Action Alert!

Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXI: to Venantius, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book IV of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory chastises Venantius for allowing Jews to keep Christian slaves, and orders their liberty.

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 Venantius, Bishop of Luna (in Etruria).

It has reached us by the report of many that Christian slaves are detained in servitude by Jews living in the city of Luna; which thing has seemed to us by so much the more offensive as the sufferance of it by thy Fraternity annoys us. For it was thy duty, in respect of thy place, and in thy regard for the Christian religion, to leave no occasion for simple souls to serve Jewish superstition not through persuasion, but, in a manner, by right of authority. Wherefore we exhort thy Fraternity that, according to the course laid down by the most pious laws, no Jew be allowed to retain a Christian slave in his possession. But, if any are found in their power, let liberty be secured to them by protection under the sanction of law. But as to any that are on the property of Jews, though they be themselves free from legal obligation, yet, since they have long been attached to the cultivation of their lands as bound by the condition of their tenure, let them continue to cultivate the farms they have been accustomed to do, rendering their payments to the aforesaid persons, and performing all things that the laws require of husbandmen or natives, except that no farther burden be imposed on them. But, whether any one of these should wish to remain in his servitude, or any to migrate to another place, let the latter consider with himself that he will have lost his rights as a husbandman by his own rashness, though he has got rid of his servitude by force of law. In all these things, then, we desire thee to exert thyself so wisely that neither mayest thou be a guilty pastor of a dismembered flock, nor may thy too little zeal render thee reprehensible before us.

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.