From The Lives of the Popes from the Time of our Saviour Jesus Christ to the Accession of Gregory VII. Written Originally in Latin by B. Platina, Native of Cremona, and translated into English (from an anonymous translation, first printed in 1685 by Sir Paul Rycaut), Edited by William Benham, Volume I, London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, [1888, undated in text]; pp. 136-140.
The Lives of the Popes,
GREGORY I. THE GREAT.
GREGORY, a Roman, son of Gordianus, one of the senatorian order, was against his will unanimously chosen Bishop of Rome, A.D. 590. Now because, as I have already said, the consent of the Emperor was required herein, he despatches messengers with letters, beseeching Mauritius that he would not suffer this election of the clergy and people of Rome to stand good. These letters were intercepted and torn by the city prefect, and others written, by which the 137 Emperor was requested to confirm him who was by universal suffrage thus chosen. There could nothing be more pleasing and acceptable to the Emperor than the news of this choice, for the conversation of Gregory, while he was at Constantinople, had been very grateful to him, and moreover he had christened his son. Mauritius therefore speedily sends word back to Rome, that he did confirm the election of Gregory, and that in such a fluctuating state of things they should compel that holy man to undertake the government of the Church. He therefore, not consulting his own inclination, but the benefit of mankind, and the honour of God, which, as he was a most devout and religious man, he had ever preferred before all other things, without any regard to riches, or pleasures, or ambition, or power, takes the burden of the pontificate upon him. And he behaved himself so well in it, that no one of his successors down to our times has been his equal, much less his superior, either for sanctity of life or for diligence in managing affairs, or for his learning and writings. He composed a book of the sacraments; wrote commentaries upon Ezekiel, and, as I have already said, upon Job, and homilies upon the gospels; four books in dialogue, and that which he called the “Pastoral,’ to John, Bishop of Ravenna, concerning the way of governing the Church. Moreover, he introduced several rites, and made several additions to the offices of the Roman Church; and particularly he first instituted the greater Litanies or Processions, and appointed a great part of the Stations.1 And that the good man might not in anything be wanting to the Church, he held in St Peter’s a synod of twenty-four bishops, wherein he took away many things which might prove pernicious, and added many which might be beneficial to religion. He also sent into England, Augustine, Melitus, and John, and with these divers others monks, all persons of approved lives, by whose preaching the English were then first entirely converted to Christianity. By his means likewise the Goths returned to the union of the Catholic Church. We are told by some writers, that Gregory sent his dialogues concerning morals to 138 Theudelinda, Queen of the Lombards, by the reading of which she might smooth and polish the temper of her husband, Autharis, and bring him to a better sense of religion and morality. She was an excellent lady, and a zealous Christian, and not only built the church of St John Baptist at Monza, a town ten miles distant from Milan, but also furnished it with vessels of gold, and liberally endowed it.
It is said that at the time when Hermenigild was put to death by his father, Leovigild, King of the Goths, because he professed the Catholic faith, the seamless coat of Christ, which fell by lot to one of the soldiers, was found in the city of Zaphat, laid up in a marble chest here; Thomas being then Bishop of Jerusalem, John Bishop of Constantinople, and Gregory Bishop of Antioch. In the meantime Mauritius, having in Tuscany and Terra di Lavoro, by his General, Romanus the Exarch, gained the better of the Lombards, who from a confidence grounded upon their former successes were now degenerated into all manner of vice, makes a law, that no person who had listed himself in the Roman army should be at liberty to withdraw and take upon him a religious life till either the war were ended or the man himself maimed or disabled. Gregory being moved hereat, admonishes him not to oppose the religion of that God by whose bounty he had been raised from a very mean condition to the highest degree of dignity. Moreover, John, Bishop of Constantinople, having in a synod which he held, procured himself to be styled the Ecumenical, i.e., universal bishop, and Mauritius hereupon requiring Gregory to yield obedient to John; he, being a person of great courage and constancy, returns answer, that the power of binding and loosing was committed to Peter and his successors, not to the bishops of Constantinople, and therefore warns him to desist from provoking the wrath of God against himself, by being too busy in sowing dissension in the Church. But Mauritius, not content with the mischief he had done already, recalls his soldiers who were in Italy, and encourages the Lombards to assault the Romans, without any regard to the league they had entered into with them. Hereupon Agilulphus, moving from Lombardy, and laying waste all Tuscany through which he passed, infests and very much annoys the city of Rome one whole year; in which time Severus, Bishop of Aquileia, becoming heretical, was the occasion of many evils. For, after his death, the patriarchate 139 of Aquileia was divided into two: Agilulphus, King of the Lombards, constituting John of Aquileia, and our Gregory, Candianus of Grado, bishops to the people of Friuli. But Agilulphus, quitting all hopes of gaining the city, raises the siege, and returns to Milan. Mauritius now began to treat Gregory more respectfully, but it proceeded not from a voluntary but forced repentance; he having heard that a certain person in the habit of a monk, with a drawn sword in his hand, had proclaimed aloud in the market-place of Constantinople, that the Emperor should in a short time die by the sword. The same was confirmed to him by a dream of his own, in which he saw himself, his empress, and their children murdered. And accordingly, not long after, the soldiers, being discontented for want of pay, create Phocas, who was a centurion in the army, emperor, and assassinate Mauritius, in the nineteenth year of his reign. But Gregory, having added what ornaments he could to the churches in Rome, and dedicated by the name of St Agatha the martyr, the church of the Goths in Suburra, built by Fl. Ricimerius, a man of consular dignity, converted his father’s house into a monastery, wherein he received and entertained strangers, and supplied with meat and drink the poor which from all parts flocked to it. He was certainly a person every way praiseworthy, whether we regard his life and conversation, or his learning, or his abilities in things both divine and human. Nor ought we to suffer him to be censured by a few ignorant men, as if the ancient stately buildings were demolished by his order, upon this pretence which they make for him, lest strangers coming out of devotion to Rome should less regard the consecrated places, and spend all their gaze upon triumphal arches and monuments of antiquity. No such reproach can justly be fastened upon this great bishop, especially considering that he was a native of the city, and one to whom, next after God, his country was most dear, even above his life. It is certain that many of those ruined structures were devoured by time, and many might, as we daily see, be pulled down to build new houses; and for the rest, it is probable that for the sake of the brass used in the concavity of the arches, and the conjunctures of the marble or other square stones, they might be battered and defaced not only by the barbarous nations, but by the Romans too, if Epirotes, Dalmatians, 140 Pannonians, and other sorry people, who from all parts of the world resorted hither, may be called Romans. Now, Gregory having used all means to establish the Church of God, died in the second year of the Emperor Phocas, having been in the chair thirteen years, six months, ten days; and, the loss of him being lamented by all men, was buried in St Peter’s, March 12. By his death the see was vacant five months, nineteen days.
1 Our author does not mention his labours for the emancipation of slaves, nor his great improvements in music, which have caused his name to be perpetuated till the present day in the title “Gregorian Chant.” Nor does he allude to the unfavourable feature in the great Pontiff’s life, his base praise of the Emperor Phocas for his brutality to his predecessor, Maurice. — ED.
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