Pope Saint Gregory the Great not only saved the Church, in times so frightful that the men who lived in them were sure that the end of the world was come, but he founded the great civilization which has lasted down to our day and of which we are part, Western Civilization. All alone, in the midst of famine and pestilence, floods and earthquakes, endangered by Greeks and barbarians alike, and abandoned by the Emperor, Pope Gregory, frail and ailing in body but strong and undaunted in spirit, succored and saved his people, his city, his country, and the whole of Christendom.
The great Roman Empire which for three hundred years had persecuted the Christians and driven them underground to the catacombs, had for all of that time been in the process of decay. In 476, the thing was completed. The Empire in the West fell. It fell to the barbarian invaders not as the outcome of a great battle, but as the inglorious petering out of something that had been worse than dead for a long, long time.
There came to replace the soft and decadent, overrefined and grossly weak civilization of Rome, the rude and uncouth, unmannerly and brutal, but also strong and virile and young and convertible German nations, which for two centuries had been on the march, mysteriously moving as without purpose, on the one hand, and as if in response to a divine summons on the other. History calls it the “migration of nations.” In wave after wave, invasion after invasion, they streamed across Europe. They thundered down from the North, came up from the South, across from the East, and one by one they stormed the gates of Rome.
They were a strange mixture, these nations, of good and bad, gentle and rapacious, but their lives were distinguished by a purity more vigorous than the Romans’ and their respect and treatment of women, despite their rude manners and coarse living, far exceeded the Romans’. It is true of them that:
. . .The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. By the Lord this has been done; and it is wonderful in our eyes.
Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof. (Matt. 21: 42, 43.)
The Graeco-Romans had had their chance and, like the Jews, the first chosen people, they had failed. Centuries of patient labor on the part of the Church would pass before the wild tribes who replaced the “stone of the corner” could be taught and tamed and civilized, but once the long work was accomplished, Christ the King and His Queen Mother would be given the generous, glorious, unselfish ages of chivalry, the Crusades, and — the Thirteenth Century. The world would have known Gregory the Great, Leo III, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Boniface VIII, Bede, John Damascene, Peter Damian, Anselm, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Gertrude, and a thousand others.