Discover the profound teachings of Pope Saint Gregory the Great on clergy responsibilities and graces, as expertly analyzed by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby in "In A Year With the Popes."

The Clergy’s Calling: Instruction From Saint Gregory The Great

In A Year With the Popes, Fr. Jeffrey Kirby gives an original exposition of the nobility and enduring power of the papacy. In this excerpt, Pope Saint Gregory the Great writes candidly and powerfully on the responsibility, expectations, and graces of the clergy at every level. 

Who Should Be Called

Pope Gregory the Great, the sixty-fourth pope, was a Benedictine monk who inaugurated a spiritual and pastoral renewal of the Church. He is one of only a few pontiffs to receive the designation “great.” Pope Gregory was a renowned author. His masterpiece, “The Pastoral Rule,” led to widespread reform in the life of the clergy. As the Church grew, the selection of men for ordained service became a pressing issue. Pope Gregory left no stone unturned when it came to the selection of men for Holy Orders, especially in terms of who should be called to the Order of Bishops.

That man, therefore, ought by all means to be drawn with cords to be an example of good living who already lives spiritually, dying to all passions of the flesh; who disregards worldly prosperity; who is afraid of no adversity; who desires only inward wealth; whose intention the body, in good accord with it, thwarts not at all by its frailness, nor the spirit greatly by its disdain: one who is not led to covet the things of others, but gives freely of his own; who through the bowels of compassion is quickly moved to pardon, yet is never bent down from the fortress of rectitude by pardoning more than is meet; who perpetrates no unlawful deeds, yet deplores those perpetrated by others as though they were his own; who out of affection of heart sympathizes with another’s infirmity, and so rejoices in the good of his neighbor as though it were his own advantage; who so insinuates himself as an example to others in all he does that among them he has nothing, at any rate of his own past deeds, to blush for; who studies so to live that he may be able to water even dry hearts with the streams of doctrine; who has already learned by the use and trial of prayer that he can obtain what he has requested from the Lord.
—Pope Saint Gregory I, Pastoral Rule, I.10 (AD 590–91)


Do I expect holiness from my bishop, or do I only see him as a manager of a diocese? Do I pray to the Holy Spirit that only worthy candidates will be selected for ordained service in the Church? 


Lord Jesus, You raise up shepherds for Your people. Guide us under their leadership. Teach us Your ways and sanctify us by Your grace. Lead us along Your way of selfless love. Show us Your glory. For You are Lord forever and ever. Amen.

Standing On The Summit

Pope Gregory is considered one of the four “Latin Doctors,” which means his holy life and writings helped to shape the theological mind of the Church. He was an austere man and a demanding leader. As such, he called on all bishops to be “chief in action” among the believers. The bishop is to be above reproach, a man “standing on the summit” of holiness and virtue. Pope Gregory knew that no renewal would happen in the life of the Church if there was not a strict reform of the clergy, especially bishops. This principle of reform can be seen in good times in Church history, just as its absence can be found in difficult times in Church history. Reform of the shepherds is the key to renewal in the Church.

The ruler should always be chief in action, that by his living he may point out the way of life to those that are put under him, and that the flock, which follows the voice and manners of the shepherd, may learn how to walk better through example than through words. For he who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to exhibit the highest things. For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer’s heart, which the speaker’s life commends, since what he commands by speaking he helps the doing of by showing. Hence it is said through the prophet, Get you up into the high mountain, you that bringest good tidings to Sion: which means that he who is engaged in heavenly preaching should already have forsaken the low level of earthly works, and appear as standing on the summit of things, and by so much the more easily should draw those who are under him to better things as by the merit of his life he cries aloud from heights above.
—Pope Saint Gregory I, Pastoral Rule, II.3 (AD 591–92)


Do I pray for my bishop and the clergy of the Church? Do I call on the shepherds of the Church to be leaders and examples of holiness, or have I sought to supplant or eclipse their sacred authority?


Lord Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd and the All-Holy God, protect and reform Your shepherds. Correct their faults. Inflame their zeal. Bless their preaching and teaching. Make them holy. Help them to fulfill the vocation You have given them. For You are Lord forever and ever. Amen.

This article is taken from a chapter in A Year With the Popes by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD which is available from TAN Books



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