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Fathers of the Church

Epistle LVII: to John, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book V of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory exhorts John to be a kind and loving shepherd, and to wipe away the stain left by his corrupt predecessor. He also tells him to tend to the sin of simony which is perpetrated throughout the priesthood.

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 John, Bishop of the Corinthians

Now that our God, from whom nothing is hidden, having cast out an atrocious plague of pollution from the government of His Church, has been pleased to advance you to the rule thereof, there is need of anxious precaution on your part that the Lord's flock, after the wounds and various evils inflicted by its former shepherd, may find consolation and wholesome medicine in your Fraternity. Thus, then, let the hand of your action wipe away the stain of the previous contagion, so as to suffer no traces even to remain of that execrable wickedness.

Let, therefore, your solicitude towards your subjects be worthy of praise. Let discipline be exhibited with gentleness. Let rebuke be with discernment. Let kindness mitigate wrath; let zeal sharpen kindness: and let one be so seasoned with the other that neither immoderate punishment afflict more than it ought, nor again laxity impair the rectitude of discipline. Let the conduct of your Fraternity be a lesson to the people committed to you. Let them see in you what to love, and perceive what to make haste to imitate. Let them be taught how to live by your example. Let them not deviate from the straight course through your leading; let them find their way to God by following you; that so thou mayest receive as many rewards from the Saviour of the human race as thou shalt have won souls for Him. Labour therefore, most dear brother, and so direct the whole activity of thy heart and soul, that thou mayest hereafter be counted worthy to hear, Well done, thou goad and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matth. xxv. 21).

As you requested in your letter which we received through our brother and fellow-bishop Andrew, we have sent you the pallium, which it is necessary that you should so use as your predecessors, by the allowance of our predecessors, are proved to have used it.

Furthermore, it has come to our ears that in those parts no one attains to any sacred order without the giving of a consideration. If this, is so, I say with tears, I declare with groans, that, when the priestly order has fallen inwardly, neither will it stand long outwardly. For we know from the Gospel what our Redeemer in person did; how He went into the temple, and overthrew the seats of them that sold, doves (Matth. xxi. 12). For to sell cloves is to receive a temporal consideration for the Holy Spirit, whom, being consubstantial with Himself, Almighty God gives to men through imposition of hands. And what follows from this evil, as I have said before, is intimated; for the seats of those who presumed to sell doves in the temple of God fell by the judgment of God. And in truth this transgression is propagated with increase among subordinates. For one who attains to a sacred dignity tainted in the very root of his promotion is himself the more prepared to sell to others what he has bought. And where then is that which is written, Freely ye have received; freely give (Matth. x. 8)? And, since the simoniacal heresy was the first to arise against holy Church, why is it not considered, why is it not seen, that whosoever ordains any one for a price in promoting him causes him to become a heretic? Seeing, then, that the holy universal Church utterly condemns this most atrocious wickedness, we exhort your Fraternity in all ways to repress, with all the urgency of your solicitude, this so detestable and so huge a sin in all places that are under you. For, if we shall perceive anything of the kind to be done henceforth, we will correct it, not with words, but with canonical punishment; and we shall begin to have a different opinion of you; which ought not so to be.

Further, your Fraternity knows that formerly the pallium was not given except for a consideration received. But, since this was incongruous, we held a council before the body of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, and forbade under a strict interdiction the receiving of anything, as well for this as for ordinations.

It is your duty then, that neither for a consideration, nor for favour or the solicitation of certain persons, you consent to any persons being advanced to sacred orders. For it is a grave sin, as we have said, and we cannot suffer it to continue without reproof.

I delayed receiving the above named Andrew, our brother and fellow- bishop, because by the report of our brother and fellow-bishop Secundinus we learnt that he had forged letters, as to himself from us, in the proceedings against John of Larissa. And, unless your goodness had induced us, we would on no account have received him. Given the 15th day of the month of August, Indiction 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.