The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
GREGORY THE GREAT AND WESTERN CHRISTENDOM

AFTER Justinian the next commanding personality and central figure to appear in European history is Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604. His father was a rich Roman noble; his mother and aunts were pious ladies who were later canonized; so that Gregory was brought up in a Christian home and given the best education obtainable in that age. Jerome and Augustine were his favorite authors, but he was trained especially in the law, and in 573 held the important position of city prefect at Rome. After his father died and his mother retired to a nunnery, he used his inherited fortune to found seven monasteries, six in Sicily, the other in his own family mansion on the Cælian Hill, where he himself now became a monk. Fastings and vigils ruined his health, and through later life he was subject to attacks of gout, acute indigestion, and slow fever. He became one of the seven deacons in the churches of Rome, and was sent as a papal envoy to urge the Byzantine emperor to rescue Italy from the attacks of the Lombards. In this capacity he resided at Constantinople six years, but failed to get help from the emperor, who was busy with the Avars and Persians. Gregory did not learn Greek during his stay at Constantinople, but employed his leisure in writing an allegorical work in Latin. He was elected pope while Rome was in the throes of the bubonic plague. Despite his asceticism, Gregory made many useful friendships with the great both in Church and State; he knew the value of liberal hospitality, and how to make agreeable presents to the rich and powerful as well as to dispense charity to the poor and needy.

Gregory's early career and character

Through the early Middle Ages, as both imperial and municipal administration disappeared in the West, it became increasingly the tendency for every conscientious

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