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Fathers of the Church

Epistle Xl: to Mauricius Augustus

Description

This epistle is from Book V of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory expresses his distress that the Emperor has called him "simple" for believing that Ariulph was truly willing to make peace with the republic. He then urges Mauricius to believe his words when he says that Italy is day by day more under the power of the Lombards. He explains the various trials he has undergone, from broken treaties to hunger in the city, and asks the Emperor and God to look mercifully on him.

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 Mauricius, &c.

The Piety of my Lords in their most serene commands, while set on refuting me on certain matters, in sparing me has by no means spared me. For by the use therein of the term simplicity they politely call me silly. It is true indeed that in Holy Scripture, when simplicity is spoken of in a good sense, it is often carefully associated with prudence and uprightness. Hence it is written of the blessed Job, The man was simple and upright (Job i. 1). And the blessed Apostle Paul admonishes saying Be ye simple in evil and prudent in good (Rom. xvi. 19). And the Truth in person) admonishes saying, Be ye prudent as serpents, and simple as doves (Matth. x. 16); thus shewing it to be very unprofitable if either prudence should be wanting to simplicity, or simplicity to prudence. In order, then, to make His servants instructed for all things He desired them to be both simple as doves, and prudent as serpents, that so both the cunning of the serpent might sharpen in them the simplicity of the dove, and the simplicity of the dove temper the cunning of the serpent.

I therefore, who am denounced in the most serene commands of my Lords as simple without the addition of prudence, as having been deceived by the cunning of Ariulph, am plainly and undoubtedly called silly; which I also myself acknowledge to be the case. For, though your Piety were silent, the facts cry out. For, if I had not been silly, I should by no means have come to endure what I suffer in this place among the swords of the Lombards. Moreover, in what I stated about Ariulph, that he was prepared with all his heart to come to terms with the republic, seeing that I am not believed, I am reproved also as having lied. But, although I am not a priest, I know it to be a grave injury to a priest that, being a servant of the truth, he should be believed to be deceitful. And I have been for some time aware that Nordulph is believed before me, and Leo before me, and that now easy credence is given to those who seem to be in your confidence more than to my assertions.

And indeed if the captivity of my land were not increasing day by day, I would gladly pass over in silence contempt and ridicule of myself. But this does afflict me exceedingly, that from my bearing the charge of falsehood it ensues also that Italy is daily led captive under the yoke of the Lombards. And, while my representations are in no wise believed, the strength of the enemy is increasing hugely. This however I suggest to my most pious Lord, that he would think anything that is bad of me, but, with regard to the advantage of the republic and the cause of the rescue of Italy, not easily lend his pious ears to any one, but believe facts rather than words. Moreover, let not our Lord, in virtue of his earthly power, too hastily disdain priests, but with excellent consideration, on account of Him whose servants they are, so rule over them as also to pay the reverence that is due to them. For in Holy Writ priests are sometimes called gods, and sometimes angels. For even through Moses it is said of him who is to be put upon his oath, Bring him unto the gods (Exod. xxii. 8); that is unto the priests. And again it is written, Than shall not revile the gods (Ib. 28), to wit, the priests. And the prophet says, The priest's lips shall keep knowledge, and they skull seek the law at his mouth; for he is the angel of the Lord of hosts (Malach. ii. 7), Why, then, should it be strange if your Piety were to condescend to honour those to whom even God Himself in His word gives honour, calling them angels or gods?

Ecclesiastical history also testifies that, when accusations in writing against bishops had been offered to the Prince Constantine of pious: memory, he received indeed the bills of accusation, but, calling together the bishops who had been accused, he burnt before their eyes the bills which he had received, saying, Ye are gods, constituted by the true God. Go, and settle your causes among you, for it is not fit that we should judge gods. Yet in this sentence, my pious Lord, he conferred more on himself by his humility than on them by the reverence paid to them. For before him there were pagan princes in the republic, who knew not the true God, but worshipped gods of wood and stone; and yet they paid the greatest honour to their priests. What wonder then if a Christian emperor should condescend to honour the priests of the true God, when pagan princes, as we have already said, knew how to bestow honour on priests who served gods of wood and stone? These things, then, I suggest to the piety of my Lords, not in my own behalf, but in behalf of all priests. For I am a man that is a sinner. And, since I offend against Almighty God incessantly every day, I surmise that it will be some amends for this at the tremendous judgment, that I am smitten incessantly every day by blows. And I believe that you appease the same Almighty God all the more as you more severely afflict me who serve Him badly. For I had already received many blows, and when the commands of my Lords came in addition, I found consolations that I was not hoping for. For, if I can, I will briefly enumerate these blows.

First, that the peace which without any cost to the republic I had made with the Lombards who were in Tuscany was withdrawn from me. Then, the peace having been broken, the soldiers were removed from the Roman city. And some indeed were slain by the enemy, but others were placed at Narnii and Perusium (Perugia); and Rome was left, that Perusium might be held. After this a still heavier blow was the arrival of Agilulph, so that I saw with my own eyes Romans tied by the neck with ropes like dogs, to be taken to France for sale. And, because we who were within the city under the protection of God escaped his hands, a ground was thence sought for making us appear culpable; to wit, because corn ran short, which cannot by any means be kept in large quantities for long in this city; as I have shewn more fully in another representation. On my own account indeed I was in no wise disturbed, since I declare, my conscience bearing me witness, that I was prepared to suffer any adversity whatever, so long as I came out of all these things with the safety of my soul. But for the glorious men, Gregory the praefect, and Castorius the military commander. (magistro militum), I have been distressed in no small degree, seeing that they n no way neglected to do all that could be done, and endured most severe toil in watching and guarding the city during the siege, and, after all this, were smitten by the heavy indignation of my Lords. As to them, I clearly understand that it is not their conduct, but my person, that goes against them. For, having with me alike laboured in trouble, they are alike troubled after labour.

Now as to the Piety of my Lords holding out over me the formidable and terrible judgment of Almighty God, I beseech you by the same Almighty God to do this no more. For as yet we know not how any of us will stand there. And Paul, the excellent preacher, says, Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts (1 Cor. iv. 5). Yet this I briefly say, that, unworthy sinner as I am, I rely more on the mercy of Jesus when He comes than on the justice of your Piety. And there are many things that men are ignorant of with regard to this judgment; for perhaps He will blame what you praise, and praise what you blame. Wherefore among all these uncertainties I return to tears only, praying that the same Almighty God may both direct our most pious Lord with His hand and in that terrible judgment find him free from all defaults. And may He make me so to please men, if need be, as not to offend against His eternal grace.

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.