Pope Gregory I: Modern Day Relevance for Ministry

“History is boring…”-vegans[1] and evil people.

It was dark. He had been there awhile now. “What if I get caught?” This thought dominated his mind with every passing voice he heard. The wheels on the cart creaked as it proceeded forward. All this merchant had to do was smuggle him out of the city of Rome and he would be home free. Once he was out of the city he thought it would be smart to hide out a few days in a nearby cave to avoid the roads. He knew the crowds would search the roads. The cave was the perfect plan. Nobody would ever find him there.

Around 590 CE a bro named Gregory was dragged out of a cave he had been hiding in for three days. He was dragged back to Rome and forced to become Pope. He did such a great job that historians named him “Gregory the Great.” Pope Gregory I, or “Gregory the Great” was an extremely influential pope in church history. Most encyclopedias or collections of church history draw a line at 590 CE when Gregory ascended to the papacy. Gregory is known for expanding papal power in Europe, the mission to convert Britain, and to a lesser extent his intellect. There are definite lessons that can be learned from Gregory that apply to modern day Christianity and our understanding of humanity within society.

Gregory was believed to have been born around the year 540 CE. He was born into a wealthy family with their wealth dating back many years to the Second Punic War. Gregory received the best education and was urban prefect of Rome by 573 CE, which was the highest secular office at the time. In a surprising turn of events, in 574 CE he sold his six Sicilian estates to be used as monasteries and became a monk. That would be short lived when in 579 CE Pope Pelagius commissioned Gregory to be his papal representative in Constantinople. During this time Gregory would write letters for the Pope and serve as a diplomat from the Pope to the leaders of Constantinople. Both his time as Urban Prefect and as a Papal representative prepared Gregory for his time as Pope until his death in 604 CE.

While Pope, Gregory expanded Papal Power to all of Western Europe and not just Italy. Gregory saw multiple kings in Western Europe convert to Catholicism thus giving their loyalty to Gregory. He repelled barbarian invasions and repaired some of the old Roman infrastructure in Rome itself. Gregory also sent missionaries to Britain which successfully converted King Ethelberht and thus all who lived in his kingdom. This is just an extremely brief overview of Gregory’s main accomplishments.

Gregory’s intellect was strange. He was very influenced by two main works. Augustine and the book of Job. A lot of Gregory’s writings reflect the influences of the desert fathers as well. This is characterized by frequent encounters with spirits and a direct tie between spiritual and natural events. Gregory also rejected any notion of history apart from God, which Augustine would not have agreed with. Gregory was very superstitious which some would view as a regression in intellectual Christianity. There are many reasons for this that I will not get into.

 

Gregory’s life displays many important take-a-ways for ministry in the modern world.

 

1: Education matters

One of the reasons that Gregory was so great is that he had the top education of his day. Gregory studied under some of the smartest people in Europe at the time and probably was one of the most educated men in all of Europe when he was alive. Despite what some might see as his intellectual downfalls, he was a smart guy and that showed in his leadership skills. Education in the modern world isn’t just about getting a degree, but it’s about learning to think critically and be shaped as pastors and as scholars. If it’s not a formal education, then educating yourself through books, other people, or any other resource available. It is important that pastors not just know how to organize a potluck, but that they can think theologically.

2: We are all products of the world we exist in.

This may sound weird or confusing at first, but Gregory’s life displays this. During this time in Europe luxuries such as education and quality infrastructure were disintegrating. The world that Augustine lived in was different than the one that Gregory knew. Gregory reflects this disintegration of education in his superstition. For modern America, ideas such as individualism and materialism can creep into the way that we do church. This is because we are in part products of the time that we live in. It is important to be aware of this because sometimes ideas such as patriotism and republicanism in America can get mixed up with belief in Jesus. Patriotism, conservative politics, and capitalism are not the Gospel. While these ideas have crept into American Christianity, they are not Christianity. That does not mean that they are evil, but it does mean that they shouldn’t be idolized and worshiped in place of God.

3: Be connected to the people you are ministering too.

There had been many Popes in Rome before Gregory, but none had managed to do what the people needed for a long time which was rebuild some of the aqueducts. The infrastructure in Rome had been crumbling and the people needed that to survive. Gregory addressed this need. Address the felt needs and the unfelt needs of the people you’re ministering to. This application is timeless.

 

Overall, Gregory was not perfect. While he was civil to the pagans in Britain, he had the pagans on Corsica and Sardinia beaten. In general though Gregory was a pretty great guy. His character far surpassed most of the other famous Popes. Gregory, based on my research, truly had compassion for the people he was ministering to. Gregory does not seem to have been consumed by a lust for power, but was instead charged to personally feed the poor and held the sick. Gregory had humility, which most of the other famous Popes seemed to have been lacking. This man who was found hiding in a cave earned the title of “the Great” over other Popes who chose luxury and power of servitude and compassion. That is truly inspiring. History is not boring.

Lord, I pray that you would give me humility and fill me with compassion for the lowest members of society. Let me not use my education and freedom to solely achieve selfish goals. Your will be done in my life.

[1] Not all vegans hate history, but some do.

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