Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gregory the Great

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Gregory the Great

Article excerpt

Gregory the Great. By John Moorhead. [The Early Church Fathers 14.] (London and New York: Rutledge, Taylor and Francis Group. 2005. Pp. 177.)

This is the fourteenth volume in an important introductory series designed to make available in translation key selections from the writings of the major Fathers of the Early Church. The series already includes excellent editions by distinguished scholars such as Boniface Ramsey, O.P. (on Ambrose), Anthony Meredith, SJ. (on Gregory of Nyssa), and Wendy Mayer and Pauline Alien (on John Chrysostom), who have offered thoughtful and substantial introductions to the Fathers' lives and works along with their translations.

The strength of this edition lies in Moorhead's mellifluous translations, unrivaled in their lyricism and immediacy. He shuns technical terminology about the soul (e.g., compunctio is "remorse"; discretio is "discernment," etc.), instead offering familiar translations that make the text warm and accessible. Moorhead also translates dense passages with a light touch. Gregory uses various parallelisms and equations in his writing-inversions, oppositions, reversals, tantoquanto correlatives, etc.-that give his prose a mathematical quality bordering on the obsessive. Moorhead succeeds in communicating the intricate structure of such passages gracefully, without losing the reader in a maze of mirrors and sing-song rhythms. Moorhead gives us a Gregory who is humane, sensitive, and simpatico.

Given Moorhead's keen sense of language, it is not surprising that he sees Gregory primarily as the preacher and exegete. His first section, "The Bible," is the most technical and recherché, containing long (and at times complicated) passages on principles of biblical interpretation taken from Gregory's homilies on Ezekiel. In "Sermons to the People," the next section, Moorhead chooses Homiliae xl in Euangelia 2.24 and 2.40 to illustrate that the Bible serves as a means of teaching doctrine, in these cases, the resurrection. Both sermons show the preacher "pitching his message to the audience" (p. 69; cf. pp. 15, 29).

Moorhead credits Gregory with being a keen psychologist; and the next chapter, "Human Types," begins with Moralia 7.28.34-35, on sin, followed by Pastoral Care 3.2-4.1, where preachers offer various rebukes, determined by whether the sinner is young or old, poor or rich, happy or sad, servant or master, arrogant or timid, male or female. …

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