June/July 2019 - Vol. 104 

.Kingdom of Heaven quote
The Kingdom of Heaven Suffers Violence

from a homily by Gregory the Great  (540-604 AD)

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.

Let us consider these words of our Christ very carefully.  We must ask how the kingdom of heaven can suffer violence, who inflicts violence in heaven, and why, if the kingdom of heaven is able to suffer violence, it has endured it only since the days of John the Baptist?

When the Law says that if anyone does this or that they will surely die, it is obvious to everyone who reads it that all transgressors were struck with severe punishment, and that the Law did not restore them to life through repentance. Yet when John the Baptist came as forerunner of our Redeemer's  grace, he preached repentance so that  sinners  who  were dead as a result of their  sins might be converted and live. Truly, then, from his days the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. What is the kingdom of heaven but the place where the righteous live? The reward of a home in heaven is owed only to the righteous; the humble, the pure, the meek, and the merciful attain the joys of heaven. When those who have become swollen with pride, who have slipped into sins of the flesh or been inflamed with anger, or who must take blame for their cruelty, turn to repentance after they have sinned and receive eternal life, it is as if they enter a strange and unfamiliar place. What has John done by proclaiming repentance to sinners except to teach that violence is done to the kingdom of heaven?

My friends, let us think over the evils we have done, let us present ourselves before God with sorrow. By repentance we can seize the inheritance of the righteous, which we do not deserve by our way of life. God, the all-powerful, longs to suffer this kind of violence from us. He longs for us to seize the kingdom of heaven, which we have done nothing to deserve, by our tears. We must not let the nature of our wickedness, or its extent, break our hope.

Let the good thief show us the confidence we can have in pardon. He was not good because he was a thief, since his cruelty led him to that. His confession of guilt made him good. Think how incomprehensible is the mercy of our all-powerful God! The thief was caught red-handed in his thievery and hanged on a cross. There he confessed his guilt, there he was forgiven, there he was found worthy to hear Jesus say to him: Today you will be with me in paradise. How can we begin to describe God's great goodness? How can we begin to value it? From a criminal's punishment, the thief came to the prize for virtue!

Almighty God has allowed his chosen to succumb to certain sins. This is so that he may restore hope of forgiveness to others, who are under sin's domination, if they will only rise up to him wholeheartedly:  for then God can open up for them the way to heaven through sorrow and repentance. Let us then embrace sorrow, let us rid ourselves of our sins by tears and fruits worthy of repentance. We must not squander the time that has been granted us. We see so many freshly washed clean of the wrongs they have done: what else do we have in them except a pledge of the compassion from on high?

(excerpt from Be Friends of God: Spiritual Reading from Gregory the Great, translated from the Latin by John Leinenweber, 1990, Cowley Publications, Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Who was Gregory the Great?

A few highlights from his life written by editors of Christianity Today Magazine

Noble beginning
Gregory (540-604 AD) was descended from Roman nobles with a strong legacy of Christian faith. He was related to two previous popes (Felix III and Agapitus I), his aunts were nuns, and his parents joined cloisters in their later years. He was raised in Rome when it was only a shell of its former glory.

By the age of 30, he was the chief administrative official of the city, responsible for finances, police, provisioning, and public works an experience that helped him hone his administrative skills and, together with his personal wealth, gave him the opportunity to create six monasteries.

Yet Gregory remained dissatisfied, and upon his father's death in 574, he converted his house into a monastery and retired to a life of contemplation and prayer. During these years, the happiest in Gregory's life, he began a detailed study of the Scriptures. Here he also ruined his health with fasting, a sacrifice that would precipitate his early death.

Called again to service
His administrative skills did not remain unappreciated. In 577 Pope Benedict appointed Gregory one of the seven deacons of Rome, and Pope Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople in 578 as representative to the imperial court, then later recalled him to serve as his confidential adviser.

In 589 a flood destroyed the grain reserves of Rome, instigating a famine and then a plague that swept through Rome and killed Pope Pelagius. Gregory was elected to succeed him. Though he had tried to refuse the office, once elected, he went to work with vigor.

To deal with the famine, Gregory instituted a city-wide penance, fed people from the church's granaries, and organized systematic relief for the poor.

Gregory then set himself reforming the church. He removed high officials "for pride and misdeeds," enforced celibacy, replaced lay officers with monks, and initiated a reorganization of "the patrimony of Peter," the vast land holdings of the church. The efficient and humane management of these estates brought in the revenue necessary to run the church as well as perform tasks the imperial government was neglecting...

Pastoral care
Gregory also was actively concerned about the work of priests. He wrote a book of instruction for bishops, On Pastoral Care, in which he wrote, "Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable." It became a manual for holy life throughout the Middle Ages.

Gregory believed preaching was one of the clergy's primary duties, and he conducted a preaching tour of area churches. His Homilies on the Gospels was published in 591 and widely used for hundreds of years.

His interest in church music has been honored, as well: his name has been given to the plainsong ("Gregorian chant") that developed over the next few hundred years.

His frequent correspondence across the world shows him well aware of evangelistic opportunities in Britain. So it is not surprising that in 596 he sent Augustine, along with 40 monks, on a mission to "this far corner of the world."

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