Contained in St. Alphonsus Liguori's Dignity and Duties of the Priest or Selva, one finds the following passage in the section on "Sanctity Necessary for the Priest":

But St. Bernard says, with tears, "Behold, the world is full of priests, and still there are but few mediators." The attached footnote says: "Ecce mundus Sacerdotibus plenus est, et rarus invenitur mediator."---(We have not found these words in St. Bernard, but the following are St. Gregory's words: Ecce mundus Sacerdotibus plenus est; sed tamen in messe Dei rarus valde invenitur operator.---In Evang. hom. 17.

QUESTION: Can someone translate as closely as possible, the following quote of St. Gregory: Ecce mundus Sacerdotibus plenus est; sed tamen in messe Dei rarus valde invenitur operator ? And more specifically, what is the likely contextual meaning of the word "operator" here?

Thank you.

1 Answer 1


This seems to be a pretty clear reference to Matthew 9:37-38:

Tunc dicit discipulis suis: Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci. Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam.

Here's how the Douay-Rheims (which is generally a fairly literal--albeit archaic--translation of the Vulgate) translates it:

Then he saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.

Here's the wider context of the quote from Gregory's Homily XVII, which makes clear that he is referring to this passage:

Ad messem multam operarii pauci sunt, quod sine gravi moerore loqui non possumus, quia etsi sunt qui bona audiant, desunt qui dicant. Ecce mundus sacerdotibus plenus est, sed tamen in messe Dei rarus valde invenitur operator, quia officium quidem sacerdotale suscepimus, sed opus officii non implemus.

My (quick) translation, with your part bolded:

There are few workers for a great harvest, which we cannot speak of without great sorrow, for even though there are some who hear the good [news], there is a lack of those who speak [the good news]. Behold the world is full of priests, but nevertheless in the harvest of God [only] the very rare worker is found, for we have indeed received the priestly office, but we do not fulfill the work of the office.

Operator is a post-classical word meaning "worker/operator," and is formed in a pretty regular way from the suffix -tor from the stem of operor, -ari (cf. laudator < laudo). I have translated it the same way as operarius (which is classically attested), and I see no reason to think of this as anything but word variation on the part of Gregory, to which we shouldn't attach any different meaning.

  • Many thanks for this very fine answer.
    – DDS
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:59

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