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 whole and the sick are to be admonished.
How the whole and the sick are to be admonished.
(Admonition 13.) Differently to be admonished are the whole and the sick. For the whole are to be admonished that they employ the health of the body to the health of the soul: lest, if they turn the grace of granted soundness to the use of iniquity, they be made worse by the gift, and afterwards merit the severer punishments, in that they fear not now to use amiss the more bountiful gifts of God. The whole are to be admonished that they despise not the opportunity of winning health for ever. For it is written, Behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. vi. 2). They are to be admonished lest, if they will not please God when they may, they may be not able when, too late, they would. For hence it is that Wisdom afterward deserts those whom, too long refusing, she before called, saying, I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I will also laugh at your destruction, and will mock when what you feared cometh (Prov. i. 24, seq.). And again, Then shall they call upon me, and I will not hearken; they shall rise early, and shall not find me (Prov. 1.28). And so, when health of body, received for the purpose of doing good, is despised, it is felt, after it is lost, how precious was the gift: and at the last it is fruitlessly sought, having been enjoyed unprofitably when granted at the fit time. Whence it is well said through Solomon, Give not thine honour unto aliens and thy years unto the cruel, lest haply strangers be filled with thy wealth, and thy labours be in the house of a stranger, and thou moan at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed (Prov. 5.9, seq.). For who are aliens from us but malignant spirits, who are separated from the lot of the heavenly country? And what is our honour but that, though made in bodies of clay, we are yet created after the image and likeness of our Maker? Or who else is cruel but that apostate angel, who has both smitten himself with the pain of death through pride, and has not spared, though lost, to bring death upon the human race? He therefore gives his honour unto aliens who, being made after the image and likeness of God, devotes the seasons of his life to the pleasures of malignant spirits. He also surrenders his years to the cruel one who spends the space of life accorded him after the will of the ill-domineering adversary. And in the same place it is well added, Lest haply strangers be filled with thy wealth, and labours be in the house of a stranger. For whosoever, through the healthy estate of body received by him, or the wisdom of mind granted to him, labours not in the practice of virtues but in the perpetration of vices, he by no means fills his own house, but the habitations of strangers, with his wealth: that is, he multiplies the deeds of unclean spirits, and indeed so acts, in his luxuriousness or his pride, as even to increase the number of the lost by the addition of himself. Further, it is well added, And thou moan at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed. For, for the most part, the health of the flesh which has been received is spent through vices: but, when it is suddenly withdrawn, when the flesh is worn with afflictions, when the soul is already urged p. 35b to go forth, then lost health, long enjoyed for ill, is sought again as though for living well. And then men moan for that they would not serve God, when altogether unable to repair the losses of their negligence by serving Him. Whence it is said in another place, When He slew them, then they sought Him (Ps. lxxvii. 34).
But, on the other hand, the 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. xxxiii. 20). Hence also the blessed Job, crying out in his sorrow, says, If l be righteous, I will not lift up my head, being saturated with affliction and misery (Job x. 15). 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; because, 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. Which thing is rightly signified to Balaam (had he but been willing to follow obediently the voice of God) in the very retardation of his journey (Num. xxii. 23, seq.). For Balaam is on his way to attain his purpose; but the animal which is under him thwarts his desire. The ass, stopped by the prohibition, sees an angel which the human mind sees not; because for the most part the flesh, slow through afflictions, indicates to the mind from the scourge which it endures the God whom the mind itself which has the flesh under it did not see, in such sort as to impede the eagerness of the spirit which desires to advance in this world as though proceeding on a journey, until it makes known to it the invisible one who stands in its way. Whence also it is well said through Peter, He had the dumb beast of burden for a rebuke of his madness, which speaking with a mans voice forbade the foolishness of the prophet (2 Pet. ii. 16). For indeed a man is rebuked as mad by a dumb beast of burden, when an elated mind is reminded by the afflicted flesh of the good of humility which it ought to retain. But Balaam did not obtain the benefit of this rebuke for this reason, that, going to curse, he changed his voice, but not his mind. The sick are to be admonished to consider how great a boon is bodily affliction, which both washes away committed sins and restrains those which might have been committed, which inflicts on the troubled mind wounds of penitence derived from outward stripes. Whence it is written, The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil, and stripes in the secret parts of the belly (Prov. xx. 30). For the blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil, because the pain of scourges cleanses iniquities, whether meditated or perpetrated. But by the appellation of belly the mind is wont to be understood. For that the mind is called the belly is taught by that sentence in which it is written, The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, which searcheth all the secret parts of the belly (Prov. 20.27). As if to say, The illumination of Divine inspiration, when it comes into a mans mind, shews it to itself by illuminating it, whereas before the coming of the Holy Spirit it both could entertain bad thoughts and knew not how to estimate them. Then, the blueness of a wound cleanses away evil, and stripes in the secret parts of the belly, because when we are smitten outwardly, we are recalled, silent and afflicted, to memory of our sins, and bring back before our eyes all our past evil deeds, and through what we suffer outwardly we grieve inwardly the more for what we have done. Whence it comes to pass that in the p. 36b midst of open wounds of the body the secret stripe in the belly cleanses us more fully, because a hidden wound of sorrow heals the iniquities of evil-doing.
The sick are to be admonished, to the end that they may keep the virtue of patience, to consider incessantly how great evils our Redeemer endured from those whom He had created; that He bore so many vile insults of reproach; that, while daily snatching the souls of captives from the hand of the old enemy, He took blows on the face from insulting men; that, while washing us with the water of salvation, He hid not His face from the spittings of the faithless; that, while delivering us by His advocacy from eternal punishments, He bore scourges in silence; that, while giving to us everlasting honours among the choirs of angels, He endured buffets; that, while saving us from the prickings of our sins, He refused not to submit His head to thorns; that, while inebriating us with eternal sweetness, He accepted in His thirst the bitterness of gall; that He Who for us adored the Father though equal to Him in Godhead, when adored in mockery held His peace: that, while preparing life for the dead, He Who was Himself the life came even unto death. Why, then, is it thought hard that man should endure scourges from God for evil-doing, if God underwent so great evils for well-doing? Or who with sound understanding can be ungrateful for being himself smitten, when even He Who lived here without sin went not hence without a scourge?
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