is, at least, every reason to believe that Pope Gregory I had a hand in the perfecting of a style of musical composition which for certain purposes still remains unsurpassed, and in which have been written some of the most solemnly grand pieces which the world has yet heard.

Intimately connected with music, which, especially through the labors of Gregory the Great and Guido d'Arezzo, they have done so much to advance, and which to this day they cultivate with care, have always been the monks of the order of St. Benedict. His Dialogues, which contain his life of the great father of western monasticism, are a tribute of Gregory’s admiration for St. Benedict and the early fathers of the Order. His devoting his patrimony to the erection of monasteries and his becoming a Benedictine monk himself are facts which tell the same story more eloquently still. When he went as apocrisiarius to Constantinople he would not be without the company of his beloved monks. When he became Pope, was he likely to forget them? They and the monastic life became, if possible, dearer to him than ever. He would have, as we have seen, monks ever about his person. With them he filled important Sees, and accomplished important undertakings. In the midst of his troubles his mind ever regretfully turned to the quiet of the cloister—the harbour of refuge from the storms of the world. “I sailed with a favorable wind when I led a quiet life in my monastery. But stormy gales have arisen since, and hurried me on along with them”.

As proof of his love and regard for the monks of his order is cited a document (often called the Magna Charta of the monks), purporting to be a Constitution of Pope Gregory, addressed to all the bishops, in which is proclaimed the freedom of the monks from episcopal control. Though this decree is no longer regarded as genuine, still the authentic letters of his Register show that Gregory undoubtedly did for many particular cases what he is falsely alleged to have done for the whole. And the individual exemption from episcopal control, granted by him to promote the welfare of the monasteries, paved the way for the general exemption of later times, and was in turn only an extension of a policy already entered upon by his predecessors.

The monks were, in the West at least, and in the development they had received through the organizing hand of Benedict, practically a new element in the Church. Naturally, then, time was required to fix their relations to the authorities of the Church, and for themselves to settle down as one of its ordinary working powers. In different letters regarding various monasteries, Gregory laid down a number of principles to define the position of the monks.

In the first place the peace and tranquility of the monasteries must be provided for, “so that the minds of the monks may be freer to attend to God’s work”. Hence he would have them entrust the secular business of their monasteries to laymen, and be freed as well from the duties of ordinary citizens as from those of the secular clergy. He would not allow their property to be interfered with by bishop or priest, and supported them in their efforts to free themselves from episcopal control if only “security of mind in prayer” were sought for and not immunity from well-deserved episcopal severity.

Another point which Gregory strongly insisted upon was that the monks should enjoy full freedom in the election of their abbots; and that, once elected, only a canonical fault was to avail to depose them. To prevent their being annoyed by episcopal interference, he ruled that monks were not to be raised to sacred orders or removed from the monastery without the consent of the abbot. On the occasion of their visits to a monastery, the bishops were not to prove a financial burden or so act as to interfere with the monastic quiet.

On the other hand, he would have the monks submit to the civil power in matters that pertain to it, and observe their vows of chastity and poverty. “Where individual gain is the order of the day among monks, neither peace nor charity can long endure. The habit of a monk denotes contempt of the world. And how can monks despise the world who seek gold?”. They must not wander about; and, if need be, force must be used to prevent them. Youths under eighteen are not to be allowed to become monks, and all candidates must undergo a two years’ novitiate. By this last regula­tion he split the difference between the laws of Justinian, which required a novitiate of three years, and the rule of St. Benedict, which required but one. Lastly, he insisted that men should not belong to the ranks both of the secular clergy and of the monastic order. “For it is highly out of place that when, on account of their difficulties, there is no one who is competent to fulfill the duties of either state completely, one is judged to be competent for both. The duties of the mission interfere with the monastic life, and the monastic rule is an obstacle to the ordinary clerical duties”. The lapse of over a thousand years has not caused this dictum of the great monk-pope to lose its force. The truth, therefore, contained in it ought never to be lost sight of. So that where the necessities of the Church in different parts have caused a violation of the principle here laid down by Gregory, every effort should be made that their proper spheres of action be restored to monk and to secular priest with the least possible delay.

Gregory’s influence on the future of the cloister, and, through it, on the civilization of Europe, cannot be over­estimated. So great was, deservedly, the name and authority of Gregory the Great in the Church of the Middle Ages, that the policy of the Holy See towards the monastic orders was, as it were, fixed by his attitude towards them. His action decided that Rome was to show favor to the monks. And in supporting them the popes gave strength to one of the greatest, if not the very greatest of the agencies which labored to refine and civilize the barbarian conquerors of the Roman Empire, The monasteries became centers wherein all that goes to make a civilized, virtuous and Christian man was taught by word, and above all by example. They were, moreover, places of retreat wherein such as were in distress of soul or body could find comfort and nourishment, whether spiritual or temporal. In the stormy days of the Middle Ages, and some decades of those ages were tempestuous indeed, they were the only harbors in which peace—that peace to which we all look forward as the greatest of the joys of heaven—was alone to be found. To those abodes of peace, driven from elsewhere in the timid alarm into which they so easily fall, fled science and letters. And whilst the passions of men, armed with fire and steel, were converting the smiling campaign into feverish wastes, the monks, who alone bent the spear into a ploughshare, were silently reclaiming the wild forest and the trackless bog. And, trained by the constant thought of death to despise it, there issued from the silent and peaceful cloisters, men who, in the cause of God and man, feared not to face the noise and tumult of the world; and braving, for liberty's sweet sake, fierce baron and tyrant king, won from them those charters of freedom, which were then preserved in their archives, and of which we are now enjoying the blessed fruit,

What has been said of Gregory’s solicitude for monasteries of men applies equally to those of women, to whose prayers he attributed, as we have seen, the preservation of Rome from the swords of the Lombards. He was as anxious for their material and moral advancement as for those of men. We find that he granted some convents the same rights of autonomy as he granted to monasteries of men; and that “those who are devoted to the service of God might not suffer want”, he endowed them with property. As an example of his care for them we may cite an extract of his letter (June 597) to Theoctista, the emperor’s sister. Thanking her for an alms sent to him for the needy, Gregory tells her that “With half the money he had received from her he had arranged for the purchase of bed-clothes for the maids of God (nuns), whom you in Greek call monastrice; because from the want of sufficient bed-coverings they suffer much from the great cold of the winter here. These nuns are very numerous in the city. According to the memorandum by which distribution (of alms) is made, they are 3000 in number. Each year, indeed, they receive from the patrimony of St. Peter 80 pounds of gold. But what is that among such a multitude, especially in this city, where everything is so dear?” As the nuns particularly spoken of in this letter had evidently come from some warmer part of Italy, and as the total number of them reaches so large a figure, some idea may be formed of the extent of the Lombard ravages throughout Italy already achieved, and of the terror they inspired.




Most of the monasteries to which Gregory granted privileges were probably living under the rule of St. Benedict, with which he was personally acquainted. But about the very time that he became Pope, another great patriarch of monks was founding his principal monastery of Luxeuil. This was the famous Columbanus, “the great glory of the school of Bangor”, and the intimate friend of St. Columba of Iona, and not infrequently confounded with him. Leaving his native Ireland about the year 588, he took with him to the continent of Europe not only the faith of Christ, which he spread with the greatest zeal and energy; but, like every other Irishman, a passionate love for Ireland and everything connected with it. For Columbanus was a typical Irishman. With all their enthusiasm at his back, he saw monastery after monastery, and hundreds of monks living under the rule he drew up. Irishmen, however, are not distinguished as quiet, peaceable, law-abiding citizens, and consequently not as law-givers. It is from their very enthusiasm that they are naturally wanting in that self-restraint that is necessary to make men good observers of law themselves, and good makers of law for others. Great indeed was the virtue of Columbanus, a glorious character. Men rushed to him, and, fired by his enthusiasm, performed wonders for the conversion of Germany especially. But his rule was not founded on prudence. It was too strict. It could not and did not last. The rule of the practical Roman Benedict had completely superseded it in the century in which its founder died. The character of his race and of Columbanus is seen in the opposition which the Irish offered to the comparatively new regulations as to the time of celebrating Easter, i.e. to the cycle established by Dionysius the Little, in 525. Of course there was no point of faith in question. The cycle to which they had become attached had come to them from Rome through St. Patrick. An Irish custom and hallowed by Rome and St. Patrick! There was quite enough there for Columbanus to fight about!

Accordingly on this and on other matters he addressed various letters to Gregory between the years 595 and 600. Some, at least, of these letters of his, prolix, often obscure, and containing a strange mixture of most respectful and most free language, we know, from a later letter of his to Pope Sabinian (?), were prevented by the disorders of the times from reaching Gregory. However, as one of the letters of Columbanus to Pope Gregory has been preserved, an outline of its contents cannot fail to be of interest, even though we are not sure that it was ever perused by Gregory himself. It is addressed: “Bargoma—a wretched dove—to the most beautiful ornament of the Church, the, as it were, brightest flower of all this decaying Europe, and distinguished overseer”. It is relying on the Pope’s evangelical humility that he writes to him for a decision in favor of the Irish Pasch. For, he argues, there can be no presumption in writing even to his betters when there is necessity. Then, following Anatolius, whose early cycle was the one used in Ireland and not the later one of Victorius (which was then used in Gaul), and still less that of Dionysius, he asks the Pope how, with all the light of his wisdom, which is diffused through all the world, he can reverence a “dark Pasch”.

He then goes on to beg the Pope on such a question not to rely on humility or weight of authority. And after mentioning Gregory’s presumed respect for his predecessor, Leo I, at whose instigation Victorius is said to have constructed his paschal cycle, he quotes Ecclesiastes rather more wittily than respectfully, to the effect that, in this matter, “a living dog is perchance better than a dead lion”. However, he begs the Pope: “Direct towards me, rather a timid pilgrim than a learned scribe, the power of your authority; and do not disdain quickly to transmit to me your favorable decision to quell the storm around me”. Then comes a reversion to the other tone; and he rails against the pronouncement that we must not make the Pasch with the Jews, a decision which he assigns to Pope Victor (189-199). Again he is in the submissive key. He recognizes that he has been writing with more forwardness than humility. It is utterly incongruous to argue, as it were, “with your great authority, and it is absurd that my Western letters should trouble you, who lawfully sit in the chair of Peter, the key bearer (of the kingdom of heaven)”. However, he begs the Pope not to have regard simply to Columbanus, but to the many ‘masters’ who think as he does. And because, by way of a sweet, he proceeds to say: “Know that I open my mouth with good intention though in a somewhat confused and hyperbolical manner”, he thinks he has a right to add the bitter: “I assure you, with all simplicity, that whoever opposes the authority of Jerome (who had spoken in praise of the work of Anatolius, but of course not of Victorius and Dionysius, who lived after him!) will be rejected as a heretic by the Church of the West (Ireland)”.

Columbanus next asks the Pope how he is to behave towards simoniacal and adulterous clerics; regrets that ill-health, etc., prevent him from coming to Rome “to draw of the living waters of knowledge that flow from heaven”; tells Gregory he has read his book on the Pastoral Care (a book, short indeed, but full of wisdom and sweeter than honey); asks for other works of the Pope, for an answer to his questions, and for pardon for having written with such forwardness; and then, as a last word, writes as forwardly as ever: “If, as I understand from your Candidus (the Pope’s agent in Gaul), you will reply that what is sanctioned by length of time cannot be changed, it is manifestly an old error; but truth which condemns it is ever older”

If Gregory ever read this letter, and if he was otherwise unacquainted with the Irish character, he must have been utterly lost in astonishment, that one man at one and the same time could say things so replete with at least seeming insolence and respect; with wisdom and arrant folly. The letters of Columbanus to Boniface IV will be found to display the same characteristics. It may be noted here that in a letter—strikingly short for the loquacious Columbanus—to Gregory’s successor, Sabinian, he again expresses his regret that the “disorders of the time and the wild unrest of the adjoining nations” prevent him from visiting those “who preside in the apostolic See, prelates most dear to all the faithful, and, by the merit of the apostolic honor, most reverend fathers”; speaks of the letters which, with presumption, he wrote to Gregory of blessed memory; and limits himself to begging Sabinian through Jesus Christ and their common faith, “to confirm, if it be not against the faith, the tradition of our fathers, so that by your decision we may observe in our wanderings such customs regarding the Pasch as we have received from our elders”. He then touchingly assured the Pope that even in the midst of the wilds in which they lived they seemed still to be in their own dear country, as long as they were living under the regulations they had received from their fathers, and had not to submit to the decisions of those Gauls. He knows that his raving rather than reasoning has not availed him; so he again implores the approval of the Pope’s authority to enable them to live in communion with their neighbors and yet retain their own customs.

This letter, in which there is not a word of even disrespectful sound, is certainly the key to the proper understanding of the language of Columbanus to the Holy See. Where there is question of standing up for the maintenance of a custom in which no point of faith seems to be involved, then Columbanus can dispute with a thorough Celtic warmth of argument and flow of words. But where there may be question of a matter of faith, he has no more to say. He would not for a moment ask for any privilege if there was danger of it being in any way “against the faith”. Where the obedience of faith is concerned, Columbanus is all submission to the decision of the Holy See.

If his own writings connect Columbanus with our saint, his friend St. Columba, “Saint of the seas”, is only brought into touch with the great Pope by legend. We are told that clerics “came from Rome to present him, in the name of Pope Gregory, with a richly enshrined relic of the true Cross, known afterwards as Morgemm, and long, it is said, preserved at Iona”. In return for this present, Columba is reported to have sent his famous hymn, Altus Prosator, to the Pope. Gregory, “a hymnologist himself” was greatly pleased with it, especially as he was privileged to see the Angels listening to it at the same time”. In consequence of the Pope observing that he thought the Praise of the Holy Trinity was too scanty in it, Columba is said to have written an addition to his Altus in honor of the Trinity. Bishop Healy, from whom these particulars are drawn, allies Gregory with another famous Irishman, Carporius (Mac Cuirp), whom he makes a disciple of the Pope.




And now that we have accompanied Gregory in his journey through life, and noted at least the principal actions of his glorious career, we must, though with regret, leave him after assisting at his death. Of details of his last hours we have unfortunately none. Sickness, as we have already noticed, was his constant companion all during his pontificate. His letters reveal to us how grievously gout was ever afflicting him. It reduced his once massive frame to the last degree of attenuation. By the beginning of the year 603, his sufferings of all kinds had brought him to such a pass that “his one consolation was the hope of the speedy approach of death”. In the midst of his pains, he would ask for prayers in the most beautiful and touching language. “Pray for me lest I give way to impatience through my sufferings, and lest the sins, which might be pardoned me on account of my pains, be increased by my complaining”. But, tortured as he was, he could think of the woes of others. He could rejoice that the eyes of his friend, Eulogius of Alexandria, were better and he could beg Marinianus of Ravenna to take more care of his health. By the last month of 603 his illness had so increased that he had scarce strength to speak to the ambassadors of the Lombard queen. As late as January 604, he wrote with the most engaging thoughtfulness to Venantius of Perugia that he had heard that “our brother and fellow-bishop Ecclesius” was suffering considerably from the cold, because he had no winter clothing. Gregory, therefore, begs Venantius to forward without delay, because the cold is intense (and to let him know that he has done so), the thick woolen tunic that he is sending to him (Venantius) for Ecclesius, by the bearer of this letter. A few more letters, a few more months of labor to the last, and the flowing pen and tongue of the great Pontiff moved no more! He died March 12, and was buried on the same day, in the portico of St. Peter’s, to the left before the sacristy. There it remained till the ninth century, near the bodies of his great predecessors St. Leo the Great, Gelasius, etc. Then his namesake, Gregory IV, thinking that one “whose bright wisdom had spread the gifts of the Holy Ghost over the whole earth” should be buried more honorably, removed the body from the portico to an oratory dedicated to him, which he built and adorned, not far from the place where the body was previously resting, but built off the outermost aisle of the basilica. In the present basilica of St. Peter the saint’s bones rest beneath the altar of St. Andrew. The upper part of the skull, however (less one of the temple bones, which was given to our holy father Leo XIII), and another bone are preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Sens. They were obtained from Pope John VIII by Ansegisus, Archbishop of Sens.

His epitaph, of which a few fragments still remain, must have been in existence soon after his death, as it is to be found in a collection of inscriptions drawn up in the seventh century, and is cited by Bede. It ran :


“Earth! take that body which at first you gave.

Till God again shall raise it from the grave.

His soul amidst the stars finds heavenly day;

In vain the gates of darkness make essay

On him whose death but leads to life the way.

To the dark tomb, this prelate, though decreed.

Lives in all places by his pious deed.

Before his bounteous board pale Hunger fled;

To warm the poor he fleecy garments spread;

And to secure their souls from Satan’s power.

He taught by sacred precepts every hour.

Nor only taught, but first the example led.

Lived o'er his rules, and acted what he said.

To English Saxons Christian truth he taught.

And a believing flock to heaven he brought.

This was thy work and study, this thy care.

Offerings to thy Redeemer to prepare.

For these to heavenly honors raised on high,

Where thy reward of labors ne'er shall die”.


The grief of the poor of Rome on Gregory’s death may easily be imagined. Their sorrow will have been as that of those of Joppe, who bewailed the death of the bountiful Tabitha. Along with some of them we will go and look at the portrait of their benefactor, which Gregory had had painted, along with those of his father and mother, on the walls of his beloved monastery of St. Andrew, on the Coelian. These likenesses were still fresh in the days of John the Deacon, who has left us a full description of that of Gregory. From it we gather that Gregory was of average height and well-shaped—i.e., doubtless before his body became the moles we have seen him describe it. His face combined in comely proportions the length of his father’s with the roundness of his mother’s. His beard, like his father’s, was somewhat tawny and sparse. The head was bald, with two little curls in the centre of the forehead bending towards the right. The clerical crown of his hair was round and ample, consisting of dark, neatly-curled hair, reaching down below the middle of his ear. His forehead was handsome; his eyebrows thin, raised and long. The pupils were of a yellowish-brown tint, and not large but open. The under eyelids full. The nose near its base at the point of juncture with the eyebrows was thin, grew broader near the middle, then curved a little, and at its termination became prominent by reason of the open nostrils. His lips were ruddy, full, and subdivided. His cheeks were shapely, and he had a becomingly projecting chin. His complexion was pallid and swarthy, and had not the flush it had in later life. His expression was gentle; his hands graceful, with slender fingers suitable for writing.

He was represented as standing, with a chestnut-colored chasuble over a dalmatic. In his left hand was the book of the gospels; his right was raised in the act of blessing. His pallium was represented as hanging down, not (as in the days of John and since) in the centre of the breast, but down the left side. The square nimbus showed that Gregory was still living when the portrait was painted. The following distich of his own composing was placed below the picture :


Christe potens, Domine, nostri largitor honoris,

Indultum officium solita pietate guberna.


But it required no frescoes to keep alive the memory of Gregory the Great in the hearts of the Romans. Had he not saved them from the hands of the hated Lombards and from the jaws of famine? Had he not nourished their weary and fainting souls with the spiritual bread of the word of God? Year after year with heart­felt love they kept his feast, and John tells us how in his days the vigil of Gregory’s festival was passed in fervent prayer, and with what devotion the Romans kissed such relics of him as his pallium and girdle.

To him, too, turned the Christian world at large. In his life and in his works men found a model they loved to imitate. A modern writer prefers to look on Gregory rather as a great Roman than as a saint. But in the East (where, from his Dialogues, he was spoken of as Dialogus), as in the West, till the days of the new learning, there was no one, priest or layman, king or peasant, Greek or Latin, but regarded Gregory the Great as a man who was pleasing to God as well as to his fellow man; and so he is still regarded by all who look for guidance to the chair of Peter, viz., as a great saint.

Enough, it would seem, has been written of the deeds and enough transcribed of the words of Gregory to enable the reader to judge for himself of the nobility of Gregory’s character. But, both to confirm the judgment already doubtless passed, and because in truth one is loath to leave Gregory, a few more details may be added here to bring out the salient points of his character into still bolder relief. In duly estimating a man’s character, account must be taken not only of what he was and how he fulfilled the duties of his position, but also of the circumstances under which he carried out those obligations.

Now Gregory was the shepherd of Christ’s flock on earth; and he performed the duties of a good pastor by toiling unceasingly for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his people, whether high or lowly, by an incessant watchfulness over them, by sincere love for them, and by a courageous defence of their interests. We have seen it was all one to Gregory whether he was working for the benefit of an emperor or a slave, a noble lady of Constantinople or a soap-maker at Naples. He lived not for himself but for others, else never would he have left his beloved cloister. In his anxiety for the welfare of souls, he had an eye to everything and everybody all over the world. Hence John the Deacon could find no other term to describe his extraordinary vigilance but to call him Argus-eyed.

And Gregory’s work for his fellow men was accomplished despite the cruel pain that ever kept his poor body on the rack, as it were; despite the swords of the Lombards, and the seditions of the imperial soldiery in Rome; and despite the selfish opposition of grasping officials and trouble from those who ought to have been his chief support.

Of his superhuman energy what need to add another example? And of his love for the flock committed to his care, a quality so essentially characteristic of a good shepherd, what call to adduce here in illustration another fact? “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father”, says St. James (I. 27), “is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself unspotted from this world”. Gregory's religion must be then assuredly described as pure.

If the good shepherd must have love for his sheep, to win their affection he must be lowly like them too. Gregory was the Great in his humility. Proof of it, says John the Deacon, he left to his successors in abundance, not only in being the first to call himself, in his letters, servant of the servants of God, but also in the inferior quality of pontifical vestments with which he was content, and which, adds John, are preserved to this day. The same deacon relates a story in illustration of Gregory’s humility which is, no doubt, accurate in all its details. For he is quoting from the Pratum Spiritale of John Moschus, who died about 620, and in Rome. This Greek monk, who had travelled a great deal, and who occupied himself while in Rome in collecting together and writing in a book the instances of remarkable virtue he had met with, had heard what he tells of Gregoryat first hand.

A certain abbot, John, a Persian (Persa), who had come to Rome to pray at the tombs of the holy apostles, Peter and Paul, assured his brethren on his return home that, seeing Pope Gregory coming along, he made his way towards him to do him humble reverence. But the Pope, seeing that the abbot was a stranger, was the first to do lowly obeisance to him, and would not rise till John had arisen. Then Gregory embraced the abbot “with great humility, and with his own hand gave me three solidi and ordered that all my wants should be supplied. I accordingly gave praise to God who had given him such humility towards all and almsgiving and charity”.

Not only did Gregory profess himself the servant of all bishops, but he declared that so far was he from being accounted worthy to rank among them, that he was unworthy of being reckoned among the simple faithful. In his own eyes he was but a “manikin .The success that practically on every occasion attended his efforts to bring men back to the path of duty is the solid proof that his professions of humility were not mere empty words. For men are only reclaimed from evil courses by such as they feel are, while completely forgetful of self, working for their good and the glory of God. The subsequent history of the patriarchs of Constantinople shows that, in the one conspicuous case where Gregory failed, it was not in man’s power to do otherwise. In view of the extraordinary pronouncements not infrequently met with on the subject of humility, it will not be out of place here to insist that vigor, energy and determination are not inconsistent with true humility; and that humility is not incompatible with a spirited exercise of those qualities. For what else is it but a practical acknowledgment, before God and man, what helpless creatures a conscientious self-examination has revealed us to be, apart from the divine assistance?

Undoubtedly untiring energy, unbounded charity, and deep humility were the most conspicuous features of Gregory’s character. To proceed to draw out the fact that he had many other of the moral virtues in an eminent degree, that he had a true love of country, of honor, and of the other virtues which distinguish a good citizen and a gentleman, would be to tediously inculcate what the mere reading of his actions must have already deeply impressed upon the mind. It may, however, be further shortly pointed out that his character was a thoroughly even one. It was well balanced by the cardinal virtues.

With the “simplicity of the dove”, Gregory certainly combined “the cunning (or prudence) of the serpent”. With his letters, models of tact, before us, there is no need for us to have to fall back on the evidence of John the Deacon, that he was a “most prudent father of the family of Christ”. His letters reveal the caution, the smooth-spokenness of a diplomatist of the highest order. With the wish to fulfill the behest of his Divine Master that he should be a “fisher of men” well did he practice the fisherman’s art. He knew when to coax, to tempt and to wheedle, and when to pull and to tug.

All his diplomacy was exercised with the one object of catching the souls of men, and not to win for himself honor or esteem, gold or power. To the number of Gregory’s letters already cited, which is amply sufficient to justify all that we have here said, we will add another, as it will, moreover, be useful for reference when the Iconoclast controversy comes to be treated. It is a letter to Serenus of Marseilles, who had destroyed the images in his Church. Gregory does not simply write to him a strong letter, full of angry expressions of blame. But extracting what good he can out of the act he has to blame, he praises Serenus for his zeal against idolatry and then points out to him the danger of going too far in that zeal. “It has come to our knowledge that, seeing that some adored images, you have broken and cast forth the images of your Church. We praise, indeed, your zeal in not suffering anything to be adored that has been made by the hand, but you ought not to have broken your images. Pictures are used in the Church, that those who cannot read in books may read by looking at pictures on the walls. You must then keep the pictures and at the same time prevent anyone from adoring them”.

How thoroughly Gregory was animated with the old Roman spirit of love of justice will be clear to anyone who has not forgotten the Pope’s letters to his defensoresJustice for all, great and small, and restitution for wrong done, was the burden of them all. “Restore everything which has been unjustly taken away, knowing that you will earn great profit for me, if you heap up for me a reward in heaven rather than earthly riches”. Under all circumstances, Gregory would have justice done. He would not pass over the unjust or excessive punishment of a poor pauper woman even by a bishop though when another had been punished according to his deserts, feelings of humanity would make him take measures for his support. “Because I love man for justice’ sake; and I do not put justice to one side for man’s sake”. With thoughts such as these adorning them, Recared was not flattering Gregory when he described his letters as golden.

It may be put forward as an axiom that the just man is a bold man. And if Gregory had justice, he had also fortitude. He had no rash daring, which leads men reck­lessly to court danger, unreasonably to pick quarrels, or rashly to provoke hostility. “You know my ways, how I forbear for a long time. But if once I make up my mind to bear no longer, I cheerfully face all danger”. And then to him “all human terrors or favors were but as a little smoke, which a light breeze soon dissipates”. If he feared, it was only God Almighty, or for those committed to his charge, and not for himself. “For myself”, he declared to the Emperor Maurice, “I am not in the least degree disturbed, as I am prepared to face all extremities provided I save my soul”. At duty’s call he feared not to write to the emperor, “with the utmost zeal and freedom”; to impress upon kings that their highest glory was to cultivate justice and to see that the rights of every one of their subjects were respected; and upon emperors that they were the lords of freemen and not of slaves. This fearlessness of his in the cause of justice he breathed into his subordinates. One of his rectors is urged, when engaged in carrying out an act of justice, not to slacken, “whatever secular authority might offer opposition to him”. And an apocrisiarius is exhorted “to fear nothing, but for truth’s sake to despise all the world’s power raised against it”. To what do civilized men, and we Englishmen especially, owe their freedom more than to the Christian fortitude of the ecclesiastic, of Pope, of bishop, and of priest? The ferocity of the barbarian conqueror of Rome quailed before the moral courage of the Christian bishop, and tyrants like our Norman kings, and such emperors as Henry IV and Frederick II, were only cowed by the moral strength of an unarmed bishop or Pope.

There were two injunctions of Our Lord that Gregory regarded as especially addressed to him. The first was the command given to the rich young man: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven : and come, follow me” (St. Matt. XIX. 21). We have seen how faithfully the young prefect of Rome performed that mandate. The second was the condition proclaimed by Jesus Christ under which alone a man could become His follower: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (St. Luke IX. 23). Whatever may be thought and said nowadays by certain men who call themselves Christian teachers, these words of Our Lord have always, from the time of St. Paul downwards, been held to include bodily mortification. And if Gregory erred in carrying out this latter precept, it was on the generous side. He did too much in the way of castigating his flesh. Much of the illness he had to suffer whilst he was Pope was due to the immoderate mortification he practiced as a monk. He had, of course, to moderate his austerities, and, among other things, to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake. From one of his letters to his friend Eulogius, the patriarch of Alexandria, we discover the wine he liked best. Eulogius had sent him a little present of some ‘collatum and ‘viritheum. These liquors, Gregory states, are not to his taste. He would like a little ‘cognidium, which Eulogius had introduced to his notice the year before. “For at Rome”, he added, “we can get from the dealers what bears the name of ‘cognidium but not what has the substance of it”. Wine merchants of the sixth do not appear to be particularly unlike those of the twentieth century. What these different wines exactly were is not known. Some think that ‘viritheum is the same as ‘juritheum, which is said to be found in some MSS. (though no such alternative reading appears in the latest edition of Gregory’s letters), and which was a sort of date-wine. Others suggest ‘biriteum’, which was either a sort of beer, if made from barley, or a sort of cider, if made from some kind of fruit. Similarly others connect ‘cognidium with the Greek ‘konias oinos, and tell us that it was a ‘vinum resinatum or ‘pitched wine’, whatever that may mean.

Though Gregory, then, may have exceeded in the matter of over-mortification of his body when a young man, there can be no doubt that the complete command over himself which he always held was due to a life of self-denial, to the constant practice of temperance in all its branches.

If it now be asked why, as a set-off against this list of virtues, an occasional tendency in Gregory to play the proselytizer or to be overly-suave to the imperial court has not been more strongly branded, it is answered by another question : Who would stop to dwell on the small faults and imperfections of Gregory, but the fool, who, having no eye for the general beauties of sky and land when the sun is setting gorgeously on a fair campaign, can see nothing but some small slimy pool at his feet? Compared with the other great ones of his age, Gregory was indeed perfection itself.

To anyone who has had the patience to follow what has hitherto been said about Gregory, it must come as a shock to be assured: but this Pope was, after all, an obscurantist; he was an enemy of the light of learning. At one time this baseless accusation was regularly hurled against Gregory. Nowadays, through the well-deserved contempt thrown upon it by many of the highest non-Catholic writers, this charge is generally discredited. For Gregory was both learned and a lover of learning himself, and required it in those whose business it was to be teachers of the people. If we find him stating that he does not consider the rules of grammar and the art of rhetoric of any great moment, that the word of God must not be bound by the rules of Donatus, he had in mind to emphasize the truth that preachers and teachers of revealed truth ought to think more of what they have to say than of the manner in, which they may set forth the saving truths they have to instill into the minds and hearts of their hearers. Besides, the words of the humble are not to be understood too strictly; and allowance must be made for the literary custom of the period. For the Emperor Maurice, in the preface to his Strategic, also declared that he had no concern for the ‘pomp of words’. And to turn to facts. Gregory’s letters are the best refutation of his own words, should anyone be disposed to interpret them literally. Their easy flow, their neat phraseology, show that he used the highest art in their composition, viz., the art of concealing art. It would be to fall into the pedantic fallacy of the more conceited humanists of the Renaissance to suppose that a Latin composition cannot be artistic because its Latin is not Ciceronic. The letters of Gregory will be read, ay, even for their literary excellence, when the insipid productions —classically perfect—of the Renaissance will be consigned to well-merited oblivion.

But did not Gregory formally condemn the pursuit of profane or secular literature? Is there not his famous letter to Desiderius, Bishop of Vienne, to be reckoned with? There is. It is here. “After I had heard so much of your zeal (studies), I was so delighted that I could not bear to refuse the favor your fraternity had asked. Later, however, I was informed—and I cannot mention the subject without a blush—that your fraternity lectured on profane literature to certain persons. By this news I was so upset that my former joy was turned to sorrow, because in the same mouth the praises of Jupiter and Christ do not harmonize. And think how unbecoming it is for a bishop to profess what is unsuitable for a devout layman ... If it shall be clearly proved that the stories I have heard are unfounded, and that you have not been devoting your attention to trifles and to profane literature, I shall thank God for not having permitted your heart to be defiled by the blasphemous praises of the wicked”. From the terms of this letter it is impossible to say precisely what Desiderius had been doing. Some writers, relying on an ancient gloss on the text of the canon law, have supposed that Desiderius had been lectur­ing on literature in his church, instead of preaching the word of God. However that may be, it is at least clear that Desiderius was devoting to profane literature time which Gregory thought would be better spent in directly working to save souls. And, considering the sad state of the Church in Gaul at this time, the Pope’s censure was not uncalled for. Besides, there is no doubt that he considered that profane literature was but the handmaid or forerunner of sacred studies, and that a bishop ought to spend his time on the higher pursuits of philosophy and theology. So far from condemning secular studies, Gregory, in treating ex professo of the relation between the two branches of study, showed the necessity of them as indispensable adjuncts to the comprehension of higher things. This he did commenting on I Kings XIII. 19: “Now there was no smith to be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had taken this precaution, lest the Hebrews should make them swords or spears. So all Israel went down to the Philistines to sharpen every man his plough­share and his spade, and his axe, and his rake”. Pointing out first the literal bearing of the passage, Gregory adds : “If after our wont we look at this text in a spiritual way, we shall find it not devoid of mystery. For what is meant by the phrase, 'No smith was to be found in Israel', but that we are formed for spiritual warfare not by secular learning but by divine ... For, helped by the smith’s handicraft, men would be thus successful if by the weapons of profane eloquence they could prevail over hidden enemies. However, learning drawn from secular studies, although not directly useful in spiritual combat, still, if it be joined to sacred studies, greatly helps to the understanding of those studies ... The wicked spirits take away from some the desire of learning, so that they have no knowledge of profane literature, and never reach the height of sacred studies. Well, then, is it said : The Philistines took care that the Israelites should not make sword or lance. The devil knows well that by a knowledge of profane literature we are helped in sacred knowledge. When, then, they dissuade us from acquiring secular learn­ing, what else do they do but prevent us from making swords and lances? ... But the ploughshares are sharpened at the forges of the Philistines when the word of God in sermons is composed with the aid of secular learning ... Ignorant of profane literature, we cannot penetrate the depths of sacred learning ... A mind untrained cannot lance the tumors of vice, because it cannot see what has to be pierced”.

Hence, too, in his synodical letter to the different patriarchs Gregory wrote: “In a priest’s vestments gold is prominent to show that in him the light of wisdom is pre-eminently conspicuous”. And in practice he always required learning as well as sanctity in the ministers of the Church, and if they had it not, or were not zealous about obtaining it, he blamed them severely. And not only was he ever surrounded with the most learned clerics, but he took care that in his household the presence of refinement should be always manifest. He was quite one of the old school in that respect. “None of those in the Pope’s service”, says John the Deacon, “from the lowest to the highest, ever showed anything barbarous in speech or attire. But in his palace pure Latinity of speech and the use of the toga or trabea of the Quirites preserved the manner of life of Latium”. It can only have been with very considerable effort that Gregory can have kept up a pure Latin style of speech among the members of his household. For the great Gallo-Roman bishop, Apollinaris Sidonius, more than a century before Gregory became Pope, had already declared, in a letter to a young student, that unless he and his very small circle of friends preserved the purity of the Latin tongue from the fast-spreading rusi of barbaric speech, its demise would soon have to be bewailed. Whatever especially annoyed Gregory in connection with the professorial doings of Desiderius, both his own works and words cry out to us that no extensive signification in the direction of a general condemnation of profane literature must be attached to the words of his letter to that bishop.

No story of Gregory would be complete without some literary short account at least of his literary productions. After what we have seen of his prodigious activity in the external affairs of the Church and of the State, we should be utterly at a loss to understand how, in spite of all the work-a-day labors he got through, and in spite of his wretched health, he left behind him the literary works of the extent and merit he has, did we not know that, with great men, the more they have to do the more they can do. The less time they have at their disposal, the more they make of it. And in this respect we may well form some idea of the work of Gregory by using our knowledge of the extraordinarily active yet literary lives of our own great cardinals Wiseman and Manning, of whose characters Gregory's was a sort of compound. In him was the genial enthusiasm of the first with the political activity of the second; though his learning was neither so wide nor so deep as that of Wiseman, nor so keen and polished as that of Manning.

Whatever were the merits of Gregory’s works if strictly weighed in the balance of literary criticism, they exerted an immense influence on life in the Middle Ages. This was probably because of their practical character and of their comparative simplicity, whether of thought or of mode of expression, if contrasted, say, with the works of St. Augustine or of his great predecessor St. Leo I. At any rate, throughout the Middle Ages they not only served as models to other authors, but as literary quarries, whence those drew good material who were constructing liturgical or theological works. And to say the least, as even Photius remarked, who highly praises Gregory for his teaching and miracles, his books “preserved intact the doctrines he had received from Our Lord and the fathers”.


Magna Moralia and the Book of Pastoral Rule


The first of Gregory’s works to see the light was his Moraliaor Morals of Job, which, in form, a commentary on the book of Job, is, really, a treatise on moral theology; and, says Montalembert, “Was worthy of becoming, through all the Middle Ages, the text-book of that theology”. It was begun, as we have seen, when Gregory was apocrisiarius at Constantinople, and was ultimately published in the early years of his pontificate at the instigation of St. Leander. The work, in six parts, subdivided into thirty-five books, was of course sent to the Spanish bishop who had been the cause of its production. In the dedicatory epistle to the same bishop, Gregory begs his friend to assign to ill-health of body, which upsets the mind, any shortcomings he might find in the work. And yet he feelingly adds: “Perchance it is the will of God, that, as one struck by Him, I should expound Job in his affliction; and that, scourged myself, I should the better understand the mind of one who had been himself so scourged”. It is in this epistle that he expresses his resolution not to be fettered by the rules of Donatus any more than the other interpreters of the sacred Scriptures have been. For as the child displays the likeness of its mother, so his work ought to resemble those whence it has sprung. But in all this Gregory was condemning not only, as we have seen, an excessive attention to style over matter, but also a too ornate style. For, as he very aptly notes, “The more the tree runs to leaves, the less the fruit it bears”.

He further explains to Leander that in his comments he has sometimes followed the literal sense in order that the obvious meaning might not be lost, and that at other times he has been even compelled to draw out the figurative meaning. That interpretation, for instance, must be applied to the words: “Under whom (God) they stoop that bear up the world” (Job IX. 13), because it cannot be supposed that Job imagined, like the poets, that the world was supported by Atlas—“by a giant’s sweat”, as Gregory poetically expresses it. And here we may remark that though many of his figurative interpretations are in the highest degree poetical and beautiful, many of them are, to our way of thinking, to the last point far-fetched and fanciful. However, these allegories were to the taste of the times; and in this respect Gregory no doubt wisely did not attempt, had he indeed been able, to serve up for people for their spiritual nourishment either what they had no inclination for, or what, from its mode of presentment, had no attractions for them. Though to us, from its diffuseness, the commentary on Job cannot be said to be attractive, it soon became very popular. John of Ravenna had extracts from it read in church. But this Gregory would not allow to go on. The work, he said, was not suitable for the popular mind. And then came the true reason—his humility. “Whilst I am in the flesh I would not have men generally know of it, if it should be that I have said anything”.

More important than the Moralia, though much shorter, was the Book of Pastoral Rule. After the inspired Word of God, it is second to no other work in what it has effected in raising the standard of moral worth. Since the date of its publication it always has had, it still has, and it always will have, great influence on the religious world. There is no need to point out how thoroughly practical a spiritual treatise must be which has been found to be useful by men for over a thousand years.

The Regula Pastoralis, like the Moralia, also made its appearance in the beginning of Gregory’s pontificate. It was a reply to John of Ravenna, who reproached him with trying to shirk the episcopal charge. Unfolding the duties and all that is looked for in a bishop, he showed he had reason to shrink from taking upon himself such a serious burden. The work is divided into four parts. The first treats of vocation to the episcopate, that he who is called thereto may look into the dispositions with which he approaches it. The second part sets forth the duties of a true bishop; the third, the instructions he must give to his people; and the fourth, the frequent reflections he ought to make on his own conduct, in order to humble himself for the faults he may have committed in the government of souls. So exalted is the view of the episcopal calling taken by the Regula Pastoralis, that it has been said that it made the bishops who made the modern nations.

As soon as it appeared it was received with a chorus of praise. East and west, bishop and emperor, welcomed it alike. Anastasius, patriarch of Antioch, at once translated it into Greek, and wrote to tell the Pope how much he was pleased with it. “But”, said Gregory himself, “I was displeased that those who had so much better things at their disposal should have their minds taken up with inferior matter”. Our own great King Alfred translated it into Anglo-Saxon, as one of the books “most needful for men to read”, and sent a copy of it to every cathedral in his kingdom. And from Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, it appears that a copy of it, along with a book of canons, was delivered to bishops on the occasion of their consecration, with an injunction to live in accordance with them.




Another very popular work of Gregory’s, more popular than the preceding one in the Middle Ages, though nothing like so much read now as the Pastoral Rule, viz., his Dialogues, was also the delight of our forefathers. King Alfred ordered Werefrith, Bishop of Worcester, to trans­late it into Anglo-Saxon. Pope Zachary (752) rendered his great predecessor’s work into Greek, though, adds John the Deacon (IV. 75), “the astute perversity of the Greeks” took care to erase the name of the Son, where there was question of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. Before the close of the same century Zachary’s version became the base of an Arabic edition.

In July 593 the work was not finished. For in that year Gregory wrote to Maximus, Bishop of Syracuse, for information concerning a certain abbot, as his friends were urgent with him briefly to write down certain details “concerning the miracles of the fathers, which we have heard have been wrought in Italy”. However, at least a first edition of it was issued before the end of the year. It received its name from its having been written in the form of a Dialogue between Gregory and his friend the deacon, Peter. The occasion of its production is charmingly recounted by the Pope in the Prologue to the work. “One day, much troubled by the excessive importunity of certain men of the world, who wring from me in their affairs what I know I ought not to concede them, I sought a spot, retired apart, suitable for grief, where I might review all that displeased me in the work I had to do, and all that was wont to bring me sorrow. After I had been seated for some time in silence and dire affliction, my most beloved son the deacon, Peter, who has been linked with me in the closest bonds of friendship from his early youth, and who has been my companion in my study of the sacred Scriptures, came to me. Seeing that I was thoroughly upset in mind, he asked me what new trouble had come upon me that I was in greater grief than usual. To him I replied:

“The sorrow, Peter, which never leaves me, by its constant presence is always old, but is by increase ever fresh. Unhappy that I am, my mind, wounded with its daily task, remembers what it once was in the monastery. It remembers how there all earthly cares that pass with time were beneath it, and how it soared above everything here below. It reflects how it was wont to dwell but on the things of heaven; and how, though still in body, it passed in thought out beyond its fleshly barriers; and, as the gate of life and the reward of toil, loved even death, which to well-nigh all is a grief. But now, by reason of the pastoral: care, I am mixed up with affairs of the world; and my soul, once fair in its sweet retreat, is defiled by the dust of the world’s works. And when, after care for the many has caused it to spend itself on exterior concerns, it turns again to the inner things of grace, it does so with lessened capacity for them. I think of what I now endure, and of what I have lost. And thinking of what I have lost makes what I now bear seem the more unbearable. Some­times, to add to my grief, there recur to my mind the lives of some who have wholly left this world. And when I see the height of perfection to which they have attained, I see in what a depth of misery I lie myself”.

“I knew not”, interposed Peter, “that in Italy there had been men whose lives were so holy that they wrought miracles”.

“Peter! I should never have done were I to relate only what I myself, mere nobody that I am, have learnt myself or have been told by good and trustworthy men”.

“I would that you would give me some particulars ... For there are many who are more inflamed to the love of virtue by the recounting of examples than by mere words of ex­hortation”.

“I will tell what I have heard ... and to remove all occasion of doubt, I will state at every turn on whose authority I rely for my stories”.

In three out of the four books of Dialogues between Gregory and Peter, the Pope gives short accounts of the doings of various holy men. The second book, however, is completely taken up with the history of St. Benedict. Whatever else may be thought about the Dialogues, they are unquestionably useful in affording us an insight into the social life of the time. To take an example from small things, who can fail to be interested in knowing that in the sixth century, as in the twentieth, itinerant musicians took round for the entertainment of the populace, if not barrel-organs and monkeys, at least cymbals and monkeys? But with regard to the merits of the work as a whole, a work very different to the rest of Gregory’s literary productions, and which is practically little else but a record of miraculous events, very different judgments have been passed, as might have been expected. The freethinker, Gregorovius, wishes “that the great Pope had not been responsible for their authorship, and that the belief in such superstitions had not been sanctioned by the authority of so illustrious a man”. That very broad Churchman, Milman, scoffs at “the wild legends contained in the Dialogues”. But the Catholic writer who is able to enter into the spirit in which they were written judges of them differently. “They are the simple talk of a great soul”, says the illustrious Cardinal Pitra, “who descends to trifles to raise the lowly to the science of the saints”. And so Grisar : “Let the Dialogues be read with the same openness of soul with which they were written and with which they were read in the Middle Ages, and their worth and marvelous attractiveness will soon be recognized”. While to such as rashly, against all evidence, disbelieve all miracles, these Dialogues will seem to be a mere collection of fairy tales, no doubt even by those who do believe that God has in every age been the author of miracles, through His special servants and friends, it will be felt that if Gregory had written in a critical spirit he would have rejected many of the miracles he relates. But writing in a simple way, in a simple age, Gregory had full assurance of the reality of many of the miracles he recounts. And as to the rest, he accepted them, without investigation, on such evidence as was forthcoming, and which he states simply, as he was convinced that they were quite possible, and would certainly edify. For it is to show more common sense and to be less really credulous to believe a number of miracles on insufficient evidence than to reject all despite the best of evidence. The child that accepts all it is told makes more rapid progress in the acquisition of truth than the philosopher who doubts everything. The child extracts some truth from all it hears, whilst the philosopher has eyes but for the false or the doubtful.

For ourselves, knowing that, sent to Queen Theodelinda, the Dialogues had a considerable influence on the conversion of the Lombards, we may be quite ready to subscribe to the opinion of such an authority as Photius, viz,, that it was a useful work; useful, it may be added, not only for the preacher and for the devout reader, but also for the historian.

But the most generally interesting of Gregory’s works is the collection of his letters. Substantial as it is, it is certain that the 850 letters which have come down to us do not give us the sum of Gregory’s correspondence. For some seventy-seven letters are referred to by the Pope himself, of which no trace is to be found in the Register as we have it today.

However, the letters, which 93 MSS. and 27 editions have brought down to us, are more than enough to show that Gregory’s correspondence was as universal as the Church itself. Not only were his epistles addressed to “all sorts and conditions of men”, but they were dispatched to all parts of the world, to Europe, Asia and Africa. And in Asia, for instance, to such distant parts as Iberia, Armenia and Arabia.

Justinian had in 535 altered the arrangement of the province of Armenia. He formed it into four provinces. Of these Melitene was the metropolis of the Third Armenia, and, when Gregory was Pope, its metropolitan was Domitianus, a relation of the Emperor Maurice. With this distinguished man Gregory had formed a close friend­ship, begun, no doubt, when he had been apocrisiarius.

Domitian had written to the Pope a letter in which, among other topics—such as the emperor—he had sent him an interpretation of a passage in the sacred Scripture, differing from one given by Gregory. In his reply to his friend’s communication, Gregory defended, from the context, the meaning he had assigned to the passage in question, and then neatly added: “What your sanctity has written on the passage for my consolation I willingly accept. For in the interpretation of Holy Writ, whatever is not opposed to the true faith ought not to be rejected. For just as from the one piece of gold some make necklaces, some rings and others bracelets for ornamental purposes, so from one passage of Holy Writ different commentators by their various interpretations make, as it were, a variety of ornaments, which all tend to the glory of the heavenly spouse ... I grieve, indeed, that the emperor of the Persians (Chosroes II, Eberwiz) was not converted, but I greatly rejoice that you preached the faith of Christ to him. For though he did not merit to reach the light of truth, still your holiness will reap the reward of your preaching. The Ethiopian enters the bath black and as black leaves it; but, for all that, the bath-man gets his pay”

But here, while treating of Gregory’s letters in general, the temptation must be resisted to go on citing further extracts from individual letters. Did space allow, one would gladly draw out the relations between Gregory and the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. With them all he was on the most friendly terms, and especially with Anastasius of Antioch and Eulogius of Alexandria, with the latter of whom (with his fondness for playing upon words) he was constantly exchanging eulogies (presents). But never did either he or they forget that he was their superior. And so Eulogius is at pains, when refuting heretics, to prove that the power of Peter has not proceeded from the apostles or the Church, but from Christ Himself; from Gregory he takes his orders, and to the See of Peter turns, as to the feet of his master.

To such as would get a deeper acquaintance with the interesting and pleasing correspondence of Gregory, we must address the words used on a similar occasion by a former biographer of Gregory, viz., John the Deacon : “I must refer the eye of the reader to the abundant fullness of his venerable register”.

Already a sufficient number of quotations have been made from the Register to enable the reader to form for himself a judgment as to the literary, historical and moral worth of those innumerable documents which Gregory dispatched to the four winds of heaven—exhorting, encouraging, reproving, helping, consoling and raising poor fallen humanity. Dr. Hodgkin, who, as the talented translator of the letters of the last of the Roman statesmen, Cassiodorus, has a special right to speak with authority, may help that judgment. “It is probably the very fact that he did not care to write rhetorically which makes his letters so much pleasanter reading than the prolixities of Cassiodorus, or the pompous obscurities of Ennodius. He does not, like the scholars of the Renaissance period, labor to give all his sentences a hexameter ending, but they are often instinct with manly and simple eloquence. Thus there is in them no affected imitation of Cicero, but often a true echo of Caesar”. We may add, further, that in them there are two things which must strike everyone, viz., that there pervades them a strain of melancholy, despite their writer’s natural gaiety of mind, and, despite his humility, a tone of authority. He could never shake off the thought of the greatness of the burden that was on his shoulders, of his own unworthiness and the calamities of the times, nor, on the other hand, could he ever forget that, whatever humility he had to show, he was nevertheless the Head of God's Church, the Vicar of Christ. It is, moreover, very curious to note what a love for the sea is everywhere in his letters, and indeed in all his writings, displayed by Gregory. If ever he is in want of a metaphor, the sea must furnish it.

Although all the world, except the Pope himself, praised his works, the same judgment would scarcely be passed on them now as was passed upon them by his contemporaries SS. Isidore and Ildefonsus. The former regards Gregory as the most learned of any of his contemporaries or predecessors, and sings that his teaching has glorified Rome as that of St. Augustine did Hippo. And St. Ildefonsus has no doubt that in holiness he was superior to St. Anthony, in eloquence to St. Cyprian, and in learning to St. Augustine. So great was the effect that Gregory’s commanding personality produced on the men of his age, that they could not think that any preceding man had ever exercised such an influence on the world. However, without asserting that he was what is understood by a very great or deep writer or thinker, it may be safely stated that he was something better both for his own age and for succeeding ages. He was a great practical thinker and writer. He understood men and things as they are; and thought and wrote for them in that view. He knew the common mental ailments of our race and how to apply the proper remedies. He was Roman or English in his literary habits, and not French, Greek or German.This sketch of Gregory’s life was opened with a few words in prose of a Northumbrian Englishman who wrote before Bede. It may conveniently be closed with a few simple verses of another Northumbrian Englishman, the greatest of those who came soon after Bede, viz., Alcuin.


Rexit tunc temporis almus

Gregorius praesul, toto venerabilis orbi,

Ecclesiae sedem Romanae maximus, atque

Agrorum Christi cultor devotus, ubique

Plurima perpetuae dispersit semina vitte”.







A.D. 604-606.




                                          PHOCAS, 602-610


                                          AGILULPH, 590-615


                                          SMARAGDUS, 602-611



WE have now to notice a group of Pontiffs who, like the ghostly kings in Macbeth, pass across the stage of life but say nothing. The life of Sabinian, however, is not without interest, as it may be used as an admirable instance to show how groundless stories to the detriment of the popes have by the potent forces of ignorance, carelessness or malice gradually been elaborated.

It is in the summer of 593 that the name of Sabinian is first met with in the correspondence of Gregory. At that time he was sent as apocrisiarius to Constantinople. Hence two letters of recommendation addressed in his behalf to John, the Faster, and to Priscus, patrician and exarch of the Orient, one of the emperor’s most distinguished generals, who in 612 retired into a monastery. The mere fact of his being chosen for such an important office by Gregory, who knew its difficulties by experience, is sufficient proof of the abilities of Sabinian.

The son of one Bonus, he was a Tuscan and a native of the town of Blera, a few miles from Viterbo. About the year 772, Desiderius, the Lombard king, “extinguished the ashes of Blera in the blood of its citizens”. Ruins and the modern village of Bieda serve to point out this ancient birthplace of one of the popes.

Sabinian’s task in Constantinople was no easy one. He had to deal with a well-meaning but rather weak emperor (Maurice), and a vain, obstinate and sanctimonious patriarch (John, the Faster). It was a work which required astuteness and courageous firmness, as the men against whom the apocrisiarius had to match himself were at once wily and tyrannical—men whom Gregory declared to be superior to the Romans both in smartness and in double dealing. And it may perhaps be correctly argued, from the spirited language adopted by Gregory in his letters to his apocrisiarius, that he was a little wanting in boldness, and was not diplomatist enough for the Faster. “I wonder”, wrote Gregory, “that he (the Faster) could so deceive you that you should permit the emperor to be persuaded to write to me to tell me that I ought to make peace with him (the Faster). Whereas, if he had wished to be just he ought to have told him to refrain from using the haughty title (ecumenical), and then there would have been peace between us at once”.

From some cause unknown to us, Sabinian returned to Rome about the middle of 597, and was succeeded in his office as apocrisiarius by the deacon Anatolius.

After a delay of some six months after the death of Gregory, a delay caused by the necessity of waiting for the emperor’s assent to his election, Sabinian was consecrated September 13, 604.

The ensuing winter was marked by an intense frost, which killed the vines in very many parts of Italy. The frost was followed by a plague of mice, and then by a spread of the rust among the corn. The crops were ruined and famine set in (605). Paul the Deacon thinks it only right and proper that the world should suffer a dearth of food and drink, seeing that by the death of Gregory men were deprived of spiritual food and drink. To these horrors were added those of war. The truce between the exarch and the Lombards expired in April.

However, by a payment of 12,000 solidi Smaragdus managed (November 605) to get the peace prolonged for one year, and then in the following year for three years longer. The famine meanwhile had been felt very severely in Rome. But the possibility of Rome having to stand a siege caused Sabinian to be very careful with the corn in the granaries of the Church, the more so that the care of the corn supply of Rome seems to have belonged to the Pope ex officio. No sooner, however, was the danger of war over than Sabinian ordered the granaries of the Church to be opened and corn to be sold to the people at the rate of 30 bushels, or rather pecks (modius), of wheat for one solidus. In the time of Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, indeed, we are told that 60 modii were sold for the solidus. But as it is a question of Rome, where Pope Gregory said that everything was dear; and, moreover, of a time of famine, the price named by Sabinian was eminently reasonable.

Anastasius further informs us that the Pope filled the Church with clergy. With this obscure phrase Duchesne compares the assertion of the biographer of Deusdedit: “He recalled the priests and clergy to their former positions”, and sees in it an assertion that Sabinian restored to the secular clergy posts which St, Gregory had entrusted to monks. If this be the true interpretation of this difficult sentence, it is clear that Gregory’s view of the advantage of the monks for different positions was not that of Sabinian. After it has been further stated, following the Liber Pontificalis, that the Pope gave certain gifts to St. Peter’s, and in one ordination consecrated twenty-six bishops for different localities, all has been told of Sabinian that is known for certain.

In complete accord with the above narrative is the epitaph of the Pope, which will be quoted in full at the end of this sketch of his life. For it tells of his gradual rise to the supreme pontificate, of his generosity which in death left him with nothing to leave, and of the peace which endured (for Rome at least) during his reign.

The above is the only sound material that we have for forming a judgment on the character of Sabinian. But, of course, with the good wheat there is often chaff, and with the pure metal, dross. And so Platina, Bower and Milman, simply repeating one another, or relying on false readings in the Liber Pontificalis, on the accretions to Paul the Deacon’s life, and on the unsupported testimony of John the Deacon, or still later writers, and then mixing up the worthless chaff thus laboriously got together, give us a picture of Sabinian that has not the slightest foundation in genuine history. On the authority of one of the additions to the life of Paul the Deacon, it is related that after the Pope had shut up the monasteries, deaconries, etc., whence the alms of Gregory were wont to be distributed, he opened the granaries of the Church and sold wheat at thirty solidi a peck. The poor, thus deprived of their great resource, came clamoring to the Pope and asked him if he was going to allow those to starve whom his great predecessor had fed. Sabinian replied that if Gregory, for his own glory, had taken care of everybody, he could not. As a consequence of this oft-repeated answer, Gregory appeared to Sabinian three times in visions and bade him do differently. Sabinian took no notice of this portent. Gregory, therefore, appeared to him a fourth time, and after giving him a terrible scolding, struck him on the head. Of this blow Sabinian soon afterwards died. In John the Deacon’s account no mention is made of Sabinian at all. It is Gregory himself that is assailed, because, on account of his extravagant liberality, there was an empty treasury. And as his accusers could not lay their hands on Gregory or anything that belonged to his person, they wished to burn his books. Peter, the Deacon, however, the great friend of Gregory, pointed out to them what a sacrilege it would be to destroy books which he himself had seen the Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, inspiring into the mind of the Pope. He then prayed that he might die on the spot to prove his words. This happened, and the books were saved! In Paul’s account, Peter is not made to die, and only tells the story about the dove because some people had maintained that Gregory had written his works from an inflated idea of his own powers. This is the farrago, written down some hundreds of years after the events they are supposed to describe, that some writers set down as history. Milman, copying Platina, who wrote in the fifteenth century, and who has added to the tales cited above, is really remarkable in his treatment of the material he has thus acquired. He has discovered “two hostile factions, one adoring, the other hating Gregory”, and “an old Roman attachment to majestic edifices and gods yielding to the most credulous Christian superstition”. Mr. Seeley, narrating an interview he had with that distinguished German scholar, Ewald, says: “I was not surprised that he listened with a kind of superb indifference when I spoke of our Milman”. No one who was acquainted with the dean’s wholesale inaccuracies could have been surprised.

If Milman had either looked at the original life of Sabinian in the Liber Pontificalis, or given any thought to the selling price of corn, he could never have written that he sold corn at thirty solidi a modius. Though he wrote before the accurate editions of Duchesne or Mommsen were issued, the older edition of the L. P., e.g., that of Fabrotti in 1649, showed that the correct reading was “thirty modii for one solidus”. Later mediaeval writers who quote the Liber also show which was the proper reading. Besides, one solidus a bushel was a very high price; and even in famines caused by sieges we do not read that one modius fetched thirty solidi.

If there is any truth underlying these legends, it will probably be that men, unstrung by famine, blamed everything and everybody for what was the fault of nobody. And so the foolish, helped by the wicked who had been punished by Gregory, may not unlikely have attributed their starving condition to his liberality, or have assigned to parsimony Sabinian’s inability to help them to a greater extent than he did.

Sabinian died in February 606. He was buried in St Peter’s, February 22. His body was taken out of the city proper, for St. Peter’s on the Vatican hill was not in the city then, by St. John’s gate and across the Tiber over the Ponte Molle.








A.D. 607.



                                       PHOCAS, 602-610.


                                     AGILULPH, 590-615.


                                    SMARAGDUS, 602-611.



WHEN Phocas usurped the empire he did not find a papal responsalis at Constantinople. Of this he wanted to know the reason from Pope Gregory, and at the same time asked that the vacancy might be filled up. In reply the Pope said that there was no apocrisiarius at the imperial city because he had no wish to force anyone to accept the post, and no one offered himself for it on account of what the papal envoys were often made to suffer there. Now, however, he continued, that they have heard of the accession of your clemency, many are willing to undertake the charge. Out of these he has picked out the first of his defensors, Boniface, whom he has ordained deacon for the purpose. “From long intercourse his life is favorably known to me, and he is of tried faith and character”. From what follows in the same letter Gregory evidently commissioned Boniface to do what he had himself when apocrisiarius been told to do, viz., to try to get help for Italy against the “daily swords” of the Lombards.

This Boniface, who again, like Gregory himself, was ordained deacon to be sent as apocrisiarius to Constantinople, and who appears as “the first of the defensors” some five years before he was thus selected by Gregory, is generally regarded as the one who became Boniface III. And in view of the fact that, as we shall see, Boniface III found some favor in the eyes of the tyrant Phocas, it seems not improbable that that favor was won when he was at the imperial city.

Besides begging for help against the incursions of the Lombards, Boniface had also to enter into negotiations with the emperor relative to the affair of Alcison of Corcyra, now Corfu. It appears that John, Bishop of Euria in Epirus, harassed by the inroads of the barbarians (Avars and Slavs), took refuge in Cassiope in Corcyra with his clergy, and then wished to withdraw that city from the jurisdiction of its proper bishop, Alcison. He contrived to get the Emperor Maurice to sanction his uncanonical endeavors. Of course, as Gregory pointed out to Boniface, such sanction was valueless, as it was against the canons. The matter was then put into the hands of the disputants’ metropolitan, Andrew of Nicopolis, who naturally decided in favor of Alcison. To still further strengthen his position, Alcison appealed to the Pope, who, of course, confirmed the decision of the metropolitan. In the meantime Andrew died, Maurice was murdered, Phocas came to the throne, and Boniface went to Constantinople. He can hardly have got there before he received a letter from Gregory, dated October 603, instructing him as to how far matters had proceeded in this affair; and, with his usual diplomatic foresight, telling him what he has to do to prevent a collision between his (Gregory’s) support of Alcison and the previous imperial edict against him. Boniface has to point out how unjust it was to favor the bishop, and how much against the canons, and to endeavor to bring it about that a rescript of Phocas in favor of Alcison be sent to him along with the Pope’s decision. Boniface seems to have had the requisite amount of skill to carry the affair to a successful issue.

When Boniface returned to Rome is not known. Possibly part of the year’s vacancy of the Holy See after the death of Sabinian may be accounted for by supposing that Boniface was elected Pope when he was at Constantinople. At any rate, a Boniface, who was a Roman and the son of John Catadioce, a name that would rather suggest Greek origin had not names of many nationalities become indigenous in Rome, was consecrated on Sunday, February 19, 617.

During the very short pontificate of Boniface, he obtained from Phocas an edict setting forth that the See of Rome was the Head of all the Churches; because, continued the writer in the Book of the Popes, the Church of Constantinople had put itself down as the Head of the Churches. The immediate cause for the publication of this decree is sought by some historians in the disagreements between the emperor and the patriarch. According to them, Phocas was actuated by a wish to humble Cyriacus, by thus declaring that notwithstanding the mighty title of Universal Patriarch which he boasted, the Primacy in the Church was not his. It was not that he loved Boniface more, but that he loved Cyriacus less. In issuing this decree it must be borne in mind that he was not doing anything new. A similar statement as to the position of the See of Rome among the Churches had been made by Justinian eighty years before. As Muratori takes notice, Boniface asked for this decree, not because the primacy of the Roman pontiffs, which had been acknowledged in every preceding century, stood in need of it, but for the same reason that Phocas issued it, viz., to bring down the patriarch of Constantinople to his proper level.

In connection with this decree, there has been much wild writing by historians in this country. Bower, Milman, etc., quoting as reliable authorities writers who lived centuries after Boniface III, and who were either hostile to the popes, as the imperialist, Sigebert of Gemblours (d.c. 1113), or quite uncritical, as Platina (d.1481), give us a graphic picture of Boniface, as apocrisiarius, flattering the tyrant Phocas, and then, as Pope, assuming “that awful title before which Christendom bowed for so many centuries, that of Universal Bishop”. As a matter of fact, neither Boniface III nor any other pope ever assumed that title, as we have already seen. And so, though the Liber Diurnus, which contains a number of formulas generally considered to have been those used by the Roman Church, on one occasion speaks of Martin I as Universal Pope; still in the formula (I), where the modes of addresses used by the popes are given, only one title is assumed by them, and it is the formula of Pope Gregory : “Servant of the Servants of God”.

The only other recorded action of Boniface III is that, at a council, at which seventy-two bishops and all the Roman clergy took part, he issued a decree in favor of freedom of ecclesiastical elections, and forbidding anyone to treat of the election of a new pope or bishop until three days after his burial, or to speak of a pope’s successor during his lifetime. This interval, not always observed, was extended by Gregory X, at the council of Lyons (can. 2), 1274, to ten days. The events that gave rise to this decree are not known.

Boniface died the same year he was consecrated. He was buried in St. Peter's, November 12, 607.







A.D. 608-615




                                 PHOCAS, 602-610. HERACLIUS, 610-641.


                                AGILULPH, 590-615.


                                SMARAGDUS, 602-611. JOHN (LEMIGIUS), 611-616.



THOUGH Boniface IV, reigned for over six years, he is little more than a name to us. Very little is known about his doings during that time, and hardly anything which gives us any insight into his character, so that the biography of this Pope will scarcely be able to point a moral or adorn a tale.

After a long vacancy of over ten months, presumably again due to the tardiness of the emperor in confirming the election, Boniface, the son of John, a physician, and a native of the territory of the ancient Marsi in the province of Valeria (natione Marsorum, de civitate Valeria), was consecrated Bishop of Rome, August 25 (Duchesne), or September 15 (Jaffé), 608. These long vacancies alone are quite enough to show how undesirable it was that the papal elections should have to be dependent on the confirmation of the civil power.

What the L. P. here calls civitas Valeria, we have translated as the province of Valeria, in which the country of the Marsi was situated. But no doubt in the province there was a town which at this period was called by its name; and this passage of Anastasius shows that that town was in the country of the Marsi. Duchesne, therefore, looks for this town along the Via Valeria, the main road east from Rome, which traverses the country of the Marsi to the north of Lake Fucinus; and identifies it, with no small degree of probability, with Cerfennia (Collarmela), where the road bifurcates, going north to Marruvium and south to Corfinium.

Now it is very curious that Gregory in his Dialogues (III. 20) tells a story of a priest Stephen, of the province of Valeria, who, he says, was a very near relation “of this our Boniface, the deacon and dispensator of the Church”. The Dialogues were published at the close of the year 593, and in one of Gregory’s letters (IV. 2) of this same date there is mention of “my most beloved son Boniface, the deacon”. No doubt, then, Boniface IV was the dispensator of the Church who was related to the priest Stephen, and who was most beloved of Gregory. The dispensator seems to have been the Pope’s right-hand man, or the first official in connection with the administration of the patrimonies.

On May 13, 609 (?), Boniface consecrated the Pantheon to the worship of the true God under the invocation of Our Lady and the Martyrs. Though Gregory the Great sanctioned the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon pagan temples into churches, there is no example before this of one in Rome being so treated. This beautiful specimen of ancient architecture, still one of the most perfect of the architectural wonders of Rome, and from its shape often spoken of as the Church of Our Lady of the Rotunda, had been built by Agrippa (BC 25) in honor of Augustus, and consecrated to Jupiter the Avenger, to Venus and to Mars. The pagan temples had been closed from the end of the fourth century, and the Pantheon would have fallen to ruin with the others had not Boniface obtained leave from Phocas to turn it into a Christian church. He, moreover, received many presents for it from the same emperor. “The finest architectural monument of ancient Rome has to thank the Church, which hallowed it to Christian uses, for its preservation from the spoiler. Had this transformation not taken place, the splendid building would undoubtedly have been converted into the fortress of some noble in the Middle Ages, and, having undergone assaults innumerable, would have survived, like the tomb of Hadrian, only in a ruinous and mutilated guise”. So Gregorovius. Truly does Rome belong to the popes, for in every way have they preserved it. “On the score of its antiquity, its beauty, and its sanctity”, continues the same author, “the new Church has always been esteemed by the Romans the most precious ornament of their city, and from the seventh century onwards remained the zealously guarded property of the popes. Even in the thirteenth century every senator was obliged to swear that, together with St. Peter’s, the castle of St. Angelo, and the other papal possessions, he would also defend St. Maria Rotonda for the Pope”. But in our time, by a penurious and tyrannical government, with the brigand proclivities of many of its op­pressed people, the Pantheon has been taken from the popes, its preservers, and declared national property. If it remains in the hands of the government, there is reason to fear it may ere long go to ruin. The national property, to which it is declared to belong, is believed by some well acquainted with Italian affairs to be going headlong to national bankruptcy.

An historian of our own country, the Venerable Bede, is our authority for the next act of Boniface of which we have any knowledge. Mellitus, the first bishop of London, after the landing of St. Augustine, had occasion to go to Rome “to consult the Pope on important matters relative to the newly-established church in this country”. Arrived in Rome he took part in a synod of the bishops of Italy, which the Pope had called together to legislate on “the life and monastic peace of the monks”. These words of Bede constitute all we know of the work of this council. What is usually cited as the decree of the council is now generally regarded as spurious. Mellitus, however, brought home the genuine decree, whatever it was, as well as letters from the Pope to Lawrence, Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the clergy, and to King Ethelbert and the English nation, concerning what had to be observed by the Church in England.

The letter to Ethelbert is somewhat obscure, but in it, “by his apostolic authority”, Boniface willingly grants what the king has asked through Bishop Mellitus, viz., that in the monastery over which Lawrence presides the king may establish a dwelling for monks living together in complete regularity, and that the monks, “who have preached the faith to you may associate these (and other) monks to themselves”. The letter concludes by warning the king that, if any of his successors, or any bishops or others violate this decree, “they will fall under the anathema of the Prince of the Apostles and his successors till they have done penance”. Montalembert conjectures that the introduction of monks of Saxon origin into the Italian community founded by St. Augustine is here indicated.

Some, indeed, doubt of the genuineness of this and the rest of the series of papal documents given by William of Malmesbury. But as their doubts rest but on trivial grounds they need not detain us. This letter is interesting also as being the first of the papal letters in which the era of the Incarnation is used, or which is dated in the year of the Lord. Some considerable time, however, was to elapse before the practice of dating letters in this way became regular with the popes, as the authors of L'art de vérifier les Dates note in connection with this Pope.

Among the many heroic souls who left Ireland in the seventh century, perhaps the most glorious age of the Church in Ireland, to labor to bring souls to God, none is more deservedly famous than the great St. Columbanus, the founder of a monastic order, which for the comparatively short period of its existence was a rival of the community of St. Benedict. In Columbanus we see, as was remarked before, all the distinguishing virtues as well as shortcomings of the Irish or Celtic character in a marked degree. And fascinating as is the life of Columbanus, one cannot fail to see that he had all the virtues in a preeminent degree except that of prudence. It is not contended that he had not enough of that virtue to enable him to be a very great saint. But while the fact that prudence was the least-developed virtue in him gave a glorious dash and go to his actions, it also gave an ephemeral character to his undertakings, and not unfrequently put him into an awkward or foolish position. Compelled to abandon for the time the grand work for the good of souls he was doing in France and Switzerland through the hostile attitude of Theodoric II, King of Burgundy, St. Columbanus crossed over into Italy. He was well received by Agilulph and Theodelinda, and did a great deal of good by his words and writings in helping on the work of withdrawing the Lombards from their Arianism. But unfortunately “he made himself, ridiculous by offering advice to Pope Boniface IV on a theological question which he himself confessed he had not studied”. The question was that of the Three Chapters. Some of the bishops in Agilulph’s dominions, viz., those who were parties to the Istrian Schism, were supporters of the Chapters and Agilulph persuaded Columbanus to write to Boniface on the matter. Accordingly the abbot dispatched a very long letter to the Pope, in parts too garrulous to be clear and in parts too eloquent to be practical, in which he mixes up the strangest expressions of respect and love for the See of Peter and the Pope with charges and advice the more offensive that they came from one who, as we have said, evinced “no grasp at all of the theological problem” of the Three Chapters. Hence, though the letter is addressed “To the most beautiful Head of all the Churches of Europe ... to the Shepherd of Shepherds”, though it is “a poor wretch” writing “to the powerful; and wonderful to tell, a new portent, a rare bird, a dove, dares to write to his father Boniface”, still the Pope is plainly told that he is charged with heresy and exhorted to prove his orthodoxy in the matter of “a certain so-called 5th Council”, viz., that of Constantinople (553). And though he writes, “as is becoming, to offer a suggestion in a most lowly spirit”, though he is bound to the See of Peter, by which alone Rome is great to him, and though he writes as a humble follower still he will speak out freely to his masters and to the steersmen of the spiritual ship and bid them watch. By all the Irish “is the Catholic faith held firm, just as it was first given to us by you, viz., by the successors of the Holy Apostles. This gives me confidence to rouse you against those who call you a schismatic. Though with importunate clamorings, I endeavor to stir you up, as the prince of the leaders. The army of the Lord looks to you, who have the power of arranging and directing everything, of proclaiming war and urging on the leaders; of ordering arms to be seized, the line of battle to be drawn up, the trumpets to ring out, and in fine, yourself in front, the battle to be begun. Call a council to free yourself from the charges made against you”.

It would, however, be a complete mistake to suppose that, because Columbanus wrote with more freedom than discretion, he regarded himself as one not subject to the Pope, or that he was a rebel against the papal authority. If he heard anything against the popes, against Chair of St. Peter, “he lamented over it”, and if he cries out “to the mystic pilot”, he only does so because the water has entered the bark of the Church and the ship is in danger. And when he was told that the Pope had received heretics: “I declared in your name that the Roman Church never defended a heretic against the Catholic faith”. In the midst of the troubles around him he looks to the Pope, “who in your power through the honor of the holy apostle Peter are the only hope among the leaders”, i.e. the spiritual leaders, the bishops. He would have the chair of Peter cleansed from error if, as some say, any may have got there. “For it would be matter for weeping and wailing if the Catholic faith were not held in the apostolic See”. It was the greatness of his love and attachment to the See of Rome that made Columbanus quite beside himself at the stories of its falling away which the clever schismatics of North Italy had poured into his simple and credulous ears.

“But”, he continues, “that I may say all and not seem to unduly flatter even you, it is also matter for grief that, with zeal for the faith, you have not displayed the purity of your faith, and long ago, as was becoming, seeing that you have the legitimate power, condemned and excommunicated the party which has receded from you. Wherefore it is that they dare to blacken the fame of the principal See of the orthodox faith. My father and patron, I beg you drive away the confusion from before the faces of your sons and disciples, who for you are confounded; and, what is more important than all this, bring it about that all breath of suspicion be removed from the chair of Peter... Because of the two great apostles of Christ, you are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the Churches of the whole world, saving the singular prerogative of the place of the divine resurrection”. In this last clause, as Dollinger notes, “he confounds the veneration which was due to that Church on account of possessing the holy scenes of our Redemption, and of being the place of pilgrimage for the whole world, with its ecclesiastical authority. This was not essen­tially attached to the Church of Jerusalem, but only as it was one of the apostolical, patriarchal Churches of the East”.

When he came into those parts (Bobbio), concludes Columbanus, he was warned against the Pope as having fallen into the heresy of Nestorius. But this allegation he declares he believed not: “For I believe that the pillar of the Church is ever firm in Rome ... Do you, then, O king of kings, follow Peter and let the whole Church follow you”.

What answer the Pope returned to this glowing effusion of the impulsive Celt, all aflame with love for God and the honor of the See of Peter, but fuller of classical quotations than theological knowledge, we do not know. But if the most recent editor of the letters of Columbanus, viz., Gundlach, is correct in marking a letter of Columbanus, discovered in recent years by Krusch, as addressed to Boniface IV, the two must have been on good terms. For in that letter the saint says that he has to speak about the feasts of the Church, Easter, etc., “under the compulsion of your commanding charity”. In the course of this epistle he notes that what unity then existed with regard to the time of celebrating Easter was due to the Church “following the authority of the apostolic See”. He concludes: “I have not been afraid, poor foreigner that I am, to send you in your richness this scrappy production because ‘perfect charity casteth out fear’ (1 John IV. 18); and because I believe, O venerable Pope, that obedience with faith is of more worth than human genius”. With this humble profession on his lips, we will leave that rara avis, Columbanus.

The same Theodoric II of Burgundy, who had expelled Columbanus from Gaul, and whom St. Gregory had, to no purpose, endeavored to lead along the path of virtue, wrote to Boniface IV to beg the pallium for the newly consecrated Archbishop of Arles, “according to ancient custom”. Praising the king for his care of his churches the Pope commends to him the interests of the church and the poor of the patrimony of St. Peter in Gaul; and, as the same Pope’s letter to Florian himself shows, sent the pallium as desired. In the last-mentioned letter, Boniface expresses his pleasure at the good character that he finds given to him on all hands. He exhorts him to live up to the honor he is conferring upon him, and especially to fight against simony—the same evil in the Church of Gaul against which we saw Gregory struggling and which we shall see so many other popes struggling earnestly to subdue. Boniface also commends to Florian the small patrimony of the Roman Church in those parts, of which Gregory’s nominee, Candidus, is still the agent.

In the case of Boniface IV it was not the Lombards who were his cross. The peace brought about by Gregory was renewed at frequent intervals, generally for a year at a time. But, as his biographer says that “in his time were famines, pestilences, and inundations”, it was doubtless with these that the attention of the Pope was taken up till his death.

His biographer also tells us that Boniface turned his own house into a monastery and endowed it. In this, as in certain other respects, we find Boniface imitating his great predecessor St. Gregory, a fact long ago noticed in the epitaph placed on his tomb,


Gregorii semper raonita atque exempla magistri

Vita, opere ac dignis moribus iste sequens.


Boniface was originally buried (May 8, 615, but May 25 615. according to Jaffé) in the portico of St. Peter’s. On his tomb there was placed the inscription, of which two lines have just been cited, and of which the rest may be read in Duchesne. His body was afterwards taken into the interior of the basilica. Papebroch, the Bollandist, gives particulars of three removals of his body—the first in the tenth or eleventh century; the second at the close of the thirteenth, under Boniface VIII, and the third in 1603. The later inscription on the tomb, in the days of Boniface VIII, may still be read in the crypt of St. Peter. Grisar, in his Analecta, has a reproduction of it.







A.D. 615-618.




                         HERACLIUS, 610-641.             


                         ADALWALD, 615-624.


                        JOHN, 611-616. ELEUTHERIUS, 616-620.



Of Deusdedit we know no more of the character and even less of the deeds than of those of his predecessor. A Roman and the son of a subdeacon Stephen, he was consecrated, after a delay of about five months, on October 19, 615.

He seems to have been chiefly distinguished by his love for the secular clergy. He replaced them in their former positions, i.e., he either simply continued the policy of Sabinian; or, if it is safe to place full reliance on the word (revocavit) used to express his conduct, he undid the work of Boniface IV, just as the latter had undone that of Sabinian by carrying out the system of Gregory the Great in placing monks in important positions. And not only did he love them in life, but in death also, leaving money to be distributed to them at his funeral. In this he was often imitated by his successors during the course of this century.

The pontificate of Deusdedit was greatly troubled by the again disturbed state of the political atmosphere throughout Italy, and by the outbreak of a plague in Rome. The vices and incompetence of Phocas had caused disturbances within the empire, and had allowed it to be fearfully harried from without by the Persians; and of course his successor, Heraclius, was unable to right everything at once. His exarch John and the civil authorities of Ravenna (judices) were put to death in the course of a popular tumult or conspiracy. The emperor, however, at once dispatched his chamberlain, the patrician Eleutherius, to succeed John and to restore order in Italy. For there was trouble in the South as well as in the North. Whether or not in connection with the disturbance in Ravenna, a certain John of Compsa (the modern Conza, in the ancient district of Samnium, some sixty miles east of Naples), declaring his independence by proclaiming himself emperor (?), seized Naples. Eleutherius showed himself a man of action. The murderers of John were put to death, and then (probably in 617) he marched along the Flaminian Road for Rome. After a royal reception from the Pope—loyal, as usual, to the cause of the emperor—the exarch continued his march to Naples, which he took by storm. The tyrannus shared the fate of the rebellious Ravennese, and was executed. Next, taking advantage, no doubt, of the youth of Adalwald, Eleutherius renewed the war with the Lombards. But he was no match for the Lombard general Sundrar, who had been trained to war by Agilulph. The exarch had to sue for peace, which he only obtained on payment of a large sum of money. In the reign of the following Pope (Boniface V) Eleutherius himself rebelled and aspired to the empire. He was, however, slain by his own troops (620), and his head sent to Constantinople. These incidents serve, at least, to show how ineffectual was the grasp of the imperial power over Italy at this period, and how thoroughly left to itself it really was.

Rome was itself more immediately affected by an earthquake (August 618), and then by a plague. This latter consisted in the outbreak of a scab of such a size that people could not recognize one another. Many think that the disease was elephantiasis, a sort of leprosy, which produces a frightful scurf. Later writers have a legend of the Pope meeting one of the sufferers from this loathsome disorder, and of his being touched with compassion at the sight of him, kissing him, and thereby restoring him to health on the spot.

Anastasius has preserved us a decree of this Pope which, with enigmatic brevity, he states thus: “Hic constituit secunda missa in clero”. Noting that in the 30th canon of the council of Agde (506), vespers are called missae vespertinae, Duchesne thinks that this decree may refer to some evening service which the Pope wished to impose upon the clergy, and that there is an allusion to it in the fifth distich of the epitaph of Deusdedit. This epitaph was composed by Pope Honorius.

The fact that Deusdedit made some decree relative to the Mass must be our excuse for here introducing a description of a Papal Mass according to the ritual in use in this century. In our modern missals and pontificals many of the ceremonies that have to be observed during the course of the Mass and different offices of the Church are placed side by side with the various prayers which have to be said. This, however, was not the case in the seventh century. No rubrics are to be found in the Sacramentaries of Gelasius and Gregory. They were instead written down in books by themselves. These books of ritual were known as Ordines Romani. That most industrious and learned Benedictine, Mabillon, collected together in the second volume of his Museum Italicum no less than fifteen of these ordos belonging to different ages and treating of different ecclesiastical functions. Of these books of ceremonies it is universally agreed that the most ancient is the one which is placed first in the collection of Mabillon. And of the Ordo Romanus I itself, the first portion is the oldest. This part gives the ceremonies to be observed in the celebration of a stational Mass by the Pope; and Grisar seems to have proved conclusively that it belongs to the seventh century; and, if not actually the work of Gregory the Great, at least shows us practically what took place when he left the Lateran palace to celebrate Mass at one of the stations. The same most learned author has also published a new text of the first portion of the Ordo. This is the one which will be here made use of.

On Easter morn, then, in the year 616, there assembled at the Lateran palace a number of officials to escort Deusdedit to the Church of St. Mary Major or ad praesepewhere it had been previously announced he was to sing Mass. The procession to the Church of the station was headed by a number of acolytes of the third region and the defensors of all the regions on foot. Then in front of the Pope rode the archdeacon, carrying the book of the gospels, with a richly jewelled cover, the primicerius of the notaries, two regionary notaries and the regionary defensors and subdeacons, one of whom carried the book of the epistles. On foot, in front of the Pope, walked an acolyte carrying the holy chrism, in an ampulla covered with a napkin, just as it is carried today during the ceremony of blessing the holy oils on Maundy Thursday. Then followed the Pope himself on horseback with grooms on either side of him.

Next, more acolytes, bearing the less important requisites for the Mass, and the mansionarii (guardians or caretakers) and bajuli (bailiffs) with the more valuable ones, e.g., the chalices, the scyphi (the vessels used to contain the wine to be consecrated), the amae, the paten and other sacred utensils in gold and silver from the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Finally, also mounted, followed the vicedominus (majordomo), the vestiarius (wardrobe keeper), the nomenclator (usher) and the sacellarius (treasurer).

Meanwhile the rest of the clergy and the people had assembled at St. Mary Major’s, which had been gorgeously decorated for the occasion. In the presbyterium (sanctuary), awaiting the arrival of the Pope, were seated the bishops on the Gospel side of the altar, and the priests on the Epistle side. There also were the bearers of the regionary crosses and various other officials who were to take part in the ceremony.

When the papal cortege drew near to the basilica, another one from the church went forth to meet it, consisting of acolytes and defensors of the third region, with the priests attached to St. Mary’s, the majordomos of the Roman Church and the mansionarius carrying incense stands (timiameteria). After receiving the Pope’s blessing, they fell in with the papal procession.

Arrived at the basilica, two deacons helped the Pope to dismount, and conducted him to the sacristy. The deacons then changed their vestments outside the sacristy. The one who was to read the gospel, at the bidding of the archdeacon, opened the seal (reserato sigillo) of the book of the gospels, marked the place, and handed the volume to an acolyte. He carried it to the sanctuary and a subdeacon placed it on the altar.

Meanwhile the regionary subdeacons vested the pontiff, in the same way as we see a bishop vested today, each one carrying one of the vestments, the alb, the girdle, the dalmatic, etc. Then with three pins, just as now, the pallium was fastened on to the chasuble. When the maniple was given to the Pope, he was informed who was to sing the epistle and gospel.

Then, at a sign from the Pope, a subdeacon went to the door of the sacristy and chanted Accendite (Light up). The candles were then lighted and the subdeacon put incense in the golden thurible. The choir, too, took their places in front of the altar, men and boys on each side, and began the Introit, so called because sung when the ministers were entering the church.

When the two deacons at the door of the sacristy heard the first notes of the Introit, they joined the Pope, kissed his hands and led him towards the altar, preceded by the subdeacon with the thurible and seven acolytes with lighted candles.

This procession was met on its way to the altar by two acolytes and a subdeacon with a vessel in which was the Blessed Sacrament. After an inclination of his head to reverence the Holy Eucharist, the Pope looked to see whether there was too much of the sacred species (to be placed in his chalice), and so whether it would be necessary to again reserve a portion.

Arrived in front of the altar, and before they reached the choir, the 'torchbearers' divided, four going to the right and three to the left. The Pope, however, went in front of the choir, bowed his head to the altar, raised himself, prayed, and making the sign of the Cross on his forehead, gave the kiss of peace to the hebdomadary bishop, the archpriest, and all the deacons. Whilst the choir, at a sign from the Pope, sang the Gloria Patri at the end of the Introit, the deacons kissed the sides of the altar, and the Pope himself kissed both the book of the gospels and the altar. Then he went to his seat (which was in the centre of the apse behind the altar) and stood with his face to the East, and, of course, with his back to the people.

When the choir had finished the Kyrie eleison, the Pope turned to the people and intoned the Gloria in excelsis Deo, and then turned back to the East till the canticle was finished. Then again turning to the people, he said Pax vobis, and again turning to the East he said Oremus and the prayer. At its conclusion he sat down, as did also the bishops and priests.

But the regionary subdeacons went up to the altar and stood, some on the right of it and others on the left, while one of their number ascended the ambo (pulpit), and read the epistle. When he had finished, a cantor mounted the ambo with his antiphonary and chanted the Gradual.

A deacon then stepped forward and kissed the feet of the Pope, who pronounced over him the blessing in use to this day—Dominus sit in corde tuo. Proceeding to the altar, he kissed the book of the gospels, took it in his hands and carried it towards the ambo, preceded by two subdeacons (one of whom bore incense), and two acolytes with their candles. When the place had been found for him by the unoccupied subdeacon, the deacon recited the gospel from the ambo.

On the completion of the gospel, the Pope said Pax tibi. Dominus vobiscum, to which was answered Et cum spiritu tuo, while the book of the gospels was being kissed by all in order. The volume was then placed in a case (capsa), held by an acolyte, to be sealed and taken back to the Lateran.

Accompanied by an acolyte bearing the chalice and a corporal, the deacon then went to the altar; and with the aid of the second deacon spread the linen corporal over the altar. A subdeacon took the chalice, and with it followed the archdeacon, who, with the Pope, now went to collect the offerings which the people had brought for the sacrifice.

With the primicerius of the notaries at his right, and the primicerius of the defensors on his left, the Pope descended to the senatorium (the place reserved for the nobility), and received the offerings (the bread) of the great (oblationes principum). A subdeacon took the breads from the Pope, and they were placed in a linen cloth held by two acolytes. The hebdomadary bishop helped the Pope to collect the offerings. The small vessels of wine, brought by the faithful, were taken by the archdeacon and their contents poured into the chalice held by the subdeacon, who followed him. When his chalice was full he emptied it into a larger one carried by an acolyte. The Pope also received the offerings of the defensors in their place (ante confessionem) and from the women in theirs (which was in the north aisle), and returned to his seat.

After both had washed their hands, the archdeacon, at a sign from the Pope, went up to the altar. The archdeacon then arranged the breads which were necessary for the sacrifice and for communion, and which he received from the hands of the regionary subdeacons. He also poured the wine, supplied by the Pope himself and others, into the chalice through a strainer, so that it might be very pure. A subdeacon, who had received the water from the choir-master brought it to the archdeacon, who poured it into the chalice, making the sign of the Cross over it.

The Pope himself now advanced to the altar, received the breads (presented by himself, the deacons, etc.) and placed them on the altar. Taking the chalice from the hands of the regionary subdeacon, the archdeacon placed it (with its two handles wrapped in a linen cloth, called the offertorium) to the right of the Pope’s bread (oblatam pontificis), put the linen cloth at the corner of the altar, and then took up his stand behind the Pope. After a short prayer, the Pope signed to the choir, who had been singing during the offertory, to finish, that he might begin the Preface,

Meanwhile, at the close of the offertory, the bishops and deacons took up their stand behind the Pope and in front of the altar. The regionary subdeacons, on the other hand, went behind the altar and stood facing the Pope. After the ‘angelic hymn’ (as the Ordo calls the Sanctus), at the close of the Preface, had been said by all, the subdeacons came to the front of the altar and with the bishops, priests and deacons, remained bowed down in silence, whilst the Pope alone said the canon of the Mass.

At the words. Nobis quoque peccatoribus, the deacons stood erect, and at the words, Per quern haec omnia, the archdeacon raised the chalice by its handles with the offertorium towards the Pope, who touched it on the side with some of the consecrated hosts, and said the prayer: Per ipsum et cum ipso to per omnia saecula saeculorum. The chalice and hosts were then returned to their places.

From the beginning to the middle of the canon an acolyte, with a veil on his shoulders (what is now called the superhumeral veil), had been holding before his breast the paten, just as the subdeacon does today. At the middle of the canon the assistant subdeacon took the paten, passed it on to the regionary subdeacon, who, at the words, ab omni perturbatione securigave it to the archdeacon to kiss. It was then given to the second deacon to hold. When the Pope had said. Pax domini sit semper vobiscum, he put into the chalice ‘de sancta’, i.e., the portion of the host consecrated the day before. The kiss of peace was then given by the archdeacon to the clergy and people.

After this the Pope broke one of the hosts at its right, and placed on the altar the part he had broken off; in order, says one of the readings of the ordo, that throughout all the ceremony the altar might never be without sacrifice. The rest of his own hosts he placed on the paten which was being held by the second deacon.

The archdeacon then gave the chalice to be held by a subdeacon at the right hand corner of the altar, and placed the hosts in the linen bags, which were carried by acolytes. The hosts in the little bags were then taken to the bishops and priests, to be broken into particles to be given in Holy Communion.

The Pope, meanwhile, had returned to his seat. Thither followed him two subdeacons with the paten bearing the hosts of the pontiff. At a sign from the Pope, the hosts were broken by the two deacons. With the exception of the particle broken off by the Pope himself, the archdeacon removed all the hosts from the altar, signed to the choir to recite the Agnus Dei and then went and stood by the Pope, holding in his hands the chalice he had received from the subdeacon.

When the hosts of the pontiff had been broken, the second deacon brought the paten to where the Pope was sitting that he might communicate. When he had done so, he placed a particle of the host into the chalice, saying, as the priest does to this day: “May this mixture and consecration of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be to us that receive it effectual to eternal life. Amen. Peace be to you. And with thy spirit”. He then received the Precious Blood from the hands of the archdeacon.

With the chalice in his hand the archdeacon went to the corner of the altar and announced where the next station was to be held. And after he had poured some of the contents of the chalice into a scyphus held by an acolyte, the bishops came forward to the Pope’s seat, that they might there receive Holy Communion at his hands; and the priests went to the altar for the same purpose. The ‘first bishop’, receiving the chalice from the archdeacon, confirmed, as it was called, i.e., administered the Precious Blood to the different clerical dignitaries down to the primicerius of the defensors.

This done, the bishop returned the chalice to the archdeacon, who poured its contents into the above-mentioned scyphus, and then handed it (the chalice) to a regionary subdeacon to be put away in the sacristyIn turn the subdeacon presented the archdeacon with a metal reed, by means of which he was to administer the chalice to the people.

Escorted by the primicerii of the notaries and defensors, the Pope proceeded to the senatorium when he had finished giving Communion to the clergy; and there, assisted by the archdeacon with the chalice, gave Holy Communion to the lay dignitaries. Bishops, priests, and deacons helped the Pope to give Communion to the people.

As soon as the Pope came to the senatorium, the choir began to sing the antiphon at the Communion, and continued to do so till all had been communicated.

At the close of the antiphon, the Pope, who had meanwhile returned to his seat, went up to the altar with the archdeacon and the second deacon, and recited the concluding prayer (the post-communion). A deacon then gave out, Ite missa est, to which was answered, Deo Gratias.

Finally, after asking and obtaining the Pope’s blessing, the various ministers returned to the sacristy. First went the regionary subdeacon, with the thurible, and the seven torchbearers. Then came the Pope with his immediate attendants. After them followed the bishops, priests, and monks; the choir, the military standard-bearers and the bailiffs; acolytes, the cross-bearers stationed outside the sanctuary, and the junior mansionarii.

With the exception of the ceremonies connected with the giving of Communion under both kinds, and with the exception of the ‘breads’ for the Mass in use in the days of Deusdedit being much more bulky than the wafers at present used in the West, there is nothing which anyone now accustomed to a papal or episcopal Mass, and to the Roman Missal of today, would find strange in a papal Mass of the seventh century, such as it is portrayed in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory and in the Ordo Romanus.




A.D. 619-625.




                      HERACLIUS (610-641)


                       ADAWALD ( 615-624) .


                       ELEUTHERIUS, 616-620 OR EUSEBIUS (?) 620-625.



THIS Pope, who was possibly one of the many clerics of his name who were employed by Gregory the Great, and who is described as ‘the mildest of men’, was consecrated (December 23, 619) after the See had been vacant for more than a year. He was a Neapolitan, and the son of the omnipresent John.

As was stated under the life of Deusdedit, Eleutherius the exarch rebelled against Heraclius. This took place some time in the year 619, and before the consecration of Boniface. At peace with the Lombards, and hoping to succeed where John of Compsa had failed, he assumed the Imperial purple. Acting on the advice of John, Archbishop of Ravenna, he set out for Rome to take the imperial crown, “there, where the seat of empire had its permanent place”. This dictum of the archbishop shows, at least, what was the view of patriotic Italians on the transference of the seat of empire from Rome to Constantinople.

Eleutherius evidently overestimated the strength of his popularity, for he was slain by his own troops at Castrum Luciolis (Ponte Riccioli, near Cantiano), a fort on the Flaminian Way. His head was sent “to the most pious emperor at Constantinople”. His death must have been a great relief to Boniface. He would doubtless have been called upon to crown the usurper had he reached Rome; and he would then have had to choose between an emperor at Constantinople and an intarta at his own door.

Like his predecessor, Boniface showed his practical love for the clergy by grants of money to them. His biographer assigns several decrees to him, which, from the brief way in which they are stated, are not very easy of comprehension. In connection with the right of asylum he forbade anyone to be dragged from a church. Acolytes were not to presume ‘levare’ (to expose? or translate?) the relics of the martyrs. This had to be done by priests only.

In his notes on this latter decree, Duchesne holds that “there is no question here of the translation of relics, properly so-called”. In the days of Boniface V, he says, the bodies of the saints of Rome still lay in their graves, in the churches or cemeteries. They were not then carried about in reliquaries. The earliest mention of a translation from the suburbs into one of the city churches occurs in the time of Pope Theodore in the case of that of SS. Primus and Felician. And in the seventh century, at least, such ceremonies were too rare to be made the object of a general regulation such as this. He believes, therefore, that it is a question of the objects which were placed on the tombs of the martyrs, and then taken away as relics. In entrusting the distribution of these pious souvenirs to the priests in charge of the religious services of the sanctuaries, the Pope doubtless had in view increasing their value in the eyes of the pilgrims.

But the translation and distribution of relics, properly so-called, was by no means so rare in the seventh century as the abbé seems to suppose. The letters of Gregory the Great very often speak of the sending to and fro from Rome of relics or cases containing relics of saints, and of their being carried to new churches and oratories to be therein reverently placed. His contemporary, John of Ravenna, is recorded to have translated relics; and his epitaph tells of his receiving relics from Gregory. It may, indeed, in the seventh century, have been the custom at Rome, when relics were given, not “to give any part of the body of the saint”; but it was a custom that was very often honored by its breach. That curious vice of the pious too, relic-stealing, was in vogue in the days of Gregory I. Now all this necessarily implies a considerable amount of translation of relics of one sort or another. ‘Levare’, moreover, seems to have been the technical phrase to denote the taking about (translation) of relics. The decree, therefore, of Boniface may be taken to mean that acolytes were not to translate, or in any way to prepare, relics for distribution.

The acolytes of the days of Boniface V must have been a pushing body, for a second decree was necessary to restrain them. In the Lateran basilica, at any rate (in Lateranis), they were forbidden to take the place of the deacons in administering the sacrament of baptism. This had to be done by the subdeacons who were not attached to the regions, the so-called subdiaconi sequentes. However, it would seem, from the second part of the Ordo Romanus I, that even after the time of Boniface the acolytes, at least in some churches, occasionally administered the sacrament of baptism.

Finally, Boniface ordained that the laws of the empire on the subject of wills were to be obeyed, presumably, as Duchesne observes, by the ecclesiastical notaries. For the Pope would not legislate for the civil lawyers.

His intercourse with England comprises practically all that is known of this Pope’s relations with the church at large. Bede tells us that he wrote “encouraging letters” to Mellitus, the third Archbishop of Canterbury, and to Justus, Bishop of Rochester. And sorely were such letters needed. For after the first successes under St. Augustine and King Ethelbert, the inevitable reaction had come, and the companions of the saint had somewhat lost heart. On the death of Mellitus, the Pope sent the pallium to Justus, the successor of Mellitus, and gave him power to consecrate bishops as the need arose. In the letter conferring these privileges upon Justus, Boniface tells him that he has heard from Eadbald, the son and successor of Ethelbert, that it was the eloquence and learning of Justus that had fully reconverted him to the true faith. For, on the death of his father, Eadbald had returned to his gods. The Pope goes on to say that he takes this as an augury that the conversion of many will be brought about by Justus, and exhorts him to use the privileges of the pallium, etc., which he has given him, not in such a way as to bring upon himself condemnation on the great accounting day, but for the salvation of souls. This letter was written in 624.

In another letter, of the following year, after noting that Justus had stated in a letter to him that St. Gregory had established the metropolitan See in Canterbury for St. Augustine and his successors, Boniface forbids any Christian to contravene that arrangement at any time, and “by the authority of Blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles”, he himself renews the decree, making Canterbury, which is specially under the guardianship of the See of Rome, the metropolitan of all Britain.

Boniface V evidently shared the affectionate vigilance for this country of Gregory I and his namesake Boniface IV. We next find him endeavoring to help Paulinus in his work for the conversion of Northumbria, that Anglo-Saxon kingdom, which stretched from the Humber to the Firth of Forth. It is well known that Edwin, the powerful ruler of that kingdom, was induced to agree to examine into the claims of Christianity, in order to obtain the hand of the Christian princess Ethelberga of Kent. The Pope, therefore, wrote (625) a letter of some length to him, in which he exhorted him to give up the worship of gods, so helpless that they could not stir unless someone moved them, and embrace the worship of the one true and living God who made heaven and earth. As an earnest of his goodwill, he sent the king a little present of an embroidered tunic and a cloak. He wrote at the same time to Edwin’s Christian wife, bidding her, by prayer and every means in her power, never to cease striving to obtain for her husband the grace of faith which she herself possessed. He begged her, in conclusion, to keep him well informed of the progress that Christianity made, as he was most anxious to know all about it; and he sent her little presents that were sure to have been very acceptable to the lady, a “silver mirror” and an “inlaid ivory comb”. The conversion of Northumbria was the work of these servants of God—the Pope, the Queen, and the Bishop, each in their respective spheres. Should any apology be needed for the enumeration of such details, with regard to events in corners of England, the words of Malmesbury himself may be offered, who has preserved us some of these details. “What is sweeter than to tell of the lives of our ancestors, that you may know the deeds of those from whom you have received the begin­nings of faith and models of a good life?”

During the pontificate of this Pope, and his more immediate predecessors and successors, events of the very first importance in the world's history were taking place, in the East. In 615, under Chosroes II, the Persians, who had for a long time been giving great trouble to the Eastern Empire, had advanced so far beyond the Euphrates that they captured Jerusalem, whence, to the intense grief and shame of all Christians, they carried off the relic of the true Cross. Soon afterwards they made themselves masters of Egypt, the granary of the Empire. After a long period of willful, or perhaps, rather, enforced inaction or preparation, the Emperor Heraclius took the field against them. One glorious campaign followed another, and in 629 the relic of the Holy Cross was retaken by Heraclius and by him brought back to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, these wars weakened both empires and made them an easy prey to that fanatical impostor, Mahomet or Mohammed.

Born during the lifetime of Gregory the Great, the ambitious and lustful Mohammed, self-styled “prophet of God”, in the year 622 gave to the world a new era in a political as well as in a chronological sense. The year 622, the year of the Hegira, or flight of Mohammed from Mecca, is the epoch from which his followers reckon their dates; and it serves to mark the appearance of a new power in the history of mankind—a power which, acting on the doctrine that “there is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet”, and that all have to confess that doctrine or be made to do so, had at its feet, in less than seventy years, most of the civilized world.

In the year 630, Mohammed issued from the deserts of his native Arabia and declared war against the Empire. And in the reign of his second successor, Omar (634-643), the three patriarchal cities of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria were in the hands of the Moslem, who has retained his hold on them, in the main, ever since. In the same reign, too, the Saracen also broke up the empire of Persia, and in thirty years after Omar’s death had even besieged Constantinople, That city did not indeed come into the power of the Moslem for several centuries. But the fall of Carthage (698), twenty-five years after the first appearance of the Mohammedans before the walls of the imperial city, gave them the command of North Africa and a base of operations against Spain. This latter country was added to the empire of the Caliph in 711, and fortunately was, for over a century, the only considerable portion of Europe which suffered from the exterminating rule of the Crescent.

It would be most interesting to know the views of the popes of this period on these momentous events, and to be able to compare them with those of the popes of later times, who showed themselves such uncompromising and able opponents of the Saracen and the “unspeakable” Turk. But the scanty records of the seventh century have hardly preserved us bare outlines of the leading facts of that age, much less the ideas of the principal men in it. We can only conjecture the grief of the Roman pontiffs at the sight of the numerous defeats of the Christian armies, their indignation at the conduct of the Greek emperors issuing dogmatic decrees instead of fighting the Arabs, and that they displayed the same instinctive opposition to the Moslems as did their successors of the days of the Crusades, regarding them not merely as heretics but as enemies of true civilization.

The Catholic historian may well be excused in seeing the hand of God in the fact of three out of the four Oriental patriarchs becoming at this period subject to the Saracen. With an ambitious patriarch of Constantinople a mere puppet in the hands of emperors often worthless and tyrannical, and with the other three patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem also subject to their sway, one cannot help feeling that, short of this calamitous subjugation of Christian bishops to Moslem Caliphs, nothing could have checked the growing pretensions of the Byzantine emperors and patriarchs in the ecclesiastical and spiritual orders, or have prevented the bishop of Constantinople from becoming “Universal Patriarch”, in fact as well as in name. And while, moreover, temporal power also was, of course, at the same time lost to the Oriental patriarchs, it was largely increased to the bishops of Rome. In a word, as a direct result of the Moslem conquests, which can only be described as an “act of God”, the power and importance of the Oriental patriarchs has gone on decreasing from age to age since that period, till now their names are scarcely known; while, on the other hand, the authority and influence of the bishop of Rome has gone on increasing up to this very day, when some 1300 bishops and over 260,000,000 people look up to him as their spiritual Head and Father.

Though Boniface completed the cemetery of St. Nicomedes (the remains of which, with its small basilica, were discovered in 1864) on the Via Nomentana, not far from the present Porta Pia, he was not buried there, but, as usual, in St. Peter's (October 25, 625).






A.D. 625-638.



                   HERACLIUS, 610-641.


                    ARIWALD, 626-636. ROTHARI, 636-652.


                    ISAAC, 625-644.



OF all the successors of St. Peter, Honorius I has in those our days been more discussed than any other. This is owing to his alleged fall into the Monothelite or “One-will” heresy. When at the Vatican Council in 1870, it was defined that the Pope, “when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when fulfilling his office of pastor and doctor of all Christians ... he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church ... is endowed with that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be furnished in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals”, when, we say, this was defined to be of Catholic faith, many appealed to the history of Pope Honorius, as showing that in his case at least “error” and not truth had been the subject of an ex cathedra decision of a pope. It will be seen in due course that even if Honorius had taught the doctrine of “One-will” in Our Lord, which as a matter of fact he did not, he issued no ex cathedra decree on the subject.

Considering, therefore, the interest that attaches to the doings of Honorius in the “One-will” controversy, it will be to the point to form a judgment as to his character from the other acts of his which history records. And a knowledge thus gained of his practical character will throw light on his conduct in the “One-will” controversy.

Honorius, who was consecrated November 3, 625, was a Campanian and the son of Petronius. As the latter is spoken of as a “consul” by the papal biographer, he probably occupied some civil or military position—more likely the former.

With chronological difficulties connected with the exact date of the consecration of the seventh century pontiffs, it is, generally speaking, scarcely worthwhile delaying the course of the narrative, as it is simply now impossible to fix the day of the month with certainty. In this case, however, an exception must be made, as certain conclusions have been drawn from the date of the consecration of Honorius. The biographer of Boniface V tells us that the See was vacant thirteen days after the death of that pontiff. That interval would make the consecration of Honorius fall in the middle of the week between Sunday, November 3, and Sunday, November 10. Hence Jaffé selects Sunday, November 3.

But counting the length of the reign of Honorius, as given in the Liber Pontificalis, backwards from the known date of his death, Sunday, October 27, is arrived at as the day of his consecration. This date is accepted by Duchesne. However, as this would not allow the three days interval required by the decree of Boniface III, the date November 3 is perhaps preferable. Though here again Duchesne contends that as, according to the Roman method of calculating, October 27 was of course exactly the third day after the burial of Boniface, the consecration of Honorius took place on the last day of the “close time” because it happened to be a Sunday. But this would certainly seem to be tampering with the decree of Boniface. Duchesne further urges that if there was any intervention of the exarch in this case of Honorius, it must be set down as due to some exceptional circumstance. Whichever date be accepted, the interval between the death of Boniface V and the consecration of his successor was very short for this period. Hence Sickel and others have concluded that the election of Honorius was confirmed by the exarch and not by the emperor himself directly. But, unless the exarch was in Rome, the interval assigned above was too short for confirmation even by him. It must either be supposed that there is some considerable error in the figures (at least as we have them now) of the biographers of Boniface and Honorius, a supposition by no means unlikely, or that, for some unknown reason, Honorius was consecrated without waiting for the emperor's consent. Suffice it to say here further, that the question as to the confirmation of papal elections by emperor or exarch is very obscure. More will, however, be said on it under the life of John IV, when an account will be given of the Liber Diurnus, with which the question is closely connected.

His biographer goes on to inform us that in his time Honorius did much good. Among his good deeds, he notes the Pope’s instruction of the clergy, and his building, adorning and repairing a long list of churches and cemeteries. Several contemporary inscriptions still extant bear testimony to the activity of Honorius in keeping up the great Christian monuments of the city. He did a great deal as well for the preservation as for the beautifying of St. Peter’s. With 975 pounds of silver he so adorned its principal gate that it came to be called the “Silver Gate”, and attracted the fatal attention of the Saracens when they plundered St. Peter’s in 846. An inscription sets forth how the Word took flesh; made St. Peter the first of his disciples; and gave him power to open and shut the gates of heaven. Among those to whom he would have to close the gates of heaven were those in the schism of Istria. But the leader of the people, Honorius, restored to the Church the members that had been torn from her. And as with finest silver he adorned “thy gates, do you, blest door-keeper of heaven, give peace to thy flock”. The inscription on the second leaf of the door shows that medallions of the two apostles, richly adorned with gold and gems, were conspicuous on the two leaves of the gate. With the consent of Heraclius he re-roofed St. Peter’s with bronze tiles taken from “the temple of Rome”, i.e. from the great basilica of Constantine on the Sacred Way. The shrunken population of Rome was no longer able to keep up the numerous colossal public edifices with which Rome had been graced in the days of her might. So that Honorius not unnaturally thought it best to preserve the buildings that were in use, even at the expense of those which were not used, which centuries were bringing to ruin, and which there was no money forthcoming to keep in repair.

On the Via Nomentana he rebuilt the famous church now known as S. Agnese fuori le Mura, and which had been built under Constantine the Great. The Church of St. Agnes is particularly interesting, because, despite modern alterations and restorations, it has to a very large extent kept its ancient form and internal arrangement. Extant inscriptions still tell of the gorgeous, if somewhat rude, manner in which Honorius decorated the tomb of the saint “with silver without stint”, and the Church itself with mosaics. The very mosaic (with its inscription also in mosaic) with which Honorius is said to have decorated the apse of the basilica is still preserved. There St. Agnes is seen with the emblems of her martyrdom and in the garb of a Byzantine empress, and to her right a figure in a purple planeta and white pallium, and with tonsured head, presenting to her a model of the basilica. “Below the mosaic, the ancient verses, among the best of their period, and more artistic than the picture which they extol, are still legible”. The last four of the verses tell us that the mosaic was given by Honorius, who is to be recognized in it by his vestments, by the model, and by his bright face, the index of his pure heart.

Inscriptions, the book of the popes and topographies, dating back to the seventh century, tell of the restoration of the Church of St. Pancratius, as well as of that of St Agnes. But, as this is not a history of the city of Rome, we must cry: Enough of churches.

However, before finally leaving the subject, it is worthwhile recording that among the discoveries made (1900) by the new “English School” at Rome, was the base of a fountain. It was found on the upper surface of the Comitium, “the greater part of which has now been laid bare .... immediately opposite to the door of the Curia (S. Adriano)”, and probably “formed the cantharus in front of the church which Honorius I constructed in the Curia about the year 635”. For this and other items of information to be quoted later, regarding the recent work of our school of archaeology in Rome, I am indebted to a letter sent to the Times (January 9, 1901) by the head of the school, Mr. G. Rusforth.

If weight can be attached to a passage of the Liber Pontificalis, which has been interpolated into one MS., Honorius repaired the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Trajana (Acqua Paola now), which entered Rome by the Porta S. Pancrazio, bringing water from the Sabatine Lake (Lago di Bracciano), some thirty-five miles from Rome. Witigis had, in 537, cut the eleven aqueducts which supplied Rome with water. They must have been repaired in some kind of way, for Gregory the Great’s words, when endeavoring to get the care of them placed in proper hands, show they were to some extent in working order. “The aqueducts are so neglected, that if greater care be not bestowed upon them, they will, in a short time, be entirely useless”. Likely enough, then, Honorius bestowed the needful care on the Aqua Trajana, only to have his work undone by the Lombard king, Aistulf, in his siege of Rome in 756. He also erected mills close to the wall to be worked by the water of the Trajan aqueduct, and it is certainly interesting to find between the Janiculum and the Tiber flour-mills still being worked by water from the same source.

The scanty remnants of the Register of Honorius are extensive enough to furnish further illustration of how temporal sway in Rome was falling into the hands of the popes by the force of circumstances. The care of the corn and water supply of the city is now in their hands. And, like Gregory the Great, Honorius extended his care to the city of Naples. He appointed for it, and all that appertained to it, civil and military authorities, and gave them instructions as to how it was to be ruled.

The case of certain “clerics of Cagliari”, if it does not put before us direct exercise of temporal power on the part of the Pope, gives us a further insight into the authority he possessed through the great officials of the empire, in virtue of imperial concessions. Excommunicated and summoned to Rome, these clerics had embarked to obey the papal orders when, writes the Pope to the sub-deacon Sergius, “the perverse president of the Isle of Sardinia” shipped them off to Africa. Though Honorius had already written himself to Gregory, the prefect of the praetorium in Africa, urging him to punish the misconduct of Theodore, he instructed Sergius also to admonish the prefect, to reprimand the president, and to send the clerics to Rome. “We have sent to your experience”, continued the Pope to Sergius, “a copy of the constitutions of Theodosius and Valentinian, for you to forward to the prefect. The mere reading of them will show how the emperors have all confirmed the privileges of the Apostolic See, and what privileges have of old been granted to it”. Of the issue of these negotiations nothing is known. But taken in conjunction with the Pope’s action with regard to Naples, they are enough to justify the epithet, which the inscriptions concerning him repeatedly give him, viz., “the people’s ruler or duke”—dux plebis.

His Register also shows Honorius attending to the “patrimony of St. Peter”, letting estates in Rome and its neighborhood. Before passing to more lengthy matters, it may here be noted that he also issued various decrees connected with ritual, e.g., that metropolitans who used the pallium in the public streets or in processions were to be deprived of the right to wear that sacred vestment In this strictness with regard to the use of the pallium, he was but imitating Gregory. He also decreed that every Saturday there should be a procession of all the people chanting sacred canticles from the Church of St. Apollinaris to St. Peter’s, from which it was not far distant. And, at the request of St. Bertulf, the second abbot of Bobbio, the famous abbey of St. Columbanus, he freed that monastery from subjection to any other authority but the See of Rome.

In the beginning of his reign, the name of Honorius occurs in the story of the mysterious downfall of the Lombard king Adalwald. During his reign the conversion of the Lombards from Arianism went on steadily. Whether because he was a Catholic, or because, as Paul the Deacon expressly avers, he had lost his reason, this son of the devout Theodelinda was dethroned and the Arian Ariwald put in his place by the Lombard nobles. The so-called Fredegarius, really some unknown writer in Gaul, who continued the Frankish history of Gregory of Tours, but in a most barbaric style and inaccurate manner, and who died about 663, relates some extraordinary details about the fall of Adalwald. On his authority we have it that about the year 624, the Lombard king came in some most marvelous manner under the influence of Eusebius, an official (exarch?) of the court of Constantinople. For after being anointed in a bath with some unguents, Adalwald is said to have fallen under the control of the will of Eusebius. Under his magnetic (?) influence, the Lombard king began to destroy the chief men of his kingdom, with the object of afterwards surrendering both it and himself to the empire. However all this may be, it is certain that the Lombards rebelled, and Ariwald (married to his rival’s sister) got the upper hand. Perhaps Adalwald then turned to the Pope. At any rate there is extant a letter of Honorius to the exarch Isaac, which is generally assigned to the close of the year 625. The Pope writes that he has been informed that some bishops in the parts beyond the Po had been endeavoring to induce the ‘glorious Peter’ to be false to Adalwald. Peter scorned their suggestions. “But because it is injurious to God and man that those who ought to dissuade others from traitorous conduct, exhort them to it; when, by the help of God and yours, Adalwald has been restored to his kingdom, do you be good enough to send the aforesaid bishops to Rome, because we cannot suffer such conduct to go unpunished”.

Adalwald, however, died soon after this, by poison says Fredegarius, and Ariwald became the acknowledged ruler of the Lombards (626).

Treating of the relations of Honorius with bishops across the Po, it will be suitable to speak of those which he had with the bishops, both schismatical and orthodox, of Venetia and Istria. Paulinus, the metropolitan of Aquileia (it is not known when these metropolitans first took the title of patriarch), the originator of the schism of Aquileia, through fear of the Lombards fled to the islet of Grado, with all the treasures of the Church, about the year 569, and there fixed the See of Aquileia. By the exertions of the popes, helped sometimes by the influence of the emperors, whose ships of war had easy, access to Grado, many of the schismatics were brought back to the unity of the Church. And this in such numbers, that, on the death of the patriarch Severus in 606, the Catholics were able to secure the election of a patriarch (Candidian), who was ready to place himself in communion with the See of Rome. The schismatics, on their side, sheltering themselves behind the swords of the Lombards, elected a patriarch (John) for themselves. He fixed his See at Aquileia, the ancient See of the metropolitans of Venetia and Istria, and begged (c. 607) Agilulph to see to it that, “after the unhappy Candidian had passed from this life to eternal torments, no other unholy consecration might take place there” (i.e., Grado). “From this time”, says Paul the Deacon, “there began to be two patriarchs”.

About the time that Honorius became Pope, one Fortunatus, who at heart was a supporter of the Three Chapters, was elected patriarch of orthodox Grado. His position, however, soon became too hot for him; and having stripped his church, and several others of the province of Istria, fled (c. 628) with his treasure to Cormons, not far from Aquileia. The Catholic bishops of the plundered provinces at once sent to inform Honorius of the robberies and heresy of Fortunatus. The Pope accordingly chose Primogenius, a regionary subdeacon, to be the new patriarch of Grado, and sent him thither with the pallium, and a letter addressed to all the bishops throughout Venetia and Istria. In his letter (February 18, 628) Honorius renewed the censures he had already issued against Fortunatus for his traitorous conduct, and said that they (the bishops) ought to be thankful that the wolf in sheep’s clothing had been cast forth from the fold. They must rejoice that by the ruin of one man the foundations of the faith of all have been restored. He has sent them Primogenius to be consecrated, and to him they must render sincere obedience. His (the Pope’s) ambassadors have been sent to the Lombard king to urge him to have Fortunatus, with what he had carried off, seized, as a traitor to God and man.

Primogenius was duly consecrated, and was still ruling the See of Grado when Theodore I was Pope. “And to this day”, writes the anonymous author of the chronicle of the patriarchs of Grado, “has the bishop of Grado received the honor of the pallium from the supreme apostolic See”.

From some lines of the epitaph of Honorius it has been conjectured that, at least for a time, he extinguished the schism of Aquileia. The verses tell how Istria, worn out with schism, has at length, at the admonition of Honorius, returned to the faith of the Fathers. The Pope’s words, just cited, about the fall of one man being a gain to the faith of all, point to the same conclusion. But the end of the schism was not yet. The success of Honorius can only have been partial.

Scanty as are the records of the age, the energy of the Venerable Bede has saved a few facts from being buried in the darkness that envelops the seventh century. He tells us of the efforts of Honorius to spread the faith in fresh portions of England, and to still more firmly establish it in those parts which had already embraced it.

By this time (about 634) the faith had been preached and was to a considerable extent established in the kingdoms of Kent, Northumbria and East Anglia. The beginning of the conversion of Wessex is thus told by the Venerable Bede. To a certain Birinus is due the bringing of the knowledge of the faith of Christ to the West Saxons. He came to England with the approval of Pope Honorius. But after he had, by the Pope’s orders, been ordained bishop, and had undertaken, in the Pope’s presence, to sow the seeds of faith in the interior regions of England, where no preacher had ever been before, when he found that the first people he came to had never heard of the faith, he remained among them and died among them, after having firmly planted the faith among them.

In Northumbria the letters of Pope Boniface V and the labors of St. Paulinus had brought forth their fruit in due season, and King Edwin had been baptized at York (627). The people in great numbers had followed the example of their king, to whom in 634 Honorius addressed an eloquent letter, exhorting him “with paternal love to preserve by earnest endeavor and constant prayer the grace to which the divine mercy had deigned to call him, and to constantly occupy himself with reading the works of Gregory, his preacher, in order that his (Gregory’s) prayers may cause the king’s realm and people to flourish and the king himself to be blameless in the eyes of God”. Honorius concludes by telling the king that, in return for his great faith, on account of the distance between them and at his request, he has sent two palliums, one for Honorius and the other for Paulinus; and that on the death of either, the survivor may by his (the Pope’s) authority consecrate a successor to the deceased prelate. And in a letter to the newly consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, who was also called Honorius, in which the Pope tells him of the sending of the palliums, he exhorts the archbishop to do his best to increase the faith which the labors of Gregory had sown in the country, and tells him that he sends the palliums and grants the above-mentioned rights of consecration at the request of the archbishop and the king, “by this present rescript, and acting in the place of Blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles”.

Later on, at the request of the archbishop, the Pope confirmed the decrees of Pope Boniface V, setting forth that the Church of Canterbury was to be forever the head of the churches of England.

Honorius was solicitous also for our “sister isle”, and was instrumental in bringing to a partial settlement the Easter Controversy in Ireland. This question of discipline agitated the Catholic Church, to a greater or less degree, for nearly the first 800 years of its existence. It was not till during the seventh and eighth centuries that this matter was, in these islands, brought to a satisfactory termination. That a mere question of discipline should be so long under discussion, and should cause, as it did, so much trouble, was due first, of course, to the importance of the question, and secondly, to the many, varied, and complicated points that arose in connection with it as time went on. Despite the scoffer, the question was important. Even one of our old Anglo-Saxon kings could feel deeply how unseemly it was—not to say inconvenient and absurd—that while some were still in the fast of Lent, others were in the full joy of Paschal time. As, then, the matter was of moment, and will crop up again, it will be worthwhile to spend a little time in discussing it.

Controversy on the time of celebrating Easter arose in the first instance from a wish on the part of many Christians to dissociate themselves from the Jews in every possible way; and then from astronomical difficulties in connection with fixing the time of Easter and the subsequent obstacles in the way of getting the solution of those difficulties known in distant and semi-barbarous lands.

As the crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord occurred at the time of the celebration of the feast of the Passover by the Jews, it was, of course, only natural that at first the Jews and Christians were both celebrating their greatest feasts at the same time, viz., on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, i.e., Nisan (our March), the period of the first full moon in the spring. But when the Christians found that they were being confounded with the Jews, they thought it better, as one way of distinguishing themselves from the Jews, to celebrate the feast of the resurrection, not on the fourteenth day of the month, but on the following Sunday. Of course, there are always some people who will let their feelings sway them instead of their reason, and who prefer sentiment to common sense; and so many of the Eastern churches refused to comply with the change. However, the celebration on the Sunday was enforced by the Council of Nice (325 AD), and those who held to the fourteenth day were branded as ‘quartodecimans. The council also fixed the vernal equinox to the 21st of March; and so Easter Sunday was to be the Sunday after the full moon which occurred on or after the vernal equinox.

The decree of the Council of Nice only settled one set of difficulties. Others soon arose from the ascertained inaccuracy of the old Jewish cycle of eighty-four years which was first used by the Church to calculate the day on which the spring full moon would occur in each year. First one cycle was adopted, then another. It was not till the year 525 that the cycle now in use was finally adopted, viz., the Metonic cycle of nineteen years. After each nineteen years, the new moons begin again to fall on the same days as they did nineteen years before. Even this cycle is not perfectly accurate, but it is practically the most convenient.

In the Seventh century the Irish were still using the old cycle of eighty-four years they had learned from St. Patrick, blissfully ignoring apparently the existence of any other system of calculation. However, from a visit of St. Dogan to England (610), from his there meeting with St. Lawrence and others of the missionaries from Rome, and from a letter which these missionaries sent “to the bishops and abbots of all Ireland” on the subject, the question of the proper method of calculating the time of Easter was looked into. The investigation was stimulated by a letter 3 (630) from Honorius, earnestly begging of the Irish people, comparatively few in numbers as they were, and at the ends of the earth, not to consider themselves wiser than all the churches of Christ throughout the world, but to celebrate Easter at the time laid down by the bishops of the world.

In consequence of this letter a synod was held at Old Leighlin, or Magh Lene (630). In the debate that ensued at the council there was cited the famous Canon of St. Patrick: “Moreover, if any case should arise of extreme difficulty, and beyond the knowledge of all the judges of the nations of the Scots, it is to be duly referred to the chair of the archbishop of the Gaedhil, that is to say, of Patrick, and the jurisdiction of this bishop (of Armagh). But if such a case as aforesaid, of a matter at issue, cannot be easily disposed of (by him), with his counselors in that (investigation), we have decreed that it be sent to the apostolic seat, that is to say, to the chair of the apostle Peter, having the authority of the city of Rome. These are the persons who decreed concerning this matter, viz., Auxilius, Patrick, Secundinus and Benignus. But after the death of St. Patrick his disciples carefully wrote out his books”. Thus does the canon run in the Book of Armagh, the most important of the extant ancient books of Ireland, a book as remarkable for the beauty of its penmanship as for its antiquity of some 1100 years.

To Rome, then, it was decided by the Fathers of Magh Lene that representatives “should go as children to learn the wish of their parent”, as the letter of the Abbot Cummian to Abbot Segenius expresses it. Segenius, it may be noted, was the abbot of Iona who sent St. Aidan to preach the faith in Northumbria. Cummian (d. 661), known as the Tall, to whose letter just cited we are indebted for most of what we know of the synod of Campus Lene, was bishop and abbot of Clonfert. Related to the chieftains of South Connaught, and equally distinguished for learning and piety, he was the admiration of his countrymen. His master, Colman, who survived him, regarded him as fit to sit in the chair of Peter. The Four Masters have preserved a few lines of Colman’s elegy on his pupil. In Bishop Healy’s translation they read :


“Of Erin’s priests, it were not meet

That one should sit in Gregory's seat,

Except that Cummian crossed the sea.

For he Rome's ruler well might be”.


The deputies of the synod, on their return (633), pointed out the unanimity with which the Roman calculation as to the time of keeping Easter was observed throughout the Christian world. From that time, “on the admonition of the bishop of the apostolic See”, says Bede, the whole of the South of Ireland fell into harmony with the rest of Christendom on the Paschal question. The North of Ireland, the Picts and the Britons of Cambria, came over to the Roman calculation at different epochs of the eighth century, and so brought the Easter controversy to a close.




The Visigothic kings who succeeded Recared were engaged in finally breaking up the remains of the imperial power in the peninsula, in subduing the Basques, in trying to bring into harmonious working the naturally discordant elements of their kingdom, the Visigoths, the Suevi and the Spaniards. Under Chintila (636-40) were held two councils at Toledo (V and VI), attended by the bishops and nobles of the kingdom, to legislate on its religious and civil concerns. To the bishops assembled in the sixth council (January 638), Honorius dispatched a letter exhorting them to show themselves “more zealous for the faith, and more alert in suppressing the disorders of the perfidious”. Whether these words were directed against the Jews it is impossible to say, as only the argument of this letter is extant. But decrees of the assembly, to which it was directed, bore heavily on them, thus sharing in the general movement against the Jews which, as we have noted above, was on foot at this time. The twenty-first letter of Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa (from which is gathered the substance of the Pope’s letter), addressed in the name of the synod to Honorius, begged him to condemn those who put forth the report that Rome allowed baptized Jews to return to their superstitions.

As this letter of Braulio (ap. Florez, España Sagrada, vol. XXX. p. 348) is written in the name of all the bishops of Spain, it is deserving of a full analysis. It opens by stating that the Pope will be fulfilling in the very best way the obligations of “the chair given him by God”, when, “with the holy solicitude of all the Churches, and with shining light of doctrine”, he provides protection for the Church and punishes “those who divide the Lord’s tunic with the sword of the word”. The bishops of Spain, at the instigation of Chintila, ‘their king’ and the Pope’s ‘most clement son’ were going to assemble together, when the Pope’s exhortation that they should do so reached the king. They thought, however, that the language used in the papal ‘decree’ was rather hard upon them, as they indeed had not been altogether inactive in the cause of their duty. They therefore thought it right to let the Pope see what they had accomplished—sending him the decrees of their synods—that ‘his eminent apostleship’ might judge for himself. This they did “with the veneration which they owed to the apostolic See”.

They know, indeed, that no “deceit of the serpent can make any impression on the Rock of Peter, resting as it does on the stability of Jesus Christ”, and hence they are sure that that cannot be true which false and silly rumors have set going, viz., that “by the decrees of the venerable Roman prelate, it has been permitted to baptized Jews to return to the superstitions of their religion”.

In conclusion Braulio begs the prayers of the Pope.

It was most likely by the bearers of this letter, and of the acts of the council, that Chintila forwarded to Rome a covering or decoration (pallium) for the altar of St. Peter, on which was worked an inscription setting forth that King Chintila offered this gift to St. Peter, the first of the apostles, the chief of all Christ’s disciples, and begged his assistance.

Fragmentary as is the character of this section on Honorius and Spain, it is still useful as showing the paramount position of the Pope in matters religious in that country.

So far, we have seen Honorius successful in all his undertakings, and in his dealings with others. And from what has been said already of his life, it may fairly be inferred that Honorius was an active-minded, business­like man; and that, like a true Roman, he always looked at the practical side of things. If this estimate of his character is correct, it will serve to throw light on what has now to be treated of at some length, viz., his correspondence with Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, and his connection with the Monothelite heresy. If Honorius was over-reached by Sergius, it was because, being honest, practical, and straightforward, he thought that the wily Greek was approaching him in the same spirit. It never entered into the thoughts of Honorius that what seemed to be a plain letter asking for guidance was a trap to inveigle him, at least, into ambiguous language, on the question of the one or two wills in Our Lord. If Sergius is here spoken of as wily, it is because, though it is taken for granted, that at first, at least, he did not see the Monophysite bearings of the formula, ‘one energy’, or ‘principle of work’, and though, no doubt, at first he really imagined that the formula would properly serve to reconcile the Monophysites to the Church, it is difficult to believe that he continued to act straightforwardly and honestly in his advocacy of his ideas.

The Monothelite or ‘one-will’ heresy was but another phase of the Monophysite or ‘one-nature’ heresy which infected so many of the Easterns. Of course, if there was but one nature, and that divine, in Our Lord, after the union of the two natures of God and man had been effected, it follows that there would have been but one will in that one nature, and that a divine will. That is to say, the doctrine of Monothelism or ‘one will’ would have been true. But considering there were two natures in Our Lord after the hypostatic union (that is to say, considering that the union of the two complete natures of God and man in Our Lord did not destroy or absorb the nature of man in Him), there were, therefore, really two, what one might call physically distinct wills in Our Lord. Or, in the strict sense of the words, ‘Duothelism’, or ‘two wills’, was, and of course is, the proper term to express the truth relative to the number of wills in Our Lord. As, however, the two wills in Our Lord could not be at variance, there was practically, in action resulting from the application of will, but one will in Our Lord. Hence, were there question of divergent wills, one would say there was but one will in Our Lord; and, on the contrary, were there question of physically distinct wills, one must say that there were two wills in Our Lord. It is easy to see, therefore, that as, in a sense both expressions, ‘one will’ and ‘two wills’, are correct, a designing, or well-meaning, but illogical, individual, under cover of the ambiguity that arises from that fact, might insinuate false doctrine to an unsuspecting person. And so it will be seen that Sergius, putting forth in his letter to Pope Honorius the idea of divergent wills, taught his Monothelite doctrine; whereas Pope Honorius, in his reply, though he seemed to indulge in Monothelite language, making use of the terms that Sergius had done, really taught the true doctrine of two wills, as is plain from his constantly insisting on the fact of the two complete natures in Our Lord, and their independent, though ever harmonious action.

To throw further light on the letter of the Pope, I will cite two apposite passages  from Father Luke Rivington’s Dependence: “Further, there is in Our Lord’s human nature what is sometimes called the will of the reason, and the will of the senses, but between the two there is not, and there cannot be, contrariety. In the Agony the will of the senses expressed itself, but was incapable of disobedience, for it was not wounded by the fall, and it was the will of the Eternal Word. There was no triumph of the one over the other, for there was no rebellion, no faintest wish that it might be otherwise. In a word, the operation of the human will (with its two departments) is distinct from the operation of the divine in the selfsame Person of the Word; but, whilst distinct, incapable of contrariety ... Honorius discountenanced the expression two energies, which he applied to contrariant wills in Our Lord’s human nature, whilst really Sergius and his followers were using it of the separate natures of Our Blessed Lord—in which sense it was a vital truth”.

With the view of reconciling the Monophysites, Sergius, before the year 622, impregnated the Emperor Heraclius with his heterodox views, pointing out to him that, by simply insisting on ‘one will’ and ‘one ruling energy or operation’ , in Our Lord, he would probably be able to bring over the Monophysites, who, for that concession, would agree to acknowledge the two natures. To ensure the success of his schemes, he managed to get Athanasius, the Jacobite, who had adopted his compromise, made patriarch of Antioch (629) and Cyrus, another of his partisans, translated from the See of Phasis to that of Alexandria (630). On the basis of ‘one theandric operation’, Cyrus brought over a sect of Monophysites to the Church (633). Sergius would now have had all his own way, had it not been for the opposition of a monk Sophronius, who became patriarch of Jerusalem in 633 or 634. Before, however, Sergius had received any official information of Sophronius’ election, he wrote to Pope Honorius a very artful letter, in which he begins by praising in an exaggerated way the labors of Cyrus, patriarch of Alexandria, by whom the people of Alexandria, and almost all Egypt, Libya, etc., had been brought into the one fold of Jesus Christ, on the basis of certain articles, among which was one on the ‘one operation’ of Our Lord. He then goes on to set forth how a certain holy monk Sophronius stepped in to spoil what had been accomplished by objecting to the article on the ‘one operation’, saying that there were ‘two operations’. Even when he (Cyrus) had pointed out that, since the fathers had used the phrase ‘one operation’, it was not advisable, especially under the circumstances, to call it in question, even then Sophronius would not withdraw his opposition.

And, continued Sergius, when Cyrus in consequence wrote to him (Sergius), he thought it hard that the phrase ‘one operation’ should be removed from the articles of reconciliation, after so happy a union had been brought about. Accordingly he (Sergius) wrote to Sophronius asking to give the very words of any of the great Fathers using the exact phrase ‘two operations’. When, as Sergius goes on to say, Sophronius could not do this, he (Sergius) wrote to Cyrus and pointed out to him that it would be better to drop both phrases, as heresies had generally sprung from such-like disputes, and simply confess that Our Lord Jesus Christ wrought works both human and divine. Because some, he pretended, would think that the phrase ‘one operation’ had been introduced to attack the hypostatical union of the two natures in Christ; and the phrase ‘two operations’, as not used by the ‘fathers’ would scandalize many. For the phrase would imply two contrary wills in Our Lord. And in the one person there cannot be two contrary wills on the same subjects.

At the request of the emperor, he had extracted and sent to him (Heraclius) the testimonies of the Fathers on the ‘one operation’ which Mennas had sent to Pope Vigilius. It is in accordance with the wish of the emperor that he (Sergius) is sending the account of this affair to Honorius, and in conclusion he (Sergius) begs the Pope by his charity and the grace given him by God, to amend what may be imperfect in his letter, and to write to him what seemed best to him (Honorius) on these matters.

This most diplomatic and apparently open letter was written in 634, after Sophronius had become patriarch of Jerusalem, but before either Sergius or Honorius had received the official synodical letter of Sophronius informing them of the fact. Honorius replied (634) at some length to Sergius by a letter in which, after approving of Sergius’ wish to preserve silence in connection with a new phrase which might scandalize the simple, he emphasizes the great defined truth of there being two complete natures in Our Lord; and adds that Our Lord “wrought” divine acts through the mediation of His humanity, which was united hypostatically to the Word of God, and that the union took place “while the differences of the two natures marvelously remained unchanged”. With much more to the same effect, he infers that the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ was but one, because He took, when “He was made flesh”, a human nature that was perfect, one created before the existence of sin. He thinks it the more necessary to point that out, because in Scripture “flesh” often means “corruption”. Whereas, of course, Our Saviour did not assume a corrupt nature, a nature that was at war with “the law of the mind” (Rom. VII, 23). For in Our Saviour there was “no other law in His members” or a will that was at war with Him. With regard to such expressions in the New Testament as “not My will but Thine be done”, (St. Mark XIV. 36; St John VI. 38), they are not indications of a will at variance with the divine, but they are recorded to teach us by His example to follow the will of God rather than our own. The Pope thinks it not right to bring under the defined teaching of the Church either phrase, viz., either one or two energies, as these phrases have not been sanctioned by the Church in any way. And, therefore, although the Scripture teaches plainly that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “is one and the same person, performing completely both divine and human acts”; whether “on account of the operations of the divinity and the humanity we ought to speak of one or two operations”, is to be left to grammarians to decide.

Again and again, before the close of his letter, and in a variety of different phrases, does the Pope insist on the Catholic doctrine of the One Person and the two complete natures, acting perfectly according to those natures.

There is extant also a fragment of a second letter of Pope Honorius to Sergius, written, perhaps, after the Pope had received the synodical letter of Sophronius informing him of his election. This letter is to the same effect as the first; and writers, who cannot be suspected of partiality, allow that it is practically orthodox.

During the lifetime of Honorius his letters to Sergius were never made public by that patriarch, and the ‘one-will’ controversy seems to have slumbered. Sergius must evidently have regarded Honorius not as a supporter of his heretical views, but as one who would prove a most uncompromising and formidable opponent should he discover them. But on the death of Honorius and during the vacancy of the Holy See—to give an outline here of the Monothelite affair which will be filled in under the lives of the succeeding pontiffs—Sergius induced Heraclius to publish under his imperial authority a document which he had himself composed, and which is known as the ‘Ecthesis’. This document, while enjoining silence as to the use of the terms ‘one or two energies’, asserts ‘one will’ in Our Lord, as usual, under cover of the pretext of avoiding two contrary wills in Him.

Sergius died soon after the publication of the ‘Ecthesis’, viz., in the month of December 638. His successor, Pyrrhus, continued to spread the Monothelite heresy. But John IV, having (641) condemned the ‘Ecthesis’, Heraclius, before his death (February 11, 641), renounced his own edict. After the short reigns of Constantine III and Heracleonas, Constans II, an unworthy prince, at the wish of Paul, the heretical successor of Pyrrhus, issued as his own (648) an instrument drawn up by Paul, which went by the name of the ‘Type’. This edict forbade mention to be made of either one or two wills or operations in Christ. In a synod in 649, Pope Martin I condemned this ‘Type’, an action that cost him his life. The Sixth General Council (680) practically extinguished this heresy, though we meet with a slight revival of it under the Emperor Philippicus, who reigned from 711-713. It is instructive to note that while the emperors were dogmatizing, they were losing their empire to the Saracens. Jerusalem was taken by the latter in 637, and Alexandria in 641. Africa was lost to the empire in 698, and the last flare-up of Monothelism (711-713) revealed the loss of Spain, as well of that part which remained to the empire as of that which was in the hands of the Visigoths, to the Mohammedan Moors.

Before leaving Honorius, a critical remark or two on his letters to Sergius, in their theological aspect, may be pardoned on account of the general interest taken in them. Theology is not the province of an historian, certainly, but these letters, especially the first of them, have been so much quoted in connection with certain Catholic teachings, that they can hardly be spoken of without a reference to their theological side. They are said by some to be a clear refutation of the doctrine of papal infallibility. This they could only be if, heretical in themselves, they were ex cathedra utterances; or if they were condemned as heretical ex cathedra pronouncements, by some authority that Catholics acknowledge to be infallible, viz., by a Pope, acting as head of the Church and teaching the Church, or by a general council. Now neither of these propositions can be established with reference to the letters of Honorius. Of the two letters of Honorius to Sergius, it must be noted that there are only extant Greek translations. The originals are lost. Further, as the second letter is acknowledged to be ‘practically orthodox’ by even Protestant historians, it is not to the point in the present discussion.

If the first letter be read together with the letter of Sergius, it will be clear to the careful and impartial reader, from the analysis of those letters given above, not only that Honorius thought correctly on the subject of the two wills, but that, taken with the context, there is not a single heretical sentence in his letter. There is indeed a sentence in his letter which is not wise—the sentence in which he doubts whether the new terms ‘one or two operations’ are useful or desirable. Subsequent adoption of the term ‘two operations’ showed its usefulness. And there is a sentence in his letter which, at first sight, seems heterodox, viz., where he agrees with Sergius that there is only ‘one will in Our Lord’. But the very reason that he gives for his statement shows that he was referring to the resultant will of Our Lord, i.e., to the will of Our Lord when reduced to action, and not to the number of wills in the second person of the Blessed Trinity after His incarnation. He says that Our Lord had one will, viz., one will in agreement with the divine will, because He assumed a perfect human nature, not one in which the ‘law of the flesh’ warred against “the law of the spirit” (Romans VII. 25). The Pope did not regard the question as one affecting the completeness of the two natures in Christ, but merely as one of words. He thought that neither phrase ‘one or two energies’ was desirable, inasmuch as St. Paul (1 Cor. XII. 6) used the phrase ‘diversities of operations’or ‘energies’. For the Greek translator of the Pope’s letter uses energeia, as the equivalent of the Pope's ‘operationum. This would seem to point to the fact that Honorius considered the two ‘energies’ or ‘principles of action’ of Sergius as simply equivalent to two resulting ‘acts’, or rather ‘classes of acts’. This double use of the word operation might well lead the Pope to refer to grammarians the exact force of the word energeia—the more so that he was probably laboring under the same difficulty as St. Gregory I complained about, viz., a want of men able to translate the letters of the Greeks into Latin.

What should really be final, as to whether Honorius was really a Monothelite or not, should be the declaration of the man who wrote the letter for Pope Honorius. Such a statement is fortunately extant. The great champion of orthodoxy, the abbot Maximus, in a famous disputation which he had with Pyrrhus, the successor of Sergius, in the year 645, triumphantly asked his opponent, who had brought forward Honorius as teaching one will in our Lord, “Who is the more worthy interpreter of the Pope’s letter, the one who wrote it in the Pope’s name, and who is still alive, and has illuminated the whole West with his learning, or those at Constantinople who say what they wish?” Pyrrhus replied, “Certainly the one who composed the letter”. “Then”, retorted Maximus, “the same man, again writing in the name of a Pope (John IV), and to the Emperor Constantine, says, speaking of this same letter: When we spoke of one will in Our Lord, we were speaking of His human will only, as is plain from our arguing that there could not be contrary wills in Our Lord —viz., of the flesh and of the spirit” This answer silenced Pyrrhus on that point, which, from his ready dropping of it, he cannot have thought strong. In another place St. Maximus speaks indignantly of the impudence of Pyrrhus, the successor of Sergius, in daring to cite the great, the divine Honorius, the apostolic See itself, as a partisan of his heresy. In a letter to the priest Marinus, he declares definitely that Honorius, when he spoke of one will, did not deny the duality of wills in the two natures of Our Lord. He proceeds to show from the Pope’s words that he was only arguing against the idea that there could be two opposing wills in the person of Christ. Towards the close of this letter, St. Maximus says that he is sure he has taken the right view of the letter of Honorius from what he has been told by the abbot Anastasius, who has just returned from Rome. Anastasius told him, avers the saint, that when in Rome he asked the chief ecclesiastics of that great church, and the abbot John, who had drawn up the letter, why the phrase one will had been inserted. The Romans, continued the Greek abbot to St. Maximus, were very much put out at the meaning which had been given to the phrase, and declared that numerical unity of will in Our Lord had never been intended to be expressed, nor had there been any intention of conveying the idea that the human will of Our Savior had been annihilated. There had only been a wish to show that there was no depraved will in Our Lord as there is in us.

Hence, in conclusion, the saint expresses his unbounded astonishment at the deceitful tactics of the heretics, who, by interpreting his words as they chose, claimed as their supporter one who did not side with them in the least.

Finally, in the document known as the apology for Pope Honorius, which was addressed by the abbot John himself, in the name of Pope John IV, to the Emperor Constantine, the last-named pontiff asserts positively that his predecessor only objected to the idea that there were two wills (that is, of course, what is spoken of as a good and a bad will) in Our Lord as man. Hence, were the letter of Honorius, taken by itself, much more difficult to explain in an orthodox sense than it is, the evidence of the abbot John, and the other contemporary Roman ecclesiastics to whom the abbot Anastasius addressed himself, would compel its being understood in a sense adverse to Monothelism.

But even if the letter be allowed to be heterodox on the subject of the one will, and if it be allowed to be an ex cathedra pronouncement, it would not even then militate against the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope. For on the matter of the controversy Honorius formulated no decision. On the question of ‘one or two wills’, all that he really insisted on was silence on the part of those already engaged in disputing on the subject brought before him. Whatever that subject was, and whatever the Pope may have thought or written upon it, all he wanted was, not to instruct the Catholic world upon it, but to avoid (as he hoped) worse trouble, and that the Catholic world should not be stirred up on the matter, through the disputes which he wished his letter to end.

A word must here be said, in anticipation, about the action of the Sixth General Council (680) in condemning not only Monothelism but also Honorius, the heretic. It has indeed been contended that, the Council may not have anathematized Honorius in the same sense as it did Pyrrhus and Sergius. For it must be observed that the word heretic did not always denote one who “knowingly and willingly” taught error. It sometimes, as Bolgeni has conclusively shown, was applied to such as favored error in any way. And it would certainly seem, from the edict which Constantine issued at the close of the council regarding the observance of its decrees, that when the council included Honorius in its anathemas, it only did so in the sense of his having favored the spread of Monothelism by his letters to Sergius. The edict speaks of Honorius as “a confirmer of the heresy and as one who was not consistent with himself”.

It cannot, however, be denied that it is more natural to assume that all those condemned by the council were all condemned in the same sense. But is not this admission fatal to the doctrine of papal infallibility? Does it not suppose that an authority (a general council), acknowledged by Catholics as infallible, declared that Honorius did teach heresy? In reply to this contention it must be borne in mind that it is Catholic doctrine that the decrees of any council only obtain force in so far as they are confirmed by the sovereign pontiff. And Leo II, in confirming the decrees of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, placed a limitation to their decrees (Sep.-Dec. 682). He anathematized Honorius certainly, but not for teaching error, but simply because “he permitted the immaculate faith to be stained”, as the Greek original phrases it. And so, as one (Form. 84) of the formulas of the Liber Diurnus shows us, after the sixth general council the Popes in their profession of faith were wont to condemn Sergius, etc., “and Honorius, who gave encouragement to their heresy”.

There is no need to go into what later popes or councils have said about Honorius. Their words are on the same lines as those respectively of the sixth council and of Pope Leo. For in the twentieth century one may say—with far greater reason than Anastasius, the librarian, in the ninth—that paper rather than matter would fail in an attempt to collect all that has been said in defence of Honorius.

With whatever degree of guilt he incurred from his action with regard to his letter to Sergius, Honorius went to meet his Maker in October 638. He was buried as usual in St. Peter’s. By the non-Catholic Gregorovius he is regarded as “a pious and highly educated man, ... who distinguished himself in Rome by the building of churches, securing for his memory a place by the side of Damasus and Symmachus, and furthering the transformation of the ancient city”.





A.D. 640.



After the death of Honorius the chair of  St Peter was vacant for one year and seven months. The cause of the delay, as we shall see presently, was a refusal on the part of the Byzantine authorities to confirm the election of Severinus, because he would not sign the ‘Ecthesis.

The election of Severinus, a Roman and the son of Abienus, was proceeded with after the prescribed three days had elapsed from the death of Honorius, and the usual request for its confirmation duly made at once. But in place of the imperial act of assent to his consecration, Severinus received an act of faith to sign.

As an answer to the orthodox synodical letter of Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, Sergius of Constantinople, had drawn up the Ecthesis, or exposition of faith, and on learning of the death of Honorius, he induced the emperor to issue this document as an imperial edict for all to accept (December 638). It was forthwith sent to the exarch Isaac, by the magister militumEustachius, to see that it obtained the Pope’s adhesion. With its express declaration of one will in Our Lord, Severinus refused to sign it.

Isaac, therefore, determined to try the effect of a little violence. Perhaps without the knowledge of the emperor, he commissioned his chartularius (a high, military officer), Maurice, to plunder the Lateran palace. Forming a party in the first instance, Maurice then set himself to rouse the greedy passions of the soldiery of the ‘exercitus Romanus’—now a local force and already in possession of considerable influence in the city. “What is the use”, he asked, “of so much treasure hoarded up in the Lateran palace by Pope Honorius, when you get nothing of it, not even the donatives which have been sent you by the emperor? The holy man, through whom they were to have reached you, piled them up instead of distributing them to you”. These words, of course, had their effect. A mob, and Rome especially has never lacked an idle, worthless crowd ever ready for sedition and plunder, rushed to the palace. Severinus was, however, prepared for them. They could not force an entrance. As the lion’s skin failed, Maurice tried the fox’s. This succeeded better. And after three days he managed to gain admission into the palace with the judges, whom he had won over to his side. They then sealed up the treasures which “Christian Emperors, Patricians and Consuls, for their souls’ redemption, had left to Blessed Peter the apostle, to be given in alms at certain seasons, or for the redemption of captives”. Word was then sent to the exarch that he might come and help himself. Isaac therefore at once came, exiled the principal clergy “that there might be none to oppose him”, and for eight days plundered the Lateran palace. Part of the booty was sent to the emperor at Constantinople.

Meanwhile, at Constantinople, the papal envoys had been striving to obtain the confirmation of Severinus.

They were, however, plainly told that they would have come so far to no purpose unless they would promise to persuade the Pope elect to subscribe the Ecthesis. That the ‘Queen mother’ of all the churches might not have to remain widowed, the legates answered with great circumspection. They had come, they urged, not to make professions of faith, but to transact business. However, they were quite willing to put the document before the Pope, and, if he thought well of it, they would ask him to sign it. They deprecated violence, pointing out that in matters of faith no one can be forced, and that by violence even the weak are oft made firm. How much more, they asked, will this be the case with the clergy of the See of Rome, which, as the eldest born of all the churches, excels all. She has obtained from the apostles, and from councils and princes, that in matters of faith she be not subject to anyone, but that by ecclesiastical law all be subject to her.

True ministers were they, continues St. Maximus, of that firm and immovable rock, the apostolic Church. Their opponents admired their fidelity, and the legates returned to Rome with their request granted. What cannot prudence combined with firmness effect! Disarmed by prudence, opposition is then overcome by firmness. Severinus was at length consecrated (May 28, 640), and Isaac wisely withdrew to Ravenna.

During the short time that he was Pope, Severinus condemned the Ecthesis. He decreed, probably in synod, that as “there were two natures in Christ, so there were two natural operations”.

As he was an old man when he was elected, we need not be astonished to read that Severinus was buried as early as August 2, 640, in St. Peter’s, the mosaics in the apse of which he had renewed. Beautiful is the character given to this Pope in the Liber Pontificalis. Besides being described as a lover and benefactor of the clergy, he is set down as “holy, kind to all men, a lover of the poor, generous, and the mildest of men”.

This account of Severinus may well be brought to a close by a quotation from the striking work of Mr. Allies—Peter’s Rock in Mohammed’s Flood: “Had Pope Severinus at this minute failed in his duty, the whole Church would have been involved in the Monothelite heresy. Not only Pope Severinus, but his successors during forty years, were the sole stay of the Church against a heresy—the last root of the condemned Eutychian heresy—which overthrew the true doctrine of the Incarnation, making our Lord Jesus Christ not God and Man in one Person, but a person compounded out of God and Man, and, therefore, not man at all” .









A.D. 640-642.




                    Heraclius, 610-641. Constantine III, 641. Heracleonas (alone for a short time, and then with Constantine (IV), generally known as Constans II), CONSTANS II (alone), 642-668.


                 ROTHARI, 636-652


                  ISAAC, 625-644.


To succeed Severinus, there was elected one John, a Dalmatian, the son of Venantius, a scholasticus or advocate. He was consecrated December 24, 640, apparently. When he was elected he was archdeacon of the Roman Church.

With regard to the consecration of John IV, it is a matter of fact that, with the exception of that of Honorius I, it took place at a shorter interval after his election than that of any pope after Pelagius II (7th February 590). The same thing is true, as a rule, of the consecration of the popes who followed John IV. Some historians have therefore concluded—and I believe correctly—that from this time forth, either with or without the express approval of the emperor, the exarchs took upon themselves the principal share in confirming the papal elections.

The argument drawn from the diminution of the interval between election and consecration from the time of Pope John IV onwards, is supported by the further fact that of the six formulas which, treating of the election of the popes, come all together in the Liber Diurnus (58-63), five of them are directed to Ravenna. And that these formulas belong to this period seems more than probable from intrinsic evidence. From the regular mention in them of the three days' interval ordered by Boniface III, it is plain they were drawn up after the decree of that pontiff. In them is also regular mention of the exercitus Romanus, spoken of for the first time in the biography of Pope Severinus.

That on the other hand they belonged to a period before 684 would seem clear from this, that they are dispatched in the name “of the archpriest, the archdeacon and the primicerius of the notaries, holding the place of the apostolic See”; whereas in 684 St. Benedict II governed the holy See, in the interval between his election and consecration, as pope-elect. Finally, though at this time those elected to fill the chair of Peter were generally simple deacons, it appears from his letter to the Irish that John IV was the archdeacon. And, strange to say, the formulas just cited from the Liber Diurnus record that an archdeacon has been unanimously elected. Possibly, then, the documents drawn up in connection with the election of John I may have served as formulas for the election negotiations of succeeding popes.

But as besides the five formulas sent to Ravenna, a sixth was still sent to Constantinople, I am disposed to believe that the emperor never wholly resigned his right to confirm the papal elections into the hands of his exarch. Constantine Pogonatus resumed the imperial right of confirmation claimed by the Byzantine emperors, only to give it up once and for all under Benedict II. For when the biographer of Conon says that after his election “messengers were sent to the exarch, as the custom (now) is” it may be that they were simply sent to inform the exarch as to who had been chosen. It may be for the subjoined note will show that the opinions of the learned on this whole subject are so conflicting that it is not safe to dogmatize on it.



625. Honorius I, confirmed by exarch and not directly by emperor.

640. John IV, the first Pope confirmed by the exarch.

642. Theodore I, possibly first confirmed by exarch, according to Hodgkin, with Diehl.

682. Leo II again confirmed by the emperor, through the negotiations of Agatho with Constantine Pogonatus.

684. Under Benedict II, Constantine Pogonatus gives up right of confirmation.

685. Hence Rozière, etc., hold that John V was consecrated under the new act of liberty, granted by Constantine. Hodgkin, Diehl, and Duchesne, however, regard John V as the first Pope confirmed by the exarch. But it is scarcely likely that the popes would strive for confirmation by the exarch.

686. Conon and his successors again confirmed by the exarch—so Sickel.

741. Zachary elected immediately on death of Gregory III, and hence not confirmed by exarch.

751. End of exarchate. Hence 751-817 the election and consecration of the popes wholly though Pippin, Charlemagne and Louis naturally informed (by formula 82) of the election.

817. New agreement between Paschal I and Louis the Pious on the subject of the confirmation of elections.


Now that the ground has been cleared a little, the mode of electing the popes at this period may be briefly touched upon. The method was pretty well one and the same for many centuries, the same in the third as in the ninth century. Speaking of the election of Pope St. Cornelius (251), St. Cyprian says: “Cornelius was made bishop by the will of God and His Christ, by the almost unanimous consent of the clergy, by the suffrage of the people then present, and by the college of old bishops and good men”. In the third century, therefore, the papal elections, begun with prayer, were brought to a termination by the cooperation of both clergy and laity. The share of the laity was limited to an expression of wishes and to bearing witness to the qualifications or disqualifications of the candidates, as the case might be. The real power of choice, however, lay with the votes of the Roman clergy, as the decrees of the council of Rome, held under Pope Symmachus in 499, abundantly demon­strate.

In the seventh century also the election proceedings began with prayer, which, after the decree of Boniface III, lasted for three days after the death of the pope to whom a successor was to be chosen. Then there gathered together the clergy of all degrees, “the most eminent consuls and the glorious dukes”, the citizens and the flourishing Roman army; and by the majority of the votes of the clergy, amidst the applause of the laity, a successor to St. Peter—at this period generally a deacon of the Roman Church—was elected. The assembly was held in the Lateran basilica.

In the earlier ages of the Church the consecration of the pope-elect was proceeded with at once. But from the time of the Gothic kings, or perhaps more strictly from the time of the establishment of the Byzantine regime in Rome under Justinian, to that of Constantine Pogonatus, the consecration had to be delayed until the election had been confirmed by the temporal power. This assumption on the part of the Gothic kings of Italy and the Eastern emperors was a great abuse, and, as might be expected, opened the door to great evils. It furnished another ladder by which the ambitious might hope to reach the chair of Peter; and it led to disastrously long vacancies of the Holy See and to the emperor exacting a sum of money from the pope-elect before he would confirm the election. In the course of eighty years, from the death of Gregory I to the accession of Benedict II (684-5) there were interpontifical intervals amounting to at least 3600 days, or about 10 years in 80. The emperors, too, used sometimes their assumed right of confirmation to endeavor to force the pope-elect to do their will. If there is one thing that the history of Christian Europe has shown clearly it is this, that where the State interferes to any considerable extent in the freedom of episcopal elections, fatal is the result first to that liberty which the Church needs to fulfill its glorious destiny, and then to the religious good of the people. For the State will always look out for men who will be its creatures, rather than for men who will be most fit to work for the spiritual needs of the people. Further fatal is the result to the State itself. It cannot be expected that State-elected bishops will have the requisite independence of spirit to raise a strong note of warning when the State is entering on dangerous courses, and the subjects of the State, not being properly kept in hand by those who should have most influence over them for good, will become, especially in times of difficulty, unruly, and cause the downfall of that State which thought to strengthen itself by getting all power, spiritual as well as temporal, into its hands.

To return to the Pope whom we have just seen elected in the seventh century. The election over, documents, setting forth the particulars of it, were drawn up and signed. The decree sent to the exarch was signed by the archpriest and by a consul. Generally drawn up in the name of the archpriest, the archdeacon and the primicerius of the notaries, “keeping the place of the apostolic See”, they were sent to their various destinations in charge of a bishop, a priest, a regionary notary and sub-deacon, certain worthy burghers, and, as representing the army, a most eminent consul and several magnificent tribunes.

One notice (formula 58) was sent to the emperor, their “most pious lord”, who was asked to give an imperial order (jussio), for the consecration of the papal candidate, who had been elected on account of his worth. But, as it has already been said, the greatest attention was at this period paid to the exarch. Word was at once sent to him, after God their one hope, of the death of a Pope; and then a very full account of the election of his successor (formula 60). The document is addressed “to the most excellent and distinguished exarch of Italy” by “the priests, deacons and all the clergy of the papal Curia, the nobility, the army and the people of Rome, as suppliants”. The exarch, as happily taking the place of the emperor, is earnestly asked to consent as soon as possible to the consecration of the pope-elect, on account of the great amount of business which awaits the attention of the “supreme authority”; and on account of the “ferocity of their neighboring enemies”, which, owing to the reverence they have for the prince of the apostles, can only be softened by the words of his vicar. The document concludes as our petitions to parliament do today: And your petitioners will ever humbly pray, etc. Three other election notices (form. 61-3), were at the same time sent to the Archbishop of Ravenna, the civil authorities (judices), and the papal apocrisiarius there. All are exhorted to promote the cause of the pope-elect to the best of their ability.

When the needful act of confirmation had been brought to Rome and the day of the consecration of the pope-elect had arrived, another formula (57) of the Liber Diurnus lets us know that, accompanied by seven acolytes, he proceeded from the Lateran, where the consecration used to take place in pre-Byzantine times, to the confession of St. Peter; and thence, after the litany, to the episcopal chair with the bishops and priests. Then the bishop of Albano recited the first prayer and the bishop of Porto the second. The book of the Gospels was then produced and held by deacons over the head of the pope-elect. Then the bishop of Ostia consecrated him bishop. After the pallium had been presented to him by the archdeacon, the new Pope gave the kiss of peace to all the priests and entoned the Gloria in excelsis Deo. Thus was the Pope, like any other bishop, consecrated by three bishops and, even as far back as the seventh century, by the bishops of Albano, Porto and Ostia. Pagi has called attention to the fact that so strictly did the right of consecrating the Pope belong to the bishop of Ostia, that if he were elected Pope himself, or could not be present at the consecration, then the archpriest of Ostia took his place. Of course if the pope-elect were not a bishop, the archpriest could only give the blessing which was given to a bishop who might have been elected Pope.

When John IV became Pope, he did not forget his native Dalmatia, which, indeed, at this period stood in considerable need of his attention. We have seen how dread of the advances of the Slavs in Istria was one of the troubles of Gregory the Great. Their progress did not stop with his death. During the reign of Heraclius, Croats and Serbs extended their ravages into Dalmatia. To relieve the misery caused by these barbarians, the Pope sent the abbot Martin, with large sums of money, to redeem the captives they had taken in both Dalmatia and Istria. The abbot was also instructed to procure the relics of martyrs. And the Book of the Popes further informs us that John built and adorned an oratory, in connection with the basilica of St. John Lateran, to receive the relics “of the blessed martyrs Venantius, Anastasius, Maurus and many others” which he received from his native land. This chapel still stands, and in it one of John’s mosaics is still preserved. To the left of the Blessed Virgin stands John himself, with a model of his oratory in his hand, offering it to St. Venantius, who is also depicted in this rude, though most interesting, production. Among the other figures (twenty-four in all) of this striking picture—so useful for the study of ecclesiastical vestments—are those of SS. Maurus, Anastasius, Domnion, Septimus, and Asterius, as well as those of four soldier saints, Paulinianus, Telius, Antiochianus, and Gaianus. These names have been selected because excavations, begun in our own time (in the year 1874), in the cemetery of Manastirene, situated to the north of the ancient Salona, have brought to light various inscriptions bearing the names of Domnion and the last five of the martyrs’ names just mentioned. The inscriptions show where the martyrs’ bodies reposed before they were brought to Rome. The Liber Pontificalis notes that some of the relics came from Istria, and among the martyrs’ names mentioned by it occours the name of Maurus. Explorations in the city of Parenzo in Istria have brought to light an inscription of St. Maurus. The stones of Rome and Dalmatia lend their strong voices to support the assertions of the Book of the Popes.

It seems to be the generally received opinion that John also Commissioned some of his envoys to preach the faith of Christ to the heathen Slavs. The emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote about the year 950, says that Porga, prince of the Croats, sent to Heraclius for Christian teachers, and that, referred by the latter to Rome, the Croatian monarch obtained from the Pope (John) a bishop and priests, who baptized his people. The Pope took the newly-baptized people under his special protection, and would have them renounce their custom of indiscriminately invading and plundering their neighbors’ territories, and be content with defending what was theirs. It must be borne in mind with regard to this account that the imperial writer does not specify to which member of the reigning house of Heraclius Porga was sent. It may have been to Heraclius Constans II; to Heraclius Constantine Pogonatus; or, as I think most likely, to Justinian II, the last ruler of the house of Heraclius, as well as to the emperor who is known simply as Heraclius, viz., Heraclius I. In any case it was not till the close of the ninth century that we find Croatian bishops.

Whilst still pope-elect John shared in the government of the Church—as we shall see from fragments of a letter Roman which have been preserved by Venerable Bede—not as pope-elect, but because he was archdeacon of the Roman Church. For, as already noticed, during a vacancy of the Holy See or during the absence of the Pope, the Church was governed, from the sixth century, by the archpriest, the archdeacon, and the primicerius of the notaries. If one of these three were elected Pope, then a fourth was added, as the letter just referred to show. Pagi and others think that this arrangement lasted till the time of Benedict II; that from his time the power of the triumvirate ceased with the election of the Pope, who then, as pope-elect, governed the Church by himself; and that their power, thus curtailed, finally devolved upon the College of Cardinals, when in 1059 Nicholas II gave to the cardinals alone the right of electing the popes.

By the action of Pope Honorius, the south of Ireland had been brought into harmony with the rest of the Church Catholic in the matter of the time of celebrating Easter.

But the Church in the north of Ireland, and in the parts taken possession of by it, as the Isle of Iona, was still unsettled in this respect. Accordingly some of the principal ecclesiastics in those parts, in their endeavors to bring the Paschal controversy to an end, wrote to Pope Severinus. Their letter, now lost, reached Rome after the death of Severinus, and before John had been consecrated. This much we learn from the fragments of the answer of the heads of the Roman Church. Their reply begins : “To the most holy and well-beloved Thomian (Archbishop of Armagh), Columban, Croman, Dinnan (Bishop of Connor), and Baithan (of Clonmacnoise), bishops; Croman (abbot of Roscrea), Ernian, Laistran, Scellan, and Seghen (abbot of Iona), priests; Saran, and the other Scottish doctors and abbots—Hilary, archpriest, in place of the Holy and Apostolic See, John the Deacon, the elect of God, John the primicerius, in place of the Holy and Apostolic See, and John, servant of God and consiliarius (assessor) of the same Apostolic See”. The writers begin by observing that the death of Pope Severinus has been the cause why hitherto no answer has been sent to the questions asked by the Scots. However, that such important matters as they have written about might not remain unattended to, the pope-elect and his coadjutors point out to them the mis­takes they are making in their Easter calculations; and, in conclusion, exhort them to be on their guard against the Pelagian heresy, which was said to be reviving among them.

This letter, though written “with great authority and learning”, did not apparently produce the desired effect. However, Adamnan, who was sixteen years old when this letter was penned, and who afterwards became abbot of Iona, brought the people of the north of Ireland back into Catholic unity on this vexed Easter question in the early years of the eighth century. The monks of Iona embraced the same blessed unity a few years later (716).

John was no sooner consecrated (December 24, 640) than he found it necessary to take measures against Monothelism. He had received a letter from the patriarch of Constantinople (Pyrrhus) in which the doctrine of the one-will was again plainly asserted. A synod was at once assembled in Rome. Monothelism and the Ecthesis were condemned, and Pyrrhus at once informed of what had been done. Thereupon the Emperor Heraclius made haste to disown the Ecthesis. It was not his. It was the work of Sergius.

On the death of Heraclius soon after (February 11, 641), he was succeeded by his sons, Constantine III and Heracleonas. To this Constantine, John addressed the long letter, generally known as his apology for Pope Honorius. He assured the emperor that the whole West was scandalised by the attempt that Pyrrhus was making to give credit to the new heresy by connecting with it the authority of Honorius; he denied that his predecessor had any thought of giving countenance to the one-will doctrine, and he begged the emperor that the Ecthesis, which bishops had been compelled to sign, might be withdrawn.

Before Constantine III, who was orthodox in faith, as we are informed by Zonoras (a late authority indeed, but in this respect undoubtedly accurate), had time to move in the matter, he was carried off by death, possibly poisoned by his stepmother (May 25, 641). Then for a time Heracleonas and Constantine, the son of Constantine III, and generally known as Constans II, reigned together. But some time in 642, before September, the young Constans became sole ruler of the empire.

Although Constans II afterwards became an ardent supporter of the Monothelite heresy, he began his reign by so far complying with the wishes of the Pope as to burn the Ecthesis, as he himself notified in a letter to Pope John.

Other details in connection with this communication between Constans II and John IV, which we have from Eutychius who was not born till the days of Charles the Bald, may not be so authentic. When, according to the patriarch of Alexandria, Constans had perused the letter of that “distinguished man”, viz., the Pope, he was profoundly impressed by the intellect therein displayed, and ordered a reply to be sent to Rome in which he accepted the doctrine of the two natures, two wills and operations of Our Lord, and of His one personality. He also intimated that he had committed to the flames the document which threw discredit on Pope Leo I, and the Council of Chalcedon; and averred: “We firmly maintain your teaching which is the truth”. When the papal messenger Sericus returned to Rome, he found that John IV was dead, and that Theodore, an excellent man, was Pope in his stead. The new Pope at once wrote to congratulate Constans on using his power to propagate the orthodox faith, thereby differing from Heraclius, who, for deserting the truth, was unworthy of the name of emperor. Eutychius concludes his narrative of these events by telling us that Constans was deeply moved by the news of John’s death.

Whatever of truth there is in these details, it may be safely inferred that John IV never read the letter addressed to him by Constans. For he was buried on October 12, 642—as usual in St. Peter’s.

A decree (Visis literisof a Pope John is attributed to this Pope, in which the decision was given that churches which had been entrusted to monks should be served by priests instituted by the monks themselves. Because this decree was addressed to one Isaac, Bishop of Syracuse, and because no such name figures in the list we have of the bishops of Syracuse, the editors of the second edition of Jaffé’s Regesta are in doubt as to which Pope John to assign this decree. However, the list of the bishops of Syracuse, about the year 640, can scarcely be said to be so well known as to exclude the possibility of there having been a bishop Isaac in that year.






A.D. 642-649.






                    ROTHARI, 636-642.


                     ISAAC, 625-644. THEODORE CALLIOPAS, 644-6. PLATO, 646-9.



AFTER a short vacancy of the Holy See, Theodore, a Greek and native of Jerusalem, and son of a bishop Theodore, was consecrated November 24, 642. Pagi conjectures that the exarch confirmed the election so promptly because Theodore was a Greek. At any rate, he confirmed the election of a good man—a man who was “a lover of the poor, generous, kind to all, and very merciful”. Heir of John’s faith as well as of his See, his pontificate was one long struggle with Monothelism. In fact there is hardly an action of his known which was not connected with that heresy.

About a year before Theodore became Pope, there had been a change of patriarchs at Constantinople. Pyrrhus was said to have been concerned in the death of Constantine III, and had fled or had been expelled from the city (October 641), as obnoxious to the party in power on political but apparently not for dogmatical reasons. In the same month, as though the See were vacant, Paul was elected patriarch—a man who, as it afterwards transpired, was as little orthodox as Pyrrhus.

As soon as he ascended the throne of the Fisherman, Theodore wrote to the Emperor Constans II, inasmuch as God had been pleased to entrust to him (the Pope) in Church affairs “the management of matters which touch your Piety”. While congratulating him on nominating orthodox bishops to the various Sees, he blames him for not taking canonical proceedings against Pyrrhus to deprive him of his dignity. He exhorts him to abolish the Ecthesis and to try and reclaim Pyrrhus and his followers, who have seduced the more unwary among the bishops to embrace the Ecthesis and thereby put themselves in opposition with the “common consent of the bishops who profess the true faith and sincere devotion to the Apostolic See”. He is astonished that the emperor has not already issued a decree against the heresy. And while he would bespeak the imperial favor for the bishops who have consecrated Paul, he would have had them anathematize Pyrrhus, and is not pleased that so far from speaking of him as deposed, they even call him a religious man. For if Pyrrhus was not deserving of anathema, then why was he driven from his See? If it be answered, from hatred, he would point out that the ill-will of men must not be suffered to override the rights of the clergy. In turn, if a bishop be justly deposed by the proper authority, no other power can reinstate him. With all this, it is not his intention to support the consecration and appointment of Paul for fear of some fraud. For he has some ground to fear that Paul has caused dissensions among those subject to his jurisdiction, and has even endeavored to stir up feeling against him (the Pope). But in us “there is none of that cockle which the enemy hath sown among men”.

The Pope was evidently suspicious of the good faith, if not of the orthodoxy, of both the emperor and his new patriarch. That he was not satisfied with the way in which Paul had been elected he also showed by refusing to recognize him as patriarch until certain conditions had been complied with. In his synodical letter, indeed, to the Pope, Paul had so written as to lead Theodore to suppose he was orthodox at least. Here we cannot but note how frequently it happens with heretics that they use all their talents in trying to conceal their doctrines under a show of orthodox language. With all their professed regard for truth, a regard which they put forward as the reason which forces them away from communion with the Catholic Church, they at times do their very best to hide what they profess as truth, a proceeding the sincerity of which can scarcely be granted.

In his reply, then, to Paul’s synodical epistle, Theodore rejoices that it shows that Paul has drawn the clear waters of his faith from the fountains of the Savior, but wonders how it is that Paul has not yet caused to be taken down the Ecthesis of Pyrrhus which is opposed to his (the Pope’s) apostolic faith, and which his predecessor (John IV) and the emperor had alike condemned. It cannot be that Paul receives the Ecthesis, or he would have told him (the Pope) so in his synodical letter. The Pope also wonders why the bishops who consecrated Paul alluded to Pyrrhus as most holy, and is astonished that they aver that he had renounced the See of Constantinople on account of his unpopularity. “Thrown into doubt by this assertion, we have decided not to receive your synodical letter (i.e., not to acknowledge you as patriarch) for a time, until Pyrrhus be deprived of his See. Tumult and unpopularity cannot deprive a man of his episcopal rank. A canonical sentence ought to have been passed on him that your consecration might be unassailable. It is written : A woman if her husband be dead is freed from the law of her husband. Therefore whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress if she be with another man (Rom. VII. 2, 3). They two shall be in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church (Ephes. V. 31, 32). Unworthy though I be, I fill His place in the Church. Accordingly as Pyrrhus still lives, and has not been convicted of a canonical fault, precautions must be taken against a schism. A council must be held against him. We have instructed Sericus, the archdeacon, and Martin, the deacon and apocrisiarius, who are to take our place in this matter, to inquire into the fault of Pyrrhus along with you”. The Pope adds that, in the event of Paul’s anticipating any trouble from the partisans of Pyrrhus, an order may be obtained from the emperor, in accordance with earnest representations that he (the Pope) has made the emperor, that Pyrrhus may be sent to Rome to be tried by a council there.

To the bishops who had ordained Paul, the Pope also wrote. While rejoicing in his (Paul’s) ordination, i.e., in his being made a bishop, he exhorts them to see to the canonical deposition of Pyrrhus, so that Paul’s right to be bishop of Constantinople may not be called in question. He also sent to the imperial city a declaration of faith condemning Pyrrhus and the Ecthesis.

The letter of the emperor to the Pope, discovered by Cardinal Mai, shows that the council he insisted on was duly held; but on the subject of the condemnation Pyrrhus not a word is said. There was evidently no sincerity in either emperor or patriarch. The substance of the emperor’s letter to Theodore, which is as respectful as possible, is as follows: Acknowledging the receipt of the Pope’s letter, which he regards as worthy of him on account of its declarations concerning the faith, Constans praises him for desiring that no novelty should be introduced into the Church, He has drunk of the pure waters by which the Pope has quenched the thirst of his soul. Not to fall into the mistakes of his predecessors (whom the enemy of souls had seduced from the faith erected on that rock against which the gates of hell will never prevail), he caused the Pope's letter to be “read in this large assembly in the presence of Paul, patriarch of this our God-protected Constantinople”. To it all expressed their adhesion. “Your brother Paul has sent your Paternity—in the customary manner among bishops—an encyclical in conformity with what you had laid down”. “Throughout the whole of our empire we have ourselves decreed” that no novelties be introduced into the Church beyond what had been taught by the apostles and by councils, and “beyond what your Paternity, Holy Father, has written”. And if anything against the true faith has been done by the authority of any emperor in former times or “a short time before the death of the pious Constantine of happy memory—this we abolish”. His wish is for the pacific increase of the Church and “perseverance in the doctrine of your Paternity”.

Whether or not this specious letter satisfied Theodore, and whether or not the encyclical of Paul (which is lost) induced him to accept the situation, we do not know. But he could not, of course, be kept long in ignorance of the Monothelite views of Paul. His apocrisiarii may have sent him information of the real belief of the Byzantine patriarch. At any rate it is certain that a letter came (643) to him from Sergius, the metropolitan of Cyprus, apprising him of it. This document is headed, “To our most holy and most blessed Lord, the father of fathers and universal Pope Theodore, Sergius the lowly, health in the Lord”.

The letter opens with a very strong expression of the pre-eminent position of the Holy See in the Church, and begs that the clouds of ignorance may be driven away by the light of its wisdom. It goes on to say that up to the present they, the metropolitan and his suffragans in Cyprus, have kept quiet about the heretical doings in the imperial city, but now, relying on the protection of the Pope, they cannot and will not do so any more, as the ‘cockle’ seed of error is being sowed over all the world.

There also appeared at Rome about this time Stephen of Dora, whose story also served to shed a flood of light on the doings of Paul. In connection with this bishop there occurred perhaps the most dramatic incident in the whole of the Monothelite controversy. From a document presented by Stephen himself to the Lateran Council (649), we learn that when St. Sophronius, the first distinguished opponent of the ‘one-will’ heresy in the East, found that neither by word nor writing could he prevail against that error, he took Stephen, the first of his suffragans, to Mount Calvary, and there adjured him, by the account he would have to give to Him who died thereon, not to be found wanting to His faith. “And as I cannot go myself on account of the invasion of the Saracens, do you, as quickly as possible, go from the ends of the earth to the limits thereof, until you come to the Apostolic See, where are the foundations of orthodox teaching. Cease not to unfold to the holy men there what is being taught here, and cease not begging till they condemn the new errors”. Deeply impressed with this solemn scene, and with the exhortations of the Catholic bishops and people of the East, Stephen thrice managed, despite the efforts of the heretics to prevent him, to reach Rome. He first came to Rome in the time of Pope Honorius, then in that of Pope Theodore, and lastly in that of Pope Martin. He came to tell Theodore how Sergius of Joppa seized the patriarchal chair of Jerusalem after the death of St. Sophronius, and how those whom Sergius had ordained, feeling the insecurity of their position, endeavored to maintain it, by giving their adhesion to the heresy, supported by Paul of Constantinople. The Pope thereupon nominated Stephen his legate in Palestine, and gave him power to depose those who had been nominated by Sergius, unless they expressed their sorrow in writing, and promised also in writing to observe the teachings of the fathers and the councils. Stephen executed the Pope’s commission, and returned to Rome in the pontificate of Pope Martin, and presented to him the acts of submission of such as repented of their conduct.

Meanwhile, before Theodore acted on the information thus received, there took place (645) in Africa the famous dispute between the abbot St. Maximus and the patriarch Pyrrhus, who had finally betaken himself to Africa after his flight from Constantinople. The result of the discussion was that Pyrrhus acknowledged himself worsted by St. Maximus, who was in this controversy another Athanasius, and expressed a wish “to visit the Pope and give him a statement regarding his error”. Pyrrhus, accordingly, in company with St Maximus, went to Rome, and, “before all the clergy and people, made a profession of faith, in which he condemned all that he or his predecessors had done or written against our immaculate faith” (645). The Pope treated Pyrrhus with the greatest kindness and respect, and allowed him an income for his proper maintenance whilst in Rome.

However, when he left Rome and came under Monothelite’s influence at Ravenna, Pyrrhus, as Anastasius notes, “returned like a dog to the vomit”, and again 647-648 professed the one-will. The Pope, naturally indignant, convened a synod in St. Peter’s, and excommunicated and deposed the relapsed heretic. Theophanes, in his Chronicle, tells us that Pope Theodore, “standing by the tomb of St. Peter, the Corypheus of the Apostles, ordered a chalice to be brought to him; and, taking thence a drop of Christ’s vivifying blood, mingled it with the ink, and then with his own hand wrote out the sentence of excommunication and deposition against Pyrrhus and his associates”. By many this sensational story is doubted, and for the reason that it rests altogether on the evidence of Theophanes, who was not born till over a hundred years after the events we are narrating, and who is “extremely ill-informed as to transactions in Western Europe”. Under the circumstances the doubt is certainly justifiable.