Tag Archives: Saint Gregory the Great

4 September, Season of Creation VI: The gift to be simple, III.

We turned to Saint Gregory the Great, see yesterday’s post, after reading this passage from his successor, Good Pope John XXIII, who at this time, November 1948, was Papal Representative in France, well able to comment on ‘cunning minds’ in Vatican diplomacy, especially as he was writing in his journal, for his eyes only! Notice how he links the simplicity of the just man with the scientist’s search for truth.

Oh, the simplicity of the Gospel, of The Imitation of Christ, of the Littler Flowers of Saint Francis, and of the most exquisite passages in Saint Gregory, in his Moralia: ‘The simplicity of the just man is derided’, and the words that follow! I enjoy these pages more and more and return to them with joy. All the wiseacres of this world, and all the cunning minds, including those in Vatican diplomacy, cut such a poor figure in the light of the simplicity and grace shed by this great and fundamental doctrine of Jesus and his saints! This is the surest wisdom, that confounds the learning of this world and, with courtesy and true nobility, is consistent, equally well and even better, with the loftiest achievements in the sphere of science, even of secular and social science, in accordance with the needs of time, place and circumstance.

‘This is the height of philosophy, to be simple with prudence’, as was said by Saint John Chrysostom, my great patron saint of the East.

Lord Jesus, preserve in me the love and practice of this simplicity which, by keeping me humble, makes me more like you and draws and saves the souls of men.

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3 September, Season of Creation IV: The gift to be simple II.

Today is the feast of Gregory the Great, first pope of that name, who sent Augustine to Canterbury, arriving here in 597. He was inspired to establish the English mission when he came across young Saxons on sale in Rome’s market. Gregory was also a theologian and spiritual writer, here in his book Moralia (XXVIII 47), commenting on the Book of Job (12.4), where Job is answering his critics:

I am one mocked by his friends,
Who called on God, and He answered him,
The just and blameless who is ridiculed.

Window, St Thomas’ church, Canterbury, England.

Worldliness dictates to her followers to seek the high places of honour, to triumph in attaining the vain acquisition of temporal glory; to return manifold the mischiefs that others bring upon us; when the means are with us, to give way to no man’s opposition; when the opportunity of power is lacking, all whatsoever he cannot accomplish in wickedness to represent in the guise of peaceable good nature. 

On the other hand it is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought, to bear evil more gladly than to do it; to seek no revenging of a wrong, to account opprobrium for the Truth’s sake to be a gain.  But this simplicity of the righteous is ‘laughed to scorn,’ in that the goodness of purity is taken for folly with the wise men of this world.  For doubtless every thing that is done from innocency is accounted foolish by them, and whatever truth sanctions in practice sounds weak to carnal wisdom. 

For what seems worse folly to the world than to shew the mind by the words, to feign nothing by crafty contrivance, to return no abuse for wrong, to pray for them that speak evil of us, to seek after poverty, to forsake our possessions, not to resist him that is robbing us, to offer the other cheek to one that strikes us? 

Much of this passage could serve as a manifesto for Agnellus’ Mirror and for the Season of Creation:

It is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought.

We hope we live up to that, in the blog and in daily life.

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September 3: I was a chattel.

Today is the Feast of Saint Gregory the Great, who saw the Anglian slaves in the market of Rome, and sent Augustine to bring the Gospel to England, via Canterbury. Let’s imagine the experience of being sold into Slavery from John Buchan, writing in 1916, a few months before this window was made for Saint Thomas’ Church in that city. Slaves then and now were human!

I cannot describe that calm appraising look … I was a chattel, a thing infinitely removed from intimacy. Even so I have myself looked at a horse which I thought of buying, scanning his shoulders, hocks and paces. Even so must the old lords of Constantinople have looked at the slaves which the chances of war brought to their markets, assessing their usefulness for some task or other with no thought of a humanity common to purchaser and purchase.

John Buchan, Greenmantle, Ch 14.

Our next few posts will also be on slavery, using a manifesto published by John Wesley in 1774. A reflective response to Black Lives Matter.

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31 August: Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery II; the injustice.

St Gregory sees Anglian children at the Roman Slave Market c590.

Slavery might have been legal but that did not make it just. From the first paragraphs of Thoughts upon Slavery.

Slavery imports* an obligation of perpetual service, an obligation which only the consent of the master can dissolve… It generally gives the master an arbitrary power of any correction, not affecting life or limb. Sometimes even these are exposed to his will, or protected only by a fine, or some slight punishment, too inconsiderable to restrain a master of a harsh temper. It creates an incapacity of acquiring anything, except for the master’s benefit. It allows the master to alienate+ the same, in the same manner as his cows and horses. Lastly, it descends in its full extent from parent to child, even to the last generation.

The beginning of this may be dated from the remotest period of which we have an account in history. It commenced in the barbarous state of society, and in process of time spread into all nations. It prevailed particularly among the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the ancient Germans; and was transmitted by them to the various kingdoms and states which arose out of the Roman Empire. But after Christianity prevailed, it gradually fell into decline in almost all parts of Europe. This great change began in Spain, about the end of the eighth century; and was become general in most other kingdoms of Europe, before the middle of the fourteenth.

  • *i.e. implies.
  • + legally confiscate unto himself, so that the slave may own nothing.

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30 August: Wesley and slavery I: souls enslaved and neglected.

John Wesley spent some time in Georgia, where he was ministering at the time he received the letter mentioned here, in a note to Boswell’s Life of Johnson. He would have been able to see slavery in action for himself.

A gentleman, writing from Virginia to John Wesley, in 1735, about the need of educating the negro slaves in religion, says:—’Their masters generally neglect them, as though immortality was not the privilege of their souls in common with their own.’ Wesley’s Journal, II. 288.

Of course immortality is the privilege of any human being who chooses to accept it, but to enslave others by kidnapping them, or buying them from their abductors, is to deny their essential humanity. Teaching them the Good News would undermine the whole edifice of slavery.

We will be looking at some of Wesley’s thoughts on slavery in the coming days; we also have the feast of Saint Gregory on Thursday 3rd September, with some reflections on slavery by John Buchan.

The following posts will be based on Wesley’s Thoughts upon Slavery of 1774; these were based on a pamphlet Some Historical Accounts of Guinea, published in Philadelphia in 1771 by Anthony Benezet, an American Quaker.

Thoughts upon Slavery can be found here. The drawing depicts the Reverend John Wesley (1703-1791) at age 48. It comes from the  John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life, website,

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27 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VII: the reluctant pilgrim.

We owe to Venerable Bede, whose feast was the day before yesterday, the stories that bring Augustine of Canterbury alive. So far as we know, Bede (d.735) was a stay-at-home scholar and monk, who lived in monasteries around Sunderland but corresponded with popes and fellow scholars across  Europe. He perhaps understood some of Augustine’s great reluctance to leave Rome for England.

Despite his dilly-dallying, Augustine made it to Canterbury in 597, at the repeated and insistent order of Pope Gregory, following the invitation of King Ethelbert and his Christian wife, Bertha the Queen. She had taken over the old Roman church of Saint Martin on the edge of the city where her chaplain celebrated the Eucharist for her and her French entourage.

Now Augustine met Ethelbert a few miles away, near where Minster Abbey is today, the home of Sister Johanna, our writer.

Bede tells us:

they came endued with Divine, not with magic power, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board; and chanting litanies, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom and for whom they had come.

When they had sat down, in obedience to the king’s commands, and preached to him and his attendants  the Word of life, the king answered: “Your words and promises are fair, but because they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot consent to them so far as to forsake that which I have so long observed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far as strangers into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we desire not to harm you, but will give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with all things necessary to your sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.”

Accordingly he gave them an abode in the city of Canterbury, which was the metropolis of all his dominions, and, as he had promised, besides supplying them with sustenance, did not refuse them liberty to preach. It is told that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy cross, and the image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they sang in concert this litany: “We beseech thee, O Lord, for Thy great mercy, that Thy wrath and anger be turned away from this city, and from Thy holy house, for we have sinned. Hallelujah.”

Antonela’s picture shows Augustine baptising the King from a window in St Martin’s church. Bede’s text from Project Gutenberg.

 

 

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