Pastoral Care: Part II, Chapter 8
St. Gregory the Great
The ruler should not be zealous to please men, yet
should give heed to what ought to please them.
At the same time it is also necessary that a ruler should be studiously vigilant that he be not actuated by the desire of pleasing men; that, while seriously penetrating the inner life, and with provident care supplying the things that are external, he does not seek to be loved by his subjects more than he seeks truth; or that while relying on his good actions and giving himself the appearance of a stranger to the world, his self-love does not render him a stranger to his Maker.
For that man is an enemy to his Redeemer who on the strength of the good works he performs, desires to be loved by the Church, rather than by Him. Indeed, a servant is guilty of adulterous thought, if he craves to please the eyes of the bride when the bridegroom sends gifts to her by him. In truth, when this self-love captures a ruler's mind, it sometimes rushes him into inordinate laxity, sometimes into asperity. For from love of himself, the ruler's mind is diverted into laxity, when he sees his subjects sinning and does not dare to correct them, lest their love of him grow weak; indeed, sometimes when he should have reproved their faults, he glosses them over with adulation. Wherefore, it is well said by the Prophet: Woe to them that sew cushions under every elbow, and make pillows for the heads of persons of every age, to catch souls.78 To put cushions under every elbow is to cherish with smooth flattery souls that are falling away from rectitude and are reclining in the pleasures of this world. It is as if a person reclined with a cushion under the elbow, or a pillow under his head, when severe reproof is withheld from him when he sins, and enervating favouritism is bestowed on him, that he may recline at ease in his error, the while no asperity of reproof assails him.
This attitude the rulers show to those, of course, from whom they fear they can be retarded in the pursuit of temporal glory. Indeed, persons who in their estimation can do nothing against them, they constantly hound with bitter and harsh reproof. They never admonish them gently, but, forgetful of pastoral meekness, terrify them in the exercise of their right to govern. The divine word rightly reproves such rulers by the Prophet, saying: But you ruled over them with rigour and with a high hand.79
These love themselves more than their Maker, and brag as they take measures against their subjects. They have no thought for what they should do, but only for the power that is theirs. They do not fear the judgment to come. They glory impiously in their temporal power, it pleases them to do freely what is wrong, and without any opposition from their subjects.
He, therefore, who sets himself to act evilly and yet wishes others to be silent, is a witness against himself, for he wishes himself to be loved more than the truth, which he does not wish to be defended against himself. There is, of course, no man who so lives as not sometimes to sin; but he wishes truth to be loved more than himself, who wills to be spared by no one against the truth. Wherefore, Peter willingly accepted the rebuke of Paul;80 David willingly hearkened to the reproof of a subject.81 For good rulers who pay no regard to self-love, take as a homage to their humility the free and sincere words of subjects. But in this regard the office of ruling must be tempered with such great art of moderation, that the minds of subjects, when demonstrating themselves capable of taking right views in some matters, are given freedom of expression, but freedom that does not issue into pride; otherwise, when liberty of speech is granted too generously, the humility of their own lives will be lost.
It is also to be observed that good rulers should wish to please men, but so as to draw their neighbours to the love of truth by the fair esteem they have of their rulers, not that these long to be loved themselves, but wish that this love should be a road, as it were, whereby they lead the hearts of the hearers to the love of the Creator. It is difficult for one who is not loved, however well he preaches, to find a sympathetic hearing. Wherefore, he who rules ought to aim at being loved, that he may be listened to, and yet not seek to be loved on his own account, lest he be discovered to rebel in the tyranny of his thought against Him whom he ostensibly serves in his office.
This is well suggested by Paul, when he reveals to us the secrets of his endeavour, saying: ... as I also in all things please all men;82 though again he says: If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.83 Thus Paul pleases and does not please, because, in wishing to please he sought not to please men, but that through him truth might please men.
78 Ezech. 13. 18. The passage refers to pseudo-prophets, men and women, who delude the people through sorcery and divination. Gregory applies it to bishops who allow subjects to go unchecked in their evil ways.
79 Ibid. 34. 4
80 Cf. Gal. 2. 11. The action of Peter afforded a specious support to the Judaizers, who wished the converted Gentiles to conform to the Jewish law. St. Paul regarded this policy to be opposed to the liberty of the Gentiles on their conversion.
81 Cf. 2 Kings 12. 7 ff. Nathan rebuked David for having caused Urias to be killed in battle and for taking his wife to be his own wife.
82 1 Cor. 10. 33.
83 Gal. 1. 10.
Translated and annotated by Henry Davis, S.J.
Taken from Ancient Christian Writers: the works of the Fathers in Translation, The Catholic University of America