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excerpt from

Moralia in Job

St. Gregory the Great

(Volume I Book X, 27-30)


Ver. 13, 14, 15.  If the iniquity which is in thine hand thou put far from thee, and wickedness dwell not in thy tabernacle, then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot, yea thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear.



27.  Now if we thoroughly wipe away these two, we then directly ‘lift our face without spot’ to God.  For the soul is the inner face of man, by which same we are known, that we may be regarded with love by our Maker.  Now it is to lift up this same face, to raise the soul in [al. ‘to’] God by appliance to the exercises of prayer.  But there is a spot that pollutes the uplifted face, when consciousness of its own guilt accuses the mind intent; for it is forthwith dashed from all confidence of hope, if when busied in prayer it be stung with recollection of sin not yet subdued.  For it distrusts its being able to obtain what it longs for, in that it bears in mind its still refusing to do what it has heard from God.  Hence it is said by John, Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask we shall receive of Him. [1 John 3, 21. 22.]  Hence Solomon saith, He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination. [Prov. 28, 9]  For our heart blames us in offering up our prayers, when it calls to mind that it is set in opposition to the precepts of Him, whom it implores, and the prayer becomes abomination, when there is a ‘turning away’ from the control of the law; in that verily it is meet that a man should be a stranger to the favours of Him, to Whose bidding he will not be subject.


28.  Wherein there is this salutary remedy, if when the soul reproaches itself upon the remembrance of sin, it first bewail that in prayer, wherein it has gone wrong, that whereas the stain of offences is washed away by tears, in offering up our prayers the face of the heart may be viewed unspotted by our Maker.  But we must be over and above on our guard, that the soul do not again fall away headlong to that, which it is overjoyed that it was washed away by tears; but whilst the sin that is deplored is again committed, those very lamentings be made light of in the eyes of the righteous Judge.  For we should call to mind what is said, Do not repeat a word of thy prayer; [Ecclus. 7, 14] by which same saying the wise man in no sort forbids us to beseech pardon oftentimes, but to repeat our sins.  As if it were expressed in plain words; ‘When thou hast bewailed thy misdoings, never again do any thing for thee to bewail again in prayer.’ 




29.  Therefore that ‘the face may be lifted up in prayer without spot,’ it behoves that before the seasons of prayer every thing that can possibly be reproved in the act of prayer be heedfully looked into, and that the mind when it stays from prayer as well should hasten to shew itself such, as it desires to appear to the Judge in the very season itself of prayer.  For we often harbour some impure or forbidden thoughts in the mind, when we are disengaged from our prayers.  And when the mind has lifted itself up to the exercises of prayer, being made to recoil, it is subject to images of the things whereby before it was burthened of free will whilst unemployed.  And the soul is now as it were without ability to lift up the face to God, in that the mind being blotted within, it blushes at the stains of polluted thought.  Oftentimes we are ready to busy ourselves with the concerns of the world, and when after such things we apply ourselves to the business of prayer, the mind cannot lift itself to heavenly things, in that the load of earthly solicitude has sunk it down below, and the face is not shewn pure in prayer, in that it is stained by the mire of grovelling imagination.


30.  However, sometimes we rid the heart of every encumbrance, and set ourselves against the forbidden motions thereof, even at such time as we are disengaged from prayer, yet because we ourselves commit sins but seldom, we are the more backward in letting go the offences of others, and in proportion as our mind the more anxiously dreads to sin, the more unsparingly it abhors the injuries done to itself by another; whence it is brought to pass that a man is found slow to grant pardon, in the same degree that by going on advancing, he has become heedful against the commission of sin.  And as he fears himself to transgress against another, he claims to punish the more severely the transgression that is done against himself.  But what can be discovered worse than this spot of bitterness [doloris], which in the sight of the Judge does not stain charity, but kills it outright?  For every sin stains the life of the soul, but bitterness maintained against our neighbour slays it; for it is fixed in the soul like a sword, and the very hidden parts of the bowels are gored by the point thereof; and if it be not first drawn out of the pierced heart, no whit of divine aid is won in prayer.  For the medicines of health cannot be applied to the wounded limbs, unless the iron be first withdrawn from the wound, Hence it is that ‘Truth’ saith by Itself, If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father Which is in Heaven forgive you your trespasses. [Matt. 6, 15.]  Hence He enjoins, saying, And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any. [Mark 11, 25]  Hence He saith again, Give, and it shall be given unto you; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. [Luke 6, 38]  Hence to the form of petition, He affixed the condition of pity; saying, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us: [Matt. 6, 12] that truly the good which we beg from God being pierced with compunction, we first do with our neighbour, being altered by conversion.  Therefore we then truly ‘lift our face without spot,’ when we neither commit forbidden misdeeds, nor retain those which have been committed against ourselves from jealous regard for self; for in the hour of prayer our soul is overwhelmed with sore dismay, if either its practice still continue to pollute it, or bitterness kept for the injuring of another lay charge against it; which two when anyone has cleansed away, he forthwith arises free to the things which are subjoined, Yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear, in that doubtless he fears the Judge the less, the more stedfast he stands in good deeds.  For he gets the mastery of fears, who retains possession of stedfastness, in that whilst he anxiously busies himself to do what our Creator tenderly enjoins, he bethinks himself in security of that which He threatens with terribleness.