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of religion. He founded seven monasteries, one in Rome and six in Sicily. But although he assumed the monastic habit and profession from choice, it was not because he was unsuited to the business of active life; for his birth and abilities had raised him to the office of prefect of the city. After he became a deacon of the church, he was sent to the Byzantine court as nuncio, or minister of the see of Rome; and he there performed his part with a boldness and dignity which had been unusual, and drew much attention to his conduct.

3. On his return to Rome, he was unanimously chosen to the office of Bishop of that city, on the decease of Pelagius (A.D. 590). But with that humility which always formed a striking feature of his character, he refused to accept this office, and sent a petition to the Emperor Maurice, beseeching him to reject this choice of the Romans. The letter, however, was intercepted, and the election was confirmed. To evade the honour which was thrust upon him, he obtained the aid of some friendly merchants, who conveyed him in a wicker basket beyond the walls of Rome. He remained in concealment for three days, among the woods and mountains.

At length his retreat was discovered, and he was compelled to enter upon the duties of his bishopric.

4. The plague at this time prevailed in Rome, and Gregory, however backward to become a bishop, forgot not the duties of his sacred office, when he had entered

He preached with much energy and affection, exhorting all classes to repentance. He also appointed a solemn litany or supplication, to be performed throughout the city. Seven companies were directed to march in procession at break of day, from different churches, and then to meet in one place. The first company consisted of the clergy; the second of abbots with their monks; the third of abbesses with their nuns; the fourth of children; the fifth of laymen; the sixth of widows; the seventh of married women. Fourscore persons died in one hour, while the people were thus engaged, but the labours of the bishop continued without intermission; and to alleviate this calamity he persisted in the work of prayer and preaching till the plague ceased.

5. Even at this time the revenues of the Bishop of Rome

upon it.

of the poor.

were exceedingly large. The church over which he presided had ample possessions in Italy, Sicily, and the more distant provinces. Gregory provided for the distribution of this patrimony with the utmost care. In the use of all this wealth, he acted like a faithful steward of the church and

Those who farmed the estates, of which he had the management, were treated with all the consideration due from a vigilant and moderate landlord ; and he enforced the necessity upon his officers of not suffering the church to be defiled by base or unjust gains. He ordered an exact account to be kept of all the sums received and expended, which was preserved for three hundred years afterwards in the Lateran, and esteemed a model of Christian economy. On the four great festivals of the church, he distributed their quarterly allowance to the clergy, to his domestics, to the monasteries, the churches, the places of burial, the almshouses, the hospitals of Rome, and the rest of the diocese. On the first day of every month, he distributed to the poor, according to the season, a stated portion of corn, wine, cheese, vegetables, oil, fish, fresh provisions, clothes, and money. His treasures were continually ready to satisfy the demands of indigence and merit. The distress of the sick and helpless, of strangers and pilgrims, was relieved by the bounty of each day and of every hour. Before he sat down to eat, he sent portions from his table to indigent people who were ashamed to appear. The misery of the times had reduced the nobles and matrons of Rome to accept the benevolence of the church ; three thousand virgins received their food and raiment from the hand of this benefactor, and many bishops of Italy having fled from the barbarians, took shelter within his hospitable threshold.

6. Nothing delighted this good bishop more than to exercise his charitable disposition in such works of mercy. He pressed his agents to inform him of objects upon whom he might bestow his kindness, and loved to exceed the expectations of his petitioners. But while he abounded in benefactions, he would receive none himself. to refuse,” said he, writing to Felix, bishop of Messina, “presents which are expensive to the churches. Send to the other clergymen every year what is established by usage. But as I love not presents, I forbid you to send me any for the future. I thank you for the palm-trees which you sent

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me, but I have caused them to be sold, and have sent you the price of them."

7. Another anecdote is related by the early historians of the church, which so strongly illustrates the virtues of Gregory, and the opinions of that period, that we shall present it to the reader nearly in the words of the ancient legend. On a certain day a poor man came to Gregory, making his complaint that he had suffered shipwreck at sea, and lost all his goods, so that he had nothing to support himself and his family. Gregory, moved with compassion, gave him six pieces of gold; which having received he departed, but returned soon after, telling his benefactor that he had paid away all he had received, and entreating further relief; upon which the kind hearted-man then gave him another present of similar amount. A third time he renewed this application on the same day, and was again relieved, without question or gainsaying. But coming a fourth time, Gregory having no more gold left, yet unwilling to send him away empty, remembered that he had a piece of silver plate in his house of good value, and ordered it to be given to the poor man. Shortly after this, being made bishop of Rome, twelve poor men were invited to dine with him on the day of his preferment, according to custom. When the bishop had sat down with the twelve, looking round upon his guests and numbering them, he counted thirteen, upon which he asked his steward, why he had transgressed the custom; but the latter answered, that there were but twelve guests at the table. Gregory affirmed still, that he saw thirteen, but observing on the countenance of one of them a remarkable brightness and a peculiar expression of features, he led him into his study when the meal wasover, and seriously demanded of him who he was; to which the guest replied, that he was the same person, whom, as a poor man, he had so bountifully relieved four times in one day, with gold and plate ; but that he was in reality an angel, whom God, being well pleased with these alms-deeds, had sent to be in future the guardian and director of his servant." Gregory, the legend goes on to relate, was struck with fear and wonder, but while he was giving thanks to God for this great favour, the angel vanished out of his sight.

8. One of the recorded sayings of this eminent man is in perfect agreement with the moral of so singular a legend.

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“I can never," said he,“ read these words in Scripture which Abraham spoke to Dives, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things (Luke xvi. 25), without horror and astonishment, lest, having received so large a share of the good things of this world, I should be excluded from having any part or portion in the happiness of the world to come.”

9. Gregory might justly be styled, even in a better sense than some of the Roman sovereigns had been, the father of his country. Such was the extreme sensibility of his conscience to the claims of poverty, that for the death of a beggar who had perished in the streets, he interdicted himself for several days from the exercise of his sacerdotal functions. His humility also was conspicuous on the following occasion :- The Emperor Justinian had, by a rescript or royal decree, declared the Roman bishop as Head of all the churches (A.D. 533), a grant of which the Romish Church has since availed itself to establish its claim to a universal supremacy. This prerogative, however, was always regarded with much jealousy by the bishop of Constantinople, and at this time one of them disturbed the peace of the church, by boldly assuming it as belonging to the imperial city, rather than to the more ancient seat of the empire. It was in consequence of this, that Gregory the Great in his epistles thought it necessary to rebuke this arrogance though at the expense of his own dignity; and this he might well do, as he had assumed for himself only the title of servant of the servants of Jesus Christ. Without scruple he declared that whosoever called himself a universal bishop was Antichrist, or the forerunner of Antichrist ; that the fact of John, the Patriarch of the East, usurping such a title argued that the time of Antichrist was nigh at hand (A.D. 582). The conduct of Gregory in this respect presents a remarkable contrast with that of Boniface, one of his immediate successors. He ambitiously sought and obtained from Phocas, the murderer of the Emperor Maurice, a recognition of the original title (A.D. 606). The bishop of Constantinople was again consigned to the second rank, and this state of things continued till a separation took place between the eastern and western churches (A.D. 1054).

10. One important office of the bishops of Rome at this period was to act as an umpire, and to promote peace between partics who were in a state of variance, cither in spiritual or temporal matters. The situation of the bishop of a city which had the claim of antiquity and of ancient dignity, above every other, naturally placed him at the head of the church, though without any assumption of that infallibility which was afterwards a prerogative supposed to be attached to the office. Gregory was incessantly employed in the work of exercising his mediation, or using his exhortations to promote the general benefit of his country. His letters, which are still preserved, shew the immense amount of time and labour employed in his correspondence. His efforts were in this way directed to promoto, as one of the first objects he had at heart, the conversion of the Lombards. This people had now established themselves throughout the whole of Italy, with the exception of that part of it which still belonged to the Exarch of Ravenna, who was the representative of the Eastern Emperor; presenting still the shadow of the imperial authority, in what remained to him of the western provinces. For the welfare of this people, Gregory was especially anxious. He corresponded therefore frequently with Theudelinda, who was then Queen of the Lombardk. She was the widow of Autharis, who had been a zealous Arian (1.1. 589). After his death (1.D. 590), she married Aigilulph, a Lombard, whom the nation reccived as king. Being an earnest professor of the Catholic faith, she brought over her busband, and the whole nation at length, to the name views of religion. Gregory had to congratulate her on this circumstance, and used his influence to establish a treaty of peace between the Lombards and the Roman Exarchato (1.D. 595).

11. Another important event in the life of this eminent bishop was his sending the missionary Augustine to the island of Britain, to labour in the conversion of the Saxonis (A.D. 597). For a hundred and fifty years after their arrival in Britain, they were still in a state of heatheniem. A Christian church had existed in the British Isles from the first age of the Gospel, and there is some reason to believe, that even St. Paul himself might have preached here. But when the original inhabitants retreated before the Saxon invaders, they carried their religion away with them, for the most part into the fastnesses of Wales and Cornwall, and some of the more distant parts of these islands.

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