On the efficacy of the active life as an aid to the contemplative life, Gregory’s understanding of “the mixed life”—especially, but (as we’ve seen) not exclusively for pastors and bishops—is one of his greatest legacies to the church. Bernard McGinn notes that while Gregory dwelt, “at times obsessively,” on married life’s dangers—especially owing to its unavoidable entanglements with the “outside” world—yet, “he believed that the combination of the vita activa and vita contemplativa to which the praedicatores [preachers] were called was the highest and most important form of life in the church.”[i]
The importance of this point may be seen in the fact that Gregory identified the two lives as oriented to the two parts of the “law of love” – love of God and love of neighbor.[ii]
Perhaps not surprisingly, given his own liberality with the coffers of the church on behalf of those in need, one of the elements of the active life that he taught pastors to practice was the economic work of providing for their people’s material needs and “earthly necessities.” In fact, he argued that if they did not do so, their words would not be heard well – and they would deserve it![iii]
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 →
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