Saint Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) was important for both his spiritual and worldly accomplishments. Gregory was born to a rich and well-connected family, but he shunned a life of luxury. He was well educated for a man of his times. Gregory renounced a secular life and began a monastic life by the age of thirty. He opened a number of monasteries on his family's properties, and his encouragement of monasticism had a lasting impact.
He was content with the life of a monk, but he was a very capable man and the Catholic Church needed his services. He served as an abbot, a deacon of Rome, ambassador to Constantinople, and chief adviser to Pope Pelagius II.
An able and ethical churchman, he was selected Pope in 590. He reluctantly accepted the position and served until his death in 604.
As Pope, he had to perform a delicate balancing act between Constantinople and the Lombards. Constantinople, the successor to the Roman Empire, was the capital of the Byzantine Empire and it had an administrative center in Ravenna, Italy. The Lombards were a powerful nomadic people in Italy. Gregory sought to placate the Lombards without alienating the Byzantines. His goal was to preserve the papacy's independence.
Gregory strengthened the Catholic Church by keeping it united and honest. He did this by combating Donatism (a schismatic movement) in North Africa and simony (buying and selling of offices) in Gaul.
And finally, Gregory was famous for his writings. He wrote about the lives of saints, Gospel homilies, and priceless letters.