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Monday, 11 March 2013

Part 76: DoC and Perfection: Gregory the Great

I am sad that I cannot spend more time on the amazing and prolific Gregory. I only will have three references here on this blog. I am pressed for time to finish the entire series within the next two months, so I am truncating the number of posts on Gregory and Leo, who I shall start tomorrow.

This has nothing to do with favoritism (although you all know I favor Bernard of Clairvaux) but merely with time. Like an excellent teacher, I would rather look at all in a cursory manner rather than skip any of these great Doctors of the Church.

I am using Gregory to remind us of hell and purgatory. This idea of purgatory is essential to the ideal of perfection. We know, through this series, that those who are imperfect do no go to heaven. This logically leads to the idea of either a purgation in life, as part of the steps to perfection, or a purgation after death, which the Church calls "purgatory".

Now, one can ask God to be purified while on earth, and for those seeking perfection, that to which we are all called, this is a good. For those who are not inclined to do so, the purification necessary will happen after one dies.

Here is the Great Doctor on this subject: my comments are in blue. From the Dialogues:

Chapter Thirty-Nine: whether there be any fire of purgatory in the next world.
GREGORY. Our Lord saith in the Gospel: Walk whiles you have the light:61 and by his Prophet he saith: In time accepted have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I holpen thee:62 which the Apostle St. Paul expounding, saith: Behold, |233 now is the time acceptable; behold, now the day of salvation.63 Solomon, likewise, saith: Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, work it instantly: for neither work, nor reason, nor knowledge, nor wisdom shall be in hell, whither thou dost hasten.64 David also saith: Because his mercy is for ever.65 By which sayings it is plain, that in such state as a man departeth out of this life, in the same he is presented in judgment before God. But yet we must believe that before the day of judgment there is a Purgatory fire for certain small sins: because our Saviour saith, that he which speaketh blasphemy against the holy Ghost, that it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.66 Out of which sentence we learn, that some sins are forgiven in this world, and some other may be pardoned in the next: for that which is denied concerning one sin, is consequently understood to be granted touching some other. But yet this, as I said, we have not to believe but only concerning little and very small sins, as, for example, daily idle talk, immoderate laughter, negligence in the care of our family (which kind of offences scarce can they avoid, that know in what sort sin is to be shunned), ignorant errors in matters of no great weight: all which sins be punished after death, if men procured not pardon and remission for them in their lifetime:

We have lost the sense of sin. Most people make excuses for gossip, sloth, greed, wasting time. Such things as the lack of almsgiving to the poor has been overtaken by the evil of socialism. Without conversion, metanoia, real change and sorrow, we shall not enter heaven at death. Quite the contrary

for when St. Paul saith, that Christ is the foundation: and by and by addeth: And if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble: the work of every one, of what kind it is, the fire shall try. If any man's work abide which he built thereupon, he shall receive reward; if any mans work burn, he shall suffer detriment, but himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.67 For although these words may be understood of the fire of tribulation, which men suffer in this world: yet if any will interpret them of the fire of Purgatory, which |234 shall be in the next life: then must he carefully consider, that the Apostle said not that he may be saved by fire, that buildeth upon this foundation iron, brass, or lead, that is, the greater sort of sins, and therefore more hard, and consequently not remissible in that place: but wood, hay, stubble, that is, little and very light sins, which the fire doth easily consume. Yet we have here further to consider, that none can be there purged, no, not for the least sins that be, unless in his lifetime he deserved by virtuous works to find such favour in that place.

One of the great evils of our time, and I must say, since Vatican II, being old enough to remember pre-Vatican II habits and sermons, has been the lessening of the sense of sin.

Many adults I know refuse to admit they are sinning. Mortal sin separates one from God and, indeed, from heaven. Venial sins weaken the will and worse, stand in the way of purification, stopping the life of the virtues and causing a sliding into a state of mediocrity.

Do not lie to yourselves. Only the perfect see God. The experience of being face to face with Beauty, Innocence, Truth and Goodness will cause more pain than one can imagine.

Every small imperfection will be seen as an affront, an insult to God, as well as the creatures against whom you have sinned.
Chapter Forty: of the soul of Paschasius the Deacon.68
For when I was yet in my younger years, and lived.a secular life, I heard from the mouth of mine elders, who knew it to be true: how that Paschasius, a Deacon of this Roman church (whose sound and eloquent books of the holy Ghost be extant amongst us), was a man of a wonderful holy life, a marvellous giver of alms, a lover of the poor, and one that contemned himself. This man, in that contention which, through the exceeding hot emulation of the clergy, fell out betwixt Symmachus and Lawrence, made choice of Lawrence to be Bishop of Rome: and though he was afterward by common consent overcome, yet did he continue in his former opinion till his dying day: loving and preferring him, whom the Church, by the judgment of Bishops, refused for her governor. This Deacon ending his life in the time of Symmachus, Bishop of the Apostolic see: a man possessed with a devil came and touched his dalmatic, as it lay upon the bier, and was forthwith delivered from that vexation. Long time after, Germanus, Bishop of Capua (before mentioned), by the counsel of physicians, for the recovery of his health went to the baths: into which after he was entered, he found there standing in those hot waters the foresaid Paschasius, ready to do him service. At which |235 sight being much afraid, he demanded what so worthy a man as he was did in that place: to whom Paschasius returned this answer: "For no other cause," quoth he, "am I appointed to this place of punishment, but for that I took part with Lawrence against Symmachus: and therefore I beseech you to pray unto our Lord for me, and by this token shall you know that your prayers be heard, if, at your coming again, you find me not here." Upon this, the holy man Germanus betook himself to his devotions, and after a few days he went again to the same baths, but found not Paschasius there: for seeing his fault proceeded not of malice, but of ignorance, he might after death be purged from that sin. And yet we must withal think that the plentiful alms which he bestowed in this life, obtained favour at God's hands, that he might then deserve pardon, when he could work nothing at all for himself.


As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come

For this supposedly small thing, a holy man suffered until another one prayed for his release.

Do not take for granted that you will not go to a place of purgation.

Now, goodbye to Gregory, and on, tomorrow, to Leo I.