Gregory the Great

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Part of a votive panel with 16 legendary scenes and saints, Gregor d. Large, Franconia, around 1500, Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.
Gregory I dictating Gregorian chant (from the antiphonary by Hartker von St. Gallen , St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 390, p. 13, around 1000)

Gregory the Great ( Gregorius , as Pope Gregory I ; * around 540 in Rome ; † March 12, 604 ibid) was Pope from 590 to 604. He is considered one of the most important popes and is the youngest of the four great Latin church fathers of late antiquity . In 1295 he was canonized .

Secular and ecclesiastical career

Gregor probably came from the urban Roman patrician family of the Anicier , who had two of the last Western Roman emperors in the 5th century and of course also belonged to the upper class in Eastern Rome and Constantinople . Gregory was a great-grandson of Pope Felix II (III) († 492). Gregor's father, Gordianus, was a high official in the city of Rome, and Gregor, too, initially followed the family tradition and after a thorough rhetorical and legal training initially pursued a secular career as a politician.

After his tenure (probably) as Praefectus urbi of Rome - the highest office that a senator could still hold in what is now Italy - he decided in 575 to live as a monk ; perhaps not least due to a lack of prospects for a further secular career in imperial service. The Western Roman Senate had been in dissolution since the Gothic War (535–552). He converted his parents' villa on Monte Celio into a Benedictine monastery , the monastery of Santi Andrea e Gregorio al Monte Celio still exists today. His predecessor as Pope, Pelagius II , brought him into church service in 579 and sent him to Constantinople as apocrisy , where he stayed for six years and had to struggle with communication difficulties because of poor knowledge of Greek. After his return, Gregory was elected advisor to Pelagius II and himself was elected Pope on September 3, 590 - the first monk of the Latin Church to be elected Bishop of Rome and thus Patriarch .

Territorial situation in the year 527 AD, when Justinian I took office , in the Eastern and Western Roman Empire
The Roman Empire at Justinian's death in 565 AD


Secular politics

Gregory I (second from right) with Benedict of Nursia , Lawrence of Rome and John the Baptist in a picture by Andrea Mantegna (1459)

Since the wars of reconquest under Justinian I , the city of Rome was at least nominally under the rule of the Eastern Roman emperor. Gregory was not looking for a conflict with Emperor Maurikios (582–602), whose main focus was on defending the empire on the Euphrates and Danube ; but he risked its disfavor when he arbitrarily negotiated a partial withdrawal by the Lombards in 593 and accepted their demand for an annual tribute of 500 gold pounds. He exchanged letters with the Lombard queen Theudelinde and made her valuable gifts, including the Gregorian cross .

Church politics

There were also disputes with the Patriarch of Constantinople Johannes Nesteutes about the title of “ecumenical patriarch” . Gregory was aware of the claim that Innocent I had already made of Rome's supremacy in the universal Church, without having forced it unconditionally.

Regarding the still numerous non-Christians, Gregor was generally extremely intolerant ; so in the year 599 he gave orders to force the pagans of Sardinia to convert to Christianity:

“If you find that they are unwilling to change their behavior, we command that you pursue them with the greatest zeal. If they are not free, they punish them with beatings and torture in order to force them to reform. But if they are free men, they should be brought to the insight by the strictest imprisonment, how it is appropriate, so that those who refuse to hear the wholesome words, which can save them from the dangers of death, through physical agony of the desired mental health. "

A few decades earlier, Theodoric the Great had stated that it was impossible to order the acceptance of a religion ( Religionem imperare non possumus , Cass. Var. 2.27), Gregory's advocacy of violent conversion was to point the way for the Western European Middle Ages. His decision to send missionaries to Britain was also historically significant , with which he brought about the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelberht of Kent to Christianity. This laid the foundation for a new overall Western church consciousness, with the Roman papacy at the head.

As "Monk Pope" called himself Gregory " servant of the servants of God " ( Servant of the servants of God ), which remains to this day part of the papal titulature. He was so impressed by the monastic rule of Benedict of Nursia that he declared it to be binding for the entire church and himself followed the Benedictine lifestyle. According to some of today's researchers, however, it was Gregor himself who formulated the rule, or one of his students. In his funerary inscription he is also referred to as consul Dei , ie "God's consul". Welfare became an important element of his pontificate . The grain supply of the city of Rome, which at that time still had about tens of thousands of inhabitants and which was actually incumbent on the emperor, was inadequate, which is why Gregory reorganized and cultivated the huge lands of the church in southern Italy and Sicily . At the beginning of each month there was a general distribution of food. Gregory also warned the other bishops that the person in need would only be receptive to the sermon if he had been given a "helping hand" beforehand. He viewed alms as a sacrifice made to God that ultimately brings about grace in God's judgment.

Gregory wrote down the term Pope as the exclusive official title for the Bishop of Rome. With him the papacy moved from late antiquity to the Middle Ages .


Gregory I (ideal portrait of Antonello da Messina , around 1472/1473)

Through his numerous writings, Gregory achieved great importance in the Catholic Church for centuries. In addition, he is one of the very few western saints that enjoys a lot of attention and veneration in the Orthodox Church. Numerous legends grew up around Gregory early on. Among other things, the pope's aristocratic parentage was soon forgotten, and early on it was said that Gregory was a poor, unknown hermit and a former sinner who, on the basis of divine inspiration, had been made pope in absentia. Centuries later, Hartmann von Aue formed his work Gregorius from the legends , which in turn formed the basis for Thomas Mann's novel The Chosen One .

Although neither the Gregorian Sacramentary nor the Gregorian Chant are his creations, in the Middle Ages he was granted their authorship to give them additional authority.

In the Byzantine liturgy , the form of the presanctification liturgy bears the name of the Roman Pope Gregorios Dialogos.

Memorial days

  • Catholic Obligatory Day (since 1969): September 3 (the day of his election as Pope 590)
  • Catholic Remembrance Day (until 1969): March 12 (burial day 604)
  • Protestant memorial day: EKD and ELCA : March 12th (day of burial 604), LC-MS : September 3rd (the day of his election as Bishop of Rome 590)
  • Anglican Remembrance Day: September 3 (the day of his election as Pope 590)
  • Orthodox Memorial Day: March 12th (burial day 604)

The canonization took place in 1295 by Pope Boniface VIII. His attributes are the tiara , book, dove, serving arms. He is the patron of the church school system, the mines, choir and choral singing, scholars, teachers, pupils, students, singers, musicians, bricklayers, button makers; against gout and plague .

Various churches bear his name. The monastery of St. Gregory in Munster was dedicated to him.


Master : Pope Gregory the Great enthroned. Single sheet from a manuscript with Gregor's collection of letters, the Registrum Gregorii, Trier after 983. Trier, City Library, Hs. 171/1626
Pope Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis, Reims Bibliothèque municipale, Sign. Ms 421, fol. 3r.

Gregor's style is less literary than that of the other Church Fathers, his language is closer to the spoken word and consciously avoids the ornaments and educated reminiscences of an elite educated in Greek and Classical Latin, such as Augustine and Jerome could have assumed. The simplicity of his style is not only an expression of the changed educational conditions of his time, but also a conscious decision for a "humble style" ( stilus humilis ) that focuses on the truth of the Gospel and distrusts the artistic form as an expression of world wisdom, however He knows how to combine simplicity of expression with strength of feeling and the gesture of passionate conviction. This style contributed significantly to the success and popularity of his works in the Middle Ages and their influence on popular piety: his exegetical writings were among the most extensively excerpted, his Dialogi among the most widely read works in the Middle Ages.

  • Liber regulae pastoris (I-IV). Patrologia Latina ( PL ) 77.13-128. Critical edition by F. Rommel with franz. Translation by Ch. Morel, Paris 1992 (= Sources Chrétiennes , 381–382). Edition of the old English translation by I. Carlson, Stockholm 1975–1978. German translation by G. Kubis, Graz 1986, ISBN 3-222-11690-3
    Covers the reasons for choosing the office of pastor, the virtues required for this office, the duties of the pastor and the need for daily self-reflection and self-examination.
Ivory panel: Gregory the Great inspired by the dove of the Holy Spirit , including his tachygraph , Vienna , Kunsthistorisches Museum , 10th century
  • Moralia in Iob (I-XXXV). PL 75, 519-1162; PL 76, 9-782. Critical edition by M. Adriaen, CCSL 143 (1979), 143A (1979), 143B (1985).
    An unusually broad-based commentary on Job in 35 books, begun during the stay in Constantinople and completed around 595, which interprets the Book of Job according to the principle of the threefold sense of writing : on the one hand literal in the literal meaning of the text, on the other hand tropological in relation to the moral situation of the individual people and allegorically- typologically with reference to the salvation facts of the history of Christ and his Church.
  • Homiliae in evangelia (I-II). PL 76, 1075-1314; German translation by Michael Fiedrowicz , Freiburg 1997–1998 (= Fontes Christiani, 28.1-2), ISBN 3-451-23811-X , 3-451-23812-8
    Forty exegetical sermons on gospel pericopes, probably during the church year 590/91 presented and issued in writing in 592. Gregory dictated the twenty sermons of the first book and had them recited in his presence by a church notary; he gave the twenty sermons of the second book himself.
In the Homiliarum In Evangelia Libri Duo , Gregory I declares in an interpretation ( Luke 7 : 36-50  EU ) where an anonymous sinner washes and anointed Jesus' feet and the text of Luke does not say a word about her actual offense (according to John 12 :EU Mary of Bethany ; see also Matthew 26.6-7  EU ; Mark 14.3  EU ) that this person is identical to the woman, of whom Mark assures that seven demons were cast out for her and that she was ultimately Mary Magdalene ( Mark 16.9  EU , Luke 8.2  EU ) and at the same time claims that she was a former prostitute. As Pope, he confirms an equation already expressed in a commentary by Ephrem the Syrian in 373 , and so subsequently became the witness of the resurrection ( Mark 16.6  EU ) and also of the crucifixion, which remained with the death of Jesus and his burial ( Matthäus 27,55-56  EU , Matthäus 27,55-56  EU , Matthäus 27,61  EU , John 20,11  EU ), an exemplary sinner in the sexual area. With the same oil with which she once tended her sinful body, she now anoints the feet of Jesus. Only through Pope John Paul II and later Francis is this equation dissolved and the special role of Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus and first messenger to the preaching of the resurrection to the apostles is emphasized again.
  • Homiliae in Ezekielem (I-II). PL 76 , 781-1072. Critical edition by M. Adriaen, CCSL 142 (1971). German translation by Georg Bürke, Einsiedeln: Johannes-Verlag, 1983
    22 exegetical sermons from 593, with ongoing explanations of Ez 1-3 and Ez 40.
  • Homiliae in canticum canticorum . Critical edition by P. Verbraken, CCSL 144 (1963), p. 3-46.
    Two sermons on a passage
    from the Song of Songs (Ct 1,1-8), not to be confused with the Expositio super cantica canticorum (PL 79, 471-548), which has survived among the works of Gregory and is mostly attributed to Robert von Tumbalena today.
  • Pastoral, sive Regula pastoralis. Martin Flach, Basel; not after 1472 ( digitized edition )
  • Pastoral, sive Regula pastoralis. Michael Furter, Basel 15. II. 1496 ( digitized version )
  • Regula pastoralis. Kreuzherrenkonvent, Marienfrede around 1475 a. around 1485/1500 ( digitized version )
  • In librum I Regum expositiones (I-VI). PL 79.17-468. Ed. P. Verbraken, CCSL 144 (1963), p. 49–614
    Commentary on Book 1 of Samuel .
  • 854 received letters that Gregory wrote to bishops, princes, missionaries, etc. a. People throughout the realm of Christianity wrote. The letters deal with subjects such as theology, morality, politics, diplomacy, monasticism, episcopal and papal administration and provide information about Gregory's character and administration.
  • Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum Italicorum (I-IV). PL 77,127-431. Critical edition by U. Moricca, Rome 1924 (= Fonti per la Storia d'Italia, 57). German translation by Joseph Funk, Library of the Church Fathers , 2nd Edition, Series II, 3 (1933).
    These are four books on the lives and miracles of saints in Italy to prove that not only the Orient, but Italy as well, had ascetic saints who worked miracles. The second book is entirely dedicated to Saint Benedict of Nursia , to whom Gregory ascribes the ideal of the habitare secum . With a collection of visions and apparitions of the
    afterlife of the dead, the fourth book aims to reaffirm belief in life after death. The work left a lasting mark on the visionary literature of the Middle Ages. For example, Gregor is the “inventor of purgatory ” to the reformers , who only assumed heaven and hell as the hereafter , as he writes here that those who have died at certain locations can be cleansed of their venial sins by fire or water . Sacrifice of the Mass should also be able to shorten this period of penance. The early medieval translation of Middle Greek by Pope Zacharias was revised by Konstantin Dapontes in 1780 in modern Greek. Due to the popular translation of the dialogues, Gregory is revered in the Orthodox Church as Gregorios ho Dialogos .
  • Dialogorum libri IV (oral). Kreuzherrenkonvent, Marienfrede 1477 ( digitized version )
  • Dialogorum libri IV. Bartholomaeus von Unckel, Cologne not after 1482 ( digitized version )
  • Expositio in Canticum Canticorum. Michael Furter, Basel 13. III. 1496 ( digitized version )

Controversy about the authenticity of the Dialogi

Manuscript with the first lines of Dialogus II, Archives départementales du Loiret, c. 1050

In 1987 the theologian Francis Clark submitted a two-volume study of the Dialogi in which he hypothesized that the work was spurious. The author is not Gregory the Great, but a forger operating under the name of the Pope who lived in the late 7th century. Some of Clark's considerations met with cautious approval from Johannes Fried , who, however, stated in 2004: Clark has overshot his target ; the Dialogi had originated in his environment during Gregor's lifetime; it was literary dialogues that Gregor actually had . However, the credibility of the information regarding the life of Benedict is doubtful.

Clark's hypothesis, which he defended in a further study in 2003, has been almost unanimously rejected in research; it has been considered to have failed since it turned out that his work apparently had serious methodological flaws. Fried's assumption that Benedict might be an invented figure did not prevail either. According to the current state of research, the authenticity of the Dialogi can be assumed; How much the historical Benedict has to do with the Dialogi remains controversial.

See also


Web links

Commons : Gregory the Great  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Secondary literature

Works of Gregory


  1. Gregor never describes himself (probably out of modesty) as a member of the gens Anicia and does not mention the family in his writings. This was not uncommon as the church or the brothers and sisters were seen as families in the Christian faith. Baptism, after which a pagan or Jew became Christian, was (and is) an individual decision; while the father was a pagan, the mother could be a Christian; the same was true of the siblings or children. Highlighting the family he was born in would have brought him suspicion from other clergy and church people and accused him of neglecting his brothers and sisters in faith. The assumption that he was an Anicier is based on the funerary inscription of his great-grandmother Petronia. The hypothesis remains controversial; What is certain, however, is that Gregory came from the senatorial aristocracy. See Chris Wickham : Framing the early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400-800. Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2005, ISBN 0-19-926449-X , p. 160.
  2. Gregory I, the Great . Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  3. Martha Schad : The most famous women in world history - From antiquity to the 17th century . Marixverlag, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-86539-930-4 , pp. 27-30 .
  4. File: Gregoriuskreuz.JPG
  5. Gregory: Epist. 9, 204. In: Epistolae (in quart) 2: Gregorii I papae Registrum epistolarum. Libri VIII-XIV. Edited by Paul Ewald (†) and Ludo M. Hartmann . Berlin 1892, pp. 191–193 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
  6. Hiltgart Keller offers a good overview: Reclam's Lexicon of Saints and Biblical Figures . 2nd edition, Reclam, Stuttgart 1970, p. 234ff.
  7. Stefano Partenti: L'attribuzione a S. Gregorio <Dialogos>, Papa di Roma della Liturgia bizantina dei doni presanctificati. In: ders., A oriente e occidente di Costantinopoli: temi e problemi liturgici di ieri e di oggi. Libreria editrice vaticana, Città del Vaticano (Rome) 2010, ISBN 978-88-209-8201-0 , pp. 75-87.
  8. [ Homiliarum In Evangelia Libri Duo]. On: (Documenta Catholica Omnia) from 2006; last accessed on December 22, 2016 ( full text as PDF file ).
  9. Joachim Schäfer: Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints: Maria Magdalena . On:  ; last update: August 2, 2016; last accessed on December 22, 2016.
  10. Oliver Achilles: Maria Magdalena - saint or whore? On: of November 10, 2012; last accessed on December 22, 2016.
  11. ^ Official Journal of the Austrian Bishops' Conference. No. 69 of September 1, 2016, p. 11 ff .: Cover letter from Archbishop Arthur Roche: "APOSTOLORUM APOSTOLA" ( full text as PDF file )
  12. Gregory the Great: St. Benedict, Book II of the Dialogues. EOS-Verlag, St. Ottilien 1995, ISBN 3-88096-730-X .
  13. ^ Dimitrios Z. Nikitas: Gregorius Dialogus neograecus: the modern Greek further processing of the Zacharias translation by Konstantin Dapontes (1780) . In: Dorothea Walz (Ed.): Scripturus vitam. Latin biography from ancient times to the present. Festival ceremony for Walter Berschin on his 65th birthday. Mattes, Heidelberg 2002, ISBN 3-930978-15-6 , pp. 1173-1184.
  14. Johannes Fried: The veil of memory. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-52211-4 , pp. 345-349.
  15. ^ Francis Clark: The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism (= Studies in the History of Christian Thought. Volume 108). Brill, Leiden / Boston 2003, ISBN 90-04-12849-2 .
  16. Joachim Wollasch: Benedict of Nursia. Person of the story or fictional ideal figure? In: Studies and communications on the history of the Benedictine order and its branches. Volume 118, 2007, pp. 7-30; Adalbert de Vogüé: Grégoire le Grand est-il l'auteur des Dialogues? In: Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique. Volume 99, 2004, pp. 158–161 (with information on further relevant controversial literature); Pius Engelbert: Did Pope Gregory the Great write the “Dialogues”? Notes on a New Book. In: Heritage and Mission . Volume 64, 1988, pp. 255-265; Ders .: New research on the "dialogues" of Gregory the Great. Answers to Clark's thesis. In: Heritage and Mission. Vol. 65, 1989, pp. 376-393; Paul Meyvaert: The Enigma of Gregory the Great's Dialogues. In: Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Volume 39, 1988, pp. 335-381; Adalbert de Vogüé: Grégoire le Grand et ses "Dialogues" d'après deux ouvrages récentes . In: Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique. Volume 83, 1988, pp. 281-348.
predecessor Office successor
Pelagius II Pope