Sound Teaching Avoids Pride
This excerpt from Saint Gregory the Great's Moral Reflections on Jobe (Moralia in Job Lib. 23, 23-24: PL 76, 265-266) is used in Roman Office of Readings on Wednesday in the 9th week in ordinary time, together with Job 32:1-6 and 33:1-22. It clearly explains the difference between teaching in a way that puffs up and teaching in a way that builds up. St. Gregory here demonstrates why he is known as one of the most insightful spiritual writers in the Catholic Tradition thereby coming to be called "the Great."
Now, Job, listen to my words, and attend to all I have to say. It is characteristic of the way that arrogant people teach, that they do not know how to convey their knowledge humbly and cannot express straightforward truths straightforwardly. When they teach, it is clear from their words that they are placing themselves on a pinnacle and looking down on their pupils somewhere in the depths – pupils unworthy to be informed and scarcely even worth the bother of dominating.
The Lord rightly admonished such people through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel, saying You have ruled your flock cruelly and with violence. For they rule with cruelty and violence when they do not try to correct those under them with rational arguments but try to dominate them and crush them.
On the other hand, sound teaching is eager to avoid this sin of pride manifested in thought: just as eager as it is to attack with words the teacher of pride himself. Sound teaching does not promote him by imitating his arrogance but uses pious words to attack him in its hearers’ hearts. Instead it promotes humility, the mother and teacher of all virtues. It preaches humility in words and manifests humility in its actions. It commends humility to its pupils more by conduct than by speech.
This is why Paul seems to have forgotten his exalted status as an apostle when writing to the Thessalonians: We were babes among you. So also Peter: Always have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for the hope you all have, adding, to emphasize that the teaching must be presented in the proper way, But give it with respect and with a clear conscience.
When Paul says to Timothy Command these things and teach them with all authority, he is not calling for a domination born of power but an authority that comes from a way of life. “Teaching with authority” here means living something first before preaching it; for when speech is impeded by conscience, the hearer will find it harder to trust what is being taught. So Paul is not commending the power of proud and exalted words, but the trustworthiness that comes from good behavior. This, indeed, is why it is said of the Lord, Unlike the scribes and pharisees, he taught them with authority. He alone spoke with unique authority because he had never, through weakness, done evil. What he had from the power of his divinity, he taught to us through the innocence of his humanity.
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