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On the Gospel
Given to the People in the Basilica of SS. Marcellinus and Peter
St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(PL 76, 1095 - 1099.)
1. We have here to ask, dearest brethren, why John a prophet, and now more than a prophet, who had testified to the Lord as He came to the baptism of the Jordan, saying: Behold the Iamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world (Jn. i. 29); and who regarding both His humility and the power of His divinity, declared: He that is of the earth, of the earth he speaketh. He that cometh from Heaven, is above all (Jn. iii. 31), now in prison, sending his disciples, enquired: Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another? 

As if he knew not Him whom he himself had pointed out; as if he now were ignorant of Him Whom he had himself proclaimed by prophesying concerning Him, by baptizing Him, by pointing Him out to others. But this question is quickly solved if both the time and the order of the event be considered. By the waters of the Jordan he had asserted that He was the Redeemer of the world; now, thrown into prison, he enquires if He is to come, not because he doubts that He is the Redeemer of the world, but he seeks to learn whether He Who, of His own will, came into the world, will also, of His own will, descend into hell? He who, by going before Him, had announced Him to the world, the same, now dying, goes down before Him into hell. 

He says therefore: Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another? As if to say: since for men Thou hast deigned to be born, will You also deign for men to undergo death so that I who have been the Precursor of Thy Birth, may also become the Precursor of Thy Death: to announce Thee as about to descend into hell, as already I have announced Thee as come into this world?  And the Lord being thus asked, having first given manifest proofs of His power forthwith answers in words that foreshadow also the abjection of His own death; saying: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me. 

Who could not be astonished rather than scandalised at the sight of so many signs and wonders? But the mind of the unbelieving suffered grievous scandal in Him, when after so many miracles they saw Him dying. Whence Paul has said: We preach Christ Crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness (I Cor. i. 23). For to men it did indeed seem foolish, that the Author of life should die for men: and so man has taken scandal at Him, whence he ought rather to become yet more His debtor. For the more He has borne indignities for men, the more fittingly is God to be honoured of men. 

What then does He mean by the words: Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me, if not to signify clearly the abjection and lowliness of His own death? As if He were openly to say: I indeed work wonders, but I disdain not to endure humiliations. Because, however, I shall go thy way to death, men must take care not to despise Me in death, who now honour Me because of these wonders. 

2. The disciples of John going their way, let us hear what He says to the multitude concerning the same John. What went you out into the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind? Here He reproves them, not by asserting, but by denying something. Scarcely does the breath of a breeze touch a reed, when it bends the other way. And what is here meant by a reed unless a worldly human soul? Which, as soon as it is touched either by praise, or by detraction, is immediately inclined whatsoever way you will. 

For if the wind of acclaim from a human mouth should caress it, it rejoices, it is lifted up, and bends itself over in gratitude. But should the wind of detraction blow from whence has already come the breath of praise, it immediately bends again the other way, yielding to the force of the storm. But John was no reed shaken by the wind, for he was neither flattered by praise, nor angered by detraction. Neither did prosperity uplift him, nor adversity cast him down. A reed shaken by the wind John was not, but a man whom no change of circumstances would turn aside from his path. Let us also learn, my dearest Brethren, not to be as reeds, shaken by the winds. Let us keep firm of soul amid the varying winds of mensí tongues; let our minds be steadfast. Neither let detraction provoke us to anger; and let no favour move us to bestow some harmful gift. Let good fortune not exalt us, nor adversity cause us unrest of soul, so that anchored to the security of faith, we may in no way be moved by the insecurity of temporal things. 

3. Our Saviour continues to praise Johnís austerity: But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. John is described as being clothed in a garment of camel hair. And what means, behold they that are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings, unless that he openly makes it plain that they fight not for a heavenly but for an earthly kingdom, who in Godís service ever shun what is painful, give themselves over solely to outward things, and seek the soft things and the delights of this life. 

Let no one believe that sin can ever be absent from soft living. and from the love of precious clothing. Because if there were no fault in it, Our Lord would scarcely have praised John for the austerity of his clothing. If there were no fault, neither would the Apostle Peter have reproved women in his Epistle for this very desire for precious garments, saying: not in costly attire (I Pet. iii. 2; I Tim. ii. 9). Consider then, what fault there may be should men also seek for the things from which the Pastor of the church has said that even women should abstain. 

4. That John is said not to be clothed in soft garments can be interpreted in yet another way. He was not clothed in soft garments, because he did not condone with flattery the conduct of those who lived in sin, but rather upbraided them in bitter words, saying: Ye brood of vipers who hath showed you to flee from the wrath to come? (Lk. iii. 7.) Whence Solomon also has said: The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened in (Eccles. xii. 11). The words of the wise are compared to nails, and likewise to goads, because they do not caress, but pierce the follies of sinners. 

5. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea, I tell you and more than a prophet. It is the prophetís office to foretell future events, not also to point them out. For this reason John was more than a prophet, because Him, of Whom he had prophesied, going before Him, he also pointed out, showing Him to his own disciples. Since it is denied that he is a reed shaken by the wind, since he is said not to be clothed in soft garments, since the name of prophet is inadequate to him, let us hear what then may fittingly be affirmed of him. 

6. It follows on: This is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my Angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee (Mal. iii. i). That which is called angelus in Greek, is in Latin messenger (nuntius). Fittingly therefore is he called Angel, who is sent to announce the Heavenly Judge; so that he may be in name that which he fulfils in his office. Exalted indeed is his name; but his life was no less exalted than his name. 

7. Would, my dear Brethren, that we say not this to our own condemnation, namely: that all who are called by the name of priest, are also named as angels, as the prophet testifies; saying: For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth: because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts (Mal. ii. 7). 

You likewise can reach to the sublimity of this name, if you so wish. For each one among you, in as far as he is able, in as far as he responds to the grace of the heavenly invitation, should he recall his neighbour from evildoing; should he seek to encourage him in doing what is good; when he reminds him of the eternal kingdom, or of the punishment of wrong-doers; whenever he employs words of holy import, he is indeed an angel. And let no one say: I am not capable of giving warning; I am not a fit person to exhort others. Do what you can, lest your single talent, unprofitably employed, be required of you with punishment. For he that had received no more than one talent was careful to bury it in the earth, rather than put it to profit. (Mt. xxv.) 

We read that in the Tabernacle of God there were not alone golden drinking goblets but, at the command of the Lord, there also were made ladles, or spoons, for filling the drinking vessels. For the goblets here understand fulness of holy doctrine, for the ladles a small and restricted acquaintance with doctrine. One person being filled with the doctrine of sacred truth, inebriates the minds of those that hear him. Through what he says he perfectly fills the cup. Another knows that he cannot give fulness, but because he gives warnings as best he can, he truly offers a taste from his ladle! 

You, therefore, who live in the Tabernacle of the Lord, that is, in the Holy Church, if you cannot fill up the goblets with the teachings of holy wisdom, as well then as you can, as far as the divine bounty has endowed you, give to your neighbours spoonfuls of the good word! 

And when you consider that you have yourself made some little progress, draw others along with you; seek to make comrades on the road to God. Should one among you, Brethren, stroll out towards the forum or the baths, he will invite a friend whom he thinks is not busy to keep him company. This simple action of our ordinary life is pleasant to you, and if it be that you are going towards God, give a thought not to journey alone. Hence it is written: He that heareth, let him say: come (Apoc. xxii. 17); so let him who heard in his heart the invitation of divine love, pass on to his neighbours around about him, the message of the invitation. And though a man may not have even bread wherewith to give an alms to the hungry; yet, what is still more precious, he is able to give who possesses but a tongue. For it is a greater thing to strengthen with the nourishment of a word that will feed the mind for ever, than to fill with earthly bread a stomach of perishable flesh. 

Do not, my dearest Brethren, withhold from your brother the charity of a word. I admonish myself with you, that we abstain from every idle word, that we turn away from useless chatter. In as far as you are able to overcome the tongue, scatter not your words to the wind, since our Judge has said: Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. (Mt. xii. 36.) 

An idle word is one that is spoken without any profit in uprightness, or that is uttered without grounds of sufficient need. Direct your idle conversation towards a fondness for what will edify; think how quickly the days of your life are passing; recall how stern is the Judge Who is coming. Keep this counsel before the eyes of your soul; bring it to mind of your neighbour, so that, as far as in you lies, you may not fail to warn him, and so you also may with John, merit to be called angels, by Him Who liveth and reigneth world without end, Amen.