Wednesday, February 24, 2010

St Gregory on Heretics, II

III.47. When they had lifted up their eyes, they did not know him. Now when heretics consider the deeds of Holy Church, they look up at her, because they are placed down below and when they see her works, what they regard is placed on high; but when the Church is set amid sorrow they do not know her. For she seeks to accept evils so that, being purged, she can come to the reward of eternal recompense. Often she fears prosperity and rejoices to learn from discipline. Therefore heretics, who desire present good as the great thing, do not recognize her covered with wounds. For they do not read written in their own hearts what they see in her. When therefore the Church profits even from adversities, they are stuck in their own stupor, because what they see is unknown to their experience.

48. They tore their clothes, and scattered dust to heaven upon their heads. As we and all the faithful receive the clothes of the Church, for which reason the prophet says: You clothe all these like a decoration; so the clothes of the heretics are all those who by agreeing with them and sticking with them are wrapped up in their errors. For heretics have this property, that they are not long able to stand on the level they came to on leaving the Church; but daily they fall down to lower places and by thinking worse and worse things they cut themselves into many parts and are divided from each other more and more by their arguments and confusion. Therefore because they tear into pieces those they join to their faithlessness, it is rightly said that the friends who come tear their clothes. When the clothes are ripped the body is revealed, because often when the heretical followers are cut away, the malice of their thought is openly seen; so that discord reveals the treachery that the burdensome guilt of their previous harmony concealed.

49. Now they scatter dust to heaven upon their heads. What should we understand by dust except things of the earth? What is designated by the head, except that which is our principle part, namely the mind? What is meant by heaven except the command spoken by heaven? Therefore to scatter dust to heaven on the head is to corrupt the mind with a secular understanding and to think earthly things about heavenly words. For they dissipate the divine words more than they receive them. Therefore they scatter dust because they bring against the commands of God an earthly understanding which is in fact beyond the power of their minds.

50. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights. In daytime, we can know what we see; at night either, being blind, we see nothing, or if it is dim what we see is doubtful. So day stands for understanding and night stands for ignorance. By the number seven the whole universe is expressed; so that this transitory time is completed in no more than seven days. What then does is mean that the friends of blessed Job sat with him for seven days and seven nights, except that, whether in those things about which they really see the light, or in those things about which they suffer the darkness of ignorance, they act in a pretending condescention towards the Church (as though towards an invalid), and under a show of kindness prepare the treachery of deception? And although, whether in those things which they do understand, or in those which they are unable to understand, among themselves they can think great things about themselves, swelled up with the character of exaltation, still sometimes they make a show of respect to Holy Church, and while they use soft words, they pour in the poison. Therefore to sit on the ground is to show something of the image of humility, so that while they fake being humble they can persuade their hearers of the pride which they teach.

51. The ground or the earth can also stand for the incarnation of the Mediator. So that it was said to Israel: Make for me an altar of earth. To make an altar of earth for God is to hope in the incarnation of the Mediator. Our offering indeed is accepted by God when upon the altar of faith in the Lord’s incarnation our humility places whatever we do. We place an offering upon an altar of earth when we solidify our actions with faith in the Lord’s incarnation. But there are some heretics who do not deny the fact of the Lord’s incarnation, but think differently from us either about the divinity itself or about the quality of the incarnation. So those who profess along with us the true incarnation of the Redeemer, as it were sit equally on the ground with Job. They are said to sit with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights because, whether they understand something of the fulness of truth or are blinded by the darkness of their stupidity, still they cannot deny the mystery of the incarnation. To sit on the ground with blessed Job, therefore, is to believe along with Holy Church in the true flesh of the Redeemer.

52. Sometimes the heretics rage against us with punishments, sometimes they pursue us with words alone, sometimes if we are quiet they provoke us, and sometimes if they see us silent they are quiet too; friends to the silent, they are enemies to us if we speak. So because blessed Job had not yet said anything to them it rightly follows: And no one spoke a word to him. For we have silent adversaries if we neglect to beget sons of the true faith by our preaching. But if we begin to speak what is right, we will immediately feel the heavy blows of their response; they will instantly leap forward in enmity and burst out against us with the voice of indignation, because they fear lest a voice speaking what is right lead to the heights the hearts which the weight of their stupidity has dragged to the depths.

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

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