by St. Gregory the Great, the Pope of Rome.
Among works of inestimable influence in the history of the Church, few approach the impact of St. Gregory’s “Regulae Pastoralis,” or “Pastoral Rule.” Written to John, Bishop of Ravenna, it was as influential to the guidance of secular clergy and growth of the Church in the west as the famous ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ was to western monasticism, if not more.
For several hundred years, it was required reading for all clergy, and frequent references to it were made during the synod meetings of bishops. Here is the section of Book III, dealing with those who preach.
How those are to be admonished who decline the office of preaching out of too great humility, and those who seize on it with precipitate haste.
Those who are able to preach worthily, but who are afraid by reason of excessive humility are to be admonished one way, and in another, those whom unfitness or age forbids to preach, and yet hastiness impells.
For those who, though able to preach with profit, still shrink back through excessive humility are to be admonished to gather from consideration of a lesser matter how faulty they are in a greater one. For, if they were to hide from their indigent neighbors money which they possessed themselves they would undoubtedly show themselves to be promoters of their calamity.
Let them perceive, then, in what guilt those are implicated who, in withholding the word of preaching from their sinning brethren, hide away the remedies of life from dying souls.
Whence also a certain wise man says well,
‘Wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is unseen, what profit is in them both’ (Sirach 20:32)?
Were a famine wasting the people, and they themselves kept hidden grain, undoubtedly they would be the authors of death. Let them consider therefore with what punishment they must be visited who, when souls are perishing from famine of the word, supply not the bread of grace which they have themselves received. Whence also it is well said through Solomon,
‘He that hides grain shall be cursed among the people’ (Prov. 11:26).
For to hide grain is to retain with one’s self the words of sacred preaching. And every one that does so is cursed among the people, because through his fault of silence only he is condemned in the punishment of the many whom he might have corrected. If persons by no means ignorant of the medicinal art were to see a sore that required lancing, and yet refused to lance it, certainly by their mere inactivity they would be guilty of a brother’s death.
Let them see, then, in how great guilt they are involved who, knowing the sores of souls, neglect to cure them by the lancing of words. Whence also it is well said through the prophet,
‘Cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood’ (Jer. 48:10).
For to keep back the sword from blood is to hold back the word of preaching from the slaying of the carnal life. Of which sword it is said again,
‘And my sword shall devour flesh’ (Deut. 32:42).
Let these, therefore, when they keep to themselves the word of preaching, hear with terror the divine sentences against them, to the end that fear may expel fear from their hearts. Let them hear how he that would not lay out his talent lost it, with a sentence of condemnation added (Matt. 25:24, etc.).
Let them hear how Paul believed himself to be pure from the blood of his neighbors in this, that he spared not their vices which required to be smitten, saying, ‘I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men: for l have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’ (Acts 20:26-27).
Let them hear how John is admonished by the angelic voice, when it is said,
‘Let him that hears say, Come ‘(Rev. 22:17);
in order doubtless that he into whose heart the internal voice has found its way may by crying aloud draw others whither he himself is carried; lest, even though called, he should find the doors shut, if he approaches Him that calls him empty.
Let them hear how Isaiah, because he had held his peace in the ministry of the word when illuminated by supernal light, blamed himself with a loud cry of penitence, saying
Woe unto me that I have held my peace (Isaiah 6:5).
Let them hear how through Solomon the knowledge of preaching is promised to be multiplied to him who is not held back by the vice of apathy which he has already attained. For he says,
‘The soul which blesses shall be made fat; and he that inebriates shall be inebriated also himself’ (Proverbs 11:25).
For he that blesses outwardly by preaching receives the fatness of inward enlargement; and, while he ceases not to inebriate the minds of his hearers with the wine of eloquence, he becomes increasingly inebriated with the drought of a multiplied gift.
Let them hear how David offered this in the way of gift to God, that he did not hide the grace of preaching which he had received, saying,
‘Lo I will not refrain my lips, O Lord, you know, I have not hid your righteousness within my heart: I have declared your truth and your salvation’ (Psalm 39:10-11).
Let them hear what is said by the bridegroom in his colloquy with the bride;
‘You that dwell in the gardens, your friends hearken: make me to hear your voice’ (Song of Songs 8:13).
For the Church dwells in the gardens, in that she keeps in a state of inward greenness the cultivated nurseries of virtues. And that her friends hearken to her voice is, that all the elect desire the word of her preaching; which voice also the bridegroom desires to hear, because he pants for her preaching through the souls of his elect.
Let them hear how Moses, when he saw that God was angry with His people, and commanded swords to be taken for executing vengeance, declared those to be on God’s side who should smite the crimes of the offenders without delay, saying,
‘If any man is the Lord’s, let him join himself to me; put every man his sword upon his thigh; go in and out from gate to gate through the midst of the camp, and slay every man his brother and friend and neighbor’ (Exodus 32:27).
For to put sword upon thigh is to set earnestness in preaching before the pleasures of the flesh; so that, when any one is earnest to speak holy words, he must needs have a care to subdue illicit suggestions. But to go from gate to gate is to run to and fro with rebuke from vice to vice, even to every one by which death enters in unto the soul. And to pass through the midst of the camp is to live with such impartiality within the Church that one who reproves the sins of offenders turns aside to show favor to none.
Whence also it is rightly added, slay every man his brother and friend and neighbor. He in truth slays brother and friend and neighbor who, when he finds what is worthy of punishment, spares not even those whom he loves on the score of relationship from the sword of his rebuke. If, then, he is said to be God’s who is stirred up by the zeal of divine love to smite vices, he surely denies himself to be God’s who refuses to rebuke the life of the carnal to the utmost of his power.
But, on the other hand, those whom imperfection or age debars from the office of preaching, and yet hastiness impells to it, are to be admonished lest, while rashly arrogating to themselves the burden of so great an office, they cut off from themselves the way of subsequent improvement; and, while seizing out of season what they are not equal to, they lose even what they might at sometime in due season have fulfilled; and be shown to have justly forfeited their knowledge because of their attempt to display it improperly. They are to be admonished to consider that young birds, if they try to fly before their wings are fully formed, are plunged low down from the place whence they fain would have risen on high.
They are to be admonished to consider that, if on new buildings not yet compacted a weight of timbers be laid, there is built not a habitation, but a ruin.
They are to be admonished to consider that, if women bring forth their conceived offspring before it is fully formed, they by no means fill houses, but tombs. For hence it is that the Truth Himself, Who could all at once have strengthened whom He would, in order to give an example to His followers that they should not presume to preach while imperfect, after He had fully instructed His disciples concerning the power of preaching, immediately added,
‘But tarry in the city until you are endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49).
For indeed we tarry together in the city, if we restrain ourselves within the enclosures of our souls from wandering abroad in speech; so that, when we are perfectly endued with divine power, we may then go out as it were from ourselves abroad, instructing others also. Hence through a certain wise man it is said,
‘Young man, speak scarcely in your cause; and if you have been twice asked, let your answer have a beginning’ (Sirach 32:10).
Hence it is that the same our Redeemer, though in heaven the Creator, and even a teacher of angels in the manifestation of His power, would not become a master of men upon earth before His thirtieth year, in order, to wit, that He might infuse into the precipitate the force of a most wholesome fear, in that even He Himself, Who could not slip, did not preach the grace of a perfect life until He was of perfect age. For it is written,
‘When he was twelve years old, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:42-43).
And a little afterwards it is further said of Him,
‘when He was sought by His parents, They found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions’ (Luke 5:46).
It is therefore to be weighed with vigilant consideration that, when Jesus at twelve years of age is spoken of as sitting in the midst of the doctors, He is found, not teaching, but asking questions. By which example it is plainly shown that none who is weak should venture to teach, if that child was willing to be taught by asking questions, who by the power of His divinity supplied the word of knowledge to His teachers themselves. But, when it is said by Paul to his disciple,
‘These things command and teach: let no man despise your adolescence’ (1 Tim. 4:11-12),
we must understand that in the language of Holy Writ youth is sometimes called adolescence.
Which thing is the sooner evident, if we adduce the words of Solomon, who says,
‘Rejoice O young man in your adolescence’ (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
For unless he meant the same by both words, he would not call him a young man whom he was admonishing in his adolescence.