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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On the Feast of St Gregory the Great (My Name Day)

Carlo Saracini - St Gregory the Great (c. 1610)
My parents named me Gregory not out of devotion for any saint - they were and are Evangelical Protestants - but because they liked the sound of it.  It was only after I started studying Christian history and theology that I discovered the plethora of significant "Gregory's" in our past - Gregory
Thaumaturgus, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Pope Gregory the Great, whose feast day we celebrate today.

As a scholar whose work focuses mainly on Greek Patristic thought, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa both play an important role in my life and work.  But it is on Pope Gregory the Great's feast day that I celebrate my Name Day.

Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) was, first and foremost, a monk who yearned to devote his life to prayer and asceticism.  But his desire for a life of prayer was continually frustrated, first by Pope Pelagius II who sent him to Byzantium as his ambassador and later when he was elected as pope.  Gregory is known primarily as the pope who ushered in the medieval papacy, but I'm more attracted to Gregory the pastor, the bishop who struggled to shepherd a flock suffering from plague, famine, and invasion.

And it's his Liber Regulae Pastoralis, his book on pastoral care, that remains his most famous work, and one I've found both moving and challenging.  I thought for this, Gregory's feast day and my name day, I'd provide a very brief excerpt from the book, and I've chosen a section from near the beginning in which Gregory writes about those who do not put into practice that which they teach.  As a theologian and a teacher, I find myself continually reminded of the import of Gregory's words about teaching, and convicted by them.  They're worth remembering as we commemorate St Gregory - patron saint of teachers - today:
There are some who investigate spiritual precepts with shrewd diligence, but in the life they live trample on what they have penetrated by their understanding.  They hasten to teach what they have learned, not by practice, but by study, and belie in their conduct what they teach by words. 
Sancte Gregori, ora pro nobis.

P.S. You can read a longer excerpt from Liber Regulae Pastoralis here.

Painting is from the Web Gallery of Art (www.wga.hu)

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