Gregory the Great vs. Martin of Tours

With another weekend rife with Lent Madness Withdrawal (LMW) behind us, we turn our attention to the final three first round match-ups. Now, to our credit, we did try to help everyone get through the weekend with a Group Hug. But today it's back to business with Gregory the Great (who defeated Gregory of Nyssa in an earlier play-in round) taking on Martin of Tours. As two bishops square off for the first time in Lent Madness 2013, we're left to wonder which one will leave the arena with a cracked crozier?

After today, the remaining first round battles pit Therese of Lisieux against Martha of Bethany and Edward Thomas Demby versus Dorothy Day. On Thursday the Round of the Saintly Sixteen kicks off with two modern martyrs: Jonathan Daniels vs. Janani Luwum. But in the meantime, hang onto your hats, miters, or any preferred headgear of your choice!

Gregory the GreatGregory the Great

Long before he was known as “Gregory the Great,” he was just another boy born to an elite Roman family. His father owned estates in Sicily and the family home was a mansion on Caelian Hill. However, the mighty empire was in decline by his birth in 540. As a boy Gregory lived through repeated invasions by the Goths and Franks and a devastating plague. While his experiences are not recorded, it would be unlikely that he was unaffected by the uncertainties of civil society and his place in it.

Highly skilled in grammar and rhetoric and possessing a noble pedigree, he was destined for a prestigious career in public life. Indeed at age 30 he became a prefect of the city of Rome, but after much soul-searching and prayer he left his post to become a monk. He devoted himself to the ascetic life and turned his vast Sicilian estates into monasteries and his family home in Rome into one as well.

Gregory lived happily as a monk for several years until he was forced by the sitting pope -- much against his will -- to be ordained as one of the seven deacons of Rome. Because of the vast instability of Rome and his skills as a civil leader, he was swiftly dispatched to Constantinople to serve as the ambassador to the Byzantine court in order to plead for Rome’s need of protection from the Lombards. His mission was pretty much a failure, but he became very popular with aristocratic Greek ladies of a certain age. After six years he was recalled to Rome and so began a period of writing, studying, and preaching.

His contentment at returning to the monastic life was not to be, however. In 490 after a terrible year of floods, plague, and pestilence, Gregory was elected pope. The story that upon the confirmation of his election to the episcopate he ran away and hid in the forest for three days is considered apocryphal, but it does shed light on his frame of mind. Nevertheless, he did his duty.

He is known as the liturgical innovator of the 6th-century whose contributions to the order of worship endure to the present day. The form of music known as western plainchant is attributed to Gregory. (Though naming it after him a couple of hundred years after he died was a marketing move to capitalize on his venerated name in order to standardize liturgical practice across the Frankish empire under Charlemagne).

Hundreds of his sermons, letters, commentaries as well as his dialogues and his still well-regarded “The Rule for Pastors,” remain. A remarkable thing.

As pope he was a staunch advocate for the health and well-being of the poor and those displaced by war. He gave lavishly from his own substance and and became a gadfly to wealthy Romans by inducing them to give generously as well.

Gregory the Great’s compassion for the plight of young Anglo-Saxon slaves  (Non Angli, sed angeli --  “They are not Angles, but angels”) he encountered at the Roman Forum so moved him that, later as pope, he sent St. Augustine to England as a missionary. But for his compassion, we might still be worshiping gods with names like Woden and Tiw.

Shortly after his death in 604, he was canonized by popular acclaim, and John Calvin called him “the last good pope.” Gregory the Great skillfully navigated a complex landscape between the ancient and the medieval church and the wider world. Quite a skillset for a man who talked to doves.

Collect for Gregory the Great
Almighty and merciful God, you raised up Gregory of Rome to be a servant of the servants of God, and inspired him to send missionaries to preach the Gospel to the English people: Preserve in your Church the catholic and apostolic faith they taught, that your people, being fruitful in every good work, may receive the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Heidi Shott

Höchster_Schloß_Tor_St_MartinMartin of Tours

Martin of Tours was born in 330 in Hungary. He spent much of his childhood in Italy where he was reared by pagan parents. His father, a soldier, enlisted Martin into the army when he was 15.

Surely he had some Christian leanings, for one winter day he saw a beggar at the gate in Amiens (France). Martin, who had no money to give the ill-clad man, offered, instead, a portion of his cloak. The accompanying photo shows this famous event, in which Martin cut his cloak in half so that he could share it with the beggar.

That night, as the story goes, Martin had a dream in which he saw Christ wearing a coat -- in fact, the same cloak that Martin had given the beggar just hours before. This is when Martin knew he had to devote his life to serving Christ. He resolved to get baptized and become a Christian. At the conclusion of his next military campaign, Martin petitioned for release from the army with the famous words, "Hitherto I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me know serve Christ.” At the time Martin was accused of desertion and being a coward. He was subsequently imprisoned but soon released.

Martin became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, who was a chief opponent of an unorthodox believe called Arianism. These Christians denied the full deity of Christ, which Martin defended with such vigor and skill that he began to make a name for himself. Surviving persecution in Italy, he fled to France where he founded a monastery that was so successful it remained open until the French Revolution. Martin was eventually named bishop of Tours, a notoriously pagan diocese. However his compassionate personality, skill in dealing with people, and devotion to his mission, prevailed.

Today Martin is the patron saint of soldiers and his shrine in France has become a famous stopping point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.

Collect for Martin of Tours
Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Chris Yaw


Gregory the Great vs. Martin of Tours

  • Gregory the Great (61%, 2,358 Votes)
  • Martin of Tours (39%, 1,531 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,885

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165 comments on “Gregory the Great vs. Martin of Tours”

    1. I think there may be some technical issues with the clairvoyatron: it sounded like the archbishop was saying Gregory has a better Buick. If so, I am voting for Martin.

  1. I have voted for Martin - but I am sure that will be the kiss of death to his campaign. I haven't backed a winner yet this Lent! (I guess that's what happens when your favourite saint is currently wearing the Golden Halo.)

  2. Going with Gregory the Great, not only for his influence on the English church, but also for his being a deacon before being made Pope. Can you say "aspirations above my station"?

  3. Gregory the Great is the "Michonne of Church Corruption." He was the "OG" of awesome bishops. Not even close. Gregory!

  4. Can't decide. Martin also influenced the English church. Queen Bertha, the wife of Ethelbert came to Canterbury before Augustine and prayed daily for the conversion of all England. She was educated at St. Martins . Berthas many offspring spread Christianity throughout England. I will have to think about this and vote later in the day. By the way, lets put Bertha on for next year....

  5. This one seems like a no brainier. Gregory I think should get this one hands down. Who was Martins anyway? His history seems so very scant.

  6. what time do these match ups come out-midnight? because greg is way ahead of my guy martin. i go to a church named for martin of tours and don't like seeing him lose so badly. i mean gregory is waaaay ahead and it's only 7:30am in new orleans. give martin a chance-he did give half his coat to a beggar.

  7. He assumes the name Great after he ran away and hid for three days in the woods? Vote for the soldiers. Martin.

  8. The story of Martin is special to me as a hospital chaplain. Martin's cloak (cappella) was kept in a chapel and the keeper of this relic is where the word "chaplain" comes from. To this day a chaplain is the keeper of spirituality for a specific community such as a hospital, armed forces or school.

  9. Having compassion for Anglo-Saxon slaves and sending Augustine to England, tipped my vote to Gregory.

  10. Well, I imagine I just threw my vote away by voting for Martin of Tours but I had to go with the soldier I've sung about all my life. "I sing a song of the saints of God...and one was a soldier!" However, I do admire Gregory's service and compassion, especially for the Angles; and for sending St. Augustine to England! It will be ok which ever one wins today!

  11. Gregory the Great: Born in 540, pope by 490! That's quite an accomplishment, and for that alone, if nothing else, he gets my vote!

    1. I wondered if anyone else would note that one. Ha!! My vote though was for the saintly soldier, Martin.

      1. I noticed the discrepancy right away. I've been reading through the comments to see if anyone else noticed. I was getting discouraged. Thanks, Ann and Conny, for making me feel not such a lonely nerd. 🙂

      2. What bothers me -- well, one thing that bothers me -- is how the church, and everyone in it, just bought Gregory's story for so long . . . it's like taking everything in the Bible literally. It just doesn't make sense!

        1. But they didn't. The Orthodox have never believed it, for instance - and this was long, long before the Great Schism....

        2. (It does sound, to me, like a more recent development, actually, given everything else we know about MM and her high status in the church for such a long time. I'm putting my money on this getting going during the Renaissance, in fact, because of all the depictions of MM in art. In fact, I'm going to do some research and see what I can find out....)

          1. Sorry, Barb ara, but I'm afraid your research will show that GG die put that Prostitute thing out there (may not have started it, but certainly taught it). Of course he was trying to take that from Scripture, but a rather tendentious interpretation.

        3. (Anyway, I don't think "Prostitute and Penitent" necessarily means she's been "tamed" - since everybody in Christianity is a penitent. It does sound as if Gregory was freaked out by females, though, I'd agree....)

  12. My home parish is St. Martin of Tours. There is so much more to Martin than is told in this precis, I hope they are holding out for round two. And tons of kitsch, too, as has any pilgrimage site. Holy compassion and radical hospitality. They made him a bishop against his will, too. Martin for me. Want to get to the goose story!

  13. Being a disciple of Hilary, who was the patron of my home parish, my vote goes to Martin. Besides, Gregory already goes by "the Great," what more does the guy want?!

  14. Mtr Shott - I lust after the chant style dubbed “Gregorian”. It feeds millions of every week. As a former commercial music composer, I applaud you for publicizing the fact that Greg - however noble he surely was, never heightened a single neume. Wouldn’t have known one if it walked up and bit him on the ... ankle.

    Rule #4 for ad agencies: when in doubt, make up something, add memorable music and attach a Celebrity name to it. (They do it cause it works.)

    Still voted for G the G. (The chant thing wasn’t his fault.)

  15. Gotta go with the Pope - maybe if Gregory trounces Martin it will inspie the cardinals to elect a leader not a clone of all the other popes - sigh. 🙂

  16. This is hard. Both were "Great", even if only one is so remembered. I was only vaguely aware of these two before today - thank you for the education. Think I have to vote for Martin - it's easier to be great when you come from wealth and priviledge. Martin overcame his lack of money and connections.

  17. I love chant, and this is not an easy choice, I guess few of them are, but there is something very dear about Martin, I guess it's the cloak thing, so I voted for him.

  18. I voted for Martin and am a total peacenik. Let's keep soldiers safe and eventually put them out of work! -

  19. Dissing last year's Golden Halo winner in a sermon that set her up for 1500 years of slander: not so great. Martin gets my vote.

    1. "Slander"? Why? Prostitutes are people, too; most are so poor they can't earn a living any other way.

      I would think MM would have been happy to be a role model for people so scorned by society for so long, even if it weren't the truth in her case....

      1. While I like your take on it Barbara, the unfortunate reality is that this more modern understanding of women who do this line of work is not what most people came to feel about Mary Magdalene - and, she wasn't a prostitute. Because of GtheG, she was denigrated for more than a century. Even today, ask people about her and they will usually respond that she was a prostitute (and not with a sense of it being all they could do in poverty). Will they tell you that she was the Apostle to the Apostles? Not likely. The church, and most especially GtheG, failed her.

        1. Well, let's not forget that Jesus himself kept company with prostitutes himself. Apparently he didn't think it was slanderous or problematic; he came into the world to save sinners, he said - and we all surely are that. If people still don't get this after 2,000 years, I can't see how we can put the blame on a 5th-century bishop! Clearly, it's something in the human heart that is the problem.

          Anyway: I dispute the idea that MM has been denigrated! To the contrary: she's been revered. She's always been the second-most-important woman in Christianity; churches and schools are named after her. She's had a cult since very early on, and she's had a feast day - and has been called "Apostle to the Apostles" - since at least medieval times. I think Chrysostom wrote something to this effect, too.

          If the Church was trying to denigrate her, it totally blew it, from my point of view. People love her, and always have....

  20. Gregory may have sent Augustine to Canterbury, but the ensuing encounter with the already existent Christian community began us on the road to Whitby and the silencing of Celtic Christianity. Not the British invasion I want to celebrate. Go Martin.

  21. Had so much trouble deciding this one it boiled (arbitrarily) down to the mystical. "Angles are Angels" or "successfully arguing the divinity of Christ against the Arians. I had to pick door number 2, Martin. With all due respect to Gregory.

  22. Oh dear. I voted for Gregory - Calvin's comment was influential for me along with the obvious purity of heart. And I like to see somebody put his money where his mouth is. But I didn't realize it was so lopsided. Other people! Give Martin a look! This ought to be close.

  23. As a chaplain I have to go with Martin. Also, slightly dismayed that Gregory is credited with mission to the English having chosen Augustine of Canterbury for the mission to the English who tried to turn back whilst the Celtic saints were already working their way south. As Joseph Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham put it, "Augustine was the Apostle of Kent, but Aidan was the Apostle of the English."

  24. A 'thumbs up ' from John Calvin, now that is a decent endorsement. GG gave away his wealth, had great compassion for the A-S slaves and poor, throw in the chants and GG has my vote.

  25. If it were not for soldiers who (attempt to) keep the peace, many peaceniks would become victims, if not worse.

    Pray the soldier remains safe to keep others safe.

    1. Actually, Martin the Patron of Soldiers was a pacifist. He asked to be discharged from the army because he believed his commitment to Christ forbade combat.
      "I am a soldier of Christ." he said. "I cannot fight."
      He was accused of cowardice. In response he offered to walk unarmed in front of the army as it advanced to do battle with the oncoming enemy.
      The authorities intended to take him up on his offer, but then the opposing army sued
      for peace and the battle never took place.
      Pacifism was the standard in the Church during the first three centuries of it's
      existence. With the legalization of the Faith this doctrine of nonviolence began to fade for most Christians. Martin is an example of those who held onto the Apostolic Truth.

      1. Amen! I believe the Martin description provided is inadequate. Martin left the army defiantly, he didn't ask to be relieved. "I am now a soldier of Christ. I can no longer fight for Ceasar."
        The treaty to end WWI was purposefully signed on Martin's Day (Nov. 11) in hope's of boosting the notion that we as a human race should all now follow Martin's lead. Martin then, based on his effect on our calendar, completely blows Gregory out of the water!

  26. Underdog! Underdog! Martin for sharing the cloak and yes, I know he will probably lose, as get throroughly trounced, but hey.....ya win some, ya lose some. The brave soldiersnfighting for our freedom today are largely unsung but heroic nonetheless, as was he. Underdogs are winners because they are remembered by those who benefit from their bravery and devotion to God the Creator.