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Fathers of the Church

Epistle VI: to Narses, Patrician

Description

This epistle is from Book I of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory laments the loss of his quiet contemplative life.

Provenance

St. Gregory (b. 540 in Rome) was elected pope at the age of 50, serving from 590 to 604. In 14 years he accomplished much for the Church. England owes her conversion to him. At a period when the invasion of the barbarian Lombards created a new situation in Europe, he played a great part in winning them for Christ. At the same time, he watched equally over the holiness of the clergy and the maintenance of Church discipline, the temporal interests of his people of Rome and the spiritual interests of all Christendom. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade the taking of money for many services, and emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and victims of plague and famine. Gregory also reformed the liturgy, and it still contains several of his most beautiful prayers. The name "Gregorian chant" recalls this great Pope's work in the development of the Church's music. His commentaries on Holy Scripture exercised a considerable influence on Christian thought in the Middle Ages. Following his death in 604, his numerous epistles, including the following letter, were compiled into the Papal Register of Letters.

by Gregory the Great in 590-604 | translated by James Barmby, D.d

Gregory to Narses, &c

In describing loftily the sweetness of contemplation, you have renewed the groans of my fallen state, since I hear what I have lost inwardly while mounting outwardly, though undeserving, to the topmost height of rule. Know then that I am stricken with so great sorrow that I can scarcely speak; for the dark shades of grief block up the eyes of my soul. Whatever is beheld is sad, whatever is thought delightful appears to my heart lamentable. For I reflect to what a dejected height of external advancement I have mounted in falling from the lofty height of my rest. And, being sent for my faults into the exile of employment from the face of my Lord, I say with the prophet, in the words, as it were of destroyed Jerusalem, He who should comfort me hath departed far from me (Lam. i. 16). But when, in seeking a similitude to express my condition and title, you frame periods and declamations in your letter, certainly, dearest brother, you call an ape a lion. Herein we see that you do as we often do, when we call mangy whelps pards or tigers. For I, my good man, have, as it were, lost my children, since through earthly cares I have lost works of righteousness. Therefore call me not Noemi. that is fair; but call me Mara, for I am full of bitterness (Ruth i. 20). But as to your saying that I ought not to have written, "That you should plough with bubali in the Lord's field," seeing that when in the sheet shewn to the blessed Peter both bubali and all wild beasts were presented to view; thou knowest thyself that it is subjoined, Slay and eat (Acts x. Thou, then, who hadst not yet slain these beasts, why didst thou already wish to eat them through obedience? Or knowest thou not that the beast about which thou wrotest refused to be slain by the sword of thy mouth? Thou must needs, then, satisfy the hunger of thy desire with those whom thou hast been able to prick and slay (Lit., to slay through compunction).

Further, as to the case of our brethren, I think that, if God gives aid, it will be as thou hast written. It was not, however, by any means right for me to write about it at present to our most serene lords, since at the very outset one should not begin with complaints. But I have written to my well-beloved son, the deacon Honoratus, that he should mention the matter to them in a suitable manner at a seasonable time, and speedily inform me of their reply. I beg greetings to be given in my behalf to the lord Alexander, the lord Theodorus, my son Marinus, the lady Esicia, the lady Eudochia, and the lady Dominica.

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.