Cistercian Press continues their unearthing of a spiritual classic with the publication in 2016 of Volume 3 of Gregory the Great’s “Moral Reflections on the Book of Job.”
The translator is Brother Brian Kerns, who has lived primarily at the Abbey at Gethsemani in Kentucky, and at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York. This work is obviously a labor of love.
Along with Gregory’s other famous works, “Pastoral Care” and the Dialogues (which recount the lives and miracles of Italian saints of the patristic period), the Moralia has retained interest down through the ages. The method of exposition is obviously much different than styles used today, but for the serious reader it is a goldmine of reflections on life, primarily from a moral perspective.
Essentially Gregory takes each line of the book of Job and reads it in the context of other biblical texts, often citing them, and explains what the verse means, using contemporary applications. The reader used to strict literalness will have to adjust to Gregory’s creative use of the Scripture that mirrored the rabbinic as well as Christian expository style of this period.
Volume 3 is similar to Volumes 1 and 2, which I reviewed on May 9, 2016. Besides of course being of interest to patristic scholars and exegetes of the book of Job, it has utility for the reader who practices lectio divina, the holistic and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture.
This book brings maximum profits when read slowly and patiently. Gregory offers timeless insights into life, but in a dense, theological style that requires repeated readings. Of the six parts of the Moralia, part / volume 3 is closest to the oral version transcribed by notaries during conferences he gave to monks and clerics in Constantinople. The Introduction to Part 3, like that to the previous parts, is extremely helpful for preparing oneself for the text, because Gregory changes his style throughout the book. He did not have the opportunity to revise this part to the degree he did the other parts. Gregory is more focused in this part for both practical (time and space/codex considerations) and interpretive reasons (when tackling a mammoth text like Job, as St. Gregory himself pointed out, one naturally varies one’s approach both for literary reasons and in order to avoid monotony), and does not elaborate or digress as much.
Thus the reader needs to read the Introduction first in order to historically situtate this part and thereby adjust to Gregory’s stylistic changes and purposes.
Perhaps a section from Pope Benedict’s 2010 apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, best summarizes how to properly view and assimilate St. Gregory’s writings, not only in this part, but in the two previous ones as well.
Pope Benedict observes that we should pay particular attention to the biblical interpretations of those who lead saintly lives. If their compass is directed by the Holy Spirit, it is likely to be reflected in their atunement to the Spirit during their encounter with the inspired texts.
Gregory’s holiness and human greatness is beyond question. One of only two popes to be designated “the Great” (along with Leo, d. 461), like Leo he held the Church and Rome together amid the barbarian invasians. Thus Gregory was a man of both ecclesiastical and secular historical importance, not unlike St. John Paul II.
He was able io integrate both mysticism and pastoral sensitivity in his writings alongside his keen interpretive understanding of Scripture. Thus he brings a well-rounded perspective grounded in a saintly life. He is a doctor of the Church, and thus his writings can be thoroughly trusted.
In his encounter with the book of Job, St. Gregory wrestles with a timeless literary classic. He is able to draw out philosophical and theological applications alongside the moral ones which were his primary focus. Thus he bears studying, rather than just surveying.
The late Jesuit scriptural scholar Cardinal Carlo Martini, former archbishop of Milan, the world’s largest Catholic diocese, was a great admirer of Gregory (and in some ways an imitator in that he was able to integrate pastoral insights with intellectual inquiries, and communicate them in an accessible manner), and frequently references him in his talks and writings.
Thus this book is a work worthy of intense scrutiny and contemplation, during which we will also develop our interpretive method, similarly as one does when reading the works of Cardinal Martini, which likewise mostly originated in oral talks. Through spiritual and literary osmosis, we assimilate the interpretive tendencies of great commentators and enrich our exegetical and expository capacity. In plain English, if we read St. Gregory carefully and contemplatively, we will develop positive reading and interpretation habits, and hopefully bear much fruit in our lives and ministry.
Since the Moralia has not been fully translated into English since 1848, and that translation is outdated, we are greatly indebted to the author and publisher for the opportunity to encounter this classic work. It stands as one of the outstanding biblical expositions of all time.
Like the first two volumes, this translation of Part 3 of the Moralia is priced at $39.95, which is about the going rate for academic books of limited circulation and press runs.
Because I have published three books on Job, and written numerous articles on it, I am aware of the interpretive challenges a commentator faces. I also studied Latin extensively, and received the Phillips Classical Prize in it while attending the University of Michigan. Thus I am particularly qualified to give this book a high recommendation, both for its readable and accurate translation and because it brings together a noetworthy saint and a timeless biblical book, both of which originated during a troubled time like ours. As with volumes 1 and 2, a must read not only for fans of St. Gregory, but for admirers of the book of Job as well.
The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450. I also suggest that you be on the lookout for their annual clearance sale, which occurs in the spring, during which one can get bargains not only on remaindered titles but on books in which the publisher has overstock. .