Fathers of the Church

Epistle X: to All the Bishops of Dalmatia

Description

This epistle is from Book IV of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory decrees that bishops of Dalmatia may not ordain anyone without his permission. He goes on to say that if they can come to a unanimous decision as to a new bishop, they may elect him with his permission.

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 all the bishops through Dalmatia.

It behoved your Fraternity, having the eyes of the flesh closed out of regard to Divine judgment, to have omitted nothing that appertains to God and to a right inclination of mind, nor to have preferred the countenance of any man whatever to the uprightness of justice. But now that your manners have been so perverted by secular concerns, that, forgetting the whole path of the sacerdotal dignity that is yours, and all sense of heavenly fear, you study to accomplish what may please yourselves and not God, we have held it necessary to send you these specially strict written orders, whereby, with the authority of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, we enjoin that you presume not to lay hands on any one whatever in the city of Salona, so far as regards ordination to episcopacy, without our consent and permission; nor to ordain any one in the same city otherwise than as we have said.

But if, either of your own accord, or under compulsion from any one whatever, you should presume or attempt to do anything contrary to this injunction, we shall decree you to be deprived of participation of the Lord's body and blood, that so your very handling of the business, or your very inclination to transgress our order, may cut you off from the sacred mysteries, and no one may be accounted a bishop whom you may ordain. For we wish no one to be rashly ordained whose life can be found fault with. And so, if the deacon Honoratus is shewn to be unworthy, we desire that a report may be sent us of the life and manners of him who may be elected, that whatever is to be done in this matter we may allow to be carried out salubriously with our consent.

For we trust in Almighty God that, as far as in us lies, we may never suffer to be done what may damage our soul; never what may damage your Church. But, if the voluntary consent of all should so fix on one person that by the favour of God he may be proved worthy, and there should be no one to dissent from his being ordained, we wish him to be consecrated by you in this same church of Salona under the license granted in this present epistle; excepting notwithstanding the person of Maximus, about whom many evil reports have reached us: and, unless he desists from coveting the higher order, it remains, as I think, that after full enquiry, he should be deprived also of the very office which he now holds.

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.