Pardon the title, this was to avoid ‘Cock’. Most below the fold, because this does go on. And on.
Of the cock The cock, gallus, gets its name from the act of castration. For alone among other birds its testicles are removed, and the ancients called castrated men galli. As from the lion the lioness gets her name leena, and the she-dragon dracena from the dragon draco, so the hen gets her name gallina from the cock. People say that the cock’s limbs, if mixed with liquid gold, are consumed by it. The crowing of the cock at night is a pleasant sound, and not only pleasant but useful; like a good partner, the cock wakes you when are asleep, encourages you if you are worried, comforts you if you are on the road, marking with its melodious call the progress of the night. With the crowing of the cock, the robber calls off his ambush; the morning star itself is awakened, rises and lights up the sky; the anxious sailor sets aside his cares, and very often each tempest and storm whipped up by evening winds moderates.
At cockcrow the devout of mind rise eagerly to pray, able once again to read the office. When the cock crowed assiduously for the last time, Peter himself, the rock of the Church, washed away his guilt, which he had incurred by denying Christ before cockcrow. With the crowing of the cock, as with the words of Jesus, hope returns to everyone, the troubles of the sick are eased, the pain of wounds is lessened, the raging heat of fevers is moderated, faith is restored to those who have fallen. Jesus watches over those who falter, he corrects those who stray; in short, he looked at Peter and immediately his sin went away, his denial was put out of mind, his confession followed. This reading of the text teaches us that things do not happen by accident but by the will of our Lord. Again of the cock, this time from Saint Gregory Who gave the cock its understanding? That is the question: who endowed it with understanding? But this question is answered if you listen to the words of the blessed Gregory on the subject of morality. The cock gets its understanding, says Gregory, so that it can first dispel the night-time hours, then at last utter the cry that awakes, in the same way that a holy preacher first considers the circumstances of his congregation, and only then develops a preaching style suitable for instructing them. Deciding how sinners should be punished is like marking the hours of the night. To mark the hours of the night, is to reprimand in a suitably reproachful voice the darkness of their deeds. Thus understanding has been assigned to the cock from above, as the virtue of judgement has been given by God’s will to the teacher of the truth, so that he can tell to whom, what, when and how he should respond.
For the same kind of encouragement does not suit everyone, because we are not all bound by the same standard of behaviour. Often what harms some helps others. Frequently, the grasses which refresh these animals kill those; a soft whistle calms horses, but excites young dogs; the remedy which heals one ailment makes another worse; and the food which builds up strong men kills babies. The language of teachers must therefore be adapted to the condition of their listeners, so that it should meet each one’s needs yet never lack the capacity to instruct them all at the same time. For what are the attentive minds of listeners if not the strings stretched on a lyre? The musician strikes each one differently so that it is not out of tune with the rest. And therefore the strings give a harmonious sound because they are struck with a single plectrum but not with the same stroke. For this reason a teacher should touch the strings of his listeners in order to instruct them all in the single virtue of love, drawing on one doctrine, but with more than one form of encouragement.
We should, however, consider something else in the context of the cock’s power of understanding. It has the habit of crowing very loudly and deeply in the darkest hours of the night, but produces, as dawn approaches, a softer and less forceful sound. In this case, the thoughtful judgement of preachers shows what the understanding of the cock should signify to us. When they preach to minds which have hitherto been evil, they evoke the terrors of eternal judgement at the top of their voice, as if they were cocks crowing in the darkest hours of the night. But when they realise that the light of truth is already present in the hearts of their listeners, they transform their loud tones into a sweet and gentle voice, drawing attention not so much to the terrors of punishment as to the enticements of reward. They also crow quietly then like cocks because, with the approach of the dawning of divine enlightenment, they preach with a degree of refinement about the mysteries, so that their followers may hear a more detailed account of heavenly things and draw near, as a result, to the light of the truth.
The lengthy crowing of the cock rouses those who are asleep; when shorter, it pleases them when awake, as those who have reformed their character take pleasure in learning in detail about the delights of divine rule, having earlier feared the calamity of divine judgement. This is well put by Moses, when God orders him to sound the trumpets in short blasts, in order to send the army forward. For it is written: ‘Make thee two trumpets of silver’ (Numbers, 10:2); and a little later: ‘When ye blow an alarm, then the camps … shall go forward’ (Numbers, 10:5). The army is led by two trumpets, as God’s people are summoned by two rules of love to be ready to fight for the faith. The trumpets are ordered to be of silver, for this reason, that the words of preachers should be clearly visible from the brightness of their light so that they should not confuse the mind of their listeners with any obscurity. The trumpets are made of beaten silver, because those who preach of the life to come must grow under the blows of the misfortunes of the present. The text: ‘When ye blow an alarm, then the camps … shall go forward’ (Numbers, 10:5), is also apt, because it is a fact that the words of a sermon, when delivered very precisely and with attention to detail, stir the hearts of the listeners with greater fire in the struggle against temptation.
There is something else about the cock to which we should give skilful consideration: before it prepares to utter its crow, it first beats its wings, and by striking itself makes itself more alert. We can see this clearly if we look closely at the lives of holy preachers. Before they instruct us with a sermon, they exercise themselves in holy conduct, unwilling to urge others on by voice while they themselves are sluggish in action. First, they give themselves a shake by performing lofty deeds, then they impart to others the desire to act well. First they beat themselves with the wings of thought, in the sense that they detect whatever is uselessly sluggish within themselves by careful self-examination, and they correct it by severe self-reproach.
First they carefully punish their own faults, weeping as they do so, then they make known the faults of others which should be punished. They flap their wings noisily before they crow, in the sense that before they offer words of encouragement, they proclaim by their deeds all the virtues of which they are going to speak. And when they themselves are fully awake, then they rouse others from their sleep. But from where does the teacher get such understanding, that he stays fully awake to his own state and rouses with his cries those who sleep; that he first carefully scatters the darkness of sin, and afterwards with judgement reveals the light of preaching, showing it to them individually as befits their circumstances, and simultaneously to all who follow them? From where does he get this understanding, which extends to so many things so acutely, unless he be instructed inwardly by the Lord his maker? As it is not a characteristic of a preacher but of an author to praise such great understanding, it is therefore rightly said by the author I have already quoted: ‘Who gave the cock its understanding? If not I who created from nothing the minds of teachers, as by a marvel, and taught them, even more marvellously, to understand things which are hidden?’
It can also be said on the subject of the cock, that there are certain prelates of the Church [to whom God gave understanding but who do not do anything with it]. They do not flap their wings to bestir themselves, nor do they encourage others to rise and lead good lives. They love themselves and so devote themselves to repose and desire. They do not mark the hours of the night like the cock, in the sense that they do not denounce the guilt of the wicked. They do not apply their judgement to confession or repentance, but use the understanding given to them for the acquisition of transitory things. They have learned how to seek the good of souls, yet they apply their minds entirely to those things which relate to the pleasures of the flesh. There are others who are excessively simple and unlearned, who are poised like cocks on the the perch of government, that is, the perch of preferment yet they are ignorant of their duties under the law of God. They sit and say nothing; they attend to their own spiritual nourishment, but they do not lead the flock committed to them to the green pastures of eternity. Let them take care, therefore, those who are endowed with understanding and do not use it to preach the word of God, and those who say nothing because they do not know what to say, lest like the cock they fall from their perch.
Eli often reprimanded his sons, but because he did not reinforce his rebukes with his hand, he fell from his seat and broke his neck. Before he died he witnessed the death of his sons and learned that the ark of the Lord had been captured by another tribe (see Samuel 1, 2:22-25; 4:18).