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NPNF-212. Leo the Great, Gregory the Great
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Chapter IV.

How subjects and prelates are to be admonished.

(Admonition 5.)  Differently to be admonished are subjects and prelates:  the former that subjection crush them not, the latter that superior place elate them not:  the former that they fail not to fulfil what is commanded them, the latter that they command not more to be fulfilled than is just:  the former that they submit humbly, the latter that they preside temperately.  For this, which may be understood also figuratively, is said to the former, Children, obey your parents in the Lord:  but to the latter it is enjoined, And ye, fathers, provoke not your children to wrath (Coloss. iii. 20, 21).  Let the former learn how to order their inward thoughts before the eyes of the hidden judge; the latter how also to those that are committed to them to afford outwardly examples of good living.  For prelates ought to know that, if they ever perpetrate what is wrong, they are worthy of as many deaths as they transmit examples of perdition to their subjects.  Wherefore it is necessary that they guard themselves so much the more cautiously from sin as by the bad things they do they die not alone, but are guilty of the souls of others, which by their bad example they have destroyed.  Wherefore the former are to be admonished, lest they should be strictly published, if merely on their own account they should be unable to stand acquitted; the latter, lest they should be judged for the errors of their subjects, even though on their own account they find themselves secure.  Those are to be admonished that they live with all the more anxiety about themselves as they are not entangled by care for others; but these that they accomplish their charge of others in such wise as not to desist from charge of themselves, and so to be ardent in anxiety about themselves as not to grow sluggish in the custody of those committed to them.  To the one, who is at leisure for his own concerns, it is said, Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and consider her ways, and learn wisdom (Prov. vi. 6):  but the other is terribly admonished, when it is said, My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, and art snared with the words of thy mouth, and art taken with thine own speeches (Ibid. 1).  For to be surety for a friend is to take charge of the soul of another on the surety of one’s own behaviour.  Whence also the hand is stricken with a stranger, because the mind is bound with the care of a responsibility which before was not.  But he is snared with the words of his mouth, and taken with his own speeches, because, while he is compelled to speak good things to those who are committed to him, he must needs himself in the first place observe the things that he speaks.  He is therefore snared with the words of his mouth, being constrained by the requirement of reason not to let his life be relaxed to what agrees not with his teaching.  Hence before the strict judge he is compelled to accomplish as much in deed as it is plain he has enjoined on others with his voice.  Thus in the passage above cited this exhortation is also presently added, Do therefore what I say, my son, and deliver thyself, seeing thou hast fallen into the hands of thy neighbour:  run up and down, hasten, arouse thy friend; give not sleep to thine eyes, nor let thine eyelids slumber (Prov. vi. 3).  For whosoever is put over others for an example of life is admonished not only to keep watch himself, but also to arouse his friend.  For it is not enough for him to keep watch in living well, if he do not also sever him when he is set over from the torpor of sin.  For it is well said, Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor let thine eyelids slumber (Ibid. 4).  For indeed to give sleep to the eyes is to cease from earnestness, so as to neglect altogether the care of our subordinates.  But the eyelids slumber when our thoughts, weighed down by sloth, connive at what they know ought to be reproved in subordinates.  For to be fast asleep is neither to know nor to correct the deeds of those committed to us.  But to know what things are to be blamed, and still through laziness of mind not to amend them by meet rebukes, is not to sleep, but to slumber.  Yet the eye through slumbering passes into the deepest sleep; since for the most part, when one who is over others cuts not off the evil that he knows, he comes sooner or later, as his negligence deserves, not even to know what is done wrong by his subjects.

Wherefore those who are over others are to be admonished, that through earnestness of circumspection they have eyes watchful within and round about, and strive to become living creatures of heaven (Ezek. i. 18).  For the living creatures of heaven are described as full of eyes round about and within (Revel. iv. 6).  And so it is meet that those who are over others should have eyes within and round about, so as both in themselves to study to please the inward judge, and also, affording outwardly examples of life, to detect the things that should be corrected in others.

Subjects are to be admonished that they judge not rashly the lives of their superiors, if perchance they see them act blamably in anything, lest whence they rightly find fault with evil they thence be sunk by the impulse of elation to lower depths.  They are to be admonished that, when they consider the faults of their superiors, they grow not too bold against them, but, if any of their deeds are exceedingly bad, so judge of them within themselves that, constrained by the fear of God, they still refuse not to bear the yoke of reverence under them.  Which thing we shall shew the better if we bring forward what David did (1 Sam. xxiv. 4 seq.).  For when Saul the persecutor had entered into a cave to ease himself, David, who had so long suffered under his persecution, was within it with his men.  And, when his men incited him to smite Saul, he cut them short with the reply, that he ought not to put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed.  And yet he rose unperceived, and cut off the border of his robe.  For what is signified by Saul but bad rulers, and what by David but good subjects?  Saul’s easing himself, then, means rulers extending the wickedness conceived in their hearts to works of woful stench, and their shewing the noisome thoughts within them by carrying them out into deeds.  Yet him David was afraid to strike, because the pious minds of subjects, withholding themselves from the whole plague of backbiting, smite the life of their superiors with no sword of the tongue, even when they blame them for imperfection.  And when through infirmity they can scarce refrain from speaking, however humbly, of some extreme and obvious evils in their superiors, they cut as it were silently the border of their robe; because, to wit, when, even though harmlessly and secretly, they derogate from the dignity of superiors, they disfigure as it were the garment of the king who is set over them; yet still they return to themselves, and blame themselves most vehemently for even the slightest defamation in speech.  Hence it is also well written in that place, Afterward David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off the border of Saul’s robe (Ibid. 6).  For indeed the deeds of superiors are not to be smitten with the sword of the mouth, even when they are rightly judged to be worthy of blame.  But if ever, even in the least, the tongue slips into censure of them, the heart must needs be depressed by the affliction of penitence, to the end that it may return to itself, and, when it has offended against the power set over it, may dread the judgment against itself of Him by whom it was set over it.  For, when we offend against those who are set over us, we go against the ordinance of Him who set them over us.  Whence also Moses, when he had become aware that the people complained against himself and Aaron, said, For what are we?  Not against us are your murmurings, but against the Lord (Exod. xvi. 8).

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