Gregory, Pastoral 317
317 (Admonition 18). Differently to be admonished are the humble and the haughty. To the former it is to be insinuated how true is that excellence which they hold in hoping for it; to the latter it is to be intimated how that temporal glory is as nothing which even when embracing it they hold not. Let the humble hear how eternal are the things that they long for, how transitory the things which they despise; let the haughty hear how transitory are the things they court, how eternal the things they lose. Let the humble hear from the authoritative voice of the Truth, Every one that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Lc 18,14). Let the haughty hear, Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled (Ibid).. Let the humble hear, Humility goeth before glory; let the haughty hear, The spirit is exalted before a fall (Pr 15,33 Pr 16,18). Let the humble hear, Unto whom shall I have respect, but to him that is humble and quiet, and that trembleth at my words (Is 66,2)? Let the haughty hear, Why is earth and ashes proud (Si 10,9)? Let the humble hear, God hath respect unto the things that are humble. Let the haughty hear, And lofty things late knoweth afar off (Ps 137,64). Let the humble hear, That the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister (Mt 20,28); let the haughty hear, that The beginning of all sin is pride (Si 10,13). Let the humble hear, that Our Redeemer humbled himself, being made obedient even unto death (Ph 2,8); let the haughty hear what is written concerning their head, He is king over all the sons of pride (Jb 41,25). The pride, therefore, of the devil became the occasion of our perdition, and the humility of God has been found the argument for our redemption. For our enemy, having been created among all things, desired to appear exalted above all things; but our Redeemer, remaining great above all things, deigned to become little among all things.
Let the humble, then, be told that, when they abase themselves, they ascend to the likeness of God; let the haughty be told that, when they exalt themselves, they fall into imitation of the apostate angel. What, then, is more debased than haughtiness, which, while it stretches itself above itself, is lengthened out beyond the stature of true loftiness? And what is more sublime than humility, which, while it depresses itself to the lowest, conjoins itself to its Maker who remains above the highest? There is, however, another thing in these cases that ought to be carefully considered; that some are often deceived by a false show of humility, while some are beguiled by ignorance of their own haughtiness. For commonly some who think themselves humble have an admixture of fear, such as is not due to men; while an assertion of free speech commonly goes with the haughty. And when any vices require to be rebuked, the former hold their peace out of fear, and yet esteem themselves as being silent out of humility; the latter speak in the impatience of haughtiness, and yet believe themselves to be speaking in the freedom of uprightness. Those the fault of timidity under a show of humility keeps back from rebuking what is wrong; these the unbridled impetuosity of pride, under the image of freedom, impels to rebuke things they ought not, or to rebuke them more than they ought. Whence both the haughty are to be admonished not to be free more than is becoming, and the humble are to be admonished not to be more submissive than is right; lest either the former turn the defence of righteousness into a display of pride, or the latter, while they study more than needs to submit themselves to men, be driven even to pay respect to their vices,
It is, however, to be considered that for the most part we more profitably reprove the haughty, if with our reproofs of them we mingle some balms of praise. For some other good things that are in them should be introduced into our reproofs, or at all events some that might have been, though they are not; and then at last the bad things that displease us should be cut away, when previous allowance of the good things that please us has made their minds favourably disposed to listen. For unbroken horses, too, we first touch with a gentle hand, that we may afterwards subdue them to us even with whips. And the sweetness of honey is added to the bitter cup of medicine, lest the bitterness which is to be of profit for health be felt harsh in the act of tasting; but, while the taste is deceived by sweetness, the deadly humour is expelled by bitterness. In the case, then, of the haughty the first beginnings of our rebuke should be tempered with an admixture of praise, that, while they admit the commendations which they love, they may accept also the reproofs which they hate.
Moreover, we shall in most cases better persuade the haughty to their profit, if we speak of their improvement as likely to profit us rather than them; if we request their amendment to be bestowed upon us more than on themselves. For haughtiness is easily bent to good, if its bending be believed to be of profit to others also. Whence Moses, who journeyed through the desert under the direction of God and the leading of the cloudy pillar, when he would draw Hobab his kinsman from converse with the Gentile world, and subdue him to the dominion of Almighty God, said, We are journeying unto the place ofwhich the Lord said, I will give it to you; Come with us, and we will do thee good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning lsrael. And when the other had replied to him, I will not go with thee, but will return to my own land in which I was born; he straightway added, Leave us not, I pray thee; for thou knowest in what places we should encamp in the wilderness, and thou shalt be our guide (Nb 10,29, seq.). And yet Moses was not straitened in his own mind by ignorance of the way, seeing that acquaintance with Deity had opened out within him the knowledge of prophecy; and the pillar went before him outwardly, while inwardly familiar speech in his sedulous converse with God instructed him concerning all things. But, in truth, as a man of foresight, talking to a haughty hearer, he sought succour that he might give it; he requested a guide on the way, that he might. be able to be his guide unto life. Thus he so acted that the proud hearer should become all the more attentive to the voice that persuaded him to better things from being supposed to be necessary, and, in that he believed himself to be his exhorterís guide, he should bow himself to the words of exhortation.
318 (Admonition 19). Differently to be admonished are the obstinate and the fickle. The former are to be told that they think more of themselves than they are, and therefore do not acquiesce in the counsels of others: but the latter are to be given to understand that they undervalue and disregard themselves too much, and so are turned aside from their own judgment in successive moments of time. Those are to be told that, unless they esteemed themselves better than the rest of men, they would by no means set less value on the counsels of all than on their own deliberation: these are to be told that, if they at all gave heed to what they are, the breeze of mutability would by no means turn them about through so many sides of variableness. To the former it is said through Paul, Be not wise in your own conceits (Rm 12,16): but the latter on the other hand should hear this; Let us not be carried about with every wind of doctrine (Ep 4,14). Concerning the former it is said through Solomon, They shall eat of the fruits of their own way, and be filled with their own devices (Pr 1,31); but concerning the latter it is written by him again, The heart of the foolish will be unlike (Pr 15,7). For the heart of the wise is always like itself, because, while it rests in good persuasions, it directs itself constantly in good performance. But the heart of the foolish is unlike, because, while it shews itself various through mutability, it never remains what it was. And since some vices, as out of themselves they generate others, so themselves spring from others, it ought by all means to be understood that we then better wipe these away by our reproofs, when we dry them up from the very fountain of their bitterness. For obstinacy is engendered of pride, and fickleness of levity.
The obstinate are therefore to be admonished, that they acknowledge the haughtiness of their thoughts, and study to vanquish themselves; lest, while they scorn to be overcome by the right advice of others outside themselves, they be held captive within themselves to pride. They are to be admonished to observe wisely how the Son of Man, Whose will is always one with the Fatherís, that He may afford us an example of subduing our own will, says, I seek not mine own will,but the will of the Father which hath sent me (Jn 5,30). And, still more to commend the grace of this virtue, He declared beforehand that He would retain the same in the last judgment, saying, I can of myself do nothing, but as I hear I judge (Ibid).. With what conscience, then, can a man disdain to acquiesce in the will of another, seeing that the Son of God and of Man, when He comes to shew forth the glory of his power, testifies that of his own self he does not judge?
But, on the other hand, the fickle are to be admonished to strengthen their mind with gravity. For they then dry up the germs of mutability in themselves when they first cut off from their heart the root of levity; since also a strong fabric is built up when a solid place is first provided whereon to lay the foundation. Unless, then, levity of mind be previously guarded against, inconstancy of the thoughts is by no means conquered. From this Paul declared himself to be free, when he said, Did I use levity? or the things that I purpose do I purpose according to the flesh, thatwith me there should be yea and nay (2Co 1,17)? As if to say plainly, For this reason I am moved by no breeze of mutability, that I yield not to the vice of levity.
†(Admonition 20). Differently to be admonished are the gluttonous and the abstinent. For superfluity of speech, levity of conduct, and lechery accompany the former; but the latter often the sin of impatience, and often that of pride. For were it not the case that immoderate loquacity carries away the gluttonous, that rich man who is said to have fared sumptuously every day would not burn more sorely than elsewhere in his tongue, saying, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame (Lc 16,24). By these words it is surely shewn that in his daily feasting he had frequently sinned by his tongue, seeing that, while burning all over, he demanded to be cooled especially in his tongue. Again, that levity of conduct follows closely upon gluttony sacred authority testifies, when it says, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play (Ex 32,6). For the most part also edacity leads us even to lechery, because, when the belly is distended by repletion, the stings of lust are excited. Whence also to the cunning foe, who opened the sense of the first man by lust for the apple, but bound it in a noose of sin, it is said by the divine voice, On breast and belly shalt thou creep (Gn 3,14); as if it were plainly said to him, In thought and in maw thou shalt have dominion over human hearts. That lechery follows upon gluttony the prophet testifies, denouncing hidden things while he speaks of open ones, when he says, The chief of the cooks broke down the walls of Jerusalem (Jr 39,9 2R 25,10)5 . For the chief of the cooks is the belly, to which the cooks pay observance with great care, that it may itself be delectably filled with viands. But the walls of Jerusalem are the virtues of the soul, elevated to a longing for supernal peace. The chief of the cooks, therefore, throws down the walls of Jerusalem, because, when the belly is distended with gluttony, the virtues of the soul are destroyed through lechery.
On the other hand, were it not that impatience commonly shakes the abstinent out of the bosom of tranquillity, Peter would by no means, when saying, Supply in your faith virtue, and in your virtue knowledge, and in your knowledge abstinence (2P 1,5), have straightway vigilantly added, And in your abstinence patience. For he foresaw that the patience which he admonished them to have would be wanting to the abstinent. Again, were it not that the sin of pride sometimes pierces through the cogitations of the abstinent, Paul would by no means have said, Let not him that eateth not judge him that earth (Rm 14,3). And again, speaking to others, while glancing at the maxims of such as gloried in the virtue of abstinence, he added, Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in superstition and humility, and for not sparing of the body, not in any honour for the satisfying of the flesh (Col 2,23).Here it is to be noted that the excellent preacher, in his argument, joins a show ofhumility to superstition, because, when the flesh is worn more than needs by abstinence, humility is displayed outwardly, but on account of this very humility there is grievous pride within. And unless the mind were sometimes puffed up by the virtue of abstinence, the arrogant Pharisee would by no means have studiously numbered this among his great merits, saying, I fast twice in the week (Lc 18,12).
Thus the gluttonous are to be admonished, that in giving themselves to the enjoyment of dainties they pierce not themselves through with the sword of lechery; and that they perceive how great loquacity, how great levity of mind, lie in wait for them through eating; lest, while they softly serve the belly, they become cruelly bound in the nooses of vice. For by so much the further do we go back from our second parent as by immoderate indulgence, when the hand is stretched out for food, we renew the fall of our first parent. But, on the other hand, the abstinent are to be admonished ever anxiously to look out, lest, while they fly the vice of gluttony, still worse vices be engendered as it were of virtue lest, while they macerate the flesh, their spirit break out into impatience; and so there be no virtue in the vanquishing of the flesh, the spirit being overcome by anger. Sometimes, moreover, while the mind of the abstinent keeps anger down, it is corrupted, as it were by a foreign joy coming in, and loses all the good of abstinence in that it fails to guard itself from spiritual vices. Hence it is rightly said through the prophet, In the days of your fasts are found your wills ([LXX] Is 58,3, lxx).. And shortly after, Ye fast for debates and strifes, and ye smile with the fists (Ibid).. For the will pertains to delight, the fist to anger. In vain, then, is the body worn by abstinence, if the mind, abandoned to disorderly emotions, is dissipated by vices. And again, they are to be admonished that, while they keep up their abstinence without abatement, they suppose not this to be of eminent virtue before the hidden judge; lest, if it be perchance supposed to be of great merit, the heart be lifted up to haughtiness. For hence it is said through the prophet, (Is it such a fast that I have chosen! But break thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the wanderers into thine house (Is 5).
In this matter it is to be considered how small the virtue of abstinence is accounted, seeing that it is not commended but for other virtues. Hence Jl says, Sanctify a fast. For indeed to sanctify a fast is to shew abstinence of the flesh to be worthy of God by other good things being added to it. The abstinent are to be admonished that they then offer to God an abstinence that pleases Him, when they bestow on the indigent the nourishment which they withhold from themselves. For we should wisely attend to what is blamed by the Lord through the prophet, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month far these seventy years, did ye at all first a last unto Me? And when ye did eat and drink, did ye not eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves Za 7,5 seq).? For a man fasts not to God but to himself, if what he withholds from his belly. for a time he gives not to the needy, but keeps to be offered afterwards to his belly.
Wherefore, lest either gluttonous appetite throw the one sort off their guard, or the afflicted flesh trip up the other by elation, let the former hear this from the month of the Truth, And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged in surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this world (Lc 21,34). And in the same place there is added a profitable fear; And so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell an the face of the whole earth (Lc 35). Let the latter hear, Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man (Mt 15,11). Let the former hear, Meat for the belly, and the belly far meats; but God shall destroy both it and them (1Co 6,13). And again, Not in rioting and drunkenness (Rm 13,13). And again, Meat commendeth us not to God (1Co 8,8). Let the latter hear, To the pure all things are pure: but unto them that am defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure (Tt 1,15). Let the former hear, Whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their own confusion (Ph 3,19). Let the latter hear, Some shall depart from the faith; and a little after, Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain frown meats, which God hath treated to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth (1Tm 4,1 1Tm 4,3). Let those hear, It is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth (Rom. xiv. 21). Let these hear, Use a little wine far thy stomachís sake and thine often infirmities (1Tm 5,23). Thus both the former may learn not to desire inordinately the food of the flesh, and the latter not dare to condemn the creature of God, which they lust not after.
320 (Admonition 21). Differently to be admonished are those who already give compassionately of their own, and those who still would fain seize even what belongs to others. For those who already give compassionately of their own are to be admonished not to lift themselves up in swelling thought above those to whom they impart earthly things; not to esteem themselves better than others because they see others to be supported by them. For the Lord of an earthly household, in distributing the ranks and ministries of his servants, appoints some to rule, but some to be ruled by others. Those he orders to supply to the rest what is necessary, these to take what they receive from others. And yet it is for the most part those that rule who offend, while those that are ruled remain in favour with the good man of the house. Those who are dispensers incur wrath; those who subsist by the dispensation of others continue without offence. Those, then, who already give compassionately of the things which they possess are to be admonished to acknowledge themselves to be placed by the heavenly Lord as dispensers of temporal supplies, and to, impart the same all the more humbly from their understanding that the things which they dispense are not their own. And, when they consider that they are appointed for the service of those to whom they impart what they have received, by no means let vain glory elate their minds, but let fear depress them. Whence also it is needful for them to take anxious thought test they distribute what has been committed to them unworthily; lest they bestow something on those on whom they ought to have spent nothing, or nothing on those on whom they ought to have spent something, or much on those on whom they ought to have spent little, or little on those on whom they ought to have spent much; lest by precipitancy they scatter unprofitably what they give; lest by tardiness they mischievously torment petitioners; lest the thought of receiving a favour in return creep in; lest craving for transitory praise extinguish the light of giving; lest accompanying moroseness beset an offered gift; lest in case of a gift that has been well offered the mind be exhilarated more than is fit; lest, when they have fulfilled all aright, they give something to themselves, and so at once lose all after they have accomplished all. For, that they may not attribute to themselves the virtue of their liberality, let them hear what is written, If any man administer, let him do it as of the ability which God administereth (1P 4,11). That they may not rejoice immoderately in benefits bestowed, let them hear what is written, When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do (Lc 17,10). That moroseness may not spoil liberality, let them hear what is written, God loveth a cheerful giver (2Co 9,7). That they may not seek transitory praise for a gift bestowed, let them hear what is written, Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Mt 6,3). That is, let not the glory of the present life mix itself with the largesses of piety, nor let desire of favour know anything of the work of rectitude. That they may not require a return for benefits bestowed, let them hear what is written, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours, lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. but, when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they have not whereof to recompense thee (Lc 14,12 seq.). That they may not supply too late what should be supplied at once, let them hear what is written, Say not unto thy friend, go and come again, and to-morrow I will give, when thou mightest give immediately (Pr 3,28). Lest, under pretence of liberality, they should scatter what they possess unprofitably, let them hear what is written, Let thine alms sweat in thine hand. Lest, when much is necessary, little be given, let them hear what is written, (He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly (2Co 9,6). Lest, when they ought to give little, they give too much, and afterwards, badly enduring want themselves, break out into impatience, let them hear what is written, Not that other men be eased, and ye burdened, but by an quality, that your abundance may supply their want, and that their abundance may be a supply to your want (2Co 8,13-14). For, when the soul of the giver knows not how to endure want, then, in withdrawing much from himself, he seeks out against himself occasion of impatience. For the mind should first be prepared for patience, and then either much or all be bestowed in bounty, lest, the inroad of want being borne with but little equanimity, both the reward of previous bounty be lost, and subsequent murmuring bring worse ruin on the soul. Lest they should give nothing at all to those on whom they ought to bestow something, let them hear what is written, Give to every man that asketh of thee (Lc 6,30). Lest they should give something, however little to those on whom they ought to bestow nothing at all, let them hear what is written). Give to the good man, and receive not a sinner: do well to him that is lowly, and give not to the ungodly (Qo 12,4). And again, Set out thy bread and wine on the burial of the just, but eat and drink not thereof with sinners (Tb 4,17).
For he gives his bread and wine to sin-nets who gives assistance to the wicked for that they are wicked. For which cause also some of the rich of this world nourish players with profuse bounties, while the poor of Christ are tormented with hunger. He, however, who gives his bread to one that is indigent, though he be a sinner, not because he is a sinner, but because he is a man, does not in truth nourish a sinner, but a poor righteous man, because what he loves in him is not his sin, but his nature. Those who already distribute compassion- ately what they possess are to be admonished also that they study to keep careful guard, lest, when they redeem by alms the sins they have committed, they commit others which will still require redemption; lest they suppose the righteousness of God to be saleable, thinking that if they take care to give money for their sins, they can sin with impunity. For, The soul is more than meat, and the body than raiment (Mt 6,25; Lc 12,23). He, therefore, who bestows meat or raiment on the poor, and yet is polluted by iniquity of soul or body, has offered the lesser thing to righteousness, and the greater thing to sin; for he has given his possessions to God, and himself to the devil.
But, on the other hand, those who still would fain seize what belongs to others are to be admonished to give anxious heed to what the Lord says when He comes to judgment. For He says, I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not (Mt 25,42-43). And these he previously addresses saying, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into eternal fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels (Lc 41). Lo, they are in no wise told that they have committed robberies or any other acts of violence, and yet they are given over to the eternal fires of Gehenna. Hence, then, it is to be gathered with how great damnation those will be visited who seize what is not their own, if those who have indiscreetly kept their own are smitten with so great punishment. Let them consider in what guilt the seizing of goods must bind them, if not parting with them subjects to such a penalty. Let them consider what injustice inflicted must deserve, if kindness not bestowed is worthy of so great a chastisement.
When they are intent on seizing what is not their own, let them hear what is written, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! How long doth he heap up against himself thick clay (Ha 2,6)? For, indeed, for a covetous man to heap up against him thick clay is to pile up earthly gains into a load of sin. When they desire to enlarge greatly the spaces of their habitation, let them hear what is written, Woe unto you that join house to house and lay field to field, even till there be no place left. What, will ye dwell alone in the midst of the earth (Is 5,8)? As if to say plainly, How far do ye stretch yourselves, ye that cannot bear to have comrades in a common world? Those that are joined to you ye keep down, and ever find some against whom ye may have power to stretch yourselves. When they are intent on increasing money, let them hear what is written, The covetous man is not filled with money; and he that loveth riches shall not reap fruit thereof (Qo 5,9). For indeed he would reap fruit of them, were he minded, not loving them, to disperse them well. But whoso in his affection for them retains them, shall surely leave them behind him here without fruit. When they burn to be filled at once with all manner of wealth, let them hear what is written, He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent (Pr 28,20): for certainly he who goes about to increase wealth is negligent in avoiding sin; and, being caught after the manner of birds, while looking greedily at the bait of earthly things, he is not aware in what a noose of sin he is being strangled, When they desire any gains of the present world, and are ignorant of the losses they will suffer in the world to come, let them hear what is written, An inheritance to which haste is made in the beginning in the last end shall lack blessing (Pr 20,21). For indeed we derive our beginning from this life, that we may come in the end to the lot of blessing. They, therefore, that make haste to an inheritance in the beginning cut off from themselves the lot of blessing in the end; since, while they crave to be increased in goods here through the iniquity of avarice, they become disinherited there of their eternal patrimony. When they either solicit very much, or succeed in obtaining all that they have solicited, let them hear what is written). What is a man profited, if he should gain the whole world, but lose his own soul (Mt 16,26)? As if the Truth said plainly, What is a man profited, though he gather together all that is outside himself, if this very thing only which is himself he damns? But for the most part the covetousness of spoilers is the sooner corrected, if it be shewn by the words of such as admonish them how fleeting is the present life; if mention be made of those who have long endeavoured to grow rich in this world, and yet have been unable to remain long among their acquired riches; from whom hasty death has taken away suddenly and all at once whatever, neither all at once nor suddenly, they have gathered together; who have not only left here what they had seized, but have carried with them to the judgment arraignments for seizure. Let them, therefore, be told of examples of such as these, whom they would, doubtless, even themselves, in words condemn; so that, when after their words they come back to their own heart, they may blush at any rate to imitate those whom they judge).
(Admonition 22). Differently to be admonished are those who neither desire what belongs to others nor bestow what is their own, and those who give of what they have, and yet desist not from seizing on what belongs to others. Those who neither desire what belongs to others nor bestow what is their own are to be admonished to consider carefully that the earth out of which they are taken is common to all men, and therefore brings forth nourishment for all in common. Vainly, then, do those suppose themselves innocent, who claim to their own private use the common gift of God; those who, in not imparting what they have received, walk in the midst of the slaughter of their neighbours; since they almost daily slay so many persons as there are dying poor whose subsidies they keep close in their own possession. For, when we administer necessaries of any kind to the indigent, we do not bestow our own, but render them what is theirs; we rather pay a debt of justice than accomplish works of mercy. Whence also the Truth himself, when speaking of the caution required in shelving mercy, says, Take heed that ye do not your justice before men (Mt 6,1). The Psalmist also, in agreement with this sentence, says, He hath dispersed, he hath given ta the poor, his justice endureth for ever (Ps 112,9).
For, having first mentioned bounty bestowed upon the poor, he would not call this mercy, but rather justice: for it is surely just that whosoever receive what is given by a common Lord should use it in common. Hence also Solomon says, Whoso is just will give and will not spare (Pr 21,26). Theyare to be admonished also anxiously to take note how of the fig-tree that had no fruit therigorous husbandman complains that it even cumbers the ground.
For a fig-tree without fruit cumbers the ground, when the soul of the niggardly keeps unprofitably what might have benefited many. A fig-tree without fruit cumbers the ground, when the fool keeps barren under the shade of sloth a place which another might have cultivated under the sun of good works.
But these are wont sometimes to say, We use what has been granted us; we do not seek what belongs to others; and, if we do nothing worthy of the reward of mercy, we still commit no wrong. So they think, because in truth they close the ear of their heart to the words which are from heaven. For the rich man in the Gospel who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day, is not said to have seized what belonged to others, but to have used what was his own unfruitfully; and avenging hell received him after this life, not because he did anything unlawful but because by immoderate indulgence he gave up his whole self to what was lawful.
The niggardly are to be admonished to take notice that they do God, in the first place, this wrong; that to Him Who gives them all they render in return no sacrifice of mercy. For hence the Psalmist says). (He will not give his propitiation to God, nor the price of the redemption of his soul (Ps 48,96). For to give the price of redemption is to return good deeds for preventing grace. Hence John cries aloud saying, Now the axe is laid unto the raft of the tree. Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn dawn and cast into the fire (Lc 3,9). Let those, therefore, who esteem themselves guiltless because they do not seize on what belongs to others look forward to the stroke of the axe that is nigh at hand, and lay aside the torpor of improvident security, lest, while they neglect to bear the fruit of good deeds, they be cut off from the present life utterly, as it were from the greenness of the root.
But, on the other hand, those who both give what they have and desist not from seizing on what belongs to others are to be admonished not to desire to appear exceeding munificent, and so be made worse from the outward show of good. For these, giving what is their own without discretion, not only, as we have said above, fall into the murmuring of impatience, but, when want urges them, are swept along even to avarice. What, then, is more wretched than the mind of those in whom avarice is born of bountifulness, and a crop of sins is sown as it were from virtue? First, then, they are to be admonished to learn how to keep what is theirs reasonably, and then in the end not to go about getting what is anotherís. For, if the root of the fault is not burnt out in the profusion itself, the thorn of avarice, exuberant through the branches, is never dried up. So then, cause for seizing is withdrawn, if the right of possession be first adjusted well. But then, further, let those who are admonished be told how to give mercifully what they have, when they have learnt not to confound the good of mercy by throwing into it the wickedness of robbery. For they violently exact what they mercifully bestow. For it is one thing to shew mercy on account of our sins; another thing to sin on account of shewing mercy; which can no longer indeed be called mercy, since it cannot grow into sweet fruit, being embittered by the poison of its pestiferous root. For hence it is that the Lord through the prophet rejects even sacrifices themselves, saying, I the Lord love judgment, and I hate robbery in a whole burnt offering (Is 61,8). Hence again He has said, The sacrifices of the ungodly are abominable, which are offered of wickedness (Pr 21,28). Such persons also often withdraw from the indigent what they give to God.
But the Lord shews with what strong censure he disowns them, saying through a certain wise man, Whoso offereth a sacrifice of the substance of the poor doeth as one that killeth the son before the fatherís eyes (Si 34,20). For what can be more intolerable than the death of a son before his fatherís eyes? Wherefore it is shewn with what great wrath this kind of sacrifice is beheld, in that it is compared to the grief of a bereaved father. And yet for the most part people weigh well how much they give; but how much they seize they neglect to consider. They count, as it were, their wage, but refuse to consider their defaults. Let them hear therefore what is written, (He that hath gathered wages hath put them into a bag with holes (Ag 1,6). For indeed money put into a bag with holes is seen when it is put in, but when it is lost it is not seen. Those, then, who have an eye to how much they bestow, but consider not how much they seize, put their wages into a bag with holes, because in truth they look to them when they gather them together in hope of being secure, but lose them without looking.
Gregory, Pastoral 317