Saint of the Day – 10 December – St Pope Gregory III (Died 741) Cardinal Deacon until his Papal Ascension on 11 February 731 – 28 November 741, on his death of natural causes.
As the funeral procession of St Gregory II moved slowly along, there was a sudden outcry. The clergy and people shouted that Gregory, a Syrian who was walking with the Pope’s bier, should be the next pope. And they hurried him off without further ado and elected him. The man who could arouse such unusual and universal enthusiasm must have been a striking personality. And indeed the biographer of Gregory paints him in glowing colours. He was an educated man who knew both Latin and Greek, polished in style, learned in Holy Scripture, pious, zealous for the faith and a lover of the poor.
Consecrated on 18 March 731, Gregory immediately appealed to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III to moderate his position on the iconoclastic controversy. When Gregory’s representative was arrested on the orders of the emperor, Gregory called a synod in November 731, which condemned iconoclasm outright. Leo responded by trying to bring the Pope under control, although the fleet he sent to enforce the imperial will was shipwrecked in the Adriatic Sea. He then proceeded to appropriate papal territories in Sicily and Calabria and transferred ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the former praetorian prefecture of Illyricum to the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, his attempt to force the Duke of Naples to enforce an imperial decree to confiscate papal territory in the duchy failed, as the duke was supportive of the pope’s stand.
Gregory, in the meantime, demonstrated his opposition to iconoclasm by emphasising his veneration of icons and relics. He repaired or beautified numerous churches, which involved their decoration with icons and images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints. He ordered to be erected in the heart of St Peter’s Basilica an iconostasis, situated between six onyx and marble columns which had been sent to Gregory as a gift from the exarch Eutychius.
He built a new oratory in St Peter’s Basilica to house the relics of a number of saints, convoking a synod in 732 in order to regulate the prayers and masses to be said there. Gregory was an enthusiastic supporter of monasticism, he established the monastery of St Chrysogonus and rebuilt the hospice of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, near St. Peter’s, endowing it for the support of the poor.
The Emperor also transferred the Church in Calabria, Sicily, and Illyricum from the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome as patriarch to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. This arbitrary act was a remote cause of the unhappy Eastern Schism. It made the patriarchate of Constantinople practically coterminous with the Eastern Empire. And in spite of the fact that it had been thus arbitrarily given to them by a heretical emperor, the patriarchs of Constantinople clung to their increased jurisdiction.
Gregory promoted the Church in northern Europe. He supported the continuing mission of Saint Boniface (c 675-754) in Germany, elevating him to the rank of archbishop of Germany in 732 and, after a personal visit to Rome from Boniface in 737, where he was meant to attend a synod which does not appear to have been held, Gregory made Boniface a papal legate in Germany and asked him to reorganise the episcopal sees in Germany. Gregory sent Boniface back to Bavaria with three letters. One commanded the bishops and higher ecclesiastical officers to provide Boniface with as much help as they could. A second was addressed to the nobles and people of Germany, urging them to obey Boniface. A third, addressed to the bishops in Alamannia and Bavaria, confirmed Boniface’s status as the papal vicarus, ordering them to assemble in a council twice a year at Augsburg under Boniface’s authority. Gregory promoted the mission of St Willibald (c 700-c 787) in Germany.
Once more a pope was troubled by the Lombards. Liutprand, King of the Lombards, strove to break the Lombard Dukes of Spoleto and Benevento and to overrun all Italy. He ravaged Ravenna and marched south. The Dukes allied themselves with Pope Gregory but nothing could stop Liutprand. Once more the Lombards ravaged Roman territory. The Pope, at a loss, appealed to Charles Martel, the Frankish “hammer.” Charles sent an embassy to Rome but no help. Actually he could do little, for his health was failing.
In the middle of all this trouble, late in 741, St. Gregory III died. He was succeeded by Pope Zachary. He was buried in St Peter’s Basilica, in the oratory he had built at the start of his pontificate.