Tag Archives: papacy

When details get you down: How one of church history’s busiest, most spiritual leaders beat the rat race

In the rush of our shot-out-of-a-cannon lives, It’s so easy for us to feel drained, dried-out, and distant from God. Recently I had the chance to share the response of one spiritual giant (and ordinary, wounded man) to this syndrome. Over the years, Leadership Journal editor Marshall Shelley has graciously allowed me to share stories of some of history’s most intriguing Christian leaders in the pages of his high-quality magazine.

By the way, for those who like to bemoan the current state of the churches categorized under the loose heading “evangelical,” I would point out that any movement whose leaders are wise enough to look to the church’s heritage for wisdom has got a powerful antidote to modern fads and crotchets. Mr. Shelley knows this particularly well: his father, Bruce Shelley, is a church historian (long of Denver Seminary, author of Church History in Plain Language):

When Details Get You Down
Maintaining a spiritual life amid war, famine, and plague is what made Gregory the Great.

How can I maintain a spiritual life while dealing with people’s incessant problems and needs? The question didn’t originate with a pastor whose cell phone kept interrupting his prayer life. It goes back at least as far as Gregory, the first practicing monk to be elected, over his own objections, to the papacy. Gregory (540-604) preferred the life of solitude and contemplation, but it was his abilities as a leader as well as his writings on the integration of the inner life with active ministry that that caused him to be called, “Gregory the Great.” When he became pope in 590, Rome had been attacked for several years by the Lombards, a fierce Germanic tribe that had crossed the Alps to plunder the Eternal City. The emperor, distant in Constantinople, was distracted by a war with Persia, and could not offer aid to Rome. The years of war, famine, and plague had prompted Rome’s senatorial class to flee the city, when meant that the newly-elected Pope Gregory I was the only civil authority left. So he was immediately thrust into managing supplies and troop movements, and negotiating with terrorists. Continue reading

A pope worth knowing

This is my profile of Gregory the Great for the Zondervan Dictionary of Spirituality. He is indeed a pope worth knowing–and one of the ten figures in my Patron Saints for Postmoderns.

Gregory the Great (ca. 540–604). Pivotal medieval pope. “The Great” is the customary honorific for Pope Gregory, the first practicing monk to be elected to the papacy (590 – 604). Roman Catholics designate him Doctor of the Church and one of six Latin Fathers. Born of noble blood and ascending to the secular prefecture of Rome before entering the monastery, he became pope at a time of barbarian invasion, plague, drought, famine, and the abdication of responsibility by the old Roman senatorial class. He filled the leadership void, negotiating peace with the invaders, draining the coffers of the church on behalf of the suffering, and leading penitential parades beseeching God to turn back the plague. His leadership in Rome is considered a key moment in the rise of the papacy to Western power both ecclesiastical and secular. However, appalled by claims of the Patriarch John of Constantinople to be “ecumenical patriarch,” Gregory styled himself “Servant of the servants of God” (though still assuming the Western primacy of the Roman bishop). Continue reading