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In the 6th Century, Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote this:

"I say it without the least hesitation, whoever calls himself the universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor of Antichrist, because he thus attempts to raise himself above the others. The error into which he falls springs from pride equal to that of Antichrist; for as that Wicked One wished to be regarded as exalted above other men, like a god, so likewise whoever would be called sole bishop exalteth himself above others....You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable Council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of 'universal' upon the bishops of this Apostolic See [Rome], whereof I am, by God's will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given to him; none hath assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special distinction in the dignity of the episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren." (Orthodoxwiki)

In the 19th Century, the Bishop(s) of Rome decreed this:

Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world...

...In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one Supreme Shepherd. (Pastor Aeternus)

How does a Catholic layman reconcile these two contexts?

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It seems that Gregory uses "sole bishop" as well as "universal bishop", perhaps meaning these to denote the same concept. I certainly don't know of a Pope who's claimed to be sole bishop. – James T Mar 25 '14 at 1:05
@James T maybe Leo is implying that if a bishop claims to be supremely universal...all other bishops would essentially become "vicars" or auxiliaries – user5286 Mar 27 '14 at 2:50

In your question it would be very helpful to have a citation as to where in the writings of Gregory the quote is from. I followed the link provided and there is no citation there for the quote either. As a matter of fact, you can google the first sentence of the quote and find a few websites that also have the quote but leave it uncited. Knowing its context is crucial to understanding what it is saying. As a note of caution, taking Papal quotations out of context seems to be a cottage industry on the web.

The quote and its full context can be found here: Gregory to Mauricius Augustus | Book VII, Letter 33 | New Advent.

And an explanation of what Gregory was addressing can be found here: Quick Questions (1992) | New Advent.

What follows below is taken from the New Advent article.

"What Gregory condemned was the expropriation of the title Universal Bishop by Bishop John the Faster, the patriarch of Constantinople, who proclaimed himself Universal Bishop at the Synod of Constantinople in 588. Gregory condemned the patriarch's act because universal jurisdiction applies solely to the pope. . . Predictably, anti-Catholics neglect to inform their audiences that the context of these statements makes it clear that Gregory was not making these statements in regard to himself or to any other pope. He believed the Bishop of Rome has primacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops."

The two contexts are not in contradiction when they are properly understood.

Secondly, the second quote comes from a Church Council. Church Councils can produce dogmatic teaching. What is written by Popes can sometimes be considered Church teaching, but not dogmatic teaching. What is written in letters by Popes is not something that could not change. As to the status of what is quoted by Gregory, it seems to me that Gregory it not really trying to make a Church teaching, but is telling a particular person what he thinks.

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Good and useful answer. Not sure why it never received any upvote. – user13992 Sep 23 '14 at 9:57
@user13992 Because anti-Papism is so fashionable. – KorvinStarmast Jun 16 at 22:21

How does a Catholic layman reconcile these two contexts?

If we understand Pope St. Gregory I ("the Great") as denying that the pope is the "universal bishop" and taught that the Bishop of Rome has no authority over any other bishop, then the layman is left with more questions than answers. For example:

  1. How is he Saint and Doctor of the Church?
  2. With his denial, how is it he remained Pope till his death? Why did he not resign, abdicate or abolish the papacy?

Thus there must necessarily be a context for his statement and I found an explanation here:

Pope Gregory the Great and the "Universal Bishop" Controversy: Was the Pope denying his own Papal Authority? (Debunking a popular Protestant myth).

The following is the reason the article gives for the Pope's condemnation:

What Gregory condemned was the expropriation of the title Universal Bishop by Bishop John the Faster, the patriarch of Constantinople, who proclaimed himself Universal Bishop at the Synod of Constantinople in 588. Gregory condemned the patriarch's act because universal jurisdiction applies solely to the pope.

Users are encouraged to read the entire article.

Further reading:

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Sorry, but that article is just nonsensical spin. Either Gregory was a complete hypocrite, or his view of his office was radically different to how the papacy is viewed in today's Catholic church. – bruised reed Sep 23 '14 at 9:47
@bruisedreed I have answered How does a Catholic layman reconcile these two contexts? – user13992 Sep 23 '14 at 10:01

Refer, please, to Matthew 20:26. Christ tells His apostles that whoever would be great in the Kingdom of Heaven must be your servant.

Every group must have a head that directs it or it soon disintegrates. Every corporation must have a CEO or some such position.

In the Catholic Church, yes, the Bishop of Rome is the head of the College of Bishops. His position, however, is not to Lord it over the other bishops, but rather to assure that each diocese is given an equal hearing as to its problems and needs. His ultimate assignment by God in the power of the Holy Spirit is to assure that Christ's teachings are passed on correctly from generation to generation so that all people hear the truth of God's Word correctly interpreted and lived out in the Church's actions.

I hope that helps. Believe me, no man in his right mind truly wishes to be Pope. It is a frightful position to hold, one that allows for little time to oneself and little peace. Picture a father with multiple children, all of them wanting individual attention.

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Welcome to the site, please take the tour and check out how are we different from other sites and what makes a good answer if you haven't already. – bruised reed Jun 16 '14 at 14:53

Does it not answer itself? He said any man who calls himself this... Rather than God calling him it.

Also later Gregory says a christian council gave that name to the succesors of Peter but he wouldn't even use it even though aloud because of the impression it would make.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. The community here prefers longer, developed answers. Please see Guidelines for writing effective answers and What is a well-sourced, dispassionate answer? After that, please edit this post to make it better. I hope to see you post again soon. – fredsbend Apr 7 '15 at 16:19

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