Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, First Man of Rome
By George E. Demacopoulos
Published in October 2015
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
Finishing this book was a bit of a slog; I only did so because I love studying the early middle ages.
Gregory the Great was the Roman pope at the end of the 6th century. He grew up during the Gothic Wars of Justinian, and was one of the first popes to reign under the newly restored Byzantine domination of Italy. His tenure would be troubled: during his reign, Rome had been reduced to a ghost town. Furthermore, Byzantine Italy was under constant threat by the Lombards and other Germanic raiders.
Reading this book really helped me understand the period. From Gregory the Great’s perspective, two contrasting viewpoints were apparent. First, Christianity was already ancient by this time. Jesus had lived nearly 600 years earlier, and the Roman Empire had already been Christian for 300 years. Second, it would have been easy for Gregory to perceive his own era as the end of times due to the devastated state of Italy.
This book could have been great - but the writing was bad, and the book was very poorly organized.
Instead of giving a chronological account, Demacopoulos gives a topic by topic account. This makes following the chronology extremely difficult. Even though I have extensively studied the period, I had to constantly go onto Wikipedia to follow the events.
He doesn’t give enough context or focus enough on the period. I wish there had been more discussion about the social and political context of Italy. Instead, much of the writing feels “navel-gazeley” and is focused on Christian theology.
The reason why Demacopoulos writes this way is because he isn’t focused on telling a good story, and educating the reader about history. He is more concerned with squabbling with modern academics about different interpretations rather than laying his own case.
I do not recommend Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, First Man of Rome, even to historians interested in the period.
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