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Morals On The Book Of Job: Volumes 1 To 3 -Saint Gregory The Great

THE following Commentary may perhaps be regarded with the less interest by some readers, as not being founded on a critical examination of the original Text. Perhaps, however, there may also be readers, who are glad to have their attention withdrawn from difficulties, to them insuperable, and fixed on those deep and pervading characteristics, which it is the privilege of holiness to read in the sacred page. Criticism may contradict the interpretation of a sentence, and give a different turn to particulars; but the main scope of the work is founded on principles of a higher order, and involves a perception of truths to which the acutest critic may perchance be blind. The utmost that criticism can do for the study of Holy Writ is to furnish as it were a correct Text for the reading of the spiritual eye. And if there is any Book in the sacred Canon in which the bearing of words is more important than the mere thing said, it is the Book of Job.

Besides the actual exposition of the Text, this work contains numerous digressions in the way of moral application, more or less connected with the Commentary. It is from these that it takes the name of ‘Morals,’ and that it displays so fully the character of its Author. Remarks that seem commonplace at first, are seen upon farther study to be full of meaning from his mouth, and to be the result of close and long-continued self-discipline, and strict observation of the innermost workings of the mind and heart.

The Introduction gives some account of the circumstances under which it was composed, and, together with the Notes, supplies some information with regard to the Author’s life. It may be worth while, however, to give a slight sketch of the remaining parts of his history. He was the son of Gordianus and Silvia, Romans of a good family, and devoting his early life to civil affairs, he became first a senator, and afterwards (A.D. 581. Cave, 574. Ben.) Prefect of the City. At this time, however, he was already longing to devote himself entirely to religion, and gave up a large portion of his property to the founding of six Monasteries in Sicily, and another in Rome. Into this last he finally entered, whilst it was under the government of Valentius, and there submitted himself to the ‘Rule of St. Benedict,’ which prescribes a total renunciation of property, and very strict obedience to the Abbot, besides a certain order of devotions, and regulations of abstinence. Pope Pelagius, however, (or, as some say, his predecessor,) shortly drew him from his retirement, ordained him Deacon, and sent him as his Apocrisiarius, or representative, to the Emperor Tiberius at Constantinople. To this period he refers in the opening of his Morals. He remained there three years, till A.D. 586, during which time he is said to have recovered Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople, from the error of denying the Resurrection of a real palpable body. After the death of Tiberius, he returned to his monastery, of which he became Abbot, and had leisure for reviewing his writings, and composing some fresh treatises. But on the death of Pelagius, A.D. 490, he was chosen to succeed to the Papacy, though against his own will. He is said to have been compelled to consent by a Divine interference, and his own letters, (Ep. i. 21. ad Natal. and vii. 4. ad Cyriac.) confirm this, though the miracle related by his Biographers is hardly consistent with contemporary accounts. He bore this burdeu thirteen years, under the pressure of severe bodily disease and suffering, but with great benefit to the Church. His Epistles, in twelve books, shew the variety and extent of the relations in which he was called upon to act, and the important services he was enabled to render to the Church in various countries. The Emperor Mauricius was a hard master to the Church, and occasioned him some difficulties, as did also the ambition of the Archbishop of Constantinople, whom he severely reproved for assuming the title of Universal Bishop. In 596, he sent St. Augustine, like himself a Benedictine Monk, to England, in pursuance of a design he had long entertained. He had indeed been himself sent out on a similar expedition, at his own desire, by Pope Benedict I. but had been recalled immediately after he had set out, from the unwillingness of the people to part with him. And we find St. Augustine, when in England, still referring to St. Gregory in his difficulties, and receiving his directions.

On the usurpation of the Empire by Phocas, A.D. 603, he sent letters to the Tyrant, for which he has been severely blamed by Cave and other writers. His Benedictine biograper defends him as not having exceeded the honour due to a de facto Emperor, and the good wishes that he must have felt even for the sake of the Church. He died the next year, and was buried in St. Peter’s at Rome. He appears to have watched over the whole Church with a truly pastoral solicitude, and to have exhausted himself by his perpetual labours for its benefit. His powers of mind were evidently great, though he has sometimes been accused of an excessive credulity, especially with respect to the contents of his Dialogues. Some writers again suspect that these have been interpolated.

Perhaps the chief characteristic of his doctrine in the present work is his assertion of real inherent righteousness in the Saints, combined with his distinct acknowledgment and searching investigation of sin even in the holiest of mere men. In this respect indeed he interprets some passages, such as the latter part of Rom. 7 differently from the Fathers in general, yet so as to supply a corrective, through the analogy of the Faith, to any error that might result from such a view. In the case just mentioned, and in some others, he closely follows St. Augustine. A large collection of practical portions from this work has been made, under the title of Speculum, the Mss. of which are of frequent occurrence. Of the whole work also there are many Mss. extant, and the Benedictine edition presents a text generally very carefully and judiciously made out from them. The Benedictine Editors used occasionally the notes from Mss. at Oxford published by James in his Vindiciæ Gregorianæ. The whole collation made by him and others with an edition is in the library of St. John’s College, Oxford, and through the kindness of that Society, and the assistance of the Rev. H. Coombs, M.A. Fellow of St. John’s College, the Editor has had a copy of the various readings at hand in revising the translation. It is not, however, very much that can be added to the diligence and judgment of the Benedictines, though Oxford possesses some valuable Mss. not hitherto collated.

For the Translation, the Editors are indebted to a friend who prefers concealing his name. It is hoped that the two remaining Volumes will appear in 1845 and 6, and that in due time the Original Text may also be reprinted with some few corrections.

C. M.

Oriel Coll.

Feast of St. Andrew,

1844








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