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Fathers of the Church

Epistle IV: to Constantius, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book V of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory emphasizes that those who have lapsed may for no reason be restored to their sacred offices. He then brings up several particular cases of clerics who have lapsed and gives instructions as to what should be done with them.

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 Constantius, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan).

If licence to be restored to their rank be granted to the lapsed, the force of ecclesiastical discipline is undoubtedly broken, while in the hope of restoration each person fears not to give way to his evil inclinations. Your Fraternity, for instance, has consulted us as to whether Amandinus, ex-presbyter and ex-abbot, who was deposed by your predecessor for fault requiring it, should be called back to his rank; which thing is not allowable; and we decree that it cannot on any account be done. Yet, if it should be the case that his manner of life deserves it, seeing that he has been deprived altogether of his sacred office, assign him a place in a monastery, as you may see fit, before other monks. Above all things, then, take care that no one's supplication persuade you in any way to restore the lapsed to their sacred orders, lest such punishment should be supposed not to be definitely ordained for them, but only a temporary expedient.

As to Vitalianus the ex-presbyter, about whom you write that he should be strictly guarded, we will cause him to be sent into Sicily, that, being deprived of all hope of departure thence, he may then at least constrain himself to penitential bewailing. Jobinus also, of Portus Veneris, once deacon and abbot, we have decreed to be deprived of his office, and written that another should be ordained in his place. In like manner also we decree that the three subdeacons, whom your Fraternity has notified to us as having lapsed, shall ever cease from and stand deprived of their office, and that nothing beyond lay communion be allowed them. Further, we have adjudged the ex-presbyter Saturninus to give security that he will not ever presume to approach the ministry of his sacred order. And we desire him to remain, with deprivation of his sacred order, in the same island in which he was, permitting him to have and exercise care and solicitude with respect to monasteries; for we believe that, his lapse having made him more wary, he will now the more carefully keep guard over those who are committed to him.

Further, concerning John, notary of your church, the charity wherewith we love you and have long loved you warns us to write, lest you should order anything with regard to him while you are still provoked by his fault. Guarding, then, against this, enquire fully by all means in your power into the possessions of your church; by which melons neither may you offend God, nor may lie be able to find a ground for accusing you before men. For we write, not as defending John or commending him personally without reason, but lest your soul should be in any way burdened with sin under the incitement of anger. Whence it is needful, as we have, before said, that you should by no means neglect to enquire, in the fear of God, with a full investigation into the possessions of your church.

Furthermore, the epistle of your most dear Fraternity has caused us to wonder much with respect to the person of Fortunatus. But either that letter was not dictated by you, or certainly, if it is yours, we by no means recognize in it our brother the lord Constantius. For you ought to have paid, and still ought to pay, attention to the fact that it is in behalf of your reputation that we write. For, when he asserts that he suffers wrong among you, and has been unable to procure the guardian's (defensoris) aid, what else does he intimate but ill-will on your part? Wherefore, that neither this affair may dim your reputation in some quarters nor damage possibly ensue in any way with good cause to your church, you ought to send hither a person instructed by you, that the nature of the case may be examined, and the matter terminated, without ill- will on your part. And for this reason especially, that if, after his complaint, sentence should be pronounced among yourselves in your favour, he will be believed to have been defeated, not reasonably, but by power alone. But we, out of the charity wherewith we are bored to you, desist not from admonishing you to do what will be for your good repute, knowing that, though this exhortation saddens you for the time, it will afterwards cause you joy, when the animosity of contention has passed away. In the month of September, Indiction 13. (In Vatic. The month of December, Indict. 13.)

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.