Gregory I, commonly known as Gregory the Great, was pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 590 until his death in 604. He is one of the four traditional 'Doctors of the Church' and is known as the Father of the Medieval Papacy. Gregory was, above all else, a pastor who cared for the spiritual needs of the people under his care. But his wide range of work in politics, liturgy, monasticism and even music earned him the title "the Great."
Gregory is the one for whom the Gregorian Sacramentary is named. A sacramentary is a liturgical book containing rites of the Catholic Church. Before Gregory's time, the church did not have a single authoritative sacramentary. Gregory pulled together the most common versions of Catholic rites and published them in a bound volume that was made available to the church as a whole. The Gregorian Sacramentary formed the foundation for the Missale Romanum, the sacramentary that is currently used by the Catholic Church. It is also reflected in the worship services of the Episcopal, Lutheran and other liturgical Protestant churches.
Gregory founded the Schola Cantorum, which is Latin for 'a school of singers.' The school trained men and boys in plainsong, the chant used during church ceremonies. Gregory was responsible for the final arrangement of the chant that would set the Gregorian Sacramentry to music. The schola then propogated that chant throughout the church. To this day the plainsong is better known as Gregorian chant. It is still sung in churches and monasteries throughout the world.
Expansion of the Church
Gregory sought to expand and standardize the church in the more remote territories. He sent out Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, along with 40 monks who were personal acquaintances, to England. There, Augustine converted the king and queen to Christianity and reintegrated the Celtic church, which had been estranged from the Roman church over a few matters of doctrine and practice. He also sent representatives to strengthen the church in Spain, Gaul and Northern Italy.
Gregory was the first pope to have been a monk before becoming pope. He was known for correcting abuses and enforcing discipline in the monastic communities. He was also a friend to monasticism. Diocesan bishops of the time were known for oppressing the monasteries in their jurisdiction. Monasteries would be overworked, and they would find resources given by people for the work of the monastery lining the pockets of the diocese. Gregory issued a series of documents called Privilegia. These documents began to take monasticism out of diocesan control and put it under papal control. Today, the chain of command in most monastic orders reflects the priorities set down in the Privilegia.
- Fordham University: Medieval Sourcebook: Bede: Gregory the Great
- The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Liturgical Books
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Gregorian Chant
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Pope St. Gregory I ("the Great")
- Gregory the Great; John Moorhead
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images