Pope Gregory I the Great
Father of Medieval Christianity – Doctor of the Church
The First Monk to be elected Pope
One day, I called a brilliant, holy priest-friend, complaining about the attacks against the Church and our country. His advice to me was, “Don’t despair! The world and the Church have been under attack for generations and we are still here!”
To study the history of the world, especially Europe, is to discover the history of the Church. For the Church has always played an integral part in the annals of history, as she continues to follow her Master Jesus Christ, who told the Apostles, “I will be with you till the end of the world.” For since the children of God are living in the world, then so must the happenings of the world be intertwined with Mother Church as her children are affected by the world they live in.
The way the Lord protects us and saves us from the enemy is to send down from Heaven a powerful man or woman, a Super Saint, who is the right instrument for the job at the time when he or she is needed the most.
Rome and Italy under siege
We want to share a little of what was going on in the world of the 5th Century. The world was in a turmoil! This was the beginning of the end of the Western emperors. The collapse of the Roman empire begins with Italy being taken over by one barbarian army placing Italy under the thumb of the Eastern emperors of Constantinople, only to be invaded and ravaged by another barbarian, the Ostrogoth Theodoric, who would rule Italy from Rome, from 493, until his death in 526.
We are now in the 6th Century and we see yet another war brewing. Seeing Theodoric’s demise as an opportunity, we meet another conqueror, Emperor Justinian. He wanted to bring back to Rome some of the glory that it had during its glorious days. He was determined to reclaim North Africa and Italy from the Goths for the Western Roman Empire. He went about it by sending the ominous Belisarius with his Greek armies, who set out by first plowing through North Africa, triumphantly; and then focusing his sights on Italy, he went on to invading Sicily. That engagement successful, he was on to Rome and the rest of Italy. This Italian war lasted from 535 to 553. Through the tenacity of Belisarius, Justinian accomplished what he had set out to do, re-establish the glory that was Rome.
Not to know any respite, Rome was once again invaded by the Goths, with the fierce Totila now leading the charge, laying waste anything or anyone in his way, with nothing less than the occupation of Rome, in mind. The new charging hordes looted everything in sight, destroying that which they could not take. Cities after cities were laid waste, along with the farms in the tiny villages. There was an anger and a helplessness which made monsters out of otherwise good people, trying to cope with the famine which was widespread; and so as a direct result we find Rome and the rest of Italy attacked now from within, with rioting and all forms of chaos.
People were almost out of their minds, not knowing where to turn. And to compound the cross they were forced to carry, an epidemic spread throughout the countryside, claiming those who had not died through starvation and mistreatment. Tossed from conqueror to conqueror, the 500 citizens of Rome who were left alive, suffered the worst persecution and horrible deprivation. All their crops confiscated by the invading armies, and that which they couldn’t take burned and destroyed, the suffering citizens were reduced to near starvation.
For the Goths, the sweet taste of victory and conquest was to be short-lived. General Belisarius returned, and once again led the charge, forcing the Goths to retreat. Once again the victor, the intoxicating smell of conquest for Belisarius was to be as fleeting as a breath of fresh air on a hot, smoldering day. The Emperor Justinian replaced Belisarius with Narses, another general. This was not a good move, because it gave the Goths the opportunity to recapture Rome, which they did.
For the poor citizens of Italy, their lives were like living on a see-saw. Each day, some new tragedy befell them. it must have felt like the sun would never shine on them and their land, again, what with being under the subjugation of one Emperor after another, one conqueror replacing the one before, raising havoc and despair; it seemed even Mother Nature was against them. A great feeling of despair overtook the land. And God’s children cried!
This is where God comes in. Well, He’s always there. He always helps us. During this terrible time, He gave us St. Benedict, who, according to tradition, had an encounter with the Goth conqueror, Totila.
“The vile and murderous tyrant Totila the Goth, spreading his evil ways throughout the Roman Empire, finally came to central Italy and Saint Benedict. Now, Totila had heard of Benedict’s miracles and prophetic gifts, and he thought he would test him. So he took Riggo, the captain of his guards, and dressed him in his regal purple robes (the color of royalty), and sent him to Benedict at Monte Cassino, along with three counts from his court who always escorted him. But the disguise did not fool Benedict, who, upon Riggo appearing before him, addressed the impostor: “My son, why are you wearing these robes, as they do not belong to you?” Riggo fled and reported what had transpired to Totila. Upon hearing his testimony, Totila went in haste to visit St. Benedict. It is written that when Totila appeared before Benedict, he was in such awe and wonder, he fell prostrate before him. Benedict, in his always charitable heart, after inviting him to stand several times, rose and helped Totila to his feet. Benedict spoke severely and prophetically: “It is time you ceased your vile and contemptible conduct. You are doing much evil, and much evil you have done. You will enter Rome; you will rule for nine years; and on the tenth you will die.” Totila remained alarmed and never forgot the prophecy. It was as if he were getting another chance. He went about altering his rule, lending more clemency to his sentencing. It came to pass, as Benedict prophesied: Totila reigned for nine years and died on the tenth year, in 542 A.D.”
Pope Gregory the Great
Pope Gregory I the Great