Monday, March 12, 2007

March 12: the feast day of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome

"Non Angli, sed Angeli."

Those, famously, are the words that Pope Gregory the Great said when he saw fair-skinned, blue-eyed English children for sale in a slave market. (Translation: "They are not Angles, but angels.") Why is this important? Well, it's said that seeing those children is what prompted him to send Augustine of Canterbury up to England to convert the Angles - Augustine of Canterbury was, of course, the first Archbishop of Canterbury; it's an important event in the founding of what came to be the Anglican church. (I'd heard the story before, but forgotten Gregory's involvement in it. It's also worth noting that there's some controversy over whether the Angles he saw were slaves, or visiting freemen.)

And, honestly, that's the most I got out of this long Wikipedia entry on Gregory the Great, partly because the man lived such a life! There's so much there, and so many preserved writings by and about Gregory, that it's hard to find one common theme emerging. He was bright, and charitable, but he was also a great diplomat, and took some actions in increasing the role of the papacy that doubtless contributed to the Great Schism some hundreds of years later. (How could he know?)

Perhaps a better resources is this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia. It is very, very long, but skimming it will give you an idea of just how complicated was an age we usually think of as "simple" and "dark".

Gregorian chant takes its name from this pope, so if nothing else, listen to some today as you wash the dishes, and think of all those millions of saints whose actions hundreds of years ago are still helping us to worship the Lord. Their music, their theology, and the results of their actions are still with us. Try to live today so that the Christians after you will have cause to be grateful for your life. But, looking at Gregory, know that what becomes of what you do is still in the Lord's hands, not yours, despite your best efforts. And pray for grace. :)

peace of Christ to you,

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