Gregory III


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(d. 741),

pope. A Syrian by birth, able and learned as well as holy, he was acclaimed as pope by the people after the funeral of Gregory II (731). The Liber Pontificalis described him as a man of deep humility and true wisdom, learned in the Scriptures, who knew the Psalms by heart. He was an eloquent preacher, skilled in Latin and Greek, a strong upholder of the faith; a lover of poverty and the poor, protector of widows and orphans, a friend of monks and nuns. This picture needs completion by reference to current controversies.

When he became pope, the iconoclastic dispute was at its height as Emperor Leo III had forbidden sacred images and their veneration in the east. When Gregory received no answer to his request to the emperor to think again, he held a council which denounced iconoclasm and excommunicated all who destroyed images. In reply the emperor sent an armed fleet to Italy, which was wrecked, and sequestered the papal patrimonies in Sicily and Calabria.

When the Lombard king Liutprand had invaded the duchy of Rome and threatened the city itself, Gregory appealed for help from the Frankish Charles Martel, mayor of the palace (716–41), imploring him to defend the Church and God's particular people, offering sumptuous gifts and patrician rank. Charles, unlike some of his successors, was unwilling to help, but Gregory had seen the importance of a pact with the Franks to assure the papacy's independence.

In ecclesiastical matters he was more successful. He fully backed Boniface's missionary work, giving him the pallium and authority to establish bishoprics (732); six years later he made him ‘legate of the apostolic see’ with full powers to organize the Church in Bavaria, Alemannia, Hesse, and Thuringia, supporting him with letters to lay and ecclesiastical magnates. He also gave the pallium to Egbert of York in 735, thus completing Gregory the Great's plan for two ecclesiastical provinces in England.

In his ten years' rule he improved the churches of Rome, enriching the shrine of St Peter with six onyx columns, a present from the exarch Eutychius. He also supported existing monasteries and founded new ones. An oratory in St Peter's, dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary, and All the Saints was built by him for housing relics of the saints; here he was buried among splendid images, which affirmed the belief of the pope and the Western Church in the value of icons. His cult is witnessed by Ado's Martyrology (9th century). Feast: 28 November.

Liber Pontificalis, i. 415–25; O.D.P., pp. 88–9; M. Tangl, Bonifatii Epistulae Selectae (M.G.H., 1916).

Subjects: Christianity.

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