Gregorius Anicius, the man who would eventually become known as Gregory the Great, lived from AD 540 to 604. He served as the bishop of Rome from 590 to 604. In the Roman Catholic Church, he is known as Pope Gregory I. In the Orthodox Church, he is known as Saint Gregory the Dialogist. In the writings of John Calvin, he is said to have been the “last good pope.”
Before he became the bishop of Rome, Gregory was a key administrator of the city of Rome. Gregory eventually retired from politics and became a monk, dedicating his life to solitude, contemplation, prayer, and studying the Bible. He was called out of monasticism by Pope Benedict and sent to Constantinople to be the pope’s representative before the Byzantine emperor. Later, Gregory returned to Rome and became a close adviser to Pope Pelagius. When Pelagius died, Gregory was appointed to the papacy and accepted the role reluctantly.
Gregory was given the title “the Great” for many reasons. By that time, the popes had become the political leaders of the city of Rome. Gregory successfully navigated the city of Rome through famines and plagues, devoted significant resources to helping the poor, and negotiated peace with the invading Lombards. Gregory was a prolific writer, most known for the works Pastoral Care, Homilies, and Dialogues. He was passionate about missions, being the first pope to send a significant missionary outreach outside of Italy, to Britain, in 596. While the claim is questionable, it is said that Gregory was the originator of the Gregorian chant.
Alongside Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, Gregory is considered one of the four great doctors of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregory the Great was the first pope to use the description Servus Servorum Dei (“servant of the servants of God”), and, for the most part, that is how he lived and ruled. However, he was a pope, and he vigorously argued for Roman supremacy/primacy. He significantly increased the influence of Rome over the rest of Christendom, something that had disastrous consequences in the medieval era. Sadly, the vast majority of popes who succeeded Gregory have been decidedly not great.