03 September 2008

Commemoration of Gregory the Great, Pastor

Today our Synod commemorates one of the greatest bishops to serve the city of Rome, Gregory the Great (also counted as the fourth among the four doctors of the Western Church: Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome being the others). From the Synod's website:

One of the great leaders in Europe at the close of the sixth century, Gregory served in both the secular and sacred arenas of his era. As mayor of Rome, he restored economic vitality to his native city, which had been weakened by enemy invasions, pillage, and plague. After he sold his extensive properties and donated the proceeds to help the poor, he entered into full-time service in the Church. On September 3, 590 A.D., Gregory was elected to lead the church in Rome. As Bishop of Rome he oversaw changes and growth in the areas of church music and liturgical development, missionary outreach to northern Europe, and the establishment of a church-year calendar still used by many churches in the western World today. His book on pastoral care became a standard until the 12th century.

The classic form the of the Western eucharistic rite is generally attributed to the work of this great saint. He definitely introduced the Kyrie into its current location and the Lord's Prayer at the end of the great Thanksgiving; Bede also says that he introduced into the canon the petitions: "Order our days in Your peace, preserve us from eternal damnation, and count us among Your chosen flock, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." [Bede, *A History of the English Church and People* Book II, Chapter 1]

From LSB, a hymn attributed to St. Gregory for singing at the morning office:

Father, we praise Thee, now the night is over,
Active and watchful, stand we all before Thee;
Singing, we offer prayer and meditation:
Thus we adore Thee.

Monarch of all things, fit us for Thy mansions;
Banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
Bring us to heaven, where Thy saints united,
Joy without ending.

All-holy Father, Son, and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessed, send us Thy salvation;
Thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
Through all creation. LSB 875


Chris said...

Why not simply call him what he is? He is Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome. Even we Orthodox say that when we commemorate him after using his Divine Liturgy during Graet Lent.

William Weedon said...


I use the title given him in our liturgy. Pastor, though, is an especially apt title to the man who wrote that fine Pastoral.

Anonymous said...

Why not simply call him what he is? He is Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome. Even we Orthodox say that when we commemorate him after using his Divine Liturgy during Graet Lent.

It does present a bit of a dilemma. For those Lutherans (and other Christians) who still view the papal office as that of the antichrist, what to do with someone as gifted, saintly, and faithful as Gregory the Great.

To ignore what the Church and history called him -- Pope -- cannot change that that is what he was.

Chris said...

Does the LCMS liturgy conveneiently hide this title then so that Lutherans still can call the pope antichrist? Rome's popes were Orthodox for a great long time and not always the anti-christ as Luther suggested. Don't hide what he was. We Orthodox don't and believe me, we have been at odds with the papacy much longer than you have!

William Weedon said...

Christopher and Christine,

It presents no problem whatsoever. The Bishop of Rome did not at the time of St. Gregory pretend to what it now claims. In fact, St. Gregory wrote a letter of rebuff to the Bishop of Alexandria for referring to him as the Universal Bishop and he is also rebuked the Bishop of Constantinople for trying to use that title of himself. St. Gregory affirmed that to do so would be to denigrate all the other bishops.

I must say that vitriol against Lutheranism is rather unbecoming for guests on this blog. You all are always welcome, but please don't be so darned negative and nitpicky! :) I'd invite you rather to REJOICE that Lutherans are celebrating and remembering the great bishop of Rome, St. Gregory I.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,

Since it is the early catholic church we are concerned with here, the full context of the "universal bishop" issue is a bit more complex.

So, why exactly did Pope St. Gregory the Great reject the use of the title "universal bishop" by Fasting John?

The reasons for this were as follows:

From the full context of the quotation cited above, it is clear that Gregory viewed the title, as it was proposed to be used, as a title degrading to the dignity of other bishops and patriarchs. Specifically, he implied that the honour of other bishops (and priests) was dismissed by the title. This being the reason he called it a "title smacking of blasphemy".

Note that Pope St. Gregory the Great was not rejecting the title itself; rather he was saying the use of it to dismiss other bishops‘ titles was very wrong. This is what the bishop of Constantinople, Fasting John, was in fact trying to do, and it was he who coined the title in the first instance. Note that Pope St. Gregory the Great says in a subsequent paragraph:

"It is a very regrettable thing, and one not to be put up with patiently that the aforementioned brother and my fellow bishop [Fasting John] should try to get himself called the only bishop." (Epistulae v. 21) (emphasis mine)

So here we have it, clear evidence that Pope St. Gregory was not simply rejecting the title "universal bishop" (which in itself had no objectionable feature) but was simply curbing the pride of the bishop of Constantinople.

Later on, the same Pope writes:

"For as your venerable holiness knows, this title of universality was offered by the sacred synod of Chalcedon to the Bishop of the Apostolic See, which I by God’s ordinance take care of. But no one of my predecessors ever consented to use this ill-sounding title for the reason that if one patriarch is called universal, the title of patriarch is taken away from the rest of the patriarchs." Epistulae. v. 43

In case anyone should think that Pope St. Gregory the Great was in any way rejecting the primacy of the See of Peter, it must be noted that in this same letter (Epistulae v. 20) he also claims quite clearly that to St. Peter was committed the care of the entire Church and that he, Gregory, was bound "by the commissioned duty of solicitously caring for all the Churches" (Epistulae v. 19)

So we see that there is no problem reconciling the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great with the later adaptation of the title by the bishops of Rome.

Quotations cited in "Christ’s Church" Van Noort (Mercier Press, Cork, Ireland, 1955) page 286-7.

Pope Gregory was also the first to use the added title "Servant of the Servants of God."

I will hereby bow out of this discussion. It is, of course, a Lutheran blog. I really am not trying to "nitpick", I am merely restating the historical background of Gregory's time.

But I do indeed rejoice that the Lutheran calendar remembers this great servant of the Church.

William Weedon said...


Consider also the Pontiff's words to His Grace, Eulogius of Alexandria:

For I said that neither to me nor to any one else ought you to write anything of the kind; and lo, in the preface of the epistle which you have addressed to myself who forbade it, you have thought fit to make use of a proud appellation, calling me Universal Pope. But I beg your most sweet Holiness to do this no more, since what is given to another beyond what reason demands is subtracted from yourself. For as for me, I do not seek to be prospered by words but by my conduct. Nor do I regard that as an honour whereby I know that my brethren lose their honour. For my honour is the honour of the universal Church: my honour is the solid vigour of my brethren. Then am I truly honoured when the honour due to all and each is not denied them. For if your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what you call me universally. But far be this from us. Away with words that inflate vanity and wound charity.

And, indeed, in the synod of Chalcedon and afterwards by subsequent Fathers, your Holiness knows that this was offered to my predecessors . And yet not one of them would ever use this title, that, while regarding the honour of all priests in this world, they might keep their own before Almighty God. [Book VIII, No. 30]

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,

Pope Gregory the Great did battle against the Patriarch of Constantinople who wanted to establish his domination over Rome and who called himself the "ecumenical bishop" in the sense of being a king or the universal bishop over the whole world.

Gregory vehemently renounced the word "ecumenical" as referring to himself as the "ecumenical bishop of Rome, for the title he chose instead was "servus servorum deorum" (servant of the servants of God); all because the Patriarch "John the Faster" wanted to use "ecumenical" in the sense of "universal" in order to steal the prerogative and influence of the Bishop of Rome, the universal Father of Christendom.

Benedict the XVI's comments on St. Gregory included the following in relation to the above:

The Humility of Hierarchs

Before concluding, it is only right to say a word on the relationship that Pope Gregory cultivated with the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople. He was always concerned with acknowledging and respecting their rights, allowing himself no interference that would limit their legitimate authority.

If, however, in the context of his historical situation, St. Gregory was opposed to the title "ecumenical" on the part of the patriarch of Constantinople, he did not do so to limit or deny this legitimate authority, but because he was concerned about the fraternal unity of the universal Church. He did so above all by his profound conviction that humility should be the fundamental virtue of every bishop, even more so of a patriarch.

Gregory was very much aware of the See of Peter in Rome and the responsibilities it entailed.

And there I'll leave it.

Chris said...

Fr. Weedon,

I intended no vitriol. but, again, I'm just confused why we Orthodox have no problem calling Gregory I a pope, a totally Orthodox pope at that, when we have our own (historical) problems with the papacy and yet the Lutherans will not do the same? Calling Gregory I a pope does not force you to concede Luther's position on the illegitimate authority that later popes claimed for themselves, way after Greogry I, I might add. So, why deny it? Is it because Luther's appellation of the papacy as anti-christ must extend to the papacy's beginning?

Just come out and say it. If anyone finds fault with that, point them to a history book. THey may learn something!