Popes in a Year
#90 - Pope St. Gregory III
Pope from March 18, 731 - November 28, 741
Died: November 28, 741
Give me the scoop on Gregory III.
Gregory III, a member of the Roman clergy before being pope, was apparently so popular that during Gregory II’s
he was chosen as successor by popular acclamation. A month later, on March 18, 731, Gregory III was consecrated as the 90th pope. Around the year 737, Gregory welcomed St. Boniface back to Rome for an update on the evangelization of Germany, then recommissioned the bishop with the assistance of St. Willibald, Boniface’s cousin.
Toward the end of his papacy, Gregory dealt with a particularly vicious Lombard onslaught that spanned several years, pleading for help from the Franks and Charles Martel, and working to protect the city of Rome from the attackers. Before the fighting was over, in 741, Gregory died and was buried in the oratory he had built in the crypts of St. Peter’s Basilica. His feast day is November 28.
What was he known for?
Gregory III took after the previous Gregory and battled Emperor Leo III for most of his pontificate. With iconoclasm (the heresy that commanded destruction of holy images) still in high gear, Gregory made it a point to especially emphasize the use of images and relics, especially those of St. Peter, just to stick it to the emperor. In addition, Gregory convened two synods in Rome in 731 to explicitly condemn the heresy, had an oratory built in the crypts of St. Peter’s, and also wrote several prayers to be recited there.
However, the pope-emperor showdown wasn’t limited to iconoclasm. Leo didn’t appreciate being disobeyed, and thus used force to make his point whenever possible. Though an attack fleet he sent to Italy was a failure, he then took a precarious step that particularly peeved those in Rome: He stole papal lands in the Balkans and reassigned them to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The move weakened the allegiance those in Western Europe felt toward the emperor, and scholars suggest that it was a definitive step toward schism in the coming centuries.
The first three popes bearing the name “Gregory” are all recognized as saints. This trend actually occurs
in papal history: the first three Popes Sixtus and Popes Leo also are honored as such.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
The Venerable Bede, the great English saint and monk, finished his monumental work
Historia ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum
(“Ecclesiastical History of the English People”) in 731 at the age of 59. The book, a rich history of Christianity in England up to that time, is still regarded as one of the landmark reference works on Anglo-Saxon history, and helped to form the English national identity to boot.
Coming Monday...Pope St. Zachary (and Pope-elect Stephen II)
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope St. Gregory III -
Pope Gregory III -
Ecclesiastical History of the English People -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Friday, May 5 at 2:00AM