Life and Soul

Saint of the week: Pope Gregory III

Against iconoclasm

St Gregory III was elected pope by acclamation in 731, during the funeral procession of his predecessor, because of his reputation for virtue and knowledge.

The major battle of his pontificate concerned iconoclasm. Gregory sent letters remonstrating with the Byzantine emperor, Leo III, who believed icons were a form f idolatory.

Pope Gregory held two synods in Rome which condemned image-breaking as heresy. He made a point of honouring relics and icons, giving special attention to St Peter’s Basilica. Parts of inscriptions can still be seen there today.

Emperor Leo pursued his agenda by force, seizing papal patrimonies in Calabria and Sicily and transferring ecclesiastical powers to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Backing St Boniface

St Gregory III paid special attention to evangelisation in England. He bestowed the pallium on Egbert of York.

He was also very supportive of St Boniface, who helped to establish Christianity in Germany and confirmed that his missionary work was “strengthened exceedingly by the help of the affection of the Apostolic See”. In 737, Boniface visited Rome to tell the pope of his work and to enjoy Gregory’s “life-giving conversation”.

The pope then ordered the monk and traveller St Willibald to assist St Boniface with his work.

The latter days of Gregory’s pontificate were troubled by the Lombards – Germanic people who ruled parts of the Italian peninsula. Pope Gregory was acutely aware of the ambitions of the Lombards’ king, Liutprand, and had the walls of Rome restored.

St Gregory died in the midst of a war launched by the Lombards and was buried in the oratory of Our Lady in St Peter’s, which he himself had built. He died in 741.