Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome

Article excerpt

Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome. By George E. Demacopoulos. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2015. Pp. viii, 236. $28.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02621-9.)

Pope Gregory the Great has warranted an explosion of historical attention in the past three decades. Recent scholarship has focused on questions of continuity- was Gregory a late-antique leader or a medieval one? A Roman bishop or Byzantine patriarch? A classical scholar or Christian exegete? A spiritual teacher or pragmatic ecclesiastical manager? This volume is a welcome addition to the mix and represents George Demacopoulos's third major publication on Gregory. In his well-received Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church (Notre Dame, 1977), Gregory's activity as spiritual guide of clergy in the Pastoral Rule was the fifth model under consideration. Demacopoulos's second major book, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia, 2013), offered a critical rereading of claims for papal primacy by three bishops of Rome: Leo the Great (440-61), Gelasius (492-96), and Gregory (590-604).

The most recent volume appraises the questions posed above as false binaries (p. 11), in much the same way as did the authors of the recent Brill publication, A Companion to Gregory the Great, edited by Bronwen Neil and Matthew Dal Santo (Leiden, 2013), to which Demacopoulos made a valuable contribution. Eschewing a traditional narrative history (as in, for example, Barbara Müller, Führung im Denken und Handeln Gregors des Grossen [Tübingen, 2009]), Demacopoulos opts here for a historical theological approach that garners evidence equally from Gre- gory's vast register of letters (the largest surviving from late antiquity) and his pastoral, homiletic, exegetical, and hagiographical works. This gives a rich and variegated picture of the administrative rigors of the Roman episcopacy at the end of the sixth century and beginning of the seventh, as well as reflecting the more existential problems that Rome's dwindling power raised for its church, its inhabitants, and its leaders. …

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