Integrating life and faith

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” Matthew 14.28


By any measure in any age, Gregory the Great (540-604) would emerge as an outstanding individual. Of noble birth, he enjoyed a classical education and worked his way quickly through the ranks to become Prefect of Rome in his early 30s. By this time Roman society was Christian, at least in name, and Gregory was surrounded by powerful role models, which must have impacted him because he suddenly threw aside his worldly success and retired to the monastery of St Andrews, which he built on his family estate following the death of his father. Submitting himself to the Rule of Benedict under the auspices of the Abbot, Gregory settled down to his new life.


But you cannot keep a good man down, as they say.... Within a couple of years Gregory was called out of monastic obscurity to serve as the Pope's ambassador in Constantinople and, in 590, he was elected Pope himself, in which office he served the remaining 14 years of his life. During this period he learned to balance the contemplative instincts which he had acquired in the monastery with the worldly requirements of his office. According to Harvard academic, Ryan Olson, one needs to understand the interplay between character (ipse) and identity (idem) in order to appreciate Gregory and the influence of those around him.


The Latin word ipse refers to the person we are becoming though our experiences and choices in life. They work their way into our lives and shape our identity, which finds specific expression in another Latin word idem. Usually this is a gradual process but it can take a dramatic turn, when a person experiences a crisis or a moment of revelation, such as must have happened in Gregory's life to make him change his career path so dramatically. In his case, the prime mover was God. Yet, and presumably in his grace, God surrounded Gregory with friends who were both influential and helpful to him, from his ascetic maiden aunts to his fellow monks in the monastery of St Andrews.


If you were to trace the interplay between character (ipse) and identity (idem) in your life, what would that reveal? And who or what have been your formative influences? Are you satisfied with progress so far, or do you yearn for a change of course?

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