From the calm repose of the monastic life, -- for which he often afterwards sighed, -- he was next thrown into a whirl of business which left him no rest, and was in a great measure alien to the spiritual life and calling, as he himself complains: "For since," he says, "as the world draws near its end,  the times are full of disquiet, and evils increase, even we, whose life is consecrated to Divine mysteries, are entanged in outward cares."
Gregory draws vivid pictures of the devastation of the world in that age, and avails himself of this to press on the hearts of his contemporaries the hollowness of earthly things, and to direct their eyes to things eternal. Thus, he says in a sermon: "Those saints on whose graves we stand, had hearts exalted enough to despise the world in its bloom. There was then long life amongst men, continued prosperity, rest, and peace; and yet, whilst the world was still blooming in itself, its charm had already faded from their hearts. But now, lo! the world itself has faded, and yet its charm over our hearts decays not. Everywhere death, everywhere mourning, everywhere destruction; we are smitten on all sides, on all sides bitter waters overflow us; and yet, with senses blinded by earthly passion, we love the very bitterness of the world, we pursue the world flying from our embrace, we cling to the world sinking from our grasp, and, not being able to sustain the sinking world, we, cleaving to it as it sinks, sink with it into the deep. Once the world enchained us by its charms, now it is so full of misery that, of itself, it points us to God. The perishing of those earthly things, shows that even when they seemed firm they were nothing. Be mindful of these things, that, despising earthly glory, ye may through our Lord Jesus Christ attain that glory which by faith is already yours." And in another sermon he says: "I demand of you, what is there that can now rejoice us in this world? Everywhere do we see mourning, everywhere do we hear sighs. The cities are destroyed, the castles are ruined, the fields are laid waste, the whole land is desolate. The villages are empty, and scarcely an inhabitant is left in the cities; and even this scanty remnant of the human race is daily exposed to slaughter. The scourge of heavenly justice is not withdrawn, because even under the scourge no amendment takes place. We see some carried into captivity, some maimed, and others slain. What is there to rejoice the heart in such a life, my brethren? If we still love such a world as this, we are in love, not with joys but with wounds. We have seen what has become of her who was the mistress of the world." He then points out how other great cities had experienced a similar fate, and concludes with the exhortation: "Let us, therefore, at least take courage to despise the world now that it has fallen; may our yearnings after the world at least end with the world, and let us imitate the saints as far as we are able." He makes use of the state of the world to enforce on bishops the responsibility of their calling. "You see," he says, "by what sword the world is destroyed; ye see beneath what blows the world is daily perishing. Is not this chiefly on account of our sins? Behold! the cities are depopulated, the castles destroyed, the churches and abbeys are in ruins, the land is laid waste! But we are guilty of the death of this perishing people, -- we, who should have been their guides to life."
Italy was devastated by the Lombards, who frequently threatened the Roman territory, and Gregory, as one of the mightiest vassals of the eastern empire, had to take part in its defence. We may conceive what a melancholy position it was for a man, who would gladly have lived for spiritual realities alone, to be placed between the Lombards, eager for conquest, the governors of the eastern empire, often neglectful of their duty, and a court full of dissensions. In addition to all this, there was the care of the numerous lands which the Roman Church possessed in different continents and kingdoms, whose revenues were necessary to the bishop, in order to enable him to provide, as his office required, for the maintenance of a number of poor, and the ransom of a number of prisoners. One example will sufficiently show how strongly Gregory felt this to be part of his episcopal duty. A few poor old men once came to him from Ravenna, and related to him how much had everywhere. been given to them on their journey. But when he asked them what they had received from Marinian, the new bishop of Ravenna, who had been a monk with him in his youth, they replied, that he had refused them any alms, saying, as an excuse, that he had nothing to give. Gregory therefore wrote to a friend, whom he commissioned to admonish bishop Marinian: "I am surprised that one who has clothes, who has silver, who has a cellar, should have nothing to give to the poor. Tell him, that with his position, he must also change his way of life. Let him not think that reading and prayer are enough for him now; nor that he should sit solitary in a corner, without bringing forth fruit in action. He must help those who suffer need, regard the wants of strangers as his own, otherwise the title of bishop is for him an empty name."
He himself has given us a sketch of his own situation, in these few words of a letter: "I must care at once for the bishops and the clergy, the monasteries and the churches; must be vigilant against the snares of enemies; ever on my guard against the treachery and wickedness of those in authority: what anxieties and troubles these are,; you will be able to appreciate better in proportion to the purity of the love you bear me." He also complains, in a sermon: "While I lived in the cloister, I could keep my soul almost perpetually disposed to prayer. But now that I have taken upon me the burden of the pastoral office, my soul, harassed by many distractions, cannot always collect itself; since, sometimes I have the affairs of the churches, sometimes those of the convents to investigate; often I am forced to acquaint myself with the life and actions of individuals, sometimes to take upon myself the business of the citizens, sometimes to sigh over the desolating swords of the barbarians, and to fear the wolves which lie in ambush for the flocks committed to my charge; sometimes to provide for the administration of the Church property, so that those who live according to lawful order (i. e., clergy, monks, nuns) may not lack means of subsistence; sometimes patiently to endure robberies of Church property, sometimes, without failing in love, to resist them. How can the soul, torn by cares so many and so various, return to itself in order to collect itself for a discourse, and not to neglect the ministry of the Word?" And, in another sermon: "How can I be enabled to provide for the daily maintenance of the brethren, to insure the defence of the city against foreign swords, to guard the citizens against a sudden surprise, and, besides all this, to impart the word of exhortation in the most perfect and efficient way to the souls of men? For we need have a free and quiet soul to speak of God."
Yet he knew in whom he had believed. For when he says, "What sort of a watchman am I -- I, who stand not on the height of the mountains, but still lie in the valley of weakness?" he answers himself: "But the Creator and Redeemer of mankind is mighty; and, unworthy as I am, if, from love to Him, I spare not myself in the preaching of His Word, he is able to bestow on me the fulness of life, and the power of utterance." He was able also to turn this struggle to profit for his inner life; it became clear to him, through his own experience, how easily a man living in the undisturbed tranquillity of contemplation, might deceive himself about his own spiritual state; that it is only amidst temptations and conflicts that we learn rightly to discern between the human and the Divine. He says himself: "By contemplation man is raised to God; but by the weight of trial he is thrown back upon himself. Trial bows down, that contemplation may not puff up; and again, contemplation elevates, that trial may not overwhelm. By an admirable ordinance of God, the soul is poised in a certain equilibrium; so that it may be neither unduly exalted in prosperity, nor unduly depressed in adversity." And he observes beautifully on Matt. xx, 22: "The disciples were already longing for high places; the truth recalls them to the road by which they must gain the heights. By the bitter cup of sorrow we attain to glory. What is that which He had heard from His Father, and would make known to all His servants, that they might be His friends?' (John xv, 15.) Is it not the inward blessedness of love, the feast of the heavenly country, of which, by the breathings of His love, He daily gives our souls some foretaste. For in loving the heavenly things which we have received, we already know that which we love, love being itself knowledge. The friends of the Lord proclaim the news of the eternal home by word and life; they enter into it through sorrows. But let him who has attained to the dignity of a friend of God, look on himself as he is in himself, and on the gifts received as something sublime, exalted above himself."
The spiritual duties of his office were the dearest and weightiest to him; his admonitory discourse to bishops shows how he was penetrated by the consciousness of the greatness and responsibility of the office of spiritual pastor. "There are but few labourers," he complains, "for the great harvest; we cannot say it without sorrow; for, although there is no lack of those who like to hear what is good, there is a lack of those who can preach it. See! The world is full of priests, yet but few labourers for God's harvest are to be found; because, though we have indeed assumed the priestly calling, yet we do not fulfil its duties. If any man is not able to address the whole congregation in a connected discourse, let him instruct individuals as far as he is able, edifying them in private conversations, producing fruit in the hearts of his children by simple-hearted counsel. He must always consider what was said to the Apostles, and through them to us: Ye are the salt of the earth.'" He expresses his grief that the duty of preaching, the most important of all, should be neglected for the secular business connected with the episcopal office. "That what I say," he added, "may offend no one, I accuse myself at the same time, although it is with great reluctance, that, forced by the necessities of our disturbed times, I yield to these things. For we have sunk into mere men of business. We neglect preaching, and still, to our condemnation, call ourselves bishops. Let us reflect -- who has ever been converted through our words? What gain have we brought to God -- we who, after receiving the talent, were sent out to traffic with it? For He says: Occupy till I come.' Behold, He comes now! Behold, He demands profit from our traffic! What gain of souls shall we be able to show to Him from our trading?"
To a bishop of Messina, who wished to pay his respects to him at Rome, he wrote, wishing to avoid such empty honours: "Do not trouble yourself to come to me, but pray for us, that although we are separated from each other by the sea, we may, by Christ's aid, through love be united to each other in spirit; that we, supporting each other by mutual admonitions, may one day resign the pastoral office intrusted to us, without reproach, into the hands of the coming Judge."
To a bishop, whose unclerical life he censured, he wrote: "You ought to acknowledge that you have undertaken not the care of earthly things, but the guidance of souls. To this you must bend your heart, -- on this expend your whole solicitude, your whole diligence." To another he wrote: "Let the word be in our mouth and fervent zeal in our hearts, so that we may belong in truth to the number of those of whom we read in the Acts ii, 3, for verily fiery tongues descend on us, when we become inflamed by the fervency of the Divine Spirit, to announce the word of exhortation to our brothers and sons." He himself once arose from his sick bed and preached with a feeble voice: "The voice (he said) fails beneath the exertion of speaking, and I confess that, because I cannot be heard by many, I am ashamed to speak amongst many. But I myself blame this shame in myself. What! Became I cannot profit many, shall I therefore not care for the few?" He preached, while the Lombard army was spreading its devastations into the neighbourhood of Rome itself; and he finally concluded his discourses on Ezekiel, which he did not continue further than the fortieth chapter, with these words: "Let no one blame me for leaving off this exposition; for as you all see, our sorrows have reached the highest point, we are everywhere surrounded by swords, death threatens us on all sides. Some come back to us with their hands cut off, others we hear are imprisoned or killed. What resource is there for us, but to thank God with tears, under the rod which is the punishment of our sins? For our Creator has become our Father through the Spirit of adoption which he has given to us. Sometimes He nourishes His children with bread, sometimes He corrects them with the rod; both by sorrows and by gifts He educates them for their eternal inheritance."
It was Gregory's strenuous endeavour to extend the study of the Scriptures among the clergy and the laity. He says in a sermon: "As we see the face of strangers and know not their hearts, until these are opened to us by confidential intercourse, -- so, if only the history be regarded in the Divine word, nothing else appears to us but the outward countenance. But when, by continual intercourse, we let it pass into our being, the confidence engendered by such communion enables us to penetrate into its spirit." "Often," he observes elsewhere, "when we do something, we believe it to be meritorious. But if we return to the word of God, and understand its sublime teaching, we perceive how far behind perfection we stand."
A bishop, whom Gregory advised to study the Scriptures, had excused himself on the plea that the troubles of the times would not permit him to read. Gregory showed him the barrenness of this excuse, referring him to Rom. xv, 4. "If," he replied, "the Holy Scripture is written for our consolation, we should read it more, the more we feel oppressed by the burden of the times." The bishop rejoined in the words of Matt. x, 19; misunderstanding the words, he thought to conclude from them that the minister of the Church, without being bound to the study of the Divine word, need only rely on the immediate suggestion of the Holy Ghost. But Gregory knew well how to combat such an excuse. "The Divine word is bequeathed to us in vain, if we, filled with the Spirit, do not require the outward word. But what we may rely on in the time of persecution is one thing, and what we should do in times of tranquillity is another; for we must receive through this Spirit in reading, what, when occasion comes, we must prove in suffering." He reproached a physician of the Imperial Court, because, amidst the distractions of the world, he neglected the daily reading of the words of his Redeemer. "What else is Holy Scripture," he wrote to him, "but a letter from the Almighty God to his creature? Surely, if you resided far from the palace, and received a letter from the earthly emperor, you would not be able to rest or to sleep tall you knew what he had written you. The King of heaven, the Lord of men and of angels, has sent you a letter to conduct you to eternal life, and yet you delay to read it zealously. Bestir yourself then, and meditate daily on the words of your Creator. Learn the mind of God in the word of God, that you may sigh for eternal things with more ardent desire, that your soul may be inflamed by greater longing after the heavenly joys. For all the deeper will be the rest of your soul when love to your Creator leaves you no rest. May the Almighty God himself infuse His Spirit into you, that you may attain to this! May he fill your soul with his presence, and thus raise you to himself!"
Gregory did indeed use the saying of the Lord, "Ye are .the salt of the earth," in too limited a sense, if he meant to restrict these words, applicable to all Christians as such, to the doctors of the Church as successors of the apostles. But it was far from him not to regard the vocation of labouring for the extension and furtherance of God's kingdom, as common to all Christians. After indicating the high dignity of priests from Mal. ii, 7: "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts;" he adds, referring to all the members of the congregation, "but you also may all obtain the high dignity of this name, if you wish it. For if every one of you, as far as he can, and as far as he has received grace from above, seeks to recall his neighbour from evil, and to exhort him to a good conversation, speaking to him words of holy admonition, he is thus truly the messenger of the Lord. And let no one say: I am not fit to advise others; give as much as you can, that a strict account may not be required from you for having used ill the talent received; for he who preferred rather to hide his talent, than to put it out to usury, had not received more than one. As far as you have yourself advanced, draw others towards you, seek to gain companions on the way to God. When one of you, my brethren, goes to the market or the hath, he invites any one who seems to him idle to go with him. Let this which you are wont to do in earthly things, serve you as an example; and if God be your goal, endeavour not to reach it alone. For therefore is it written: Let him that heareth say Come,' (Rev. xxii, 17,) that whoever has heard the voice of celestial love in his heart, may speak words of exhortation to his neighbour. He may perhaps have no bread to give to the needy, but there is something greater, which every one who has a tongue can give. For it is more to refresh the soul destined to eternal life, by the nourishment of the word, than to satisfy the mortal body with earthly bread. Thus, my brethren, withhold not from your neighbour the alms of the word." And he says in another sermon: "There is no one who can truly say, I have received no talent, and so need render no account; for the little that every poor man has received will be accounted to him as a talent. One has received knowledge; he is bound to employ his talent in discharging the office of preacher. Another has received earthly goods; the property, of whose use he has to render an account, is his talent. Another has neither knowledge of heavenly things nor superfluity of earthly goods, but he has learned a trade and supports himself by it; his trade will be reckoned his talent. Another has none of these things: but perhaps he stands in a confidential relation to some rich man; if then he does not take advantage of his position for the needy, he will be judged for the neglect of his talent."
While recommending the study of Holy Scripture, he discriminates between its false and its true use; and counsels that manner of reading the Bible in which the regard to self-improvement should be paramount. "Those," says he, "who seek to fathom the mysteries of God beyond their power of comprehension, become unfruitful by their hunger; for they seek not what can train them in humility, patience, and long-suffering, but only what serves to show off their learning and enables them to talk. They often speak boldly about the being of God, while they are so unfortunate as not to know themselves. While they strive after what they cannot comprehend, they neglect that which might have made them better men." He shows, however, at the same time, how every one, seeking in the right way, may find an answer to his questions, and the satisfaction of his wants in the Holy Scriptures. "God does not," he says, "answer individual minds by special voices, but he has so arranged his word as to answer all questions thereby. If we search for our particular cases in the Scripture, we find them there. A general answer . is given therein to us all about that which each in particular suffers. Let the life of those who have gone before be a pattern for those who follow. To adduce one instance amongst many: When we are seized with pain or any bodily annoyance, we wish perhaps to know its hidden causes, finding some consolation even in knowing what it is which we suffer. But since no especial reply is bestowed on our especial search, we have recourse to the Holy Scripture. There we find how Paul, when he was tempted with the infirmities of the flesh, received this reply: My grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in weakness." It was said to him in his particular infirmity, that it need not be particularly repeated to each one of us. Thus we hear the voice of God in the Holy Scripture, on occasion of the sufferings of Paul, in order that we, if we have sorrows to bear, need not each one seek a similar voice for his own consolation. The Lord does not answer our every word, because He has once spoken and will not repeat it. That is to say, whatever was said to our fathers through the Holy Scriptures, was said for our instruction. The teachers of the Church may, therefore, confidently say, when they see many grieving and faint at heart, because God does not answer their every word, that God had once spoken and will not repeat it; that is to say, that he does not now come to the aid of individuals in their thoughts and temptations, by special prophetic voices and angelic ministrations; because the Holy Scriptures include all that is necessary to meet individual cases, and they are constructed so as to mould the life of later times by the examples of the earlier."
Gregory, no less than the earlier ecclesiastical doctors, combated the delusion that it is enough to confess the pure doctrines contained in the creeds, and to be zealous for these without the practical influence of faith on the life. To a bishop, who boasted to Gregory of his zeal in the conversion of heretics, and of whom he had good reason to think that he was not sufficiently concerned about the sanctification of himself and others, he wrote: "I thank Almighty God, that through you the teachers of error are recalled to the Church. But you must take care that those who are in the bosom of the Church so live, that they do not become her enemies by their bad conduct. For if, unconstrained by love for Divine things, they serve earthly desires, in the very bosom of the Church herself children are nourished, alien to her." When Reccared, king of the Visigoths in Spain, was converted from Arianism to the doctrine of the Church, Gregory warned the first Spanish bishop, Leander of Seville, that whilst rejoicing at the king's conversion he should watch over him and see that the good work begun in him was completed, and that he should not exalt himself as if he had done enough good already; that also, by the course of his life, he should show himself true to the faith he had confessed, that he might by his works prove himself a citizen of the eternal kingdom." And he wrote thus to the king himself on this event: "You must seek to observe great moderation in the discharge of your government, that the plenitude of power may not carry your soul away; for government is only well conducted, when ambition does not vanquish honour, You must guard against allowing anger to insinuate itself, lest you should execute your determinations in a precipitate manner. Anger must not master the soul, when it punishes a crime, but it must obey reason as a servant; for where it has once begun to take possession of the soul, it deems its own cruel actions just. Therefore it is written: The wrath of men worketh not the righteousness of God.'" (James i, 4.)
Although Gregory was credulous about the miraculous tales of his time, and took delight in them, yet he was far from that thirst for marvels which forgets, in solitary instances of the miraculous, that which is the aim and centre of all miracles. He uttered many a golden word upon the true end of miracles which are addressed to the eye, to raise the gaze of men from the visible to the invisible, and on the relation of all miracles to that highest miracle, the goal of them all, -- the work of God in the minds of men redeemed and sanctified by Him, the work of the bringing forth of the new creature. In one place he speaks thus: When Paul came to Malta and saw the island full of unbelievers, he healed the father of Publius, -- who was afflicted with dysentery and fever, -- by his prayer; and yet he said to Timothy, when he was sick, only this: Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thine often infirmities.' Why, O Paul, do you restore the sick unbeliever through your prayer, and for so great a fellow-labourer in the preaching of the Gospel, only prescribe natural remedies in the manner of a physician? Is it not because external miracles serve the purpose of leading the soul to internal ones; so that, by the outward appearance of the visible miracle, faith in the greater and invisible miracle is produced? The father of Publius had to be cured by such a miraculous sign, in order to be renewed in spirit, whilst he recovered his bodily health by the miracle. Timothy needed no outward miracle, because he had already the inner life complete." And in another sermon: "Faith must be nourished by miracles, in order that it may grow; for we also, when we plant herbs, water them until we see that they have taken firm root in the ground, and then we leave off watering them. A few of these miraculous signs must be regarded more closely. For the Church works every day spiritually, what she then worked through the apostles corporeally. Those believers who renounce the language of their former worldly life, utter holy truths, and declare the praise and the power of their Creator, what do these but speak with other tongues? When they hear pernicious counsel, but do not suffer themselves to be seduced to evil deeds, they drink, indeed, fatal poison, but it does not harm them. When they see their neighbours weak in virtue and help them with all their might, strengthening them by their example, -- what do they but lay their hands on the sick that they may be healed? These miracles are surely the greater, the more spiritual they are -- greater, because not the body but the soul is awakened by them. These miracles, my dearest brethren, you can perform by God's grace, if you will. Strive after these miracles of love and piety, which are the more certain the more they are hidden." And, in another place: "We should distinguish between those gifts of the Spirit, without which we cannot attain to life, and those by which a testimony is given to the sanctity of our life for the good of others. For meekness, humility, patience, faith, hope, are gifts of the Spirit, but gifts without which men cannot attain to eternal life. The gifts of prophecy and of healing are also His gifts, but such as manifest the presence of His power for the good of the beholder."
Gregory rejoiced in the success of the abbot Augustine, sent forth by him for the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, who also believed himself supported in his work by miracles. Gregory gave thanks for the Divine grace, but held it necessary to warn Augustine not to be unduly exalted on account of it. Such a warning was very needful to this active missionary. There was danger lest the Divine work itself, of which he served as the instrument, might be hindered by his want of humility. Perhaps, if he had had more of this salt of all Christian virtue and labour, he might have succeeded in effecting much for the confirmation and extension of the new Church in England; even in inducing the ancient Britons, who, by their traditional customs, and their spirit of ecclesiastical freedom, were separated from the Romish Anglo-Saxon Church, to unite themselves into. one whole with it. The Britons consulted a pious hermit on the proposal made to them. He answered, that they might follow Augustine if he were a man of God. When they further questioned him, by what token they were to recognise a man of God, he replied: "If he be meek and lowly in heart, like the Lord, it is to be expected that he will bear the yoke of his master as a disciple of Christ, and not wish to impose on you any other burden. But if he be of a violent and proud spirit, it is clear that he is not born of God, and we must not give heed to his words." However, when they further asked, by what signs they would know whether he were a meek and humble man, he said, "they had better cause him and his retinue to enter first, and take their places in the assembly, where these affairs were to be discussed. If, when they afterwards went in, he rose at their entrance, they should acknowledge him as a servant of Christ. But if he remained sitting, although their numbers far exceeded his, they were not to recognise him." Such an external sign is certainly very deceptive; it may, however, as a spontaneous expression of the inward character, have a special significance. The character often shows itself most clearly in trifles, and this might be the case here. And the old Britons came to an accurate judgment when they found humility wanting in Augustine, if it was true that he needed the advice and warning which Gregory gave him.
Gregory wrote him this letter, imbued with the spirit of Christian wisdom: "Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and goodwill to men, because the corn of wheat is fallen into the ground, and has died,' so that He, by whose death we live, by whose weakness we are made strong, by whose suffering we are saved from sufferings, from love to whom we seek out, in Britain, brethren whom we know not, through whose grace we have found those whom we sought without knowing them, shall not reign in heaven alone.' Is it not the word of Him who said: My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,' -- who, in order to show that He would not convert' the world by human wisdom, but by His power, chose for the preachers whom He sent into the world unlearned men, which is now being fulfilled in the performance of mighty things by weak instruments among the English people? But, beloved brother, there is something in this heavenly gift which should cause you to fear in the midst of your great joy. You must indeed rejoice that the souls of the English are drawn to the inward grace by the outward miracles, but you must fear lest your weak soul be lifted up on account of the miracles which have taken place; for we must remember that when the disciples returned delighted from their preaching, and told their heavenly Master, Lord, even the devils are subject to us in thy name,' they at once received this counsel -- Rejoice not in that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.' While they were exulting in the miracle, they had suffered their souls to be invaded by a self-seeking and temporal joy. But they were thus recalled from a selfish to a universal, from a transitory to an eternal joy. For all the elect do not perform miracles, but all have their names written in heaven. The disciples of truth ought to rejoice only over that inheritance which they share in common with all, and of which the joy is without end.
"This also remains for you to do, my dearest brother: that whilst you work these things outwardly by the power of God, you judge your own heart with strictness, -- remembering well what you are, and how great the grace of God towards his people, in that he enables even you to work miracles for their sakes. If you recollect to have sinned in any way against our Creator, by word or by deed, recall it continually to your thoughts, that the consideration of guilt may repress rising pride. And remember in all the signs and wonders which you have received, that they were not given to you, but to those for whose salvation they were granted. It is necessary to restrain the soul from seeking its own honour in miracles, and from becoming elated with joy at its own elevation. Nothing but the winning of souls should be sought by miracles, and the glory of Him through whose power those miracles are accomplished. The Lord has given us one sign, however, at which we may indeed rejoice, and by which we may recognise our own election, when he says: By this shall every one know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.'"
A golden counsel is this at all times, for all to whose labours the Lord gives great results, and who incur the temptations of wishing to glorify themselves in what God has done through them.
A lady who was tormented by the sense of her sins, sought consolation from Gregory, and wrote to him that she would give him no peace until he told her that he had received a special revelation that her' sins were forgiven. Gregory wrote to her that he was unworthy to receive a special revelation, and directed her to the fountain of the compassion of the Redeemer, open to all, saying: "I know that you fervently love the Almighty God, and I confide in his mercy that these words from the lips of truth, are spoken in relation to you also, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much.'" In a sermon, he says, concerning Christian self-knowledge: "The more holy men advance in the Divine life, the deeper insight do they gain into their own unworthiness; for when they are nearest to the light, they discover what had been hidden from them in their hearts, and their outward life appears to them so much the more odious, as that which they see within appears more beautiful. For every one is revealed to himself when he becomes enlightened by contact with the true light; in learning what holiness is, he also learns what guilt is."
But he also warned men against that false humility, which nourishes vanity by that which is the most contrary to all vanity and pride. "We know many," he says, "who, without being accused by any one, acknowledge that they are sinners; but when blamed by any one else on account of their sins, seek to defend themselves in order not to appear sinners. If such persons, when speaking of their own accord, acknowledged their sinfulness with genuine humility, they would not, when reproached by others, deny their being what they themselves before confessed."
Of the nature of self-denial, he says: "It is not enough to renounce our possessions, if we do not renounce ourselves. Whither then should we flee from ourselves? We should renounce ourselves in that which sin has made us, and remain ourselves in that which we have become through grace." And in reference to this, he says elsewhere: "The more holiness daily grows in us through the Spirit of God, the more does our selfish nature decrease. We attain to a perfect stature in God, when we renounce ourselves entirely."
Gregory always deprecated the externalizing and isolating of virtues and good works; pointing out, that there is a close connexion between all that is really good, -- that love is the soul of all good, without which nothing has any value. "Purity, soberness, distributing our property amongst the poor, are nothing, he says, without love. Satan trembles to see in us that true lowly love which we bear to one another; he grudges us this harmony; for we thus display that which he himself was not able to. retain. Evil spirits fear the multitude of the elect, when they see them banded together against them by the unity of love. But how great the importance of unity is, appears from this: that without it, the other virtues are not even virtues."
"In order to show mercy to the needy," he says, "two things are requisite: a man to give, and a thing to be given. But the man is incomparably better than the thing. Thus, he who gives of his substance to his famishing neighbour, but does not guard his life from the evil one, gives his goods to God, and himself to sin. He has offered the meaner thing to his Creator, and preserved the nobler for the evil one. Then only is any sacrifice acceptable to God when the branches of piety spring from the root of righteousness." He terms love the compensating principle in all diversities of gifts among men, both corporeal and intellectual, because thereby the gifts peculiar to each are made common to all. In speaking of the diversities of gifts among the Apostles, who were appointed to supply and complete, he says: "The Almighty God deals with the souls of men as with the different countries of the earth. For He might have bestowed all productions on every country; but if every land did not need those of others, there would have been no intercourse between them. Therefore, He gave to one a superabundance of wine; to another, of oil; to one, great numbers of cattle; to another, richness of vegetable productions; so that, by each supplying what the other wants, the several lands become united by an interchange of gifts. As the different lands are related to each other, so are the souls of the saints, who share their gifts, like the countries their fruits, that all may be bound together in one love." Thus Gregory shows how the variety, and inequality among men is a necessary arrangement, and ordained by God, and the wish to reduce everything to an external uniformity, would be a mutilation of nature and a disturbance of Divine order; whilst the love resulting from the Gospel is the equalizing principle, all natural or conventional inequalities being but material for the manifestation and preservation of love.
Of true prayer: "We see, dearest brethren," says Gregory, "in what great numbers you have assembled at this festival; how you bow your knees, beat your breasts, utter words of prayer and confessions of sins, wet your faces with tears. But test, I beseech you, the quality of your prayers; search whether you pray in the name of Jesus, that is, whether you ask for the joys of eternal salvation, for in the house of Jesus ye seek not Jesus, if, in the very temple of eternity, you pray in an inordinate way for what is temporal. One prays for a wife, another for an estate, another for a maintenance. We may, indeed, when we want such things, pray to the Almighty God for them, but we must at the same time remember what our Saviour has commanded us: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.'"
And in another place: "True prayer consists not in the utterance of the lips, but in the feeling of the heart, for it is not our word but our desires, which, as a mighty voice, reach to the hidden ear of God. When we pray for everlasting life with the mouth, and do not desire it in the heart, our cry is only a silence. If we long for it out of the abundance of the heart, our silence is a cry, for in the inmost soul, in the desire of the heart, there is then the hidden cry, which does not reach human ears, yet fills the ear of the Creator." Of the operation of the Holy Ghost on the human mind, he says: "The breath of the Holy Spirit raises the human soul when it touches it, and, repressing earthly thoughts, influences the soul with heavenly longing, so that it has more joy in the things above than in anything else, and despises all that springs from the earth and the corruption of men. Thus, to comprehend the hidden word, implies the reception of the Holy Ghost into the soul. This word can only be apprehended by him who has it. It is a thing to be felt, but cannot be expressed in words."
Of the manifold modes in which the Holy Spirit draws men to himself and trains them, he says: "Sometimes God awakens us to repentance by love, sometimes by fear. Sometimes He shows the nothingness of the present, and directs our desires to the love of the eternal; sometimes He reveals eternal things to us first, that the temporal may appear as nothing in their light. Sometimes He represents to us our own sinfulness, thus softening us into compassion for the sins of others. Sometimes He holds up to our view the wickedness of others, and by thus leading us to repentance, delivers us in a wonderful way from our own wickedness."
A man who so well appreciated the nature of Christianity, as intended to influence the inward being of man, would necessarily understand that men, in order to lead their brethren to repentance, can only bring this Divine power near to their hearts by their life and doctrine, and that the work which the Lord alone can accomplish by His Spirit, cannot be enforced by human contrivance or power. And we find in his writings many beautiful observations on this point, although he was sometimes carried away by untempered zeal, and did not al: ways faithfully act up to the opinions here laid down. He emphatically declares his disapprobation of those blind zealots who forcibly compelled the Jews in Italy to be baptized, or disturbed them in the free exercise of their religion. He wrote to a bishop of Naples: "Those who sincerely seek to guide the unbelieving to the true faith, must try to effect their purpose in a friendly, and not in a violent manner, lest the souls which might have been won by a patient exposition of doctrine, should be repelled by hostility. Those who act otherwise, and under the cloak of zeal seek to hinder them in their wonted religious observances, show that they ate seeking their own things rather than the things of God. Why do we prescribe to the Jews rules for their Divine service if we cannot thereby win them? We should endeavour rather to draw them to us by rational conviction and by mildness, and not cause them to shun us; that, whilst arguing with them from the Holy Scripture, we may convert them by God's grace." And to a bishop of Terracina: "Those who are still distant from Christianity we must try to lead into the faith by gentleness and mildness, with admonition and persuasion; lest those who might have been induced to believe by the gentle force of preaching, should be repulsed by threats and terror."
 The convulsions--which the God who killeth in order to make alive, who can call forth new life from death, designed to be heralds of a new creation--appeared to those who suffered from them, to betoken the end of all things.