Lessons from Gregory the Great

What a great way for St. Gregory, the Great, to begin his pontificate: With a letter unambiguously proclaiming his submission to Tradition. After proclaiming his submission to Nicaea, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople II, he goes on to write,

“I reject as well all the people whom the aforesaid venerable councils rejected; and those they venerate, I accept; since they are founded on a universal consent, whoever presumes to loose what the councils have bound or to bind what they have loosed destroys himself and not these (councils). Whoever, therefore, thinks otherwise, let him be anathema.”

A number of popes at that time took oaths such as this. In a way, this is not surprising. There were some troubling bishops who became heretics at the time. Some popes back then were troubling as well. Vigilius waffled before defending the truth of Christ on a very important point. Liberius signed a watered down, perhaps even problematic, creed under political pressure. I believe it is Marcellinus committed some infamous act as well; it may have been burning incense in the pagan way.

But Gregory and others forthrightly proclaimed that they were but humble servants of the Tradition. With authority, yes, but one that is itself subject to Tradition because subject to the Gospel, which is Christ’s Alone.

But Gregory was also a meek lamb, a holy man, of tender heart. Some rabble-rousing Catholics, in mistaken zeal (or perhaps worse), were disturbing the Jews as they celebrated their various ceremonies near Naples. Their reason was that only the Catholic religion is presently appointed by God, so that Jewish worship — according to ceremonies that expect the coming of the Messiah and thus implicitly deny that he has come — does not enjoy present divine worship.

When Gregory learned of their rough and disturbing activity of Jewish worship, he rebuked them:

“Some people have unreasonably sought to prevent them from celebrating some of their solemn feast days…. If such is the case, these men [the disturbers] seem to be engaged in a useless pursuit…. This, then is the agendum: by being encouraged more by reason and gentleness, they are to wish to follow, not flee, from us, so that by showing them what we affirm from their Scriptures, we may be able with God’s help to convert them to the bosom of Mother Church.”

He urges the local bishop to evangelize the Jews and call them to conversion to the one true faith, but also to leave them in peace to worship as they have for centuries upon centuries.

“Those who sincerely desire to bring those outside the Christian religion to the correct faith should be earnestly engaged in displays of courtesy, not harshness, lest hostility drive far away those whose minds a clear thought out reason could challenge. FOR WHOEVER ACTS OTHERWISE, AND WANTS TO KEEP THEM AWAY FROM TEHIR CUSTOMARY PRACTICE OF RITES UNDER THIS PRETEXT, IS SHOWN TO BE MORE CONCERNED WITH HIS OWN INTERESTS THAN WITH THOSE OF GOD.” (DS, 43rd edition trans. into English by Ignatius Press, #487

O God, through the intercession of Pope St. Gregory the Great, grant that we both submit to the Entire Tradition with clear and unambiguous words and gestures and that we also, meek as lambs, invite welcomingly to the Table of Truth all those whose hearts hunger until they feed on Thy Bread.