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Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXXIX: to Anastasius, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book V of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory first gives thanks that Antioch's river (possibly the Orontes) is no longer dry. He then goes on to encourage Anastiasius in his office and work, sympathizing with his sufferings.

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 Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch.

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will (Luke ii. 14), because that great river which once had left the rocks of Antioch dry has returned at length to its proper channel, and waters the subject valleys that are near, so as also to bring forth fruit, some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some an hundred-fold. For now there is no doubt that many flowers of souls are growing up in its valleys, and that they will come even to ripe fruit through the streams of your tongue. Wherefore with voice of heart and mouth from our inmost soul we render due praise to Almighty God, and rejoice in your Blessedness, not with you only, but with all who are subject to you. I have received the letters of your Holiness, to me most sweet and pleasant, while we ourselves, if I may so speak, are sweating under the same toil with you. And indeed I know how heavy must be to thee the burden of external cares after those heights of rest, wherein with the hand of the heart thou wert touching heavenly secrets. But remember that thou rules an Apostolic See, and assuagest sorrow the more readily from being, made all things to all men. In the Books of Kings, as your accomplished Holiness knows, a certain man is described who used either hand for the right hand (1 Chron. xii. 2). And, with regard to this, I am not doubtful about the lord Anastasius, of old my most sweet and most holy patron, that, while he draws earthly works to heavenly profit, he turns the left hand to the right hand's use; so that his heavenly intentness may accomplish its work, so to speak, with the right hand, and also, when he is led in his care of temporal things towards the interests of justice, the left hand may acquire the strength of the right.

And indeed these things cannot be without heavy labour and trouble. But let us remember the labours of those who went before us; and what we endure will not be hard. For We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God (Acts xiv. 22). And, We were pressed out of measure, yea and above strength, insomuch that we were weary even of life. But we ourselves, too had the answer of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves (2 Cor. i. 8, 9). And yet The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the supervening glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. viii. 18). How then can we that are weak sheep pass without labour through the heat of this world wherein we know that even rams have suffered under heavy toil?

Further, what tribulations I suffer in this land from the swords of the Lombards, from the iniquities of judges, from the press of business, from the care of subjects, and also from bodily affliction, I am unable to express either by pen or tongue. Concerning which things even though I might say something briefly, I hesitate, lest to your most holy Charity, while afflicted by your own tribulations, I should add mine also. But may Almighty God both in the abundance of His loving-kindness fill the mind of your most holy Blessedness with all comfort, and grant at sortie time, on account of your intercession, to unworthy me to rest from these evils which I suffer. Amen. Grace. These words, as you see, taken from what you had written, I insert in my epistles, that your Blessedness may perceive with regard to Saint Ignatius that he is not only yours, but also ours. For, as we have his master, the Prince of the apostles in common, so also no one of us ought to have to himself alone the disciple of this same Prince. Moreover, we have received your blessing, which is of sweet smell and of a good savour, with the feelings that were due to it. And we give thanks to Almighty God that what you do, what you say, and what you give, is fragrant and savoury. For your life therefore let us say together, let us say all, Glory to God in the highest, and an earth peace to men of good will.

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.