Fathers of the Church

Epistle XII: to Conon, Abbot of Lirinus (Lerins)

Description

This epistle is from Book XI of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory exhorts Conon to great vigilance in watching over his flock, that he may guide them away from sin.

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 Conon, Abbot of the Monastery of Lirinus.

The carefulness of persons in authority is the safeguard of subjects, since one who watches over what is entrusted to him avoids the snares of the enemy. But how skilful thou art in ruling the brethren, and how earnestly watchful in keeping guard over them, we have learnt from the report of our most reverend brother and fellow-bishop Mennas. And as our hearing of the unwary remissness of thy predecessor often saddened us, so the carefulness of thy foresight gladdens us, since there is no doubt that the safeguard of thy earnestness is of profit for reward to thee, and for example to do good to others.

But, since the more our adversary knows himself to be guarded against on all sides, the more he seeks to break in by hidden ways, and strives with cunning art to overthrow his opponent, let the watchfulness of thy Love ever kindle itself to more ardent care; and so, with God's help, fortify all beforehand, that the ravening wolf, running about hither and thither, may have no place for entering among the Lord's sheep, Be it then thine earnest endeavour, the grace of our Redeemer aiding thee, to prohibit and in all ways guard those who are committed to thee from gluttony, from pride, from avarice, from idle speaking, and from all uncleanness; that by so much the greater reward may accrue to thee from the government committed to thee as thy subjects, through thy vigilance, shall be conquerors against the iniquities of the adversary.

Wherefore let the good feel thee sweet, the bad a corrector. And even in correction know thou that this order should be observed, that thou shouldest love persons and visit faults; lest, if thou shouldest perchance be disposed to act otherwise, correction should pass into cruelty, and thou shouldest destroy those whom thou desirest to amend. For thou oughtest so to cut away a sore as not to run the risk of ulcerating what is sound; lest, if thou press in the steel more than the case requires, thou injure him whom thou art in haste to benefit. For let thy very sweetness be wary, not remiss; and let thy correction be loving, not severe. But let the one be so seasoned by the other that both the good may; have, in loving, something to beware of, and the bad, in fearing, something to love.

Attend carefully to these things, most beloved son; earnestly observe them; that, when through such management thou shalt have given back safe to God those whom thou hast received from Him, thou mayest be counted worthy in the day of eternal retribution to hear Him say, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter into the joy of thy Lord (Luke xix. 17). Further, we desire that our son Columbus the presbyter, who is commended to thy Charity by his own merits, may advance in thy love from our commendation also.

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.