Church Rises Like the Dawn

Since the dawn goes from darkness into light, it is right that the Church of the elect should be called “dawn” or “first light.” As it is led from the night of disbelief into the light of faith, it is opened up to the splendour of heavenly brightness just as the dawn bursts into day after darkness. How right are the words of the Song of Songs: Who is she who is coming up like the dawn? The holy Church seeks the rewards of heavenly life and is rightly called the dawn because it deserts the shadows of sin and sparkles in the light of righteousness.

There is something subtler to learn from this, on considering the nature of the dawn. Dawn, or first light, proclaims that the night is over but does not yet manifest the full brightness of the day. It dispels night, it gives a beginning to the day, but still it is a mixture of light and darkness. All of us who follow the truth in this life, are we not exactly like the dawn? Some of the things we do are truly works of the light, but others are not entirely free of the remnants of darkness. No man is virtuous before you, says the psalmist, and again Scripture says we have all done wrong in many ways.

This is why Paul does not say “the night has passed and day has come,” but night has passed and day is approaching, showing beyond doubt that he is still in the dawn, after the end of darkness but still before rising of the sun.

The Church of the elect will be fully day only when the darkness of sin is no longer mixed in with it. It will be fully day only when it shines with the perfect warmth of a light that comes from within. God shows that we are still going through this dawn when he says to Job, Have you ever sent the dawn to its post? Something that is being sent somewhere is being sent from one place or state to another. What is the destined place of the dawn if not the perfect brightness of the eternal vision? And when it has reached its place, will it still have any of the darkness of the night that has passed? The dawn was intent on reaching its destined place when the psalmist said My soul thirsts for the living God; when shall I appear before the face of God? The dawn was hurrying to the place it knew to be its destiny when Paul said that he wanted to die and to be with Christ, and when he said For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

This excerpt from St. Gregory the Great’s Moral Reflections on Job (Moralia in Job, Lib. 3, 15-16: pl 75, 606-608) treats of the imagery of dawn, light and darkness. This reading is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Thursday of the 9th week in ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Job.


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St. Gregory the Great

Pope Saint Gregory I, commonly known as St. Gregory the Great, was one of the most fascinating of early Church leaders.  Son of a Roman Senator, Saint Gregory was born in Rome around 540AD and, following his dad’s footsteps, embarked upon a political career.  He rose through the ranks of civil service and eventually became Prefect (mayor) of the city of Rome.  At that point, Gregory discerned a call to deeper life with God so promptly gave away his wealth to the poor and entered the monastery of St. Andrew (ca. 574) where he ultimately became abbot (585).  The Pope, recognizing his talent, named him as one of the seven deacons of Rome and then sent him on a diplomatic mission as papal legate to the imperial city of Constantinople where he remained for five years.  Upon the death of the pope in 590, St. Gregory was elected to succeed him, the first monk ever elected as the Successor of Peter.   This man who wanted nothing else but to be a simple monk had to undergo a profound interior struggle before accepting this election as the will of God.  Immediately he set to work putting in order the affairs of a Church and society in chaos.  Like his predecessor Pope Leo the Great, he negotiated a “separate peace” with the invading barbarians, in this case the Lombards (592-3).  In light of the powerlessness of the Byzantine emperor in the West, he took over civic as well as spiritual leadership of Italy, appointing governors of the various Italian cities.  He, who had spent his own wealth to relieve the suffering of the poor, did much the same with the resources of the church.   He insisted on Papal primacy, and took the initiative in evangelization, sending monks from his former monastery led by Augustine to convert the Angles of Britain.     His abundant writings are more practical and spiritual than doctrinal or theoretical.  His “Liber Regulae Pastoralis” (592 ca) sets the standard of what a bishop should be.  His “Dialogues” recounts the life of his master, St. Benedict, and other saints of the period.  His Moralia in Job is a commentary on the book of Job according to the literal, moral, and spiritual senses of Scripture.  Very devoted to the liturgy, Gregory promoted sacred music and to this day the plainsong that comes down to us from this era is known as “Gregorian Chant.”  Gregory, who died in 604 AD, is known as one of the four greatest Latin-speaking Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  He is one of the few men in the history of the Church whose name is customarily followed by “the Great.”  His liturgical memorial is on September 3, the anniversary of his consecration as bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter.  His favorite title for this exalted office was “servant of the servants of God.”