Gregory was born to a wealthy patrician family and at the age of 30 he was made prefect of Rome, Rome's highest civil office. He felt the call to monasticism, however, and converted (c.575) his home and others of his houses into Benedictine convents. Later (c.586), he reluctantly became abbot. In 578 he was made a deacon of Rome. From 579 to c.586 he was ambassador at Constantinople, then he served as chief adviser of Pelagius II. When commencing a missionary voyage to England, he was recalled to Rome and accomplished his aim only by sending St. Augustine of Canterbury (596) and a later mission (601). He was elected pope by acclamation, accepting against his will and despite chronic illness.
The two chief features of Gregory's lasting work are the enforcement of the papal supremacy and the establishment of the temporal position of the pope. Gregory not only legislated minutely and carefully for his immediate charges, but he interfered when necessary outside Italy; e.g., he attacked Donatism in Africa and simony in Gaul. Most significantly, he refused to recognize ecumenical as a title of the patriarch of Constantinople, since that title was not consistent with the divine vicegerency of the pope.
The exarch of Ravenna, representative of the Byzantine emperor in the West, claimed secular jurisdiction over Rome, and Gregory acknowledged it de jure. However, the exarch, Romanus, did nothing to help the city when it was threatened by a Lombard attack in 592. Gregory, as bishop of Rome, took command and negotiated a peace. It was ignored by the exarch, and the Lombards resumed their attack on Rome. Since Romanus deferred making peace, Gregory began independent negotiations, a new affront to the imperial dignity and an extralegal act.
In his dealings with the Lombards and the exarch, Gregory showed that if the emperor would not defend the pope, the pope would defend himself and by doing so would make himself temporally independent. Thus he set a precedent that enabled the papacy to prevent the total destruction of Rome. Yet Gregory was the important exponent of the doctrine of divided powers: the emperor was God's vicar in things temporal, the pope in things spiritual.
Gregory's encouragement of monasticism was significant historically, and his insistence on clerical celibacy and the exemption of the clergy from trial in civil courts bore great fruit later. St. Gregory contributed to the development of the Gregorian chant or plainsong. He was succeeded by Sabinian.
Gregory's works included Moralia (tr. Morals on the Book of Job, 1844-50); Dialogues, lives of saints, including St. Benedict, a widely read work all through the Middle Ages; Liber pastoralis curae (various Eng. tr., Pastoral Care, Pastoral Charge, and Pastoral Rule); homilies on the Gospel; and many invaluable letters. The Gregorial Sacramentary, a revision of the Gelasian Sacramentary (see Gelasius I, Saint), and the Gregorian antiphonary are spurious. See also F. H. Dudden, Gregory the Great (2 vol., 1905; repr. 1967); E. C. Butler, Western Mysticism (3d ed. 1968).
(born circa 540, Rome—died March 12, 604, Rome) Pope (590–604) and doctor of the church. A Roman patrician, by age 32 he had attained the office of urban prefect. He then felt called to the religious life. He built several monasteries and served as a papal representative before being elected pope in 590, to which he only reluctantly assented. He became the architect of the medieval papacy, seeking, among other things, to curb corruption by centralizing the papal administration. In 598 he won temporary peace with the Lombards, and he allowed the Byzantine usurper Phocas to make permanent peace with them in 602. Eager to convert pagan peoples, Gregory sent Augustine of Canterbury on a mission to England (596). Under Gregory, Gothic Arian Spain see Arianism) became reconciled with Rome. He laid the basis for the Papal States. He was a strong opponent of slavery, and he extended tolerance to Jews. He wrote the Pastoral Rule, a guide for church government, and other works. His extensive recodification of the liturgy and chant led to his name being given to Gregorian chant. He is remembered as one of the greatest of all the medieval popes.
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Gregory is a common masculine first name and family name. It is derived from the Latin "Gregorius," which was from the late Greek name "Γρηγόριος" (Gregorios), which was derived from "γήγορος" (gegoros) meaning "watchful, alert". Through folk etymology, the name also became associated with grex and gregis ("flock" and "herd"). The associations with a shepherd who diligently guides his flock is part of the reason that the name has been popular with monks, priest and popes There have been 16 popes with the name, starting with Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great). It is the second-most popular name for pope, along with Benedict, after John. Because of this background, it is also a very common name for saints. Although the name was uncommon in the early 20th century, after the popularity of the actor Gregory Peck it became one of the ten most common male names in the 1950s and has remained popular since.
In its Latin form (Grigorius or Gregorius) it was the name of several saints and 16 popes. Grigor is also a surname of Scottish origin. It is derived from MacGregor, that name being banned in Scotland in 1603 under King James VI. Accordingly, people had to change it to other variations, or to a completely new name altogether. "Gregor" is also the surname of a distinguished Cornish family.