The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Gregory II (715-731)
Creation of 726 (II)

(3) 1. GREGORIO (?-741)

Birth. (No date found), of Syrian origin. Son of Iohanne. He probably belonged to one of the families which had gone to Rome from the East following the occupation of the provinces of the Byzantine Empire by the Arabs.

Education. He knew both Latin and Greek and his knowledge of the psalms and his ability of the liturgical celebrations was praised in his biography in the Liber pontificalis. Two sources say that he was a Benedictine monk (1).

Priesthood. He was probably ordained in Rome for the church of S. Crisogono, to which he devoted particular attention when he became pope.

Cardinalate. Presbyter cardinalis of the title of S. Crisogono in 726.

Papacy. His election, unanimous, took place by a spontaneous initiative of the nobility and the Roman people, while he was paying homage to the coffin of his predecessor. He was consecrated on March 18, 731. Took the name Gregory III. The new pope was elected at a time when the conflict with the Byzantine emperor Leo III because of the question of image worship was very much alive. Emperor Leo III immediately gave his approval and hoped to have to deal with a more conciliatory pope than his predecessor Pope Gregory II. The new pope instead responded with very precise letters confirming his adherence to the conduct of his predecessor and in a tone so sharp that the nuncio in charge of delivering them, the priest George, did not dare to fulfill his mission and returned to Rome trembling with letters not delivered; and when, threatened with deposition by the pope, the legate undertook the journey to Constantinople, he was held in Sicily by the imperial officials, who seized the papal letters; the papal legate remained in prison for a year and when released, he was ordered to return to Rome. The pope then called a council which took place on November 1, 731 in St. Peter's basilica. In addition to the Roman clergy, Patriarch Antonio of Grado and Archbishop Giovanni of Ravenna, that is the highest prelates of the Byzantine provinces in Italy, took part with other ninety-three bishops from the "parts of Esperia", a term in papal documents of those years which meant the West in general. The council sanctioned, it appears for the first time in canonical form, the orthodoxy and the antiquity of the worship of images of Christ, the Virgin and all the apostles and saints, decreeing excommunication and expulsion from the universal Church for anyone who destroyed, desecrated or insulted the sacred images. The synodal constitutions were sent to Constantinople by the pope, but again the messenger, this time defensor urbis Costantino, was arrested in Sicily and the documents seized, as were seized the petitions sent by all peoples of the Byzantine provinces in Italy to Emperors Leo III and Constantine V, his son, asking for the restoration of image worship. Emperor Leo III did not want messages and messengers on religious matters, because he realized that could they could discredit him in the eyes of his subjects as a faithful Christian and therefore as emperor. The pope, however, managed to have exhortative letters defining the orthodox faith and urging the restoration of icons reach Constantinople. Meanwhile, Pope Gregory III took another initiative of great symbolic significance, by building inside the basilica of St. Peter an oratory in honor of the Savior, the Mother of God, of all the martyrs and confessors, in which he instituted a liturgical office. The intention of the pope was the foundation be a shrine of the cult of saints in opposition to the Byzantine emperor's impiety. Gregory made special provisions for the liturgy of this holy place, and entrusted it to three monasteries located in the area of St. Peter's (Giovanni e Paolo, S. Stefano Maggiore and S. Martino) by a synod held in Rome on April 12, 732, which deliberations were recorded on three slabs of marble and placed in the oratory. Particularly significant was the fact that the acts of the synod were not dated with the years of the reigning emperor, as would have been the usual protocol, thus expressing the excommunication of the monarch. The determination with which Gregory proceeded to condemn iconoclasm is new in comparison to the behavior of his predecessor, Pope Gregory II, who had complained about the heretic character of the destruction of images and repeatedly warned Leo III to renounce it, though without ever reaching excommunication. The Eastern origin of Pope Gregory III may have made him particularly sensitive to the religious and devotional aspects of the matter; it is true hat the pontiff certainly promoted the worship of images in Rome also having made numerous images of Christ, the Virgin and the saints, often coated with precious metals, which he placed in the major basilicas.

For the emperor, what was ruled from Rome had to be ignored in the East: his iconoclastic policy was not to be disturbed. If the policy had not secured the conversion of the Jews, it made conciliatory relations with the Arabs. And then there was always the unfinished business with the Church of tax payments. Emperor Leo III resolved the issue with a coup, confiscating all ecclesiastical estates in Sicily and Calabria, which brought in annually 35,000 pieces of gold. Severely damaged, the Church sought to recuperated by buying elsewhere in the Roman Tuscia Castel Gallese, which was annexed to the sancta res publica, which could mean both the duchy of Rome, which the pope began to claim as a patrimony of St. Peter, or the Sacrum Romanum Imperium. The cession of Gallese, which provided the link between Rome and Ravenna, was the result of secret negotiations between Gregory III and Duke Trasamondo of Spoleto, who, like Godescalco, duke of Benevento, tried to assert his independence from Lombard King Liutprando, benefiting from the political turmoil in Italy, but in the end, this benefitted only the pope. King Liutprando understood that he not only had been betrayed by the Lombard dukes, but that the pope was playing a dangerous double game. The king left Pavia, the capital of his kingdom, in 730 and went to central Italy, primarily to punish Trasamondo. Spoleto was taken with ease, but the duke had taken refuge in Rome under the protection of the pope, who refused to deliver him to King Liutprando. The Lombard king then vented his anger with broad strokes in the Campagna, robbing, killing and capturing also the important castles of Ameria, Orte, Bomarzo and Blera, where he settled military garrisons threatening Rome, for a possible attack, and then returned to Pavia. Duke Trasamondo, refused to reconquer Spoleto and also refused to help the pope to free the four castles from the monarch. Rome was left facing the nightmare of a siege. Pope Gregory III decided to turn to France, where Charles Martel had inherited his father Pepin the Short's authority as the only master of the palace, strengthening his position with the victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 732, which had slowed the Arab advanced in Europe. In 739, the pope sent an embassy with rich gifts, which goal was to get a real military help against the Lombards. The ambassadors were received with full honors, but the specific request made to them was not even considered. Charles Martel had personal and political reasons that kept him from intervening in the Italian situation, apart from his poor health, he had no intention to renounce his friendship with the Lombards , who were related to his family. The pope and his duchy, therefore, remained under the Lombard nightmare, and for the time being those papal efforts were in vain. If the pope's urgent initiative to Charles Martel had not been successful, it still demonstrated the honor and merit of Pope Gregory III for having the crucial vision of the serious consequences of a union between the papacy the kingdom of the Franks, which not long after was realized.

Moreover, Pope Gregory III continued the missionary work of his predecessor, entrusting Boniface, the apostle of Germany, increasingly specific assignments that led to organization of the church in Bavaria. In 738, Boniface was given full powers of vicar apostolic in Germany. All this occurred because of Charles Martel, who facilitated safe conducts and financial support for the work of Boniface. This way, Charles Martel made it clear to the pope that although he could not help him militarily, for political reasons, he was willing to cooperate fully with any initiative of a religious nature. In 741, Pope Gregory III sent a second embassy to Charles Martel with the keys of St. Peter and the offer of the title of consul, according to which Rome would be placed entirely under Martel's military jurisdiction. The pope, who was in desperate need for assistance, called on Martel as a defender of the Church, but in practice gave him the lordship of a city which was in effect under the imperial court. For Martel to accept such an appointment would have meant also the enmity of Byzantium, and that of the Lombards, therefore, the answer could only be negative. When this answer arrived in Rome, Pope Gregory III had already died and Charles Martel would die a month later.

Death. November 28, 741, Rome. Buried in the oratory that he had built and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St. Peter's basilica. The mosaic that decorated his tomb was damaged in the 11th century when the body of Pope Eugenius III was placed there. His tomb was destroyed during the demolition of the old basilica and the construction of the new one in the 16 and 17th centuries (2).

Sainthood. Inscribed in the Roman Martyrology, his feast is celebrated on December 10; and on November 28 pro clero Romano.

Bibliography. Cardella, Lorenzo. Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Stamperia Pagliarini, 1792, I, pt. 1, 32 and 33-34; Chacón, Alfonso. Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificum Romanorum : et S.R.E. Cardinalium ab initio nascentis Ecclesiae usque ad Clementem IX P. O. M. Alphonsi Ciaconii Ord. Praed. & aliorum opera descriptæ : cum uberrimis notis. Ab Augustino Oldoino, Soc. Jesu recognitae, et ad quatuor tomos ingenti ubique rerum accessione productae. Additis Pontificum recentiorum imaginibus, & Cardinalium insignibus, plurimisque aeneis figuris, cum indicibus locupletissimis. Romæ : P. et A. De Rubeis, 1677, I, col. 511-516; Cristofori, Francesco. Cronotasi dei cardinali di Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Tipografia de Propaganda Fide, 1888, p. XXXVIII and 265; Delogu, Paolo. "Gregorio III, santo." Enciclopedia dei papi. 3 vols. Roma : Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 2000, I, 651-656; "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. Les cardinaux des 10 premiers siècles". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1926. Paris : Maison de la Bonne Presse, 1927, p. 146, no. 2; Gregorovius, Ferdinando. Le tombe dei papi.. Roma : Edizioni del Centauro, 1931. Seconda edizione italiana riveduta e ampliata da C. Huelsen, p. 26*, no. 26; Kelly, John Norman Davidson. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 88-89; Le Liber pontificalis. Paris : E. de Boccard, 1981, 1955. 3 v. : facsims. (Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome). Notes: Reprint of the 1955 edition./ Includes indexes./ Vol. 3: "Additions et corrections de L. Duchesne publiées par Cyrille Vogel ... avec L'Histoire du Liber pontificalis dupuis l'édition de L. Duchesne une bibliographie et des tables générales, I, 415-425; Montini, Renzo Uberto. Le tombe dei papi. Roma : Angelo Belardetti, 1957. Note: At head of title: Instituto di studi romani, p. 130, no. 90; Petruzzi, Caterina. "Gregorio III, papa, santo." Mondo vaticano. Passato e presente. Città del Vaticano : Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995, p. 568-569; Reardon, Wendy J. The deaths of the popes : comprehensive accounts, including funerals, burial places and epitaphs. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2004, p. 58; Regesta pontificum Romanorum ab conditio Ecclesia. Ad annum post Christum natum MCXCVIII. Graz : Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1956. 2 v. Reprint. Originally published : Lipsiae : Veit et comp., 1885-1888. Original t.p. included : Regesta pontificum Romanorum ab condita ecclesia : ad annum post Christum natum MCXCVIII. Editionem secundam correctam et auctam edidit Philippus Jaffè ; auspiciis Gulielmi Wattenbach; curaverunt S. Loewenfeld, F. Kaltenbrunner, P. Ewald, I, 257-262.

Webgraphy. Biography by Paolo Delogu, in Italian, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 59 (2002), Treccani; biography by Horace Mann, in English, The Catholic Encyclopedia; biography, in English, Encyclopaedia Britannica; his effigy on a medal and biography, in English, Wikipedia; biography, in English, Popes through the Ages by Joseph Brusher S.J.; images and biography, in Italian, Wikipedia; his image and biography, in Italian, Santi e beati; biography by Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz, in German, Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikons; his engraving and biography, in German, Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon; biography, in Norwegian, Den katolske kirke; his image and biography by Domenico Agasso Jr., in English, Vatican Insider; his image, Biblioteca comunale dell'Archiginnasio, Bologna; his image, Adalar - Sippe; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving from the same source.

(1) They are Cristofori, Cronotasi dei cardinali di Santa Romana Chiesa, p. 265; and "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. Les cardinaux des 10 premiers siècles". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1926, p. 146, no. 2. None of the other sources consulted mention it.
(2) This is according to Reardon, The deaths of the popes : comprehensive accounts, including funerals, burial places and epitaphs, p. 58, who adds that copies were made of the simple inscription on his tomb, which reads:


    Montini, Le tombe dei papi, p. 130, no. 90, adds, citing Onofrio Panvino, sepultus sub altare oratorii sui intra basilicam Vaticanam a dextra altare maioris in coro canonicorum (he was buried under the altar of his oratory inside the Vatican basilica to the left of of the main altar in the choir of the canons).

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