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Epistle XXXV.

To Leontius, Ex-Consul.

Gregory to Leontius, &c.

Since in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some indeed to honour but some to dishonour (2 Tim. ii. 20), who can be ignorant that in the bosom of the Universal Church some as vessels of dishonour are deputed to the lowest uses, but others, as vessels of honour, are fitted for clean uses.  And yet it commonly comes to pass that the citizens of Babylon serve in task-work for Jerusalem, while the citizens of Jerusalem, that is of the heavenly country, are deputed to the task-work of Babylon.  For when the elect of God, endowed with moral excellence, distinguished for moderation, seeking not their own gain, are deputed to earthly business, what else is it but that the citizens of holy Jerusalem serve in the work of Babylon?  And when some, unbridled in immorality, hold places of holy dignity, and in the very things which they seem to do well seek praise to themselves, what else is it but that the citizens of Babylon execute the task-work of the heavenly Jerusalem?  For so Judas, mixed with the apostles, long preached the Redeemer of the human race, and did signs with the rest; but, because he had been a citizen of Babylon, he executed his work as task-work for the heavenly Jerusalem.  But on the other hand Joseph, being carried into Egypt, served an earthly court, 243bbore the charge of administration in temporal things, exhibited whatever was justly due to a transitory kingdom; but, because he was still a citizen of holy Jerusalem, he administered the service of Babylon, as has been seen above, in the way of task-work only.  A follower of him, good man, I believe thee to be, knowing thee, though involved in earthly action, to act with a gentle spirit, to keep in all respects the citadel of humility, and to give to every one what is just.  For such good things are reported by many of your Glory that I would fain not hear of such things, but see them:  yet still I am fed by the good renown of him whom I am not allowed to see.  But the woman who poured from the alabaster box, exhibiting a type of the Holy Church, that is of all the elect, filled the house with the ointment (Luke vii.).  And we, as often as we hear anything of good people, draw in as it were through our nostrils a breath of sweetness.  And when Paul the Apostle said, We are a good odour of Christ unto God (2 Cor. ii. 15), it is plainly given to be understood that he exhibited himself as a savour indeed to the present, but as an odour to the absent.  We therefore, while we cannot be nourished by the savour of your presence, are so by the odour of your absence.

For this also we greatly rejoice, that the gifts which you sent us were not unlike your character.  For indeed we received oil of the holy cross17611761    “Oil of the cross” is spoken of not infrequently from the 6th century downward as efficient for healing.  In the Itinerarium attributed to Antoninus of Placentia in that century mention is made of ampullæ of onyx stone containing oil being brought into contact with the wood of the true cross which was supposed to be preserved in Constantine’s Church on Golgotha, and the oil thereupon at once boiling over.  It may have been oil which was believed to have thus acquired healing virtue that was originally meant by “oil of the cross.”  But in the following century we find notice of a belief that oil flowed miraculously from the wood of the cross itself.  For Adamnan, in his book De locis sanctis (which is mentioned by Bede, H. E. V. 15, as presented by him to King Aldfrid of Northumbria, and published by Mabillon, de S. Adamn. Act. Benedict. sæc. iii. part ii. p. 456), speaks of his informant, Arcuulf, a Gallic bishop, having seen at Constantinople, a piece of the true cross which had been sent thither by Helena, from the knots of which an odorous liquid with healing virtues flowed., and wood of aloes; one to bless by the touch, the other to give a sweet smell when kindled.  For it was becoming that a good man should send us things that might appease the wrath of God against us.

Many other things also you have sent for our store-houses, since, as we subsist both in soul and in flesh, it was needful that we should be sustained in both.  And yet in transmitting these things your most sweet soul declares that it blushes much for shame, and holds out the shield of charity before this same shame-facedness.  But I altogether rejoice in these words, since from this attestation of the soul I know that he can never take away what is another’s who blushes even in bestowing what is his own.  Your gifts however, which you call small, are great:  but I think that your Glory’s very humility enhances them yet the more.  And you beg me to receive them kindly.  But meanwhile recall to your memory the two mites of a certain widow (Luke xxvii.).  For, if she pleased God who offered a little with a good will, why should not he please men who with a humble mind has given much?  Furthermore we send you, as a blessing from Saint Peter, Prince of the apostles, a key of his most sacred sepulchre, in which is inserted a blessing from his chains17621762    Filings from the supposed chains of St. Peter, preserved at Rome, were inserted in keys for his sepulchre (cf. IV. 30), and these keys were sent by Gregory to various persons as valuable charms.  Cf. I. 26, note 3., that what bound his neck for martyrdom may loose yours from all sins.

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