How to Reprove the Haughty

Words of wisdom from St. Gregory the Great:

It is, however, to be observed that we often reprove the haughty to better effect, if with our reproofs we mingle a measure of conciliatory praise. We should introduce either some good qualities which they possess, or at least mention some such qualities that could be present, though they actually may not be; and then only should the evil in them that displeases us be cut away, when the good points which are pleasing to them have in advance rendered their mind well-disposed to listen to us.

Thus, too, in the case of unbroken horses we first stroke them gently with the hand, so that afterwards we may tame them completely even by using the whip; and to the bitter draughts of drugs a portion of sweet honey is added, so that what will benefit the health may not be crude and bitter to the taste, and while the taste is beguiled by the sweetness, the deadly humours are expelled by what is bitter.

So, in the very beginning reproof of the haughty must include a proportionate amount of praise, so that while they accept the approbations which they like, they may also accept the reproofs which they dislike.

Again, generally we are better able to persuade the haughty to their profit, if we say that their progress is more likely to benefit us than themselves, and if we beg their amendment as a favour to us rather than to themselves. For the haughty are more easily led to good, if they believe that in turning to good they will profit others also.

Wherefore, when Moses, guided by God, was journeying through the desert, the pillar of cloud going before, and wished to deter Hobab, his kinsman, from converse with the Gentiles, and make him devoted to the dominion of Almighty God, he said:

We are going towards the place which the Lord will give us; come with us that we may do thee good, for the Lord hath promised good things to Israel.

When he answered him:

I will not go with thee, but I will return to my country wherein I was born,

he added at once:

Do not leave us, for thou knowest in what places we should encamp in the wilderness, and thou shalt be our guide.

Now, ignorance of the way did not trouble Moses, whom knowledge of the Godhead had advanced to the knowledge of prophecy, who was guilded outwardly by the pillar going before him, whom familiar speech and intimate converse with God were instructing inwardly about all things.

No, far-seeing man that he was, talking to one who was haughty, he sought his assistance that he might give such to him, he asked the other to lead the way that he might himself lead him to life.

Thus he succeeded in making the proud man listen to his words urging him to better things, and the more devoted for being thought to be necessary; and the other submitted to the exhortation, because he believed that he was serving as guide to the one exhorting him.

(St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, pp. 143-144)

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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