Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The Feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church
is today. There is information on him here. Prayers for the Holy Father and all those who have St. Gregory as a special patron would be appropriate, as well as prayers for the more widespread use of Gregorian chant in the liturgy.

"One would have thought that in the age of St. Gregory, a Pope had enough to do in living on from day to day, without troubling himself about the future; that, with the Lombard at his doors, he would not have had spirit to set about converting the English; and that, if he was anxious about the preservation of learning, he would have looked elsewhere than to the Isles of the North, for its refuge in the evil day. Why, I repeat, was it not easier, safer, and more feasible for him to have made much of the prosperous, secure, and long established schools of Alexandria, when the enemy went about him plundering and burning? He was not indeed on the best terms with Constantinople; Antioch was exposed to other enemies, and had suffered from them already; but Alexandria was not only learned and protected, but was a special ally of the Holy See; yet Alexandria was put aside for England and Ireland.

With what pertinacity of zeal does Gregory send his missionaries to England! with what an appetite he waits for the tidings of their progress! with what a relish he dwells over the good news, when they are able to send it! He wrote back to Augustine in words of triumph:—' "Gloria in excelsis Deo," 'he says, ' "et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis!' for the Grain of corn died and was buried in the earth, that It might reign with a great company in Heaven,—by whose death we live, by whose weakness we are strengthened, by whose sufferings we escape suffering, by whose love we are seeking in Britain brothers whom we know not of, by whose gift we find those whom, not knowing, we were seeking. Who can describe the joy, which was caused in the hearts of all the faithful here, on the news that the English nation, by the operation of the grace of the Omnipotent God, and by your labours, my brother, had been rescued from the shades of error and overspread with the light of holy faith! If on one penitent there is great joy in heaven, what, think we, does it become, when a whole people has turned from its error, and has betaken itself to faith, and condemned the evil it has done by repenting of the doing! Wherefore in this joy of Heaven and Angels, let me say once more the very Angels' words, "Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis." '

What were these outer barbarians to Gregory? how could they relieve him or profit him? What compensation could they make for what the Church was then losing, or might lose in future? Yet he corresponds with their king and queen, urges them to complete what they had so happily begun, reminds Bertha of St. Helena, and what St. Helena did for the Romans, and Ethelbert, of the great Constantine; informs them of the satisfaction which their conversion had given to the Imperial Court at Constantinople, and sends them sacred presents from the Apostle Peter. Nay he cannot keep from talking of these savages, apropos of anything whatever, for they have been running in his head from the day he first saw them in the slave market; and he makes the learned Church of Alexandria the special partner of his joy upon this contemptible victory. The Patriarch Eulogius had been telling him of his own success in reclaiming the heretics of Alexandria, and he sends him a piece of good news in return:—'As I am well aware," he says, "that in the midst of your own good deeds, you rejoice in those of others, I will repay you for the kindness of your tidings by telling you something of the same sort.' And then he goes on to speak of the conversion of the English, 'who are situated in a corner of the world,' as if their gain was comparable to that of the educated and wealthy persons whom Eulogius had been reconciling to the Church. Nay, lest he should take too much credit for his own success, and grow vain upon it, he attributes it to the prayers of the Alexandrians, or at least of their Bishop, all that way off, as if the Angles and Jutes were anything at all to the city of the Ptolemies! 'On Christmas Day,' he says, 'more than 10,000 of them were baptized. I tell you of it, that you may know, that, while your words avail for your own people, your prayers avail for the ends of the earth. For you are by prayer where you are not, while you manifest yourself by holy labours where you are.'" - The Rise and Progress of Universities- Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O.


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