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Fathers of the Church

Epistle XVI: to Mauricius Augustus

Description

This epistle is from Book VI of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory recounts how John the presbyter has been found innocent of all heresy, and asks the Emperor to order that no one harm 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 Mauricius, &c.

Seeing that in you, most Christian of princes, uncorrupt soundness of faith shines as a beam sent down from heaven, and that it is known to all that your Serenity embraces fervently and loves with entire devotion of heart the pure profession in which by God's favour you are powerful, we have perceived it to be very necessary to make request for those whom one and the same faith enlightens, to the end that the Piety of our lords may protect them with its favour, and defend them from all molestation. When certain men scorn the confession of faith of such persons they are shewn to contradict the true faith. For, since the Apostle declares that confession of the mouth is made unto salvation, he who will not consent to believe a right profession accuses himself in rejecting others (Rom. x. 10).

Now all the proceedings against John, presbyter of the church of Chalcedon, having been read in council and considered in order, we have found that he has suffered the greater injustice in that, when he declared and shewed himself to be a Catholic, it was not his guilt, but an uncertain accusation of long standing, that crushed him; and this to such an extent that his accusers declared in their open reply that they did not know the heresy of the Marcionists which they referred to. And, whereas they ought therefore to have been rejected from the very beginning of the trial, they were allowed, vague as they were, to remain in court for his accusation. But, lest at any rate alleged report might injure him, he produced a written confession of his faith with the purpose of shewing evidently that he was a professor and follower of the right faith. But this the judges deputed by the most holy John, our brother and fellow-bishop, unjustly and unreasonably disregarded; and so, in doing all they could to put him down, shewed themselves more to blame than he. For no one doubts that it is unfaithfulness not to have faith in the faithful. Seeing then that, everything having been thoroughly enquired into and considered, the decision of the holy Council with me, by the revealing grace of Divine power, has declared the above-written John the presbyter to be a Catholic, and that no spot of heretical pravity has been found in him, I entreat that the pious protection of your Serenity may order him to be kept unharmed from all annoyance, nor allow a professor of the catholic faith to suffer any molestation. For not to believe one who professes truly is not to purge heresy, but to make it. If this should be allowed, occasion of infidelity will arise, and people will themselves incur the guilt which they would correct unwarily.

These things therefore let the most Serene Lord with pious precaution consider, and, as I have already requested, with profuse entreaties I again implore, that he allow not an innocent man to be afflicted anew as though he were guilty; to the end that Almighty God, who sees your Clemency love and defend the purity of catholic rectitude, may cause you both to rule over a pacified republic with your foes subdued, and to reign with His saints in life eternal.

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.