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Fathers of the Church

Letter XIX: to Dorus, Bishop of Beneventum

Description:
Here Leo chastises Dorus for disregarding seniority in the promotion of presbyters.

Provenance:
In Leo's conception of his duties as supreme pastor, the maintenance of strict ecclesiastical discipline occupied a prominent place. This was particularly important at a time when the continual ravages of the barbarians were introducing disorder into all conditions of life, and the rules of morality were being seriously violated. Leo used his utmost energy in maintining this discipline, insisted on the exact observance of the ecclesiastical precepts, and did not hesitate to rebuke when necessary. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

by Leo the Great in 448 | translated by Charles Lett Feltoe, M.A

Leo, bishop, to Dorus his well-beloved brother.

I. He rebukes Dorus far allowing a junior presbyter to be promoted over the heads of the seniors, and the first and second in seniority for acquiescing.

We grieve that the judgment, which we hoped to entertain of you, has been frustrated by our ascertaining that you have done things which by their blame-worthy novelty infringe the whole system of Church discipline: although you know full well with what care we wish the provisions of the canons to be kept through all the churches of the LORD, and the priests of all the peoples to consider it their especial duty to prevent the violation of the rules of the holy constitutions by any extravagances. We are surprised, therefore, that you who ought to have been a strict observer of the injunctions of the Apostolic See have acted so carelessly, or rather so contumaciously, as to show yourself not a guardian, but a breaker of the laws handed on to you. For from the report of your presbyter, Paul, which is subjoined, we have learnt that the order of the presbyterate has been thrown into confusion with you by strange intrigues and vile collusion; in such a way that one man has been hastily and prematurely promoted, and others passed over whose advancement was recommended by their age, and who were charged with no fault. But if the eagerness of an intriguer or the ignorant zeal of his supporters demanded that which custom never allowed, viz., that a beginner should be preferred to veterans, and a mere boy to men of years, it was your duty by diligence and teaching to check the improper desires of the petitioners with all reasonable authority: lest he whom you advanced hastily to the priestly rank should enter on his office to the detriment of those with whom he associated and become demoralized by the growth within him, not of the virtue of humility, but of the vice of conceit. For you were not unaware that the LORD had said that "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted: but he that exalteth himself shall be humbled," and also had said, "but ye seek from little to increase, and from the greater to be less." For both actions are out of order and out of place: and all the fruit of men's labours is lost, all the measure of their deserts is rendered void, if the gaining of dignity is proportioned to the amount of flattery used: so that the eagerness to be eminent belittles not only the aspirer himself, but also him that connives at him. But if, as is asserted, the first and second presbyter were so agreeable to Epicarpius being put over their heads as to demand his being honoured to their own disgrace, that which they wished ought not to have been granted them when they were voluntarily degrading themselves: because it would have been worthier of you to oppose than to yield to such a pitiable wish. But their base and cowardly submission could not be to the prejudice of others whose consciences were good, and who had not done despite to GOD's grace; so that, whatever the transaction was whereby they gave up their precedence to another, they could not lower the dignity of those that came next to them, nor because they had placed the last above themselves, could he take precedence of the rest.

II. The presbyters, who gave way, to be degraded with the usurper to the bottom: the rest to keep their places.

The aforesaid presbyters, therefore, who have declared themselves unworthy of their proper rank, though they even deserved to be deprived of their priesthood; yet, that we may show the gentleness of the Apostolic See in sparing them, are to be put last of all the presbyters of the Church: and that they may bear their own sentence, they shall be below him also whom they preferred to themselves by their own judgment: all the other presbyters remaining in the order which the time of his ordination assigns to each. And let none except the two aforesaid suffer any loss of dignity, but let this disgrace attach to those only who chose to put themselves below a junior who had only lately been ordained: that they may feel that that sentence of the gospels applies to themselves when it is said: "with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, the same shall be measured unto you." But let Paul the presbyter retain his place from which with praiseworthy firmness he did not budge: and let no further encroachments be made to any one's harm: so that you, beloved, who not undeservedly get the discredit of the whole matter, may with all speed take measures to cure it at least by putting these our injunctions into effect; lest, if a second time a just complaint be lodged with us, we be forced into stronger displeasure: for we would rather restore discipline by correcting what is done wrong, than increase the punishment. Know that we have entrusted the carrying out of our commands to our brother and fellow-bishop Julius, that all things may straightway be established, as we have ordained. Dated 8th March, in the consulship of the illustrious Postumianus .

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/XII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.

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