Fathers of the Church

Epistle XIV: to the Count Narses

Description

This epistle is from Book VI of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory points out the heretical errors in a certain text and in the one who sent it to him.

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 Nurses, &c.

Your Charity, being anxious to learn our opinion, has been at the pains of writing to us to ask what we think of the book against the presbyter Athanasius which was sent to us. Having thoroughly perused some parts of it, we find that he has fallen into the dogma of Manichaeus. But he who has noted some places as heretical by a mark set against them slips also himself into Pelagian heresy; for he has marked certain places as heretical which are catholicly expressed and entirely orthodox. For when this is written; that when Adam sinned his soul died, the writer shews afterwards how it is said to have died, namely that it lost the blessedness of its condition Whosoever denies this is not a Catholic. For God had said, In the hour ye eat thereof, in death ye shall die(Gen. ii. 17). When, therefore, Adam ate of the forbidden tree, we know that he did not die in the body, seeing that after this he begat children and lived many years. If, then, he did not die in the soul, the impious conclusion follows that He himself lied who foretold that in the day that he sinned he should die. But it is to be understood that death takes place in two ways; either from ceasing to live, or with respect to the mode of living. When, then, man's soul is said to have died in the eating of the forbidden thing, it is meant, not in the sense of ceasing to live, but with regard to the mode of living;— that he should live afterwards in pain who had been created to live happily in joy. He, then, who has marked this passage in the book sent to me by my brother the bishop John as heretical is a Pelagian; for his view is evidently that of Pelagius, which the apostle Paul plainly confutes in his epistles. The particular passages in his epistle I need not quote, as I write to one who knows. But Pelagius, who was condemned in the Ephesine synod, maintained this view with the intention of shewing that we were redeemed by Christ unreally. For, if we did not through Adam die in the soul, we were redeemed unreally, which it were impious to say. Further, having examined the acts of the synod of Ephesus, we find nothing at all about Adelphius and Sava, and the others who are said to have been condemned there, and we think that, as the synod of Chalcedon was in one place falsified by the Constantinopolitan Church so something of the kind has been done with regard to the synod of Ephesus. Wherefore let your Charity make a thorough search for old copies of the acts of this synod, and thus see whether anything of the kind is found there, and send such copy as you may find to me, which I will return as soon as I have read it. For recent copies are not entirely to be trusted; and it is for this reason that I have been in doubt, and have not wished as yet to reply in this case to my aforesaid brother the bishop John. Further, the Roman copies are much more correct than the Greek ones, since, as we have not your cleverness, so neither have we any impostures.

Now concerning the presbyter John, know that his case has been decided in synod, whereby I have clearly ascertained that his adversaries have wished and long endeavoured to make him out a heretic, but have entirely failed.

Salute in my name your friends, who are ours: ours also, who are yours, salute you heartily through me. May Almighty God protect thee with His hand in the midst of so many thorns, that thou mayest, unhurt, gather those flowers which the Lord hath chosen.

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.