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xxxibThe Book of Pastoral Rule.
The title, Liber Regulæ Pastoralis, is the one adopted by the Benedictine Edition from several ancient mss., being Gregory’s own designation of his work when he sent it to his friend, Leander of Seville;—“Ut librum Regulæ Pastoralis, quem in episcopatus mei exordio scripsi…sanctitati tuæ transmitterem” (Epp. Lib. v., Ep. 49). The previously more usual one, Liber Pastoralis Curæ, may have been taken from the opening words of the book itself, “Pastoralis curæ me pondera fugere, etc.” The book was issued (as appears from the passage above quoted in the Epistle to Leander) at the commencement of Gregory’s episcopacy, and (as appears from its opening words) addressed to John, bishop of Ravenna, in reply to a letter received from him. But, though put into form for a special purpose on this occasion, it must have been the issue of long previous thought, as is further evident from the fact that in his Magna Moralia, or Commentary on the Book of Job, begun and in a great measure written during his residence in Constantinople, he had already sketched the plan of such a treatise, and expressed the hope of some day putting it into form. For we there find the prologue to the third book of the Regula already written, together with most of the headings contained in the first chapter of that book, followed by the words, “And indeed we ought to have denoted particularly what should be the order of admonition with respect to each of these points; but fear of prolixity deters us. Yet, with God’s help, we hope to complete this task in another work, should some little time of this laborious life still remain to us” (Moral. Lib. xxx. c. 12 and 13).
The book appears to have been estimated as it deserved during the writer’s life. It was sent by him, as we have seen, to Leander of Seville, apparently at the request of the latter, for the benefit of the Church in Spain; and there will be found among the Epistles one addressed to Gregory from Licinianus, a learned bishop of Carthagena in that country, in which it is highly praised, though a fear is expressed lest the standard required in it of fitness for the episcopal office might prove too high for ordinary attainment (Epp. Lib. II., Ep. 54). The Emperor Maurice, having requested and obtained a copy of it from Anatolius, Gregory’s deacon at Constantinople, had it translated into Greek by Anastasius the patriarch of Antioch, who himself highly approved of it (Epp. Lib. XII., Ep. 24). It appears to have been taken to England by the Monk Augustine. This is asserted by Alfred the Great, who, nearly three hundred years afterwards, with the assistance of his divines, made a translation, or rather paraphrase, of it in the West Saxon tongue, intending, as he says, to send a copy to every bishop in his Kingdom12611261 Edited, with an English version, by Henry Sweet of Balliol College, and published for the Early English Text Society, 1871, Part I., p. 7..
Previously to this, there is evidence of the high repute in which the book was held in Gaul. In a series of councils held by command of Charlemagne, a.d. 813,—viz. at Mayence, xxxiibRheims, Tours, and Châlon-sur-Seine—the study of it was specially enjoined on all bishops, together with the New Testament Scriptures and the Canons of the Fathers12621262 Concil. Mogunt. Præfat.;—Concil. Rhemens. II., Canon x.;—Concil. Turon. III., Canon iii.;—Concil. Cabilon. II., Canon i.. Similarly at a Council held at Aix-la-Chapelle, a.d. 83612631263 Concil. Aquisgran., cap. i., De Vita Episcoporum, can. 7, 9, 10; cap. 2, De doctrina episcoporum.. Further, it appears from a letter of Hincmar12641264 Hincmar. Opp. tom. ii. p. 389, Ed. Paris, 1645., Archbishop of Rheims (a.d. 845–882), that a copy of it together with the Book of Canons was given into the hands of bishops before the altar at their consecration, and that they were admonished to frame their lives accordingly.
The work is well worthy of its old repute, being the best of its kind, and profitable for all ages. Two similar works had preceded it. First, that of Gregory Nazianzen (c. a.d. 362), known as his second oration, and called τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀπολογητικός , which was written, like that of the later Gregory, to excuse the writer’s reluctance to accept the episcopate, and to set forth the responsibilities of the office. It is obvious, from comparing the two treatises, that the earlier had suggested the later one; and indeed Pope Gregory acknowledges his indebtedness in his prologue to the second book of the Regula. The second somewhat similar treatise had been that of Chrysostom, ‘De Sacerdotio,’ in six books, c. a.d. 382. It also sets forth the awful responsibilities of the episcopal office; but there are no signs of pope Gregory having drawn from it.
It is to be observed that the subject of all these treatises is the office of episcopacy; not the pastoral or priestly office in its wider sense, as now commonly understood: and it is noteworthy how prominent in Gregory’s view of it are the duties of preaching and spiritual guidance of souls. It is regarded, indeed, in the first place as an office of government—locus regiminis, culmen regiminis, denote it frequently—and hence the exercise of discipline comes prominently in; and the chief pastor is viewed also as an intercessor between his flock and God—See e.g. I. 10;—but it is especially as a teacher, and a physician of souls, that he is spoken of throughout the treatise; as one whose peculiar duty it is to be conversant with all forms of spiritual disease, and so be able to suit his treatment to all cases, to “preach the word, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine,” and both by precept and example guide souls in the way of salvation. Gregory had not studied in vain the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul. Remarkable indeed is his own discriminating insight, displayed throughout, into human characters and motives, and his perception of the temptations to which circumstances or temperament render various people—pastors as well as members of their flocks—peculiarly liable. No less striking, in this as in other works of his, is his intimate acquaintance with the whole of Holy Scripture. He knew it indeed through the Latin version only; his critical knowledge is frequently at fault; and far-fetched mystical interpretations, such as he delighted in, abound. But as a true expounder of its general moral and religious teaching he well deserves his name as one of the great Doctors of the Church. And, further, notwithstanding all his reverence for Councils and Fathers, as paramount authorities in matters of faith, it is to Scripture that he ever appeals as the final authority for conduct and belief.
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