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St Gregory the Great 

(From Moralia in Job - Book VIII )


80.  Hence ‘Truth’ saith by the Psalmist, It is vain for you to rise up before the light: rise up after ye have sat. [Ps. 127, 2. Vulg.]  For ‘to: rise up before the light’ is to take one's pleasure in the night-time of the present life, before the shining of Eternal Retribution is revealed.  So we are to sit first, that we may rise afterwards in a right way.  For whoever doth not now humble himself by his own act and deed, the glory to ensue does not exalt such an one.  Therefore what it is there to rise before the light, it is here for the hypocrite to put forth the produce in his springing up, for in setting his heart on human applauses, in the self-same place, where he springs up to good works, there he desires directly to obtain the glorying of his recompense.  Had not they ‘put forth their produce in their springing up,’ of whom ‘Truth’ said, They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men Rabbi? [Matt. 23, 6, 7]  Therefore seeing that for this reason, viz. because they are beginning to do well, they endeavour to obtain honour of men, as it were, like a rush, ‘in their springing up they rise with their produce.’  These same, whilst they aim to practise right things, first anxiously look about for witnesses of those same works, and canvass with secret calculation, if there be persons to see the things they are about to do, or if those who see them can report them in a proper way.  But if it chance to happen that no one witnesses their doings, then, surely, they reckon them to be lost to them, and they account the eyes of the interior Umpire as off them, because they have no mind to receive at His hands the reward of their works hereafter.  And whereas when the hypocrite does any thing, he aims to be seen by many eyes, it is yet further added with truth concerning this same ‘rush,’

Ver. 17.  His roots will be wrapped about the heap of rocks, and he will dwell among the stones.




81.  For what do we understand by the name of ‘roots’ save the hidden thoughts, which issue forth out of sight, but rise up in the display of works in open day?  as it is also said by the Prophet concerning the seed of the Word, And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. [Is. 37, 31]  For to ‘take root downward,’ is to multiply good thoughts in the secret depths, but ‘to bear fruit upward,’ is to shew forth by the doing of practice what one has thought that is right.  Now by the title of ‘stones’ in Holy Writ men are denoted, as it is said to Holy Church by Isaiah, And I will make thy battlements jasper, and thy gates of carved stones. [Is. 54, 12]  And he made it plain what it was that he called those stones, where he added, All thy children taught of the Lord.  As it is also expressed by Peter in giving admonition, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house. [1 Pet. 2, 5]  Here therefore, whereas they are called ‘stones,’ but are not in any wise called ‘living stones,’ by the bare appellation of stones may be set forth the lost and the Elect mixed together.  Therefore this rush, ‘which abideth in the place of stones, wrappeth his roots about the heap of rocks,’ in that every hypocrite multiplies the thoughts of his heart, in seeking out the admiration of men; for in all that hypocrites do, seeing that in their secret thoughts they look out for the applauses of their fellow-creatures, like rushes as it were they ‘send out roots into the heap of the rocks.’  For on the point of acting they imagine their praises, and when applauded, they dwell upon them secretly with themselves in the thoughts of their heart.  They rejoice that they have distinguished themselves first and foremost in the esteem of men; and while they are puffed up and swoln in themselves by their applause, they often themselves secretly wonder at what they are.  They long to appear day by day higher than themselves, and grow to a height by extraordinary arts in practice.  For as habits of virtue enfeeble every thing bad, so presumption strengthens the same.  For it forces the mind to grow quick, and to be in high condition at the expense of strength, in that what the prime quality of health withholds, the love of applause enjoins.  Whence too, as we said, they look out for witnesses of their deeds; but if, it chance that witnesses of the thing are wanting, they themselves relate what they have done, and when they begin to be elated with applause, they add a little, by lying, to these works of theirs, which they describe themselves to have done.  But even when they do give true accounts, by the act of telling them they are making them alien to them, in that when they are rewarded with the desired acknowledgments of esteem, they are dispossessed of their inward recompensing of them.


82.  For in this, that they publish their good, they point out to the evil spirits, like enemies plotting against them, what to make spoil of.  Whose life, truly, is represented by that sin of Hezekiah, which is well known to everyone, who after that by a single prayer, and in the space of a single night, he had laid low an hundred fourscore and five thousand of his enemies, by an Angel smiting them, after that he had brought back the sun close to its setting into the higher regions of the heavens, after that he had spun out the web of life to longer dimensions, now already narrowed by the end approaching, shewed to the welcomed messengers of the king of Babylon all the good treasures that he possessed, but directly heard from the voice of the Prophet, Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house shall be carried away into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. [2 Kings 20, 17]  In this way, in this self-same way, do hypocrites, after they are grown to a height by great attainments in virtue, because they are indifferent to guard against the plots of evil spirits, and will not remain hidden in those attainments, by displaying their good things, make them over to the enemy; and by betraying it to view, they lose in a moment whatsoever they perform by taking pains in a long course of time.  Hence it is said by the Psalmist, And He delivered their strength into captivity, and their glory into the enemy's hand. [Ps. 78, 61]  For the ‘strength’ and ‘glory’ of presumptuous men is ‘given over into the enemy's hand,’ in that every good thing, that is exhibited in the desire of praise, is made over to our secret adversary's right of possession; for he calls his enemies to the spoil, who reveals his treasures to their knowledge; since so long as we are severed from the safety of the Eternal Land, we are walking along a way until robbers lying in wait.  He then that dreads to be robbed on the road, must of necessity bide the treasures that he carries.  O wretched beings, who by going after the praises of men, waste to themselves all the fruits of their labours, and whilst they aim to shew themselves to the eyes of others, blast all that they do.  Which same when the evil spirits prompt to boastfulness, taking them for a prey they strip bare their works, as we have said.  Whence ‘Truth’ in setting forth by the Prophet the rancour of our old enemies, under the form of a particular people, saith, He hath laid my vineyard waste, and barked my fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and despoiled [V. so.] it; the branches thereof are made white. [Joel 1, 7]  For by spirits lying in wait the vineyard of God is made a desert, when the soul that is replenished with fruits is wasted with the longing after the praise of men.  That people barks the fig-tree of God, in that carrying away the misguided soul in the appetite for applause, in the degree that it draws her on to ostentation, it strips her of the covering of humility, and ‘making it clean bare despoils it,’ in that so long as it is withdrawn from sight in its goodness, it is as it were clothed with the bark of its own covering.  But when the mind longs for that it has done to be seen by others, it is as though ‘the fig-tree despoiled’ had lost the bark that covered it.  And it is properly added there, The branches thereof are made white; in that his works being displayed to the eyes of men, turn ,white; a name for sanctity is gotten, when right practice is made appear, but whereas upon the bark being removed, the branches of this fig-tree wither, it is to be observed with due discrimination that the deeds of presumptuous men, when they are paraded before human eyes, by the same act whereby they aim to win favour, are rendered dry and sapless.  Therefore the mind that is shewn to view in boasting is rightly called a fig-tree barked, in that it is at once white, in so far as it is seen, and within a little of withering, in so far as it is denuded of the covering of the bark.  The things we do, therefore, are to be kept within, if we expect to receive from the Umpire within the recompense of our work.  It is hence that ‘Truth’ saith in the Gospel, But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret;  and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. [Matt. 6, 3. 4.]  It is hence that it is said of the Church of the Elect by the Psalmist, The king's daughter is all glorious within. [Ps. 45, 13]  Hence Paul saith, For our glory [V. so.] is this, the testimony of our conscience. [2 Cor. 1, 12]  For the king's daughter is the Church, which is begotten in good practice by the preaching of spiritual Princes.  But ‘her glory is within,’ in that what she does she holds not for the boasting of outward display.  Paul describes his ‘glory’ as ‘the testimony of his conscience,’ in that not aiming at the applause of another's man's lips, he knows no such thing as placing the satisfactions of his life out of himself.


83.  Therefore the things that we do must be kept concealed, lest by carrying them negligently on the journey of the present life, we lose them, through the invasion of the spirits that hunt for spoil.  And yet ‘Truth’ saith, Let them see your good works, that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven. [Matt. 5, 16]  But assuredly it is one thing when in the display of our works the glory of the Giver is our aim, and quite another when our own praise is the thing sought for in the gift of His bounty.  And hence again in the Gospel the same ‘Truth’ saith, Take heed that ye do not your works before men, to be seen of them.  Therefore when our works are displayed to men, we must first weigh well, in entering into the heart, what is aimed at by the prosecution of such display.  For if we make the glory of the Giver our end, even our works that are made public we keep hidden in His sight.  But if we desire to win our own applause by them, they are thenceforth cast out of His sight without, even though they be known nothing of by numbers.


84.  Now it belongs to those that are exceeding perfect, so to seek the glory of their Maker by the works shewn, as not to know what it is to exult in self-congratulation upon the praise bestowed upon them.  For then only is a praiseworthy work displayed to men without harm, when the praise awarded is genuinely trodden under in the mind's contempt.  Which same as the weak sort do not perfectly get above in contemning it, it remains of necessity that they keep out of sight the good that they do.  For often from the very first beginning of the display, they seek their own praise.  And often in the displaying of their works, they desire to publish the gloriousness of the Creator, but being received with applause, they are carried off into desire of their own praise.  And whilst they neglect to call themselves to account within, being dissipated without, they do not know what they do, and their work ministers to their pride, and they fancy that they are rendering it in the service of the Giver.  Thus ‘a rush abideth among the stones,’ in that the hypocrite stands there, where he sets fast the purpose of his mind.  For whilst he goes about to get the testimony of numbers, he takes his stand, as it were, in the heap of stones.  But the same hypocrite that is represented by the designation of ‘a rush,’ whilst he brings his body under by abstinence, whilst by bestowing in alms all that he possesses, he spends himself in efforts of pity, whilst he gets instruction in the knowledge of the sacred Law, whilst he employs the word of preaching; who that beheld him so filled with bounty, would account him a stranger to the grace of the Giver?  And yet the Hand of heavenly Dispensation vouchsafes to him the gifts of works, and withholds the lot of the inheritance.  It lavishes endowments for working, yet disowns the life of the worker.  For when the gift vouchsafed is applied toward his own praise, in the eye of the interior Light, he is darkened by the shadow of pride.