It was in December of the year 590. One hundred years had passed since the fall of the Roman Empire in the west (476 AD). Another three centuries would pass before the Restauratio Imperii, where the re-establishment of the Christian Empire would be possible in the year 800. The Italian peninsula had been devastated by the armies of the Byzantines, the Goths and the Lombards. In the late spring, the Lombard armies, led by King Agilulf, stood at the gates of the Eternal City. Everywhere there were traces of disaster and tribulation. On the chair of Peter sat a Roman, Gregory I, the descendant of an old senatorial family. His predecessor, Pelagius, had been killed by a terrible plague raging in the city of Rome. The war, hunger, and disease plagued the country, as has happened so often in history.
On the second Sunday of Advent, at the beginning of his pontificate, the Pope delivered his first sermon on the Gospels. He described the calamity of his time and linked it with the passage in Luke 21: 25-33, where Jesus speaks to his disciple of the signs of the end times:
And there shall be signs in the sun, moon and stars, and on earth the nations will be dismayed and perplexed by the raging and thundering of the sea. People will die of fear in the expectation of things coming over the earth; for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the Son of Man will be seen coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When that begins, straighten up and raise your heads; because your salvation is near. And he made a similitude and said: Look at the fig tree and the other trees: as soon as you notice that they bring forth their fruit, you know that the summer is near. Similarly, you should know when you (all) see this happening, that the kingdom of God is near. Amen, I tell you: this generation will not pass until everything arrives. Heaven and earth will pass, but my words will not pass away.
The pope said:
"The Lord and our Savior, dear Brothers, announce the evils which the declining world will meet, because he will find us ready, to stop us loving them. He reveals to us the scourges that announce the coming of the End, because we fear God not in peace, so that we at least fear the approaching judgment, even under the weight of the evils that are breaking over us. The reading of the Holy Gospel, which you, brethren, have just heard was sent by the Lord just before: 'One people will rise up against the other, and one kingdom against the other. One people will rise up against the other and one kingdom against the other. There will be tremendous earthquakes and in many places plagues and famines; terrible things will happen and in the sky you will see huge signs."
The end of the world, which the Pope called for reflection, is not only the end of history, the parousia, the second return of Jesus Christ on earth, to repay everyone according to his works, and to establish the heavenly Jerusalem. It is also the end of a certain historical epoch which is judged and punished by the Lord for their sins. In this sense, the downfall of Jerusalem is both an allusion to the end of the world and all the punishments God has always used to punish humankind: wars, epidemics, hunger and natural disasters. Any punishment is a preliminary interpretation of the Final Tribunal, and any act of faithfulness to God in times of crisis is an allusion to the testimony that the elect have given to God in the time of the Antichrist.
"We see tribulations in our day that is coming all over the country. Often we have received news from other parts of the known world of earthquakes that are destroying countless cities. We endure the plague without end. We do not yet openly see extraordinary signs of sun and moon and stars, but by changing the air we can sense that they are not far off. Before Italy was handed over to the foreign sword, we saw flaming lightning in the sky, like the living blood of the human race that was to be shed. "
Because of this terrible calamity, the Pope called for the head to be raised, the hearts lifted, and the spirit lifted to the joys of the heavenly home.
"Those who love God must rejoice and rejoice over the end of the world, for surely they will soon meet those whom they love, while the world soon passes away that they have not loved. Therefore it should not be that the believer, who urges to see God, weeps over the scourges of the world, which he knows to be destined to end among them. It is therefore written: Whoever wants to be a friend of the world, makes himself an enemy of God. So who does not rejoice over the approaching end of the world, shows to be her friend, and has proven to be an enemy of God. Those who have planted their roots of the heart in their love for her, those who seek no future life, and those who can not even imagine such a life cry for the destruction of the world. "
Gregory the Great recalled the words of the gospel:
"'Heaven and earth will pass, but my words will not pass away.' It is as if he would openly say that whatever sustains you has no endurance for eternity, while all that is seen passing by remains the same and unchanging, as my passing word pronounces truths that remain and without change. Therefore, my brothers, we experience the fulfillment of what we have heard. The world is being driven down every day by new and greater evils. You yourself can see how many there are left of an innumerable population. Every day we are plagued by new scourges, sudden suffering oppresses us, new and unforeseen catastrophes plague us. Therefore, my brothers, do not love this world, which you can see will not last long. Keep in heart the apostolic commandments with which the Lord admonishes us by saying: Do not love the world and not the things of this world! If one loves the world, the love of the Father is not with him. "
The Pope recalled how a few days earlier in Rome some ancient trees had been knocked down by a cyclone:
"We have to keep in mind that the invisible judge, in order to put these things into practice, moved the breeze of a gentle wind and from a single cloud igniting a storm that shook the earth and numerous buildings to their foundations, so that they were almost made ruins. So what will this Judge do when He Himself comes and His wrath is inflamed in the punishment of sins, when we are unable to bear it when He met us through a harmless cloud? Paul says, looking at the strictness of the judge who is about to come: it is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God. Therefore, dear brothers, keep that day in mind, and what seems grave to you now will be easy for you in comparison. What shall we say of the terrible events of which we are witnesses, if not that they are messengers of the future wrath? It is necessary to see that the present ones are distinct from that extreme tribulation in proportion as the power of the heralds differs from that of the Judge. So remember, dearest brothers, with the utmost attention to that day, change your life, change your behavior, conquer the temptations of evil with all your strength, and punish the sins committed with your tears. You will recognize the coming of the Eternal Judge at the right moment the more you prepare yourself for it today in fear of its severity."
With these words, the Holy Pope Gregory the Great prepared the citizens of Rome in December 590 for Christmas. This is how many of the greatest shepherds spoke in the darkest ages of humanity. Their voice penetrates from a distance to us like the light of a distant star illuminating the darkness of the night, proclaiming in our hearts and in society, the birth of the Divine Savior.
* Roberto de Mattei , historian, father of five, professor of modern history and history of Christianity at the European University of Rome, President of the Lepanto Foundation, author of numerous books, most recently in German translation: Defense of Tradition: The Insuperable Truth of Christ, with a foreword by Martin Mosebach, Altötting 2017. (Not available in English yet)
Translation: Giuseppe Nardi Image: Wikicommons / Corrispondenza Romana Translation: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org