Thursday, September 03, 2020

Vigilant Shepherd

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church. The name Gregorius is from the Greek; it means watchful, vigilant. Folk etymology also connected it with grex, flock or herd. Gregorius was born into a very influential Roman senatorial family; he was directly descended from Pope St. Felix III (who had become a priest after he became a widower), his mother is Saint Sylvia and his aunts are Saints Trasilla and Emiliana. He attempted to live the monastic life, donating a family villa in Rome to be a monastery; it would eventually become the church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio. Pelagius II, however, named him apocrisiarius, i.e., the ambassador of the Roman church to the Imperial court in Constantinople. Part of his mission was to get help from the Byzantines against the encroaching Lombards; this mission was a failure, although he was mostly popular among the nobles of the court. He returned to Rome to become a monk, but was made pope after the death of Pelagius, despite not wanting the position. He reformed the monasteries, gave massive support to missions, and created a massive administrative system for giving alms to the poor -- as it turns out, he had an extraordinary talent for administration and budgeting, and is generally credited with having anticipated principles of accounting that didn't become common until the Renaissance. He also reorganized the Roman Rite, in some ways simplifying it and in some ways bringing it closer to the Byzantine rites that he had known in Constantinople. He died on March 12, 604; his current feastday is the anniversary of his becoming Pope, September 3, 590.

From the Pastoral Rule, Book I, Chapter 9:

But for the most part those who covet pastoral authority mentally propose to themselves some good works besides, and, though desiring it with a motive of pride, still muse how they will effect great things: and so it comes to pass that the motive suppressed in the depths of the heart is one thing, another what the surface of thought presents to the muser's mind. For the mind itself lies to itself about itself, and feigns with respect to good work to love what it does not love, and with respect to the world's glory not to love what it does love. Eager for domination, it becomes timid with regard to it while in pursuit, audacious after attainment. For, while advancing towards it, it is in trepidation lest it should not attain it; but all at once, on having attained, thinks what it has attained to be its just due. And, when it has once begun to enjoy the office of its acquired dominion in a worldly way, it willingly forgets what it has cogitated in a religious way. Hence it is necessary that, when such cogitation is extended beyond wont, the mind's eye should be recalled to works already accomplished, and that every one should consider what he has done as a subordinate; and so may he at once discover whether as a prelate he will be able to do the good things he has proposed to do. For one can by no means learn humility in a high place who has not ceased to be proud while occupying a low one: one knows not how to fly from praise when it abounds, who has learned to pant for it when it was wanting: one can by no means overcome avarice, when advanced to the sustentation of many, whom his own means could not suffice for himself alone.

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