Fathers of the Church

Epistle XLVII: to Sabinianus, Deacon

Description

This epistle is from Book IV of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. This letter concerns Maximus, who had violently forced others to ordain him, and subsequently defied Gregory's letter commanding him to abstain from anything having to do with the priestly office. See also Epistle XX, Book IV for Gregory's scathing letter to "Maximus, Pretender".

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 Sabinianus, &c.

Thou knowest what has been done in the case of the prevaricator Maximus. For after the most serene lord the Emperor had Sent orders that he should not be ordained, then he broke out into a higher pitch of pride. For the men of the glorious patrician Romanus received bribes from him, and caused him to be ordained in such a manner that they would have killed Antoninus, the sub-deacon and rector of the patrimony, if he had not fled. But I despatched letters to him, after I had learnt that he had been ordained against reason and custom, telling him not to presume to celebrate the solemnities of mass unless I should first ascertain from our most serene lords what they had ordered with regard to him. And these my letters, having been publicly promulged or posted in the city, he caused to be publicly torn, and thus bounced forth more openly into contempt of the Apostolic See. How I was likely to endure this thou knowest, seeing that I was before prepared rather to die than that the Church of the blessed apostle Peter should degenerate in my days. Moreover thou art well acquainted with my ways, that I bear long; but if once I have determined not to bear, I go gladly in the face of all dangers. Whence it is necessary with the help of God to meet danger, lest he be driven to sin to excess. Look to what I say, and consider what great grief inspires it.

But it has come to my ears that he has sent [to Constantinople] a cleric, I know not whom, to say that the bishop Malchus was put to death in prison for money. Now as to this there is one thing that thou mayest shortly suggest to our most serene lords;—that, if I their servant had been willing to have anything to do with the death of Lombards, the nation of the Lombards at this day would have had neither king nor dukes nor counts, and would have been divided in the utmost confusion. But, since I fear God, I shrink from having anything to do with the death of any one. Now the bishop Malchus was neither in prison nor in any distress; but on the day when he pleaded his cause and was sentenced he was taken without my knowledge by Boniface the notary to his house, where a dinner was prepared for him, and there he dined, and was treated with honour by the said Boniface, and in the night suddenly died, as I think you have already been informed. Moreover I had intended to send our Exhilaratus to you in connection with that business; but, as I considered that the case was now done with, I consequently abstained from doing so.

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.