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 those are to be admonished with whom everything succeeds according to their wish, and those with whom nothing does.
How those are to be admonished with whom everything succeeds according to their wish, and those with whom nothing does.
(Admonition 27.) Differently to be admonished are those who prosper in what they desire in temporal matters, and those who covet indeed the things that are of this world, p. 55b but yet are wearied with the labour of adversity. For those who prosper in what they desire in temporal matters are to be admonished, when all things answer to their wishes, lest, through fixing their heart on what is given, they neglect to seek the giver; lest they love their pilgrimage instead of their country; lest they turn the supplies for their journey into hindrances to their arrival at its end; lest, delighted with the light of the moon by night, they shrink from beholding the clearness of the sun. They are, therefore, to be admonished to regard whatever things they attain in this world as consolations in calamity, but not as the rewards of retribution; but, on the other hand, to lift their mind against the favours of the world, lest they succumb in the midst of them with entire delight of the heart. For whosoever in the judgment of his heart keeps not down the prosperity he enjoys by love of a better life, turns the favours of this transitory life into an occasion of everlasting death. For hence it is that under the figure of the Idumæans, who allowed themselves to be vanquished by their own prosperity, those who rejoice in the successes of this world are rebuked, when it is said, They have given my land to themselves for an inheritance with joy, and with their whole heart and mind (Ezek. xxxvi. 5). In which words it is to be observed, that they are smitten with severe rebuke, not merely because they rejoice, but because they rejoice with their whole heart and mind. Hence Solomon says, The turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them (Prov. i. 32). Hence Paul admonishes, saying, They that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as though they used it not (1 Cor. vii. 30). So may the things that are supplied to us be of service to us outwardly to such extent only as not to turn our minds away from desire of supernal delight; and thus the things that afford us succour in our state of exile may not abate the mourning of our souls pilgrimage; and we, who see ourselves to be wretched in our severance from the things that are eternal, may not rejoice as though we were happy in the things that are transitory. For hence it is that the Church says by the voice of the elect, His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me (Song of Sol. 2.6). The left hand of God, to wit prosperity in the present life, she has put under her head, in that she presses it down in the intentness of her highest love. But the right hand of God embraces her, because in her entire devotion she is encompassed with His eternal blessedness. Hence again, it is said through Solomon, Length of days is in her right hand, but in her left hand riches and glory (Prov. iii. 16). In speaking, then, of riches and glory being placed in her left hand, he shewed after what manner they are to be esteemed. Hence the Psalmist says, Save me with thy right hand (Psa. 108.6 1285 ). For he says not, with thy hand, but with thy right hand; in order, that is, to indicate, in saying right hand, that it was eternal salvation that he sought. Hence again it is written, Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemies (Exod. xv. 6). For the enemies of God, though they prosper in His left hand, are dashed to pieces with His right; since for the most part the present life elevates the bad, but the coming of eternal blessedness condemns them.
Those who prosper in this world are to be admonished to consider wisely how that prosperity in the present life is sometimes given to provoke people to a better life, but sometimes to condemn them more fully for ever. For hence it is that to the people of Israel the land of Canaan is promised, that they may be provoked at some time or other to hope for eternal things. For that rude nation would not have believed the promises of God afar off, had they not received also something nigh at hand from Him that promised. In order, therefore, that they may be the more surely strengthened unto faith in eternal things, they are drawn on, not only by hope to realities, but also by realities to hope. Which thing the Psalmist clearly testifies, saying, He gave them the lands of the heathen, and they took the labours of the peoples in possession, that they might keep his statutes and seek after his law (Psa. 105.44 1286 ). But, when the human mind follows not God in His bountiful gifts with an answer of good deeds, it is the more justly condemned from being accounted to have been kindly nurtured. For hence it is said again by the Psalmist, Thou castedst them down when they were lifted up (Psa. 73.18 1287 ). For in truth when the reprobate render not righteous deeds in return for divine gifts, when they here abandon themselves entirely and sink themselves in their abundant prosperity, then in that whereby they profit outwardly they fall from what is inmost. Hence it is that to the rich man tormented in hell it is said, Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things (Luke xvi. 25). For on this account, though an evil man, he here received good things, that there he might receive evil things p. 56b more fully, because here even by good things he had not been converted.
But, on the other hand, those who covet indeed the things that are of the world, but yet are wearied by the labour of adversity, are to be admonished to consider anxiously with how great favour the Creator and Disposer of all things watches over those whom He gives not up to their own desires. For a sick man whom the physician despairs of he allows to take whatever he longs for: but one of whom it is thought that he can be cured is prohibited from many things that he desires; and we withdraw money from boys, for whom at the same time, as our heirs, we reserve our whole patrimony. Let, then, those whom temporal adversity humiliates take joy from hope of an eternal inheritance, since Divine Providence would not curb them in order to educate them under the rule of discipline, unless it designed them to be saved for ever. Those, therefore, who in respect of the temporal things which they covet, are wearied with the labour of adversity are to be admonished to consider carefully how for the most part even the righteous, when temporal power exalts them, are caught by sin as in a snare. For, as in the former part of this volume we have already said, David, beloved of God, was more upright when in servitude than when he came to the kingdom (1 Sam. xxiv. 18). For, when he was a servant, in his love of righteousness he feared to smite his adversary when taken; but, when he was a king, through the persuasion of lasciviousness, he put to death by a deceitful plan even a devoted soldier (2 Sam. xi. 17). Who then can without harm seek wealth, or power, or glory, if they proved harmful even to him who had them unsought? Who in the midst of these things shall be saved without the labour of a great contest, if he who had been prepared for them by the choice of God was disturbed among them by the intervention of sin? They are to be admonished to consider that Solomon, who after so great wisdom is described as having fallen even into idolatry, is not said to have had any adversity in this world before his fall; but the wisdom that had been granted him entirely left his heart, because not even the least discipline of tribulation had guarded it.
In English Bible, cviii. 6.55b:1286
Ibid. cv. 44.55b:1287
Ibid. lxxiii. 18.
Next: How the married and the single are to be admonished.
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