Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel by Gregory the Great / Works of Love

Gregory the Great

Gregory the Great was the head of the church of Rome from 590-604. He preached a series of sermons (homilies) on Ezekiel in 593 while the Lombards were besieging Rome. After eight years, several priests asked him to take the notes from these sermons and edit them into a readable format. (During this whole period, Rome was constantly attacked by barbarians. Also in 593, the first woman empress took control in Japan, Empress Suiko.) For further information, see Gregory the Great.

Gregory the Great

Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

“Now, there are two lives of holy preachers, the active, of course, and the contemplative, but the active precedes the contemplative in time, since contemplation ensues from a good work. For the contemplative confers greater merit than the active, because the latter strives in the practice of instant labor, while the former indeed tastes future rest with secret savor.” (Commentary on Ezekiel 1:8, Page 63)


If you’re familiar with the first chapter of Ezekiel, you know that it’s full of bizarre imagery. Consider verses 4-5, “I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.” Ezekiel also mentions that these “four living creatures” have wings, and, under these wings, hands. After Gregory stops to mention the two ways to live (active and contemplative), he relates the wing over the hand to the contemplative being better than the active. While this particular interpretation might bother you, he also backs up this idea with the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. In this passage, Gregory states an interesting idea. We need two different ways of living. We must act in love and obedience, and when our work is complete we need to rest and contemplate (think about) our communion with God, especially our future rest with him.


While I don’t know how I feel about Gregory’s interpretation of Ezekiel, his point here is grounded in Scripture. What I like about this particular passage is that Gregory stands the way I think on its head. I often believe that I need to think first, really hard and really well, and then act on what I’ve been thinking. But Gregory says that we should act first, and then rest in our hope, the future rest we have with God. Now I don’t think that Gregory is saying that we shouldn’t plan, but I do think he is talking about the value of meditation. I think many times we value meditation as a form of mental exercise rather than enjoying thoughts of Christ as a resting in hope after our works of love. What do you think?


I used Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel for its translation and introduction. Ms. Tomkinson has provided a valuable service to the Christian community.

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