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St. Gregory the Great

excerpt from

Moralia in Job

Book XXXI, xlv.

[On the capital sins and their relation to one another.]


Job 39:25b  The exhortation of the captains, and the howling of the army.

87.  For the tempting vices, which fight against us in invisible contest in behalf of the pride which reigns over them, some of them go first, like captains, others follow, after the manner of an army.  For all faults do not occupy the heart with equal access.  But while the greater and the few surprise a neglected mind, the smaller and the numberless pour themselves upon it in a whole body.  For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste.  And an army in truth follows these generals, because, doubtless, there spring up from them importunate hosts of sins.  Which we set forth the better, if we specially bring forward in enumeration, as we are able, the leaders themselves and their army.  For pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness; Pride is the beginning of all sin. [Ecclus. 10, 1]  But seven principal vices, as its first progeny, spring doubtless from this poisonous root, namely, vain glory, envy, anger, melancholy, avarice, gluttony, lust.  For, because He grieved that we were held captive by these seven sins of pride, therefore our Redeemer came to the spiritual battle of our liberation full of the spirit of sevenfold grace.

88.  But these several sins have each their army against us.  For from vain glory there arise disobedience, boasting, hypocrisy, contentions, obstinacies, discords, and the presumptions of novelties.  From envy there spring hatred, whispering, detraction, exultation at the misfortunes of a neighbour, and affliction at his prosperity.  From anger are produced strifes, swelling of mind, insults, clamour, indignation, blasphemies.  From melancholy there arise malice, rancour, cowardice, despair, slothfulness in fulfilling the commands, and a wandering of the mind on unlawful objects.  From avarice there spring treachery, fraud, deceit, perjury, restlessness, violence, and hardnesses of heart against compassion.  From gluttony are propagated foolish mirth, scurrility, uncleanness, babbling, dulness of sense in understanding.  From lust are generated blindness of mind, inconsiderateness, inconstancy, precipitation, self-love, hatred of God, affection for this present world, but dread or despair of that which is to come.  Because, therefore, seven principal vices produce from themselves so great a multitude of vices, when they reach the heart, they bring, as it were the bands of an army after them.  But of these seven, five namely are spiritual, and two are carnal.

89.  But they are, each of them, so closely connected with other, that they spring only the one from the other.  For the first offspring of pride is vain glory, and this, when it hath corrupted the oppressed mind, presently begets envy.  Because doubtless while it is seeking the power of an empty name, it feels envy against any one else being able to obtain it.  Envy also generates anger; because the more the mind is pierced by the inward wound of envy, the more also is the gentleness of tranquillity lost.  And because a suffering member, as it were, is touched, the hand of opposition is therefore felt as if more heavily impressed.  Melancholy also arises from anger, because the more extravagantly the agitated mind strikes itself, the more it confounds itself by condemnation; and when it has lost the sweetness of tranquillity, nothing supports it but the grief resulting from agitation.  Melancholy also runs down into avarice; because when the disturbed heart has lost the satisfaction of joy within, it seeks for sources of consolation without, and is more anxious to possess external goods, the more it has no joy on which to fall back within.  But after these, there remain behind two carnal vices, gluttony and lust.  But it is plain to all that lust springs from gluttony, when in the very distribution of the members, the genitals appear placed beneath the belly.  And hence when the one is inordinately pampered, the other is doubtless excited to wantonness.

90.  But the leaders are well said to exhort, the armies to howl, because the first vices force themselves into the deluded mind as if under a kind of reason, but the countless vices which follow, while they hurry it on to every kind of madness, confound it, as it were, by bestial clamour.  For vain glory is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, Thou oughtest to aim at greater things, that, as thou hast been able to surpass many in power, thou mayest be able to benefit many also.  Envy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, In what art thou inferior to this or that person? why then art thou not either equal or superior to them?  What great things art thou able to do, which they are not able to do!  They ought not then to be either superior, or even equal, to thyself.  Anger is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, The things that are done to thee cannot be borne patiently; nay rather, patiently to endure them is a sin; because if thou dost not withstand them with great indignation, they are afterwards heaped upon thee without measure.  Melancholy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart as if with reason, when it says, What ground hast thou to rejoice, when thou endurest so many wrongs from thy neighbour?  Consider with what sorrow all must be looked upon, who are turned in such gall of bitterness against thee.  Avarice also is wont to exhort the conquered mind, as if with reason, when it says, It is a very blameless thing, that thou desirest some things to possess; because thou seekest not to be increased, but art afraid of being in want; and that which another retains for no good, thou thyself expendest to better purpose.  Gluttony is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, God has created all things clean, in order to be eaten, and he who refuses to fill himself with food, what else does he do but gainsay the gift that has been granted him.  Lust also is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, why enlargest thou not thyself now in thy pleasure, when thou knowest not what may follow thee?  Thou oughtest not to lose in longings the time thou hast received; because thou knowest not how speedily it may pass by.  For if God had not wished man to be united in the pleasure of coition, He would not, at the first beginning of the human race, have made them male and female.  This is the exhortation of leaders, which, when incautiously admitted into the secresy of the heart, too familiarly persuades to wrong.  And this a howling army in truth follows, because when the hapless soul, once captured by the principal vices, is turned to madness by multiplied iniquities, it is now laid waste with brutal cruelty.

91.  But the soldier of God, since he endeavours skilfully to pursue the contests with vices, smells the battle afar off; because while he considers, with anxious thought, what power the leading evils possess to persuade the mind, he detects, by the sagacity of his scent, the exhortation of the leaders.  And because he beholds the confusion of subsequent iniquities by foreseeing them afar off, he finds out, as it were, by his scent the howling of the army.

Because, then, we have learned, that either the preacher of God, or any soldier in the spiritual contest, is described in the account of the horse, let us now behold the same person under the signification of a bird; that we, who have learned his strength by the horse, may learn his contemplation also by the bird.  For since we have heard in the description of the greatness of the horse, how much a holy man endures through patience against the assaults of vices, let us now learn by the appearance of birds, how high he soars by contemplation.  It follows;

Ver. 26  Doth the hawk get feathers by thy wisdom, stretching her wings toward the South?