Today we remember sixth-century pastor Gregory the Great by reading a devotion from Celebrating the Saints.
Gregory the Great (c. AD 540–604) was the last of the four great Doctors of the Western Church (together with the earlier Saints Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome). Gregory was a capable administrator, having served earlier in his life as mayor of Rome, a post he assumed at the young age of 33. He restored a measure of prosperity and order to the decimated city, weakened by waves of barbarian invasions and plague. His successful civil service could not still an inner yearning. He felt a calling to serve in the Church. He sold off his sizable holdings, donated the money to the assistance of the poor, and founded a monastery in what had been his father’s villa.
Pope Pelagius II ordained him a deacon and then appointed him to be the ambassador of the Roman bishop to the imperial court in Constantinople. While there he engaged in a disputation with Eutychius, bishop of Constantinople, and vanquished his opponent simply by quoting the Scripture: “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). He later returned to Rome, where upon the death of Pelagius II due to plague, Gregory was acclaimed bishop of the city. That took place this day in the year AD 590.
Gregory, even as a deacon and presbyter, had a great heart for mission work. Due to his determination, the Gospel’s proclamation was strengthened in England. He had noted a young lad in the marketplace for sale and remarked upon his beautiful countenance. He asked from whence he came and whether his people were Christians or still heathen. Upon finding that they were heathen, he asked the name of their race. “Angles” he was told, upon which he remarked that it was fitting, for they have angelic faces. He wished the country to be delivered from God’s wrath and brought into the unity of the catholic faith. Toward that end, he begged the pope (this was before his own elevation) for leave to preach the Gospel in that land. The pope, however, was not about to lose his right-hand man. It would fall to St. Augustine of Canterbury to preach the Gospel and begin organizing the Church among the Germanic tribes that had invaded and largely displaced the original Britons.
Gregory is remembered also for bringing order and discipline to the music of the Latin Church, for adding the Lord’s Prayer to the order of service in the Roman Church (bringing it into conformity with wider Christian practice), and for writing The Pastoral Office, a handbook on the ministry that continued in use for a millennium.
Almighty and merciful God, You raised up Gregory of Rome to be a pastor to those who shepherd God’s flock and You inspired him to send missionaries to preach the Gospel to the English people. Preserve in Your Church the catholic and apostolic faith that Your people may continue to be fruitful in every good work and receive the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Devotional reading and prayer are from Celebrating the Saints, pages 162–63 © 2016 William C. Weedon. Published by Concordia Publishing House.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.