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St Gregory the Great

My attention wandered during Vigils this morning. I began by thinking about Gregory the Great as the Great Communicator. His letters are clear, concise treatments of the matter in hand, often marked by a commonsense approach which was anything but common at the time (Gregory on the role of women, marriage and what we would now call family life should be read by all who think the Catholic Church's teaching antediluvian in attitude). His liturgical reforms are legendary, and he was, of course, the first pope to come from a monastic background. Everyone knows he sent Augustine to these shores after seeing Anglo-Saxon slaves for sale in the slave-market (non Angli sed angeli).

That is where my distraction began. We know that Gregory was probably blue-eyed with fair hair himself (actually, he was pretty bald on top, but the hair at the sides was long and carefully curled, after the Roman fashion of the day). Both his parents were tall, so there is a distinct possibility that Gregory was, too. I wonder whether he saw in those young Anglo-Saxons a vision of himself in boyhood and thought what might have become of him had he not been a Christian? Our most important acts are sometimes prompted by thoughts and feelings that barely make a ripple on the surface of our conscious mind. Could it have been so with Gregory? I don't know, but I spent a pleasant couple of minutes wondering and I daresay I shall spend the rest of the day scrutinising some of my own motivations.

There's the rub. Distractions in themselves are neither good nor bad. It is what we do with them that counts.

(Note for the historically curious: Gregory had portraits of his parents frecoed on to the walls of his monastery of St Andrew's on the Caelian Hill and the monks had a portrait done of Gregory himself: these were seen about three hundred years later by John the Deacon, who described all three. Gordianus, Gregory's father, had "light eyes" and his mother, Silvia, had blue eyes. Gordianus's hair-colour was described as "light tawny". Clearly, neither was olive-skinned with dark eyes, as we might have expected.)