In The Holy Sinner Thomas Mann resurrected Gregory VII, the Pope who excommunicated an emperor; now another German, Gerhart Ellert, rehabilitates Gregory I, the Pope who transformed the Roman patriarchate into the papal system we know today. But unlike the former, the latter excavation, though handsomely mounted and honestly retold, only occasionally, either in characters or situations, ever hits the flesh-and-blood jackpot. A rather heavy-handed novel, it is manipulated in the manner of a memoir: we enter the events of Gregory's life- a patrician, he renounces his position as Prefect, becomes a monk, then subsequently Father of the Church-through the eyes of a servant, a monastery-reared young man affectionately called ""Agnello"". Now to be sure, the style has its splendors (""the sun stood in a misted sky like a pale silver coin""), and it manages a few momentous sequences out of all the historical fiddle-faddle (the break-up of East and West; floods, plagues, Lombard invaders; Byzantium and Lateran politics), but for the most part the drama moves about as monumentally as the dialogue, e.g., ""Your pity is not like ours.... It is like a great fire, but it sheds no warmth"". No warmth. Yes. Or in other words, very German; or pace Mann, German without genius. For the interested.