Popes in a Year
#89 - Pope St. Gregory II
Pope from May 19, 715 - February 11, 731
Lived: 669 - February 11, 731
Given name: Gregorius Sabellus
Give me the scoop on Gregory II.
Gregory, the son of Marcellus and Honesta of the Roman nobility, worked within the Church for most of his life, primarily in the treasury, a prestigious choir, and the papal library. Just before his election, then-deacon Gregory helped Pope Constantine reach a compromise with Emperor Justinian II in Constantinople. Gregory II was elected pope on May 19, 715 and endured what ended up being a major turning point in the life of the papacy and the Church as a whole. The Byzantines in the East held smaller and smaller sway over Italy and the West, as both the Lombards and the Saracens were positioning themselves to fill the vacuum, so the pope’s attentions naturally turned more toward regions closer to Rome. Gregory II was responsible for saving the great city of Ravenna from the Lombards in 727, keeping it in Byzantine hands for a few more years. Revered as a great man of superior holiness and intelligence, after his death in 731, Gregory was honored as a saint almost immediately.
What was he known for?
St. Gregory II’s most famous dealings as pope were with a new heresy that sprung up in the East: that of
, the destruction of images of Christ and the saints, whether in painting or in sculpture. The new emperor, Leo the Isaurian, developed a strong reputation after driving the Muslim army from Constantinople, but apparently also found an appreciation for Islam’s ban on representations of human form, particularly that of its founder, Muhammad. Leo, who was rather puritanical in nature, thought it best to start campaigning to ban all holy images from Christendom.
Leo’s first big move in that direction was to destroy a famous image of Christ that hung over the doorway to the imperial palace. The act sparked a riot, so Leo thought quickly and tried to ask for Gregory II’s support of his effort. Gregory replied, more or less, with, “Step off, son. I like looking at Jesus, and so do my people.” A great rift between East and West was a byproduct of this heresy, though the pope worked tirelessly to educate the people and firmly rule that the West would continue its rich tradition of icons and statues. Gregory II died before iconoclasm could be fully quashed, leaving his successor, Gregory III, to carry the torch.
St. Gregory II was the pope who commissioned the English monk St. Boniface and his companions to evangelize what is now Germany. Finding great successes in bringing the faith to the pagan people there before his eventual martyrdom, Boniface is perhaps best known for creating the tradition of
the Christmas Tree
(and the story is pretty epic).
What else was going on in the world at the time?
The Visigothic Kingdom, which had existed for nearly 300 years, came to an end around the year 720, with the Muslim Army’s conquest of their territory in southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, & Andorra).
Coming Tomorrow...Pope St. Gregory III
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Thursday, May 4 at 2:00AM