This morning we went in the “Way Back Machine” to visit Gregory the Great via Thomas Oden in order to steal some fire – to discover the treasure that is Gregory’s work on pastoral care – and bring it back to warm, consume or fuel our own pastoral care in the present.
Gregory, a Roman Catholic priest, resisted but was eventually made a Pope in 590. If you have ever heard a Gregorian Chant, you've been touched by his brilliance and creativity. The tiny, evangelical Bible College Brian voice of my inner dialogue shouts its opposition to learning anything from a Catholic, especially one who was Pope. The rest of me sneaks in and grabs what I can because wisdom has taught me that you get fire where you find it.
Gregory talks to us and these are some jewels that fell out of his mouth…
“For no one does more harm in the Church than he, who having the title or rank of holiness, acts evilly.”
“For the mind often lies to itself about itself…”
“The ruler should be discreet in keeping silence and profitable in speech, lest he utter what should be kept secret, or keep secret what should be uttered.”
“But those who rule others should show themselves such that their subjects are unafraid to reveal their hidden secrets to them.”
“Wherefore, all who are superiors should not regard in themselves the power of their rank, but the equality of their nature; and they should find their joy not in ruling over men, but in helping them.”
“Good should be loved for its own sake, not pursued under the compulsion of established penalties.”
“Indeed, he is a poor and unskilled physician, who aims at healing others but is ignorant of his own ailment.”
“Thus, by concealing their sins from men and displaying their virtues to them, they both reveal what they should be punished for through concealing it, and hide away, by disclosing it, what they might have been rewarded for.”
Gregory’s book on pastoral care is actually filled with practical advice for taking care of people’s souls as well as looking after the soul of the one who would venture to pastor. I'm glad Oden picked up Gregory, I'm glad Fitch did too and I’m very glad that he’s been introduced to us modulites who can bring this profound guidance down from the mountain and back to all the villages from which we've come.
I've learned a lot from my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters but the greatest thing I've learned from them while here at SSU is that there’s so much more to learn from them.
I end with Gregory’s own words of conclusion, “"I, miserable painter that I am, have painted a portrait of an ideal man; and here I have been directing others to the shore of perfection, I, who am still tossed about on the waves of sin. But in the shipwreck of this life, sustain me I beseech you, with the plank of your prayers, so that, as my weight is sinking me down, you may uplift me with your meritorious hand."