A brave heart and a courteous tongue, they shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling. —
As a boy, Gregory received an excellent education, excelling in grammar, logic, and rhetoric. By the time he was thirty years old, he was prefect of Rome, the highest civil dignity in the city. It was around this time that he decided to abandon all worldly concerns and enter the monastery of St. Andrew, which probably followed the Benedictine rule. He lived there for three years before Pope Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople as his ambassador to Emperor Tiberius.
The Byzantine court was very worldly, but Gregory followed his monastic rule as much as could. While there, he defeated the heresy of Eutychius, patriarch of Constantinople, which denied the resurrection of the body. Even Eutychius himself recanted of his error before he died.
After six years in Constantinople Gregory was recalled to Rome, and became the Abbot of St. Andrew’s. He spent much of time studying and lecturing upon the Sacred Scriptures. It was during this time that he met some youths from England, and was so impressed that he wanted lead a mission to Britain to convert the whole island to the faith. He obtained Pope Pelagius’ permission, but before he got far he saw a sign from God that the mission should be abandoned. Shortly thereafter, messengers reached him from the Pope recalling him to Rome.
Before long, flooding and a plague struck Rome. Pope Pelagius died and Gregory was chosen as the new Pope. As pope, he continued to live with monastic simplicity. He took care of the poor in Rome and abroad. Every day he received pilgrims at his table and served them, one of whom was an apparition of the Lord himself.
He took the greatest care that the liturgy of the Church was celebrated properly. It was Gregory who organized and classified the rites and prayers of the church into the (more or less) present system (1962). He also gathered the chants of the Church and assigned them to their current place in the Liturgy (which is why the chants are now known as Gregorian Chant) and even founded a school for chanters.
Gregory never forgot the British youths he saw in the Roman market. He sent St. Augustine of Canterbury, with forty other monks to carry out the conversion of Britain that he himself wished to do. He also sent missionaries to Gaul, Africa, and to schismatics in Northern Italy. He lost no opportunity to defend the faith from error with the utmost vigilance.
He left us with many letters, sermons, and other writings, including a biography of St. Benedict and instructions for bishops on how to care for souls. Throughout all his writing his insight into the Scriptures and knowledge of Early Church Fathers shine forth clearly. He did all in his power to promote monasticism, encouraging wealthy people to support and establish monasteries as he had done with the property he inherited from his parents.
In St. Gregory the Great we have one of the finest examples of what it means to love God and love our neighbor.