Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXXIX: to Leontia, Empress

Description

This epistle is from Book XIII of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory offers his prayers for the Empress that she may continue to champion the catholic faith, especially commending to her care the "Church of the blessed apostle Peter."

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 603 | translated by James Barmby, D.d

Gregory to Leontia Augusta.

What tongue may suffice to speak, what mind to think, what great thanks we owe to Almighty God for the serenity of your empire, in that such hard burdens of long duration have been removed from our necks, and the gentle yoke of imperial supremacy has returned, which subjects are glad to bear? Glory, then, be given to the Creator of all by the hymning choirs of angels, thanksgiving be paid by men on earth, for that the whole republic, which has endured many wounds of sorrow, has now at length found the balm of your consolation. Hence we must needs implore the more earnestly the mercy of Almighty God, that He would keep the heart of your Piety ever in His right hand, and dispose your thoughts by the aid of heavenly grace, to the end that your Tranquillity may be able to rule those who serve you the more righteously as you know more truly how to serve the Sovereign of all. May He make you His champions in love of the catholic faith, having, of His benign dealing, made you our emperors. May He infuse into your minds zeal together with gentleness, that you may always be able with pious fervour not to leave unavenged whatever is done amiss with regard to God, and in case of any delinquency against yourselves to bear and spare. May He give us in your Piety the clemency of Pulcheria Augusta, who for her zeal for the catholic faith was called in the holy synod the new Helena (Act. 1 synodi Chalcedonensis). May the Almighty mercy of God grant to you fuller length of days to live with our most pious lord, that the longer your life is extended, the more strongly may the consolation of your subjects be confirmed.

I ought perhaps to have requested that your Tranquillity should hold as especially commended to you the Church of the blessed apostle Peter, which up to this time has laboured under grievous plots against it. But, knowing that you love Almighty God, I ought not to ask what you will exhibit of your own accord out of the benignity of your piety. For the more you fear the Creator of all, the more, fully may you love the Church of him to whom it was said, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to whom it is said, To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shall bind an earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be leased in heaven (Matth. xv. 18). Whence it is not doubtful to us with what strong love you will bind yourself to him through whom you earnestly desire to be loosed from all sins. May he, then, be the guardian of your empire, may he be your protector on earth, may he be an intercessor for you in heaven: that through your relieving your subjects from hard burdens, and causing them to rejoice in your empire, you may, after many years, rejoice in the heavenly kingdom.

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.