Sermon of Pope, St Gregory
John said unto the multitude, that came forth to be baptized of him: O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? The wrath to come in one sense signifieth the great vengeance of the Latter Day: the sinner that repenteth not of his sin now, will have no mean whereby to flee from punishment then. Let us remark that addressing evil children copying the example of evil parents, the Baptist calleth them a generation of vipers: in that they were envious at the righteous, and persecuted them; that they repaid evil for evil; that they hunted out ways of harming their neighbours,―in all these things following the pattern of carnal parents, the prophet likeneth them to a venomous brood hatched from a venomous stock.
We also have sinned, we have fallen into wicked habits. What must we do, if we would flee from the wrath to come? Let us hear John. Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. In which words let us remark that the Friend of the Bridegroom demandeth not only fruits of repentance, but fruits worthy of repentance. The former are one thing, and the latter another. In considering then what are fruits worthy of repentance, we may remark that if we had done nothing unlawful we might have had free use of things which are lawful, and been able to sanctify ourselves without abstaining from indulgence in the things of the world.
But if any one, for example, hath fallen into fornication, or perhaps, into what is much worse, adultery, he ought to make up for his lawless pleasure by abstaining in some degree from lawful enjoyments. He that hath sinned less is not bound to mortify himself as much as he that hath sinned more, nor he that is innocent like him that is guilty. Let every one hearing these words: Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, proceed to judge himself by his own conscience, and the more he perceiveth that he hath sinned, the greater penance let him do.