Saint Gregory the First Dialogue Pope of Rome
Celebration date: 12/03
Saint Gregory was born around the year 540 AD. and lived in Rome, during the time of Emperor Justinian I the Great (527 – 565 AD). He was called Dialogos, because he wrote most of his works in a dialogic way, i.e. with questions and answers. His father was named Gordianus and his mother Sylvia. Both his parents and his father’s two sisters, Tarsila and Emiliani, were distinguished for their piety and had a beneficial effect on the formation of Gregory’s personality. As the scion of a wealthy family, Grigorios received a good education, especially in law. Of course, he lived in a time when the cultivation of the Greek language and Greek letters in Rome had died out. Gregory probably only knew the Latin language, which did not allow him to study the rich theological literature of the Greek Fathers.
Around the year 570 AD he was appointed by the emperor Justinian II (565 – 576 AD) to the office of praetor of the city of Rome. However, he did not remain in this position for a long time. After his father’s death, he allocated the largest part of the property he inherited to charitable works and the establishment of monasteries. He founded six monasteries in Sicily and around the year 575 AD. converted his home in Rome into a monastery dedicated to the Apostle Andrew. He himself became a monk of this monastery and later became its abbot. In the monastery he lived a very ascetic life and dedicated himself to prayer and the study of the Holy Bible and the Fathers.
However, he was not to remain for a long time in his monastery, because he was ordained a deacon and in the year 579 AD. he was sent to the imperial court of Constantinople as apocrisiario, i.e. representative, of the Pope of Rome. In Constantinople, Saint Gregory, together with the monks who accompanied him from Rome, lived a monastic life. But he had the opportunity to get to know the political and ecclesiastical problems of the empire up close and to make acquaintances with important figures of the imperial court, with whom he maintained correspondence after his departure from Constantinople. Among these persons were Theoktistis, sister of the emperor Maurice (582 – 602 AD), the patrician Narses, the physician of the emperor Theodoros, etc. Also in Constantinople, he met the Bishop of Seville, Leander (see 27 February), who was traveling to the capital of the empire at the same time and with whom he maintained a brotherly friendship and correspondence in the years that followed.
About the year 586 AD Gregory moves to Rome. There is the opinion that upon his return to Rome he returned to his monastery and it was then that he became its abbot. Another view holds that Gregory after his return to Rome did not return to the monastery, but served as a deacon of the Roman Church and advisor to Pope Pelagius II. According to this view, Gregory became an abbot before his ordination as a deacon and his mission to Constantinople.
In the year 590 AD Pope Pelagius II fell ill with an epidemic disease and died. Despite the fact that both the clergy and the people of Rome asked for Gregory to be their Bishop after the fall of Pelagius II, his reluctance to ascend the episcopal throne was evident. This attitude of his came from the awareness of the weight of the responsibility of the episcopal office and from the humble conviction that his own powers were not sufficient for such a great task. When the Bishop of Ravenna Ioannis reprimanded him with a letter for his hesitancy, Saint Gregory decided to answer him by writing an entire treatise on the important work of the Bishop and on the qualifications he must have. In other words, it was an apology by Gregory regarding his misgivings about assuming the burden of the episcopal office.
Gregory, despite his strong personal misgivings, ascended the episcopal throne of Rome as Pope Gregory I. The situation he had to face was very difficult. On the one hand the epidemic was ravaging people’s lives and on the other hand a terrible flood of the river Tiber had destroyed a considerable amount of property and grain. An even more significant problem was the presence of the Lombards as invaders in Italy, who held most of Northern Italy and much of Southern Italy. The Lombards were the cause of constant unrest in Italy and threatened to occupy the rest of its territories (Rome, Ravenna, Naples, Venice, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica), which belonged to the Byzantine Empire and were supervised by the emperor’s exarch, who had his headquarters in Ravenna.