Gregory the Great, in words and in music

Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite observes today the feast of St. Gregory I, “the Great” (+604).  Here is his entry in the Ordinary Form Roman Martyrology:

There is an oddity in the Latin text. What is it?

Memoria sancti Gregorii Magni, papae et Ecclesiae doctoris, qui, vita monastica inita, munere legati Constantinopoli functus est et, ad Sedem Romanam hac die tandem electus, et terrena composuit et sacra servus servorum curavit. Verum se exhibuit pastorem in rebus regendis, in egenis omnimodo subveniendo, in vita monastica fovenda, necnon in fide ubique firmanda vel propaganda, quapropter multa etiam de re morali ac pastorali egregie scripsit. Obiit vero die duodecima martii.

I have a few PODCAzTs on St. Gregory

There are pieces of music which refer to St. Gregory.

Here is a piece called Gregory’s Prayer for Organ or Strings and Trumpet by Allan Hovhaness (+2000)


There is also a piece by the Italian Ottorino Respighi as part of his Vetrate di Chiesa.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PaterAugustinus says:

    “Commemoration of St. Gregory the Great, Pope and teacher of the Church. After his monastic life had begun, he entered into the office of Legate to Constantinople, and, elected at last to the Roman See on this day, the servant of servants both ordered earthly things aright, and had a care for heavenly things. He showed himself to be a true pastor in matters requiring shepherding, and by assisting the poor in every way, fostering the monastic life, and, not least, by everywhere strengthening and increasing the Faith – for which purpose he wrote, with great distinction, many things in support of the cause of morality and pastoral care. He passed away, however, on the 12th of March.”

    I’m slightly pressed for time today, so I may be missing something; but, as to the oddity of the Latin text, it seems alright to me, with the possible exception of the phrase “de re morali ac pastorali.” For some reason, I expect “rebus moralibus pastoralibusque.” I.e., I wanted “re” to be plural, and I was initially surprised by the hendiadys of “morali ac pastorali.” But, when I thought about it for a moment, I see why they should properly be conflated. So, I confess: I’m not smart enough to spot the oddity!

    A blessed feast of this great Saint, and Honorary Apostle to our Anglophone ancestors, to you all. Sancte Gregorie, ora pro nobis!

  2. torontonian says:

    The only potential oddity that I can find is the phrase “in egenis … subveniendo”, which at first might seem like an error in case/number agreement. However, “subveniendo” is a gerund, as opposed to the gerundives surrounding it, and is taking the dative object “egenis”. Trying to use a gerundive form — “in egenis … subveniendis” — would be incorrect, since no passive participle of “subvenio” (which does not take an accusative direct object) should exist except in impersonal constructions.

    Either that, or I’ve just missed it :)

  3. Well, I don’t have to spot the oddity because, unless my steel-trap memory has failed, I remember this one from the last time we discussed it. The oddity is the use of “et”. The text opens with three clauses and three verbs, “functus est”, “composuit”, and “curavit”. As I see it, the “et” after “functus est” marks off the first clause from the rest of the sentence. The remaining two further divide the rest of the sentence into two more clauses using the “” or “both..and” construction. I admit that one could remove the “et” before “terrena”; but one would be left with three clauses strung out and tied together by two “et”. The elegance of “both..and” would be lost. I suspect the writer meant to join the last two clauses in a way that would stand up better to the long first clause. The image that pops up in my head is that of my tricycle, back around 1950. It had a big front wheel that steered and propelled; it also had an axle connecting two little rear wheels so that working together they could keep the rear end from dragging.

  4. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    To point out latent oddity a little better, I took some liberties with the punctuation and capitalization below. In particular I replaced two of the commas with parentheses.

    Memoria sancti Gregorii Magni, papae et Ecclesiae doctoris, qui, vita monastica inita, munere legati Constantinopoli functus est ET (ad Sedem Romanam hac die tandem electus) ET terrena composuit et sacra servus servorum curavit.

    Note how the sentence would read should the parenthetical clause be dropped. I also note that the oddity disappears entirely if the commas as well as the parentheses are dropped, “functus est et … electus”. It seems to me that this is an oddity of punctuation. Strengthen the punctuation with parentheses and the oddity becomes glaring. Drop the commas and the oddity goes away.

  5. PaterAugustinus says:

    @Bob of Pittsburgh,

    I see what you and others are driving at, but I actually don’t see this as an oddity at all. The phrase you mark off as parenthetical, really isn’t, and I think the commas actually make good sense and should stay. The three occurences of “et” all make perfect sense within the grammar of the sentence, commas or no.

    The sentence is trying to succinctly outline Gregory’s life history, while making the chronology and causal relationships of those events clear. It does this brilliantly by breaking its relative clause up into two major halves, each of which uses some kind of participial phrase to establish a temporal/causal relationship with the finite verb.

    First, the perfect participle in the ablative absolute (“vita monastica inita”), paves the way for the rest of the interrupted clause and its finite verb (“functus est”). This establishes that his time as legate came after his tonsure, and implies that his tonsure opened the door to that task. Now comes the first “et,” which merely indicates that the next section is equally tied back to the subject (the “qui” of the relative clause). Here, the perfect participle (electus) “reiterates” the subject, as it were, and sets up two temporal relationships. Coming right after tandem, it clearly belongs after the previously mentioned events; being a perfect participle, it points to a time prior to the action of the finite verb in this half of the dual-tiered relative clause. As we’ve all learned, sometimes these stand-alone participles can have various functions, depending on the circumstances. Here, I think “electus” is used to place a strong emphasis on the time and chain of events caused by it. I.e., “after he was at long last elected.” From here, the next two occurences of “et” make perfect sense. They set up a kind of “hendiadys” of the finite verbs, which came temporally and causally after his election. I.e., “after and since he was elected Pope, he did “both-this-and-that.” Of course, we get another nominative, predicate-adjectivial bit, which functions almost adverbially, to explain how the subject did the verb, or how the subject was when he acted… namely, “he did this-and-that *as a servant of servants* would do.”

    So, the usages of et, even with the commas, really make perfect sense and aren’t grammatically odd. It’s just that the last two uses form that nice “both…and” construction, and if somebody wasn’t reading closely and missed what the first et was doing, together with the “appositive” phrases of the dual predicates going back to the “qui” of this big relative clause, it could seem like a Latin run-on sentence. But, even if it makes one do a double-take, I think the second glance is all one needs.

  6. Widukind says:

    Just an observation. It appears that the composer Allan Hovhannes, because of his last name, is of Armenian decent. Could the prayer then be of Saint Gregory the Enlightener rather than that of Saint Gregory the Great?

  7. Iconophilios says:

    Indeed, Hovhannes’ piece is about Gregory the Illuminator, not the Pope Gregory. I have peformed this piece on trumpet, and, to have a bit of knowledge about what sentiment to convey, I researched it. Also this is one of the best pieces written for trumpet, if I may, in my opinion.

  8. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    Father Austin,

    Thanks for your explication of the Latin text; it is very insightful. However, I’d be rather more convinced if the comma preceded the “et ad” instead of bisected it.

  9. irishgirl says:

    I love ‘Church Windows’ by Respighi! The piece ‘St. Gregory the Great’ gives me the chills every time I hear it!
    The ‘chant’ part is also heard in ‘The Pines of Rome’ (Il Pini di Roma): ‘Pines Near A Catacomb’.
    Respighi was definitely inspired!
    I also liked the images of St. Gregory in the video.

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