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Fathers of the Church

Epistle LV: to Virgilius, Bishop of Arelate (Arles)

Description

This epistle is from Book XI of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory reproves Virgilius for failing to restrain the simonaical heresy (giving of bribes for ordination) that was plaguing the Church at this time.

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 Virgilius, &c.

Since by the testimony of Holy Writ avarice is called the service of idols, with what earnestness it ought to be banished from the temple of God is acknowledged; and yet (we say it with groaning) by some priests this is not regarded. For fierce cupidity holds the heart captive, and persuades one that what it commands is lawful, and so proceeds as to slay with the same sword both the giver and the receiver. What safe place, then, can hereafter be of avail against avarice, if the Church of God is opened to it by bad priests? How can he keep the sheepfolds inviolate who invites the wolf to enter? Alas for shame! He pollutes Iris hands by an unlawful bribe, and thinks to lift up others by his benediction, while himself prostrate under his own iniquity, and captive notwithstanding to his own ambition. Since then this evil of rapacity has never entered the citadel of your mind, and you say that you have your hands unpolluted in the matter of ordinations, give thanks to Almighty God, and acknowledge yourselves to be His debtors in that under His protection you have remained unharmed by the contagion of this disease. But this good in you will profit you less than it might have done if you have not carefully forbidden this thing in others also. As in thyself this evil had displeased thee, thou oughtest to have been zealous against it in thy brother also. For, seeing that the divine precepts admonish us to love our neighbours as ourselves, it is no small fault to disregard them, and not to fear for others what for ourselves we shrink from. Even now, therefore, most beloved brother, give thy mind to repairing what thou hast lost in others through thy negligence in correction, and restrain whomsoever thou canst from this wickedness, and insist on a synod being assembled for rooting out this same heresy, to the end that, with reward to thy Love, what shall have been condemned, God granting it, by the ordinance of all may be better guarded against by all.

Furthermore, it has come to our ears that our brother and fellow- bishop, Serenus of Massilia (Marseilles), receives bad men into his intimate society, so as to have, in fine, as his familiar friend a certain presbyter, who, after lapse, is said to wallow still in his iniquities. This you ought to enquire into closely. And, if it should prove to be so, let it be your care so to correct this matter in our stead that both he who has received such a one may learn not to encourage him by familiarity, but rather to constrain him by punishment, and he who has been received may learn to wash away his sins with tears, and not to pile up iniquity by unclean living. Let your Fraternity hold as commended to you in all respects the monks whom we have sent to our brother and fellow-bishop Augustine, and take pains so to succour them for proceeding on their way, and so to concar with them, that through your assistance they may be able, under the protection of God, to arrive speedily at their destination.

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.