Pope St. Gregory the Great, in today’s Office of Readings, gives us a reflection upon the simple yet upright person. He says in part (my English translation of the Italian):
“There is a type of simplicity that would be better described as ignorance. It consists in not even knowing what may be virtuous. Many abandon the innocence of true simplicity so they don’t have to bring themselves to virtue and to honesty. Since they lack true prudence that comes to the good life, their simplicity is not the same as innocence. Therefore, Paul warns his disciples, ‘I wish you would be wise in the good and immune from evil…. Don’t act as infants in judgment; but may you be as infants to evil.’
“Regarding this, even Truth himself enjoins his disciples: ‘Be prudent as serpents and simple as doves.’ He necessarily united one with the other in his warning such that the cleverness of a serpent may teach the simplicity of the dove, and the simplicity of a dove moderate the cleverness of the serpent.”
We are to be both as a serpent and as a dove. We are to be wise and simple.
I am reminded of the many saints who in so many ways were very simple people in their views of life and manner of living, yet taught such a wisdom that those of great intellectual complexity, i.e., the learned theologians, were silent.
I am also reminded of the conflict between Paul and Peter in the early years of the Church. Paul might be called the more clever of the two men, certainly more learned and literate, and Peter the more simple. Paul moderated Peter, yet to Peter was given the keys and the burden of pastor of all the Churches. Peter’s simplicity was of more importance, yet Paul’s learnedness was also needed.
Serpents and doves……. Let us cultivate both aspects of our spiritual lives.