Less than a storm avails not to unfold
The Cross emblazoned there in massive gold:
Away with doubts and sadness, tears and sighing!
It is by faith, by patience, and by dying
That we must conquer, as our sires of old."
-- AUBREY DE VERE, "St. Peter's Chains".
The historian, who has carefully followed the fortunes of Rome as a city during a thousand years, describes it as beginning a new life from the time when Narses, in the year 552, came to reside there as imperial prefect and representative of the absent eastern lord Justinian. Narses so ruled for fifteen years, but when he was recalled there ensued a long time of terrible distress and anxiety -- a time of temporal servitude, but one also of spiritual expansion. The complete ruin of Rome as a secular city, the overthrow of all that ancient world of which Rome was the centre and capital, had been effected in the struggle ended by the extinction of the Gothic kingdom. By degrees the laws, the monuments, the very recollections of what had been, passed away. The heathen temples ceased to be preserved as public monuments. The Capitol, on its desolate hill, lifted into the still air its fairy world of pillars in a grave-like silence, startled only by the owl's night cry. The huge palace of the Caesars still occupied the Palatine in unbroken greatness, a labyrinth of empty halls yet resplendent with the finest marbles, here and there still covered with gold-embroidered tapestry. But it was falling to pieces like a fortress deserted by its occupants. In some small corner of its vast spaces there might still be seen a Byzantine prefect, an eunuch from the court of the eastern despot, or a semi-Asiatic general, with secretaries, servants, and guards. The splendid forums built by Caesar after Caesar, each a homage paid by the ruler of the day to the Roman people, whom he fed and feared, became pale with age. Their history clung round them like a fable. The massive blocks of Pompey's theatre showed need of repairs, which were not given. The circus maximus, where the last and dearest of Roman pleasures -- the chariot races -- were no longer celebrated, stretched its long lines beneath the imperial palace covered with dust and overgrown with grass. The colossal amphitheatre of Titus still reared its circle perfect, but stripped of its decorations. The gigantic baths, fed by no aqueduct since the ruin wrought by Vitiges the Goth, rose like fallen cities in a wilderness. Ivy began to creep over them. The costly marble mantle of their walls dropped away in pieces or was plundered for use. The Mosaic pavements split. There were still in those beautiful chambers seats of bright or dark marble, baths of porphyry or Oriental alabaster. But these found their way by degrees to churches. They served for episcopal chairs, or to receive the bones of a saint, or to become baptismal fonts. Yet not a few remained in their desolation till the walls dropped down upon them, or the dust covered them for centuries. In course of time the rain perforated the uncared-for vaultings of these shady galleries. Having served for refuge to the thief, the coiner, or the assassin, they became like dripping grottoes.
Thus stood the temples, triumphal arches, pillars, and statues before the eyes of a young Roman noble, one out of the few patrician families still surviving. These were the sights with which St. Gregory, who claimed kindred with the Anician race, was familiar from his boyhood, so that the desolation of Jerusalem rose before his mind as the state of his own Rome pressed on his eyes and seared his heart.
This skeleton of a city was scarcely inhabited by the remnant of a people, decimated by hunger and pestilence, and in perpetual fear to see its ill-defended gates broken into by Lombard savages. The walls of Aurelian, half demolished by Totila and hurriedly repaired by Belisarius, alone saved it year after year from the horrors which fell upon captured cities; and would not have saved it but for the indomitable spirit, the perpetual wisdom, foresight, and courage of a son who had been exalted to the Chair of Peter.
While Old Rome lay thus, the shadow of its former self, bereft of all political power, looking to the imperial exarch at Ravenna for its temporal rule, in danger moreover of inundation from its own Tiber, whose banks were no longer maintained with unremitting care, New Rome beside the Bosporus rioted in all the pomp and circumstance of a court still the head of a vast empire. The tributes of all the East, of numberless cities in Asia Minor, in Syria, in Egypt, were still borne unceasingly within its walls, which rose as an impregnable fortress between Europe and Asia. Its emperor still thought himself the lord of the world; its bishop assumed the title of Ecumenical Patriarch. Both emperor and bishop cast but a disdainful glance on the widowed rival which threatened to sink into the grave of waters brought down by her own river. Constantinople could raise and pay armies from all the races of the North and East. A single imperial regiment was quartered at Rome, which, being ill-paid, became disaffected and neglectful of its charge, and could not be counted upon by the Pope for vigorous defence against the ever-pressing danger of a Lombard inroad.
So began the Church's Rome. Enslaved politically to Byzantium, wherein the so-called Roman State, with Greek subtlety, carried on the principles of the old heathen government and practised a remorseless despotism, the city of the ancient Caesars and the people they fed on "bread and games" ceased to exist, and was changed into the holy city, whose life was the Chair of Peter. From the time of Narses, during all the two hundred years of Lombard assault and Byzantine neglect and exaction, the Pope alone, watchful and unceasingly active, carried out the fabric of the Roman hierarchy. Its gradual increase, its springing up out of the dust of the old Roman State under the most difficult circumstances, will ever claim the astonishment of the after-world as the greatest transformation to be found in history.
Let us approach the secret of this transformation in the person of the man who best represents it.
Gregory was born about the year 540, and so was witness from his childhood of the intense misery and special degradation of Rome produced by the Gothic war. He was himself the son of Gordian, a man of senatorial rank, from whom he inherited great landed property. Through him he was the great grandson of that illustrious Pope Felix III., whom we have seen resist with success the insolence of Acacius and the despotism of Zeno. Gregory had therefore a doubly noble inheritance -- that of a true Roman noble's spirit, and that of the Church's championship. His paternal house stood on that well-known slope of the Coelian hill, opposite the imperial palace on the Palatine, from which in after-time he sent forth St. Augustine with the monks his brethren to be the Apostle of paganised England. He founded six monasteries in Sicily upon his property, and changed his father's palace into a seventh, in which he followed the Benedictine Rule. In early manhood he had been praetor or prefect of the city, being probably the most eminent of all its citizens in wealth and rank. But his mother St. Silvia, a woman of fervent piety, had educated him with great care. He turned from the secular to the religious life, following perhaps her example, since on the death of his father she became a nun. He was a monk on the Coelian hill when Pope Benedict in the year 577 named him seventh deacon of the Roman Church. Pope Pelagius II. sent him as nuncio to Constantinople, an office equally difficult and honourable. The emperor Tiberius was then reigning, with whom he became intimate, and with his successor Mauritius. Gregory dwelt in the imperial palace, with some monks of his own monastery whom he had brought with him, pursuing the Rule in all pious observances, winning also the esteem and friendship of many distinguished men, and making himself fully acquainted with the mechanism of the eastern court. He also delivered the patriarch Eutychius from a false Origenistic notion, that the bodies of the blessed after the resurrection were not glorified, but lost their quality as bodies. There also he became warmly attached to St. Leander, who afterwards, as archbishop of Seville, greatly helped him in recovering Spain from Arianism to the Catholic faith. The charge of Pope Pelagius to his nuncio Gregory throws a vivid light upon the condition of Rome at the time. His instructions ran: "Lay before our lord the emperor that no words can express the calamities brought upon us by the perfidy of the Lombards, breaking their own engagements. Our brother Sebastian, whom we send to you, has promised to describe to him the necessities and dangers of all Italy. Join him in that entreaty to succour us, for the commonwealth is in such distress, that unless God inspire him to show us his servants the mercy of his natural disposition, and move him to give us a single Magister militum and a single Dux, we are utterly destitute, for Rome and its neighbourhood are specially defenceless. The exarch writes that he can give us no help, for he has not force enough to guard Ravenna. Therefore, may God command the emperor quickly to succour us, before the army of that most wicked nation take the places still remaining to us."
Gregory returned from Constantinople in 585, and lived as one of the seven deacons on the Coelian hill, when, on 8th February, 590, Pope Pelagius died of the pestilence, and Gregory was unanimously chosen to succeed him.
It was a moment of the greatest depression. The Tiber had in the winter overflowed a large portion of the city. The destruction wrought had been followed by a terrible plague. Gregory strove to escape the charge put upon him, and besought the emperor not to confirm his election. In the meantime, the clergy and people urged upon him the provisional exercise of the episcopal charge. As such he ordered a sevenfold procession to entreat the cessation of the plague. The clergy of Rome, the abbots, the abbesses with their nuns, the children, the laymen, the widows, and the married women, each company separately arranged, were to start from seven different churches, and to close their pilgrimage together at the basilica of St. Maria Maggiore.
During the procession itself eighty victims to the plague fell dead. But as Gregory was passing over the bridge of St. Peter's, a heavenly vision consoled them in the midst of their litanies. The archangel Michael was seen over the tomb of Hadrian, sheathing his flaming sword in token that the pestilence was to cease. Gregory heard the angelic antiphon from heavenly voices -- Regina Coeli, laetare, and added himself the concluding verse -- Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
The assent of the emperor Mauritius arriving from Constantinople about six months after his election compelled Gregory to become Pope. At first, indeed, he disguised himself and took to flight, and hid himself in the woods. The people fasted and prayed three days for his discovery. He was found, and then permitted himself to be taken back to Rome, where he was received with great rejoicing. He was led, according to custom, to the "Confession" of St. Peter, where he made his profession of faith. He was then consecrated, the 3rd September, 590. Nor can any words but his own adequately express his feelings, together with the character of the time in which he lived. With heavy heart he approached the burden laid upon him. Neither then nor ever after did he deceive himself as to the gravity of the situation. "Since," are his words, "I submitted the shoulders of my spirit to this burden of the episcopal office, I can no longer collect my soul, distracted as it is on so many sides. At one time I have to consider the affairs of churches and monasteries, often taking into account the lives and actions of individuals. At another time I have to represent my fellow-citizens in their affairs. Again, I have to groan over the swords of barbarians advancing to storm us, and to dread the wolves which lie in wait for a flock huddled together in fear. Then, again, I must charge myself with the care of public affairs, to provide means even for those to whom the maintenance of order is entrusted, or I must patiently endure certain depredators, or take precautions against them, that tranquillity be not disturbed." In another place he says: "Daily I feel what fulness of peace I have lost, to what fulness of cares I have been exalted. If you love me, weep for me, since so many temporal businesses press on me that I seem as if this dignity had almost excluded me from the love of God. Not of the Romans only am I bishop, but bishop of the Lombards, whose right is the right of the sword, whose favour is punishment. The billows of the world so surge upon me, that I despair of steering into harbour the frail vessel entrusted to me by God, while my hand holds the helm amid a thousand storms." Again, in his synodical letter announcing his accession to the patriarchs, he says: "Especially, whoever bears the title of Pastor in this place is grievously occupied by external cares, so that he is often in doubt whether he is executing the work of a Pastor or that of an earthly lord". Thus thirteen hundred years ago spoke the Pope. Does his language in the nineteenth century differ much from his language in the sixth? Shortly after his accession, preaching to his people in St. Peter's, he said: "Where, I pray you, is any delight to be found in this world? Mourning meets us everywhere; groans surround us. Ruined cities, fortresses overthrown, lands laid waste, the earth reduced to a desert. The fields have none to till them. There is scarcely a dweller in the cities. Yet even these poor remnants of the human race are smitten daily and without ceasing. The scourge of heaven's justice strikes without end, because even under its strokes our bad actions are not corrected. We see men led into captivity, beheaded, slain before our eyes. What pleasure, then, does life retain, my brethren? If yet we are fond of such a world, it is not joys but wounds which we love. We see the condition of that Rome which anon seemed to be mistress of the world: worn down by sorrows which have no measure, desolate of inhabitants, assaulted by enemies, filled with ruins. We see in it fulfilled what long ago our prophet said against Samaria: 'Set on a vessel; set it on, I say, and put water into it. Heap together into it the pieces thereof.' And then: 'The seething of it is boiling hot; and the bones thereof are thoroughly sodden in the midst thereof.' And further: 'Heap together the bones, which I will burn with fire: the flesh shall be consumed, and the whole composition shall be sodden, and the bones shall be consumed. Then set it empty upon burning coals, that it may be hot, and the brass thereof may be melted.' Now the vessel was set on when our city was founded. The water was put into it and the pieces heaped together, when there was a confluence of peoples to it from all sides. Like boiling water they bubbled up with the world's actions; like bits of flesh they were boiled in their own heat. He says well, 'The seething of it is boiling hot, and the bones thereof are thoroughly sodden in the midst thereof'. For great, indeed, in it at first was the heat of secular glory; but presently the glory itself and those who followed it burnt out. Bones mean the powerful of the world; flesh its various peoples: as bones support flesh, so the powerful of the world rule the weakness of the masses. But now, behold, all the powerful of this world have been taken from it. The bones, then, are thoroughly sodden. The peoples are gone; the flesh, then, is boiled up. There follows then: 'Heap together the bones, which I will burn with fire; the flesh shall be consumed, and the whole composition shall be sodden; and the bones shall waste away'. For where is the senate? where any longer a people? The bones are wasted, the flesh consumed; all pride of secular dignities is perished out of it. The whole composition is sodden. Yet every day the sword, every day innumerable sorrows press upon us, the poor remaining remnant. So, then, this also applies: 'Set it empty upon burning coals'. For since there is no senate, since the people has died out, and yet sorrow and suffering are multiplied day by day on the few that remain, Rome is empty, and yet it burns. We apply this to men, but we see the very structures destroyed by the multiplication of ruins. So that he adds, upon the empty city, 'Burn it and melt its brass'. For it is come to the vessel itself being destroyed, in which before both flesh and bones were consumed. For when the dwellers have fallen away even the walls fall. But where are those who once rejoiced in its glory? Where is their pomp and pride, and those ecstasies of frequent transport?
"In Rome are fulfilled the prophet's words against Niniveh: 'Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding-place of the young lions?' Were not its commanders and its princes lions who overran the whole world, and ravened, and slaughtered the prey? Here the young lions found their feeding-place, because the boyhood, the youth, the flower of manhood, from generation to generation, flocked hither, when they sought to get on in the world. Now Rome is desolate, worn down, full of sorrows. No one comes to it to get on in the world; no man of power or violence remains to raven on the prey. Then may we say, 'Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding-place of the young lions?' Upon it has fallen the lot of Judea, foretold by the prophet: 'Enlarge thy baldness as the eagle'. For man is wont to be bald upon the head alone; but the eagle's baldness is over all his body. When very old, his plumes and feathers fall from his whole body. The city which has lost its inhabitants, in losing its feathers, has enlarged its baldness as the eagle. Shrunk also are its wings, with which it used to fly to the prey, for all its men of might, by whom it ravened, are extinguished."
We may here contrast the language concerning the Rome which lay before their eyes of the two Popes St. Leo and St. Gregory. They spoke with an interval between them of 140 years. The first spoke still of the actual queen of the world, of the secular empire subdued and inherited by the spiritual. The feathers of Leo's eagle shone to him with celestial light; the talons of the royal bird traversed the earth not to raven, but to feed a conquered world with Christian doctrine. St. Gregory speaks of the eagle as bald; but we shall see that he who day by day guarded the gates of defenceless Rome against the Lombard spoiler, barbarian also and heretic, fed no less the ends of the earth with Christian doctrine. It was he who brought the Ultima Thule, and its inhabitants the penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos again under the yoke of Christ, and taught the sea-kings humanity.
A little later St. Gregory closed his exposition of the prophet Ezechiel in St. Peter's with these sorrowful words: "So far, dear brethren, by the gift of God, we have searched out hidden meanings for you. Let no man blame me if I close them here, because, as you all witness, our sufferings have grown enormous. On every side we are encircled with swords: on every side we are in imminent peril of death. Some return to us maimed of their hands; of others we hear that they are captured; of others, again, that they are slain. My tongue can no longer expound, when my spirit is weary of my life. Let no one ask me to unfold the Scriptures; for my harp is turned to mourning, and my voice to the cry of the weeper. The eye of my heart no longer keeps its watch in the discussion of mysteries; my soul droops for weariness. Study has lost its charm for me. I have forgotten to eat my bread for the voice of my groaning. How can one who is not allowed to live take pleasure in the mystical sense of Scripture? How can one whose daily chalice is bitterness present sweets for others to drink? What remains for us but while we weep to give thanks for the strokes of the scourge which we suffer for our iniquities. Our Creator is become our Father by the Spirit of adoption whom He has given to us: sometimes He feeds His sons with bread; sometimes He corrects them with the scourge; because He schools us by sorrows and by gifts for the unending inheritance."
This was the Rome in which Gregory ruled as Pope for fourteen years, since he saw the archangel's sword sheathed over the castle of St. Angelo, into which name the pagan mausoleum was baptised. Pestilence in the city, where the remnant of a people wandered disconsolate by the mighty halls and vast spaces of the old emperors -- swords of pagan or Arian barbarians all round the patched-up walls of Aurelian. City after city through the hapless Italy reported as plundered or ruined by the Lombard devastation. Presently the trials of a sick-bed and frequent attacks of gout were added to his daily tale of sorrows. In the last years of Gregory it came to pass that the universal Church was governed from the sick-bed of one worn down, not by years -- for he died at sixty-four -- but by sufferings of body and mind. The prisoner of the Lombards had to struggle perpetually with the spirit of Byzantine despotism and the aggressive arrogance of a prelate whom successive eastern sovereigns had nursed from a suffragan of Heraclea to be the claimant of an ecumenical patriarchate. Yet the eyes of Gregory were bent likewise on the northern conquerors who had seized the provinces of the West. Before he was Pope he had observed in the slave-market of Rome the fair-haired Angles whom he would fain make angels; when Pope he sent forth from his father's house, which he had given to the great Father Benedict, those who were to carry the banner of that father into the isle lost to Christ. In that island he appointed the primate of Canterbury, and designed the primate of York. Through St. Leander and St. Isidore, and the martyr St. Hermenegild, he recovered Spain from the Arian blight; through the queen Theodelinda he made some impression upon Lombard cruelty and misbelief; through the Frankish monarchy he won back France from dissolution and heresy. As he saw the palaces around him deserted, and the broken aqueducts mourn over their intercepted streams in a wasted Campagna, and the glory of Trajan's forum become paler day by day, he thought that the end of the world was coming -- and so thinking and so saying, he founded Christendom. In Rome itself, the almsgivers whom he had organised traversed the streets daily, carrying food to the hungry, medicine and medical aid to the sick. Every month he allotted portions of corn, wine, oil, cheese, fish, vegetables. The Church seemed to be the general provider. Every day he fed at his table twelve poor pilgrims, and served them himself. The nuns who took refuge in Rome, from the destruction of their monasteries by the Lombards, amounted to three thousand, whom Gregory supported, especially during the severe winter of 597. He wrote to the sister of the emperor Mauritius: "To their prayers and tears and fasts Rome owes its delivery from the sword of the Lombards". Other cities also he saved, and so he distributed the vast patrimony of the Roman Church in Southern Italy, Sicily, Africa, France, Illyricum, with such wisdom and so beneficent a mercy, that historians trace to him the beginning of that temporal sovereignty which two hundred years after him the Popes were to take in change for the cruel abandonment, paired with incessant exaction, of Byzantine despotism; and the most loyal of subjects were called to be the most beneficent of sovereigns; and the people who had found them fathers from age to age rejoiced to see the fathership united with kingship.
What had happened to the Italy recovered by the arms of Belisarius and Narses, to the unity of the Roman empire, which caused the calamitous state described by Gregory?
Both Belisarius and Narses had enrolled a multifarious host of adventurers under the banner which professed to deliver Rome and Italy from the Gothic occupation. Narses especially had awakened the greed of the Lombards by the sight of Italy's fair lands. Scarcely had he ceased to govern Rome, in 567, when the effect of this became visible. What Alaric, what Odoacer, what Theodorick, had done, Alboin did with yet more terrible results; and the fourth captivity which Nova Roma had prepared for her mother, become in her mind a hated rival, was the hardest, the longest, the most destructive of all. It is doubtful whether the retort of the eunuch Narses to the empress Sophia, when she recalled him from his government to ply, as she said, the spindle, that he would spin for her such a thread as in her life she would not disentangle, is authentic, but it undoubtedly presents historic truth. Whether or not Narses called the Lombards into Italy, their king Alboin came from Pannonia over the Carnian Alps into the plain which has ever since borne their name; and this was in the next year -- 568 -- to the recal of Narses. The Goth and the Herules had worked much woe and wrought great destruction; but the Goths compared to the Lombards were as knights compared to villains. The Lombards, inferior to them by far in strength both of body and of mind, this rudest of Teuton races seemed incapable of receiving culture. It had, moreover, fewer elements in it capable of being worked into the stable order of a state. In belief it was partly Arian and partly pagan. It had also a mixture of Sarmatian blood. When they broke into Italy, the cities of that land, however wasted and depopulated through Attila and the Gothic wars, yet retained their Roman form, yet were full of ancient monuments, splendid still in desolation. Now, one after another fell under the sword of those barbarians. Milan surrendered to Alboin in the autumn of 569, and after three years' siege he entered as conqueror into Theodorick's palace in Pavia. Only Rome, Ravenna, and the cities of the coast still carried the imperial flag. The Romans themselves regarded as a marvel the maintenance of their scarcely defended city. Alboin aimed at making the palace of the Caesars his royal residence. His warriors advanced with terrible devastation from Spoleto to the very walls of Rome in the time of Pope John III., who died, after nearly thirteen years' government, the 13th July, 573.
Rome was then so severely pressed that the See of Peter remained more than a year unfilled; for the Lombards were encamped before Rome, and hindered communication with Byzantium, whence Benedict I., the newly-elected Pope, had to wait for the imperial confirmation. The Book of the Popes recites that during his four years' government the Lombards overran all Italy, and that pestilence and hunger consumed her people. Rome, also, was visited by both. The emperor Tiberius tried to succour it by sending corn from Egypt to the harbour Porto.
Alboin had been murdered, and Kleph had succeeded him, on whose death, in 575, the Lombards fell into anarchy, and were divided into thirty-six dukes, and Faroald, the first duke of Spoleto, held Rome besieged when Benedict I. died, in 578; and so his successor, Pelagius II., a Roman of Gothic descent, was consecrated without the emperor's confirmation. The beleaguered Pope sent a cry of distress by an embassy to the eastern emperor, together with a gift of 3000 pounds' weight of gold from the impoverished city. But the emperor, engaged in a Persian war, could only send insufficient troops to Ravenna, more precious to him than Rome, declined the Roman gold, and advised to corrupt with it the Lombard commanders. Zoto, the Lombard duke of Beneventum, returning from Rome, which had ransomed itself, destroyed St. Benedict's monastery of Monte Cassino, in 580. The monks escaped to Rome, carrying with them the Saint's autograph of his Rule. Pope Pelagius II. received them in the Lateran basilica. There they founded the first Benedictine monastery in Rome. They named it after St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and so Constantine's basilica, or the Church of the Saviour, became in after-times St. John Lateran. Monte Cassino lay in ruins 140 years, during which time the great Order had its chief seat in Rome.
Thus did Rome and Italy learn what they had gained by reunion with the eastern empire under Justinian. The pitiless financial exaction of that empire was exerted wherever it had power. War and pestilence ravaged town and country. It cost the Church a labour of 200 years to turn the Lombards from Arians and savages into Catholics who should one day be capable of resisting a Barbarossa and generating a Dante.
What, during these 200 years, an imperial exarch at Ravenna was like Gregory tells us in a letter to his friend Sebastian, bishop of Sirmium: "Words cannot express what I suffer from your friend, the lord Romanus. I may say that his malice against us is worse than the swords of the Lombards. The enemies who slay us seem to us kinder than the magistrates of the commonwealth, who wear our hearts out with their malignity, their plundering, and their deceit. At one and the same time to superintend bishops and clergy, monasteries also and the people, carefully to watch against insidious attacks of our enemies, and be perpetually on guard against the treachery and ill-treatment of our rulers, you, my brother, can the better judge what labour and sorrow is here in proportion to the purity of your affection for me who suffer it."
This glimpse will be enough of the generation which preceded the accession of St. Gregory to the Chair of Peter. The whole fifty years of his life up to that time were for his country like the prophet's scroll, inscribed with lamentation and mourning and woe. And in his words to the bishop of Sirmium he gives a faithful picture of the position which his successors held until the time when at length they invoked the king of the Franks to come to the succour of St. Peter.
The calamities which fell upon Italy, and especially upon Rome, in the five captures of the Gothic war, in the subsequent descent of the Lombards, in the subjection of the old capital to a distant and despotic lord, were so great that eye-witnesses declare no language could express them. That they were to the Popes themselves unspeakably distressing, that the Popes did all in their power to avert them, the letters of the Popes remain to testify. I must now dwell for a time on the singular result which they had upon the Roman Primacy. When temporal calamities less than these fell upon the cities of Alexandria and Antioch, the seats of the other two original Petrine patriarchates, the authority of their prelates sunk almost to nothing. Before these calamities they had yielded up a large portion of their dignity and autonomy to the overreaching see of the eastern capital, the rank of which, above that of a simple bishopric, rested on nothing but the emperor's will to concentrate spiritual power in his own hands, by making its seat for the whole eastern empire the city of the Bosporus. But when Rome was ruined in the Gothic war nothing of the kind took place. St. Gregory inherited his place as successor of St. Peter without the least impairment of the authority which his see had held from the beginning. One wound, indeed, had been inflicted upon it by the Herule Odoacer, when in occupation of the sovereign power which he held over Italy, in name, by delegation of the emperor Zeno, in fact, as head of the foreign mercenaries, he had claimed a right to confirm the election of the Pope when chosen. Theodorick and Theodatus had continued to exert that right -- and from the Goths Justinian had taken it -- and Gregory himself, as we have seen, had applied to the imperial power at Constantinople to frustrate his own election by clergy and people. But the Pope, when once recognised, entered upon his full and undiminished authority. All that St. Leo had been St. Gregory was, though Rome had been almost destroyed, and was in the temporal rule subject to the emperor's officer, the exarch at Ravenna. I do not know any fact of history which brings out more distinctly the character of the Pope as inheriting the charge over the whole Church committed by our Lord to St. Peter. That was not a charge depending on the city in which it might be exercised. It was a charge committed to the chief of the Apostles. As our Lord promised to be with the apostolic body to the consummation of the world, as all their spiritual powers depended on His being with them, so, above all, most of all, the spiritual power of their head. Rome might be absolutely destitute of inhabitants after Totila's victory, but the Pope was not touched. Rome might cease to be capital even of a province, but the Pope was not touched. And it was a series of the most terrible disasters which revealed this prerogative of the Pope as head of the Christian hierarchy. The Pope might be a captive at Constantinople, scorned, deceived, torn away even from the refuge of the altar, surrounded with spies, betrayed by subservient bishops and patriarchs, and, worst of all, be labouring under the stigma of an election originally enforced by arbitrary violence; a despotic emperor might do his worst, but the Pope's successors carried on his prerogatives unimpaired. The walls of Aurelian preserved Rome from the Lombard, but the Pontiff who kept guard over them was not contained in them. His rule was intangible by material attack as it was beyond the reach of material despotism. Italy might be ruined, and a new Rome made out of its ruins, but the Pope would be the maker of it. And the most terrible calamity was chosen to reveal this singular prerogative. The death of Senatus populusque Romanus discovered even to the outside world the life which proceeded from St. Peter's body, as each archbishop received from St. Peter's successor the pallium which had been laid upon it. Thus was conveyed to the mind by the senses that participation of the Primacy, in which consisted all the authority which he exercised over other bishops. The violence of the Teuton, the misbelief of the Arian, the despotism of the Byzantine, were unconsciously co-operating to this result.
For it must be added that the Rome which survived after the conquest by Justinian only lived by the Primacy of which it was the seat. Two historians of the city, writing from quite opposite points of view, one a Catholic Christian, the other a rationalistic unbeliever, unite in witnessing that from the time of Narses the spiritual power of the Primacy was the spring of all action. Not only such new buildings as arose were churches and the work of the Popes; St. Gregory also fed the city from the patrimonium of the church which he administered. Rome had been made by her empire, which the political wisdom and valour of her citizens had formed through so many centuries. When at length the wandering of the nations had broken up that empire, and the northern soldiers whom the emperors, specially from Constantine onwards, had enrolled in her armies and taken for their ministers and generals, followed the example of Alaric and Ataulph, and assumed the rule for themselves, the situation of Rome offered it no protection. The emperor who, at the beginning of the fifth century, took refuge from Alaric in Ravenna was followed a century later by the Gothic king, whose body, still reposing in his splendid tomb at Ravenna, was a memorial that this fortress had been the centre of his power. Theodorick was succeeded by the exarch, the permanent representative of an absent lord. We are following the fortunes of Rome in the 300 years from Genseric to Astolphus. In the second and third of these three centuries Rome would have ceased to exist, but for the imperishable life which did not come from her but was stored up in her. That life was the form of her new body; otherwise it would have been a carcase lying prostrate in the dust of mouldering theatres and desolated baths. Their patriarchs saved neither Antioch nor Alexandria; but the Papacy not only saved Rome, but created her anew.
Out of such a Rome St. Gregory poured forth his sorrows to the empress Constantine, wife of Mauritius: "It is now seven-and-twenty years since we have been living in this city among the swords of the Lombards". He was writing in the year 595, and he reckons from the descent of Alboin in 568. "What the sums called for from the Church in these years day by day to live at all have been I cannot express. I may say in a word that as your Majesties have, with the first army of Italy at Ravenna, a chancellor of the exchequer who supplies daily wants, so in this city for the like purpose I am such a person. And yet this same church which at one and the same time is at such endless expense for the clergy, the monasteries, the poor, the people, and moreover for the Lombards, is pressed also by the affliction of all the churches, which groan over the pride of this one man, yet do not venture to utter a word."
And Gregory, referring just before to the pride of this one man, who had the audacity to put in a letter to the Pope himself, a superscription in which, according to the Pope's judgment, he claimed to be sole bishop in the Church, used words which will serve to indicate what Gregory conceived his own authority to be, as well as the source on which it rested: "I beseech you, by Almighty God, not to permit your Majesty's time to be polluted by one man's arrogance. Do not in any way give your consent to so perverse an appellation. By no means let your Majesty in such a cause despise me the individual, for the sins of Gregory are indeed so great as to deserve such treatment, but there are no sins of the Apostle Peter that he should deserve in your time such treatment. Wherefore, I again and again entreat you, by Almighty God, that as former princes, your progenitors, have sought the favour of the holy Apostle Peter, so you also would seek it and preserve it for yourselves. Nor let his honour be in your mind the least diminished by our sins, his unworthy servant: that he may be now your helper in all things, and hereafter be able to pardon your sins."
I quote the following passage from a letter to the emperor Mauritius himself, not only because Gregory alleges as the root of his own authority the three great words spoken by our Lord to Peter, but for the description of the times in which he lived, and the vast importance of union between the two great powers. This, he says, if faithfully maintained on both sides, would have protected them from such calamities.
"Your Majesty, who is appointed by God, watches, among the other cares of your empire, with the uprightness of a spiritual zeal over the preservation of sacerdotal charity. For, with piety as well as truth, you think that no one can rule well the things of this world unless he knows how to treat divine things, and that the peace of the human commonwealth depends on the peace of the universal Church. For, most gracious emperor, what power of man, what masterful arm of flesh, would presume to lay unholy hands upon the dignity of your most Christian empire, if the bishops were with one accord of mind to beseech their Redeemer for you by their words, and, if need be, by their deservings? Is there any nation so ferocious as to use its sword so cruelly for the destruction of the faithful, unless our life, who are called but are not bishops, had upon it the stain of the worst actions? While, deserting what belongs to us, and aiming at what is beyond us, we add our own sins to the brute strength of barbarians. Our guilt sharpens the swords of our enemies, and weighs down the strength of the State. What excuse can we make who press down the people of God, over which we unworthily preside, with the burden of our sins? Who preach with our tongues and kill by our examples? Whose works teach iniquity, while their words make a show of justice? We wear down the body with fasts, while the mind swells with arrogance. This puts on poor apparel; that has more than imperial pride. We lie in ashes, and despise dignities. We teach the humble, and lead the proud, and hide the wolf's teeth in the sheep's face. What result has all this but that, while we impose on men, we are made known to God? Thus it is with the greatest wisdom that your Majesty seeks the peace of the Church as the means of stilling the tumults of war, and would make the hearts of bishops rest once more in its solid structure. That is my wish: in that to the utmost of my power I obey you.
"But since it is not my cause but God's, and since not I only but the whole Church is thrown into confusion; since sacred laws, since venerable councils, since the very commands even of our Lord Jesus Christ are disturbed by the invention of this haughty and pompous language, let the most pious emperor lance the wound and overcome the sick man's resistance by the force of the imperial authority. If you bind up that wound, you raise up the State; and by cutting off such abuses, contribute to the length of your reign.
"For to all who know the Gospel it is notorious that the charge of the whole Church was entrusted by the voice of the Lord to the holy Apostle Peter, chief of all the Apostles." And he then cites, as so many of his predecessors cited, the three great words. He concludes: "Peter received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the power of binding and loosing, the charge of the whole Church, the Principate over it; yet he is not called the universal Apostle, and John, my colleague as bishop, endeavours to be called universal bishop.
"All things in Europe are delivered over to the power of barbarians. Our cities are destroyed, our fortresses overthrown, our provinces depopulated. The ground remains untilled. Day by day idolaters exercise their rage upon the faithful, who are cruelly slaughtered; and bishops who should lie in dust and ashes seek for themselves vanitous names: glory in new and profane titles.
"Am I in this defending a cause proper to myself? Am I resisting my own special injury? Nay, it is the cause of Almighty God: the cause of the universal Church. Who is he who, in spite of the commands of the Gospel, in spite of the decrees of councils, presumes to usurp a new title for himself? I would that he who has agreed to be called universal may be himself one, without the diminution of others.
"And we know, indeed, that many bishops of Constantinople have fallen into the gulf of heresy; have become not heretics only but heresiarchs. Thence came Nestorius, who, deeming Jesus Christ, the Mediator of God and man, to be two persons, because he did not believe that God could become man, went even to the extent of Jewish unbelief. Thence came Macedonius, who denied the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, consubstantial with the Father and the Son. If, then, anyone seizes upon that name for himself, as in the judgment of all good men he has done, the whole Church -- which God forbid -- falls from its state when he who is called universal falls. But far from the hearts of Christians be that blasphemous name in which the honour due to all bishops is taken away, while one madly arrogates it to himself.
"I know that in honour of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, that title was offered to the Roman Pontiff during the venerable Council of Chalcedon. But no one of them ever consented to use this name of singularity; lest while something peculiar was given to one, all bishops should be deprived of the honour due to them. Do we, then, not seek the glory of this name, even when offered to us, and does another catch at it for himself, when it is not offered?
"Your Majesty, then, must bend that neck which refuses obedience to the canons. He must be restrained, who does an injury to the whole Church; who is proud in heart; who has a greed after a name given to none other; who by such a singular name throws a slur upon your empire also in putting himself over it.
"We are all scandalised at this: let the author of the scandal return to right, and all contest between bishops will cease. For I am the servant of all bishops so long as they live like bishops. But whoever, through vainglory and contrary to the statutes of the Fathers, lifts his neck against Almighty God, I trust in Almighty God that he will not bend me even with the sword."
As Gregory quotes the three words said to Peter, with application of them to his own see, it seems needless to repeat other passages in which he says the same thing. But there is a letter to Eulogius, patriarch of Alexandria, which begins by saying that this patriarch had written to him much concerning the See of Peter, and that he sat in it in his successors down to Gregory's own time. Whereupon Gregory, before himself citing the three words, says: "Who does not know that holy Church is founded on the solidity of the chief Apostle, whose name expressed his firmness, being called Peter from Petra". Then he calls the attention of Eulogius to the fact that all the three patriarchal sees were sees of Peter, with this remarkable inference, that "though there were many Apostles, only the see of the prince of the Apostles, which is the see of one in three places, received supreme authority in virtue of its very principate".
Let us attempt to gather the meaning of the various statements quoted from St. Gregory, and see whether they do not form a coherent whole.
He claims, like all his predecessors, the three great texts concerning Peter, as conveying the charge of the whole Church, the Principate, to Peter and his heirs, that is, the Popes preceding him.
He contrasts in the most pointed manner this charge with the name of Ecumenical, which he translates universal, patriarch, as assumed by the bishop of Constantinople, and he contrasts not the name only, but the thing which he conceives to be meant by the name and carried in it.
He contrasts likewise the moderation of his predecessors, who, though inheriting Peter's charge over the whole Church, declined to accept a name which seemed to exclude other bishops from their proper honour.
Peter's charge over the whole Church, then, in the judgment of Gregory, had descended to himself, as he wrote to the empress, "though the sins of Gregory, who is Peter's unworthy servant, are great, the sins of the Apostle are none," to justify the treatment he has met with in this assumption by another of the title Ecumenical. In a word, the charge is a command of the Gospel, the assumption is "a name of blasphemy and diabolical pride, and a forerunner of Antichrist".
I conceive that we may interpret St. Gregory's mind in this way. When he so wrote he had behind him rather more than five full centuries since St. Peter and St. Paul had given up their lives in Rome for the Christian faith, and become its patron saints. In all that time Gregory had seen the hierarchy founded by the bearer of the keys fill the earth. Peter, as a token of his Principate, had put his name in the three chief sees, sitting himself as bishop in Antioch for seven years; sitting also himself in Rome, as bishop, and dying there; sending also his disciple Mark from Rome to Alexandria. Our Lord's gift and charge to Peter was the source of unity in His Church. He Himself being mediator between God and man united His Church with the Divine Trinity in unity. Then He gave the keys of His kingdom to Peter, in whom unity was secured through the three patriarchs and the other bishops. Such was the constitution which stood without a break before St. Gregory from the Apostles to the Nicene Council. From St. Sylvester to his own time the Popes had been maintaining that constitution. But now the claim of the bishops of Constantinople was directly against this constitution. Pope Gelasius, his predecessor, had told that bishop in his day that he had no rank above that of a simple bishop. For all their adventitious rank they rested, not upon God, not upon Jesus Christ, not upon St. Peter, but upon the residence of the emperors in their city. That was the ground upon which they called themselves ecumenical, a title which Gregory interpreted universal. Their first step in moving beyond the position of simple bishop was when the 150 bishops at Constantinople in 381 attempted to give them the second place in rank. And this they did not upon any ground of apostolic descent, but because Constantinople was Nova Roma. As to their act in doing this Gregory writes to Eulogius: "The Roman Church up to this time does not possess, nor has received, the canons or the acts of that council; it has received that council so far as it condemned Macedonius". Their next step was at the Council of Chalcedon to attempt passing a canon, to the effect that the Fathers had given its rank to Rome because it was the capital, that the 150 Fathers had therefore given the second rank to Constantinople, because it was the new capital; and that, therefore, the Pontic, the Arian, and the Thracian exarchs of Caesarea, Ephesus, and Heraclea should be subjected to it. This canon St. Leo had absolutely rejected, and the emperor Marcian had accepted his rejection. In the 130 years from St. Leo to himself, St. Gregory had seen the assumptions of the bishops of Constantinople continually increasing. They rested upon the imperial favour. And now in the case of John the Faster they had gone so far that he prefixed his assumed title of ecumenical patriarch to the very documents which he sent to the Pope for revision. And this though the cause had been settled by himself, and had now come before the Pope, whose power therefore to revise the sentence of one who called himself ecumenical patriarch he did not dispute.
Nor, indeed, did it appear over what domain he claimed to be universal. It might be over the eastern bishops; it might be over the two patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, with the later patriarch of Jerusalem; it might be over the actual Roman empire; it might be, finally, over the whole Church. But whichever it might be, the claim would equally be, in Gregory's judgment, unlawful, based simply and solely upon imperial power; resting also in its origin upon a direct untruth, which assaulted the whole foundation whereon the charge of the whole Church, the Principate of Gregory, rested; couched, moreover, in language which would enable future generations of Greeks to draw the conclusion that, since the Primacy of Rome proceeded from its being the capital, when Rome ceased to be the capital, and Constantine's city became the capital, the Primacy also passed to it.
Thus, in the whole assumption of the bishops of Constantinople, it was presupposed that the spiritual power and the hierarchy of the Church descended not from Jesus Christ, but from the emperors. So it is clear that this empty title, which seemed to the emperor Mauritius a meaningless word, a mere nothing, contained in itself the whole system of Antichrist. The Pope saw it, and his words are the more significant when we remember that at the time he uttered them the man had already reached full manhood who was to cut the empire of Justinian in half, to deprive of their liberty three of the eastern patriarchs, destroy a multitude of the Christian people, and be parent of the religion which through the course of 1200 years has shown itself to be specially anti-Christian. There in his Arab tent, as yet the faithful husband of an old wife, was the future Khalif, in whom the spiritual and the temporal power would be joined together; who would set up in a false theocracy that usurpation which Constantine's eastern successors were striving to carry out in the Christian Church. Mahommed would consecrate that very false principle which was at the root of the ecumenical patriarch's arrogance. Thus the strongest word used by Gregory of John the Faster's assumption, that it was "a name of blasphemy, of diabolical pride, and a forerunner of Antichrist," received its exact verification within a generation after Gregory had spoken it.
But Gregory's charge and Principate were of divine creation, and did not exclude the proper power and jurisdiction either of every bishop or of the whole episcopate, at the head of which it stood, and through which it worked, carefully maintaining what had been from the beginning, preserving the rank and place of each, consolidating all in the one structure. The intruder set up by the imperial power deposed Alexandria and Antioch to make them subject to himself; the lawful shepherd maintained Alexandria and Antioch because they grew upon the tree of which he was the trunk. His charge did not exclude, but did indeed include them. The reasoning of St. Gregory in his letter to the emperor of the day, and his very words in his letter to the patriarch Eulogius, have become a matter of faith by their enrolment in the decree of the Vatican Council. That decree defines the Principate to be an episcopal power of jurisdiction, which is immediate, over the whole Church. By it the whole Church becomes one flock, under one shepherd. And it further defines that, "It is so far from being true that this power of the Supreme Pontiff is injurious to the ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops placed by the Holy Spirit have succeeded the Apostles, and as true pastors feed and rule the flocks severally assigned to them, each his own, that this jurisdiction is asserted, strengthened, and maintained by the supreme and universal pastor, according to St. Gregory's words: 'My honour is the honour of the universal Church; my honour is the solid strength of my brethren; then am I truly honoured when his due rank is given to each'."
It may be observed that Gregory's position against the assumption of John the Faster is the same as St. Leo's position against Anatolius. In both cases the Popes discerned the hostile power located in the see of Nova Roma which was at work against the original order of the Church, and the Pope who was at the head of it. The only difference lies in the great advance which the hostile power had made on one hand, and on the other hand the excessively difficult temporal position in which St. Gregory had to fight the battle for the cause, as he said, of the universal Church. Yet the speech of the Pope beleaguered by the Lombards in a decimated and subject Rome is as strong as the speech of the Pope who had the imperial grandchildren of Theodosius for friends and supporters, and, when they failed, saved Rome by her two Apostles from the destruction menaced by Attila and Genseric.
But there was no one in the eastern Church -- neither the emperor Mauritius, nor the patriarch John the Faster, nor the patriarch Eulogius -- who failed to acknowledge the Pope's charge over the whole Church, grounded on the three texts to Peter. Gregory himself reprehends the patriarch Eulogius for giving him in the superscription of his letter the title "universal Pope". He chose for himself, in opposition to the bishop John's arrogated title of ecumenical patriarch, that of "servant of the servants of God". The title chosen indicated the temper in which St. Gregory exercised the vast charge which he had inherited. For if there is any one principle which seems to serve as the favourite maxim of his whole pontificate, it is that expressed in a letter to the bishop of Syracuse. That bishop had been speaking of an African primate who had professed that he was subject to the Apostolic See. St. Gregory's comment is: "If a bishop is in any fault, I know not any bishop who is not subject to it. But when no fault requires it, all are equal according to the estimation of humility." Natalis, archbishop of Salona, in Dalmatia, had given the Pope much trouble. The Pope deals with him tenderly in more than one letter. But he says: "After the letters of my predecessor (Pelagius) and my own, in the matter of Honoratus the archdeacon, were sent to your Holiness, in despite of the sentence of us both, the above-mentioned Honoratus was deprived of his rank. Had either of the four patriarchs done this, so great an act of contumacy could not have been passed over without the most grievous scandal. However, as your brotherhood has since returned to your duty, I take notice neither of the injury done to me, nor of that to my predecessor."
Of the immense energy shown by St. Gregory in the exercise of his Principate, of the immense influence wielded by him both in the East and in the West, of the acknowledgment of his Principate by the answers which emperor and patriarch made to his demands and rebukes, we possess an imperishable record in the fourteen books of his letters which have been preserved to us. They are somewhat more than 850 in number. They range over every subject, and are addressed to every sort of person. If he rebukes the ambition of a patriarch, and complains of an emperor's unjust law, he cares also that the tenants on the vast estates of the Church which his officers superintend at a distance should not be in any way harshly treated. He writes to his defensor in Sicily: "I am informed that if anyone has a charge against any clerks, you throw a slight upon the bishops by causing these clerks to appear in your own court. If this be so, we expressly order you to presume to do so no more, because beyond doubt it is very unseemly. If anyone charges a clerk, let him go to his bishop, for the bishop himself to hear the case, or depute judges. If it come to arbitration, let the so-deputed judges cause the parties to select a judge. If a clerk or a layman have anything against a bishop, you should act between them either by hearing the cause yourself, or by inducing the parties to choose judges. For if his own jurisdiction is not preserved to each bishop, what else results but that the order of the Church is thrown into confusion by us, the very persons who are charged with its maintenance.
"We have also been informed that certain clerks, put into penance for faults they had committed by our most reverend brother the bishop John, have been dismissed by your authority without his knowledge. If this is true, know that you have committed an altogether improper act, worthy of great censure. Restore, therefore, at once those clerks to their own bishop, nor ever do this again, or you will incur from us severe punishment."
I have quoted already his letters on eastern affairs. They might be enlarged upon to any extent. As to those who held the highest rank, he has warm sympathy with a deposed patriarch of Antioch, sending him a copy of the letter which announced his accession, as well as to the sitting patriarchs. After twenty years' deposition Anastasius was restored. He has also close friendship with Eulogius, patriarch of Alexandria, to whom he writes gracefully: "Besides our mutual affection, there is a peculiar bond uniting us to the Alexandrian Church. All know that the Evangelist Mark was sent by his master Peter; thus we are clasped together by the unity of the master and the disciple. I seem to sit in the disciple's see for the master's sake, and you in the master's see for the sake of the disciple. To this we must add your personal merits; for we know how you follow the institutions of him from whom you spring. Thus we are touched with compassion for what you suffer; but we shrink from telling you what we endure ourselves by the daily plundering, killing, and maiming of our people by the Lombards."
Let us here take a short view of Gregory's incessant activity among the western nations in process of formation. In his struggle to tame the ferocity, lawlessness, and unbelief of the Lombards, he betakes himself to the illustrious Catholic queen Theodelinda. He strives to use her influence with her husband Agilulf, on behalf of Rome, ever the object of oppression. Knowing her to be a good Christian, he sent her his Dialogues. He also set before her the supremacy of his see, because she had been misled into withdrawing from the communion of the new archbishop of Milan, Constantius. The Pope assures her that the archbishop, as well as himself, venerates the doctrinal decisions of the Four Councils. He adds: "Since, then, by my own public profession you know the entireness of our belief, it is fitting that you have no further scruple concerning the Church of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. But persist in the true faith, and ground your life on the rock of the Church, that is, in his confession: lest your many tears and your good works avail nothing, if they be separated from the true faith. For as branches wither without a root, so works, however good they seem, are nothing if separated from the solidity of the faith."
Ten of his letters are addressed to Brunechild, the terrible queen of the Franks. But his letter to all the Gallic bishops in the kingdom of Childebert will best set forth his authority. That king then reigned over nearly all France. The Pope began by saying that the universe itself was ruled by graduated orders of spirits. If there was such distinction of ranks even in the sinless, what man should hesitate to obey a disposition to which angels are subject? "Since, then, each individual office is happily fulfilled when there is a superior to whom application can be made, we have thought it good, following ancient custom, to make our brother Virgilius, bishop of Arles, our representative in the churches which are in the kingdom of our most illustrious son king Childebert. We do this in order that the integrity of the Catholic faith, that is, of the Four holy Councils, may by God's protection be carefully preserved; and that, if any contention should arise between our brethren and fellow-bishops, he may, by virtue of his authority, as holding the place of the Apostolic See, reduce it by discreet moderation. We have also enjoined him, that if any contest should arise requiring the presence of others, he should collect a sufficient number of our brethren and fellow-bishops, discuss the matter equitably, and determine it in conformity with the canons. But if, which the divine power avert, contest should arise on a matter of faith, or some business emerge about which there is great hesitation, and which for its magnitude requires the judgment of the Apostolic See, after diligent examination of the facts, he is to make report to us, that we may terminate all doubt thereon by a fitting sentence."
In this letter we are at a hundred years after the conversion of Clovis. The Catholic kingdom has swallowed up its Arian competitors whether at Toulouse or at Lyons, and over it stands the protecting vigour of Gregory, as a hundred and fifty years before that of Leo strove to support the falling empire. Arles receives the pallium for the Frankish kingdom, as it held it for the Theodocian empire, from Rome. Leo saw the imperial line expire at Rome; from Rome Gregory places the bishops "of his most illustrious son Childebert" under the old primacy of Arles. This is the "solidity" of the rock of Peter in which Gregory recommends the queens Theodelinda and Brunechild to place themselves.
We know how Gregory, while yet a Roman deacon and monk, walking one day from the palace which he had made a monastery, scarcely more than a stone's-throw to the forum in which a slave-market was held, was moved to pity at the sight of the fair-haired Angles; how he was minded to leave Rome himself on a mission to convert them; how he was kept back by the affection of the Romans; how Pope Pelagius suddenly died of the plague, and Gregory, in spite of all his efforts, was made to succeed him; how from the See of Peter he sent out Augustine and his forty monks to the lost island in the Atlantic, where, since Stilicho withdrew the Roman armies, every cruelty had revelled, and every pagan abomination had been practised by the Saxon invaders. To many, no doubt, the subsequent success of Gregory's venture to convert the Anglo-Saxon England has served to disguise its danger and difficulty at the time. When Augustine reached the shores of Kent, the successive invasions of the Saxon pirates had set up eight petty kingdoms upon the ruin of the Roman civilisation and the Christian Church. The miseries which are covered under those five generations of unrecorded strife are supposed to have exceeded the misery endured in France, Spain, Italy, and the Illyrian provinces during the same time. The old inhabitants were reduced to slavery, or exterminated, or driven to the three corners of Cornwall, Wales, and Strathclyde. So bitter was the British feeling under the destruction of their country and the wrongs they had endured, that it overcame all Christian principle in them, and the Welsh refused all aid to the Roman missionary in the attempt to convert a race so cruel. It required all St. Gregory's firmness to induce his own monks to persist. In all the annals of Christian enterprise during eighteen centuries, there is probably not one which presented less hope of success than St. Gregory's resolution to add the spiritual beauty of the Christian to the physical beauty which he admired in the captives of the Roman forum.
Among those to whom he applied to assist and further his purpose was the great queen of the Franks. To Brunechild he directed a letter saluting her, he says, with the charity of a father: "We hear that, by the help of God, the English people is willing to become Christian; and we recommend the bearer of these, the servant of God, Augustine, to your Excellency, to help him in all things, and to protect his work".
It was also to Virgilius, bishop of Arles, and primate of all the Gallic bishops, as we have seen, by Gregory's own appointment, that he sent Augustine, after his first success with Ethelbert, to receive episcopal consecration.
From Gregory's own hand, and in virtue of his apostolic power, England in its second spring received its division into two provinces, one to be seated at Canterbury, the other at York. His letters to St. Augustine still exist to show how he entered into all the difficulties of the missionary, all the needs of a land in conversion from paganism. From him date the great prerogatives of the see of Canterbury, extending over the whole island, inasmuch as it was the matrix of the Church in England. If sons may deny their father, Englishmen may deny Gregory, and add to schism the guilt of parricide.
But Gregory was hardly less active in restoring Spain from the Arian blight than in giving birth to a new Christian England. He writes, in 594: "We have heard from many who have come from Spain how lately Hermenegild, son of Leovigild, king of the Visigoths, has been converted from the Arian heresy to the Catholic faith by the preaching of Leander, bishop of Seville, long united to me in intimate friendship. His Arian father, by bribes and threats alike, tried to bring him back. Not succeeding, he deprived him of his rank and all his possessions. When this also failed, he put him in close imprisonment, fettering both neck and hands. So Hermenegild learnt to despise the earthly kingdom, and to yearn after the heavenly, while he lay in bonds and sackcloth. When Easter came, his father sent him in the middle of the night an Arian bishop that he might receive communion sacrilegiously consecrated, and so recover his favours. Hermenegild repulsed the bishop with strong reproaches. The father, hearing his report, burst into fury and sent officers to destroy him. They split open his skull with an axe, and so destroyed the life of the body which he had disregarded. Miracles followed. Psalms were heard about the body of the royal martyr -- royal, indeed, because he was a martyr."
Writing to St. Leander, archbishop of Seville, Gregory says: "I am so tossed by this world's waves that I cannot steer to harbour this old weather-beaten bark which the secret dispensation of God has committed to my care. Shipwreck creaks in its worn-out planks. Dearest brother, if you love me, stretch out the hand of your prayers to me in this tempest. Your reward for helping me will be greater success in your own labours.
"No words of mine can express the joy which I feel at hearing the perfect conversion of our common son, king Rechared, to the Catholic faith."
On another occasion Gregory writes to Leander, sending him the pallium, "blessed by Peter, prince of the Apostles," only to be used at Mass: "I see by your letter that burning charity which kindles others. He who is not himself on fire cannot inflame others. I always call to mind your life with great veneration. But as for me I am not what I was: 'Call me not Noemi, which is fair; call me Mara, for I am full of bitterness'. Following the way of my Head, I had resolved to be the scorn of men, the outcast of the people. But the burden of this honour weighs me down; innumerable cares pierce me like swords. There is no rest of the heart. I was tranquil in my monastery. The tempest arose; I am in its waves, suffering with the loss of quiet a shipwreck of mind. The gout oppresses you; I also am terribly pained by it. It will be well if, under these strokes of the scourge, we perceive them to be gifts, by which the sense of the flesh may atone for sins which delights of the flesh may have led us to commit.
"The shortness of my letter will show how weak and how occupied I am, who say so little to one whom I love so much."
St. Gregory tells us that king Rechared, after the martyrdom of his brother St. Hermenegild, was converted from the Arian heresy, and brought the whole Visigothic nation to the Catholic faith. "The brother of a martyr fitly became a preacher of the faith. If Hermenegild had not died a martyr, this he would not have been able to do; for 'except the grain of wheat falling into the ground dieth, itself remaineth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit'. This we see to be doing in the members which we know to have been done in the Head. In the nation of the Visigoths one died that many might live."
A letter of St. Gregory to this king Rechared is extant, which one of the greatest French bishops, Hincmar of Reims, nearly three hundred years after it was written, thought worthy to be sent as a present to the emperor Charles the Bald. I quote portions of it:
"Most excellent son, words cannot tell the delight which I receive from your work and from your life. When I hear the power of that new miracle wrought in our days, that by means of your Excellency the whole nation of the Goths has been brought over from the error of the Arian heresy to the solidity of the right faith, I exclaim with the prophet, 'This is the change of the hand of the Most High'. Is there a heart of stone which would not be softened on hearing of so great a work into praises of Almighty God and affection for your Excellency? Often, when my sons meet, it is my pleasure to tell them of the deeds wrought by you, and to join my admiration with theirs. I get angry with myself that I am lazy, useless, and inert, while kings are labouring for the gain of the heavenly country by the ingathering of souls. What, then, shall I allege to the Judge at that tremendous tribunal, if I come before Him then with empty hands, while your Excellency leads a long train of the faithful whom you have drawn into the grace of the true faith by zealous and continuous preaching? But by God's gift this is my great consolation, to love in you that holy work which I have not in myself. When your acts move me to a great exultation, I make mine by charity what is yours by labour. Thus, in your work and our exultation over it, we may cry out with the angels over the conversion of the Goths, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will'. But how joyfully St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, has received your offerings is borne witness to all men by your life.
"You tell me that the abbots, who were carrying your offering to St. Peter, were driven back by a bad sea passage into Spain. Your gifts, which afterwards arrived, were not refused, but the courage of their bearers was tried. The adversity which good intentions encounter is a trial of virtue, not a judgment of reprobation. When St. Paul came to preach in Italy, how great was the blessing he brought; yet he was shipwrecked in coming, but the ship of his heart was not broken by the waves of the sea.
"Also, I am told that your Excellency issued a certain decree against the misbelief of the Jews, which they strove by a bribe to have modified. This bribe you despised, and in the desire to please God preferred innocence to gold. This brought to my mind king David's act. He longed for a draught from the fountain of Bethlehem, which the enemy's host encompassed. His soldiers risked their lives to bring it. But he refused, saying: 'God forbid that I should drink the blood of these men. So he offered it to the Lord.' If an armed king made a sacrifice to God of the water which he refused, think what a sacrifice to Almighty God that king presented who for His love refused to receive, not water, but gold. Therefore, most excellent son, I say confidently that the gold which you refused to receive against God you offered to Him. These are great deeds, the glory of which is due to God....
"Government of subjects should be tempered with great moderation, lest power steal away the judgment. A kingdom is ruled well when the glory of ruling does not overmaster the spirit. Provide also against fits of anger, lest unlimited power be used hurriedly. Anger in punishing even delinquents should not anticipate judgment like a mistress, but follow reason as a servant, coming when she is called. If it once is in possession of the mind, it puts down to justice even a cruel deed. Therefore it is written: 'The wrath of man worketh not the justice of God'; and again: 'Let everyone be swift to hear but slow to speak'. I do not doubt but that by God's help you practise all this. But as opportunity offers, I creep behind your good works, that when an adviser adds himself to what you do without advice, you may not be alone in your doing. May Almighty God stretch forth His heavenly hand to protect you in all your acts, granting you prosperity in the present life, and, after long years, eternal joy.
"I enclose a small key from the most sacred body of the Apostle St. Peter, with his blessing. It contains an iron filing from his chains, that what bound his neck for martyrdom may deliver yours from all sin. I have also given the bearer of these a cross for you: it contains some of the wood of the Lord's cross, and hair of St. John Baptist; by which you may always be consoled by our Saviour through the intercession of His precursor. To our most reverend brother and fellow-bishop Leander we have sent the pallium from the See of the Apostle St. Peter, in accordance with ancient custom, with your life, with his own goodness and dignity."
This letter of St. Gregory had been drawn forth by one from king Rechared to him, in which the king said he had been minded to inform of his conversion one who was superior to all other bishops, that he had sent a golden jewelled chalice which he hoped might be found worthy of the Apostle who was first in honour. "I beseech your Highness, when you have an opportunity, to find me out with your golden letters. For how truly I love you is not, I think, unknown to one whose breast the Lord inspires, and those who behold you not in the body, yet hear your good report; I commend to your Holiness with the utmost veneration Leander, bishop of Seville, who has been the means of making known to us your good will. I am delighted to hear of your health, and beg of your Christian prudence that you would frequently commend to our common Lord in your prayers the people who, under God, are ruled by us, and have been added to Christ in your times, that true charity towards God may be strengthened by the very distance which divides us."
The fact commemorated in these letters was indeed one for which the Pope might well use the angelical hymn of praise. "The bishops of Spain," says Gibbon, "respected themselves and were respected by the public; their indissoluble union confirmed their authority; and the regular discipline of the Church introduced peace, order, and stability into the government of the State. From the reign of Rechared, the first Catholic king, to that of Witiza, the immediate predecessor of the unfortunate Roderic, sixteen national councils were successively convened. The six metropolitans -- Toledo, Seville, Merida, Braga, Tarragona, and Narbonne -- presided according to their respective seniority; the assembly was composed of their suffragan bishops, who appeared in person or by their proxies; and a place was assigned to the most holy or opulent of the Spanish abbots. During the first three days of the convocation, as long as they agitated the ecclesiastical questions of doctrine and discipline, the profane laity was excluded from their debates, which were conducted, however, with decent solemnity. But on the morning of the fourth day the doors were thrown open for the entrance of the great officers of the palace, the dukes and counts of the provinces, the judges of the cities, and the Gothic nobles; and the decrees of heaven were ratified by the consent of the people. The same rules were observed in the provincial assemblies, the annual synods which were empowered to hear complaints and to redress grievances; and a legal government was supported by the prevailing influence of the Spanish clergy.... The national councils of Toledo, in which the free spirit of the barbarians was tempered and guided by episcopal policy, have established some prudent laws for the common benefit of the king and people. The vacancy of the throne was supplied by the choice of the bishops and palatines; and after the failure of the line of Alaric, the regal dignity was still limited to the pure and noble blood of the Goths. The clergy who anointed their lawful prince always recommended the duty of allegiance; and the spiritual censures were denounced on the heads of the impious subjects who should resist his authority, conspire against his life, or violate by an indecent union the chastity even of his widow. But the monarch himself, when he ascended the throne, was bound by a reciprocal oath to God and his people that he would faithfully execute his important trust. The real or imaginary faults of his administration were subject to the control of a powerful aristocracy; and the bishops and palatines were guarded by a fundamental privilege that they should not be degraded, imprisoned, tortured, nor punished with death, exile, or confiscation, unless by the free and public judgment of their peers."
We have here the historian, who is one of the bitterest enemies of the Christian Church and Faith, avowing that the barbarian Visigoths received from the hands of that Church and Faith, at the end of the sixth century, the great institutions of a limited Christian monarchy, consecrated by the Church, in which the king at his accession solemnly avowed his responsibility for his exercise of the immense functions entrusted to him; also of parliaments, in which clergy and laity sat together in common deliberation upon the affairs of the State, grievances were redressed, and laws for the benefit of king and people passed; in fact, a reign of legal government, based upon law and justice, and confirmed by religious sanction.
And in all this the hand of the Pope was seen, sending to the chief bishop of Spain the pallium direct from the body of St. Peter, on which it had been laid, as the visible symbol of apostolic power dwelling in the Apostle's See, and radiating from it.
This is the first instance, and not the least striking, of a fact which lies at the foundation of modern Europe; for so the Teuton war leaders became Christian kings, and so the northern barbarians were changed into Christian nations. For that which Gibbon here describes took place in all the Teuton peoples who accepted the Catholic faith. He has elsewhere said: "The progress of Christianity has been marked by two glorious and decisive victories: over the learned and luxurious citizens of the Roman empire, and over the warlike barbarians of Scythia and Germany, who subverted the empire and embraced the religion of the Romans".
Of this latter victory we can celebrate the accomplishment, as St. Gregory did, in the words of the angelic hymn, but the details have not been preserved for us, even in the scanty proportion which we possess concerning the former. Fighting for thirty years with the Lombards for the very existence of Rome, Gregory was the contemporary and witness of this second victory. Not until the Arian heresy was subdued by the Catholic faith could it be said to be accomplished. The pontificate of his ancestor in the third degree, Pope Felix III., might be called heroic, in that, while under the domination of the Arian Herule, Odoacer, he resisted the meddling with the received doctrine of the Church by the emperor Zeno, guided by the larger mind and treacherous fraud of Acacius, the bishop of Constantinople, who ruled its emperor. Then the Arian Vandals bitterly persecuted the Church in Africa, and the Visigoth Arians had possession of France from the Loire southwards, and of Spain. Nowhere in the whole world was there a Catholic prince. The north and east of France and Belgium was held by the still pagan Franks. By the time of Gregory, Clovis and his sons had extinguished the Arian Visigoth kingdom and the Arian kingdom of Burgundy, and ruled one Catholic kingdom of all France. Under Rechared, the Arian Visigoth kingdom in Spain became Catholic. Gregory also announced to his friend, the patriarch Eulogius, that the pagan Saxons in England were receiving the Catholic faith by thousands from his missionary. The taint which the wickedness of the eastern emperor Valens had been so mysteriously allowed to communicate to the nascent faith of the Teuton tribes, through the noblest of their family, the Goths, was, during the century which passed between Pope Felix and Pope Gregory, purged away. It was decided beyond recal that the new nations of the West should be Catholic. Five times had Rome been taken and wasted: at one moment, it is said, all its inhabitants had deserted it and fled. The ancient city was extinct: in and out of it rose the Rome of the Popes, which Gregory was feeding and guarding. The eastern emperor, who called himself the Roman prince, in recovering her had destroyed her; but the life that was in her Pontiff was indestructible. The ecumenical patriarch was foiled by the Servant of the servants of God: in proportion as the eastern bishops submitted their original hierarchy, of apostolic institution, and the graduated autonomy which each enjoyed under it, to an imperial minister, termed a patriarch, in Constantinople, all the bishops of the West, placed as they were under distinct kingdoms, found their common centre, adviser, champion, and ruler in the Chair of Peter, fixed in a ruined Rome. If Gregory, in his daily distress, thought that the end of the world was coming, all subsequent ages have felt that in him the world of the future was already founded. In the two centuries since the death of the great Theodosius, the countries which form modern Europe had passed through indescribable disturbance, a misery without end -- dislodgement of the old proprietors, a settlement of new inhabitants and rulers. The Christian religion itself had receded for a time far within the limits which it had once reached, as in the north of France, in Germany, and in Britain. The rulers of broad western lands, with the conquering host which they led, had become the victims first, and then the propagators, of the same fatal heresy. The conquered population alone remained Catholic. The conversion of Clovis was the first light which arose in this darkness. And now, a hundred years after that conversion, Paris and Bordeaux, and Toulouse and Lyons, Toledo and Seville, were Catholic once more, and Gregory, a provincial captive in a collapsing Rome, was owned by all these cities as the standard and arbiter of their faith, and the king of the Visigoths thankfully received a few filings from the chains of the Apostle Peter as a present which worthily celebrated his conversion.
It is to be observed that this absolute defeat of the Arian heresy in several countries is accomplished in spite of the power which, in all of them, was wielded by Arian rulers. In vain had Genseric, Hunnerich, Guntamund, and Thrasimund oppressed and tortured the Catholics of Africa, banished their bishops, and set up nominees of their own as Arian bishops in their places for a hundred years. No sooner did Belisarius land on their soil than the fabric reared with every possible deceit and cruelty fell to the ground. The Arian Vandal king was carried away in triumph, as the spoil of a single battle, to Constantinople, and the Catholic bishops, while they hailed Justinian as their deliverer, met in plenary council, acknowledging the Primacy of Peter, as in the days of St. Augustine. In vain had the powerful Visigoth monarchy, seated during three generations at Toulouse, persecuted with fraud and cruelty its Catholic people. A single blow from the arm of Clovis delivered from their rule the whole country from the Loire to the Pyrenees. In vain had Gondebald and his family in Burgundy wavered between the heresy which he professed and the Catholic faith which he admired. The children of Clovis absorbed that kingdom also. But the strongest example of all remains. In vain, too, had Theodorick, after the murder of his rival Odoacer when an invited guest in the banquet of Ravenna, covered over the savage, and governed with wisdom and moderation a Catholic people, whom he soothed by choosing their noblest -- Cassiodorus, Symmachus, and Boethius -- for his ministers. He had formed into a family compact by marriages the Arian rulers in Africa, Spain, and Gaul. His moderation gave way when he saw the eastern emperor resume the policy of a Catholic sovereign. He put on the savage again, and he ended with the murder not only of his own long-trusted ministers, but of the Pope, who refused to be his instrument in procuring immunity for heresy from a Catholic emperor.
At his death, overclouded with the pangs of remorse, the Arian rule which he had fostered with so much skill showed itself to have no hold upon an Italy to which he had given a great temporal prosperity. The Goths, whom he had seemed to tame, were found incapable of self-government, and every Roman heart welcomed Belisarius and Narses as the restorers of a power which had not ceased to claim their allegiance, even through the turpitudes and betrayals of Zeno and Anastasius.
The best solution which I know for this wonderful result, brought about in so many countries, is contained in a few words of Gibbon: "Under the Roman empire the wealth and jurisdiction of the bishops, their sacred character and perpetual office, their numerous dependents, popular eloquence and provincial assemblies, had rendered them always respectable and sometimes dangerous. Their influence was augmented by the progress of superstition" (by which he means the Catholic faith), "and the establishment of the French monarchy may in some degree be ascribed to the firm alliance of a hundred prelates who reigned in the discontented or independent cities of Gaul." But how were these prelates bound together in a firm alliance? Because each one of them felt what a chief among them, St. Avitus, under an Arian prince, expressed to the Roman senate in the matter of Pope Symmachus by the direction of his brother bishops, that in the person of the Bishop of Rome the principate of the whole Church was touched; that "in the case of other bishops, if there be any lapse, it may be restored; but if the Pope of Rome is endangered, not one bishop but the episcopate itself will seem to be shaken". If the bishops had been all that is above described with the exception of this one thing, the common bond which held them to Rome, how would the ruin of their country, the subversion of existing interests, the confiscation of the land, the imposition of foreign invaders for masters, have acted upon them? It would have split them up into various parties, rivals for favour and the power derived from favour. The bishops of each country would have had national interests controlling their actions. The Teuton invaders were without power of cohesion, without fraternal affection for each other; their ephemeral territories were in a state of perpetual fluctuation. The bishops locally situated in these changing districts would have been themselves divided. In fact, the Arian bishops had no common centre. They were the nominees and partisans of their several sovereigns. They presented no one front, for their negation was no one faith. We cannot be wrong in extending the action assigned by Gibbon to the hundred bishops of Gaul, to the Catholic bishops throughout all the countries in which a poorer Catholic population was governed by Arian rulers. The divine bond of the Primacy, resting upon the faith which it represented, secured in one alliance all the bishops of the West. Nor must we forget that the Throne of Peter acknowledged by those bishops as the source of their common faith, the crown of the episcopate, was likewise regarded by the Arian rulers themselves as the great throne of justice, above the sway of local jealousies and subordinate jurisdictions. It represented to their eyes the fabric of Roman law, the wonderful creation of centuries, which the northern conquerors were utterly unable to emulate, and made them feel how inferior brute force was to civil wisdom and equity.
In the constitution of the Visigothic kingdom of Spain from the time of Rechared, when it became Catholic, we see the first fruits of the Church's beneficent action on the northern invaders. The barbarian monarchy from its original condition of a military command in time of war, directing a raid of the tribe or people upon its enemies, becomes a settled rule, at the head of estates which meet in annual synod, and in which bishops and barons sit side by side. Government reposes on the peaceable union of the Two Powers. In process of time this sort of political order was established everywhere throughout the West, by the same action and influence of the Church. In the Roman empire the supreme power had been in its origin a mandate conferred by the citizens of a free state on one of their number for the preservation of the commonwealth. The notion of dynastic descent was wanting to it from the beginning. But the power which Augustus had received in successive periods of ten years passed to his successors for their life. Still they were rather life-presidents with royal power than kings. And it may be noticed that in that long line no blessing seemed to rest on the succession of a son to his father; much, on the contrary, on the adoption of a stranger of tried capacity guided by the choice of the actual ruler. But in the lapse of centuries the imperial power had become absolute. Especially in the successors of Constantine, and in the city to which he had given his name and chosen for the home of his empire, not a shadow of the old Roman freedom remained. One after another the successful general or the adventurer in some court intrigue supplanted or murdered a predecessor, and ascended the throne, but with undiminished prerogatives. Great was the contrast in all the new kingdoms at whose birth the influence of the Church presided. There the kings all sat by family descent, in which, however, was involved a free acceptance on the part of their people. The bishops who had had so large a part in the foundation of the several kingdoms had a recognised part in their future government. Holding one faith, and educated in the law of the Romans, and joined on to the preceding ages by their mental culture as well as their belief, they contributed to these kingdoms a stability and cohesion which were wanting to the Teuton invaders in themselves. They incessantly preached peace as a religious necessity to those tribes which had been as ready to consume each other as to divide the spoils of their Roman subjects. This united phalanx of bishops in Gaul conquered in the end even the excessive degeneracy, self-indulgence, and cruelty of the Merovingian race. Thanks to their perpetual efforts, while the policy of a Clovis made a France, the wickedness of his descendants did not destroy it, but only themselves, and caused a new family to be chosen wherein the same tempered government might be carried on.
It is remarkable that while the Byzantine emperors, from the extinction of the western empire, were using their absolute power to meddle with the doctrine of the Church which Constantine acknowledged to be divine, and to fetter its liberty which he acknowledged to be unquestionable, the Popes from that very time were through the bishops, to whom they were the sole centre in so many changes and upheavals, constructing the new order of things. Through them the Church maintained her own liberty, and allied with it a civil liberty which the East had more and more surrendered.
In the East, the Church in time was younger than the empire; in the West, she preceded in time these newly formed monarchies. Amid the universal overthrow which the invaders had wrought she alone stood unmoved. The heresy which had so threatened her disappeared. On Goths, and Franks, and Saxons, and Alemans, she was free to exercise her divine power. It is in that sixth century of tremendous revolutions that she laid the foundation of the future European society. Byzantium was descending to Mahomet while Rome was forecasting the Christian commonwealth of Charles the Great. In the Rome of Constantine, while the old civilisation had accepted her name, the old pagan principles had continually impeded her action. The civil rulers especially had harked back after the power of the heathen Pontifex Maximus; but in these new peoples who were not yet peoples, but only the unformed matter (materia prima) out of which peoples might be made, the Church was free to put her own ideal as a form within them. They had the rudiments of institutions, which they trusted her to organise. They placed her bishops in their courts of justice, in their halls of legislation. The greatest of their conquerors in the hour of his supreme exaltation, which also was received from the Pope, was proud to be vested by her in the dalmatic of a deacon.
Of this new world St. Gregory, in his desolated Rome, stood at the head.
There is yet another aspect of this wonderful man which we have to consider. We possess about 850 of his letters. If we did but possess the letters of his sixty predecessors in the same relative proportion as his, the history of the Church for the five centuries preceding him, instead of being often a blank, would present to us the full lineaments of truth. The range of his letters is so great, their detail so minute, that they illuminate his time and enable us to form a mental picture, and follow faithfully that pontificate of fourteen years, incessantly interrupted by cares and anxieties for the preservation of his city, yet watching the beginnings and strengthening the polity of the western nations, and counterworking the advances of the eastern despotism. The divine order of greatness is, we know, to do and to teach. Few, indeed, have carried it out on so great a scale as St. Gregory. The mass of his writing preserved to us exceeds the mass preserved to us from all his predecessors together, even including St. Leo, who with him shares the name of Great, and whose sphere of action the mind compares with his. If he became to all succeeding times an image of the great sacerdotal life in his own person, so all ages studied in his words the pastoral care, joining him with St. Gregory of Nazianzum and St. Chrysostom. The man who closed his life at sixty-four, worn out not with age, but with labour and bodily pains, stands, beside the learning of St. Jerome, the perfect episcopal life and statesmanship of St. Ambrose, the overpowering genius of St. Augustine, as the fourth doctor of the western Church, while he surpasses them all in that his doctorship was seated on St. Peter's throne. If he closes the line of Fathers, he begins the period when the Church, failing to preserve a rotten empire in political existence, creates new nations; nay, his own hand has laid for them their foundation-stones, and their nascent polity bears his manual inscription, as the great campanile of St. Mark wears on its brow the words, Et Verbum caro factum est. These were the words which St. Gregory wrote as the bond of their internal cohesion, as the source of their greatness, permanence, and liberty upon the future monarchies of Europe.
What mortal could venture to decide which of the two great victories allowed by Gibbon to the Church is the greater? But we at least are the children of the second. It was wrought in secrecy and unconsciousness, as the greatest works of nature and of grace are wrought, but we know just so much as this, that St. Gregory was one of its greatest artificers. The Anglo-Saxon race in particular, for more than a thousand years, has celebrated the Mass of St. Gregory as that of the Apostle of England. Down to the disruption of the sixteenth century, the double line of its bishops in Canterbury and York, with their suffragans, regarded him as their founder, as much as the royal line deemed itself to descend from William the Conqueror. If Canterbury was Primate of all England and York Primate of England, it was by the appointment of Gregory. And the very civil constitution of England, like the original constitutions of the western kingdoms in general, is the work in no small part of that Church which St. Augustine carried to Ethelbert, and whose similar work in Spain Gibbon has acknowledged. Under the Norman oppression it was to the laws of St. Edward that the people looked back. The laws of St. Edward were made by the bishops of St. Gregory.
How deeply St. Gregory was impressed with the conviction of his own vocation to be the head of the whole Church we have seen in his own repeatedly quoted words. What can a Pope claim more than the attribution to himself as Pope of the three great words of Christ spoken to Peter? Accordingly, all his conduct was directed to maintain every particular church in its due subordination to the Roman Church, to reconcile schismatics to it, to overcome the error and the obstinacy of heretics. Again, since all nations have been called to salvation in Christ, St. Gregory pursued the conversion of the heathen with the utmost zeal. When only monk and cardinal deacon, he had obtained the permission of Pope Pelagius to set out in person as missionary to paganised Britain. He was brought back to Rome after three days by the affection of the people, who would not allow him to leave them. When the death of Pope Pelagius placed him on the papal throne, he did not forget the country the sight of whose enslaved children had made them his people of predilection.
With regard to the churches belonging to his own patriarchate, a bishop in each province, usually the metropolitan, represented as delegate the Roman See. To these, as the symbol of their delegated authority as his vicarii, Gregory sent the pallium. All the bishops of the province yielded them obedience, acknowledged their summons to provincial councils. A hundred years before Pope Symmachus had begun the practice of sending the pallium to them, but Gregory declined to take the gifts which it had become usual to take on receiving it. St. Leo, fifty years before Symmachus, had empowered a bishop to represent him at the court of the eastern emperor, and had drawn out the office and functions of the nuncio. Like his great predecessor, St. Gregory carefully watched over the rights of the Primacy. Upon the death of a metropolitan, he entrusted during the vacancy the visitation of the churches to another bishop, and enjoined the clergy and people of the vacant see to make a new choice under the superintendence of the Roman official. The election being made, he carefully examined the acts, and, if it was needed, reversed them. As he required from the metropolitans strict obedience to his commands, so he maintained on the one hand the dependence of the bishops on their metropolitans, while on the other he protected them against all irregular decisions of the metropolitan. He carefully examined the complaints which bishops made against their metropolitan; and when bishops disagreed with each other, and their disagreement could not be adjusted by the metropolitan, he drew the decision to himself.
Gregory also held many councils in Rome which passed decisions upon doctrine and discipline. We may take as a specimen that which he held in the Lateran Church on the 5th April, 601, with twenty-four bishops and many priests and deacons. It is headed: "Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all bishops". The Pope says that his own government of a monastery had shown him how necessary it was to provide for their perpetual security: "Since we have come to the knowledge that in very many monasteries the monks have suffered much to their prejudice and grievance from bishops ... we therefore, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the authority of the blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles, in whose place we preside over this Church, forbid that henceforth any bishop or layman, in respect of the revenues, goods, or charters of monasteries, the cells or buildings belonging to them, do in any manner or upon any occasion diminish them, or use deceit or interference". If there be a contest whether any property belong to the church of a bishop or to a monastery, arbitrators shall decide. If an abbot dies, no stranger, but one of the same community, must be chosen by the brethren, freely and concordantly, for his successor. If no fitting person is found in the monastery itself, the monks are to provide that one be chosen from another monastery. In the abbot's lifetime no other superior may be set over the monastery, except the abbot have committed transgressions punishable by the canons. Against the will of the abbot no monk may be chosen to be set over another monastery or receive holy orders. The bishop may not make an inventory of the goods of the monastery, nor mix himself, even after the abbot's death, in the concerns of the monastery; he may hold no public mass in the monastery, that there be no meeting of people, or women, there; he may set up no pulpit there, and without the consent of the abbot make no regulation, and employ no monk for any church service.
All the bishops answered: "We rejoice in the liberties of the monks, and confirm what your Holiness has set forth as to this".
As metropolitan of the particular Roman province, Gregory was equally active. The political circumstances of Italy had exerted the most prejudicial effect on the Church. Ecclesiastical life was impaired. The discipline both of monks and clergy was weakened. Bishops had become negligent in their duties; many churches orphaned or destroyed. But at the end of his pontificate things had so improved that he might well be termed the reformer of Church discipline. He watched with great care over the conduct and administration of the bishops. In this the officers called defensors, that is, who administered the patrimony of the Church in the different provinces, helped him greatly in carrying out his commands. In the war with the Lombards, many episcopal sees had been wasted, and many of their bishops expelled. Gregory provided for them, either in naming them visitors of his own, or in calling in other bishops to their support. He rebuilt many churches which had been destroyed. He carefully maintained the property of churches: he would not allow it to be alienated, except to ransom captives or convert heathens. The Roman Church had then large estates in Africa, Gaul, Sicily, Corsica, Dalmatia, and especially in the various provinces of Italy. These were called the Patrimony of Peter. They consisted in lands, villages, and flocks. In the management of these Gregory's care did not disdain the minutest supervision. His strong sense of justice did not prevent his being a merciful landlord, and especially he cared for the peasantry and cultivators of the soil.
The monastic life which in his own person he had so zealously practised, as Pope he so carefully watched over that he has been called the father of the monks. He encouraged the establishment of monasteries. Many he built and provided for himself out of the Roman Church's property. Many which wanted for maintenance he succoured. He issued a quantity of orders supporting the religious and moral life of monks and nuns. He invited bishops to keep guard over the discipline of monasteries, and blamed them when transgressions of it came to light. But he also protected monasteries from hard treatment of bishops, and, according to the custom of earlier Popes, exempted some of them from episcopal authority.
In restoring schismatics to unity he was in general successful. He wrought such a union among the bishops of Africa that Donatism lost influence more and more, and finally disappeared. He dealt with the obstinate Milanese schism which had arisen out of the treatment of the Three Chapters. He won back a great part of the Istrians. He had more trouble with the two archbishops of Constantinople, John the Faster and Cyriacus; and his former friend the emperor Mauritius turned against him, so that he welcomed the accession of Phocas, as a deliverance of the Church from unjust domination. The unquestioning loyalty with which, as a civil subject, he welcomed this accession has been unfairly used against him. As first of all the civil dignitaries of the empire he could only accept what had been done at Constantinople. But in all his fourteen years neither the difficulty of circumstances nor the consideration of persons withheld him from carrying out his resolutions with a patience and a firmness only equalled by gentleness of manner. From beginning to end he considered himself, and acted, as set by God to watch over the maintenance of the canons, the discipline enacted by them, and so doing to perfect by his wisdom as well as to temper by his moderation the vast fabric of the Primacy as it had grown itself, and nurtured in its growth the original constitution of the Church during nearly six hundred years.
We may now say a few words upon the Primacy itself as exerted by St. Leo at the Council of Chalcedon, and the Primacy as exerted by St. Gregory in the fourteen years from 590 to 604; also on the interval between them, and the relative position of the bishop of Constantinople to Leo in the person of Anatolius, and to Gregory in the person of John the Faster. We see at once that the intention which Leo discerned in Anatolius, which he sternly reprehended and summarily overthrew, has been fully carried out by John the Faster, who, in documents sent to the Pope himself for revision, as superior, terms himself ecumenical patriarch. Who had made him first a patriarch and then ecumenical? The emperor alone. He is so called in the laws of Justinian. The 140 years from Leo to Gregory are filled with the continued rise of the Bishop of Nova Roma under the absolute power of the emperor. He has succeeded not only in taking precedence of the legitimate patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch; he has more than once stripped of their rights the metropolitans and bishops subject to the great see of the East, and himself consecrated at Constantinople a patriarch of Antioch by order of the emperor of the day. This Acacius did, humbly begging the Pope's pardon for such a transgression of the due order and hierarchy, and repeating the offence against the Nicene order and constitution on the first opportunity. In the same way he has interfered with the elections at Alexandria. We learn from the instruction given by Pope Hormisdas to his legates that all the eastern bishops when they came to Constantinople obtained an audience of the emperor only through the bishop of Constantinople. The Pope carefully warns his legates against submitting to this pretension. Pope Gelasius told the bishop in his day that his see had no ecclesiastical rank above that of a simple bishop. We laugh, he said, at the pretension to erect an apostolical throne upon an imperial residence. But, in the meantime, Constantinople has become the head of all civil power. The emperor of the West has ceased to be. The Roman senate, at the bidding of a Herule commander of mercenaries, has sent back even the symbols of imperial rank to the eastern emperor; and in return Zeno has graciously made Odoacer patricius of Rome, with the power of king, until Theodorick was ready to be rewarded with the possession of Italy for services rendered to the eastern monarch, with the purpose likewise of diverting his attention from Nova Roma. Therefore, in spite of the submission rendered by all the East, the bishops, the court, the emperor, and by Justinian himself; in spite, also, of two bishops successively degraded by an emperor, the bishop of Constantinople ever advances. The law of Justinian, which acknowledges the Pope as first of all bishops in the world, and gives him legal rank as such, makes the bishop of the new capital the second. Presently Justinian becomes by conquest immediate sovereign of Rome. The ancient queen and maker of the empire is humbled in the dust by five captures; is even reduced to a desert for a time; and when a portion of her fugitive citizens comes back to the abandoned city, a Byzantine prefect rules it with absolute power. A Greek garrison, the badge of Rome's degradation, supports his delegated rule. Presently the seat of that rule is for security transferred to Ravenna, and Rome is left, not merely discrowned, but defenceless. All the while the bishop of Constantinople is seated in the pomp of power at the emperor's court; within the walls of the eastern capital his household rivals that of the emperor; in certain respects the public worship gives him a homage greater than that accorded to the absolute lord of the East. He reflects with satisfaction that the one person in the West who can call his ministration to account is exposed to the daily attacks of barbarians: is surrounded with palaces whose masters are ruined, and which are daily dropping into decay. The Pope, behind the crumbling walls of Aurelian, shudders at the cruelties practised on his people: the bishop of Constantinople, by terming himself ecumenical, announces ostentatiously that he claims to rule all his brethren in the East -- that he is supreme judge over his brother patriarchs. One only thing he does not do: he claims no power over the Pope himself; he does not attempt to revise his administration in the West. He acknowledges his primacy, seated as it is in a provincial city, pauperised, and decimated with hunger and desertion.
In this interval the Pope has seen seven emperors pass like shadows on the western throne, and their place taken first by an Arian Herule and then by an Arian Goth. Herule and Goth disappear, the last at the cost of a war which desolates Italy during twenty years, and casts out, indeed, the Gothic invader and confiscator of Italy, but only to supply his place by the grinding exactions of an absent master, followed immediately by the inroad of fresh savages, far worse than the Goth, under whose devastation Italy is utterly ruined. Whatever portion of dignity the old capital of the world lent to Leo is utterly lost to Gregory. It has been one tale of unceasing misery, of terrible downfal to Rome, from Genseric to Agilulf. It may seem to have been suspended during the thirty-three years of Theodorick, but it was the iron force of hostile domination wielded by the gloved hand. When the Goth was summoned to depart, he destroyed ruthlessly. The rage of Vitiges casts back a light upon the mildness of Theodorick; the slaughters ordered by Teia are a witness to Gothic humanity. No words but those of Gregory himself, in applying the Hebrew prophet, can do justice to the temporal misery of Rome. The Pope felt himself silenced by sorrow in the Church of St. Peter, but he ruled without contradiction the Church in East and West. Not a voice is heard at the time, or has come down to posterity, which accuses Gregory of passing the limits of power conceded to him by all, or of exercising it otherwise than with the extremest moderation.
Disaster in the temporal order, continued through five generations, from Leo to Gregory, has clearly brought to light the purely spiritual foundation of the papal power. If the attribution to the Pope of the three great words spoken by our Lord to St. Peter, made to Pope Hormisdas by the eastern bishops and emperor, does not prove that they belong to the Pope and were inherited by him from St. Peter, what proof remains to be offered? If the attribution is so proved, what is there in the papal power which is not divinely conferred and guaranteed? Neither the first Leo, nor the first Gregory, nor the seventh Gregory, nor the thirteenth Leo, ask for more; nor can they take less.
If St. Gregory exercised this authority in a ruined city, over barbarous populations which had taken possession of the western provinces, over eastern bishops who crouched at the feet of an absolute monarch, over a rival who, with all the imperial power to back him, did not attempt to deny it, how could a greater proof of its divine origin be given?
In this respect boundless disaster offers a proof which the greatest prosperity would have failed to give. Not even a Greek could be found who could attribute St. Gregory's authority in Rome to his being bishop of the royal city. The barbarian inundation had swept away the invention of Anatolius.
But this very time was also that in which the heresy whose leading doctrine was denial of the Godhead of the Church's founder came from a threatening of supremacy to an end. In Theodorick Arianism seemed to be enthroned for predominance in all the West. His civil virtues and powerful government, his family league of all the western rulers, -- for he himself had married Andefleda, sister of Clovis, and had given one daughter for wife to the king of the Vandals in Africa, and another to the king of the Visigoths in France, -- was a gage of security. In Gregory's time the great enemy has laid down his arms. He is dispossessed from the Teuton race in its Gallic, Spanish, Burgundian, African settlements. Gregory, at the head of the western bishops who in every country have risked life for the faith of Rome, has gained the final victory. One only Arian tribe survives for a time, ever struggling to possess Rome, advancing to its gates, ruining its Campagna, torturing its captured inhabitants, but never gaining possession of those battered walls, which Totila in part threw down and Belisarius in piecemeal restored. And Gregory, too, is chosen to stop the Anglo-Saxon revel of cruelty and destruction, which has turned Britain from a civilised land into a wilderness, and from a province of the Catholic Church to paganism, from the very time of St. Leo. Two tribes were the most savage of the Teuton family, the Saxon and the Frank. The Frank became Catholic, and Gregory besought the rulers of the converted nation to help his missionaries in their perilous adventure to convert the ultramarine neighbours, still savage and pagan. He also ordered their chief bishop to consecrate the chief missionary to be archbishop of the Angles. As there was a Burgundian Clotilda by the side of Clovis, there was a Frankish Bertha by the side of Ethelbert; and these two women have a glorious place in that second great victory of the Church. The Visigoth and Ostrogoth with their great natural gifts could not found a kingdom. Their heresy deprived the Father of the Son, and they were themselves sterile. Those who denied a Divine Redeemer were not likely to convert a world.
But all through Gregory's life the Byzantine spirit of encroachment was one of his chief enemies. The claim of its bishop to be ecumenical patriarch stopped short of the Primacy. But one after another the bishops of that see sought by imperial laws to detach the bishops of Eastern Illyria from their subjection to the western patriarchate. Their nearness to Constantinople, their being subjects of the eastern emperor, helped this encroachment.
It would appear also that in Gregory's time -- a hundred years after Pope Gelasius had put the bishop of the imperial city in remembrance that he had been a suffragan to Heraclea -- the legislation of Justinian had succeeded in inducing the Roman See to acknowledge that bishop as a patriarch. His actual power had gone far beyond. There can be no doubt that, while the Pope had become legally the subject of the eastern emperor, the bishop of Constantinople had become in fact the emperor's ecclesiastical minister in subjugating the eastern episcopate. The Nicene episcopal hierarchy subsisted indeed in name. To the Alexandrian and Antiochene patriarchs two had been added -- one at Jerusalem, the other at Constantinople. But the last was so predominant -- as the interpreter of the emperor's will -- that he stood at the head of the bishops in all the realm ruled from Constantinople over against the Pope as the head of the western bishops in many various lands.
The bishops were in Justinian's legislation everywhere great imperial officers, holding a large civil jurisdiction, especially charged with an inspection of the manner in which civil governors performed their own proper functions; most of all, the patriarchs and the Pope.
But that episcopal autonomy -- if we may so call it -- under the presidence of the three Petrine patriarchs, which was in full life and vigour at the Nicene Council, which St. Gregory still recognised in his letter to Eulogius, was greatly impaired. While barbaric inundation had swept over the West, the struggles of the Nestorian and Eutychean heresies, especially in the two great cities of Alexandria and Antioch, had disturbed the hierarchy and divided the people which the master at Constantinople could hardly control. That state of the East which St. Basil deplored in burning words -- which almost defied every effort of the great Theodosius to restore it to order -- had gone on for more than two hundred years. The Greek subtlety was not pervaded by the charity of Christ, and they carried on their disputes over that adorable mystery of His Person in which the secret of redeeming power is seated, with a spirit of party and savage persecution which portended the rise of one who would deny that mystery altogether, and reduce to a terrible servitude those who had so abused their liberty as Christians and offered such a scandal to the religion of unity which they professed.
From St. Sylvester to St. Leo, and, again, from St. Leo to St. Gregory, the effort of the Popes was to maintain in its original force the Nicene constitution of the Church. Well might they struggle for the maintenance of that which was a derivation from their own fountainhead -- "the administration of Peter" -- during the three centuries of heathen persecution by the empire. It was not they who tightened the exercise of their supreme authority. The altered condition of the times, the tyranny of Constantius and Valens, the dislocation of the eastern hierarchy, the rise of a new bishop in a new capital made use of by an absolute sovereign to control that hierarchy, a resident council at Constantinople which became an "instrument of servitude" in the emperor's hands to degrade any bishop at his pleasure and his own patriarch when he was not sufficiently pliant to the master, -- these were among the causes which tended to bring out a further exercise of the power which Christ had deposited in the hands of His Vicar to be used according to the needs of the Church. No one has expressed with greater moderation than St. Gregory the proper power of his see, in the words I have quoted above: "I know not what bishop is not subject to the Apostolical See, if any fault be found in bishops. But when no fault requires it, all are equal according to the estimation of humility." In Rome there is no growth by aid of the civil power from a suffragan bishop to an universal Papacy. The Papacy shows itself already in St. Clement, a disciple of St. Peter's, "whose name is written in the book of life," and who, involving the Blessed Trinity, affirms that the orders emanating from his see are the words of God Himself. This is the ground of St. Gregory's moderation; and whatever extension may hereafter be found in the exercise of the same power by his successors is drawn forth by the condition of the times, a condition often opposed to the inmost wishes of the Pope. Those are evil times which require "a thousand bishops rolled into one" to oppose the civil tyranny of a Hohenstaufen, the violence of barbarism in a Rufus, or the corruption of wealth in a Plantagenet.
Between St. Peter and St. Gregory, in 523 years, there succeeded full sixty Popes. If we take any period of like duration in the history of the world's kingdoms, we shall find in their rulers a remarkable contrast of varying policy and temper. Few governments, indeed, last so long. But in the few which have so lasted we find one sovereign bent on war, another on peace, another on accumulating treasure, another on spending it; one given up to selfish pleasures, here and there a ruler who reigns only for the good of others. But in Gregory's more than sixty predecessors there is but one idea: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," is the compendious expression of their lives and rule. For this St. Clement, who had heard the words of his master, suffered exile and martyrdom in the Crimea. For this five Popes, in the decade between 250 and 260, laid down their lives. The letter of St. Julius to the Eusebian prelates is full of it. St. Leo saw the empire of Rome falling around him, but he is so possessed with that idea that he does not allude to the ruin of temporal kingdoms. St. Gregory trembles for the lives of his beleaguered people, but he does not know the see which is not subject to the Apostolic See. In weakness and in power, in ages of an ever varying but always persistent adversity, in times of imperial patronage, and, again, under heretical domination, the mind of every Pope is full of this idea. The strength or the weakness of individual character leaves it untouched. In one, and only one, of all these figures his dignity is veiled in sadness. Pope Vigilius at Constantinople, in the grasp of a despot, and with the stain of an irregular election never effaced from his brow, is still conscious of it, still has courage to say, "You may bind me, but you will not bind the Apostle St. Peter". Six hundred years after St. Gregory, when accordingly the succession of Popes had been rather more than doubled, I find the biographer of Innocent III. thus commenting on his election in 1198: "The Church in these times ever had an essential preponderance over worldly kingdoms. Resting on a spiritual foundation, she had in herself the vigour of immaterial power, and maintained in her application of it the superiority over merely material forces. She alone was animated by a clearly recognised idea, which never at any time died out of her. For its maintenance and actuation were not limited to the person of a Pope, who could only be the representative, the bearer, the enactor, for the world of this idea in its fullest meaning. If here and there a particular personality seemed unequal to the carrying out such a charge, the force of the idea did not suffer any defect through him. Most papal governments were very short in their duration. This itself was a challenge to those whose life was absorbed in that of the Church to place at its head a man whose ability, enlightened and guided by strength of will, afforded a secure assurance for the exercise of an universal charge. From the clear self-consciousness of the Church in this respect proceeded that firm pursuance of a great purpose distinctly perceived. It met with no persistent or wisely conducted resistance on the part of the temporal power. On one side all rays had their focus in one point. In temporal princes the rays were parted. Few of these showed in their lives a purpose to which all their acts were made consistently subordinate. As circumstances swayed them, as the desire of the moment led them away, they threw themselves, according to their personal inclinations, with impetuous storm and violence upon the attainment of their wishes. They had to yield in the end to the power of the Church, slower, indeed, but continuous, pursued with superiority of spirit, moreover with the firm conviction of guidance from above, and of the special protection from this inseparable, and so attaining its mark. One only royal race ventured on a contest with the Church for supremacy; for one only, the Hohenstaufen, were conscious of a fixed purpose. They encountered a direct struggle with the Church; but the conflict issued to the honour of the Church. The Popes who led it came out of it with a renown in the world's history, which without that conflict they would never have so gloriously attained. If we look from these events before and afterwards upon the ages, and see how the institution of the Papacy outlasts all other institutions in Europe, how it has seen all States come and go, how in the endless change of human things it alone remains unchanged, ever with the same spirit, can we then wonder if many look up to it as the Rock unmoved amid the roaring billows of centuries?" And he adds in a note, "This is not a polemical statement, but the verdict of history".
The time of St. Gregory in history bore the witness of six centuries; the time of Innocent III. of twelve; the time of Leo XIII. bears that of more than eighteen centuries to the consideration of this contrast between the natural fickleness of men and of lives of men, shown from age to age, and the persistence, on the other hand, of one idea in one line of men. The eighteen centuries already past are yet only a part of an unknown future. But to construct such a Rock amid the sea and the waves roaring in the history of the nations reveals an abiding divine power. It leaves the self-will of man untouched, yet sets up a rampart against it. The explanation attempted three hundred and fifty years ago of an imposture or an usurpation is incompatible with the clearness of an idea which is carried out persistently through so many generations. Usurpations fall rapidly. But in this one case the divine words themselves contain the idea more clearly expressed than any exposition can express it. The King delineates His kingdom as none but God can; it must also be added that He maintains it as none but God can maintain.
We may return to St. Gregory's own time, and note the unbroken continuity of the Primacy from St. Peter himself. It is a period of nearly six hundred years from the day of Pentecost. Just in the middle comes the conversion of Constantine. Before it Rome is mainly a heathen city, the government of which bears above all things an everlasting enmity against any violation of the supreme pontificate annexed by the provident Augustus to the imperial power, and jealously maintained by every succeeding emperor. To suffer an infringement of that pontificate would be to lose the grasp over the hundred varieties of worship allowed by the State. Yet when Constantine acknowledged the Christian faith, the names of St. Peter and St. Paul were in full possession of the city, so far as it was Christian. They were its patron-saints. Every Christian memory rested on the tradition of St. Peter's pontifical acts, his chair, his baptismal font, his dwelling-place, his martyrdom. The impossibility of such a series of facts taking possession of a heathen city during the period antecedent to Constantine's victory over Maxentius, save as arising from St. Peter's personal action at Rome, is apparent.
In the second half of this period, from Constantine to St. Gregory, the civil pre-eminence of Rome is perpetually declining. The consecration of New Rome as the capital of the empire, in 330, by itself alone strikes at it a fatal blow. Presently the very man who had reunited the empire divided it among his sons, and after their death the division became permanent. Valentinian I., in 364, whether he would or not, was obliged to make two empires. From the death of Theodosius, in 395, the condition of the western empire is one long agony. The power of Constantinople continually increases. At the death of Honorius, in 423, the eastern emperor becomes the over-lord of the western. During fifty years Rome lived only by the arm of two semi-barbarian generals, Stilicho and Aetius. Both were assassinated for the service; and in the boy Romulus Augustulus a western emperor ceased to be, and the senate declared that one emperor alone was needed. After fifty years of Arian occupation, the Gothic war ruined the city of Rome. In Gregory's time it had ceased to be even the capital of a province. Its lord dwelt at Constantinople; Rome was subject to his exarch at Ravenna.
Yet from Constantine and the Nicene Council the advance of Rome's Primacy is perpetual. In Leo I. it is universally acknowledged. At the fall of the western empire Acacius attempts his schism. He is supported while living by the emperor Zeno, and his memory after his death by the succeeding emperor Anastasius, who reigned for twenty-seven years, longer than any emperor since Augustus had reigned over the whole empire. All the acts of these two princes show that they would have liked to attach the Primacy to their bishop at Constantinople. Anastasius twice enjoyed the luxury of deposing him through the resident council. But Anastasius died, and the result of the Acacian schism was a stronger confession of the Roman Primacy made to Pope Hormisdas, the subject of the Arian Theodorick, by the whole Greek episcopate, than had ever been given before. The sixth century and the reign of Justinian completed the destruction of the civil state of Rome; and the Primacy of its bishop, St. Gregory, was more than ever acknowledged.
Not a shadow of usurpation or of claim to undue power rested upon that unquestioned Primacy which St. Gregory exercised. While he thought the end of the world was at hand, while he watched Rome perishing street by street, he planted unconsciously a western Christendom in what he supposed all the time to be a perishing world. Civil Rome was not even a provincial capital; spiritual Rome was the acknowledged head of the world-wide Church.
I know not where to find so remarkable a contrast and connection of events as here. Temporal losses, secular ambitions, episcopal usurpations, violent party spirit, schism and heresy in the great eastern patriarchates, and amid it all the descent of the Teutons on the fairest lands of the western empire, the establishment of new sovereignties in Spain, Gaul, and Italy, under barbarians who at the time of their descent were Arian heretics, and afterwards became Catholic, with the result that Gregory has to keep watch within the walls of Rome for a whole generation against the Lombard, still in unmitigated savagery and unabated heresy, and that the world-wide Church acknowledges him for her ruler without a dissenting voice. The "Servant of the servants of God" chides and corrects the would-be "ecumenical patriarch," who has risen since Constantine from the suffragan of a Thracian city to be bishop of Nova Roma and right hand of the emperor; who has deposed Alexandria from the second place and Antioch from the third, but cannot take the first place from the See of Peter. The perpetual ambition of the bishops of Nova Roma, the perpetual fostering of that ambition for his own purpose by the emperor, only illustrates more vividly the inaccessible dignity which both would fain have transferred to the city of Constantine, but were obliged to leave with the city of Peter. As the forum of Trajan sinks down stone by stone, the kings of the West are preparing to flock in pilgrimage to the shrine of Peter. This was the answer which the captives in the forum made to the deliverer of their race.
There is nothing like this elsewhere in history.
Constantine, Valens, Theodosius, Justinian, and, no less, Alaric and Ataulph, Attila and Genseric, Theodorick and Clovis, Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, as well as St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Cyril, and, again, Dioscorus, Acacius, and a multitude of the most opposing minds and beliefs which these represent, contribute, in their time and degree, for the most part unconsciously, and many against their settled purpose, to acknowledge this Primacy as the Rock of the Church, the source of spiritual jurisdiction, the centre of a divine unity in a warring world. In St. Gregory we see the power which has had antecedents so strange and concomitants so repulsive deposited in the hands of a feeble old man who is constantly mourning over the cares in which that universal government involves him, while the world for evermore shall regard him as the type and standard of the true spiritual ruler, who calls himself, not Ecumenical Bishop, but Servant of the servants of God. It is a title which his successors will take from his hand and keep for ever as the badge of the Primacy which it illustrates, while it serves as the seal of its acts of power. He calls himself servant just when he is supreme.
In St. Gregory the Great, the whole ancient world, the Church's first discipline and original government, run to their ultimate issue. In him the patriarchal system, as it met the shock of absolute power in the civil sovereign, and the subversion of the western empire by barbarous incursions, accompanied by the establishment of new sovereignties and the foundation of a new Rome, the rival and then the tyrant of the old Rome, receives its consummation. The medieval world has not yet begun. The spurious Mahometan theocracy is waiting to arise. In the midst of a world in confusion, of a dethroned city falling into ruins, the successor of St. Peter sits on an undisputed spiritual throne upon which a new world will be based in the West, against which the Khalifs of a false religion will exert all their rage in the East and South, and strengthen the rule which they parody. A new power, which utterly denies the Christian faith, which destroys hundreds of its episcopal sees and severs whole countries from its sway, will dash with all its violence against the Rock of Peter, and finally will have the effect of making the bishop who is there enthroned more than ever the symbol, the seat, and the champion of the Kingdom of the Cross.
 See Gregorovius, ii.3, 4.
 Gregorovius, ii.6.
 Ibid., ii.5, literal.
 Nirschl, iii.534.
 Third letter of Pelagius II.; Mansi ix., p.889: Nefandissima gens.
 Attested by St. Gregory of Tours, who heard it from a deacon of his church then at Rome.
 Ep. i.25, p.514.
 Homily xviii. on Ezechiel, tom. i.1374.
 Nahum ii, 11.
 Micheas i.16.
 End of the Homilies on Ezechiel, tom. i.1430.
 Quoted by Reumont, ii.90.
 Ep. v.42, p.769.
 Reumont and Gregorovius.
 Ep. v.21, p.751.
 Ep. v.20, tom. ii.747.
 Ep. vii.40, p.887.
 I have drawn attention to this fact, and the idea which it represents as attested by Popes earlier than St. Gregory, in vol. v., pp.53-60, of the Formation of Christendom, "The Throne," &c.
 Rump, ix.501-2; see his words quoted above, p.107.
 Ep. vii.34, p.882.
 Rump, ix.502.
 Providentissime piissimus Dominus ad compescendos bellicos motus pacem quaerit ecclesiae atque ad hujus compagem sacerdotum dignatur corda reducere.-Ep. v.20, p.747.
 De vi et ratione Primatus Romani Pontificis -- c. iii., quoting the letter of St. Gregory to Eulogius, viii.30.
 Ep. ix.59, p.976.
 Ep. ii.52, p.618.
 Ep. xi.37, p.1120.
 Ep. vi.60, p.836.
 Ep. iv.38, p.718.
 Ep. v.54, p.784.
 Ep. vi.59, p.835.
 Dialog., iii.31, p.345, A.D.594.
 Ep. i.43, p.531.
 Ep. ix.121, pp.1026-8, shortened.
 Dialog., iii.31, p.348.
 Ep. ix.122, p.1028.
 Paralipom. i.11, 18.
 Ep. ix.61, p.977.
 Gibbon, ch. xxxviii.: a sneer or two have been omitted.
 Gibbon, ch. xxxix.
 Ch. xxxviii.
 See above, p.141.
 See Kurth, ii.25-6.
 See in the Kirchen-lexicon of Card. Hergenroether the article on Gregory I., vol. v., p.1079.
 See Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, iii., p.56; St. Gregory, ii., p.1294; Mansi, x., p.486.
 S. Siricius, Ep.
 Philippians iv.3.
 See St. Clement's epistle, sec.59. "Receive our counsel and you shall not repent of it. For, as God liveth, and as the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, and the Holy Spirit, and the faith and the hope of the elect, he who performs in humility, with assiduous goodness, and without swerving, the commands and injunctions of God, he shall be enrolled and esteemed in the number of those saved through Jesus Christ, through whom be glory to Him for ever and ever. Amen. But if any disobey what has been ordered by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in a fall, and no slight danger, but we shall be innocent of this sin."
 Hurter's Geschichte Papst Innocenz des Dritten, i.85-7.