St Gregory X

Pope (entered heaven January 20, 1276)

Dear Rory,

Your notes are starting to disturb me again.  Are you hanging out with those extremists again?  How many times do I have to tell you?  There is a litmus test for theological and ecclesiastical disagreements: what has the Pope said about it?  And unless something big has happened since I was arrested (which I am sure you would have told me about), you can rest assured that the Pope (this one and previous ones) have approved the Church’s current liturgical practice.  END OF STORY!  There’s no need to discuss it; just understand it, live it, and let God work through it.  The papacy is a great gift to the Church; it frees us from having to waste time on idle (and often destructive, uncharitable, unpleasant and positively unchristian) arguments.

Today’s saint should shore up your faith in the papacy, God’s chosen instrument to guide the Church through the troubled waters of history.  He was born in northern Italy into a noble family.  He entered a clerical career and was ordained a deacon.  He became Cardinal Pecorara’s personal assistant, and traveled with him throughout northern Italy, France, and Belgium, pursuing various peace-making missions.  During these years he was raised to Archdeacon.  When the Cardinal died, he returned to Belgium to work on reforming the clergy.  He also spent time at the University of Paris, where he befriended another future pope (Clement IV), St Bonaventure, and St Thomas Aquinas.  Later the Pope sent him to accompany yet another cardinal on a delicate mission to England.  Then he was asked to preach the Fourth Crusade.  He ended up not only preaching it, but also accompanying it as a chaplain.  Up this point he was still only a Deacon – he had never been ordained a priest.  In fact, he had rejected appointments to bishoprics, considering himself unworthy.

Nevertheless, while he was supporting the troops in the Holy Land, he received word that the 18 Cardinals gathered in Viterbo (Italy, just north of Rome) had ended the longest conclave in history (they had been three years trying to elect a new pope) by electing him the new pope.  You can imagine his reaction.  But wanting to avoid another extended conclave, he accepted.  He went to Rome, was ordained a priest, then a bishop, then crowned pope.  He would only occupy the Roman See for four years, in which time worked tirelessly for Christian unity, European peace, and a renewed Crusade.  He also published a famous Bull dedicated to the protection of the Jews, reformed the procedures for conclaves, and called an ecumenical council.

If he had been pope longer, perhaps his influence would have been greater, but even as it was, he brought a breath of fresh and vigorous air into a Europe that was beginning to show signs of disintegration.  And in any case, he is an undeniable sign of the providential security God offers in the papacy.  Imagine a non-divine institution surviving three years without a head – impossible.  It would either redefine itself or divide into parts.  But even three years’ worth of cardinal indecision couldn’t stifle the papal prerogative.  If you stick with the Pope, you’ll be sticking with Christ.

Your loving uncle,


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