Tag Archives: Gregory the Great

Interpreting the Law

How must we interpret this law of God?  How, if not by love? The love that stamps the precepts of right-living on the mind and bids us put them into practice. Listen to Truth speaking of this law: “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”  Listen to Paul:  “The whole law,” he declares, “is summed up in love”; and again: “Help one another in your troubles, and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” the law of Christ–does anything other than love more fittingly describe it?  Truly we are keeping this law when, out of love, we go to the help of a brother or sister in trouble.

But we are told that this law is manifold.  Why?  Because love’s lively concern for others is reflected in all the virtues.  It begins with two commands, but soon embraces many more.  Paul gives a good summary of its various aspects.  “Love is patient,” he says, “and kind; it is never jealous or conceited; its conduct is blameless; it is not ambitious, not selfish, not quick to take offense; it harbors no evil thoughts, does not gloat over other people’s sins, but is gladdened by an upright life.” Moral Reflections on Job by Gregory the Great.

I ran across this passage earlier this week in the Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. St. Gregory makes a number of powerful observations that help us understand Holy Scripture.  Principally, he enjoins us to read the Torah (the Law) through the lens of love.  Jesus taught that all of the law and all of the prophets hung on the commandments to love God and love our neighbors. Matt. 22:40.

In Jesus’ day (just as in ours), some argued that the scriptures should be read as an exclusionary document.  Thus, many (lepers, those with physical infirmities, women, and outsiders) were excluded from the Temple.  Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What have you done to help them inside?” Through acts of love and mercy, Jesus brought many back within the circle of faith.  The Pharisees used the scriptures as a club to beat people away from the gates of the church.  Jesus, interpreting the scriptures through the template of love, showed us how to welcome God’s children back home.

We see this same tension played out in the book of Job.  Job endures calamity upon catastrophe without blaming God for what’s happened to him.  His three “friends” (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) arrive to convince him that God always punishes evil and rewards good, so somehow, Job must’ve sinned. Job’s friends do have a superficial understanding of the scriptures; they just don’t understand much about love, or God for that matter.  (A very good friend of mine observes that Job’s friends did everything right: until they open their mouths.)

Those who follow Christ know that all scripture, the Old Testament and the New, must be read with eyes of love. If we love God and His children, we cannot leave those in need behind.  And once we recognize that love provides the Rosetta Stone by which we interpret all the teachings of Scripture, we find ourselves compelled to love more broadly and more deeply.  We find ourselves breathing in a climate of grace, and we begin to  learn the language of blessing.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

The Gift of Peace

     You cannot acquire the gift of the peace if by your anger you destroy the peace of the Lord.
     True patience is to suffer the wrongs done to us by others in an unruffled spirit and without feeling resentment.  Patience bears with others because it loves them; to bear with them and yet to hate them is not the virtue of patience but a smokescreen for anger.
     True patience grows with the growth of love.  We put up with our neighbours to the extent that we love them.  If you love, you are patient.  If you cease loving, you will cease being patient.  The less we love, the less patience we show.
     If we truly preserve patience in our souls, we are martyrs without being killed.

                                            –Gregory the Great, Defensor Gramaticus

I found this bit of wisdom in the reading for today in a wonderful little book, Drinking From the Hidden Fountain:  A Patristic Breviary.  Pope Gregory I wrote the reading for today.  The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Anglican Church and some Lutheran churches recognize Gregory as a saint.  The first pope to spring from the monastic tradition, he is the patron saint of musicians, students and teachers.

Gregory was born around 540 A.D., and lived in very tumultuous times for the Church which included the defeat of the Roman Empire by the Goths, famine and a plague that killed over a third of the population.  The papacy was virtually forced on Gregory, who longed for the monastic life.  Although he was deeply interested in and involved with the liturgy, Gregory probably had no substantial involvement with Gregorian chant which bears his name.  (Gregorian chant was first written down in the early 9th century.)  He made extensive use of the title servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God) in official documents, revealing a deep and abiding humility.

In this short little selection from Gregory, we see a hint of his humility and catch a glimpse of why he was so deeply loved and revered.  Gregory points out how deeply our anger undermines the peace we so desperately long for and need.  Yet although we want peace in our lives, we just aren’t willing to let go of our anger and resentments.

He encourages us to turn to the ancient Christian virtue of patience.  St. Paul recognized patience as one of the gifts of the Spirit.  Gal. 5:22.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:  “Patience is one of the humble, workaday virtues; but it is, in a real sense, the root and guardian of all virtues, not causing them, but removing obstacles to their operation. Do away with patience and the gates are open for a flood of discontent and sin.”

Long before psychology taught us about passive/aggressive behavior, St. Gregory described it:  “Patience bears with others because it loves them; to bear with them and yet to hate them is not the virtue of patience but a smokescreen for anger.”  Most anger arises from a lack of patience.  In fact, many of our intemperate statements begin:  “I’ve just about lost my patience with . . . . (insert the object of our rage here).”

Our impatience usually carries with it either an implicit message of our moral superiority or wrongs that we cannot or  will not release. We are so anxious to claim the moral high ground that we forget that Jesus blessed the poor in spirit and the meek rather than the righteously indignant. Patience requires the understanding that although our brothers and sisters may not yet be the people God intends them to be, neither are we.

St. Gregory correctly showed us the link between patience and love.  Again, Paul had noted this link in Scripture, writing:  “Love is patient; love is kind.”  Learning to love means learning and practicing patience.  Admittedly, it’s not my strongest gift, but I know that if I want to create a peaceful life and a peaceful world, that path begins with patience.

Pax Christi,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis