Christ's Faithful People
731 - 741 AD
As the funeral procession of St. Gregory II moved slowly along, there was a sudden outcry. The clergy and people shouted that Gregory, a Syrian who was walking with the Pope's bier, should be the next pope. And they hurried him off without further ado, and elected him. The man who could arouse such unusual and universal enthusiasm must have been a striking personality. And indeed the biographer of Gregory paints him in glowing colors. He was an educated man who knew both Latin and Greek, polished in style, learned in Holy Scripture, pious, zealous for the faith, and a lover of the poor.
Consecrated on March 18, 731, Gregory III at once turned his attention to the image-breaking controversy. To recall Leo the Isaurian to an orthodox state of mind, he sent him the priest George with letters of warning and instruction. When George returned from the East, the Pope was surprised to find that the timid legate had been afraid even to deliver the letters to the fierce Isaurian. Not unnaturally angry, Gregory was going to degrade George from the priesthood, but the clergy of a synod held to consider the situation, persuaded the Pope to let George off with a penance. However, Gregory sent him back to the Emperor. This time the imperial officials in Sicily seized George and exiled him.
Gregory held another synod, this time with ninety-three bishops and the clergy and people of Rome. The council decreed that anyone who should destroy or dishonor holy images should be excommunicated But the Emperor would not allow the envoys even to reach him. His answer was to send a fleet to carry out the imperial decrees. The fleet was shipwrecked, but Leo punished the Italians by raising their taxes and the Pope by confiscating the estates of the patrimony in Sicily and Calabria.
The Emperor also transferred the Church in Calabria, Sicily, and Illyricum from the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome as patriarch to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. This arbitrary act was a remote cause of the unhappy Eastern Schism. It made the patriarchate of Constantinople practically coterminous with the Eastern Empire. And in spite of the fact that it had been thus arbitrarily given to them by a heretical emperor, the patriarchs of Constantinople clung to their increased jurisdiction.
St. Boniface visited Pope Gregory III in 737 to receive consolation from him. Gregory asked Boniface's cousin, the holy monk Willibald, to help in the conversion of the Germans. The Pope granted the request of Egbert of York that he should be made archbishop, thus restoring to England the two metropolitan sees planned by Gregory the Great.
Once more a pope was troubled by the Lombards. Liutprand, King of the Lombards, strove to break the Lombard Dukes of Spoleto and Benevento and to overrun all Italy. He ravaged the exarchate of Ravenna and marched south. The Dukes allied themselves with Pope Gregory, but nothing could stop Liutprand. Once more the Lombards ravaged Roman territory. The Pope, at a loss, appealed to Charles Martel, the Frankish "hammer." Charles sent an embassy to Rome, but no help. Actually he could do little, for his health was broken.
In the middle of all this trouble, late in 741, St. Gregory III died. His feast is kept on November 28.