Justinian I and Gregory the Great: the legislative ideology of a civic bishop
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 00:52 by Charles Thorne
This thesis argues that the ideology of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565) is discernible in the behaviour of Roman Bishop Gregory the Great (590-604). My hypothesis rests upon the legislative, not tangible, influence of the emperor upon Gregory, who lived several decades after the death of Justinian. Noted for his superlative piety,1 Justinian framed perhaps his greatest achievement, the Corpus Iuris Civilis, as a homage to divine ordination and his personal role in a reinvigorated celestial dispensation. As Justinian is best known for his legal codification, Gregory’s own magnum opus is a vast collection of private letters: numbering over 800, the letters cover all aspects of his episcopate, be it social, religious or political, and thus afford the reader an unrivalled insight into the world of a 6th century Roman Bishop. Therefore, by analysing the parallels between the Corpus Iuris Civilis and the behaviour of Gregory, as expressed through his letters, we can assess the influence of Justinian upon Gregory. Justinian’s law code encompasses every perceivable aspect of private and public life, and so the specific focus here is upon Justinian’s ideology regarding the civic role of bishops. Following imperial enfranchisement under Constantine I (306-337), Christian bishops grew in prestige, gradually accruing authority well beyond the traditional ecclesiastical sphere. It is clear from the Corpus Iuris Civilis that Justinian envisaged the bishop as taking a much more active role in municipal administration, a role fostered by the evolving nature of contemporary urban society. Thus, the aim of this study is to assess the ideological influence of Justinian, through the medium of his law code, and in the context of the civic role of bishops, upon the episcopate of Gregory the Great.