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Fathers of the Church

Epistle IX: to Thalassia, Abbess

Description

This epistle is from Book XIII of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory lists the privileges granted to a monastery that Queen Brunichild has established for the handmaidens of God.

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 Thalassia, &c.

When the hearts of catholic kings are so inflamed with ardent desire, by divine grace preventing them, as of their own accord to demand the things that pontifical admonitions should provoke them to, such things are to be granted with cheerful and joyful mind all the more as the very things which they desire ought to have been demanded of them, had they been unwilling to do them. Accordingly, in accordance with the letters of our most Excellent royal children, Brunichild and her grandson Theoderic, to the monastery of Saint Mary, where there is constituted a congregation of handmaidens of God, founded in the city of Augustodunum by the bishop Siagrius of reverend memory, over which you preside, we indulge, grant and confirm by the decree of our present authority privileges as follows;— Ordaining that no king, no bishop, no one endowed with any dignity whatsoever, or any one else whatsoever, shall have power, under show of any cause or occasion whatsoever, to diminish or take away, or apply to his own uses, or grant as if to other pious uses for excuse of his own avarice, anything of what has been given to the same monastery by the above-written king's own children, or of what shall in future be bestowed on it by any others whatever of their own possessions. But all things that have been there offered, or may come to be offered, we will to be possessed by thee, as well as by those who shall succeed thee in thy office and place, from the present time inviolate and without disturbance, provided thou apply them in all ways to the uses of those for whose sustentation and government they have been granted.

We also appoint that on the death of an abbess of the aforesaid monastery no other shall be ordained by means of any kind of craftiness of secret scheming, but such a one as the king of the same province, with the consent of the nuns, shall have chosen in the fear of God, and provided for the ordination of.

Under this head we also add, in order that we may exclude all place for avarice, that no one of the kings, no one of the priests, or any one else in person or by proxy, shall dare to accept anything in gold, or in any kind of consideration whatever, for the ordination of such abbess, or for any causes whatever pertaining to this monastery, and that the same abbess presume not to give anything on account of her ordination, lest by such occasion what is offered or has been offered to places of piety should be consumed. And, inasmuch as many occasions for the deception of religious women are sought out, as is said, in your parts by bad men, we ordain that an abbess of this same monastery shall in no wise be deprived or deposed unless in case of criminality requiring it. Hence it is necessary that if any complaint of this kind should arise against her, not only the bishop of the city of Augustodunum should examine the case, but that he should call to his assistance six other of his fellow-bishops, and so fully investigate the matter, to the end that, all judging with one accord, a strict canonical decision may either smite her if guilty, or absolve her if innocent.

All these things, therefore, which the paper of this our precept and decree contains we decree to be observed in perpetuity for thee as well as for all who may succeed thee in the same rank and place, and for all whom they may concern. Moreover, if any one, whether king, priest, judge, or secular person, being aware of this our written constitution, should attempt to contravene it, let him be deprived of the dignity of his power and honour, and know that he stands guilty before divine judgment for the iniquity that he has perpetrated. And, unless he either restore what he has wrongfully taken away, or lament what he has done unlawfully with fit penitence, let him be debarred from the most sacred body and blood of our God and Lord, the Redeemer Jesus Christ, and be subject to strict vengeance in the eternal judgment. But the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be to all who observe what is just to this same place, to the end that they may both receive here the fruit of their well-doing, and find the rewards of eternal peace at the hands of the strict Judge.

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.