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bishops

Today, we come to Book II of St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care. The subheading of this book spells out its contents, “Of the Life of the Pastor.” Here, the saint explores the appropriate conduct and life for the man who has the attributes of a bishop and has been consecrated. It is both a practical and moral treatise.

How one who has in due order arrived at a place of rule ought to demean himself in it.

The conduct of a prelate ought so far to transcend the conduct of the people as the life of a shepherd is wont to exalt him above the flock. For one whose estimation is such that the people are called his flock is bound anxiously to consider what great necessity is laid upon him to maintain rectitude.

It is necessary, then, that in thought he should be pure, in action chief; discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech; a near neighbor to everyone in sympathy, exalted above all in contemplation; and a familiar friend of good livers through humility. He should be unbending against the vices of evil-doers through zeal for righteousness. He should never relax in his care for what is inward from being occupied in outward things, nor neglect to provide for outward things in his solicitude for what is inward.
Now, let us unfold and discuss more at length the things which we have touched on briefly so far.

 

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Fulton

A Good Bishop

 

In today’s lengthy selections from St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care, we get down to basics as we come to the end of Book I. First, St. Gregory discusses the attributes of the man who ought to be bishop. These clearly have their basis in I Timothy iii.1, et seq. and are echoed in “The Form for Ordaining or Consecrating a Bishop”, 1928 Book of Common Prayer, p. 549. The list is extensive, although not exhaustive. (Book I, Ch. 10)

The saint follows this chapter with a tract on the man who should not be elevated to the episcopate. (Book I, Ch. 11) The very same admonitions turn up in the negative, like a reversed image in a glass. Take care in reading these somewhat colorful physical and medical descriptions. St. Gregory casts the negative attributes in mostly physical terms, but they are but outward signs of deficiencies, sins and analogous spiritual illnesses in the inner man.

What manner of man ought to come to rule.

The man who ought to ascend to the episcopacy should by all means be an example of good living who already lives spiritually, dying to all passions of the flesh. He should disregard worldly prosperity, and should be afraid of no adversity. The proper candidate should desire only inward wealth, and whose intention the body, in good accord with it, thwarts not at all by its frailness, nor the spirit greatly by its disdain. He is one who is not led to covet the things of others, but gives freely of his own.

With respect to justice, the man who ought to rule is, through the bowels of compassion, quickly moved to pardon, yet is never bent down from the fortress of rectitude by pardoning more than is proper. He perpetrates no unlawful deeds, but deplores those perpetrated by others as though they were his own. Out of affection of heart, he sympathizes with another’s infirmity, and so rejoices in the good of his neighbo

 

r as though it were his own advantage.

The strong candidate so insinuates himself as an example to others in all he does that among them he has nothing, at any rate of his own past deeds, to blush for. The man who ought to be bishop43e studies so to live that he may be able to water even dry hearts with the streams of doctrine. As a “prayer warrior”, he lready learned by the use and trial of prayer that he can obtain what he has requested from the Lord, having had already said to him, as it were, through the voice of experience, “While you are yet speaking, I will say, Here am.” (I Isaiah 58:9)

If perchance any one should come to us asking us to intercede for him with some great man, who was incensed against him, but to us unknown, we should at once reply, “We cannot go to intercede for you, since we have no familiar acquaintance with that man.” If, then, a man blushes to become an intercessor with another man on whom he has no claim, with what idea can anyone grasp the post of intercession with God for the people, who does not know himself to be in favour with Him through the merit of his own life?
Essentially, how can a man ask of Him pardon for others while ignorant whether towards himself He is appeased? In this matter there is yet another thing to be more anxiously feared; namely, lest one who is supposed to be competent to appease wrath should himself provoke it on account of guilt of his own. For we all know well that, when one who is in disfavor is sent to intercede with an incensed person, the mind of the latter is provoked to greater severity. Wherefore let one who is still tied and bound with earthly desires beware lest by more grievously incensing the strict judge, while he delights himself in his place of honour, he become the cause of ruin to his subordinates.

What manner of man ought not to come to rule.

Wherefore let everyone measure himself wisely, lest he venture to assume a place of rule, while in himself vice still reigns unto condemnation; lest one whom his own guilt depraves desire to become an intercessor for the faults of others. For on this account it is said to Moses by the supernal voice, “Speak unto Aaron; Whosoever he be of your seed throughout their generations that has a blemish, he shall not offer loaves of bread to the Lord his God.” (Leviticus 21:17).

With respect to physical infirmities, if he be blind, if he be lame, if he have either a small or a large and crooked nose, if he be broken-footed or broken-handed, if he be hunchbacked, if he be blear-eyed (lippus), if he have a white speck (albuginem) in his eye, if chronic scabies, if impetigo in his body, or if he be ruptured. (ponderosus). (Leviticus 21:18) That man is indeed blind who is unacquainted with the light of supernal contemplation, who, whelmed in the darkness of the present life, while he beholds not at all by loving it the light to come. Such an one knows not whither he is advancing the steps of his conduct. So it was that Hannah, prophesying, “He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness.” (I Kings 2:9)

The man who is lame who does indeed see in what direction he ought to go, but, through infirmity of purpose, is unable to keep perfectly the way of life which he sees, because, while unstable habit rises not to a settled state of virtue, the steps of conduct do not follow with effect the aim of desire. So it is that St. Paul says, “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

One with a small nose is he who is not adapted for keeping the measure of discernment. For with the nose we discern sweet odours and stenches: and so by the nose is properly expressed discernment, through which we choose virtues and eschew sins. Whence also it is said in praise of the bride, “Your nose is as the tower which is in Lebanon.” (Canticles 7:4) Why? Because Holy Church, by discernment, espies assaults issuing from this or that quarter, and detects from an eminence the coming wars of vices.
However, there are some who, not liking to be thought dull, busy themselves often more than needs in various investigations, and by reason of too great subtlety are deceived. Wherefore this also is added, Or have a large and crooked nose. For a large and crooked nose is excessive subtlety of discernment, which, having become unduly excrescent, itself confuses the correctness of its own operation. But one with broken foot or hand is he who cannot walk in the way of God at all, and is utterly without part or lot in good deeds, to such degree that he does not, like the lame man, maintain them however weakly, but remains altogether apart from them.

The hunchbacked is he whom the weight of earthly care bows down, so that he never looks up to the things that are above, but is intent only on what is trodden on among the lowest. Should he ever hear anything of the good things of the heavenly country, is so pressed down by the weight of perverse custom, that he lifts not the face of his heart to it, being unable to erect the posture of his thought, which the habit of earthly care keeps downward bent. Of this kind of man the Psalmist says, “I am bent down and am brought low continually.” (Psalm 38:8) The fault of such as these the Truth in person reprobates, saying, “But the seed which fell among thorns are they which, when they have heard the word, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of life, and bear no fruit.” (Luke 8:14) The blear-eyed is he whose native wit flashes out for cognition of the truth, and yet carnal works obscure it. For in the blear-eyed the pupils are sound; but the eyelids, weakened, become gross; and even the brightness of the pupils is impaired, because they are worn continually by the flux upon them. The blear-eyed, then, is one whose sense nature has made keen, but whom a depraved habit of life confuses. To him it is well said through the angel, “Anoint your eyes with eye salve that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18) For we may be said to anoint our eyes with eye salve that we may see, when we aid the eye of our understanding for perceiving the clearness of the true light with the medicament of good conduct.

The man who has a white speck in his eye is not permitted to see the light of truth, in that he is blinded by the arrogant assumption of wisdom or of righteousness. For the pupil of the eye, when black, sees; but, when it bears a white speck, sees nothing. By analogy, we may understand that the perceiving sense of human thought, if a man understands himself to be a fool and a sinner, becomes cognizant of the clearness of inmost light. If it attributes to itself the whiteness of righteousness or wisdom, it excludes itself from the light of knowledge from above, and by so much the more fails entirely to penetrate the clearness of the true light, as it exalts itself within itself through arrogance.

As of some it is said, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:22) That man who has chronic scabies whom the wantonness of the flesh without cease overmasters. For in scabies the violent heat of the bowels is drawn to the skin; whereby lechery is rightly designated, since, if the heart’s temptation shoots forth into action. It may be truly said that violent internal heat breaks out into scabies of the skin. It now wounds the body outwardly, because, while sensuality is not repressed in thought, it gains the mastery also in action. St. Paul had a care to cleanse away this itch of the skin when he said, “Let no temptation take you but such as is human.” (I Corinthians 10:13) It is as if it is human to suffer temptation in the heart; but it is devilish, in the struggle of temptation, to be also overcome in action.

He who has impetigo in his body whosoever is ravaged in the mind by avarice; which, if not restrained in small things, does indeed dilate itself without measure. For, as impetigo invades the body without pain, and, spreading with no annoyance to him whom it invades, disfigures the comeliness of the members. So avarice, too, exulcerates, while it pleases, the mind of one who is captive to it. As it offers to the thought one thing after another to be gained, it kindles the fire of enmities, and gives no pain with the wounds it causes, because it promises to the fevered mind abundance out of sin.
The comeliness of the members is destroyed, because the beauty of other virtues is also hereby marred. It exulcerates as it were the whole body, in that it corrupts the mind with vices of all kinds. As St. Paul attests, saying, “The love of money is the root of all evils.” (I Timothy 6:10)

The ruptured one is he who does not carry turpitude into action, but yet is immoderately weighed down by it in mind through continual cogitation. One who is indeed by no means carried away to the extent of nefarious conduct; but his mind still delights itself without prick of repugnance in the pleasure of lechery. For he may be said to be ruptured who, letting all his thoughts flow down to lasciviousness, bears in his heart a weight of turpitude; and, though not actually doing deeds of shame, nevertheless in mind is not withdrawn from them. Nor has he power to rise to the practice of good living before the eyes of men, because, hidden within him, the shameful weight presses him down.

Whosoever, therefore, is subjected to any one of these diseases is forbidden to offer loaves of bread to the Lord, lest in truth he should be of no avail for expiating the sins of others, being one who is still ravaged by his own.

And now, having briefly shown after what manner one who is worthy should come to pastoral authority, and after what manner one who is unworthy should be greatly afraid, let us now demonstrate after what manner one who has attained to it worthily should live in it.

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robin hood

Robin Hood and the Bishop (1847)

 

Today, we have the sharpest admonition yet from St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care. Through the eyes of St. Paul the Apostle, the saint warns against those who seek the office for power and position. We clearly have gone a long way in the West from those times when consecration as a bishop was nigh on to a guarantee of martyrdom. (Book I, Chapter 8)

Of those who covet pre-eminence, and seize on the language of the Apostle to serve the purpose of their own cupidity.

For the most part, those who covet pre-eminence seize on the language of the Apostle to serve the purpose of their own cupidity, where St. Paul says, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (I Timothy 3:1) However, while praising the desire, the Apostle immediately turns what he has praised to fear when at once he adds, but a bishop must be blameless. (I Timothy 3:2)

When St. Paul subsequently enumerates the necessary virtues, he makes manifest what this blamelessness consists in. So, with regard to their desire, he approves them, but by his precept he alarms them. It is as if he is saying plainly, “I praise what you seek; but first learn what it is you seek.” If you neglect to measure yourselves, your blamefulness will appear all the fouler for its haste to be seen by all in the highest place of honour. The great master in the art of ruling impels by approval and checks by alarms; so that, by describing the height of blamelessness, he may restrain his hearers from pride, and, by praising the office which is sought, dispose them to the life required.

Nevertheless, it is to be noted that this was said at a time when whosoever was set over people was usually the first to be led to the torments of martyrdom. At that time, therefore, it was laudable to seek the office of a bishop, since through it there was no doubt that a man would come in the end to heavier pains. So it was that even the office of a bishop itself came to be defined as a good work, when it is said, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. (I Timothy 3:1) Wherefore he that seeks, not this ministry of a good work, but the glory of distinction, is himself a witness against himself that he does not desire the office of a bishop. Inasmuch as that man not only does not love at all the sacred office, but even knows not what it is, who, panting after supreme rule, is fed by the subjection of others in the hidden meditation of his thought, rejoices in his own praises, lifts up his heart to honour, exults in abundant affluence. In this way, worldly gain is sought under color of that honour by which worldly gains should have been destroyed. When the mind thinks to seize on the highest post of humility for its own elation, it inwardly changes what it outwardly desires.

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AUgustines consecration

Today, we have a double serving from St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care. We learn first about the humble bishop. (Book I, Chapter 6) This is the man who, like St. Augustine who, through fear of the episcopacy, fled from cities in which an election was necessary. Would that this were the case in modernity!

Our second section from Book I, Chapter 7 addresses the differences between those who preach out of the love of Christ, and those who are “compelled” by weight of office to preach to the people of God.

That those who fly from the burden of rule through humility are then truly humble when they resist not the divine decrees.

There are some also who fly by reason only of their humility, lest they should be preferred to others to whom they esteem themselves unequal. Theirs, indeed, if it be surrounded by other virtues, is then true humility before the eyes of God, when it is not pertinacious in rejecting what it is enjoined to undertake with profit. For neither is he truly humble, who understands how the good pleasure of the Supernal Will ought to bear sway, and yet contemns its sway. But, submitting himself to the divine disposals, and averse from the vice of obstinacy, if he be already prevented with gifts whereby he may profit others also, he ought, when enjoined to undertake supreme rule, in his heart to flee from it, but against his will to obey.

That sometimes some laudably desire the office of preaching, while others, as laudably, are drawn to it by compulsion.

Although sometimes some laudably desire the office of preaching, yet others are as laudably drawn to it by compulsion. We plainly perceive, if we consider the conduct of two prophets, one of whom offered himself of his own accord to be sent to preach, yet the other in fear refused to go.

For Isaiah, when the Lord asked whom He should send, offered himself of his own accord, saying, “Here I am; send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Jeremiah is sent, yet humbly pleads that he should not be sent, saying, “Ah, Lord God! Behold I cannot speak: for I am a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6) From these two men different voices proceeded outwardly, but they flowed from the same fountain of love. For there are two precepts of charity; the love of God and of our neighbour. Wherefore Isaiah, eager to profit his neighbours through an active life, desires the office of preaching; but Jeremiah, longing to cleave sedulously to the love of his Creator through a contemplative life, remonstrates against being sent to preach.

So it was that what the one laudably desired the other laudably shrunk from. The latter, lest by speaking he should lose the gains of silent contemplation. The former, lest by keeping silence he should suffer loss for lack of diligent work. But this in both cases is to be observed, that he who refused did not persist in his refusal. Further, he who wished to be sent saw himself previously cleansed by a coal of the altar’ lest anyone who has not been purged should dare to approach sacred ministries, or any whom supernal grace has chosen should proudly gainsay it under a show of humility.

Since it is very difficult for anyone to be sure that he has been cleansed, it is safer to decline the office of preaching. However, (as we have said) it should not be declined pertinaciously when the Supernal Will that it should be undertaken is recognized. Both requirements Moses marvellously fulfilled, who was unwilling to be set over so great a multitude, and yet obeyed. For perhaps he were proud, were he to undertake without trepidation the leadership of that innumerable people; and, again, proud he would plainly be were he to refuse to obey his Lord’s command.

Thus in both ways humble, in both ways submissive, he was unwilling, as measuring himself, to be set over the people. Yet, as presuming on the might of Him who commanded him, he consented. Hence, then, hence let all rash ones infer how great guilt is theirs, if they fear not to be preferred to others by their own seeking, when holy men, even when God commanded, feared to undertake the leadership of peoples. Moses trembles though God persuades him; and yet every weak one pants to assume the burden of dignity; and one who can hardly bear his own load without falling, gladly puts his shoulders under the pressure of others not his own: his own deeds are too heavy for him to carry, and he augments his burden.

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piccadilly_sleeping2_1000In today’s reading from St. Gregory the Great’s treatise entitled Pastoral Care, we learn about the gifted bishop or clergyman who uses his gifts for his own benefit and not that of the flock. The saint admonishes against withholding one’s God-given advantages from the people or, worse, using them solely for one’s own benefit. Today’s section from Book I, Chapter 5 is a stern warning against self –centredness and preferring one’s own comforts and desires to the needs of the people of God.

Of those who are able to profit others by virtuous example in supreme rule, but fly from it in pursuit of their own ease.

There are some who are eminently endowed with virtues. They may have true gifts for the training of others-purity in zeal for chastity, strength in the might of abstinence, filled with the feasts of doctrine, humble in the long-suffering of patience, erect in the fortitude of authority, tender in the grace of loving-kindness, strict in the severity of justice. Truly such as these, if when called they refuse to undertake offices of supreme rule, for the most part deprive themselves of the very gifts which they received. Indeed, they do not just deprive themselves alone, but others also. While they meditate their own and not another’s gain, they forfeit the very benefits which they desire to keep to themselves.

Our Lord spoke Truth to His disciples when He said, “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid: neither do they light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house.” (St. Matthew 5:15) Further, He said to St. Peter, “Simon, Son of Jonas, do you love Me?” (John 15:16-17) When St. Peter had answered that he loved, he was told, “If you love Me, feed My sheep.” If, then, the care of feeding is the proof of loving, whosoever abounds in virtues, and yet refuses to feed the flock of God, is convicted of not loving the chief Shepherd.

St. Paul amplifies this saying, “If Christ died for all, then all died. And if He died for all, it remains that they which live should now no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.” (II Corinthians 5:15). It is analogous to Moses’ admonition in Deuteronomy 25:5 that a surviving brother shall take to him the wife of a brother who has died without children, and beget children to the name of his brother. If, however, he refuses to take her, the woman shall spit in his face, and her kinsman shall loose the shoe from off one of his feet, and call his habitation the house of him that has his shoe loosed. The deceased brother is He who, after the glory of the resurrection, said, “Go tell My brethren.” (Matthew 28:10) For He died as it were without children, in that He had not yet filled up the number of His elect. Then, it is ordered that the surviving brother shall have the wife assigned to him, because it is surely fit that the care of holy Church be imposed on him who is best able to rule it well.

Should he be unwilling, the woman spits in his face, because whosoever cares not to benefit others out of the gifts which he has received, the holy Church condemns even what he has of good, and, as it were, casts spittle on his face. From one foot the shoe is taken away, inasmuch as it is written, “Your feet shod in preparation of the Gospel of Peace.” (Ephesians 6:15) If, then, we have the care of our neighbour as well as of ourselves upon us, we have each foot protected by a shoe. However, the shepherd who, meditating his own advantage, neglects that of his neighbours, loses with disgrace one foot’s shoe.

There are some, as we have said, enriched with great gifts, who, while they are ardent for the studies of contemplation only, shrink from serving to their neighbour’s benefit by preaching. They love a secret place of quiet. They long for a retreat for speculation. With respect to which conduct, they are, if strictly judged, undoubtedly guilty in proportion to the greatness of the gifts whereby they might have been publicly useful. For with what disposition of mind does one who might be conspicuous in profiting his neighbours prefer his own privacy to the advantage of others, when the Only-begotten of the supreme Father Himself came forth from the bosom of the Father into the midst of us all, that He might profit many?

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StGregoryTheGreat

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.

Ramsey

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