The good things about Gregory

September 26 2014

Gibbon’s treatment of Gregory the Great is a monument of the historian’s virtuosity in the unamiable art of bestowing praise in terms that are more devastating than a candid censure:

“The pontificate of Gregory the Great … is one of the most edifying periods of the history of the Church. His virtues, and even his faults, a singular mixture of simplicity and cunning, of pride and humility, of sense and superstition, were happily suited to his station and to the temper of the times. …

“Experience had shown him the efficacy of these pompous rites … and he readily forgave their tendency to promote the reign of priesthood and superstition. …

“The most abject ideas must be entertained of their [the sixth-century Italians’] [bracket in original] taste and learning, since the epistles of Gregory, his sermons, and his dialogues are the work of a man who was second in erudition to none of his contemporaries.”

These are three fair samples of the laudatory arrows with which Gibbon has nailed his mighty victim to his sarcastic page in the forty-fifth chapter of his work.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

One Response to “The good things about Gregory”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    One of the few good pieces of work I did at Oxford was a concentrated essay on Gregory and the concept of discretio. The last paragraph began, rather rhetorically, “Against such an apocalyptic scene Gregory envisaged his toil.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s