Archive for the ‘Episcopate’ Category

Ian Britton

We continue with St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care or Pastoral Rule (Regula Pastoralis). As it is Christmas Day, the meditation will be short, and I’ll let the text speak for itself. It is sufficient to say that the weight of government, particularly ecclesiastical government, frequently has a deleterious effect on the mind and spirit. As well, today’s section from Book I, Chapter 4 is certainly a stern warning against participation in Church politics.

That for the most part the occupation of government dissipates the solidity of the mind.

Often the care of government, when undertaken, distracts the heart in various directions. One is found unequal to dealing with particular things, while with confused mind divided among many. Whence a certain wise man providently dissuades, saying, “My son, meddle not with many matters.” (Sirach 11:10)

The mind is by no means collected on the plan of any single work while parted among various. When it is drawn abroad by unwonted care, it is emptied of the solidity of inward fear. The mind becomes anxious in the ordering of things that are without, and, ignorant of itself alone, knows how to think of many things, while itself it knows not. For, when it implicates itself more than is needful in things that are without, it is as though it were so occupied during a journey as to forget where it was going. Being estranged from the business of self-examination, it does not even consider the losses it is suffering, or know how great they are.

For example, Hezekiah did not believe himself to be sinning, when he showed to the strangers who came to him his storehouses of spices. (II Kings 20:13) However, he fell under the anger of the judge, to the condemnation of his future offspring, from what he supposed himself to be doing lawfully. (Isaiah 39:4) Often, when the means are abundant, and many things can be done for subordinates to admire, the mind exalts itself in thought. It fully provokes to itself the anger of the judge, though not breaking out in overt acts of iniquity. For he who judges is within; and that which is judged is within.

So, when in heart we transgress, what we are doing within ourselves is hidden from men. but yet in the eyes of the judge we sin. Neither did the King of Babylon then first stand guilty of elation (Daniel 4:16, et seq.) when he came to utter words of elation. Even before, when he had given no utterance to his elation, he heard the sentence of reprobation from the prophet’s mouth. He had already wiped off the fault of the pride he had been guilty of, when he proclaimed to all the nations under him the omnipotent God whom he found himself to have offended.

But after this, elevated by the success of his dominion, and rejoicing in having done great things, he first preferred himself to all in thought. Afterwards, still vain-glorious, said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom, and in the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30) Which utterance of his, as we see, fell openly under the vengeance of the wrath which his hidden elation kindled. For the strict judge first sees invisibly what he afterwards reproves by publicly smiting it. So, him He turned even into an irrational animal, separated him from human society, changed his mind and joined him to the beasts of the field, that in obviously strict and just judgment he who had esteemed himself great beyond men should lose even his being as a man. Now in adducing these things we are not finding fault with dominion. Rather, we are guarding the infirmity of the heart from coveting it, lest any that are imperfect should venture to snatch at supreme rule, or those who stumble on plain ground set foot on a precipice.

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Today, we continue with St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care or Pastoral Rule (Regula Pastoralis). I think it would be a good thing as Advent draws to a close for clergy, particularly those currently holding episcopal office or pending consecration, to measure themselves against the Pastoral Rule.

For those of us who endured the long collapse of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, we experienced an episcopate that turned 180 degrees from these rules, particularly when it came to seeking prosperity and property. Having spent many hours in many courts as either counsel or an expert witness, I know firsthand what havoc a breach of this next pastoral rule (Book I, Ch. 3) wreaks on the lives of the faithful, whether clergy or lay people. This chapter is particularly apt as we approach the Feast of the Incarnation.

Of the weight of government; and that all manner of adversity is to be despised, and prosperity feared.

So much, then, have we briefly said, to show how great is the weight of government, lest whosoever is unequal to sacred offices of government should dare to profane them, and through lust of pre-eminence undertake a leadership of perdition.

From this St. James affectionately deters us, saying, “Be not made many masters, my brethren.” (St. James 3:1). Indeed, the Mediator between God and man Himself-He who, transcending the knowledge and understanding even of supernal spirits, reigns in heaven from eternity-on earth fled from receiving a kingdom. For it is written, “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force, to make Him a king, He departed again into the mountain Himself alone.” (St. John 6:15) For who could so blamelessly have had principality over men as He who would in fact have reigned over those whom He had Himself created? But, because He had come in the flesh to this end, that He might not only redeem us by His passion, but also teach us by His conversation, offering Himself as an example to His followers.

He would not be made a king. He went of His own accord to the gibbet of the cross. He fled from the offered glory of pre-eminence, but desired the pain of an ignominious death. He did this so that His members might learn to fly from the favours of the world, to be afraid of no terrors, to love adversity for the truth’s sake, and to shrink in fear from prosperity.

Why? Because prosperity often defiles the heart through vain glory, while adversity purges it through sorrow. In prosperity the mind exalts itself; but in adversity, even though it had once exalted itself, it brings itself low. In prosperity man forgets himself; but in adversity, even perforce and against his will, he is recalled to memory of what he is. In this prosperity, even good things done aforetime often come to nothing, but in adversity and humility faults even of long standing are wiped away.

For commonly in the school of adversity the heart is subdued under discipline, while, on sudden attainment of supreme rule, it is immediately changed and becomes elated through familiarity with glory. So it was that Saul, who had before fled in consideration of his unworthiness, no sooner had assumed the government of the kingdom than he was puffed up. (I Kings 10:22; 15:17-30) Desirous of being honoured before the people while unwilling to be publicly blamed, he cut off from himself even him who had anointed him to the kingdom.

Likewise, David, who in the judgment of Him who chose him was well pleasing to Him in almost all his deeds, as soon as the weight of pressure was removed, broke out into a swelling sore. (II Kings 11:3, et seq.) Having been as a laxly running one in his appetite for the woman, David became as a cruelly hard one in the slaughter of the man who was her husband. David, who had before known pitifully how to spare the bad learned afterwards, without impediment of hesitation, to pant even for the death of the good. (II Kings 11:15). For, indeed, previously he had been unwilling to smite his captured persecutor. Yet, afterwards, with loss to his wearied army, he destroyed even his devoted soldier. And in truth his crime would have snatched him farther away from the number of the elect, had not scourges called him back to pardon.

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CPTAs posted yesterday, I am re-reading an older copy of The Christian Priest Today by the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who was in my view, the last truly Archbishop of Canterbury. To be sure, he eventually did go squishy in retirement on the issue of women’s “ordination”, although he apparently never was comfortable with the notion. However, the substantial corpus of his work that is sound, engaging and worthwhile reading.

As one might expect from an archbishop, his book includes a chapter on the episcopate. (Ch. 14, pp. 94-99 of the 4th printing). The chapter references St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care or Pastoral Rule (Regula Pastoralis). Never able to resist a patristic reference, I immediately departed on a frolic and detour from Abp. Ramsey’s book to the referenced work of St. Gregory. The substance is timeless and desperately in need of application in various branches of the Church, whenever there is a possibility of elevating a man to the episcopate. (Disclaimer: Yes, I still hold to the “branch theory”, although it seems that my apprehension and concerns deepen by the day!)

Using an older version of the text, I thought I would post St. Gregory’s work-or paraphrases of it- here on The Cathedral Close as I read and meditate on the various sections. Your thoughts and comments are most welcome, although I note that I reserve the right to exclude messages that are offensive or not germane. And, no, I will not be offering deals on Ray-Ban sunglasses on this site!

So today we look at the extensive “blast radius” when clergy, particularly bishops, go bad.  Note, here, the emphasis on those who do not conform their own lives to what they have learned and purport to preach.

That none should enter on a place of government who practice not in life what they have learned by study.

There are some also who investigate spiritual precepts with cunning care, but what they penetrate with their understanding they trample on in their lives. They teach the things which not by practice but by study they have learned. What in words they preach by their manners they impugn.

Whence it comes to pass that when the shepherd walks through steep places, the flock follows to the precipice. So it is the Lord through the prophet complains of the contemptible knowledge of shepherds, saying, “Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?” (Ezekiel 34:18-19) For indeed the shepherds drink most pure water, when with a right understanding they imbibe the streams of truth.

But to foul the same water with their feet is to corrupt the studies of holy meditation by evil living. And verily the sheep drink the water fouled by their feet, when any of those subject to them follow not the words which they hear, but only imitate the bad examples which they see. Thirsting for the things said, but perverted by the works observed, they take in mud with their draughts, as from polluted fountains.

So, it also it is written through the prophet, “A snare for the downfall of my people are evil priests…” (Hosea 5:1; 9:8). Hence again the Lord through the prophet says of the priests, “They are made to be for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel.”

For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely. For him, when he transgresses, no one presumes to take to task. The offense spreads forcibly for example, when out of reverence to his rank the sinner is honoured.

But all who are unworthy would fly from the burden of so great guilt, if with the attentive ear of the heart they weighed the sentence of the Truth, Whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea Matthew 18:6. By the millstone is expressed the round and labour of worldly life, and by the depth of the sea is denoted final damnation.

Whosoever, then, having come to bear the outward show of sanctity, either by word or example destroys others, it had indeed been better for him that earthly deeds in open guise should press him down to death than that sacred offices should point him out to others as imitable in his wrong-doing; because, surely, if he fell alone, the pains of hell would torment him in more tolerable degree.


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