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Fathers of the Church

Epistle XI: to Brunichild, Queen

Description

This epistle is from Book IX of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Because of Queen Brunichild's great desire that the bishop Syagrius should have the pallium, Gregory has sent it in the care of Candidus. However, since Syagrius is implicated in the error of the heretics and since he has not himself requested the pallium from Gregory, Candidus will hold the pallium until Syagrius makes the request. Gregory further exhorts Brunichild to prohibit simony, the ordination of laymen to bishops, and the worship of idols and trees.

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 Brunichild, Queen of the Franks.

With what firmness the mind of your Excellency is settled in the fear of Almighty God you shew in a praiseworthy manner, among the other good things that you do, by your love also of His priests; and great joy for your Christianity is caused us, since you study to advance with honours those whom you love and venerate as being truly Christ's servants. For it becomes you, most excellent daughter, it becomes you to be such as to be able to subject yourself to a lord above you. For in submitting the neck of your mind to the fear of the Almighty Lord you confirm your dominion also over subject nations, and by subjecting yourself to the service of the Creator you bind your subjects the more devotedly to yourself. Wherefore, having received your letters, we signify to you that your Excellency's earnest desire has greatly pleased us, and we have been desirous of sending the pallium to our brother and fellow-bishop Syagrius, inasmuch as the disposition of our most serene lord the Emperor is also favourable, and, so far as we have been informed by our deacon, who was the representative of our Church at his Court, he is altogether desirous that this thing should be granted, and many good reports have reached us of our aforesaid brother both on your testimony and that of others; and especially we learnt what his life is from John the Regionarius on his return to us. And hearing what he did in the case of our brother Augustine, we bless our Redeemer, because we feel that he fulfils in his deeds the meaning of his name of priest.

But there have been many hindrances which have meanwhile prevented us from doing this thing. First indeed, that he who had come to receive this pallium is implicated in the error of the schismatics; further, that you wished it to be understood that it was sent, not on your petition, but from ourselves. But there was this besides; that neither had he who desires to use it requested it to be granted him by a special petition addressed to us: and it was by no means right for us to concede so great a matter without his request; especially as an ancient custom has obtained, that the dignity of the pallium shall not be given except when the merits of a case demand it, and to one who urgently requests it. Still, lest we should seem perchance to wish, under pretext of any excuse, to put off the desire of your Excellency, we have provided for the pallium being sent to our most beloved son Candidus the presbyter, charging him, with befitting precaution, to deliver it in our stead. Hence it is requisite that our above-written brother and fellow-bishop Syagrius must hope for it, when he has of his own motion drawn up a petition with some of his bishops; and this he must give to the aforesaid presbyter, to the end that he may be in a position to obtain properly the use of the same pallium with the favour of God.

In order, then, that the charge you bear may be of fruit to you before the eyes of our Creator, let the solicitude of your Christianity be diligently on the watch, and suffer no one who is under your dominion to attain to holy orders by the giving of money, or the patronage of any persons whatever, or by right of relationship; but let such a one be elected to the episcopate, or to the office of any other sacred order, as his life and manners have shewn to be worthy; lest if, as we do not expect, the dignity of the priesthood should be venal, simoniacal heresy, which was the first to come up in the Church, and has been condemned by the sentence of the Fathers, should arise in your parts, and (which God forbid) should weaken the powers of your kingdom. For it is a serious matter, and a wickedness beyond what can be told, to sell the Holy Spirit, who redeemed all things.

But let this also be your care, that, since, as you know, the excellent preacher entirely forbids a novice to accede to the ruling position of priesthood, you suffer no one to be consecrated bishop from being a layman. For what sort of master will he be who has not been a disciple? Or what kind of leadership can he supply to the Lord's flock who has not been previously subjected to a shepherd's discipline? If, then, any one's life should be such as to shew him worthy of being promoted to this order, he ought first to serve in the ministry of the Church, to the end that by the experience of long practice he may see what to imitate, and learn what to teach; lest perchance the newness of his charge bear not the burden of government, and occasion of ruin arise from the immaturity of his promotion.

Moreover, how your Excellency conducted yourself towards our brother and fellow-bishop Augustine, and how great charity, through the inspiration of God, you bestowed upon him, we have leaner from the relation of divers of the faithful; for which we return thanks, and implore the mercy of Divine Power to keep you here under its protection, and cause you to reign, as among men, so also after a course of many years in life eternal.

Furthermore, those whom the error of the schismatics severs from the unity of the Church, strive ye, for your own reward, to recall to the unity of concord. For on no other ground are they enveloped so far in the blindness of their ignorance but that they may escape ecclesiastical discipline, and have licence to live perversely as they please, since they understand neither what they defend nor what they follow. But as for us, we venerate and follow in all respects the synod of Chalcedon, from which they take to themselves the clouds of a pestiferous excuse; and, if any one should presume to diminish or add anything with regard to the faith thereof, we anathematize him. But they are so impregnated with the taint of error that, giving credence to their own ignorance, they reject the universal Church, and all the four patriarchs, not with reason, but with malicious intent; so that he who was sent to us by your Excellency, when he was asked by us why he stood separated from the universal Church, acknowledged that he did not know. But neither what he said nor what else he gave ear to had he the power of knowing. As to this also we no less exhort you, that you should restrain the rest of your subjects under the control of discipline from sacrificing to idols, being worshippers of trees, or exhibiting sacrilegious sacrifices of the heads of animals; seeing that it has come to our ears that many of the Christians both resort to the churches and also (horrible to relate!) do not give up their worshipping of demons. But, since these things are altogether displeasing to our God, and He does not own divided minds, provide ye for their being salubriously restrained from these unlawful practices; lest (God forbid it!) the sacrament of holy baptism serve not for their rescue, but for their punishment. If therefore you know of any that are violent, if of any that are adulterers, if of any that are thieves, or bent on other wicked deeds, make haste to appease God by their correction, that He may not bring upon you the scourge due to unfaithful races, which, so far as we see, is already lifted up for the punishment of many nations; lest, if—as we do not believe will be the case—the wrath of Divine vengeance should be kindled by the doings of the wicked, the plague of war should destroy the sinners whom the precepts of God recall not to the way of rectitude. We must, then, needs make haste, with all earnestness and continual prayer, to betake ourselves to the mercy of our Redeemer, wherein there is a place of safety and great security for all. For whoso steadfastly abides there, him danger crushes not, nor fear alarms.

We have sent the volume, as you desired us by letter, to our aforesaid most beloved son Candidus the presbyter, to be offered to you, being in haste to be sharers in your good purpose. May Almighty God keep you under His protection, and by His outstretched arm defend your kingdom from unbelieving nations, and bring you after long courses of years to eternal joys. Given in the month of October, the first indiction

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/XIII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.