This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February 11 -- Feast of Pope Gregory II

It's always tough for me to admit that I was wrong, so let me announce here and now that I might have been wrong.  There.  That was much easier. 

Almost two years ago, I trash-talked Emperor Leo III, whose cognomen "the Isaurian" lends a villainously reptilian sound to him.  He is reputed to be the first iconoclast emperor, as I noted in this post about Saint John Damascene.  That's where I said some unkind things about him, which I would retract if I knew they were untrue.  For now, let's say the record is a little murky. 

Saint Pope Gregory II
Pope Gregory II was elected while Leo was in office.  Nobody cleared the choice of Greg with Leo, which caused a little friction, but Leo agreed that the folks in Rome were welcome to pick their own bishop.  This might have been a bone tossed to the Papacy in exchange for reorganizing the dioceses of Italy.  Reorganizing was a nice was of saying taking Calabria, Sicily, and Illyricum away from the Pope and putting it directly under imperial control.  Even if those slights even out (and I am not sure they do), Leo's decision to tax all land, including Church property, didn't go down well.  In his defense, he was working on defense.  Specifically, he was trying to halt the Arab advance into Christendom, and he was doing pretty well at it too.  But it was expensive, and Italy was not paying its share.
Leo, rubbing out Jesus at the Chalke Gate

Thus, when Leo took down the image of Christ above the Chalke Gate in the Great Palace of Constantinople, he gave ammo to his enemies.  His intention was probably to revert to the Cross, looking for some of that In Hoc Signo Vinces juju that worked so well for Constantine.  But it sure looked like iconoclasm, which was the hot new idea among the Eastern intellectuals and elites. 

Greg was cool.  He didn't flip out and order bishops -- even those who wanted their resistance to be flagrant and provocative -- to flout the iconoclast orders that started circulating during the reign of Leo.  However, neither did he cave in and rescript such orders.  Instead, he calmly urged stubborn, quiet non-compliance.  In all other things, the people were to remain loyal to their Emperor, he instructed, but iconoclasm was an error which did not warrant adherence.  In the end, after much suffering and dissension, iconoclasm blew over in the East and didn't rise in the West until the malicious vandalism of the Reformation.  [Defend it all you want, but digging up someone's bones just to desecrate and then scatter them is malicious vandalism.  Jesus overturned tables in the Temple, but he believed in letting the dead bury their dead, not in exhuming the dead and messing with their remains. But I digress.] 

Whatever the threat of iconoclasm was during Gregory's papacy, he handled many issues like a sagacious administrator.  He organized the reconstruction of the Roman walls to keep out Lombard armies.  He held synods to address concerns and controversies in an inclusive way.  He increased support for the sick and elderly and sent Boniface and Corbinian to evangelize Germany.  And so many British pilgrims were swarming into Rome that a church, cemetery, and school were established for them.  All signs taken, he was an able pope in tough times, and that's good enough. 

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