Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Book of Pastoral Rule, and Selected Epistles, of Gregory the Great.: How the simple and the crafty are to be admonished.
How the simple and the crafty are to be admonished.
(Admonition 12.) Differently to be admonished are the simple and the insincere. The simple are to be praised for studying never to say what is false, but to be admonished to know how sometimes to be silent about what is true. For, as falsehood has always harmed him that speaks it, so sometimes the hearing of truth has done harm to some. Wherefore the Lord before His disciples, tempering His speech with silence, says, I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now (Joh. xvi. 12). The simple are therefore to be admonished that, as they always avoid deceit advantageously, so they should always utter truth advantageously. They are to be admonished to add prudence to the goodness of simplicity, to the end that they may so possess the security of simplicity as not to lose the circumspection of prudence. For hence it is said by the teacher of the Gentiles, I would have you wise in that which is good, but simple concerning evil (Rom. xvi. 19). Hence the Truth in person admonishes His elect, saying, Be ye wise as serpents, but simple as doves (Matth. x. 16); because, to wit, in the hearts of the elect the wisdom of the serpent ought to sharpen the simplicity of the dove and the simplicity of the dove temper the wisdom of the serpent, to the end that neither through prudence they be seduced into cunning, nor from simplicity grow torpid in the exercise of the understanding.
But, on the other hand, the insincere are to be admonished to learn how heavy is the labour of duplicity, which with guilt they endure. For, while they are afraid of being found out, they are ever seeking dishonest defences, they are agitated by fearful suspicions. But there is nothing safer for defence than sincerity, nothing easier to say than truth. For, when obliged to defend its deceit, the heart is wearied with hard labour. For hence it is written, The labour of their own lips shall cover them (Ps. cxxxix. 10). For what now fills them then covers them, since it then presses down with sharp retribution him whose soul it now elevates with a mild disquietude. Hence it is said through Jeremiah, They have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity (Jerem. ix. 5): as if it were said plainly, They who might have been friends of truth without labour, labour to sin; and, while they refuse to live in simplicity, by labours require that they should die. For commonly, when taken in a fault, while they shrink from being known to be such as they are, they hide themselves under a veil of deceit, and endeavour to excuse their sin, which is already plainly perceived; so that often one who has a care to reprove their faults, led astray by the mists of the falsehood that surrounds them, finds himself to have almost lost what he just now held as certain concerning them. Hence it is rightly said through the prophet, under the similitude of Judah, to the soul that sins and excuses itself, There the urchin had her nest (Isa. 1:0, Isa. 34:15). For by the name of urchin is denoted the duplicity of a mind that is insincere, and cunningly defends itself; because, to wit, when an urchin is caught, its head is perceived, and its feet appear, and its whole body is exposed to view; but no sooner has it been caught than it gathers itself into a ball, draws in its feet, hides its head, and all is lost together within the hands of him that holds it which before was all visible together. So assuredly, so insincere minds are, when they are seized hold of in their transgressions. For the head of the urchin is perceived, because it appears from what beginning the sinner has advanced to his crime; the feet of the urchin are seen, because it is discovered by what steps the iniquity has been perpetrated; and yet by suddenly adducing excuses the insincere mind gathers in its feet, in that it hides all traces of its iniquity; it draws in the head, because by strange defences it makes out that it has not even begun any evil; and it remains as it were a ball in the hand of one that holds it, because one that takes it to task, suddenly losing all that he had just now come to the knowledge of, holds the sinner rolled up within his own consciousness, and, though he had seen the whole of him when he was caught, yet, illuded by the tergiversation of dishonest defence, he is in like measure ignorant of the whole of him. Thus the urchin has her nest in the reprobate, because the duplicity of a crafty mind, gathering itself up within itself, hides itself in the darkness of its self-defence.
Let the insincere hear what is written, He that walketh in simplicity walketh surely (Prov. x. 9). For indeed simplicity of conduct is an assurance of great security. Let them hear what is said by the mouth of the wise man, The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit (Wisd. i. 5). Let them hear what is again affirmed by the witness of Scripture, His communing is with the simple (Prov. iii. 32). For Gods communing is His revealing of secrets to human minds by the illumination of His presence. He is therefore said to commune p. 34b with the simple, because He illuminates with the ray of His visitation concerning supernal mysteries the minds of those whom no shade of duplicity obscures. But it is a special evil of the double-minded, that, while they deceive others by their crooked and double conduct, they glory as though they were surpassingly prudent beyond others; and, since they consider not the strictness of retribution, they exult, miserable men that they are, in their own losses. But let them hear how the prophet Zephaniah holds out over them the power of divine rebuke, saying, Behold the day of the Lord cometh, great and horrible, the day of wrath, that day; a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of cloud and whirlwind, a day of trumpet and clangour, upon all fenced cities, and upon all lofty corners (Zephan. i. 15, 16). For what is expressed by fenced cities but minds suspected, and surrounded ever with a fallacious defence; minds which, as often as their fault is attacked, suffer not the darts of truth to reach them? And what is signified by lofty corners (a wall being always double in corners) but insincere hearts; which, while they shun the simplicity of truth, are in a manner doubled back upon themselves in the crookedness of duplicity, and, what is worse, from their very fault of insincerity lift themselves in their thoughts with the pride of prudence? Therefore the day of the Lord comes full of vengeance and rebuke upon fenced cities and upon lofty corners, because the wrath of the last judgment both destroys human hearts that have been closed by defences against the truth, and unfolds such as have been folded up in duplicities. For then the fenced cities fall, because souls which God has not penetrated will be damned. Then the lofty corners tumble, because hearts which erect themselves in the prudence of insincerity are prostrated by the sentence of righteousness.
Next: How the whole and the sick are to be admonished.
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