Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
From Dialogus beati Gregorii Papae ejusque diaconi Petri

Gregory the Great (c. 540–604)
Pope Gregory the Great regrets his monastic life.

BEING 1 upon a certain day overburdened with the trouble of worldly business, in which men are oftentimes enforced to do more than of very duty they are bound, I retired to a solitary place congenial to grief, where whatever it was in my affairs that was giving me discontent might plainly reveal itself, and all the things that were wont to inflict me with sorrow might come together and freely present themselves to my sight: And in that place, after that I had sat a long while in silence and great affliction, my very dear son Peter the deacon joined me, who since the flower of his early youth had been attached to me by close friendship and companionship in the study of the sacred books. He, when he saw me overwhelmed in heaviness and languor of heart, questioned me, saying: ‘What is the matter? or what bad news have you heard? for some unusual grief plainly possesses you.’ To whom I answered: ‘O Peter, the grief that I daily endure is with me both old and new: old through long use, and new by continual increase. And truth it is that my unhappy soul, wounded with worldly business, is now calling to mind in what state it once was when I dwelt in my monastery; how then it was superior to all transitory matters, and how it would soar far above things corruptible: How it was accustomed to think only of heavenly things, and tho’ enclosed in mortal body would yet by contemplation pass beyond its fleshly bars: while as for death, which is to almost all men a punishment, that did it love, and would consider as the entrance to life, and the reward of its toil. But now by reason of my pastoral charge my poor soul must engage in the businesses of worldly men; and after so fair a promise of rest it is defiled in the dust of earthly occupations: and when through much ministering to others it spendeth itself on outward distractions, it cannot but return impaired unto those inward and spiritual things for which it longeth. Now therefore I am meditating on what I suffer; I weigh what I have lost: and when I think of that loss my condition is the more intolerable. For do but look how the ship of my mind is tossed by the waves and tempest, and how I am battered in the storm. Nay, when I recollect my former life, I sigh as one who turneth back his eyes to a forsaken shore. And what grieveth me yet more is that as I am borne ever onward by the disturbance of these endless billows, I almost lose sight of the port which I left. For thus it is that the mind lapseth: first it is faithless to the good which it held, tho’ it may still remember that it hath forsaken it: then when it hath further strayed, it even forgetteth that good: until it cometh at length to such a pass that it cannot so much as behold in memory what before it had actively practised: All behaveth according to my picture: we are carried so far out to sea that we lose sight of the quiet haven whence we set forth. And not seldom is the measure of my sorrow increased by remembrance of the lives of some who with their whole heart relinquished this present world. Whose high perfection when I behold, I recognise how low I lie fallen: for many of them did in a very retired life please their Maker, and lest by contact with human affairs they should decay from their freshness, almighty God allowed not that they should be harassed by the labours of this world.’
Note 1. Gregory the Great. Bishop of Rome 590–604. From ‘Dialogus beati Gregorii Papae ejusque diaconi Petri’, Lib. I, ad init. Partly from an old translation, 1608. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]

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