Gregory the First, Bishop of Rome.
HIS PASTORAL LABOURS.
He was a Roman by birth, and of a noble family. But being religiously disposed, he assumed the monastic habit, and was eminently distinguished by the progress he made in piety.* It was not till after he was drawn back, in a degree, to a secular life by his employments in the church, that he became thorougly sensible what advantage he had enjoyed for his own soul from religious retirement. With tears he owned, that he had had the world under his feet, while he was absorbed in heavenly contemplation; but was now bereft of comfort. " Now," says he, " my mind, by reason of pastoral cares, is oppressed with the business of secular persons, and after so fair an appearance of rest, is defiled with the dust of earthly action. And suffering itself to be distracted by exterior things in condescension to many, even while it desires inward things, it returns to them, without doubt, more faintly. I weigh, therefore, what I endure: I weigh what I have lost, and while I look at that which I have lost, my present burdens are more heavy."
In truth, in different periods of his life he moved in opposite extremes. He was one while dormant in the quietism of solitude; another while, involved in the multiplicity of episcopal cares at Rome. If his lot had been cast in the earlier and purer days of christianity, he would neither have been a monk, nor a bishop charged with such extensive secular concerns, and so
* Bede Eccles. Hist. b. ii. c. 1.
It should be observed here, that before this he had studied the Roman jurisprudence, was eminent in that and every other fashionable secular kind of knowledge, had been distinguished as a senator, and promoted by Justin II. to the government of the city of Rome, an arduous and important office, which he had discharged with singular prudence, fidelity, and justice.
would have avoided the evils of which he complains. The great sees in these times, that of Rome in particular, through the increasing growth of spiritual domination, and the load of worldly business very improperly connected with it, worldly, though in some sense ecclesiastical, were indeed agreeable enough to minds like that of Vigilius, earthly and ambitious, but were fatiguing beyond measure to men like Gregory, who unfeignedly loved heavenly things. Nothing could be more unwise than the custom which prevailed of encouraging monasticism and very large episcopal governments at the same time. The transition from the one to the other, as in Gregory's case (and it was a common one) must to holy minds, like his, have been a trial of no small magnitude. The serious complaints, however, which Gregory made of this trial during the whole scene of his bishopric, proceeded from the spirituality of his affections; and all, who have enjoyed in private the sweets of communion with God, and have found how difficult it is, in the hurry of business, to preserve a degree of the same spirit, will sympathize with him. A mediocrity and a 'mixture of employment and retirement are, doubtless, the best situation for religious improvement.
Being drawn from his monastery, and ordained to the ministry, he was sent from Rome to Constantinople, to transact ecclesiastical affairs. Here he became acquainted with Leander, afterwards bishop of Seville, the same person that we have spoken of in the relation of the affairs of Spain. Leander and he found in each other a similarity of taste and spirit; Gregory opened his heart to him. " I found my soul," says he, " convinced of the necessity of securing salvation; but I delayed too long, entangled with the world. At length I threw myself into a monastery; now I thought I had placed an insuperable bar between myself and the world. But again I am tossed on the tempestuous ocean, and unless I may enjoy the communion of my brethren, 1 ca» find no solace to my soul."*
• Gregpor. Pref. te Job, c. i.
He had, however, taken with him some of the bre- * thren of his monastery, and with them had enjoyed the benefit of christian discourse, and of searching the scriptures. Here, by the exhortation of his brethren, he began his long commentary on the book of Job, which he finished in his episcopacy.* His residence at Constantinople was not without, at least, some use to the church. By his arguments and influence he quashed the fanciful notion of the archbishop Eutychius concerning the qualities of the human body after the resurrection, which has been mentioned already. Had it not been for the timely and vigorous opposition of a man so respectable as Gregory was for knowledge and piety, the notion might have continued with many, to the disgrace of christianity, at this day. The emperor Tiberius, who had succeeded Justin, supported the labours of Gregory with his authority.
Gregory, even from his youth, was afflicted with frequent complaints in his stomach and bowels; and by his own account in his letters, appears to have suffered much in his body all his days. The vigor of hismind was not however depressed, and perhaps few men ever profited more than he did by such chastisements. His labours, both as a pastor and an author, were continued, and, in all probability, received peculiar unction from his afflictions.
After his return to Rome,f there was so great an inundation of the Tiber, that it flowed upon the walls of the city, and threw down many monumentsJ and ancient structures. The granaries of the church were overflowed, by which a prodigious quantity of wheat was lost. Presently after, an infectious distemper invaded the city. Pelagius the bishop fell a victim to it among the first. The destruction prevailed, and many houses were left without an inhabitant. In this distress the people were anxious to choose a bishop in the
f Vita Gregor. incert. autor.
t These inundations of the Tiber were not uncommon. The classical reader will recollect in Horace, Ode ii. lib. i.
Ire dt jeetum roonumenla regis, &o.
room of the deceased Felagius, and by unanimous consent the election fell upon Gregory. He, with that humility which formed invariably a striking feature of his character, earnestly refused, and loudly proclaimed his own unworthiness. He did more; he wrote to Mauritius, the successor of Tiberius, beseeching him to withhold his assent.J Germanus, the governor of Constantinople, intercepting the messenger, and opening the letter of Gregory, informed Mauritius of the election. The emperor confirmed it with pleasure. In the mean time the plague continued to make dreadful havoc; and Gregory, however backward to receive the office of a bishop, forgot not the duties of a pastor. A part of his sermon on this occasion may give us some idea of the best preaching of those times; for I know none in those days, which is superior, and but little which is equal, to that of Gregory.
" Beloved brethren, we ought to have feared the scourge of God before it came; at least, after having felt it, let us tremble. Let grief open to us the passages of conversion, and let the punishment which we feel dissolve the hardness of our hearts. For, to use the prophet's language,' the sword hath come even into the soul.' Our people, behold, are smitten with a weapon of divine indignation, and each is carried off by the rapid devastation. Languor does not precede death, but death itself with hasty strides, as you see, outstrips the tardy course of languor. Every person, who is smitten, is carried off, before he has opportunity to bewail his sins. Conceive in what state that man will appear before his Judge, who is hurried off in the midst of his sins.—Let each of us repent, while we have time to weep, before the sword devour us.—Let us call our ways to remembrance.—Let us come before
* The assent «f the emperor to the election of a bishop of Rome appears plainly to have been necessary by the custom of these times. But the total exclusion of the people from all concern in these appointments had not yet obtained. It is obvious to be noticed also, how dependent the bishop of Rome was on the emperor. Antichrist had not yet formally begun his reign, nor would have been known at Rome to tYis day. had all the bishops resembled Gregory.
his face with confession, and lift up our hearts with our hands to the Lord. Truly he gives, he gives to our trembling hearts a confidence, who proclaims by the prophet: ' I would not the death of a sinner, but rather that he be converted and live.' Let none despair on account of the greatness of his crimes. Think how the inveterate evils of the Ninevites were wiped off by three days' repentance;J and the converted robber in the very article of death obtained the rewards of life. Let us change our hearts, and encourage ourselves beforehand with the thought that we have obtained what we ask.—Importunity, so disagreeable to man, is well pleasing to the Judge of truth; because the good and merciful Lord loves to be overcome by prayers. Remember the psalmist: ' call upon me in the time of trouble; so will I hear thee, and thou shalt praise me.' He admonishes us to call upon his name, and witnesses by this his readiness to forgive."
He concluded his discourse with appointing a litany* to be performed by seven companies, who were to march at break of day from different churches, and to meet at one place. The first company consisted of the clergy; the second, of abbots with their monks; the third, of abbesses with their nuns; the fourth, of children; the fifth, of laymen; the sixth, of widows; the seventh, of married women. Fourscore persons in one hour, while the people were supplicating in the litany, died of the plague. Gregory, however, persisted in praying and preaching, till the plague ceased.
He was all this time as eager to avoid the honour of the episcopal office, as he was-to discharge the duty of it. The gates were watched, and his flight was prevented for a time. But he found means to be conveyed in a wicker basket out of the city, and concealed himself three days. The zealous search of the people dis
* I translate faithfully; the expression marks the want of evangelic.il accuracy in Gregory, though not surely the want of evangelical humility. It is not to be imagined, that he considered repentance as a proper atonement -for sin.
* The word signifies supplication.
Vot. III. 7
covered him at length, and he was obliged to enter upon his bishopric. This happened in the year 590.
Gregory continued to discharge the office in the same spirit in which he began it. Other bishops had been sedulous to adorn churches with gold or silver; he gave himself wholly, so far as he could, to the care of souls.* The melancholy circumstances of his accession corresponded with the gloomy state of the church, in the east almost uersally fallen, in the west tarnished with much superstition, and defiled by variety of wickedness. The whole period of his episcopacy, which was thirteen years and a half,f was' disastrous beyond measure, because of the ferocious Lombards; and Gregory himself was firmly persuaded, that the end of the world was near. Hence he had evidently a strong contempt of sublunary things, and loved to refresh his mind with prospects beyond the grave. Nor has the sceptical, philosophical taste, as it is called, of this day, any reason to plume itself on comparison with that of Gregory. What is there, for instance, in the scene we have been just reviewing, which should excite the contempt of the philosopher, or rather, of the infidel who calls himself philosopher? Some superstition has appeared in it: it was an age of superstition: the form of Christianity was degenerated even in the best; but the divine religion sparkled through the gloom in the real life of humility, faith, and repentance. The spiritual benefit of many, it is highly probable, resulted from the pastoral labours and litanies of Gregory; and whether is more rational, namely, to fear the wrath of God, when his hand is upon us, to weep and pray, and implore his grace and mercy, in reliance on the promises of his word, beholding the scourge as really sent from God, or to harden the heart in jocose and fastidious sneers at the weakness of superstition, and to see nothing and to learn nothing, that may lead us to repentance, from the desolating judgments of the Almighty?
Bede. t Bede.
In Gregory's works wc have a collection of epistles, which will give us a view of his labours and transactions. Discipline, and indefatigable attention to order, justice, mercy, and piety, mark all his proceedings. The inordinate amplitude of authority and of extensive jurisdiction, to which superstition had already advanced the Roman see, and which afforded such copious fuel to pride and ambition in some of his predecessors, and many of his successors, was to him only the cause of anxious care and conscientious solicitude. Italy and Sicily were of themselves too large a theatre of action; but with the government of these he received the prevailing notion of a superintendence of the Roman see over all the churches, derived from St. Peter. In him, at least, the idea excited no pleasing sensations of dominion. A fatherly inspection of christendom without civil power called him to incessant labour; beside that his own diocese was much too great for any one man's capacity. Humility and the fear of God were his ruling dispositions; and it is evident to a careful observer of Gregory, that he exerted authority in full consistency with these. Moreover he found time to expound the scriptures, to perform the office of a sedulous pastor, and to write much for the instruction of mankind. Deeply must the spirit of that man have been impressed with the prospects and hopes of immortality, who amidst bodily infirmities, and in times of public perplexity, could persevere in such a course of arduous labours. I shall endeavour to enable the reader to form a judgment for himself of the man by a review of his letters; omitting those which are the least interesting.
He directed the bishops of Sicily to hold an annual visitation at Syracuse or Catana under his subdeacon, and to attend in it to things which related to the public and ecclesiastical welfare, to relieve the necessities of the poor and oppressed, and to admonish and correct those who had fallen into errors. In which council he begs that they would be guarded against malice, envy, and discord, and maintain a godly unity and charity.*
He reminds the pretor of Sicily, whose duty it was to send corn into Italy from that fruitful granary of the empire, to be just and equitable in his dealings, to remember that life is short, that he must soon appear before the Judge of all, and that he can camaway with him nothing of his gains, and that only the causes and methods of his gains will follow him to judgment.f
To a friend he writes thus on his promotion. " I value not the congratulations of strangers on my advancement. But it is a serious grief to me, that you, who know me throughly, should felicitate me on the occasion. Ye have long known my wish; I should have obtained the rest which I sought, could I have been gratified in it."J
" If charity," says he, writing to John bishop of Constantinople, " consist in the love of our neighbour, why do not ye love me, as yourselves? With what ardor and zeal ye would fly from the weight of episcopacy I know, and yet ye took no pains to hinder the imposition of this burden on me. But as the government of an old and crazy vessel is committed to me weak and unworthy as I am, I beseech you, by the Lord, that you would stretch out the hand of prayer to my relief."§
The employment of deciding causes, which in these times fell to the lot of bishops, must have been tedious and burdensome to a mind of conscientious exactness, like that of Gregory. Hear how feelingly he complains of the load in a letter to Theoctista, sister to the emperor.
" Under || colour of the bishopric I find I am brought back to the world, in which I am enslaved to such a quantity of earthly cares, as I never remember to have been infested with in my lay capacity. I have lost the sublime joys of myself, and sinking inwardly, seem to rise externally. I deplore my expul
* B. i. ep. 1. f EP- 2- * Ep. 3. § Ep. 4. || Ep. 5.
sion from the face of my Maker. I was endeavouring to live out of the world and the flesh; to drive away all the phantasms of body from the eyes of my mind, and to see supernal joys mentally, and with my inmost soul panting after God, I said, my heart hath said to thee, ' thy face, Lord, will I seek.' Desiring nothing, and fearing nothing of the world, I seemed to have almost realized that of the prophet. ' I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.' Surely it is so with him, who looks down from his intellectual elevation on all the grandeur and glory of the earth. But suddenly from the height of peace and stability, impelled by the whirlwind of this temptation, I have fallen into fears and terrors; because, though I fear not for myself, I fear much for those who are committed to my charge: I am shaken with the fluctuations of causes on all sides, and say, ' I am eome into deep waters, so that the floods run over me.' After the hurry of causes is over, I desire to return to my heart, but excluded from it by the vain tumults of thoughts, I cannot return." Such is the picture which Gregory draws of his mental situation in the midst of all his envied greatness. Experience and habit might in time lessen his anxieties. Nor was it through want of capacity for business that he suffured thus extremely. No age ever saw a bishop more vigorous, firm, and circumspect. The immensity of ecclesiastical employment, which went through his hands, seems almost incredible. I rejoice to find in him such vivid tokens of that spiritual sensibility and life, which it is the great business of this history to delineate, as it appeared from age to age in the church, and which distinguishes real christians as much from nominal ones, as from all other men. In the mean time I have to regret, that while the power and experience of godliness decayed, the amplitude of bishoprics was so much augmented, and that so much extraneous matter, which ought to have been committed to other hands, was thrown upon them. The consequence has been, that the dignitaries of the church have ever since been thrown into circumstances peculiarly disadvantageous. Those of a secular spirit have toiled with eagerness in the work, for worldly and selfish ends, without feeling any injury to the spiritual life, because they had none: those of an heavenly spirit have felt like Gregory under the united pressures of conscientious care and the tumult of thoughts very alien from the christian life, and tending to extinguish it.
The pious and upright Anastasius of Antioch has been already introduced to the reader's notice. Gregory had contracted an intimacy with him while in the east, and he writes to him thus in answer to his letter. " I received your letter, as a weary man does rest, as a sick man health, as a thirsty person a fountain, as one overcome with heat a shade. I read not mere words; I perceived the heart itself to be discovering your affection towards me in the spirit." He . goes on to complain of Anastasius's cruel kindness in having contributed to his promotion, and describes his burdens in his usual manner. " But when you call me the mouth and lamp of the Lord, and a person capable of profiting many, this is added to the load of my iniquities, that I receive praise instead of punishment for my sins. How I am overloaded, no words can express; you may form some idea from the brevity of my letter, in which I say so little to him whom I love above all. I have begged of the emperor to allow you to visit me at Rome, that while I enjoy your company, we may relieve the tediousness of our pilgrimage by conversing together of the heavenly country."* It is not easy for persons, unacquainted with their own heart, to believe all this sense of unworthiness to be genuine in Gregory; men who know themselves will believe, that he spake sincerely.
Gregory was solicitous for the conversion of the Lombards from the arian heresy, and therefore he wrote to the bishops of Italy, to avail themselves of
their influence to unite all the young persons of that nation, who had been baptized in the arian communion, to the general church, to preach to them the doctrine of eternal life, and to secure to themselves a pleasing account of their pastoral labours at the last day.* Under his administration a gradual accession of this people was made to the church, notwithstanding the great power of the Lombard princes, and their obstinate attachment to arianism. Indeed the shining example of Gregory himself must have made a very powerful impression on the minds of all who had opportunity of knowing him. He was careful to preserve the great revenues of the church, but no man was ever more conscientious to employ them to good purposes. As he loved to imitate his predecessor Gelasius,t he followed the statement of the revenues which he had drawn up, and formed an estimate of them in money; distributions of which he made to the clergy, monasteries, churches, the officers of his house, deaconries, and hospitals. He regulated the sums to be allotted to each at four times of the year, an order which was observed three hundred years after. A great volume was kept in the palace of the Lateran, containing the names of the poor, who were the objects of his liberality, their age and circumstances, at Rome, in Italy, and even in distant provinces. On every first day of the month, he distributed to the poor's necessities, according to the season, various articles of provision. Every day he distributed alms to the sick and infirm; and before he sat down to eat, he sent portions from his table to some indigent people, who were ashamed to appear. It would be tedious to recount from his lettersf the instances of his liberality. He pressed his agents to inform him of objects, and loved to exceed the expectations of his petitioners. But while he abounded in benefactions, he would receive none himself. "We
* Ep. 17. t Fleury, b. xxxv. c. xvi. «-ol. It.
! Ep. 18, 44, 23, 57, 65, 54, 30.
ought to refuse" said he, writing to Felix bishop of Messina, " presents, which are expensive to (thc churches. Send to the other clergymen every year what is established by usage. But as I love not presents, I forbid you to send me any for the future. I thank you for the palmtrees which you sent me, but I have caused them to be sold, and have sent you the price of them." The unhappy wars of Italy having caused great desolations of the churches, that the remaining inhabitants might not be forsaken, he gave those churches in charge to the neighbouring bishops. If two of them did not contain, singly, a sufficient number of persons to constitute a diocese, he joined them together under one bishop, insisting on equal care being taken of that in which he did not reside, as of that in which he did. He made no difficulty of obliging a bishop to leave a small church, where he was little more than titular pastor, to govern a more important one.* Having discovered several abuses committed in the management of the revenues in Sicily, he took care to reform them. " We are informed," says he,f " that corn is bought of the peasants, under the market price; I direct that they be paid always according to the current price, without deducting the corn lost by shipwreck, provided that you take care that they do not transport it out of season. We forbid all base exactions; and, that after my death the farmers may not be charged anew, let a certificate be delivered to them in writing, containing the sum which each is obliged to pay. Take particular care, that false weights be not made use of in receiving the payments, as the deacon Servus Dei discovered, but break them in pieces, and cause new ones to be made. I have been informed, that farmers are distressed at the first time of the payment of their rents; for, having not yet sold their fruits, they are obliged to borrow at heavy interest. Supply them therefore out
* B. i. ep. 42.—He writes thus to Peter his agent in Sicih . fEp. 64, &c.b. ii.ep. 20.
of the stock of the church with what they may have
borrowed, and receive their payments by degrees, lest you oblige them to sell their commodities at an under price, to make good their rents. In general, I
WILL NOT SUFFER THE CHURCH TO BE DEFILED BY BASE GAINS."
This is a specimen of the uprightness and attention of Gregory to those secular concerns, under which his spirit so much groaned. A pharisee would have found a mental feast in so much beneficence. But Gregory was humble; he could not find rest to his soul in such exercises, however laudable; and though his heart and head seemed as well fitted as any man's in any age for such work, and though he went through it with much ability and success, yet it were to be wished, that he had been allowed more time to pay attention to the more spiritual duties of his state. The short extract however (for the account might have been swelled to a large size) may deserve some attention from persons, whether ecclesiastical or secular, whose employments are of a similar nature. Let them ask themselves, whether with Gregory's care for the preservation of their rights, (and in that he was as firm and strenuous as christian charity allows) they are also like him upright, disinterested, and merciful. And as human malignity has been abundantly gratified in large details of the encroachments and oppressions of churchmen, it falls within the plan of these memoirs, to show that all churchmen have not been thus iniquitous; that those who are humble and evangelically pious, are also, above all men, upright, munificent, and liberal.
Peter, bishop of Terraco in Spain, had consented to a species of persecution of the Jews in his diocese, by permitting them to be molested in their festivities, and to be more than once driven from the place in which they celebrated them. Let those, who have been led by fashionable historians to annex the idea of persecution to that of the priesthood, take notice, that Gregory bishop of Rome wrote to Peter, to con
Vol. HI. 8
demn the practice, and to give his decisive opinion, that the Jews should not be in the least molested, that they ought to be won over to the faith by The Sweetness of gospel preaching, and by the denunciation of divine judgments against infidelity, and that these were christian arts and methods, while those of a different nature tended only to harden and disgust the human mind.*
To Leander of Sevillef he expresses with tears the pressures of his mind under loads of solicitude, and earnestly entreats his prayers. He congratulates him also on the conversion of king Recaredus of Spain, and while he rejoices at the news of that prince's piety and virtues, he admonishes the bishop to watch over the royal convert, that his life may correspond to so hopeful a beginning. He wrote some time after to the same prince, to recommend to him a strong guard over anger, pride, and lust, vices more peculiarly apt to infest princes. Of all the princes of this time he seems most to have adorned the gospel. He was just, munificent, and liberal. And before he left the world he publicly confessed his sins, and appeared to have been possessed of true piety, so far as we can judge. He died about the close of this century.
To Virgilius and Theodorus, bishops of Marseilles, he writes on occasion of the persecuting methods made use of against the Jews. He again bears testimony against the compulsory practices. He declares how sorry he is to find, that many of that people had been brought to the baptismal font by violence rather than by preaching. " If a Jew is brought thither by necessity, not by the sweetness of the word, returning to his former superstition, he dies in a worse state than that from which he seemed to be regenerated. Preach frequently to them that they may desire to be changed, through the love of what they hear. Thus your desire of saving souls will be accomplished, and the convert will not return like the dog to his vomit.
• B. i. ep. 34. f Ep. 41.
Preach, that their dark minds may be illuminated, and that under God they may be brought to real regeneration."*
He wrote also to Pascasius, bishop of Naples, complaining of the violence used to the Jews in driving them from their solemnities. He blames this method, and exhorts to the same purpose as before.f It is well known what different methods have been, since Gregory's time, supported by the Roman popes. I appropriate the term pope to antichrist, who did not, accurately speaking, exist as yet in the western church. On the other side he was zealous to suppress the attempts of Jews to seduce christians, and prohibited their purchasing of christians for slavesJ.
The Lombards were a constant scourge to Italy in the lime of Gregory; and he was aware of their intentions to invade Sicily. Hence he wrote to all the bishops of the island to supplicate the Lord in litanies every fourth and sixth day of the week, and exhorted them not only to draw their flocks to this association of prayer, but also to preach to them the doctrine of repentance. " For if the gracious Lord behold us loving his commands, he is able to defend us from the enemy, and to prepare eternal joys for us."§
Natalis, bishop of Salonaj, had written to Gregory in defence of the entertainments given by the clergy. The bishop of Rome allows his assertions, but under these important restrictions, " that no absent persons be slandered at these meetings, that none be made an object of ridicule, that the empty discourse of secular business be avoided, that the word of God be read in them, that no more meat and drink be used than is needful for the refreshment of the body, and to fit it for the discharge of duty. If this be your practice, I confess you to be masters of temperance||." But it seems Gregory's animadversions on the feasting of
•B.i.ep.45. tB.ii.ep. 15. tB. ii.ep. 76.
§ B.ix. 45. Hence I apprehend the origin of the use of the litany on Wednesdays and Fridays in public worship. |t B. ii. 37.
the Salonian clergy had given offence, by that which he adds. " You take it ill to be reprehended by me, who, though I am your superior in church dignity, (I do not mean as a man), am willing to be corrected and reproved by all. I thank, indeed, that man as my friend, through whose advice I am enabled to wipe off the blemishes of my soul before the appearance of the awful Judge." One cannot form any great idea of the piety of this Natalia, who had excused himself from assiduous reading the scriptures partly on account of the pressure of tribulations, partly by a mere cavil, because our Lord had told his disciples, that it should be given them in the same hour what they should say. Gregory informs him, that the scriptures were given us, that we, through patience and comfort of them, might have hope. How- he answers the cavil, it is not necessary to say. " But we cannot be like you," Natalis had said. The bishop of Rome was not to be seduced by such evasive flattery. " The encomiums you bestow on me," said he, " seem to be spoken in derision, because I cannot in truth find them realized in my experience." We see in all this, on one side, a zealous pastor labouring to revive a sense and spirit of godliness in his brethren; on the other, a slothful and falsehearted ministry, poorly excusing itself by feigned apologies, from doing the Lord's work, with vigor and sincerity.
After having given a beautiful description of charity in writing to Dominicus bishop of Carthage,* he shows how deeply his soul was penetrated with the importance of the pastoral office. In their views of this, many of the ancient fathers, whom we deride for their superstitions, do far excel the generality of pastors in our times. Let him who has entered on this office with merely secular views read, and, if he can, blush and weep, after he has considered, that no age since the apostles' days has ever seen one more intently and sincerely laborious than Gregory. " Weighty indeed
is the office of a pastor. He must be an example to the flock, and after this he must learn to keep himself humble. He must ever be intent on the ministry of the word, remembering who hath said, Occupy Till I Come. This we then truly execute, when by life and doctrine we gain the souls of our neighbours, strengthen the weak by setting before them the joys of the heavenly kingdom, and bend the proud by sounding aloud the punishments of hell, when wc spare none against truth, and when given up to heavenly friendships, we fear not human enmity. I tremble at my own infirmity. How can I sustain the last judgment, seeing so very little fruit of my labours? Dearest brother, I implore your prayers Tor me. By the union of charity, we have a common interest."
To Boniface, bishop of Rhegium, he gives an handsome reproof for boasting of the good deeds he had done. He owned that he rejoiced to hear of his works of mercy. But he was sorry to find, that he himself had spoken of them to many persons. He warns him to take care that he did not mar the whole by ostentation. " What are we, dust and ashes, that we should covet the praise of men. Him you should seek to please, whose coming we expect, and whose retributions will know no end."*
Evangelus, a deacon of the church of Sypontum, had complained to Gregory, that his daughter had been deflowered by Felix, the grandson of the bishop of the same name. The bishop of Rome, not without some animadversion on the bishop's careless education of his grandson, ordered, on supposition of the truth of the fact, that Felix should be obliged to marry the young woman, or, in case of refusal, be scourged and confined in a monastery, excommunicated, and remain in a state of penance, and not be suffered to go abroad till farther orders were received from Gregory, f It seemed proper to mention this ancient precedent of
the practice of spiritual courts. Doubtless, they were, in their origin, courts of censure on immoralities not so easily cognisable in courts of common law. The necessities of society, and the depravity of human nature, seem to require the existence of such tribunals. The Horn an ollice of censor was of the same kind. Nor would mankind be disposed to depreciate them, were they naturally as sincere in their regard for the honour of God and for moral decorum, as they are for the preservation of property. The abuses of these courts among ourselves are well known. But why persons of rank and property in our country do not labour to regulate them, or rather, do not endeavour to institute a censorship of morals that shall be practicable and effectual,—why they indiscriminately condemn the whole principle, while they permit lewdness to be practised without any restraint,—are questions not hard to be determined. In the mean time, every lover of equity and decency should prefer a spiritual court, armed with some power for the suppression of vice, before the licentiousness, which, under the name of liberty, threatens among ourselves to destroy all the barriers which our ancestors erected against vice and immorality. Severe as Gregory's conduct may now seem, it was wholesome no doubt, and society felt the good consequences.
In writing to Priscus, a patrician of the east, he justly describes the mixed state of human affairs, and the duties of christian faith and humility. The thought is common to moralists in all ages; but Gregory ennobled it with some real principles of christianity.
Gregory corresponded also with Theodolinda, the queen of the Lombards: she was the widow of their king Autharit, a zealous arian. After his death, she married Agilulfus, a Lombard, whom the nation received as king. Being orthodox herself, she brought over her husband, and the whole nation, at length, to the same persuasion. Gregory congratulated her on the happy prospect of the progress of christianity among the Lombards. What degree of real piety was in all this, does not appear: the temporal benefit of Gregory's labours was, however, evident in the establishment of peace for some time between the Lombards and the Roman empire.*
Anastasius, bishop of Antioch, seems ever to have been a special favourite of Gregory. He had been ejected from his see by the injustice of Justin, the successor of Justinian, and had lived in exile a number of years. He was at length, however, restored to his see,f and Gregory wrote a letter to him on the occasion, full of pious and tender sentiments. In this letter, he endeavours to solace the mind of the prelate with the same scriptural views and promises, with which his own had been refreshed under a variety of afflictions. The hope of glory hereafter to be revealed, it is evident, was the spring of joy to his own soul, and enabled him to bear calamities with patienceJ. In another letter to him he writes, " you ought to keep in mind, as you do, what is written: ' In the last days perilous times shall come.'—And though in old age you suffer much, remember him, who told St. Peter, that when he was old, another should gird him. Yet, in saying this, I recollect, that from youth you have laboured in many adversities. Numbers rejoice at our sorrows, as you write; but we know who hath said, ' ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.' We feel the performance of the former part; let us expect the latter part also. You say, that some who ought to relieve, add burdens to you; I know they are those who come in sheep's clothing, but who inwardly are ravening wolves. We are not disturbed on account of their ambition in arrogating all honour to themselves, because we trust in the Almighty, whose law and rule is, that those who covet what belongs to others, are sooner on that account deprived of their own. For we know who hath said, ' he that exalteth himself, shall be abased,' and, ' a
• B. xii. ep. 7. " | B. iv. 81. t Evagrius, b. vi. toward the end
haughty spirit before a fall.' In these days, as I find, new heretical wars arise, which would reduce to nothing the prophets, the gospels, and all the fathers together. But while Anastasius lives, we trust in the grace of our Protector; their swords will break in pieces, striking against a rock. The church, in the mean time, by the subtilty of heretics, is sharpened in her doctrine, and learns the truth more accurately. The heart of God approaches to us, and, by temptations we are brought to feel him more sensibly. What I suffer from the swords of barbarians and from the perverseness of judges, I spare to relate, that I may not increase the sorrow of him whom I wish to console. But I weigh those words, ' this is your hour, and the power of darkness.' The power of light then shall have its day afterwards; because the elect are the light of the world, and it is written, ' the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning:' hence, all we suffer in the hour and power of darkness is not to be regretted. You wish, if it were possible, that we might converse without pen and ink; and it is a painful circumstance that we are almost as distant from one another as east and west. But truly we, whom grace hath not separated, are made one. Why wish you for the wings of a dove, which you have already? The wings are the love of God and our neighbour. By them the church flies through the earth: if you had not these wings you would not have come to me with so much love by* your epistles.—As your life is necessary to all good men, may you after a long time arrive at the joys of the heavenly country."
I have only to add concerning Anastasius, that he lived five years after his restoration, and died about the end of the century. We are much in the dark concerning the trials of this great and good man. Grego-. » ry's words however will stand as proper to be addressed to the suffering children of God in all ages. I conceive the bishop of Antioch to have been a lumi
nary in the east, envied and persecuted extremely, bearing testimony to the faith of Christ in the decline of the eastern church; whose life and transactions would be very instructive, if they had been transmitted to posterity.
John, bishop of Constantinople, disturbed in Gregory's time the peace of the church by assuming to himself the title of uersal bishop. The pride and arrogance, with which he assumed it, was only equalled by the obstinacy, with which he persevered^ Gregory wrote with much vehemence* against his haughtiness, and, on this occasion, laid down some memorable rules of humility, which severely condemned, not himself, but his successors in the Romish see. In what a state must the east have been to revere as a great saint both living and dying so proud a man as John of Constantinople! But there godliness was nearly expiring, and the mahometan scourge was at hand.
Gregory wrote to Dominicus an African bishop, entreating his prayers, and thanking him for his presents. By this letter it appears that the spirit of true godliness was not yet extinct in Africa.f There is another letter to the same person, who, it seems, was bishop of Carthage, full of the spirit of charity and devotion, though there is nothing in it that calls for any very particular attention%.
Cyriacus succeeded John of Constantinople, whose pride has been mentioned already. At his solemn ordination the people shouted, " this is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad hi it." Superstition naturally paved the way for the dominion of the clergy; and the bishops of the great sees were gradually increasing in secular grandeur. The congratulation just mentioned was calculated to encourage Cyriacus to emulate the ambition of his predecessor. Gregory|| justly finds fault with it, in a letter to the great men of Constantinople, shows that the acclamation properly belonged to the Stone which
the Lord had laid for a foundation in his church*, and observes that it was impious to ascribe those praises to the creature, which belonged to the Creator. Yet he is willing to excuse the mistake as proceeding from a charitable intention. Gregory, no doubt, had himself too high views of the dignity of his own see; and its supposed relation to saint Peter blinded his judgment. The exaltation of Constantinople, through the domineering pretensions of the late bishop excited his jealousy, and so subtil and intricate are the motions of the heart, that he himself might not at all be aware of the selfishness, which probably influenced his conduct. I doubt not, however, from the unaffected humility of his whole life, that his heart detested sacerdotal ambition. The excessive dignity of the prelatical character would have done little harm to christendom, had all prelates been like Gregory. But, as this was not to be expected, the state ought to have set bounds to ecclesiastical encroachments before this period.
Gregoria, a lady of the bedchamber to Augusta the empress, in her anxiety for her soul, and in the height of her admiration of Gregory, by letter requested him to inform her, if he could by revelation, that her sins were forgiven her.f Gregory assured her, " that certainty in this matter was not attainable: we must repent and mourn over our sins, and apply for pardon continually." He declares himself unworthy of having such a revelation made to him, and gives her useful and salutary advices, so far as he saw into the system of divine truth. In regard to the doctrine of justification, he seems to have had the same confusion of ideas, and the same sentiments which Augustine had. How superstition, servility, and darkness prevailed in the church at this time, is but too evident. Yet Gregory was a luminary compared with most of his contemporaries.
To a person named Andrew, affecting secular
greatness, he writes with much pathos on the vanity of sublunary things, a subject which he touched with more sensibility, because he was strongly impressed with the idea of the world being nearly at an end.*
Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, observing some of his people to adore the images which had been placed in churches, brake them in his zeal, and gave so much disgust by this conduct, that many withdrew from his communion. Gregory rebukes him on this account, and wishes him to conciliate the affections of the people, by allowing them to make use of images as pieces of history to instruct their minds in the great facts of Christianity. He would have him to use them as books for the illiterate people, and at the same time to caution them seriously against paying any adoration to them.—I have stated the substance of the sentiments of both these bishops.f It seems not probable, that those, who deserted Serenus on this account, had much christianity to lose. Gregory had not the opportunity of knowing so well as we do the danger of his advice. Thus far is evident, that image worship had not generally commenced in Gregory's time, and that He seriously reprobated the practice. The gradual approximation, however, to idolatry may be traced from these facts; and the danger of such a mode of teaching, as that which Gregory recommends lias been so abundantly proved since his time, that no doubt remains but in this instance, the bishop of Marseilles judged better than he.
The correspondence between Gregory and Brunehalt, the queen of Austrasia or Burgundy, a division of the French monarchy, which took place amidst the confusions of that country, after the death of Clovis, will deserve to be succinctly stated.J She was an ambitious, dissolute woman; yet, in that age of superstition, she endeavoured to impose both on herself and on the world by an appearance of piety. She attempted to extend her power while her young male
•B. viep. 190. t B. vii. 190. b. ix. 9. J B. vii. 113. b.ix. 57.64.
descendents were on the throne; and permitted, or rather encouraged their vicious conduct, that she might herself keep the reins of government. Gregory, while he commends her respectful attention to the forms of religion, blames her ecclesiastical proceedings in some matters of great moment. He represents, with much earnestness, the irregular, and even simoniacal ordinations of pastors in France, and observes, with great energy, the deplorable state of the flocks, and the scandal of all godliness, which must ensue from such conduct. Finding that his remonstrances had little effect, he urges her still more strongly on the same subject, and observes the probability of divine vengeance overtaking her family, if she corrected not these enormities. It is remarkable, that this wicked woman was afterwards put to a cruel death, and that her descendents were slain or expelled. From some parts of the more early correspondence between them, one would think that Gregory thought highly of her virtues. Time, however, undeceived him, and it must be confessed, that he treated her with the undissembled plainness, which becomes a christian pastor.
The bodily afflictions of Gregory, in connexion with the miseries of the times, are forcibly described in a letter to Italica, a patrician lady.*
" I can find nothing else to say of myself, than that as a just punishment of my sins, I have been almost eleven months confined to my bed. I am so oppressed with the gout, that life is an heavy punishment. i faint daily through pain, and breathe after death as my remedy.f Among the clergy and people of the city, scarce a freeman or a slave is exempt from fevers. Africa and the east are also full of misery and desolation. I see the end of all things approaching; be
• B. vii. 127.
| In another letter he speaks of a disorder different from the pout, namely, a grievous burning heat, that spread over all his body, and took away his spirits. By such severe exercises was this good man trained for the kingdom of heaven; and he evidently grew in humility, tender sympathy with others in distress, and ardent breathings for the heavenly country.
therefore less solicitous on account of your own calamities. Study with alacrity that godliness, which has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come."
In a letter to Eulogius,* bishop of Alexandria, written the year after, he says, " I have been near two years confined to my bed, in constant pain.—Often have I been forced to return to my bed, when I scarce had left it, by the violence of pain.—Thus I die daily, and yet live. But I am a grievous criminal, and, as such, deservedly shut up in so painful a prison. I daily cry with the psalmist, " bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks to thy name." While he lived, he was frequently thus afflicted; but the vigor of his mind was unabated, and his faculties were unclouded. ..
Another instance of his bodily sufferings shall close this branch of his story. Writing to his friend Venantius, who was likewise afflicted with the gout, he says, " what ought we to do, but to call our sins to remembrance, and to thank God, that he purifies us by afflicting our flesh. Let us take care, that we pass not from one degree of torment to another, and let us consider the goodness of God, who threatens us with death, that he may imprint in us aft edifying fear of his judgments. How many sinners have continued immersed in sin through life without a headach, and have suddenly been cast into hell?"—I rejoice to find in this great man the marks of that deep humility, which is known only to true converts, and of that wise improvement of affliction, of which theorists may reason, but which saints only feel. He concludes thus benevolently and piously to his .friend. " May the Lord infuse into your soul these words by the inspiration of his Spirit, cleanse you from your iniquities, give you here the joy of his consolation, and eternal reward hereafter, "f
* This Eulogius, by preaching and writing, strengthened the hands of the godly in the east, and lessened the influence of heretics. He seems, by Gregory's correspondence with him, to have been a wise and piout. pastor, such as in Alexandria and the cast were rarely to be found.
t B. ix. 25.
Gregory, having been informed, that Clementina, a woman of quality, had harboured some suspicions against him, wrote to her in a charitable spirit and with the intention of effacing the disagreeable impressions. He at the same time mildly reproved her for the want of a placable and forgiving temper. He reminds her of the well known petition in the Lord's prayer, and delivers several trite, but weighty sentiments adapted to the subject.*
On no occasion was Gregory wanting to impress on men's minds the care of the soul. Two persons having requested his assistance in their temporal difficulties, after having said what the case required, he exhorted them not to murmur at the divine dispensations, nor to undertake any thing unjust under the pretence of necessity; but to fix their hope on the mercy of their Redeemer, who forsaketh not those who trust in him, to occupy their minds with divine things, and to repose on him who gives what we have not, repairs what we have lost, and preserves what he has repaired, f
The subdeacon was an officer of the church, who superintended, under the bishop of Rome, the distant bishoprics and parishes which belonged to his jurisdiction.:!: Gregory wrote to Anthemius, the subdeacon of Campania, that he had heard of Paschasius, a bishop, who was so slothful, that he neglected every pastoral duty, admitted of no advice, and gave himself up to the building of a ship. It seems he used to go down to the sea on this very unclerical employment with one or two of his clergymen, and was held in derision by all the country. Gregory directs his subdeacon to reprimand him in the presence of some presbyters, or gentlemen of the neighbourhood, and try by that method to reform him. Should that prove ineffectual, he enjoins him to send Paschasius to Rome, to answer for himself before Gregory.
I know not the result; but it seemed worth while to
mention the case, as it illustrates the state of the church discipline of that day, as well as the vigilant attention of Gregory. That so many should nominally sustain the pastoral character, whose taste and genius, as well as disposition and sentiments, are repugnant to it, and who seem qualified to excel in any thing rather than what is sacerdotal, is matter for lamentation. The profane avarice of parents educating their children for the ministry at all events, is one great cause of it.