Gregory the Great: Servum Servorum

Posted By on Sep 12, 2013

Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam, Prior For a tiny little congregation of monks we sure do lay claim to a lot of great saints. Of course Pope Saint Gregory the Great was not a monk in the Romualdian tradition, but we did inherit some very nice property from him––San Andrea on the Caelian Hill is now the Camaldolese monastery of San Gregorio Magno. Gregory the Great (540–604) was the son of a Roman senator. He himself served for a time as prefect of the city of Rome, but eventually sold his vast property and gave the money to the poor. He founded seven monasteries, six in Sicily and one in Rome, which he joined himself. After some years of monastic life, the Pope forced him out to be one of the seven deacons of the city of Rome and then to be the apocrisiarius at the Imperial Court of Constantinople. He got to back to his monastery in Rome only to serve as abbot there for a short while before he was elevated to the papacy. And then went on to have an astounding career as a statesman, pastor, teacher, writer and reformer. I often like to tell people that in my work and study in interreligious dialogue one of the criticisms I ran into all the time is that Christians are too focused on our “cult of the dark night” and all our Sturm und Drang, as opposed to other mystical traditions that seem to be bursting with light and serenity. I’ve even read criticism of a master of the spiritual life such as Gregory the Great, for dwelling too much on the pain and effort involved in the approach to God, and focusing too much on how the soul has to fight its way out of the darkness that is its natural element. Maybe that’s true––historically Christians have often fallen into the trap of getting caught up in Good Friday and forgetting about Easter Sunday––but it’s only true up to a point. We have to remember, for instance, that St. John of the Cross wrote his mystical verses about the dark night while he was trapped in a prison cell, and put there by his own brothers, for instance; and that Gregory the Great was forced into the papacy while the Roman Empire was collapsing, the Emperor had abdicated, Rome was infected with famine and pestilence, floods and earthquakes, the Greeks and the barbarians were invading, and he had to take over, when all he wanted to do was be a simple monk. There actually was a lot of “storm and stress,” a lot of darkness. The...

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