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Century VI, Chapter VI

CHAP. VI.

Gregory's Conduct toward the Emperors Mauritius and

Phocas.

It is impossible for any impartial person, who has attended to the spirit and conduct of Gregory as exhibited in his pastoral memoirs, not to feel a conviction of the eminent piety, integrity, and humility of this bishop. Yet it has been the fashion to arraign his character with great severity, on account of his cond'uct in the latter part of his life. He has been accused! of great ingratitude towards one excellent and virtuous emperor, and of egregious flattery towards another who was profligate and tyrannical. The evidence already adduced of his disposition and temper should naturally dispose us to receive with much caution such grievous accusations. I shall throw together into this chapter the facts on which our judgment is to be founded. *

A series of events had given Gregory a strong prejudice against the government of Mauritius. Their opposition of sentiment had remarkably alienated their spirits from one another, though they once had the most sincere esteem for each other's character. Gre

' See Bower's History of the Popes, vol. ii. Gregory

gory had been very acceptable to Mauritius, who had strongly favoured his promotion to the bishopric. Nor is there any reason to doubt of the sincerity of the bishop's professions of a very high regard for the emperor, when he made them. Changes of this sort are common amongst mankind, nor are the declarations, which men make at different times of the characters of the same persons, however contradictory, to be always charged to insincerity.

' Mauritius made a law, to prohibit men, who had held civil offices under the government, from undertaking the administration of the church. Of this Gregory approved; but a clause in the same law, which forbade military men to enter into monasteries till the time of their service was expired, or till they were disabled for the profession, met not with the same approbation. Gregory, too fond of monastic institutions, and conceiving them necessary for the souls of some, . tlwugh not of all, expostulated with the emperor on the impiety of the decree. He does so, however, with all possible decency and respect, and lays open his sentiments with a frankness and modesty, which do honour to his character. Doubtless he was mistaken; and the mistake was common to him with the most pious of those times. He promulged, however, the emperor's decree through Italy, and thus, as he himself says, he was faithful to God, and obeyed his prince at the same time.*

In this transaction, in which it does not appear that he succeeded with the emperor, the zeal of Gregory was quickened by the strong presentiments of the near approach of the day of judgment, which filled his mind. This mistaken notion seems to have dwelt with Gregory; nor was it in him a mere speculation. He was practically serious in the expectation. I find him pressing it in another letter to the nobles and landholders of the island of Sardinia, whom he reproved for suffering their labourers to remain in a state of idolatry.

He justly observes, that they were bound in conscience to take care of the spiritual instruction of those who laboured for them in temporal things, and he earnestly exhorts them to promote the charitable work.* The selfishness and insensibility, with which so many, in modern times, can reap lucrative advantages from the labours of mariners, slaves, and apprentices, with no more attention to their best interests, than if they were of the brute creation, here naturally forces itself on our attention. Other letters, of the same kind, demonstrate the zeal of Gregory for the propagation of christianity among idolaters and infidels.

Italy suffered extremely from the Lombards, as has been observed; nor can we form any hopeful idea of the real conversion of Aigilulph, the husband of Theodelinda, since he still ravaged the Roman territories, and filled them with misery and desolation. These evils were a constant source of affliction to the tender spirit of Gregory, yet he failed not to improve them

IN HIS HOMILIES TO THE INSTRUCTION OF HIS

Flock. Willing to put a stop to the effusion of blood, and averse to shedding even that of the Lombards, by nourishing intestine feuds among them, as he might have done, he strove to make peace with Aigilulph, and had even succeeded, when the exarch of Ravenna, the emperor's governor in Italy, perfidiously brake the peace, and provoked the Lombard king to renew his hostilities. The exarch himself, finding his own profit in the continuance of the war, was for persevering in it at all events, and his heart was hardened against the sufferings of the people, which Gregory deplored. Involved as we find this holy bishop in political concerns far more than it were to be wished, it is yet pleasing to see him uniformly supporting the christian character. For now a severe trial came upon him. Mauritius, induced by representations from the exarch, reproached him severely with his conduct, and in effect called him a foolish person. Gregory, humble as he was, felt

the indignity, of all others the hardest to be borne by men of understanding. Yet he checked his spirit, and brake not the just bounds prescribed to the christian and to the subject of an emperor. " While you reprove me," says he, " in sparing you have not spared me. While you politely tax me with simplicity, you doubtless call me a fool. I own the charge. Had I not been so I should not have come hither to this episcopal scene, to endure what I suffer amidst the Lombard wars. Indeed if I saw not the daily increase of the calamities of the Romans, I should gladly be silent with respect to personal contempt. But this is my affliction; the same cause which subjects me to the imputation of folly, brings my countrymen under the yoke of the Lombards. And while I am not believed, the strength of the enemy increases mightily. This I suggest to my good lord, that he may believe of me what evils he pleases, only let him not give his ears to any sort of persons concerning the public good, but regard facts more than words. I know I am a sinner; I daily offend, and am daily chastised. I trust the chastisement of your displeasure will work for my good, among the rest, at the last day. But let me recount my grievances. First, the peace I had made with Aigilulph, with no loss to the state, is broken. In the next place, soldiers are removed from Rome, some to perish by the enemy, others to defend Perusium, while Rome is exposed to danger. Further, Aigilulph appears with his forces; with these eyes I have seen Romans, like dogs, tied with cords, and dragged to be sold as slaves among the Franks. As to myself, in the integrity of my conscience I am not dejected with false accusations: I am prepared to endure all, provided my soul's salvation be not endangered. But it grieves me to the heart, that Gregory and Castorius, who did all that men could do, while Rome was besieged, have fallen under your displeasure on my account. That you threaten mc with an awful account at the day of judgment, will require a few words in answer. I beseech you cease from this language, ' Judge nothing before the time,'

says that excellent preacher Paul. I only say this fn brief, that, unworthy sinner as I am, I rest more on the mercy of Jesus, than on your justice. Men are very ignorant of the measures of His judgment; perhaps what you commend, he will blame; and what you blame, he will commend. I leave uncertain things; I have recourse to prayers and tears alone, begging that the Lord would rule our pious emperor with his hand, and acquit him at that awful judgment; at the same time, that he would teach me so to please men, that I lose not his eternal grace."*

I have already mentioned the jealous uneasiness of Gregory at the pride of John, bishop of Constantinople. The title of universal bishop, had upon his own application been conferred upon him in an eastern council, and the policy of some former emperors had induced them to compliment the prelates of Constantinople with it; because the honour and influence of the imperial city were augmented by this means. Gregory was the more vexed at this, because the synod of Chalcedonf had offered the same title to the Roman bishops, and they had not accepted it. He in his letters called himself the servant of the servants of God. Such humility might have been thought affected in a person not eminent for this grace. Doubtless it would nave been more prudent in him not to have assumed it. But it continues to this day the title of his successors, a standing mark of egregious hypocrisy! That which deceived Gregory in this case was the erroneous notion of the preeminence of his own see, as belonging to St. Peter; yet I no way doubt but he sincerely abhorred the pride of the eastern prelate. Had he himself, however, been more completely humble and less superstitious, he would have suffered the affair to pass with greater indifference. While in one respect we behold this good man acting the patriot and the christian, relieving the distressed and ransoming the captives with unbounded liberality, nominally possessing great ec

clesiastical wealth, but employing it all to the most beneficent purposes, and sparing no labour or fatigue, in another we see him writing and negotiating with persevering vehemence concerning a title, in which, though his cause was unquestionably just, his eagerness was far too sanguine. He solicited the emperor Mauritius on the subject, but in vain. And this was an additional cause of the prejudices, which they imbibed against each other.

Mauritius cannot be vindicated in supporting the odious pride of John against the just demands of Gregory. The evil, by the countenance of the emperor, continued; and John's successor assumed the same antichristian title. But Gregory had still more weighty causes of complaint, and such as his episcopal duty called on him to lay before the emperor.

This he did in a letter to Constantia, the empress. " Knowing," says he, " that there were many gentiles* in Sardinia, that they worshipped idols, and that the clergy were remiss in preaching our Redeemer to them, I sent a bishop from Italy thither, who, the hand of the Lord being with him, brought over many of them to the faith. I am informed that those, who persevere in idolatry, give a fee to the judge of the island, that they may be allowed to do so with impunity. Some, having been baptized, and ceasing to worship idols, are still obliged to pay the same fine to the judge:f who, when the bishop blamed him, answered,

• The term means idolaters in the language of the fathers. B. iv. ep. 77.

f Gregory was much afflicted to find, that almost all the peasants of the island were still idolaters. Januarius, bishop of Cagliari, was indolent; the slaves belonging to his own church were idolaters; the other bishops ofthe province were equally negligent. Hospiton, the chief of the barbarians, had, however, received the gospel; and to him Gregory recommended his missionaries, exhorting him to exert himself for the salvation of his countrymen. Gregory rebuked Januarius for his neglect of discipline in general, though he had exercised it severely in one instance, in which he had met with a personal affront. The world is still the same; 1 could wish that what has been mentioned did not give just cause to the reader, to recollect nut only the state of religion m the West Indies, but nearer at home, in Ireland, in which, notwithstanding there are such a number of bishoprics and churches, a superstitious and idolatrous religion prevails to this day.

that he had paid so much money for the purchase of his office, that he could not recover his expenses but by such perquisites. The island of Corsica also is oppressed with such exactions and grievances, that the inhabitants are scarce able to pay the tributes even by the sale of their children. Hence a number of proprietors in the island, relinquishing the Roman government, are reduced to put themselves under the protection of the Lombards. For what more grievous oppression can they suffer from the barbarians, than to be obliged to sell their children? I know that the emperor will say, that the whole produce of the revenue in these islands is applied to the support and defence of Italy. Be it so; but a divine blessing ought not to be expected to attend the gains of sin." He wrote again to the empress, against the pride of John, and speaks superstitiously on the merits of St. Peter, while he laments his own unworthiness. Twenty-seven years, he observes, the Roman church had suffered from the desolation. of the Lombards; and its daily expenses, partly on account of the war, and partly in the support of the indigent, were incredibly great.

Gregory had also other just causes of complaint against the emperor. Property, he saw, was intirely fluctuating and insecure on account of oppressive exactions, insidious proceedings in wills, and various artificers employed by the emperor's ministers.* These evils were constantly practised is Italy, and Gregory had deplored them in vain.

Evagrius delivers a very pompous encomium on the character of Mauritius.f But his praise is declamatory and vague, and Mauritius was then living. After all due allowances made on account of the emperor's distance from Italy, it is impossible to vindicate his conduct. He wanted not military virtues, and had some sense of religion. But avarice was the predominant feature of his character; and how much this vice prevails to eclipse all laudable qualities in a man, was ne

• B. si. ep. 36. f Toward the close of his history.

ver more illustrated than in the conduct of Mauritius. Chagan, king of the Avares, a Scythian nation on the banks of the Danube, offered, for a ransom, to liberate some thousands of prisoners. He even proposed to do it at a low price; but Mauritius would not part with his money, and the barbarian in a rage massacred all his prisoners. Mauritius, though covetous, was not inhuman: he was struck with horror at the news, and besought God, that his punishment might be in this life, not in the next. His prayer was answered in the former part of it undoubtedly, and I hope also in the latter. As he had alienated the affections of his soldiers by his refusal to supply their wants, they elevated Phoc;;s a centurion, to the imperial throne. Mauritius fled, but was seized, and inhumanly murdered with his wife and family. Five of his sons were slain in his sight before he himself received the fatal stroke. The little spark of divine grace, which for years seems to have maintained a dubious existence in a heart, by nature extremely avaricious, was fanned into aflame by the keen blast of wholesome affliction. Mauritius bore the scene with silent resignation, repeating only, as each of his children was butchered, " Righteous art thou, O Lord, and true are thy judgments." A nurse, who took care of his youngest son, placed her own in its room: Mauritius detecting the generous fraud, discovered it to the executioners, and prevented its effect. This is a transaction of civil history, but it falls in with our plan. The great faults of one, who had a latent spark of grace within him, were punished in this life by the wickedness of the monster Phocas, and the story deserves to be remembered as a beacon to warn professors of godliness against the love of the world. Mauritius seems to have profited abundantly by the scourge, and to have died in such a frame of mind, as belongs only to a .christian. We are not apt to be aware of the advantages which society rec> ives from christianity. Let us suppose this emperor to have been totally unacquainted with, or intirely averse to christian principles. How immensely more pernicious his natural dis

position would have been, unchecked internally, as well as externally, can scarce be conceived.

The images of Phocas and of his wife Leontia, were sent to Rome, and received with much respect by the people, and by Gregory himself. It cannot be supposed, that the bishop of Rome could be acquainted with the personal character of Phocas, who was in truth a man of extraordinary wickedness; and the late transactions at Constantinople would naturally be misre- . presented to him in the accounts transmitted thence. Prejudiced as he was against Mauritius, and willing to hope better things from the new emperor, he wrote him a congratulatory letter, in which he studiously avoided saying any thing on the detail of circumstances, of which he must have been very insufficiently informed, and dwelt on that which was certain, namely, the adorable hand of divine providence in changing the times, and in transferring kingdoms, as he pleases. He exults in the prospect which he had too eagerly formed of a wise, just, and pious administration. He modestly hints at the great abuses of the late government, and exhorts Phocas to redress them, reminding him, " that a Roman emperor commands freemen, and not slaves."* Such is the substance of his letter, in which I see nothing unworthy of the piety and patriotism of Gregory, but much of his wonted care for the good of the church and the public.

Gregory wrote again to Phocas, to apologize for the want of a deacon, who should reside at Constantinople. Phocas had complained to him of this, and invited him to send one. The bishop informed him, that the severity of the late government had deterred all clergymen from going thither. But, as he now hoped better things, he sent him a person, whom he recommended to his protection. He beseeches Phocas to listen to his relation of facts, as he would thence learn more distinctly the miseries, which Italy had sustained without redress, for thirty-five years, from the Lom

hards.* Is it at all surprising, that this language should be used by a man who sincerely loved his country, and knew little of the new emperor; who probably had received a false account of his actions and character, and who had so long been, on christian principles, both patient and loyal to an oppressive government?

In another letter to Leontia he is not to be excused from the charge of an unhappy superstition. He talks of Peter the apostle, reminds her of the scripture text, on the perverted use of which hangs the whole structure of the papacy,f and of his intercession in heaven. Me prays, that she and her husband may be endowed with princely virtues, and expresses, I will not say with flatter) , but with an expectation much too sanguine, his hopes of the blessings of the new administration.

Phocas was displeased with Cyriacus, the bishop of Constantinople, because he had generously interested himself in favour of the remaining branches of Mauritius's family; and while he courted the favour of Gregory and of the Romans at a distance, he tyrannized at home in an uncommon manner. But Gregory died the next year after Phocas's promotion, and had not, probably, time enough to know his genuine character, and was himself also so bowed down with pains and infirmities, that he was unable to answer a letter of Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards. He had promised to do it, if his health was restored; but he grew less and less capable of business till he died. Had health and opportunity permitted, the vigor and piety of his character give me no room to doubt, that he would have rebuked the Roman tyrant in such a manner, as to have quite silenced the accusations, which, on this account, have been thrown upon him. That he should have opposed the usurpation of Phocas, will not be expected from those who consider the views of the primitive christians, who intermeddled not with politics; but he, who plainly rebuked Mau

ritius, would certainly not have spared his successor, whose conduct was far more blamable. * ,