One of the great classics of Western Literature, “Moral Reflections on the Book of Job”, otherwise known as the Moralia, has not been fully translated into English since 1848, and that translation is outdated. Further, it is very difficult to find a copy, as it has not been reprinted for decades.
What a pleasant surprise, even a delight, it is to discover that Cistercian Publications is publishing a complete set of the Moralia. So far, Volumes 1 and 2 are available.
However, don’t worry about running out of reading material with regards to this set. This is a deep, intense classic, with so much food for thought that the wise person will take their time with it. After all, it was written by a wise man, one of the original doctors of the Western Church, a man in a class with Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, which is high praise indeed.
Most astute observers of classic spiritual literature, especially from ancient times, will tell you that if anything, St. Gregory the Great is UNDERRATED. First, the sheer body of his material extant (available) is massive. Two of his books are unquestioned classics, The Moralia and Pastoral Care, and a third, The Dialogues, borders on such, and many would classify it so.
St. Gregory is one of the most interesting figures in the history of the Church. Certainly he is one of the most respected and revered. There are two popes given the title of great, Leo I and Gregory. Personally, I believe that within two centuries, a third will be added, and it will not be St. John Paul II, who certainly will be most people’s choice. I believe that because of the length of his pontificate and his average administrative skills, and the way some of those under him , including bishops he appointed, did not implement his teachings either faithfully or competently, it may take even further time for the dust to settle and him to receive a more objective appraisal. The length and influence of his pontificate, and the sheer volume of his teachings, likely will earn him the title of great, but I believe it will occur after Paul VI is given this honor. Why? Because he held the Church together during a time of great change and crisis, and he led it to modernize in a way that was faithful to tradition and the Bible. Perhaps most important, he allowed decentralization to occur, and empowered others to use their gifts within the Church. This takes a lot of courage, because many people will misuse this trust. However, with faith in God, it is worth the risks.
These attributes of Paul VI are in many ways applicable to Gregory the Great, and thus we should not take his label, the Great lightly. The man is a giant of the Church and someone whose relevance endures untarnished. In this manner he is much like St. Augustine, whom he greatly admired.
The first two volumes of this new translation of the Moralia are priced at $39.95. Get over the sticker shock, for what you get it is a stupendous deal. First, the book is priced high because its market is limited. The Moralia and its author are profound, and profound does not sell in our culture like entertaining does. As the Introduction to Volume 1 aptly states, what is most admirable about the Moralia is the way St. Gregory engages the crucial issue of life. 1500 years later, his answers may or may not be entirely satisfying. But they make us think, go deeper, and evaluate life and ourselves more honestly.
Most people will want to start with Volume 1 because it offers such an outstanding introduction to both Gregory and the Moralia, as well as their times. The Introduction is a short book in itself. Getting through the Moralia is a slow, cumbersome process, which is why many choose to avoid it.
However, St. Gregory is a master of the spiritual life, and we would be well served to open ourselves to his wisdom.
The translator is a Trappist Monk from Thomas Merton’s monastery. Needless to say, the translation is excellent. I won a classical prize in Latin in college, and have an appreciation of the language and its nuances, and I am very impressed by this translation. Also, I have published three books on Job, and written numerous articles on it, so I am very in tune with the profundity of the book. St. Gregory is one of the few capable of doing it justice.
A little over 12 years ago, German biblical scholar Hermann Gunkel’s commentary on Genesis was published by Mercer. Scholars hailed this event, because for many of them Gunkel’s commentary was the all around finest to date. Likewise, you will find a more up to date commentary on Job, but certainly not one as long and profound as Cistercian Publications recent masterpiece.
My greatest tribute is that in reading it you learn how to practice lectio divina, the moastic practice of which Gregory was so fond and skilled, better than ever before. Gregory slows you down, brings you deeper, makes you think, inspires you to listen, and urges you to implement God’s message to you. I can think of few finer tributes.
I suggest starting with Volume 1’s thorough Introduction. This will set the stage for encountering Gregory’s eclectic but masterful style. View the price as an inexpensive fee for a class. Learn from a master for a song.
The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450. Check out their annual clearance sale as well, by requesting a catalog.
If you are interested in the history of the early Church, the book of Job, or ultimate questions on the meaning of life, and are willing to work through a challenging but very rewarding read, you have found your opportunity. Take your time with it, and be grateful that a monk took on the challenge of translating this massive work as a labor of love. We are all the better for it. Thus is the Moralia, in a readable and accurate translation, with helpful white space at the margins for notes and footnotes. It recommends itself. It was influential in the church for a millennia. ’nuff said. Check it out. It’s like purchasing a masterpiece for a pittance.
Though very knowledgeable with respect to the Bible, Gregory was no St. Jerome. Thus he had to grapple with the text in a way familiar to us. He was, however, an unsurpassed pastor, an original thinker, and a sensitive and insightful pastoral theologian who lived his vocation with dignity and style. Get to know him, and some of his attributes and wisdom will rub off, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. And find hope in these horrible times, which as the Introduction notes are in many respects reminiscent of Gregory’s.