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|
|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.