Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXVI: to Romanus, Guardian

Description

This epistle is from Book IX of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory instructs Romanus to restore a house to a widow woman and her son, stating that although her claim to it is unclear, it is better to err on the side of mercy.

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 Romanus, &c.

Although the law with reason allows not things that come into possession of the Church to be alienated, yet sometimes the strictness of the rule should be moderated, where regard to mercy invites to it, especially when there is so great a quantity that the giver is not burdened, and the poverty of the receiver is considerably relieved. And so, inasmuch as Stephania, the bearer of these presents, having come hither with her little son Calixenus (whom she asserts that she hare to her late husband Peter, saying also that she has laboured under extreme poverty), demanded of us with supplication and tears that we should cause to be restored to the same Calixenus the possession of a house in the city of Catana, which Ammonia, her late mother-in-law, the grandmother of Calixenus, had offered by title of gift to our Church; asserting that the said Ammonia had not power to alienate it, and that it belonged altogether to the aforesaid Calixenus, her son; which assertion our most beloved son Cyprian, the deacon, who was acquainted with the case, contradicted, saying that the complaint of the aforesaid woman had not justice to go on, and that she could not reasonably claim or seek to recover that house in the name of her son; but, lest we should seem to leave the tears of the above named woman without effect, and to follow the way of rigour rather than embrace the plea of pity, we command thee by this precept to restore the said house to the above-named Calixenus, together with Ammonia's deed of gift with respect to this same house, which is known to be there in Sicily;—since, as we have said, it is better in doubtful cases not to execute strictness, but rather to be inclined to the side of benignity, especially when by the cession of a small matter the Church is not burdened, and succour is mercifully given to a poor orphan. Given in the month of November, Indiction 2.

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.