Fathers of the Church

Epistle XLII: to Sebastian, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book V of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here, after some preliminary greetings and news, Gregory expresses his happiness that Sebastian has declined to govern one of Athanasius' churches, and asks him to always think first of the ungoverned churches in Rome when considering such an undertaking.

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 Sebastian, Bishop of Sirmium.

I have received the most sweet and pleasant letter of thy Fraternity, which, though you are never absent from my heart, has nevertheless made your Holiness as it were present with me bodily. But I beseech Almighty God to protect you with His right hand, and to grant you a tranquil life here, and, when it shall please Him, eternal rewards. But I beg you, if you love me with that love wherewith you always loved me when we were together, to pray for me more earnestly, that so Almighty God may loose me from the bands of my sins, and make me to stand free in His sight, released from the burden of this corruption. For, however inestimable be the sweetness of the heavenly country for drawing one towards it, yet there are many sorrows in this life to impel us daily to the love of heavenly things. And these only please me exceedingly from the very fact that they do not allow anything to please me in this world.

For we can by no means describe, most holy brother, what we suffer in this land at the hands of your friend, the lord Romanus. Yet I may briefly say that his malice towards us has surpassed the swords of the Lombards; so that the enemies who kill us seem kinder than the judges of the republic, who by their malice, rapines, and deceits wear us out with anxiety. And to bear at the same time the charge of bishops and clergy, and also of monasteries and people, and to watch anxiously against the plots of the enemy, and to be ever suspicious of the deceitfulness and malice of the dukes; what labours and what Sorrows all this involves, your Fraternity may the more truly estimate as you more purely love me who suffer these things.

Furthermore, while addressing you with the greeting that I owe you, I inform you that it has come to my knowledge from the report Boniface the defensor, that our brother the most holy lord Anastasius the patriarch has wished to commit to you the government of the Church in one of his cities, and that you have refused your assent. This your feeling and your wisdom I most gladly approve of, and strongly commend; and I account you happy, and myself unhappy in having consented at such a time as this to undertake the government of the Church. If, however, by any chance, in condescension to your brethren, and as being intent on works of mercy, you should ever decide to consent to such a proposal, I beg you by no means to prefer any one else's love to mine. For there are in the island of Sicily Churches without bishops, and, if by the guidance of God you are pleased to take the government of a Church, you will be able to do this better near the threshold of the blessed apostle Peter, with his aid. But if you are not so pleased, remain happily as you are, that this resolution may continue in you; and pray for us unhappy ones. Now may Almighty God keep you under His protection, in whatever place it be His will that you should be, and bring you to heavenly rewards.

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.