Gregory the Great [Gregory I]
- James W. McKinnon
(b Rome, c540; d Rome, March 12, 604). Saint, pope and Doctor of the Church. Born to a prominent Roman family, Gregory was named prefect of the city in about 570. In 575 he turned his family home into a monastery, and embarked upon a life of spirituality and asceticism. In 579 he was sent to Constantinople as papal representative at the Byzantine court, remaining there until about 586; during his stay he lived with monks from his own Roman monastery, having failed, apparently, to learn Greek. He was elected pope by popular acclaim after Pelagius II died in the severe epidemic of 589–90 that followed upon the overflowing of the Tiber.
Rome was in a dire state when Gregory assumed office, having suffered through more than half a century of war, famine, plague and siege. In spite of his poor health Gregory acted with great energy and resolve: he saw to the care of the sick and the feeding of the poor; he reorganized the civil administration of the city, restored the water supply and even supervised the preparation of defence against the Lombards. His enterprise did much to establish the medieval concept of a centrally important papacy, and he was an important founder of the Middle Ages in a second respect: his highly influential writings, with their pastoral, mystical and ascetical bent, functioned as a bridge between patristic and medieval literature....