Pope Benedict’s Second Address on Pope Gregory the Great




Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Saint Gregory the Great (2)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, at our Wednesday appointment, I return to the extraordinary figure of Pope Gregory the Great to receive some additional light from his rich teaching. Notwithstanding the many duties connected to his office as the Bishop of Rome, he left to us numerous works, from which the Church in successive centuries has drawn with both hands. Besides the important correspondence – in last week’s catechesis I cited the Register that contains over 800 letters – first of all he left us writings of an exegetical character, among which his Morals, a commentary on Job (known under the Latin title Moralia in Iob), the Homilies on Ezekiel and the Homilies on the Gospel stand out. Then there is an important work of a hagiographical character, the Dialogues, written by Gregory for the edification of the Lombard Queen Theodolinda. The primary and best known work is undoubtedly the Regula pastoralis (Pastoral Rule), which the Pope published at the beginning of his Pontificate with clearly programmatic goals.

Wanting to review these works quickly, we must first of all note that, in his writings, Gregory never sought to delineate “his own” doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.
He was a passionate reader of the Bible, which he approached not simply with a speculative purpose: from Sacred Scripture, he thought, the Christian must draw not theoretical understanding so much as the daily nourishment for his soul, for his life as man in this world. For example, in the Homilies on Ezekiel, he emphasized this function of the sacred text: to approach the Scripture simply to satisfy one’s own desire for knowledge means to succumb to the temptation of pride and thus to expose oneself to the risk of sliding into heresy. Intellectual humility is the primary rule for one who searches to penetrate the supernatural realities beginning from the sacred Book. Obviously, humility does not exclude serious study; but to ensure that the results are spiritually beneficial, facilitating true entry into the depth of the text, humility remains indispensable. Only with this interior attitude can one really listen to and eventually perceive the voice of God. On the other hand, when it is a question of the Word of God understanding it means nothing if it does not lead to action. In these Homilies on Ezekiel is also found that beautiful expression according which “the preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his heart; then he can also reach the ear of his neighbour”. Reading his homilies, one sees that Gregory truly wrote with his life-blood and, therefore, he still speaks to us today.

Gregory also developed this discourse in the Book of Morals, a Commentary on Job. Following the Patristic tradition, he examined the sacred text in the three dimensions of its meaning: the literal dimension, the allegorical dimension and the moral dimension, which are dimensions of the unique sense of Sacred Scripture. Nevertheless, Gregory gave a clear prevalence to the moral sense. In this perspective, he proposed his thought by way of some dual meanings – to know-to do, to speak-to live, to know-to act – in which he evokes the two aspects of human life that should be complementary, but which often end by being antithetical. The moral ideal, he comments, always consists in realizing a harmonious integration between word and action, thought and deed, prayer and dedication to the duties of one’s state: this is the way to realize that synthesis thanks to which the divine descends to man and man is lifted up until he becomes one with God. Thus the great Pope marks out a complete plan of life for the authentic believer; for this reason the Book of Morals, a commentary on Job, would constitute in the course of the Middle Ages a kind of summa of Christian morality.

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