BMCR 2004.10.03

Lettera e profezia nell’esegesi di Gregorio Magno. Quaderni di “Invigilata Lucernis,” Dipartamento di Studi Classici e Cristiani, Università degli Studi di Bari, vol. 20

, Lettera e profezia nell'esegesi di Gregorio Magno. Quaderni di "Invigilata lucernis" ; 20. Bari: Edipuglia, 2003. 155 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8872283825 €18.00.

Letter and Prophecy in Gregory the Great’s Exegesis assembles the recent essays of the authoritative Italian professor who has devoted his scholarly career to the study of the legacy of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604). In 1967 Don Vincenzo Recchia wrote a stimulating book on Gregorian exegesis of the Song of Songs.1 Many times he contributed to the journal Invigilata Lucernis issued by the Department of Classical and Christian Studies at the University of Bari. In 1996, these articles were gathered together with his papers from other periodicals in a more than 900-page book.2 Since 1996 Recchia has written some more essays in the Invigilata Lucernis, which are incorporated into the present book. Recchia notes in the preface that these essays conclude his research on Gregory as a master of allegorical exegesis and advance the study of the Pope’s “literal” interpretation of the Holy Scripture. The collection consists of six essays. Two of them, constituting one third of the book (pp. 105-155), are located in the appendix because they do not deal with Gregorian exegetical writings and therefore do not correspond to the title of the book.

1. “Le circumstantiae personarum e la teologia della storia secondo la meditazione biblica di Gregorio Magno, Homiliae in Ezechielem 2,1,” previously published in Invigilata Lucernis 18-19 (1996-1997), pp. 201-241. Choosing some examples of Gregory’s exegesis in his Homilies in Ezekiel, Recchia studies the Pope’s views of the history of salvation and the role of the Church in the divine plan of human redemption which is being unfolded in history. He admits that the exegete followed the works of his predecessors (mainly Augustine and Jerome) in his interpretation but argues that he considered this theme more widely than they did, identifying the universal history with the history of Israel and the Church. Here Recchia necessarily addresses Gregorian ecclesiology (fundamentally Christological and Trinitarian, as Recchia shows). He refers to the study of this subject conducted by Hofar3 but omits the meticulous analysis done by Fiedrowicz.4 Nor does he refer to the standard book written by Straw5, when in parts “7. La vita interna al regno di Dio,” “8. Le prospettive contemplativa ed escatologica” and “9. La compunctio come porta di ingresso nella Chiesa dei santi” he discusses the two historical dimensions of salvation: eschatological, where the whole Church exists, and contemplative, which is immanent in every soul. Despite these instances of negligence, Recchia’s ideas stimulated more comprehensive research on Gregory’s “theology of history.”6 It is not so obvious to me that the Pope’s view of the Holy Spirit “does agree with the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Spirit procession” (Recchia mentions it in passing on p. 21).

2. “Lettera e profezia nell’esegesi di Gregorio Magno” (pp. 49-72) (previously published in Invigilata Lucernis 22 [2000], pp. 193-216), which gives the book its title, presents an analysis of the exegetical method Gregory employed in his Moralia. Recchia looks at some examples of the exegesis and demonstrates to what extent different senses of the Holy Scripture were interwoven and how Gregory skillfully developed his exegesis from the literal interpretation to the typological and moral. Like his predecessors (Origen, Ambrose, Hilary of Poitiers, Augustine and Cassiodorus), whose model of literal and historical interpretation he followed, Gregory paid close attention to the letter of the Scripture and its historical meaning without neglecting other senses. Recchia concentrates on the Gregorian commentary on Chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of Job and scrutinizes what versions of the Bible the Pope might have used. Referring to Salmon’s arguments7 he makes the hypothesis that Gregory used several versions of the biblical text. Recchia treats some episodes of the narrative (the speeches of Baldad and Job) and concludes his research by demonstrating how the Pope interpreted Job as a figure to a certain extent anticipating and prefiguring Jesus Christ.

3. “L’esegesi di Gregorio Magno ai simboli del Cantico dei cantici” (pp. 73-87), previously published in Invigilata Lucernis 23 (2001), pp. 207-221. Using some examples of Gregorian exegesis Recchia studies allegories and symbols ( oscula, ubera, cubiculum etc.) of human love which helped Gregory charactarize divine love. Here again Recchia gives the evidence in support of the relevance of literal and historical interpretation even in an area one would consider completely allegorical.

4. “La compositio dei Libri I e III dei Dialoghi di Gregorio Magno” (pp. 89-103), previously published in Invigilata Lucernis 24 (2002), pp. 185-199. Recchia continues his research started in the essay “La visione di S. Benedetto e la compositio del secondo libro dei Dialoghi di Gregorio Magno” ( Revue Bénédictine 82 (1972), pp. 140-155) and postulates the coherence of the three books of the Dialogues achieved through numerical symbolism and Gregory’s close attention to the biblical parallels in the miracles of the saints so that the reader can evaluate any miraculous and instructive fact in the light of Scripture and history. Recchia gives a brief summary of the content of both books in order to convince his readers that the Pope designed the Dialogues in a particular order. While in the first two books Gregory started from the “letter” and history of the miracles, in the third book he resorted to the exegetical method to uncover the deep significance of the miracles and to reveal the higher meaning of history, historia salutis. Although the essay is not intended as Recchia’s reply to the criticism of the authenticity of the Dialogues meticulously done by Clark,8 he is obviously among the defenders of the text’s Gregorian authorship.

The Appendix includes the following two articles:

1. “Le vedove nella letteratura istituzionale dell’antico cristianesimo e nella tipologia biblica” (pp. 107-136), previously published in Invigilata Lucernis 21 (1999), pp. 303-332, studies a phenomenon of Christian widowhood and the authority of the widow in Early Christianity on the basis of biblical references, Apostolic Constitutions (and their sources) and homilies of the Fathers of the Church (Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom). Recchia chooses some symbolic images of the widow (e.g., the altar of the Temple of God) and biblical models (Anna, a prophetess from Lk. 2, 36-38, Judith, Deborah, et al.) in order to grasp the allegorical significance of this figure in the history of salvation (e.g., the Church on earth awaiting the second coming of her bridegroom Jesus Christ). In the constitutions and patristic literature, Recchia is interested in the image of “the widow in action,” i.e., the status of widows in Christian communities and their ascetic way of life.

2. “Sul Carmen de luna di Sisebuto di Toledo” (pp. 137-155), previously published in Invigilata Lucernis 20 (1998), pp. 201-219, offers an interpretation of Carmen de luna, the poem composed by King Sisebut of Toledo. It was Sisebut’s poetic response to his spiritual master Bishop Isidore of Seville, who devoted his book De natura rerum to the king. Arguing with his opponents (W. Stack, J. Fontain, J.-L. Charlet), Recchia, who has already treated this subject ( Sisebuto di Toledo, Il “Carmen de luna” (Bari, 1971)), highlights that this royal hexameter poem on the eclipses of the moon was not merely a poetic joke or astronomical exercise but rather a message of the disciple to his master in which Sisebut disclosed his longing for contemplation and monastic life which he had to reject for his royal vocation. Recchia sees here a reflection of the same conflict between inner inclination to contemplative life and the necessity to be an active ruler which can be found in the works of Pope Gregory the Great.

To my mind, this collection is a very useful edition of the recent essays written by a master of scholarly “exegesis.”


p. 8, note 6: R. F. Evans, One and Honly. The Churc in Latin Patristic Thought (London, 1972) instead of R. F. Evans, One and Only. The Church etc.

p. 39, note 111: The rewened Controversy etc. instead of The Renewed etc.

p. 79, line 6 from the top: dellla instead of della.

p. 90, note 2: Neyvaert instead of Meyvaert.


1. Vincenzo Recchia, L’esegesi di Gregorio Magno al Cantico dei Cantici (Torino, 1967).

2. Vincenzo Recchia, Gregorio Magno papa ed esegeta biblico (Bari: Edipuglia, 1996).

3. G. Hofar, “Sancta Ecclesia” in Gregorio Magno, Dissertation at the Gregorian Pontifical University (Rome, 1973) [manuscript]; G. Hofar, “La ‘sancta ecclesia’ di Gregorio Magno,” Studi Medievali 30 (1989), pp. 593-636.

4. Michael Fiedrowicz, Das Kirchenverständnis Gregors des Grossen. Eine Untersuchung seiner exegetischen und homiletischen Werke (Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und Kirchengeschichte, 50. Supplementheft) (Freiburg, Basel, Wien: Herder, 1995).

5. Carole Straw, Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection (Berkeley, 1988). One might add the book written by Miriam Schambeck, Contemplatio als Missio. Zu einem Schlüsselphänomen bei Gregor dem Grossen (Studien zur systematischen und spirituellen Theologie, vol. 25) (Würzburg: Echter, 1999), especially pp. 164-167.

6. Several works have been recently published: Claudio Fauci, Il senso della vita il destino dell’uomo. La teologia della storia nelle Epistole ed Omelie di Gregorio Magno (Napoli: Grafite, 2000). Cristina Ricci, Mysterium dispensationis. Tracce di una teologia della storia in Gregorio Magno. (Studia Anselmiana, vol. 135) (Rome: Centro Studi S. Anselmo, 2002).

7. Dom P. Salmon, “Le texte de Job utilisé par S. Grégoire dans les Moralia,” Studia Anselmiana 27-28 (1981), pp. 187-194.

8. Francis Clark, The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues, 2 vols. (Studies in the History of Christian Thought, vol. 37-38) (Leiden: Brill, 1987).