Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Selected Epistles of Gregory the Great.: Epistle XXVIII
To Augustine, Bishop of the Angli 136 .
Gregory to Augustine, &c.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will (Luke ii. 14); because a grain of wheat, falling into the earth, has died, that it might not reign in heaven alone; even He by whose death we live, by whose weakness we are made strong, by whose suffering we are rescued from suffering, through whose love we seek in Britain for brethren whom we knew not, by whose gift we find those whom without knowing them we sought. But who can describe what great joy sprung up here in the hearts of all the faithful, for that the nation of the Angli through the operation of the grace of Almighty God and the labour of thy Fraternity has cast away the darkness of error, and been suffused with the light of holy faith; that with most sound mind it now tramples on the idols which it formerly crouched before in insane fear; that it falls down with pure heart before Almighty God; that it is restrained by the rules of holy preaching from the lapses of wrong doing; that it bows down in heart to divine precepts, that in understanding it may be exalted; that it humbles itself even to the earth in prayer, lest in mind and soul it should lie upon the earth. Whose is this work but His who says, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work (John v. 17)? who, to shew that He converts the world, not by mens wisdom, but by His own power, chose unlettered men as His preachers whom He sent into the world? And He does the same even now, having deigned to work mighty works in the nation of the Angli through weak men. But in this heavenly gift, dearest brother, there is ground, along with great joy, for most serious fear. For I know that Almighty God has displayed great miracles through thy Love in the nation which He has willed to be chosen. Wherefore thou must needs rejoice with fear for this same heavenly gift, and tremble in rejoicing:—rejoice, that is, because the souls of the Angli are drawn by outward miracles to inward grace; but tremble, lest among the signs that are done the infirm mind lift itself up to presumption about itself, and from being exalted in honour outwardly, fall inwardly through vain glory. For we ought to remember how, when the disciples returned with joy from preaching, and said to their heavenly Master, Lord, in thy name even the devils are subject unto us (Luke x. 17), they straightway heard, In this rejoice not; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven (Luke 10.20). For they had set their minds on private and temporal gladness, when they rejoiced in the miracles. But they are recalled from private to common, from temporal to eternal gladness, when it is said to them, In this rejoice ye, because your names are written in heaven. For not all the elect work miracles; and yet the names of all of them are kept enrolled in heaven. For to the disciples of the Truth there should not be joy, save for that good which they have in common with all, and in which they have no end to their gladness.
It remains, therefore, dearest brother, that in the midst of the things which through the operation of God thou doest outwardly, thou shouldest ever nicely judge thyself within, and nicely understand both what thou art thyself and how great is the grace in the midst of that same nation for the conversion of which thou hast received even the gift of doing signs. And if at any time thou shouldest remember having offended against our Creator, whether in tongue or in deed, ever recall these things to thy memory, that memory of guilt may keep down the rising glory of the heart. And whatsoever thou mayest receive, or hast received, in the way of doing signs, regard these powers as not granted to thyself, but to those for whose salvation they have been conferred upon thee. Further, there occurs to my mind, while I think on these things, what took place with p. 56 one servant of God, even one eminently chosen. Certainly Moses, when he led Gods people out of Egypt, as thy Fraternity knows, wrought wonderful miracles. Fasting forty days and nights in Mount Sina, he received the tables of the law; among lightnings and thunders, while all the people trembled, he was attached to the service of Almighty God, being alone with Him even in familiar colloquy (Exod. 30:0, Exod. 31:0); he opened a way through the Red Sea; he had a pillar of a cloud to lead him on his journey; to the people when an hungered he gave manna from heaven; flesh to those who longed for it he supplied in the wilderness by a miracle, even unto overmuch satiety (Exod. 13:0, Exod. 14:0, Exod. 16:0). But, when in a time of drought they had come to the rock, he was distrustful, and doubted being able to draw water from the same, which still at the Lords command he opened without fail in copious streams. But how many and great miracles after these he did during eight and thirty years in the desert who can count or search out (Exod. 17:0, Num. 20:0)? As often as a doubtful matter had troubled his mind, he resorted to the tabernacle, and enquired of the Lord in secret, and was forthwith taught concerning it, God speaking to him (Exod. xxxiii. seq.). When the Lord was wrath with the people, he appeased Him by the intervention of his prayer; those who rose in pride and dissented in discord he engulphed in the jaws of the gaping earth; he bore down his enemies with victories, and shewed signs to his own people. But, when the land of promise had at length been reached, he was called into the mountain, and heard of the fault which he had committed eight and thirty years before, as I have said, in that he had doubted about drawing water from the rock. And for this reason he was told that he might not enter the land of promise (Num. xxvii.). Herein it is for us to consider how formidable is the judgment of Almighty God, who did so many signs through that servant of His whose fault He still bare in remembrance for so long a time.
Wherefore, dearest brother, if we find that even he whom we know to have been especially chosen by Almighty God died for a fault after so many signs, with what fear ought we to tremble, who do not yet know whether we are chosen?
But what should I say of the miracles of the reprobate, when thy Fraternity well knows what the Truth says in the Gospel; Many shall come in that day saying to me, Lord in thy name we have prophesied, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name have done many wonderful works. But I will say unto them, I know not who ye are: depart from me all ye workers of iniquity (Matt. 7:22, Luke 13:27)? The mind, then, should be much kept down in the midst of signs and miracles, lest haply one seek therein ones own glory, and exult in private joy for ones own exaltation. For through signs gains of souls should be sought, and His glory by whose power these very signs are done. But there is one sign that the Lord has given us for which we may exceedingly rejoice, and acknowledge the glory of election in ourselves, seeing that He says, In this shall it be known that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John xiii. 35). Which sign the prophet demanded, when he said, Make with me, Lord, a sign for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be confounded (Ps. lxxxv. 17).
These things I say, because I desire to abase the mind of my hearer in humility. But let thy very humility have its confidence. For I, a sinner, maintain a most certain hope that through the grace of our Almighty Creator and Redeemer, our God and Lord Jesus Christ, thy sins are already remitted, and thou art chosen for this purpose, that those of others may be remitted through thee. Nor will you have sorrow for any guilt in the future, while you strive to cause joy in heaven for the conversion of many. Truly the same our Maker and Redeemer, speaking of the repentance of men, says, Verily I say unto you there will be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance (Luke xv. 7). And if for one penitent there is great joy in heaven, of what kind may we believe the joy to be for so large a people, converted from its error, which, coming to faith, has condemned by penitence the evil things it did. In this joy, then, of heaven and the angels let us repeat the very words of the angels with which we began: let us say therefore, let us all say, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.
For reasons for supposing this letter to Augustine to have been written earlier than the 4th Indiction (a.d. 600–1), to which it is assigned by the Benedictine Editors, and for a summary of the whole series of letters relating to the English mission, see Prolegom., p. xxv.
Next: To Bertha, Queen of the Angli.
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