Fathers of the Church
Epistle of Pope Anterus
by Isidore Mercator in 847-852 A.D. | translated by Rev. S. D. F. Salmond
To the brethren, most dearly beloved, constituted to be bishops in the provinces of Boetica and Toletana, Bishop Anterus sends greeting in the Lord.
I should wish, my dearest brethren, always to receive the glad account of your sincere love and peace, so that the signs of your welfare might be promoted in turn by the dissemination of our letters among you, if our ancient enemy should give us quiet and deliverance from his attacks; who was a liar from the beginning, the enemy of the truth, the rival of man — in order to deceive whom he first deceived himself, -the adversary of modesty, the master of luxury. He feeds on cruelties; he is punished by abstinence; he hates fasts, and his ministers preach, to that effect, as he declares them to be superfluous, having no hope of the future, and echoing that sentence of the apostle, in which he says, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall, die." O miserable boldness! O subtlety of a desperate mind! For he exhorts to hatred, and puts concord to flight. And because the mind of man is easily drawn over to the worse part, and chooses rather to walk by the broad way than laboriously to take its course by the narrow way, for this reason, brethren most dearly beloved, follow ye the better, and always leave the worse behind you. Do good, avoid evil, in order that ye may be found to be the disciples of the Lord in truth.
Now, of the transference of bishops, on which subject it has been your wish to consult the holy seat of the apostles, know ye that that may lawfully be done for the sake of the common good, or when it is absolutely necessary, but not at the mere will or bidding of any individual. Peter, our holy master, and the prince of the apostles, was translated for the sake of the common good from Antioch to Rome, in order that he might be in a position there of doing more service. Eusebius also was transferred from a certain minor city to Alexandria by apostolic authority. In like manner Felix, on account of the doctrine and the good life which he maintained, was translated by the common consent of the bishops and the other priests, and the people from the city in which, on the election of the citizens, he had been ordained, to Ephesus. For that man is not chargeable with shifting from city to city who does not do that of his own inclination or by the force of ambition, but who is transferred for the general good, or in virtue of some necessity, by the counsel and with the consent of the chief parties. Nor can he be said to transfer himself from a smaller city to a larger, who is placed in that position not by his own self-seeking or his own choice, but either as being driven out of his own proper seat by force, or as being compelled by some necessity, and who without pride and in humility has been translated and installed there by others for the good of the place or the people: for man looketh on the countenance, but the Lord seeth the heart. And the Lord, speaking by the prophet, says, "The Lord knows the thoughts of men, that they are vanity." That man, therefore, does not change his seat who does not change his mind. Nor does he change his city who is changed not of his own will, but by the decision and election of others. And accordingly he does not shift from city to city who does not leave his own city for the sake of gain to himself, or of his own choice, but who, as has already been said, has been translated to another city either in consequence of being driven out of his own seat, or compelled by some necessity, or in virtue of the election and injunction of the priests and people. For as the bishops have power regularly to ordain bishops and other orders of priests, so, as often as any matter of advantage or necessity constrains them, they have power in the above- mentioned manner both to transfer and to install. As ye have asked our opinion in these matters, though they are not subjects unknown to you, we give you these things in charge to hold them, lest, through the ignorance of some, that which is better and more profitable be avoided, and what is more profitless be taken up, even as we read in the holy Gospel: "Woe unto you, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain out a gnat and swallow a camel." What is lawful is with them not lawful, and what is not lawful is lawful. Even as Jannes and Mambres resisted the truth, so do they, being reprobate in mind, and lovers of pleasure rather than of God, teach that that is unlawful which is lawful, to wit, that bishops should shift from city to city in the manner already noted; and what is unlawful they teach as lawful, to wit, to omit to show mercy to those who endure straits: that is to say, theft deny that a bishop belonging to another city should be bestowed for good, or for necessity's sake, upon those who have no bishop, and who want the sacred episcopal ministry; and that another episcopal seat should be assigned to bishops who endure persecution or straits. They contradict the sacred Scripture also, which testifies that God desireth mercy rather than judgment
What greater charity, I pray you, can there be, or what more profitable service of piety, on the part of any one to another, than to deliver him from the darkness of ignorance and the thick darkness of inexperience, and restore him, in fine, by the nutriment of the doctrine of the true faith, not for gain indeed, or ambition, but for instruction and edification? [For he becomes, so to speak, the hand for the maimed, the foot for the lame, the eye for the blind, who unlocks the treasure of wisdom and knowledge to one wrapped in the darkness of ignorance, and opens up to such an one the brightness of the light and the ways of the Lord.]
Now for both parties — namely, for those who endure a famine of the word of God, and for bishops who endure straits, when they are installed in other cities for the common good -no small degree of mercy is shown. And they who deny this, although they have the form of godliness, do yet deny the power thereof. For in such a matter I make no recognition of race (prosapiam). If, however, any one of the wise, whom the stress of this storm (or season) has allied with other leaders among the unwise, is stained with a participation in their deeds, yet the excellence of the wise man, although he may chance to be privy to their offences, makes him incapable of giving himself as a leader to sinners. The cause of public good and necessity is one thing, and the cause of self-seeking, and presumption, or private inclination, is another thing. On account of self- seeking, or presumption, or private inclination, bishops are not to be transferred from one city to another, but only on account of public good and necessity. And this is a matter which no one denies, except those of whom it is said, "They have erred through wine; they have not known the seer; they have been ignorant of judgment." For if I were constrained to open up in narration things that have been brought to end, I would show you that no comfort comes from the comparison of such deeds. But, most dearly beloved, "stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths of the Lord, and see what is the good way and the right, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." And, to speak according to the word of Wisdom: "Love righteousness, ye that be judges of the earth. Think of the Lord in goodness, and in simplicity of heart seek Him. For He is found of them that tempt Him not, and showeth Himself unto such as do not distrust Him. For froward thoughts separate from God; and His power, when it is tried, reproveth the unwise. For into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin. For the holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding, and will not abide when unrighteousness cometh in. For wisdom is a benign spirit, and will not acquit a blasphemer of His words. For God is witness of his reins, and a true beholder of his heart, and a hearer of his tongue. For the Spirit of the Lord hath filled the world, and that which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice. Therefore he that speaketh unrighteous things cannot be hid; neither shall vengeance, when it punisheth, pass by him. For inquisition shall be made into the counsels of the ungodly. And the sound of his words shall come unto the Lord, and unto the manifestation of his wicked deeds; for the ear of jealousy heareth all things, and the noise of murmurings shall not be hid. Therefore beware of murmuring, which is unprofitable; and refrain your tongue from backbiting, for there is no word so secret that it shall go for nought. The mouth that belieth slayeth the soul. Seek not death in the error of your life, and pull not upon yourself destruction with the works of your hands; for God made not death, neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might have their being, and He wished the nations of the world to be healthful. There is no poison of destruction in them, nor the kingdom of death upon the earth of the living. Righteousness is perpetual and immortal, but unrighteousness is the acquisition of death. And ungodly men with their hands and words called it to them; and when they thought to have it their friend, they consumed to nought, and made a covenant with it; because they are worthy of death who take part with it." "For they said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, The time of our life is short and tedious; and in the death of a man there is no remedy, neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born of nothing, and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been. For the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and speech is a little spark for the moving of our heart; which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air. And our life shall pass as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof. And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance. For our time is a very shadow that passeth away, and after our end there is no returning; for it is fast sealed, and no man shall come again." And for this reason every one must see to it that he keep himself with all care, and watch himself for his own good, so that when his last day and the end of his life come upon him, he may not pass over to everlasting death, but to eternal life. For the deeds of those put under us are judged by us, but our own doth God judge. Sometimes, moreover, bishops are perverted through the fault of the people, to the end that those fall more precipitately who follow them. When the head languisheth, the other members of the body are affected thereby. And viler are those who corrupt the life and morals of the good, than those who spoil the property and goods of others. Let each one take care that he have neither an itching tongue nor itching ears; that is to say, that he neither be a detractor of others himself, nor listen to others in their detractions. "Thou sattest," saith he, "and spakest against thy brother; and thou didst slander thine own mother's son." Let every individual abstain from a detracting tongue, and keep a guard upon his own words, and understand that all that they say of others shall enter into the judgment wherewith they themselves shall be judged. No one readily refers to an unwilling auditor. Let it be the care of all of you, most dearly beloved, to keep not only your eyes, but also your tongue, pure. And let not another house ever know by your means what is done in any man's house. Let all have the simplicity of the dove, that they devise not guile against any one; and the subtlety of the serpent, that they be not everthrown by the crafty designs of others. It does not belong to my humble station and measure to judge others, and to say anything unfavourable of the ministers of the churches. Far be it from me that I should say anything unfavourable of those who are the successors to the apostolic status, and make the body of Christ with their sacred mouth; by whose instrumentality we too are Christians, and who have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and exercise judgment before the day of judgment. Moreover, it is contained in the ancient law, that whoever has not given obedience to the priests should either be stoned outside the camp by the people, or with his neck beneath the sword should expiate his presumption by his blood. Now, however, the disobedient is cut off by spiritual chastisement; and being cast out of the church, is torn by the rabid mouth of demons. For it becomes those who have God in their heritage, to serve God free from all the hindrances of the world, so that they may be able to say, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance." "O how good and pleasant is Thy Spirit, O Lord, in all things!" And Thou sparest all because they are Thine, O Lord, who lovest souls. Therefore chastenest Thou them by little and little that offend, and warnest them of those things wherein they offend, and dost address them, that leaving their wickedness, they may believe on Thee, O Lord." "But Thou, our God, art gracious and true, long-suffering, and in mercy ordering all things. For if we sin, we are Thine, knowing Thy power. And if we sin not, we know that we are counted Thine." "The spirit of those that fear the Lord shall be required of him; and in His regard they shall be blessed." Wherefore, most beloved brethren, "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you." "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient; but rather giving of thanks. For this know ye, understanding that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth), proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever is made manifest (manifestatur) is light. Wherefore He saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, brethren, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Holy Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ." Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the tradition of the apostles and the apostolic seat, "that our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, may comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good work and word." "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil." Wherefore set your hearts continually in the strength (virtute) of God, and always resist the wicked, and tell these things, according to the word of the prophet, "to the generations following; for this God is our God unto eternity, and He will rule us for ever and ever." Hence ye who are set for examples (in specula) by the Lord, ought by all means to check and keep back those who devise crafty counsels against the brethren, or excite against them seditions and slanders. For it is an easy thing to deceive man with a word, but it is not so with the Lord. Wherefore ye ought to reprehend such persons, and turn away from them, to the end that, all darkness of this manner being completely done away, the Morning Star may shine upon them, and gladness arise in their hearts. "And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, brethren, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you." For the more ye show forth your kindnesses to them, the greater a return have ye to look for from the omnipotent God whom they serve. May the omnipotent God keep you in His protection, and grant you to maintain honour and precept; and may glory and honour be to God the Father Almighty, and to His only-begotten Son our Saviour, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
Given on the 12th day before the kalends of April (the 21st of March), in the consulship of the most illustrious Maximianus and Africanus.
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. (ANF 8, Roberts and Donaldson). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.