Century VI, Chapter VIII

CHAP. VIII.

The Works of Gregory.

This great prelate, worn out at length with labours and diseases, slept in Jesus in the year 604,* after he had enjoyed, shall I say—or endured his bishopric thirteen years and six months? No man in any age ever gave himself up more sincerely to the service of God, and the benefit of his fellow creatures. Power in him was a voluntary servitude, undertaken not for himself, but for all the world. Even the growth of superstition, with which he was strongly infected, while it secured to him the cheerful obedience of the laity, contributed nothing to his ease or secular emolument. The belief of the Roman bishop's succession to Peter, which he found to be prevalent in Europe, was accidentally strengthened by his eminent piety and his laborious virtues. Had he even been disposed to have extended his authority to much greater lengths, all the world would have been prone to submit to his decrees; so firmly was the opinion of his integrity established among men. His conscience, however, would not suffer him to carry any thing farther than precedents had sanctioned; and who, especially in an age of superstitious credulity, could doubt the justice of his pretensions, while the preeminence was so painful, so disinterested, and so beneficially exerted?

For I cannot persuade myself to call him pope. He pretended not to any thing like infallibility, nor did he ever attempt any thing like a secular domination. The seeds of antichrist were vigorously shooting indeed; and the reputation of Gregory doubtless contributed much to mature the poisonous plant. But idolatry, spiritual tyranny, and the doctrine of the merit of works, the three discriminating marks of the pa

pacy, had, as yet, no settled establishment at Rome. Had this man lived in our age, he would doubtless have beheld with astonishment, on the one hand the worldly spirit of many christian pastors so called, and on the other the impiety of numerous infidels who arc continually railing against the religious. His mind, naturally vigorous, industrious, and active, would doubtless have shaken off the gloom and credulity of superstition; but he would have been amazed to hear the pompous pretences to philosophy, in which every juvenile sciolist indulges himself. He would have examined the fruits, and have been at a loss to conceive with what propriety the term philosopher could be applied to sceptics, blasphemers, atheists, levellers, and sensualists. He would, as a bishop, have tried what could be done to stem the torrent, and have exerted in the way of discipline, which was his peculiar talent, his usual address, mildness and resolution. He would have mourned over his beloved England,* if he had seen her so absurdly enslaved to ideas of mistaken liberty, as to spurn at decent rules of disci

attempts to introduce and support them. He would have been ready to say, " this people are enemies to their own good:" he would have pitied them, wept, and consoled himself with his usual refuge, the views of a better world, and have done what good was still in his power, by the example of an hoi)' life, b\ painful preaching, and by pious writings.

Of these last we have many still extant. He particularly excelled in devotional composition. Litanies had been used in the west before his time, in calamitous seasons, as the plague or famine. These were collected, and the choicest parts selected from them, and compiled, through the care of Gregory, into one

* The gratitude of Bede has (b. it. c. 1. Ecc. Hist.) led him to apply to Gregory the Words of St. Paul in regard to the Corinthians. As an Englishman, who felt himself much obliged, he says, the seal of his apostleship are we in the Lord. The testimony of antiquity to Gregory's beneficent piety toward this island is uuiform.

pline, and to discountenance

large litany, not much different from that used by the church of England at this day. It was much corrupted afterwards in the popish times, was reformed by Hermannus, archbishop of Cologne, in the days of Luther, and afterwards improved by our reformers.

But the church of England is not only indebted to Gregory for the litany. In his sacramentary he embodied the collects of the ancient church, and improved old, or made new ones. Gelasius, before him, had appointed public prayers composed by himself or others. These were all placed in the offices by Gregory. And by a comparison of our book of Common Prayer with his sacramentary it is evident, that almost all the collects for Sundays and the principal festivals in the church of England were taken out of the latter. To me it appears to be an advantage, that our reformers followed antiquity so much in the work. The purification of the ancient services from the corrupt and idolatrous mixtures of popery was as strong an indication of their judgment as the composition of prayers altogether new could have been, which however they scrupled not to introduce in various parts of the liturgy. From the brief account I have given,* it appears, that the service of the church is far more ancient than the Roman Missal, properly speaking. And whoever has attended to the superlative simplicity, fervor, and energy of the prayers, will have no hesitation in concluding, that they must, the collects particularly, have been composed in a time of true evangelical light and godliness. It is impossible indeed to say, how early some parts of the liturgy were written; but doubtless they are of very high antiquity. Many persons, in dark times, and under the disadvantage of slothful ignorant pastors, have been enlightened and nourished through their medium; and not a few I trust of my readers can justly confess with me, how much their devotion has been assisted by the public use of them. Let any unprejudiced person

* Nicholls on B. of Com. Pray.

compare with the liturgy several forms of prayerVomposed in modern times, and he will find an unction to attend the former, of which the latter is destitute. The present age is certainly much tinctured, in general, with a sceptical, philosophic spirit, which in its nature is not favourable to the production of devotional compositions.

The historical evidence hence resulting of the religious spirit of the times is great. The western church was far from being wholly corrupt in the close of the sixth century.* The doctrines of grace revived by Augustine were still predominant: divine life was much clogged indeed with the asthma of superstition; but its pulse was yet vigorous. I close this digression, if it may be called one, with remarking, that the continued use of these liturgies in the churches of the west, demonstrates the concurrent testimony of antiquity, in favour of evangelical doctrine.

Of Gregory's epistles nothing more is needful to be added to the numerous extracts from them, which have supplied me with materials for his history.

His exposition of the book of Job is very voluminous. In a letter to Leander prefixed to it, he speaks of the tripartite sense, according to the ideas of Augustine, with sufficient justness and accuracy; yet through fondness for system he carries his point too far, so as to destroy sometimes the literal sense, after the vicious mode of Origen. We may believe him, when he describes the correspondence of the subject to his own bodily afflictions; and he frankly owns his neglect of language and style*. Few readers will be tempted to search the work throughout, on account of the heaviness of his manner, and the total w ant of elegance. Yet piety and humility are every where predominant; and though it can by no means be called a just commentary on the book of Job, he in general avoids deviations from the analogy of faith, by the

' That beautiful and sublime ode, called Te Deum, ascribed, though not with certainty, to Ambrose, was incontestably used in the church, before the middle af the sixth century.

evangelical purity of his frame and temper, and lie had, I doubt not, real communion with God in the work. Let us hear his humble confession at the close: it deserves the serious notice of authors, and in that most salutary science of selfknowledge demonstrates a proficiency worthy of a follower of Augustine.

" Having finished my work, I see I must return to myself. The human mind is frequently bewildered, even when it attempts to speak correctly. For while we study propriety of language. we are drawn out of ourselves, and are apt to lose simplicity. From speaking in public let me return to the court of the heart; let me call my thoughts to a serious consultation with a view to discern myself, that I may observe whether I have spoken evil inadvertently, or good in a wrong spirit. For then only is real good spoken in a right spirit, when we mean by it to please Him alone, from whom we receive it. I am not conscious of having said evil; yet I will not maintain that I am absolutely innocent in this respect. The good which I have spoken I have received from above, and it is less good, through my sinfulness. For, averting my contemplation from words and sentences, the leaves and branches, and narrowly inspecting the root of my intention, I know that I meant earnestly to please God: but the desire, of human praise insensibly mixes with this intention. I discover this slowly and afterwards, and find that the execution corresponds not with the first intention. While we really mean to please God at first, the love of human praise steals into the mind, and overtakes and accompanies the pure design; as in eating, what was begun through necessity and in innocence, terminates too often in excess. If we are strictly examined by the divine Judge, how can we escape? Our evils are our own without mixture, and our good things are defiled with impurity. What I feel within, I lay open to my reader. In expounding I have not concealed what I think; in confessing I hide not what I suffer. I beg every reader to pray for me. If the value

of his prayers and of my exposition be compared, hewill have the advantage. He receives from me only words; but repays me with tears of supplication."

His Pastoral Care is a monument of the author's intense seriousness. I have already observed in man) christian pastors, and in Gregory as eminently as in most, a very strong sense of the importance of the clerical office, which rebukes the presumption of moderns more keenly than any words of mine can do. With the ancients scarce any person, however qualified, seemed adequate to the cure of souls; with us every stripling undertakes it without fear or hesitation. The treatise itself deserves to be read throughout by every candidate for the pastoral office. I know not how to select any parts of it particularly, and its brevity forbids and discourages all attempts at abridgment.*

The exposition on the Canticles is worthy of the godly spirit of Gregory. I shall hazard a quotation or two, which I doubt not will meet the sensations of minds acquainted spiritually with Jesus Christ, however the profane may ridicule, and the phlegmatic may censure. It is worth while to show, that a spirit of union with Christ has ever been felt in his church.

On the first verse of the Canticles he says, " Let him whom I love above all, nay alone, let him come to me, that he may touch me with the sweetness of his inspiration. For when I feel his influence, I leave myself by a sudden change, and being melted am . transformed into his likeness. The holy mind is disgusted with all things which it feels from the body, and desires to become altogether spiritual; and while sensual objects murmur around, it flies into spiritual things, and desires to hide itself in them. Therefore it desires

• Should the young candidate for the ministry object, as he justly may. the difficulty of meeting with this work of Gregory, let him substitute in its place bishop Burnet's treatise on the same subject. It is to be lamented, * that so valuable a book is so little read and known, and that while the public taste has called for repeated editions of inflammatory politics, this treasure of pastoral information is dwindled into an oblivion little short of contempt. i

the loving kindness of the Lord, because without it, it feels no power to approach him."

On the words, " draw me, we will run after thee," he observes, " divine grace prevents us. He, who is drawn, runs, because being strengthened by divine love, he passes over all obstacles."

The defective taste and learning of his age forbid us to expect any very accurate and solid exposition of so difficult a prophet as Ezekiel.* It is, in fact, in occasional passages, independent of system, that Gregory shines. I single out a passage as an instance of this. " Generally those who most excel in divine contemplation, are most oppressed with temptation. By the first the soul is lifted up to God, by the second it is pressed down into itself. Were it not for this, the mind would fall into pride. There is by the divine disposition, a wonderful temperature in this subject, that the saint may neither rise too high, nor sink too low."

Observe how divinely he speaks concerning the teaching of the holy Spirit, in one of his homilies on the gospels. On the words in St. John's gospel, he (the Spirit) shall teach you all things, he says, " unless the Spirit be with the heart of the hearer, the word of the teacher is barren. Let no man attribute to the teacher what he understands from his mouth; for, unless there be an internal teacher, the tongue of the external one labours in vain. Why is there such a difference in the sensations of hearers, all hearing the 'same words? It is to be ascribed to this special teaching. John himself in his epistle teaches the same, ' the anointing teaches you of all things.' "f It is plain that the Spirit of the Lord was not departed, as yet, from the Roman church, while his internal instructions, despised so fearlessly by the profane, and scrutinized so malignantly by many orthodox professors in our days, were regarded with so much simplicity and reverence.

His dialogues, if indeed they be his, or be not

much interpolated, dishonour his memory by the excess of superstition.

Thus far of the first of the Gregories; it will not be saying enough in his praise, though it be a truth, that it would have been to the advantage of the reputation of the Roman church, if he had been the last of that name.