Tag Archives: compunction

The roots of heart religion – Gregory the Great


English: Jerome & Gregory.

English: Jerome & Gregory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine:

We have seen already a bit of how the hugely influential Christian philosopher/educator Boethius Anicius developed that theme of earthly and heavenly desire in his allegory of Lady Philosophy. Now we turn to arguably the most influential Father for the medieval period after Augustine: Gregory the Great. Jean LeClercq, modern author of The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, has called Gregory “the Doctor of Desire.” Carole Straw calls his popular writings “an encyclopedia of spiritual experience.”[1]

Gregory’s chief contribution to the tradition of heart religion was his formulation of the virtue of compunctio (“compunction”).[2] Often thought of as a kind of godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10-11), the Latin word literally means “piercing.” It is rooted in Acts 2:37, which tells how Peter’s hearers at Pentecost were “pierced to the heart.” Cassian, Benedict, and others had followed up this clue by closely associating compunction with conversion, but it was Gregory who made it a central value in Western spirituality. Continue reading

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Society sacralized from Rome’s fall to Charlemagne (400 – 800 A.D.)–glimpses from Bernard McGinn


Map of territorial boundaries ca. 450 AD

Image via Wikipedia

What follows are some acute observations on the Christian landscape of the early Middle Ages from Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1994). For those interested in the monastic culture of the Middle Ages or the ins and outs of medieval spirituality, this is a wonderful text. McGinn has solidly mastered all that he writes about, and he communicates it in terms understandable to the nonspecialist reader.

The notes that follow are taken from Chapter 1, “The Making of Christendom.” Each note begins with the page number.

17        “The changes in Christian spirituality between 400 and 800 are especially significant for understanding the development of medieval Latin mysticism. No one disputes that these centuries saw the end of ancient Christianity, tied to the world of the late Roman city, and the birth of early medieval Christianity, more often than not rural and monastic in character. . . .” Continue reading

How God speaks to us through suffering, sin, and sorrow: Gregory the Great


Talking with a colleague today about Pope Gregory I (the Great; 540 – 604), we both concluded the same thing: Gregory was one deep spiritual theologian who still needs to be heard today. My colleague told me that Calvin held Gregory in high esteem and once called him “the last of the orthodox popes.” Here’s a bit of what I learned about Gregory while writing Patron Saints for Postmoderns:

(If you are intrigued by what follows, then the next place to go is Carol Straw’s Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection.)

A Spirituality of the Everyday

Gregory . . . insisted that while pastors or laypeople are engaged in the active life, everything in their experience and in the world becomes potentially an instrument of God’s direct, special communication to them. Chance meetings. Storms. Landscapes. Crafted objects. A thousand other things. God is always speaking to us if we but have ears to hear and eyes to see. Unlike Augustine, who believed God both hid and revealed himself (thus keeping humans aware of how dependent they are on him), Gregory emphasized “God’s involvement with creation and the sacramental presence of spiritual truths in the things of this world.” In teaching this world-sacramentalism, Gregory launched another powerful force in the emergence of the new, sacred world of the medievals.

Of course, the possibility that God is speaking to us in our daily experiences in the world raises the question: How can we tell when it’s God talking? Continue reading