Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St Gregory on Heretics, I

III.42. In all this Job neither sinned with his lips nor said anything stupid against God. Therefore three friends of Job, hearing about all the evils that had happened to him, came each one from his own place: Eliphaz the Themanite, Baldad the Suhite, and Sophar the Naamathite. In the preface of this work we said that the friends of blessed Job, although they came to him with good intentions, nevertheless take on the appearance of heretics because they fall into guilt by speaking indiscretely. On account of which the same blessed Job says to them: I want to dispute with God, but first showing that you are weavers of lies and keepers of perverse dogmas. And so Holy Church in all the time of its pilgrimage is established in affliction, when she suffers wounds, when she grieves over the lapse of her members, and on top of this when she endures the enemies of Christ coming in the name of Christ. For to the augment of her suffering, in addition to her other troubles heretics also come and pierce her with unreasonable words.

43. But it is well said: They convened from their own place. Now the place of heretics is pride, because unless they were first swelled up in their hearts, they would not have come to the struggle with crooked assertions. So the place of the wicked is pride just as on the contrary the place of the good is humility. About which Solomon says: If a powerful spirit rises up against you, do not yield to him your place. As if he were to say openly: If you see that the spirit of the Temptor is stronger than you in anything, do not abandon the humility of penitence. Because he shows by the following words that our place is the humility of penitence when he says: Because to stop taking medicine produces the greatest sins. For what is the humility of weeping but the medicine of sin? Heretics therefore come from their place because they are moved against Holy Church from their pride.

44. Their perverse actions can be discerned from the interpretation of their names. For they are called Eliphaz, Baldad, and Sophar; and as we said above, Eliphaz interpreted means “contempt of God.” For unless they had contempt of God, they would never have thought perverse things about Him. But Baldad only means “age.” For while they avoid being beaten and by their perverse study they seek to be the victors, they neglect the behavior of the new life, and what they intend comes only from the old. Sophar means “destruction of the watchtower.” For those whose place is in Holy Church humbly contemplate with true faith the mysteries of their Redeemer; but when the heretics come with their false allegations, they destroy the watchtower, because they turn the minds of those they draw to themselves away from the watchfulness of upright contemplation.

45. But the places from which these men come are well described as congruent with the actions of heretics. For they are called Themanites, Suhites, Naamathites. Now Thema means “the South;” Suhi, “speaking;” Naama, “charming.” But who does not know that the South wind is hot? Therefore because heretics wish to taste of [divine things] more ardently, or as it were more than is necessary, they are eager to be inflamed with passion. Of couse ebbing away to the numbness of cold and again to the restlessness of an immoderate curiosity is each consistent with intemperate heat. And therefore because they desire to feel the heat of wisdom more than they ought, they are said to come from the South. Paul took care to temper the minds of the faithful away from this heat of an immoderate wisdom, when he said: Do not taste more than you ought to taste, but taste to sobriety. This is why David struck the valleys of the salt-pans, namely because our Redeemer in his severe judgment against those who think perverse things about him will quench the stupidity of an immoderate taste. But Suhi means “speaking.” Now you see that they desire to have this heat not in order to live well but in order to speak loftily. Therefore they come from Thema and from Suhi, that is, they are said to come from heat and from loquacity, because they like to show how well-studied they are in the scriptures; but they inflamed only with the passion of loquacious words and not with the heart of charity. Now Naama means “charming.” Because they do not wish to be learned, but to appear so, from erudite words they take on the appearance of living well; and through the heat of their loquacity they show in themselves a charming image, so that with the beauty of their tounges they can more easily persuade their hearers of perversities; and so they cleverly hide from the senses the foulness of their lives. Now the narration gives the names of these places in the right order. First it gives Thema, afterwards Suhi, and then Naama; because first inordinate heat kindles the heretics, then the sparkle of loquacity rouses them up, and then finally it shows men charming hypocrisies.

46. For they said to one another that they would all go visit and console him. Heretics speak to one another when they agree in thinking certain perverse things against the Church; and in certain things where they are all discordant from the truth, they harmonize together in falsity. For what do those do who teach us about eternity, but console us in the affliction of our pilgrimage? But the heretics, because they desire to teach Holy Church their own doctrines, approach her as consolers. Nor should we be surprised if those who are shown to be enemies are called friends, when it was said to the traitor himself [Judas]: Friend, why have you come? And the rich man burning in the fire of hell was called a son by Abaham; because although they refuse to be corrected by us, still it is fitting that we should name them not by their wickedness but out of our kindness.

- St Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob, my translation.

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