Saturday, September 03, 2016

Father of Christian Worship

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregorius I, also known as St. Gregory the Great and, in the East, St. Gregory the Dialogist. He was a member of a Roman senatorial family and, in fact, served as the Prefect of Rome early in his career. When his father died, he converted the family villa into a monastery (there is still a Camaldoese monastery on the location, San Gregorio Magno al Celio). In 579, Pope Pelagius II appointed him apocrisiarius -- essentially an ecclesial ambassador to Constantinople. He got along well with the aristocrats, but was largely ineffective as apocrisiarius. He tried to go back to his monastery in 585, but was elected pope in 590. To say he did well in the role is an understatement. He made a number of reforms of the Roman liturgy and, while he does not seem (as traditional attributions suggest) to have actually composed the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the Byzantine rites, he is the first person to describe them in detail, and thus his description has been the primary reference point for that liturgy ever since. He was an excellent administrator who developed an extensive charitable network for the poor at a time of economic crisis, and an extensive corpus of his works have survived as major influences on theology (especially moral theology).

From his Moralia in Job, Book II, section 1:

Holy Writ is set before the eyes of the mind like a kind of mirror, that we may see our inward face in it; for therein we learn the deformities, therein we learn the beauties that we possess; there we are made sensible what progress we are making, there too how far we are from proficiency. It relates the deeds of the Saints, and stirs the hearts of the weak to follow their example, and while it commemorates their victorious deeds, it strengthens our feebleness against the assaults of our vices; and its words have this effect, that the mind is so much the less dismayed amidst conflicts as it sees the triumphs of so many brave men set before it. Sometimes however it not only informs us of their excellencies, but also makes known their mischances, that both in the victory of brave men we may see what we ought to seize on by imitation, and again in their falls what we ought to stand in fear of. For, observe how Job is described as rendered greater by temptation, but David by temptation brought to the ground, that both the virtue of our predecessors may cherish our hopes, and the downfall of our predecessors may brace us to the cautiousness of humility, so that whilst we are uplifted by the former to joy, by the latter we may be kept down through fears, and that the hearer's mind, being from the one source imbued with the confidence of hope, and from the other with the humility arising from fear, may neither swell with rash pride, in that it is kept down by alarm, nor be so kept down by fear as to despair, in that it finds support for confident hope in a precedent of virtue.

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