Fathers of the Church

Epistle IX: to Januarius, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book IV of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Having heard that due to Januarius' neglect of the convents under his charge, the nuns have been forced to constantly leave their monastery in order to deal with secular matters, Gregory tells Januarius to correct this by appointing a man of good repute to attend to these matters, that the nuns may devoted themselves to a life of prayer.

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 Januarius, Bishop of Caralis (Cagliari).

Pastoral zeal ought indeed in itself to have sufficiently instigated thee, even without our aid, to protect profitably and providently the flock of which thou hast taken charge, and to preserve it with diligent circumspection from the cunning devices of enemies. But, since we have found that thy Charity needs also the written word of our authority for the augmentation of thy firmness, it is necessary for us, by the exhortation of brotherly love, to strengthen thy faltering disposition towards the earnestness of religious activity.

Now it has come to our knowledge that thou art remiss in thy guardianship of the monasteries of the handmaidens of God situated in Sardinia; and, though it had been prudently arranged by thy predecessors that certain approved men of the clergy should have the charge of attending to their needs, this has now been so entirely neglected that women specially dedicated to God are compelled to go in person among public functionaries about tributes and other liabilities, and are under the necessity of running to and fro through villages and farms for making up their taxes, and of mixing themselves unsuitably in business which belongs to men. This evil let thy Fraternity remove by an easy correction; that is, by carefully deputing one man of approved life and manners, and of such age and position as to give rise to no evil suspicion of him, who may, with the fear of God, so assist the inmates of these monasteries that they may no longer be allowed to wander, against rule, for any cause whatever, private or public, beyond their venerable precincts; but that whatever has to be done in their behalf may be transacted reasonably by him whom you shall depute. But let the nuns themselves, rendering praises to God and confining themselves to their monasteries, no longer suggest any evil suspicion to the minds of the faithful. But if any one of them, either through former license, or through an evil custom of impunity, has been seduced, or should in future be led, into the gulph of adulterous lapse, we will that, after enduring the severity of adequate punishment, she be consigned for penance to some other stricter monastery of virgins, that she may there give herself to prayers and fastings, and profit herself by penitence, and afford an example of the more rigorous kind of discipline, such as may inspire fear in others. Further, let any one who may be detected in any iniquity with women of this class be deprived of communion, if he be a layman; but, if he be a cleric, let him also be removed from his office, and thrust into a monastery for his ever to be deplored excesses.

We also desire thee to hold councils of bishops twice in the year, as is said to have been the custom of thy province, as well as being ordered by the authority of the sacred canons; that, if any among them be of moral character inconsistent with his profession, he may be convicted by the friendly rebuke of his brethren, and also that measures may be taken with paternal circumspection for the security of the flock committed to him, and for the well-being of souls. It has come to our knowledge also that male and female slaves of Jews, who have fled for refuge to the Church on account of their faith, are either restored to their unbelieving masters, or paid for according to their value in lieu of being restored. We exhort therefore that thou by no means allow so bad a custom to continue; but that whosoever being a slave to Jews, shall have fled for refuge to venerable places, thou suffer him not in any degree to sustain prejudice. But, whether he had been a Christian before, or been baptized now, let him be supported in his claim for freedom, without any loss to the poor, by the patronage of ecclesiastical compassion.

Let not bishops presume to sign baptized infants a second time on the forehead with chrism; but let the presbyters anoint those who are to be baptized on the breast, that the bishops may afterwards anoint them on the forehead.

With regard also to founding monasteries, which divers persons have ordered to be built, if thou perceivest that any persons to whom the charge has been assigned put it off on unjust pretexts, we desire thee to insist sagaciously according to what the laws enjoin, lest (as God forbid should be the case) the pious retentions of the departed should be frustrated through thy neglect. Further, as to the monastery which Peter is said to have formerly ordered to be constructed in his house, we have seen fit that thy Fraternity should make accurate enquiry into the amount of the revenues there. And in case of there being a suitable provision, when all diminutions of the property and what is said to have been dispersed have been recovered, let the monastery with all diligence and without any delay be founded. But, if the means are insufficient or detrimental, we desire thee, after closely investigating everything as has been commanded, to send a report to us, that we may know how to deliberate with the Lord's help with regard to its construction. Let, then, thy Fraternity give wise attention to all the points above referred to, so as neither to be found to have transgressed the tenour of our admonitions nor to stand liable to divine judgment for too little zeal in thy pastoral office.

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.