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One of the largest consequences of the collapse of the Roman Empire in western Europe was the virtually independent development of the Christian church. The position of the first influencial Pope may help to understand why papal authority got so powerful over the years.

The first great climax of papal authority development in the west was reached under Pope Gregory I (590-604), known as Gregory the Great. More consistently than any of his predecessors, he sought to extend papal authority over the Christian Church. He had greater success in the missionary efforts he encouraged, particularly those of St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, than in interfering with well-established churches under strong kings, such as the Church of Spain and the Church of Gaul. But his most lasting work was in Italy itself. During his pontificate the conversion of Arian Lombards was undertaken and the city of Rome was transformed into a political and administrative unit, which was the beginning of the Papal States.

This development was to give the papacy a territorial interest and a political role that would never be fully divorced from its spiritual role and that often, it was claimed for centuries and centuries thereafter, would get in the way of that spiritual role. Yet this was not how the problem appeared to Gregory himself and his contemporaries, since they simply had to defend Rome from people like the Lombards. The pope had to provide secure government and food for his citizens.

Moreover, if Gregory the Great was to function as the independent head of the church, he had to preserve his political independence. Otherwise, he would become as dependent on local autorities as the patriarch of Constinantople or the bishops of Spain and Gaul.

One and a half century later, Gregory's successors had no alternative than to call, unwillingly, on the Franks for protection from the Lombards. That sequel made it clear beyond a doubt that the papacy needed an independent political base if it was to make good its spiritual claims. The history of the next thousand years, not excluding the experience of the Protestant churches after the Reformation, did nothing to show this assumption to have been false.

Gregory I (the great, 590 - 604 CE) did not set out to extend the political power of the Roman Church. Rather, it happened out of necessity. Unlike Pope Leo (or even Pelagius II) before him, Gregory was not in the position to exert or extend the power of the Roman See because of the Lombard threat to the north and because of the apparent benign neglect of the Imperial throne and Eastern Church. Gregory's hands were tied, as it were, because of the weakened state of Rome as he took the Throne of St. Peter. Rome had little chance to rise to her former greatness: frequent plagues, invasions, intense poverty and religious persecution (by the Arians) made sure of that. Gregory needed to make the lives of the Roman citizens worth living. They needed to be reminded of the coming Glory of the Church.

Gregory has been, therefore, misunderstood as a political reformer. He viewed Man as torn between two worlds: the active and contemplative. But unlike Augustine and Cassian before him, Gregory did not see these spheres as mutually exclusive (which would mean that political reformation would have some weight as an entity separate from theology). Instead, for Gregory, the reward of the active, public life is monastic and contemplative repose and leisure. Furthermore, the reward of contemplative leisure is a renewed vigor for and deeper understanding of active life.

In terms of politics, then, Gregory's "reforms" were not in the service of papal power or of the Church, but rather for religious faith itself. His active, public, political work was in fact an attempt to reap the reward for activity (contemplation) for Christendom (the eschatological fulfillment of the Church, the inauguration of the Heavenly Kingdom). Gregory felt that time was running out for humanity, and therefore Christendom needed a strong leader who would be able to fulfill the Church and bring about the End Times, which would in turn lead to an eternity of contemplation. That the result of his work was the creation of the Papal States and of the age of Church supremacy in Europe is merely a coincidence.

And, in terms of Medieval Studies as a discipline, it is a red herring.

When looked at from Gregory's perspective his reforms were far closer to that of Luther (another misunderstood reformer): Change the Church for the spiritual gain of Christendom. Laws, politics, expansion of empires, etc. have nothing to do with it at all. Gregory, like Luther, Augustine, Cassian et. al., was a theologian, not a politician. The attempt is to create a "long line of reformers" that ends with Gregory during the Early Church Period. While it is very neat and orderly to view it that way, it is not necessarily the story. In Gregory we have a rather anomalous figure who was far more concerned with faith than with politics.

Pope Gregory I (pope from 590-604) was born a Roman aristocrat at a time when Rome was no longer the political center of the Italian Peninsula, but still an important urban center. He is most famous for establishing the primacy of Rome in the Church. He was an advocate of monasticism and cultivated monastic associates in the Benedictine tradition. He wrote a biography of St. Benedict, many important letters, and an instructional for priests and bishops entitled Pastoral Care (which combined strong Christian morals with an understanding of human frailty).

Pope Gregory I (or Gregory the Great or Pope Saint Gregory) was also known for his magnum opus Moralia in Iob (or Morals on Job or Morals on the Book of Job).

In this work, made up of 35 books, Gregory explores the book of Job on four different levels: literal or historical, moral, metaphorical or allegorial, and anagogical or eschatalogical.

Gregory's Moralia took Medieval biblical exegesis to a new level, applying ideas by other theological greats like Saints Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome. Gregory (like Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome) is considered a Father of the Church and a Doctor of the Church.

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