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. Went with Gregory, because he still answered the call of God multiple times despite his reluctance to do so. Besides, the CB writeup was better.

    I still give props to Martin though.

  2. My brother recently retired after 30 years in the US Army. Who else would I vote for but his patron saint and protector?

  3. Well, lack of proofreading due to caffeine deprivation will tell.....:as to the word "throroughly", change it to "thoroughly".. and do delete the "n" between soldiers and fighting, if you will, and I hope you will. Get you cupa' joe and make sure you're using your 2012 GOLDEN HALO winner Mary Mags cup and recording winners on your official 2013 wall thing...need coffee NOW!

    1. Aleathia, you just reminded me that I Need cocoa---in my LM 2013 mug, of course! For courage!

  4. For Gregory's compassion to Anglo-Saxon slaves, for Gregory's sending St. Augustine to England, let us thank God for Gregory the Great. And for Gregory's liturgical innovations which brought
    so many of us fortunate seminarians to the classroom of a liturgical master (and Flentrope master as well), let us give thanks.

  5. SEC: there's a typo: Gregory was elected Pope is 590, not 490. Feel free to delete this once the correction is made

    1. Thanks for the catch. (Get crackin' SEC - though I believe they are flying the friendly skies back home this morning.) While they're at it, there's a double "and" in the 7th graf. Double whoops. Everybody needs an editor.

      1. Well, if we are wearing our "proof-reader" mitres today -- 3rd paragraph Martin bio should read "... let me NOW serve Christ"(emphasis mine). Saw the others, thought I was being picky for a Monday morning, and was going to let them slide by. But...

        Had to go with Gregory -- I keep hoping the music angle will win one of these times....

  6. Because of Martin's importance in the development of monasticism and his link with Celtic Christianity, overlooked in the biography, I'm voting for the Bishop of Tours.

  7. Went with Gregory. Just too much accomplished during his leadership to ignore. Feeding the poor, defending against pagan attacks, ordering of the church's liturgy, chant, and of course sending Augustine to England. There's a reason he's called "great".

  8. As Lisa Green said above, Gregory's sermon in 591 that tarnished poor Mary Magdalene's reputation. Nobody who disses our Golden Halo champion will get my vote. Go for Martin folks!

  9. Love the information of Martin of Tours, educational and informative, but with an endorsement from John Calvin how can you not vote for Gregory the Great.

  10. I was quite prepared to vote anyone who could be named Pope 50 years before he was even born... but I lived a number of years in a small town in Germany, and St. Martin's Day was the feast day i most looked forward to, with its reenactment of the cloak sharing event, and a parade of colorful paper labterns through the town, and a bit of "trick or treating" for the youngest - St. Martin it is!

  11. If you like a monarchic church you can vote for Gregory I. Sure, he sent Augustine to England and he converted the pagans and brought them into the Church, but Henry VIII and Elizabeth I made that Church English, and aren't we glad for that! Gregory was among those who purged Rome of paganism, including the buildings pagans had used. Luckily the Pantheon escaped. The next successor to Peter had the good sense to convert it to a church dedicated to Mary and so it survived and is still a church, although Saint Pauls within the Walls (J.P. Morgan helped pay for it) is a legacy of Augustine's English venture. I rather prefer Martin..

  12. Voted for Martin. One correction though. Hilary was from Poitiers not Pointiers. I have family in Poitiers, France. Got to give the town its celebrity....

  13. Wow, you really know how to "Pick UM"....Tough choice. The Holy fool goes with
    Gregory the Great....(Reminds me a lot of me.) Is there a difference between a sitting, and standing pope? This Lent madness is an EDUCATION SENSATION.

  14. As a Disciple of the modern day Gregory Straub, he of the startling dress, How could I vote for someone else?

  15. I admire Gregory for many things, but he made Mary Magdalene out to be a prostitute and most people still don't have the story straight--so I have to go with Martin!

  16. Given my newness to the Episcopal world...why is John Calvin's such a ringing endorsement? Gregory did use his office for good...that seems to be well documented.. Martin's work as a chaplain is most admirable. I grew up near St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church. My son is a retired soldier. Greatness was thrust upon Gregory. The College of Cardinals desperately needs Gregory's inspiration. AHHHHHH!!!!!

  17. For those who love it, Gregory's not the only one with chant creds. The office hymn "Iste Confessor" was written in honor of Martin of Tours. I voted for him today.

    I'll be quite happy, though, if Gregory move on to the next round; I sure like what I've read here! I definitely identify with his being powerfully drawn to the monastic life of prayer and study, and admire his dedication to the poor and displaced. And of course, I love that his reaction to being elected Pope was to run off into the woods; that seems completely reasonable, to me....

  18. Running off and hiding in the woods for three days and then have "the great" attached to your name just does not seem to fit. However being the patron saint to soldiers while also having a pet goose will get you my vote. In what looks like a losing cause my vote goes to Martin.

  19. The detail that Gregory, through his generosity with his own material wealth, also inspired other wealthy Romans to do the same, is resonant for me. I serve as treasurer of a church-affiliated homeless shelter in Indianapolis, and from this experience have learned this valuable lesson: God bless checkbook philanthropists.

    Gregory, you've got my vote.

    1. I voted for Gregory the Great for a similar reason to yours, Brendan. Gregory the Great Fundraiser inspired others to give. As fundraising becomes a critical competency for some many church leaders--clergy and lay--it seemed like a good idea to celebrate his example.

      Regretfully, I voted before I read the comments. Knowing that Gregory defamed Mary Magdalene probably would have swayed me in the opposite direction.

  20. Another totally unfair seeding. A Hungarian tour guide vs "The Great"? I feel there should be a first round policy that "Greats" may only be pitted against one another: Gregory the Great vs Charles the Great, or others with superlative titles, like Carnac the Magnificent. The time may be right to form a Super-PAC for contestents whose primary descriptors are their hometowns, who thus have a distinct campaign disadvantage: Joan of Arc, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Casarea, etc. In any case, though Gregory's chants might sound great in a Cathedral they aren't as great when you're trying to struggle through the Great Litany in a church service in an elementary school cafeteria. But his campaign strategy has been good: commissioning Respighi to write him into his "Church Windows" tone poem was a stroke of genius, and wins him the day, as far as I'm concerned

  21. Well, I woke up fully intending to vote for Gregory the Great. I'm a musician and chant has played a very important role in my life. But I am also a chaplain, and having learned more about Martin, I'm not so sure about this decision.... Will ponder some more....

  22. This was a hard one for me. At first it seemed a no-brainer for Gregory. But what kept pulling me back was the story of the beggar and the cloak. In addition to promoting the faith, which both did, wasn't Martin seeing Christ in all people? Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Despite resistance, the pendulum swung his way.