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"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)


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The Book of Pastoral Care: Part I, Chapter 11

Concerning what sort of person should NOT come to a position of spiritual leadership

By Pope St Gregory the Great


Accordingly, everyone should gauge himself so that he dare not assume the place of spiritual leadership, while vice that leads to damnation continues to reign in him, or else the one who is corrupted by his own crimes will strive to become an intercessor for the sins of others.

Wherefore, it was said to Moses from the voice on high: “Speak to Aaron: ‘Whoever of your seed throughout your progeny has a blemish, that one may not offer bread to the Lord his God, nor may he approach the ministry’.” Afterwards, it is immediately added: “If he is blind, if he is lame, if he has a tiny or a great and crooked nose, if he has a broken foot or hand, if he is hunchbacked, or bleary-eyed, or if he has a white speck in his eye, or a continual rash or a skin disease or a rupture of the body [he may not serve].” (Leviticus 21:17-21)

Indeed, a man is “blind” if he is ignorant of the light of heavenly contemplation because he is oppressed by the darkness of the present life. When he perceives the coming light, he does not value it and, as a result, does not know how to improve his conduct. Wherefore, it was said to the prophetess Anna: “He will keep the feet of his saints and the impious will be silent in darkness.” (1 Samuel 2:9)

Likewise, a man is “lame” if he sees the way that he ought to go but through the infirmity of intention is unable to keep perfectly the way of life that he sees because, having unstable habits, he cannot rise to the state of virtue and so his conduct is unable to follow the direction that he desires. Wherefore, Paul says: “Lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths with your feet, so that what is lame might not be dislocated, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

But a man has a “small nose” if he is incapable of [spiritual] discernment. Indeed, the nose discerns the difference between a sweet smell and a stench. Rightly, therefore, the nose symbolizes discernment, whereby we choose virtue and reproach sin. And so it is said in praise of the bride [the Church]: “Your nose is like the tower, which is in Lebanon.” (Cant. 7:4)

For indeed, the holy Church perceives through discernment the coming trials from individual causes and discovers from her lofty vantage point the coming wars of vice. For there are some who do not wish to be thought dull, so they often busy themselves with an unnecessary number of investigations and are deceived by an excessiveness of intrigue. Thus the additional warning: “A great and crooked nose.”

“A great and crooked nose,” indeed, must be an immoderate craftiness in drawing conclusions – when this occurs excessively; it confuses its proper function.

A man has a “broken hand or foot,” then, if he is entirely unable to walk the path of God and completely lacks good deeds. In fact, he is not like the lame man who, because of his infirmity, lacks them partially; instead he lacks them entirely.

The “hunchback,” then, is one who feels the burden of worldly cares to such an extent that he never looks up to what is lofty but instead focuses entirely upon what is tread upon at the most base level. For this one, whenever he hears something good about the kingdom of heaven, is so weighed down by the burden of perverse habit that he does not raise the face of his heart because he cannot raise the posture of his thought, which the habit of earthly care keeps face down. Indeed, these are the kind of men about whom the psalmist spoke: “I am bowed down and brought low continually.” (Psalms 37:3)

Their fault the Truth also reproached in person, saying: “And the seeds that fell among the thorns are those who when they hear the Word go forth suffocated by the cares, riches, and pleasures of life and do not bear fruit.” (St Luke 8:14)

The “bleary-eyed” refers to a man who naturally springs toward the knowledge of truth but whose carnal deeds obscure that truth. For in the bleary-eyed, the pupils of the eyes are healthy but the eyelids become gross from the lack of moisture and are worn away by frequent strain so that the pupils lose their sharpness. And there are some whose senses are weakened by the works of the carnal life. [In other words], they are able to see naturally what is proper but their vision has been darkened by bad habits.

The bleary-eyed, then is one who exhibits a natural sense but whose evil habits have confounded it. To such a one, it is well said through the angel: “Anoint your eyes with eye salve so that you can see.” (Revelations 3:18) We anoint our eyes with salve when we aid the eye of our understanding with the medicine of good works so as to comprehend the brightness of the true light.

And a man has a “white speck in his eye” if he is not able to see the light of truth because he is blinded by an arrogance of his wisdom or righteousness. The pupil of the eye, if it is black, can see, but when it bears a white speck, it sees nothing. If a man knows himself to be foolish and a sinner, then he will be able to comprehend the knowledge of the internal light through human senses of cognition.

But if he attributes to himself the brilliance and righteousness of wisdom, he is cut off from the light of heavenly knowledge. And even more so, he is unable to penetrate the clearness of the true light in accordance to his exalting of himself arrogance. As it is said of some: “Indeed, claiming themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:22)

A man has a “continual rash” if he is constantly dominated by the depravity of the flesh. For in the case of a rash, and internal heat is drawn to the skin, whereby extravagance is rightly designated because if a temptation of the heart rushes into action, it is like an internal heat that that produces a rash on the skin. And now it wounds the external body because when the thought of pleasure is not repressed, it dominates the actions.

Hence, Paul was anxious to cleanse this itch of the skin when he said: “Do not be seized by temptation except what is human.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) It is as if he were saying: “It is human to struggle against temptation in the heart but it is demonic for the contest of temptation to spill into action.”

Moreover, one has a “skin disease” if his mind is overcome with avarice, which, if it cannot be controlled in small things, will expand uncontrollably. Just as a skin disease can occupy the body painlessly and spread without additional distraction, so too avarice worsens while it delights the mind of the one it captures.

While it tempts the mind with everything that can be obtained, it kindles enmity. But the wounds are painless because it assures the fevered mind of an abundance of things that derive from sin. But the dignity of the members is destroyed because the beauty of the other virtues is corrupted. [Avarice] provokes, as it were, the entire body because it corrupts the soul through all of the vices, which Paul attests, saying: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

A man with a “ruptured body” is one who does not perform base acts but nonetheless is burdened in the mind with their constant thought. Although he is not carried away by sinful deeds, his mind is entertained by lustful thoughts without any stings of repugnance. The disease of rupture is, indeed, due to the descent of internal fluids to the genitals, which produces a troublesome and disgraceful swelling.

A person, then, is ruptured when all of his thoughts sink to the level of lasciviousness, and he bears in his heart the weight of wickedness; and although he does not actively engage in shameful acts, nevertheless they are not purged from his mind. Moreover, he does not have the strength to raise himself to the discipline of good works because he is secretly weighed down by a shameful burden.

Whoever, then, is subjected to any of these vices that I have mentioned is prohibited from offering bread to the Lord. Because he is still consumed by his own sins, he would be unable to cleanse the sins of others.


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