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Fathers of the Church

Epistle V: to Etherius, Bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons)

Description

This epistle is from Book XIII of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory discusses a bishop who has an "affection of the head". He states that if this bishop has periods of sanity, that he should write a request that another should be ordained in his place, as a bishop cannot be deposed because of sickness except at his own request. If, however, the bishop never experiences sanity, an administrator should be appointed to run the church for him.

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 Etherius, Bishop.

Although what we say is very distressing to us, and fraternal compassion rather moves us to weep than allows us to lay down anything concerning the things we have heard of, yet solicitude for the government undertaken by us pricks our heart with an urgent spur to see with great care to the good of churches, and to arrange what should be done before their interests might possibly suffer irretrievably. It has come, then, to our ears from the report of certain persons that an affection of the head has so befallen a certain bishop that it is a matter of groaning and weeping to hear of what he is wont to do under alienation of mind. Lest, therefore, while the shepherd is sick, the flock should be exposed to be torn by the teeth of the lyer-in-wait (which God forbid), or the interests of the Church itself should suffer irretrievably, it is necessary for us to treat the case with cautious provision, And so, since during the life of a bishop, whom unadvoidable infirmity and not crime withdraws from his office, no reason allows another to be ordained in his place except on his resignation, let him, if he is accustomed to have intervals of sanity, himself make petition, declaring that he is no longer equal to this ministry owing to subversion of his intellectual faculties by infirmity, and let him request that another be ordained in his place. Which being done, let another who may be worthy be solemnly consecrated bishop in his place, by the election of all; yet so that, as long as life shall retain the said bishop in this world, his due expenses be supplied to him by the same Church. If, however, he at no time recovers the faculties of a sound mind, a trustworthy person of approved life must be chosen, who may be fit for the government of the Church, take thought for the benefit of souls, restrain the unquiet under the bond of discipline, take care of ecclesiastical property, and exhibit himself in all respects ripe and efficient. And also, should he survive the bishop who is now sick, he should be consecrated in his place.

But as to ordinations of presbyters or deacons, or of any other order, if cause requires any to be made in that Church, know that this is to be reserved to thy Fraternity, to the end that, it being in thy diocese, thou mayest enquire concerning the life, manners, and conduct of him who is chosen to such office. And if thou shouldest be satisfied, and there is nothing in him liable to the censure of canonical strictness, let him attain to his destined order not otherwise than through ordination by thee. Let thy Fraternity then, so proceed, and so order these things with vigilant provision, that the Church of God may no longer suffer from any neglect, and that thou mayest warn thy fellow-priests, not only by word but also by example, to have a care laudably for venerable places.

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.