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Epistle VI.

To Narses, Patrician13051305    There are other letters from Gregory to this Narses, viz. iv. 32, vi. 14, and perhaps vii. 30.  He may have been the same as the Narses who was a famous general of the Emperor Maurice, and who was eventually burnt alive by Phocas.  (Theoph., Sim. V.).

Gregory to Narses, &c.

In describing loftily the sweetness of contemplation, you have renewed the groans of my fallen state, since I hear what I have lost inwardly while mounting outwardly, though undeserving, to the topmost height of rule.  Know then that I am stricken with so great sorrow that I can scarcely speak; for the dark shades of grief block up the eyes of my soul.  Whatever is beheld is sad, whatever is thought delightful appears to my heart lamentable.  For I reflect to what a dejected height of external advancement I have mounted in falling from the lofty height of my rest.  And, being sent for my faults into the exile of employment from the face of my Lord, I say with the prophet, in the words, as it were of destroyed Jerusalem, He who should comfort me hath departed far from me (Lam. i. 16).  But when, in seeking a similitude to express my condition and title, you frame periods and declamations in your letter, certainly, dearest brother, you call an ape a lion.  Herein we see that you do as we often do, when we call mangy whelps pards or tigers.  For I, my good man, have, as it were, lost my children, since through earthly cares I have lost works of righteousness.  Therefore call me not Noemi, that is fair; but call me Mara, for I am full of bitterness (Ruth i. 20).  But as to your saying that I ought not to have written, “That you should plough with bubali13061306    The animal called βούβαλος is described by Pliny (l. 8, c. 15) as “animal ferum in Africa, vitulo ac cervo simile.”  The reference in the text is to Amos vi. 12, where the Vulgate has, “Numquid currere queunt in petris equi, aut arari potest in bubalis?”  The clause in the epistle, “ut in agro Dominico cum bubalis arares,” appears to be a quotation from a previous letter of Gregory’s, in which he may have announced his election to the Lord’s field,” seeing that when in the sheet shewn to the blessed Peter both bubali and all wild beasts were presented to view; thou knowest thyself that it is subjoined, Slay and eat (Acts x. 13).  Thou, then, who hadst not yet slain these beasts, why didst thou already wish to eat them through obedience?  Or knowest thou not that the beast about which thou wrotest refused to be slain by the sword of thy mouth?  Thou must needs, then, satisfy the hunger of thy desire with those whom thou hast been able to prick and slay (Lit., to slay through compunction)13071307    The whole passage is rather obscure to us, not having before us the letter from Narses, which is replied to, or the previous ones from Gregory to which Narses had referred.  The drift seems to be as follows.  Gregory, in his former letter, had compared his being elected pope to a bubalis being set to plough in the Lord’s field.  Narses had replied to the effect that even if he were a bubalus, he was not therefore unfit, since bubali, with other wild beasts, had been in St. Peter’s sheet, and pronounced clean.  To this Gregory now rejoins, “Yes; but those beasts were to be slain before they might be eaten; and so you must first slay me, per compuctionem—i.e. by so pricking me with ‘the sword of your mouth’ as to induce me to comply—before you may eat me per obedientiam—i.e. make use of me in the way you wish through my obedience to your desire.  Not being thus so far slain, I have a right to protest against being made pope against my will.”.

Further, as to the case of our brethren, I think that, if God gives aid, it will be as thou hast written.  It was not, however, by any means right for me to write about it at present to our most serene lords, since at the very outset one should not begin with complaints.  But I have written to my well-beloved son, the deacon Honoratus13081308    Honoratus was at this time Gregory’s apocrisiarius at Constantinople.  We find several letters addressed to him in this capacity, but none throwing light on the case here referred to., that he should mention the matter to them in a suitable manner at a seasonable time, and speedily inform me of their reply.  I beg greetings to be given in my behalf to the lord Alexander, the lord Theodorus13091309    Theodorus was the court Physician at Constantinople, to whom Epistles III. 66, IV. 31, VII. 28, are addressed., my son Marinus, the lady Esicia, the lady Eudochia, and the lady Dominica.

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