Leo the Great was the bishop of Rome from 440-461.
These letters and sermons written in his position as bishop are a mixture of the good (excellent pastoral work with defenses of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine against heresy), the bad (keeping variousLeo the Great was the bishop of Rome from 440-461.
These letters and sermons written in his position as bishop are a mixture of the good (excellent pastoral work with defenses of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine against heresy), the bad (keeping various feasts and giving of alms), and the ugly (bald assertions of power of the Roman bishop over other bishops).
I found the most interesting to be his letters to the emperor and various bishops regarding councils leading up to and including Chalcedon, and his attempts to control the agenda through these letters and his delegates. His defense of orthodoxy is well done and very admirable, but the self-serving ambition and exertion of the power of his office was not.
Gregory’s pastoral rule
It’s been some time between reading and now writing this review, so this will be brief. Gregory covers the subject comprehensively, aiming at the heart. Pastors need to live with people but also be in contemplation apart. Don’t be men-pleasers, but seek how to please men. He draws these paradoxes out with liberal use of Scripture, some of which is used well and some is not. Besides paradox Gregory often uses a via media style of teaching. By that I mean, if people are inclined to gluttony they need this kind of counsel, but if they are inclined to be overly ascetic, they need to hear something else. Avoid the opposite extremes and aim for the middle.
Overall a very useful work, as long as you are well grounded in your theology and Scripture already.
It’s been a long time since I read a book of someone’s personal letters. Ronald Reagan’s diary, and C.S. Lewis’ letters to an American lady pretty much exhaust my experience with this genre.
So it was fascinating to read a bishop of Rome from about 600 A.D. writing to other bishops near and far and to kings and emperors from England to Constantinople.
A hallmark of Gregory’s letters is his claim of jurisdiction. When writing to bishops of lesser cities nearby (Naples, Sicily, etc.) he wrote as a superior with authority to order their affairs. When writing to bishops of great cities (Constantinople, Jerusalem, etc.) he would write respectfully as an equal, but include a fair bit of teaching, diplomatically asserting the right to do so. He got less diplomatic and downright irate with the bishop of Constantinople, capital of the Roman empire at this point, when that bishop took the title of “Universal Bishop.” With high flying casuistry, Gregory rebukes him for the pride of taking such a title, then says the church offered that to HIS predecessors as bishops of Rome, but that none of those bishops had ever presumed to use it!
Gregory also diplomatically claimed jurisdiction over secular rulers. When writing to kings he would always address them paternally – Gregory was the father. And the ruler, no matter how old or how powerful, was the son or daughter.
While Gregory was keen to exert his influence, it seems he usually sought it for good purposes. His desire for moral reform among bishops and monasteries is evident. But his use of Scripture was often strained to make his own points. His view of sex was in error. “The pleasure itself [within marriage] can by no means be without sin” (Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 13, pg 79). He cites Psalm 51:7 as proof of this: “I was conceived in iniquities, and in sin my mother brought me forth.” Yikes.
Gregory also saw images in churches as useful things. When he hears of a bishop in Marseilles destroying images since the people were adoring them, he rebukes the bishop. We should keep the images and teach the people to look at but not adore them. If they can’t read, looking at a picture is the next best thing. Providentially I came to John Calvin’s critique of Gregory’s view on this, at about the same time as reading Gregory!
Other items of note: - several letters TO Gregory are included, seeking advice after flattering him. Instead of some form of “that’s not my place,” he usually eats it up, and gives advice. - sending Augustine the missionary to the Angles (England) takes up a good chunk of letters. This is not the African bishop who wrote City of God, but a very successful mission that converted thousands of the Angles, including the rulers. Augustine later writes Gregory at length for counsel on how to teach the new converts in the faith, and Gregory responds, point by point.
Gregory is an important historical character, especially in the shaping of the Medieval Western church. Reading him, you see where several Roman Catholic tendencies came from. You see mundane church disputes over property up close and ugly. The church has always struggled with greed and ambition.
Whatever his errors of Scriptural interpretation, doctrine, or church governance, Gregory displayed an urgency to bring about peace and justice in the church....more
A cogent argument that God made the world primarily for His glory. This primary end does not exclude another goal: our happiness. Since we were made to worship Him, our obedience to His design brings us delight and Him glory.
As an old American choralA cogent argument that God made the world primarily for His glory. This primary end does not exclude another goal: our happiness. Since we were made to worship Him, our obedience to His design brings us delight and Him glory.
As an old American choral piece puts it: “Thine be the glory, man’s the boundless bliss!”
The writing style and argumentation is heavily philosophical – beware!...more
Marilynne Robinson does her best to make “liberal” attractive again.
I don’t think she ever uses the word, and I don’t mean it here in the way that conservative talk shows do. She only occasionally advocates for more involvement of the state in our liMarilynne Robinson does her best to make “liberal” attractive again.
I don’t think she ever uses the word, and I don’t mean it here in the way that conservative talk shows do. She only occasionally advocates for more involvement of the state in our lives, and then only obliquely.
No, I mean the classical liberal, non-economic sense, of being open-hearted to one another as people. Her thesis is found on the last page: “Everything depends on reverence for who we are and what we are, on the sacredness implicit in the human circumstance. We know how deeply we can injure one another by denying fairness. We know how profoundly we can impoverish ourselves by failing to find value in one another. We know that respect is a profound alleviation, which we can offer and too often withhold” (286).
She couches the truth in very gentle terms, for an audience now unaccustomed to biblical truth. But referring to Calvin and the Puritans often, Robinson asserts that people are made in the image of God, and must be treated as such. If you can ignore her undercurrent of universalism and neo-orthodox treatment of Scripture, this is an important take-away.
The givenness of things involves our created-ness, the universe as vast and mysterious, our need for forgiveness and grace from others. She upholds “a generous and even a costly readiness to show our respect for all minds and spirits, especially for those whose place in life might cheat them of respect…. To value one another is our greatest safety, and to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error” (29). This needs some tempering with a realistic view of the sin at work in everyone’s lives. But it’s refreshing, coming from conservative circles where the tendency is to only value propositional truth. If the person doesn’t hold to the truth exactly as I see it, the person is abruptly dismissed. Robinson instead calls for respect and tolerance (in the old, best sense of the word), and patient regard for the soul God is working on. As the fellow says, people need kindness, because everyone is dealing with something hard.
This leads her to defend the humanities in academia, at a time when our culture looks more to science for answers. I agree with her in this, though she may go too far in the “education as savior” direction. But she also interacts with contemporary science quite a bit, usually making the point that we don’t know as much as we think we know.
Robinson’s writing style is not very accessible – she’s more academic. 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 on that one. But her tone does convey her thesis: value the givenness of things that God has built into the souls around you....more