Tag Archives: Gregory the Great

Medievals on the usefulness of illness and the meaning of plague


Cover of "Medicine, Society, and Faith in...

This is a third post grabbing some insights from a fascinating book by Darrel W. Amundsen—Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). The first post shared some of Amundsen’s observations on early Christian attitudes toward medicine and physicians. The second revealed Amundsen’s insights into what medieval Christians thought caused illnesses.

“There is, in the literature, a definite appreciation of God’s hand in a Christian’s suffering and of the salutary effects of sickness in the Christian’s life. 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

The seven deadly sins: Gregory the Great


Here’s another sample of what we’re doing here at the Calvin seminar on the seven deadly sins, at Calvin College. What are we talking about? , on the deadly sins (better: “capital vices”) in the thought of Gregory the Great. He mentions all of them in only one place, in the Moralia on Job. But other mentions are scattered throughout. Bob Kruschwitz mentioned between sessions today that Aquinas, in “On Evil,” his own most thorough treatment of the capital vices, cites Gregory 500 times, mostly from all over his Moralia. It is Gregory who reduces Evagrius’s & Cassian’s eight down to seven, and sets a number of the ways that thinkers thereafter (including Aquinas) will talk about the seven. I was getting sleepy (and recording the session with my digital audio recorder for later review) and less was said about Gregory than Evagrius and Cassian, but what I scribbled down is here:

Presenters: Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung (Calvin College) and Robert Kruschwitz (Baylor University):

Gregory’s Moralia In Iob

There is one big 19th-century translation, being scanned in sections onto the computer. Google Books has a searchable version.

The Moralia on Job is a medieval commentary. Strange bird. Baptists preaching verse by verse—even the most dedicated don’t preach some verses. But Gregory always has a clue for every verse. He always does a moral interpretation, five pages on each one! Not anagogical. But moral, about how you’re supposed to live. So the capital vice stuff is scattered all over this big honkin’ commentary on Job.But the section Aquinas refers to almost half the time when he quotes Gregory is the one in our pack (Moralia Book XXI, 84-91).

This’ll preach!

Job is whining. God shows up: doesn’t say “I’m OK, you’re OK.” Gets in his face, says “I created the world. Do you have any idea what you’re doing.” And goes several more verses: I made Leviathan for fun. Take the war-horse.” And Job says Gotcha: you made the horse. But we made the war-horse, culturally.

And God replies: here’s what’s important about the warhorse–it’s things you humans can’t do, Job! Continue reading

The seven deadly sins: Cassian


Here’s another sample of what we’re doing here at the Calvin seminar on the seven deadly sins, at Calvin College. What are we talking about? , on the deadly sins (better: “capital vices”) in the thought of John Cassian:

Presenters: Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung (Calvin College) and Robert Kruschwitz (Baylor University):

Cassian, Conferences 5

Is this stuff weird, or what? (Bob’s words)

Hard to know about Cassian: Apparently Greek his first language. Yet he also has Latin, with such mastery that people think it might have been a first language as well. So locating where he’s from is often for scholars taking bits and pieces of his story and triangulating where in the ancient world you could have learned both of these language as a child. Romania? Greek speaking, but Latin military presence, schools.

His writings have been described as the first modern writings. They are quite amazing. No parallel in the ancient world. Sometimes you get that story about Augustine, who connects thoughts in chapters, but then he launches into four chapters on genesis. But Cassian: it’s a book, with a plan. He tells us at the front: someone knew he’d been in Egypt. After he’d left with a controversy, went to Rome, sent from there to Constantinople, then back to Rome. Now at mature age, living in Southern France. Pope Castor he’s called in Institutes: bishop, says “You know how to get Christian intentional communities going, do it for me. Write it down before you die.” Then he says “some more guys came to me, wanted some more stories. And you get more conferences. There are three books of Conferences. Very thick volume. The fifth conference, with Serapion, is in the middle of the first set: a featured spot. So you have the Institutes, then the three sets of Conferences, then he quits. Continue reading

The seven deadly sins: Evagrius


Here I am at the Calvin seminar on the seven deadly sins, at Calvin College. What are we talking about? Here’s a sample, on the deadly sins (better: “capital vices,” that is, dispositions from which a bunch of other nasty dispositions and sins flow) in the thought of Evagrius Pontus, whose list included eight of the suckers:

Calvin Seven Deadly Sins seminar Day 2

A survey of the seven deadly sins (capital vices) in Evagrius’s Praktikus, Gregory the Great’s Moralia, and John Cassian’s  Conferences, conference 5

Presenters: Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung (Calvin College) and Robert Kruschwitz (Baylor University):

Evagrius (345 – 399; died as Origenist controversy breaking out) inherited and joined well-established desert tradition. Showed up in late 300s. Not an innovator re inventing the desert experience.

What he did do was try to gather, systematize, innovate a bit, but right down what was going on already. Compiler in a creative way.

Cassian (365 – 435?) joined him out in the desert for around 2 decades. When Evagrius died, he set out for Southern France, set up a monastic version of the desert tradition out in France. 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

Many Mansions: A splendid introduction to Christian thought in the Middle Ages


I’m currently reading Many Mansions: An Introduction to the Development and Diversity of Medieval Theology, by David N. Bell of Memorial University, Newfoundland. The volume also includes a host of medieval images selected and described by Terryl N. Kinder. The book is from the excellent Cistercian Studies Series (#146) (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1996).

This is a rare book in the field of introductions to the history of Christian thought, in that it deals with both medieval Western and Byzantine (medieval-era) Eastern theology in a clear, compelling, accessible manner appropriate for use in an undergraduate or graduate classroom—though students in either may occasionally have to look up words that the author uses without glossing; part of a winsome and erudite style. Continue reading