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Fathers of the Church

Epistle XVII: to Sabinianus, Bishop

Description

This epistle is from Book VII of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. After Maximus' violent ascension to the episcopacy, Sabinianus had remained in communion with him until recently. Now that he has repudiated Maximus, Gregory asks him to come immediately before him so that the case may be investigated and that he may be absolved. For more background, see Gregory's letters to Maximus: Epistle XX, Book IV and Epistle III, Book VI.

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 Sabinianus, Bishop of Jadera.

If thou hadst been at pains to weigh with careful consideration the rule of ecclesiastical administration and the order of ancient custom, neither would any fault of unlawful presumption have crept in upon thee, nor would others have incurred danger by occasion of thy sin. Now there is no doubt that thou wast aware how that, certain things having come to our ears about Maximus which were no slight bar to his advancement to the priesthood, we had not given our assent to it, and that it was our will that he should not attain to what he strove after till there had been adequate satisfaction concerning the things that were said. But, when thou oughtest by all means to have observed this, it came rather to pass that he, snatching at the episcopate with the greediness of a blind mind, inclined thee unwarily to favour him in spite of our prohibition. But, lest even then the things that had been reported to us should remain unexamined, he was summoned to come hither by letters from us. And, when he was so perversely inclined as to defer doing so, we took care to admonish him in repeated letters, under pain of interdiction from communion, to make haste to come to us for his purification, putting aside all excuses: but he chose rather to submit to excommunication than to evince obedience. Whence the result is (awful to be said), that the pravity of his perverse disposition involves others in his own perdition. Now however, inasmuch as we have learnt that thou dissentest from his wickedness, we exhort thee by the present writing (that so it may profit thy soul to have severed thyself, even though late, from him) that thou henceforth neither communicate with him nor make mention of his name in the sacred solemnities of mass; and also that thou defer not coming to us without delay, yea and bring others with thee too, such as thou canst, whether bishops or other religious persons, so that (the cause being thoroughly examined), both your absolution, should the case require it, may fittingly and decently ensue, and that those who have fallen into the sin of the like temerity may be recalled to the way of salvation, with the help of the blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, by an arrangement well-pleasing to Christ. Moreover, let any bishop or religious person that may come to us know that he will sustain no prejudice or injustice, but that all will be arranged so as to please our Redeemer after full ascertainment of the truth; to the end that even from our way of ordering the matter, with the Lord's approval, it may appear to all that we are not moved by private grudge against any man, but by zeal for God and for the adjustment of ecclesiastical order.

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.