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Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXXIII: to Mauricius Augustus

Description

This epistle is from Book VII of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory explains that the the proud title of "universal bishop" that Cyriacus has assumed for himself is harmful to the Church, and not merely a "frivoulous name" as Mauricius has stated. He tells the Emperor that he has received the representatives of Cyriacus in an appropriate manner, and that Mauricius does him a disservice to assume he would do otherwise.

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 Augustus.

The provident piety of my lords, lest perchance any scandal might be engendered in the unity of Holy Church by the dissension of priests, has once and again deigned to admonish me to receive kindly the representatives of my brother and fellow-priest Cyriacus, and to give them liberty to return soon. And although, most pious lord, all your injunctions are suitable and provident, yet I find that by such an admonition I am reproved as being in your judgment indiscreet. But, even though my mind has been wounded in no slight degree by a proud and profane title, could I possibly be guilty of so great indiscretion as not to know what I owed to the unity of the faith and to ecclesiastical concord, and to refuse to receive the representatives and the synodical letter of my brother on account of bitterness from whatever cause intervening? Far be this from me. Such wisdom had been unwisdom. For what is due from us for conserving unity of faith is one thing; what is due for restraining elation is another. Times therefore were to be distinguished, lest the newness of my aforesaid brother might in any point be disturbed . Whence also I received his representatives with great affection. Whatever charity I owed to them I displayed, and honoured them more than it had been the ancient custom to do, and caused them to celebrate the sacred solemnities of mass with me; since, even as my deacon ought not to serve, for exhibition of the sacred mysteries, him who has either committed the sin of elation or corrects it not himself when committed by others, so it was right that his ministers should attend, in the celebration of mass, on me, who, under the keeping of God, have not fallen into the error of pride.

I have however taken care to admonish earnestly the same my brother and fellow-bishop that, if he desires to have peace and concord with all, he must refrain from the appellation of a foolish title. As to this, the piety of my lords has charged me in their orders, saying that offence ought not to be engendered among us for the appellation of a frivolous name. But I beseech your imperial Piety to consider that some frivolous things are very harmless, and others exceedingly harmful. Is it not the case that, when Antichrist comes and calls himself God, it will be very frivolous, and yet exceedingly pernicious? If we regard the quantity of the language used, there are but a few syllables; but if the weight of the wrong, there is universal disaster. Now I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others. Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as above all men, so whosoever this one is who covets being called sole priest, he extols himself above all other priests. But, since the Truth says, Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled (Luke xiv. 11; xviii. 14), I know that every kind of elation is the sooner burst as it is the more inflated. Let then your Piety charge those who have fallen into an example of pride not to generate any offence by the appellation of a frivolous name. For I, a sinner, who by the help of God retain humility, need not to be admonished to humility. Now may Almighty God long guard the life of our most serene lord for the peace of holy Church and the advantage of the Roman republic. For we are sure, that if you live who fear the. Lord of heaven, you will allow no proud doings to prevail against the truth.

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.