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True Simplicity

Some people are so simple that they do not know what uprightness is. Theirs is not the true simplicity of the innocent: they are as far from that as they are far from rising to the virtue of uprightness. As long as they do not know how to guard their steps by walking in uprightness, they can never remain innocent merely by walking in simplicity. This is why St Paul warns his disciples I hope that you are also wise in what is good, and innocent of what is bad but also Brothers, you are not to be childish in your outlook, though you can be babies as far as wickedness is concerned.
 

Thus Christ our Truth enjoins his disciples with the words Be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves. In giving them this admonition, he had to join the two together, so that both the simplicity of the dove might be instructed by the craftiness of the serpent, and the craftiness of the serpent might be attempered by the simplicity of the dove.

That is why the Holy Spirit has manifested his presence to mankind, not only in the form of a dove but also in the form of fire. For by the dove simplicity is indicated, and by fire, zeal. So he is manifested in a dove and in fire, because those who are full of the Spirit have the mildness of simplicity, but catch fire with zeal of uprightness against the offences of sinners.

An upright and honest man who feared God and shunned evil. Undoubtedly whoever longs for the eternal country lives sincerely and uprightly: perfect in practice, and right in faith, sincere in the good that he does in this lower state, right in the high truths which he minds in his inner self. For there are some who are not sincere in the good actions that they do, looking not to be rewarded within themselves but to win favour from others. Hence it is well said by a certain wise man, Woe to the sinner who follows two ways. A sinner goes two ways when an action he performs belongs to God but what he aims at in his thought belongs to the world.

It is well said, who feared God and shunned evil, for the holy Church of the elect starts on the path of simplicity and of uprightness from fear but completes that path in charity. When, from the love of God, she feels an unwillingness to sin, then she may shun evil. But when she is still doing good deeds from fear then she is not entirely shunning evil: the fact is that she would have sinned if she could have sinned without being punished.

So then: when Job is said to have feared God, it is rightly related that he also shunned evil.Fear comes first and charity follows later; and when that has happened, the offence which is left behind in the mind is trodden underfoot by the desires of the heart.

This excerpt from St. Gregory the Great’s Moral Reflections on Job (Moralia in Job Lib. 1, 2, 36: PL 75, 529-530, 543-544) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time with the accompanying biblical reading of Job 1:1-22.

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.”