Gregory the Great: “Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” Thursday, Oct 6 2016 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistThose that are at variance are to be admonished to know most certainly that, in whatever virtues they may abound, they can by no means become spiritual if they neglect becoming united to their neighbours by concord.

For it is written, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace (Gal. 5:22).  He then that has no care to keep peace refuses to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Hence Paul says, Whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal (1 Cor. 3:3)?  Hence again he says also, Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Hence again he admonishes, saying, Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace:  there is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling (Eph. 4:3-4).  The one hope of our calling, therefore, is never reached, if we run not to it with a mind at one with our neighbours.

But it is often the case that some, by being proud of some gifts that they especially partake of, lose the greater gift of concord; as it may be if one who subdues the flesh more than others by bridling of his appetite should scorn to be in concord with those whom he surpasses in abstinence.

But whoso separates abstinence from concord, let him consider the admonition of the Psalmist, Praise him with timbrel and chorus (Ps. 150:4).  For in the timbrel a dry and beaten skin resounds, but in the chorus voices are associated in concord.  Whosoever then afflicts his body, but forsakes concord, praises God indeed with timbrel, but praises Him not with chorus.

Often, however, when superior knowledge lifts up some, it disjoins them from the society of other men; and it is as though the more wise they are, the less wise are they as to the virtue of concord.

[…] To such it is rightly said through James, But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable (James 3:14, 15, 17).  Pure, that is to say, because its ideas are chaste; and also peaceable, because it in no wise through elation disjoins itself from the society of neighbours.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Pastoral Rule, 3, 22.

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Gregory the Great: The fowls of the air Thursday, Apr 21 2016 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistWhence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air (Job 28:20-21).

In Holy Scripture ‘birds’ are sometimes given to be understood in a bad sense, and sometimes in a good sense.

Since by ‘the birds of the air’ occasionally the powers of the air are denoted, being hostile to the settled purposes of good men.

Whence it is said by the mouth of Truth, And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it (Matt. 13:4); in this way, because evil spirits besetting the minds of men, whilst they bring in bad thoughts, pluck the word of life out of the memory.

Hence again it is said to a certain rich man full of proud thoughts; the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head (Matt. 8:20l Luke 9:58).

For foxes are very cunning animals, that hide themselves in ditches and caves; and when they face the light, they never run in straight courses, but always by crooked doublings. But the birds as we know with lofty flight lift themselves into the air.

So, then, by the name of ‘foxes,’ the crafty and cunning demons, and by the title of the ‘birds of the air’ these same proud demons are denoted.

As if he said, ‘The deceitful and uplifted demons find their habitation in your heart; i.e. in the imagination of pride,’ ‘but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head,’ i.e. ‘My humility findeth not rest in your proud mind.’

For as by a kind of flight that first bird lifted itself up, which said in the uplifted imagination of the heart; I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the North.  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.  I will be like the Most High (Is. 14:13).

Mark how he in flying sought the regions on high with pride.  This same flight also he recommended to the first of human kind [Adam and Eve] as well.  For they themselves by flying as it were tried to go above their own selves, when it was told them that they should taste and be like gods.

And while they seek after the likeness of the Deity, they lost the blessings of immortality, which same would not by dying have gone into the earth, if they had been willing to stand with humility upon the earth.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 19, 2 (on Job 28:20-21) @ Lectionary Central.

Gregory the Great: Wrestling Jacob Saturday, Mar 12 2016 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistThe pursuit of the contemplative life is something for which a great and sustained effort on the part of the powers of the soul is required,

an effort to rise from earthly to heavenly things,

an effort to keep one’s attention fixed on spiritual things,

an effort to pass beyond and above the sphere of things visible to the eyes of flesh,

an effort finally to hem oneself in, so to speak, in order to gain access to spaces that are broad and open.

There are times indeed when one succeeds, overcoming the opposing obscurity of one’s blindness and catching at least a glimpse, be it ever so fleeting and superficial, of boundless light.

[…] We have a beautiful illustration of all this in the sacred history of the Scriptures where the story is told of Jacob’s encounter with the angel….

Like anyone involved in such a contest, Jacob found his opponent, now stronger, now weaker than himself.

Let us understand the angel of this story as representing the Lord, and Jacob who contended with the angel as representing the soul of the perfect individual who in contemplation has come face to face with God.

This soul, as it exerts every effort to behold God as he is in himself, is like one engaged with another in a contest of strength.

At one moment it prevails so to speak, as it gains access to that boundless light and briefly experiences in mind and heart the sweet savour of the divine presence.

The next moment, however, it succumbs, overcome and drained of its strength by the very sweetness of the taste it has experienced.

The angel, therefore, is, as it were, overcome when in the innermost recesses of the intellect the divine presence is directly experienced and seen.

Here, however, it is to be noted that the angel, when he could not prevail over Jacob, touched the sciatic muscle of Jacob’s hip, so that it forthwith withered and shrank. From that time on Jacob became lame in one leg and walked with a limp.

Thus also does the all-powerful God cause all carnal affections to dry up and wither away in us, once we have come to experience in our mind and hear the knowledge of him as he is in himself.

Previously we walked about on two feet, as it were, when we thought, so it seemed, that we could seek after God while remain­ing at the same time attached to the world.

But having once come to the knowledge and experience of the sweetness of God, only one of these two feet retains its life and vigour, the other becoming lame and useless.

For it necessarily follows that the stronger we grow in our love for God alone, the weaker becomes our love for the world.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Homilies on Ezekiel, 1.12 (PL 76:955) from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Thursday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year 2.

 

Gregory the Great: How the humble and the haughty are to be admonished Wednesday, Feb 3 2016 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistDifferently to be admonished are the humble and the haughty.

To the former it is to be insinuated how true is that excellence which they hold in hoping for it.

To the latter it is to be intimated how that temporal glory is as nothing which, even when embracing it, they hold not.

Let the humble hear how eternal are the things that they long for, how transitory the things which they despise.

Let the haughty hear how transitory are the things they court, how eternal the things they lose.

[…] The pride…of the devil became the occasion of our perdition, and the humility of God has been found the argument for our redemption.

For our enemy, having been created among all things, desired to appear exalted above all things.

But our Redeemer, remaining great above all things, deigned to become little among all things.

Let the humble, then, be told that, when they abase themselves, they ascend to the likeness of God.

Let the haughty be told that, when they exalt themselves, they fall into imitation of the apostate angel.

What, then, is more debased than haughtiness, which, while it stretches itself above itself, is lengthened out beyond the stature of true loftiness?

And what is more sublime than humility, which, while it depresses itself to the lowest, conjoins itself to its Maker who remains above the highest?

There is, however, another thing in these cases that ought to be carefully considered; that some are often deceived by a false show of humility, while some are beguiled by ignorance of their own haughtiness.

For commonly some who think themselves humble have an admixture of fear, such as is not due to men; while an assertion of free speech commonly goes with the haughty.

And when any vices require to be rebuked, the former hold their peace out of fear, and yet esteem themselves as being silent out of humility; the latter speak in the impatience of haughtiness, and yet believe themselves to be speaking in the freedom of uprightness.

Those the fault of timidity under a show of humility keeps back from rebuking what is wrong; these the unbridled impetuosity of pride, under the image of freedom, impels to rebuke things they ought not, or to rebuke them more than they ought.

Whence both the haughty are to be admonished not to be free more than is becoming, and the humble are to be admonished not to be more submissive than is right; lest either the former turn the defence of righteousness into a display of pride, or the latter, while they study more than needs to submit themselves to men, be driven even to pay respect to their vices.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Pastoral Rule, 3, 17.

Gregory the Great: The sick are to be admonished that they feel themselves to be sons of God Thursday, Dec 3 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistThe sick are to be admonished that they feel themselves to be sons of God in that the scourge of discipline chastises them.

For, unless He purposed to give them an inheritance after correction, He would not have a care to educate them by afflictions.

For hence the Lord says to John by the angel, Whom I love I rebuke and chasten (Rev. 3:19; Prov. 3:11).

Hence again it is written, My son despise not thou the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him.  For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth (Heb. 12:5, 6).

Hence the Psalmist says, Many are the tribulations of the righteous, and out of all these hath the Lord delivered them (Ps. 32:20).

[…] The sick are to be told that, if they believe the heavenly country to be their own, they must needs endure labours in this as in a strange land.

For hence it was that the stones were hammered outside, that they might be laid without sound of hammer in the building of the temple of the Lord.

Bbecause, that is, we are now hammered with scourges without, that we may be afterwards set in our places within, without stroke of discipline, in the temple of God; to the end that strokes may now cut away whatever is superfluous in us, and then the concord of charity alone bind us together in the building.

The sick are to be admonished to consider what severe scourges of discipline chastise our sons after the flesh for attaining earthly inheritances.

What pain, then, of divine correction is hard upon us, by which both a never-to-be-lost inheritance is attained, and punishments which shall endure for ever are avoided?

For hence Paul says, We have had fathers of our flesh as our educators, and we gave them reverence:  shall we not much more be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?  And they indeed for a few days educated us after their own will; but He for our profit in the receiving of His sanctification (Heb. 12:9, 10).

The sick are to be admonished to consider how great health of the heart is in bodily affliction, which recalls the mind to knowledge of itself, and renews the memory of infirmity which health for the most part casts away, so that the spirit, which is carried out of itself into elation, may be reminded by the smitten flesh from which it suffers to what condition it is subject.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Pastoral Rule, 3, 12.

Gregory the Great: “Thou shalt also forget thy misery, and no more remember it, as waters that pass away” Saturday, Oct 10 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistThou shalt also forget thy misery, and no more remember it, as waters that pass away (Job 16:11).

The mind feels the ills of the present life the more severely, in proportion as it neglects to take account of the good that comes after.

And as it will not consider the rewards that are in store, it reckons all to be grievous that it undergoes.

And hence the blinded imagination murmurs against the stroke of the scourge, and that is taken for an immeasurable woe, which by the days flowing on in their course is daily being brought to an end.

But if a man once raise himself to things eternal, and fix the eye of the soul upon those objects which remain without undergoing change, he sees that here below all whatsoever runs to an end is almost nothing at all.

He is subject to the adversities of the present life, but he bethinks himself that all that passes away is as nought.

For the more vigorously he makes his way into the interior joys, he is the less sensible of pains without.

Whence Zophar, not being afraid with boldfaced hardihood to instruct one better than himself, exhorts to righteousness, and shews how little chastening appears in the eyes of the righteous man.

As if it were in plain words; ‘If thou hast a taste of the joy which remains within, all that gives pain without forthwith becomes light.’

Now he does well in likening the miseries of the present life to ‘waters that pass away,’ for passing calamity never overwhelms the mind of the elect with the force of a shock, yet it does tinge it with the touch of sorrow.

For it drops indeed with the bleeding of the wound, though it is not dashed from the certainty of its salvation.

But it often happens that not only stripes inflict bruises, but that in the mind of each one of the righteous the temptings of evil spirits come in force, so that he is grieved by the stroke without, and is in some sort chilled within by temptation.

Yet grace never forsakes him. The more severely grace smites us in the dealings of Providence, so much the more does it watch over us in pity.

For when it has begun to grow dark through temptation, the inward light kindles itself again.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 32 (on Job 11:16) @ Lectionary Central [slightly adapted].

Gregory the Great: “Then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot” Thursday, Sep 3 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistContinued from here….

On Job 11:13-15.

So that ‘the face may be lifted up in prayer without spot,’ before the seasons of prayer everything that can possibly be reproved in the act of prayer ought to be heedfully looked into.

And the mind, when it stays from prayer as well, should hasten to shew itself such as it desires to appear to the Judge in the very season of prayer.

For we often harbour some impure or forbidden thoughts in the mind, when we are disengaged from our prayers.

And when the mind has lifted itself up to the exercises of prayer, being made to recoil, it is subject to images of the things whereby it was of it own free will previously burdened whilst unemployed.

And the soul is now as it were without ability to lift up the face to God, in that, with the mind being blotted within, it blushes at the stains of polluted thought.

Oftentimes we are ready to busy ourselves with the concerns of the world, and when after such things we apply ourselves to the business of prayer, the mind cannot lift itself to heavenly things, in that the load of earthly solicitude has sunk it down below, and the face is not shewn pure in prayer, in that it is stained by the mire of grovelling imagination.

Sometimes we rid the heart of every encumbrance, and set ourselves against the forbidden motions thereof, even at such time as we are disengaged from prayer.

Yet because we ourselves commit sins but seldom, we are the more backward in letting go the offences of others, and in proportion as our mind the more anxiously dreads to sin, the more unsparingly it abhors the injuries done to itself by another.

Whence it is brought to pass that a man is found slow to grant pardon in the same degree that, by going on advancing, he has become heedful against the commission of sin.

And, as he fears himself to transgress against another, he claims to punish the more severely the transgression that is done against himself.

But what can be discovered worse than this spot of bitterness [doloris], which in the sight of the Judge does not stain charity, but kills it outright?

For every sin stains the life of the soul, but bitterness maintained against our neighbour slays it. For it is fixed in the soul like a sword, and the very hidden parts of the bowels are gored by the point thereof; and if it be not first drawn out of the pierced heart, no whit of divine aid is won in prayer.

For the medicines of health cannot be applied to the wounded limbs, unless the iron be first withdrawn from the wound.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 29-30 (on Job 11:13-15) @ Lectionary Central [slightly adapted].

Gregory the Great: The soul is the inner face of man, by which same we are known, that we may be regarded with love by our Maker Monday, Jul 13 2015 

St-Gregory-the-Dialogist

If the iniquity which is in thine hand thou put far from thee, and wickedness dwell not in thy tabernacle, then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot, yea thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear (Job 11:13-15).

Every sin is either committed in thought alone, or it is done in thought and deed together.  Therefore ‘iniquity in the hand’ is offence in deed; but ‘wickedness in the tabernacle,’ is iniquity in the heart.

[…] Zophar…bids that ‘iniquity’ be removed from the ‘hand,’ and afterwards that ‘wickedness’ be cut off from the ‘tabernacle’.

For whosoever has already cut away from himself all wicked deeds without, must of necessity in returning to himself probe himself discreetly in the purpose of his heart, lest sin, which he no longer has in act, still hold out in thought.

[…] Now if we thoroughly wipe away these two, we then directly ‘lift our face without spot’ to God.  For the soul is the inner face of man, by which same we are known, that we may be regarded with love by our Maker.

Now we are to lift up this same face, to raise the soul in God by appliance to the exercises of prayer.  But there is a spot that pollutes the uplifted face, when consciousness of its own guilt accuses the mind intent; for it is forthwith dashed from all confidence of hope, if when busied in prayer it be stung with recollection of sin not yet subdued.

For it distrusts its being able to obtain what it longs for, in that it bears in mind its still refusing to do what it has heard from God.

Hence it is said by John, Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask we shall receive of Him (1 John 3:21. 22).  Hence Solomon saith, He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination (Prov. 28:9).

For our heart blames us in offering up our prayers, when it calls to mind that it is set in opposition to the precepts of Him, and…when there is a ‘turning away’ from the control of the law; in that verily it is meet that a man should be a stranger to the favours of Him, to Whose bidding he will not be subject.

Wherein there is this salutary remedy, if when the soul reproaches itself upon the remembrance of sin, it first bewail that in prayer, wherein it has gone wrong, that whereas the stain of offences is washed away by tears, in offering up our prayers the face of the heart may be viewed unspotted by our Maker.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 26-28 (on Job 11:13-15) @ Lectionary Central.

Gregory the Great: Heaven and hell are shut up together Saturday, Jun 20 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistIf He overturn all things, or shut them up together, then who shall gainsay Him?  Or who can say to Him, Why doest Thou so? (Job 11:10).

It very often happens that the spirit already lifts the mind on high, yet that the flesh assails it with pressing temptations.

And, when the soul is led forward to the contemplation of heavenly things, it is struck back by the images of unlawful practice being presented.

For the sting of the flesh suddenly wounds him, whom holy contemplation was bearing away beyond the flesh.

Therefore heaven and hell are shut up together, when one and the same mind is at once enlightened by the uplifting of contemplation, and bedimmed by the pressure of temptation —

— so that both by straining forward it sees what it should desire, and through being bowed down it should be in thought subject to that which it should blush for.

For light springs from heaven, but hell is held of darkness.

Heaven and hell then are brought into one, when the soul which already sees the light of the land above, also sustains the darkness of secret temptation coming from the warfare of the flesh.

Yea, Paul had already gone up to the height of the third heaven, already learnt the secrets of Paradise, and yet being still subject to the assaults of the flesh, he groaned, saying:

But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:23).

How then was it with the heart of this illustrious Preacher, saving that God had ‘shut up together’ heaven and hell, in that he had both already obtained the light of the interior vision, and yet continued to suffer darkness from the flesh?

Above himself he had seen what to seek after with joy, in himself he perceived what to bewail with fear.  The light of the heavenly land had already shed abroad its rays, yet the dimness of temptation embarrassed the soul.

Therefore he underwent hell together with heaven, in that assurance set him erect in his enlightenment, and lamentation laid him low in his temptation.

And it often happens that faith is now vigorous in the soul, and yet in some slight point it is wasted with uncertainty, so that both being well-assured, it lifts itself up from visible objects, and at the same time being unassured it disquiets itself in certain points.

For very often it lifts itself to seek after the things of eternity, and being driven by the incitements of thoughts that arise, it is set at strife with its very own self.

[…] Did not he experience that ‘earth and sea were shut up together’ in his breast, who, both hoping through faith and wavering through faithlessness, cried, Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief? (Mark 9:23).

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 17-18 (on Job 11:10) @ Lectionary Central (slightly adapted).

Gregory the Great: “Canst thou find out the footsteps of God?” Tuesday, Jun 2 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistCanst thou find out the footsteps of God?  Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? (Job 11:7).

What does he call ‘the footsteps of God,’ saving the lovingkindness of His visitation?

By this we are stimulated to advance forward to things above, when we are influenced by the inspiration of His Spirit.

And, being carried without the narrow compass of the flesh, by love we see and own the likeness of our Maker presented to our contemplation that we may follow it.

For when the love of the spiritual land kindles the heart, He as it were gives knowledge of a way to persons that follow it.

And a sort of footstep of God as He goes is imprinted upon the heart laid under it, that the way of life may be kept by the same in right goings of the thoughts.

For Him, Whom we do not as yet see, it only remains for us to trace out by the footsteps of His love, that at length the mind may find Him, to the reaching the likeness contemplation gives of Him, Whom now as it were, following Him in the rear, it searches out by holy desires.

The Psalmist was well skilled to follow these footsteps of our Creator, when he said, My soul followeth hard after Thee (Ps. 63:8).

Whom too he busied himself that he might find even to attaining the vision of His loftiness, when he said, My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before the face of God? (Ps. 42:2).

For then Almighty God is found out by clear conception when, the corruption of our mortality being once for all trodden under our feet, He is seen by us that are taken up into heaven in the brightness of His Divine Nature.

But at this present time, the grace of the Spirit which is poured into our hearts lifts the soul from carnal aims, and elevates it into a contempt for transitory things, and the mind looks down upon all that it coveted below, and is kindled to objects of desire above.

By the force of her contemplation she is carried out of the flesh, while by the weight of her corruption she is still held fast in the flesh.

She strives to obtain sight of the splendour of uncircumscribed Light, and has not power; for the soul, being burthened with infirmity, both never wins admittance, and yet loves when repelled.

For our Creator already exhibits concerning Himself something whereby love may be excited, but He withdraws the appearance of His vision from those so loving.

Therefore we all go on seeing only His footsteps, in that only in the tokens of His gifts we follow Him, Whom as yet we see not.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 13 (on Job 11:7) @ Lectionary Central (slightly adapted).

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