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 silent and the talkative are to be admonished.
How the silent and the talkative are to be admonished.
(Admonition 15.) Differently to be admonished are the over-silent, and those who spend time in much speaking. For it ought to be insinuated to the over-silent that while they shun some vices unadvisedly, they are, without its being perceived, implicated in worse. For often from bridling the tongue overmuch they suffer from more grievous loquacity in the heart; so that thoughts seethe the more in the mind from being straitened by the violent guard of indiscreet silence. And for the most part they overflow all the more widely as they count themselves the more secure because of not being seen by fault-finders without. Whence sometimes a mans mind is exalted into pride, and he despises as weak those whom he hears speaking. And, when he shuts the mouth of his body, he is not aware to what extent through his pride he lays himself open to vices. For his tongue he represses, his mind he exalts; and, little considering his own wickedness, accuses all in his own mind by so much the more freely as he does it also the more secretly. The over-silent are therefore to be admonished that they study anxiously to know, not only what manner of men they ought to exhibit themselves outwardly, but also what manner of men they ought to shew themselves inwardly; that they fear more a hidden judgment in respect of their thoughts than the reproof of their neighbours in respect of their speeches. For it is written, My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my prudence, that thou mayest guard thy thoughts (Prov. v. 1). For, indeed, nothing is more fugitive than the heart, which deserts us as often as it slips away through bad thoughts. For hence the Psalmist says, My heart hath failed me (Psa. 40.12 1272 ). Hence, when he returns to himself, he says, Thy servant hath found his heart to pray to Thee (2 Sam. vii. 27). When, therefore, thought is kept under guard, the heart which was wont to fly away is found. Moreover, the over-silent for the most part, when they suffer some injustices, come to have a keener sense of pain from not speaking of what they endure. For, were the tongue to tell calmly the annoyances that have been caused, the pain would flow away from the consciousness. For closed sores torment the more; since, when the corruption that is hot within is cast out, the pain is opened out for healing. They, therefore, who are silent more than is expedient, ought to know this, lest, amid the annoyances which they endure while they hold their tongue, they aggravate the violence of their pain. For they are to be admonished that, if they love their neighbours as themselves, they should by no means keep from them the grounds on which they justly blame them. For from the medicine of the voice there is a concurrent effect for the health of both parties, while on the side of him who inflicts the injury his bad conduct is checked, and on the side of him who sustains it the violent heat of pain is allayed by opening out the sore. For those who take notice of what is evil in their neighbours, and yet refrain their tongue in silence, withdraw, as it were, the aid of p. 38b medicine from observed sores, and become the causers of death, in that they would not cure the venom which they could have cured. The tongue, therefore, should be discreetly curbed, not tied up fast. For it is written, A wise man will hold his tongue until the time (Eccles. xx. 7); in order, assuredly, that, when he considers it opportune, he may relinquish the censorship of silence, and apply himself to the service of utility by speaking such things as are fit. And again it is written, A time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Eccles. iii. 7). For, indeed, the times for changes should be discreetly weighed, lest either, when the tongue ought to be restrained, it run loose to no profit in words, or, when it might speak with profit, it slothfully restrain itself. Considering which thing well, the Psalmist says, Set a watch, O Lord, on my mouth, and a door round about my lips (Psa. 141.3 1273 ). For he seeks not that a wall should be set on his lips, but a door: that is, what is opened and shut. Whence we, too, ought to learn warily, to the end that the voice discreetly and at the fitting time may open the mouth, and at the fitting time silence close it.
But, on the other hand, those who spend time in much speaking are to be admonished that they vigilantly note from what a state of rectitude they fall away when they flow abroad in a multitude of words. For the human mind, after the manner of water, when closed in, is collected unto higher levels, in that it seeks again the height from which it descended; and, when let loose, it falls away in that it disperses itself unprofitably through the lowest places. For by as many superfluous words as it is dissipated from the censorship of its silence, by so many streams, as it were, is it drawn away out of itself. Whence also it is unable to return inwardly to knowledge of itself, because, being scattered by much speaking, it excludes itself from the secret place of inmost consideration. But it uncovers its whole self to the wounds of the enemy who lies in want, because it surrounds itself with no defence of watchfulness. Hence it is written, As a city that lieth open and without environment of walls, so is a man that cannot keep in his spirit in speaking (Prov. xxv. 28). For, because it has not the wall of silence, the city of the mind lies open to the darts of the foe; and, when by words it casts itself out of itself, it shews itself exposed to the adversary. And he overcomes it with so much the less labour as with the more labour the mind itself, which is conquered, fights against itself by much speaking.
Moreover, since the indolent mind for the most part lapses by degrees into downfall, while we neglect to guard against idle words we go on to hurtful ones; so that at first it pleases us to talk of other mens affairs; afterwards the tongue gnaws with detraction the lives of those of whom we talk; but at last breaks out even into open slanders. Hence are sown pricking thorns, quarrels arise, the torches of enmities are kindled, the peace of hearts is extinguished. Whence it is well said through Solomon, He that letteth out water is a well-spring of strifes (Prov. xvii. 14). For to let out water is to let loose the tongue to a flux of speech. Wherefore, on the other hand, in a good sense it is said again, The words of a mans mouth are as deep water (Prov. 18.4). He therefore who letteth out water is the wellspring of strifes, because he who curbs not his tongue dissipates concord. Hence on the other hand it is written, He that imposes silence on a fool allays enmities (Prov. 26.10). Moreover, that any one who gives himself to much speaking cannot keep the straight way of righteousness is testified by the Prophet, who says, A man full of words shall not be guided aright upon the earth (Psa. 141.11 1274 ). Hence also Solomon says again, In the multitude of words there shall not want sin (Prov. x. 19). Hence Isaiah says, The culture of righteousness is silence (Isa. 1:0, Isa. 32:17), indicating, to wit, that the righteousness of the mind is desolated when there is no stint of immoderate speaking. Hence James says, If any man thinketh himself to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this mans religion is vain (James i. 26). Hence again he says, Let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak (James 1.19). Hence again, defining the power of the tongue, he adds, An unruly evil, full of deadly poison (James 3.8). Hence the Truth in person admonishes us, saying, Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matth. xii. 36). For indeed every word is idle that lacks either a reason of just necessity or an intention of pious usefulness. If then an account is required of idle discourse, let us weigh well what punishment awaits much speaking, in which there is also the sin of hurtful words.
In English Bible, xl. 12.38b:1273
In English Bible, cxli. 3.38b:1274
In English Bible, cxli. 11.
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