Gregory Was a Reluctant Pontiff
If you have ever been pushed forward to speak for a group when you just wanted to sit back, you have an idea how Gregory felt on this day, February 3, 590. Pelagius II was dead. Who should replace him? All eyes turned to one man: Gregory.
Now if there was anything Gregory did not want, it was to be bishop of Rome. He had experience in governing men, and the job looked impossible to him. The government of Rome was a one-legged sort of thing and civil responsibilities were falling on the church.
Famine, plague, and war raged in the countryside. Lombards, Franks and Imperial troops pillaged the starving land. Gregory believed that the four horsemen of the apocalypse were riding over Italy. The end of the world was near. Who in his right mind would want to deal with that? Legend says he tried to escape from Rome by hiding in a basket.
If Gregory had had his way, he would not even have been in Rome when Pelagius died. Born into a noble family around 540, he served as a prefect of Rome. As prefect, he presided over the senate and provided for the city’s defence, food supply, and finances. Later, he became one of the seven cardinal deacons of the church. Pelagius made him nuncio to the imperial court of Constantinople, where Gregory met Maurice, the future emperor. On his return to Rome, Gregory saw fair-haired Saxon lads being sold as slaves in the market. Told they were “Angles” he replied, “not Angles–angels!” He obtained papal permission to carry the gospel to Britain and slipped out of town. Riots resulted. He was recalled, Pelagius died soon afterwards, and Gregory was thrust into his place. Continue reading