Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Fathers of the Church

The Epistles of Pope Fabian


The first epistle admonishes all ministers to refrain from interacting with the excommunicated, and to guard the faithful from them. The second epistle discusses how holy chrism is to be made and disposed of. The third epistle sets forth the legal manner of making an accusation against a bishop.


One of the False Decretals, an assortment of Papal letters contained in a collection of canon laws written in France under the name Isidore Mercator. All scholars agree that this collection of papal documents is forged: the earliest manuscript is from the ninth century, and no reference to the collection can be found before that time. Also, many of these Papal epistles cite documents that were issued later in time than the epistle's supposed date. Scholars of the Middle Ages believed in the authenticity of this collection, but canonists and scholars of the Rennaissance began to detect inconsistencies in these works and their supposed historical context. Through much scholarly investigation, the "earliest" epistles, especially those attributed to Clement, were declared spurious. Despite the growing number of scholars who rejected the authenticity of these epistles, the official "Corpus Juris" of 1580 upheld them, probably due to the reluctance of the great canonist Antonio Augustin to wholly reject them, even though he doubted their genuineness. In 1628 the Protestant scholar Blondel issued his masterful study of this collection, in which he rejected their authenticity. From that time on the matter was settled. The clever forger Isidore drew nearly 10,000 phrases from many different authors and incorporated them into his style. He used reference books such as the Liber Pontificalis, a work that covered the Popes beginning with Saint Peter, to find Popes who had issued a document that had since been lost. Then he would attribute one of his spurious epistles to that particular Pope in order to lend historical credence to his collection. He interspersed groups of authentic Papal or canonical works with his forgeries, thus enhancing the credibility of his collection. The canonical laws enumerated by Isidore's Papal epistles respond to the tumultuous state of the church in his time. During his reign, Emperor Charlemagne bound up Church and State with one another: as a temporal ruler he had called together synods and approved their decisions. After his death the Carlovingian dynasty began to break up, which greatly impacted the Church due to Charlemagne's legacy of intertwined Church and State. The bishops were used as weapons or tools of opposing parties, who would also fight over Church property. The bishops' call for reform (ecclesiastical freedom, immunization of church property) were consistently opposed by the nobles. In such confusion, the principles of Isidore in his forged canonical documents concerning the relationship between Church and State were opportune.

by Isidore Mercator in 847-852 A.D. | translated by Rev. S. D. F. Salmond


Of those who ought not to be admitted to clear themselves, and of the duty of having no fellowship with the excommunicated.

To the dearly-beloved brethren in the ministry of the Church Catholic in all regions, Fabian sends greeting in the Lord.

By the divine precepts and the apostolic institutes, we are admonished to watch in behoof of the position of all the churches with unwearied interest. Whence it follows that you ought to know what is being done in things sacred in the church of Rome, in order that, by following her example, ye may be found to be true children of her who is called your mother. Accordingly, as we have received the institution from our fathers, we maintain seven deacons in the city of Rome distributed over seven districts of the state, who attend to the services enjoined on them week by week, and on the Lord's days and the solemn festivals, in concert with the subdeacons, and acolytes, and servants of the succeeding orders, and hold themselves in readiness every hour for religious duty, and for the discharge of all that is enjoined upon them. In like manner ought ye also to do throughout your different cities, as may be convenient, that religious duty may be discharged zealously and regularly, without any delay or negligence. Furthermore, we have ordained in like manner seven subdeacons who shall stand by (imminerent) the seven notaries, and bring into one full and accurate account the histories of the martyrs, and lay them before us for our examination. And this, too, we urge you all to do, so that no doubt or questioning of these things may arise in later times; "for whatsoever things were written, were written for our learning." And whatsoever things are written in truth in our times, are directed to the learning of future times. And therefore we enjoin these duties to be put in charge of the most faithful, that nothing false may be found in them, from which an offence (which may God forbid) may arise to the faithful. For this reason also we beg it of your love in paternal benignity, that the holy Church may now find the good-will of your love in all things, and obtain the comforts of your favour whenever there is necessity. And as the goodness of your zeal affords us the assurance that we ought to distrust it in nothing, but rather commit these things in all confidence to you as to wise sons of our church; so, small importance being attached to opportune occasions, your virtue ought to exert itself the more strenuously in labours, and keep off reproaches by all possible means, and with all zeal. We exhort you also, according to the word of the apostle, to be "stedfast and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord." And in another place: "Watch ye, and pray, and stand fast in the faith. Quit you like men, and be strong. Let all things be done with charity." Furthermore, we desire you to know this, that in our times, as our sins embarrassed us, and that ancient enemy who always goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, s instigated him, Novatus came up out of Africa, and separated Novatianus and certain other confessors of Christ from the Church of Christ, and persuaded them into the acceptance of evil doctrine. From such persons, brethren, keep yourselves aloof, and beware of all who hold a faith and doctrine different from that which the apostles and their successors have held and taught, lest (which may God forbid) going after him ye fall into the toils of Satan, and be bound with his fetters. Wherefore with most earnest prayers we beg it of your brotherly love, that ye may deem it fit to remember our insignificance in your holy prayers, beseeching and entreating the Lord of heaven that we, as well as our holy mother the Church of Christ, redeemed with His precious blood, may be delivered from the toils of Satan, who lieth in wait for us; and from troublesome and wicked men, and that the Word of God may have free course and be glorified, and that the evil doctrine of them, and of all who teach things contrary to the truth, may be overthrown and perish. We beseech you also to be zealous in praying in your pious supplications, that our God and Lord Jesus Christ, who will have all men to be saved, and no one to perish, may, by His vast omnipotence, cause their hearts to turn again to sound doctrine and to the Catholic faith, in order that they may be recovered from the toils of the devil who are held captive by him, and be united with the children of our mother the Church. Be mindful also of your brethren, and have pity upon them, and labour for them by all means in your power, that they be not lost, but be saved unto the Lord by your prayers, and other efforts of your goodness. So act therefore in these matters that ye may approve yourselves as obedient and faithful children of the holy Church of God, and that ye may obtain the recompense of reward. These men, and all else who do not teach the true doctrine, and hold not the true faith, cannot act as accusers of any true believer, because they are branded with infamy, and are cut off from the bosom of our holy mother the Church by the sword of the apostles, until their return to correct conversation and belief. Hence by apostolic authority, and in agreement with all the sons of the same apostolic and universal Church, we resolve that all who come under suspicion with respect to the Catholic faith cannot be admitted as accusers of those who hold the true creed; for suspicions are always to be set aside. Rightly therefore are charges which are preferred by those who are objects of suspicion in the matter of the true faith, rejected. Neither are they at all to be credited who are unacquainted with the faith of the Trinity. In like manner we set aside and withdraw from all part in the accusing of the faithful, all those whom the decrees of the holy fathers in times past and times future alike anathematize. Accordingly, the believing ought always to be kept distinct from the unbelieving, and the righteous from the unrighteous; since the unbelieving and evil-minded, by every means in their power, are always troubling the believing, and striving to undo them; and consequently they are not to be received, but rejected and kept entirely at a distance, lest they may undo or defame the believing. For this reason, dearly beloved, beware of the pit of such persons, into which we know many have fallen. Beware of the snares (or darts) of such persons, and of the efforts of the ancient enemy, by which we have seen even those closely connected with us fall wounded before us. Watch the nooses of the liers in wait, by which they are wont to strangle associates and comrades. Follow not such, but keep them far off from you. Be ye, according to the voice of Truth, wise as serpents and harmless as doves. See to it that ye neither run nor labour in vain; but, sustained by each other's prayers and supplications, strive ye to do the will of God; and from those persons whom I have mentioned, if they show themselves incorrigible, keep yourselves separate in all things. In like manner keep yourselves separate from all those of whom the apostle makes mention when he says, "with such persons, no, not to eat;" since these latter, as well as the former, are to be rejected, and are not to be admitted before they have given satisfaction to the Church. For those with whom it is not lawful to eat are manifestly separated from all intercourse with the rest of the brethren until such satisfaction is given. Wherefore they ought not and cannot be admitted to the preferring of charges against the faithful, but they ought to be debarred from their society until the satisfaction already mentioned is given, lest these too should be made like them, or underlie their excommunication; for to this effect have the apostles decreed, saying, With the excommunicated no fellowship is to be held. And if any one, setting aside the rules wittingly, sings with the excommunicated in his house, or speaks or prays in company with them, that man is to be deprived of the privilege of communion. Such persons, therefore, are in all things to be guarded against, and are not to be received, because, according to the apostle, not only those who commit such things are condemned, but also those who consent with those who do them. Whence also the blessed chief of the apostles, Peter, addressing the people at the ordination of Clement, says this among other things: If this Clement is hostile to any one on account of his deeds, wait not ye for his saying directly to you, Be not on terms of friendship with this man. But mark ye carefully his will as ye ought, and second it without need of direct injunction; and separate yourselves from that man to whom ye perceive him to be inimical, and speak not with those with whom he speaks not, in order that every one who may be in fault, as he desires to possess the friendship of all of you, may be zealous in effecting a reconciliation all the more quickly with him who presides over all, so that be may return to spiritual well-being (redeat et salutem) hereby, when he begins to yield obedience to the charges of the president. If, however, any one is not friendly, and speaks with those with whom he (his chief) speaks not, such an one belongs to those who seek to exterminate the Church of God; and though he seems to be with you in body, he is against you in mind and heart. And such an one is a much more dangerous enemy than those who are without, and who are openly hostile. For this man under the guise of friendship acts the part of an enemy, and scatters and ruins the church. And therefore, dearly beloved, in these apostolic institutes we warn and teach you, that your charity, being instructed therein (effecta certior), may hereafter study to act with greater care and prudence, so that perverse and unbelieving men may not have the power of injuring the faithful and well-disposed; for the hope of such, and of all the ungodly, is like dust that is blown away with the wind; and like a thin froth that is driven away with the storm; and like as the smoke which is dispersed here and there with a tempest, and as the remembrance of a guest of a single day that passeth away. With the utmost care, dearly beloved, are such persons to be guarded against, and avoided, and rejected, if they show themselves injurious. For the laws of the world, no less than those of the Church, do not admit: the injurious, but reject them. Whence it is written, "The mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity." And the Lord, speaking by the prophet, saith, "With the holy thou wilt show thyself holy; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward; and with the excellent thou wilt show thyself excellent (electus); and with the innocent man thou wilt show thyself innocent." And the apostle says, "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Wherefore, as has already been indicated, the wicked are always to be avoided and shunned, and the good and rightly-disposed are to be stedfastly followed, in order that, as far as possible, we may avoid the peril of sloth. And lest this pest may be spread abroad more widely, let us cut it off from us with all possible severity; for the temerity of presumption does not intervene where there is the diligence of piety. Let every one of you, sustained by this apostolic representation, act according to his strength, and study in brotherly love and in godly piety to keep his own manners correct, and to help each other, and to abide in charity, and to keep himself in the will of God unceasingly, in order that we may praise the Lord together, and give Him thanks always without wearying. Fare ye well in the Lord, dearly beloved, and with the Lord's help strive to fulfil to the best of your ability the things before mentioned. — Given on the first day of July, in the consulship of the most illustrious Maximinus (or, Maximus) and Africanus.


That the chrism should be renewed with consecration every year, and that the old supply should be set aside to be burnt in the churches; also concerning the accusing of priests, and on the duty of the sheep not to dare to blame their shepherd unless he errs in the faith.

FABIAN, bishop of the city of Rome, to all the bishops of the East, and to the whole body of the faithful, greeting in the Lord.

Your love for the seat of the apostles requires counsels which we neither can nor ought to deny you. It is clear, moreover, that our predecessors did this for the bishops of many districts; and brotherly charity and the debt of obedience impose the duty of so doing also upon us who, by the bountiful goodness of God, are placed in the same seat. Care, therefore, is to be had by your solicitude, that neither remissness may avail to neglect, nor presumption be able to disturb, those things which have been ordained by the apostles and their successors, and established under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But as it was proper that that should be defined which the use of right order required, so what has been so defined ought not to be violated.

I. That new chrism should be made every year, and the old be burnt.

Now, among other matters, in your letter we find it stated that certain bishops of your district adopt a different practice from yours and ours, and do not prepare the chrism at the Lord's supper every year, but keep it in use for two or three, making such a supply of the holy chrism once for all. For they say, as we find in the letter referred to, that balsam cannot be got every year; and besides that, even though it were got, there would be no necessity for preparing chrism every year, but that, so long as the one preparation of chrism is sufficiently large, they have no need to make another. They are in error, however, who think so; and in making such statements they speak like madmen rather than men in their right senses. For on that day the Lord Jesus, after supping with His disciples, and washing their feet, according to the tradition which our predecessors received from the holy apostles and left to us, taught them to prepare the chrism. That washing of their feet signifies our baptism, as it is completed and confirmed by the unction of the holy chrism. For as the solemn observance of that day is to be kept every year, so the preparing of that holy chrism is to be attended to every year, and it is to be renewed from year to year and given to the faithful. For the material of this new sacrament is to be made anew every year, and on the day already named; and the old supply is to be burned in the holy churches. These things i we have received from the holy apostles an their successors, and we commit them to your keeping. The holy church of Rome and that of Antioch have been guardians of these things from the times of the apostles: these things also the churches of Jerusalem and Ephesus maintain. Presiding over these churches, the apostles taught these things, and ordained that the old chrism should be burnt, and permitted them to use it no longer than one year, and commanded them thereafter to use the new, and not the old material. If any one, therefore, ventures to go against these things, let him understand that the door of indulgence is barred against him on your part and on that of all right- minded men: for the perverse doctrine of most depraved minds, while it uses the reins too indulgently, slips into the sin of presumption; and it can by no means be cast out, unless it is cleared of all support and correction on the part of the intelligent. And those usages which the holy Church throughout the whole world uniformly observes with respect to the divine mysteries, and towards the subjects of baptism, are not to be regarded with indifferent concern, lest we make way for purposeless efforts and superstitions. We ought not, therefore, to bring over the untaught minds of the faithful to such practices as we have named, because they should be instructed rather than played upon. For good deeds make for our happiness, and evil deeds prick us with the stings of sorrow. But here, however we are situated, we are among the hands of robbers and the teeth of raging wolves, and the contumacious are put in the place of the true sheep. And it is by the barking of the dogs and the staff of the shepherd that the fury of the wolves is checked. Those wounds, moreover, which cannot be healed by remedies, must be cut out with the knife. Neither can we keep silence, for, in seeking here to call back some from things unlawful, we ate impelled by the instinct of our office, having been set on the watch-towers by the Lord with this object, that we should prove the diligence of our watchfulness by checking things that should be prohibited, and deciding for things that should be observed.

II. Of the right of bishops not to be accused or hurt by detraction.

You desired also to consult us, as we find in the above-mentioned letter of yours, on the subject of the accusing of priest, — a thing which, as we learn also from the same epistle, is exceedingly frequent among you. You have intimated, besides, that very many notice that not a few in places of ecclesiastical dignity do not live in a manner conformable to the discourses and sacraments with which the people are served by their means. O miserable men, who in looking at these forget Christ, who long since indeed told us how that the law of God should be obeyed, rather than that those should be looked to for imitation who do not the things which they say; and bearing with the traitor himself even to the end, He sent him also along with the rest to preach the Gospel. For the apostles had no such custom, neither did they teach that it was one fit to be had. And to like effect their successors also, foreseeing by the Spirit of God things to come, have determined largely on such subject. Besides, as you read in the Acts of the Apostles, "There was at that time among them that believed one heart and one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." For there was no laying of accusations against each other among them, except what was friendly; neither ought there ever to be such among their followers or among believers: for the Lord says, "Do not that to another which thou wouldst not have done to thyself." And He says also, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;" and," Love worketh no ill to his neighbour." In accordance herewith, the apostles themselves and their successors decreed of old time that those persons should not be admitted to lay accusations who were under suspicion, or who but yesterday, or the day before, or a little time ago, were at enmity, as they come thus under suspicion, Or who are not of good conversation, or whose life is reprehensible, or who are doubtful in the matter of the true faith. In like manner is it decided to be with those whose faith and life and liberty are unknown, or who are marked with the stains of infamy, or entangled in the snares of offences. Again, those have neither the right nor the power to accuse the priests or the clergy, who are incapable themselves of being made priests legitimately, and are not of their order; for just as the, priests and the other members of the clerical order are debarred from laying accusations against the secular laity, so these latter, too, should be debarred and excluded from the right of bringing charges against the former. And as the former should not be admired by the latter, so the latter should not be; admired by the former: for as the conversation of the priests of the Lord ought to be something separate from the conversation of these others, so should they be separate from them also in the matter of litigation; "for the servant of the Lord ought not to strive." To the utmost of your power, dearly beloved brethren, do ye prohibit such accusations, and all unrighteous and injurious emulations, because contention is to be avoided by all means. "For a just man will fall seven times in a day, and will rise again; but the wicked shall fall into mischief. Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth," saith Solomon, "and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth; lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him. Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious at the wicked: for the evil have not the hope of the future, and the candle of the wicked shall be put out. Envy not evil men neither be thou desirous to be with them; for their mind meditates rapine, and their lips speak deceits.' Dearly beloved, beware of these things. Ponder these things, and minister comfort to the brethren in all things; for, as the Truth says in His own person, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." For if in things secular each man's right and his proper position are kept for him, how much more ought there to be no confusion induced in matters of ecclesiastical order! And this is a right which will be duly observed if no deference is paid to mere power, but all to equity. Whence it is an established duty, that the bishops of each several district should exercise a watchful care over all those who live under their rule, and in the fear of God should dispose of all cases in which they are concerned, and of all matters in which they are interested. It is therefore extremely inequitable that any bishops should neglect their own cases, and mix themselves up with those of others. But those whose part it is to ordain such persons to the priesthood, and by whom they have been already ordained, ought to order the life and judgment of such by the exercise of a competent and regular administration; for, as the law says, "Cursed is every one that removeth his neighbour's landmarks. And all the people said Amen." To this therefore, brethren, has God foreordained you, and all who hold the highest office of the priesthood, that ye should put all injustice out of the way, and cut off presumption, and help those who labour in the priesthood, and give no occasion for their reproach and trouble, but bring assistance to him who endures calumny and reproach, and cut off him who works calumny and reproach, and act for the help of the Lord in His priests. The Lord, moreover, has chosen the priests for Himself, that they should sacrifice to Him, and offer oblations to their Lord. He commanded the Levites also to be under them in their ministries. Whence He speaks to Moses in these terms: "And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary." For of these the Lord spake to Moses in this wise: "Take the Levites instead of the first-horn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord." If the Lord willed the Levites to be His own, how much more has He taken the priests for Himself! And of these He says: "If any stranger cometh nigh, he shall be put to death." All objects, moreover, that are the Lord's are to be handled carefully, and are not lightly to be injured; for even among men, those are reckoned faithful who attend to the interests of their masters rightly, and deal with them faithfully, and rightly observe the commands of their masters, and transgress them not. And those, on the other hand, are reputed unfaithful who deal with the interests of their masters carelessly and negligently, and despise their commands, and do not observe them as they ought. Accordingly we have set these matters before you, in order that those who now know it not may know this; viz., that the priests, too, whom the Lord has taken to Himself from among all men, and has willed to be His own, are not to be dealt with lightly, nor injured, nor rashly accused or reprehended, save by their masters, seeing that the Lord has chosen to reserve their causes to Himself, and ministers vengeance according to His own judgment. For in these and other precepts of the Lord the faithful are distinguished, and the unfaithful at the same time disapproved. For these are rather to be borne with by the faithful than made subjects of reproach (exprobrandi); just as there is chaff with the wheat even to the last winnowing, and as there are bad fish with good even on to their separation, which is yet to be on the shore,—that is to say, at the end of the world. By no means, then, can that man be condemned by a human examination, whom God has reserved for His own judgment, that the purpose of God, according to which He has decreed to save what had perished, may be unalterable. And consequently, as His will suffers no change, let no man presume on matters which are not conceded to him. And herein is the meaning of that word which the apostle speaks: "Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" To this, too, our Lord's word may refer: "And if any man will take away thy coat, and sue thee at the law, let him have thy cloak also." And in another place: "Of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again." Moreover, there are certain things which might be thought most trivial were they not shown in the Scriptures to be of more serious import. Who would ever consider the man who says to his brother "Thou fool" worthy of hell-fire, were it not that the Truth Himself told us so? Those, furthermore, who commit those sins whereof the apostle says, "They who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God," are by all means to be guarded against, and are to be compelled to seek amendment if they do not choose it voluntarily, because they are marked with the stains of infamy, and go down into the pit, unless assistance is brought them by sacerdotal authority. Those also are to be dealt with in like manner of whom he says, "With such persons, no, not to eat;" because such persons are branded with infamy until they are restored by sacerdotal authority, and reinstated in the bosom of our holy mother the Church; since those who are outside us cannot communicate with us. And it is manifest that these are outside us, and ought to be separated from us, with whom it is not lawful for us to eat or to take food. In like manner also, all persons who underlie the charge of any manner of turpitude and dishonour, are rendered infamous; and all who ann themselves against fathers are rendered infamous. "Sand, and salt, and a mass of iron, is easier to bear than a man without understanding, and foolish and impious." "He that wanteth understanding thinks upon vain things; and a foolish and erring man imagineth follies." For their suspicion has overthrown many, and their opinion hath held them in vanity. "A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. A heart that entereth two ways shall not have rest; and the evil heart in them shall be made to stumble. A wicked heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the sinner shall heap sin upon sin." The holy apostles and their successors, having such things in mind, and foreseeing, as being filled with the Holy Spirit, the course of wicked men, and having regard to the simple, determined that the accusing of priests should be a matter undertaken with difficulty, or never undertaken, that they might not be ruined or displaced by wicked men. For if this were made an easy matter to secular and wicked men, there would remain no one, or but the scantiest few; seeing that it ever has been and still is the case—and (which is yet worse) that too in growing measure— that the wicked persecute the good, and that the carnal are hostile to the spiritual. For this reason, then, as has been already said, they decreed that such should not be accused at all; or if that could not be avoided, that the accusing of such should be made a matter of great difficulty. And they determined also, as has been stated above, by what persons that function should not be assumed; and they resolved further, that bishops should not be cast out from their own proper seats and churches. But if in any way the matter of accusation should be taken in hand before their rightful seat and all their property are restored by those laws, they should by no means be accused or criminated by any one, and should not answer any one on such charges, unless they choose to do so of their own accord. But after they have been reinstated, as has been before noted, and have had all their effects restored to them by those laws, when their affairs are arranged and set in order, they should then have a long period allowed them for the disposing of their case; and thereafter, if need be, they should be regularly summoned, and so come to the suit; and if the matter seem just, they should answer the propositions of their accusers with the help of their brethren. For so long as their effects, or their churches and property, are held by their adversaries, or by any person, no manner of reason allows that any charge ought to be preferred against them. And no one is at liberty by any means to bring any charge against them, whether superior or inferior, so long as they are dispossessed of their churches, effects, or powers. In like manner also it was decreed, and we too confirm the same statutes and hereby decree, that if any one among the clergy proves an enemy or traducer of his bishops, and seeks to criminate them, or conspires against them, at once, before the consideration of judicial investigation, he should be removed from the clerical order, and given over to the court (curioe), to which he shall devote himself zealously all the days of his life, and shall remain infamous without any hope of restoration. And let no one ever presume to be at once accuser, and judge, or witness; for in every judicial investigation there must always be four persons present: that is, the judges elected, and the accusers, and the defenders, and the witnesses. In like manner we decree and ordain by apostolic authority, that the flock should not dare to bring a charge against their pastor, to whose care they had been consigned, unless he falls into error in the faith; for the deeds of superiors are not to be smitten with the sword of the mouth; neither can the disciple be above the master, as the voice of Truth saith, "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord." And pride is hateful before God and men, and all iniquity is execrable. "The Lord hath destroyed the memory of the proud, and hath left the memory of the humble in mind. The seed of men shall be honoured, this seed that feareth God. But that seed shall be dishonoured that transgresseth the commandments of the Lord. Among brethren, he that is chief is honourable; and they that fear the Lord shall be in His eyes. My son, saith Solomon, preserve thy .soul in meekness, and give honour to him whom honour beseemeth." "Blame not any one before thou examinest him; and when thou hast examined him, reprove him justly. Answer not a word before thou hearest the cause; neither interrupt with talk in the midst of thy seniors." After the example of Ham the son of Noah, they are condemned who bring the faults of their fathers into public view, or presume to accuse or calumniate them; even as was the case with Ham, who did not cover the shame of his father Noah, but exhibited it for mockery. And in like manner those are justified by the example of Shem and Japhet, who reverently cover and seek not to display those matters in which they find their fathers to have erred. For if a bishop should happen to err from the faith, he should in the first place be corrected privately by those placed under him (a subditis suis). And if he show himself incorrigible (which may God forbid), then an accusation should be laid against him before his primates, or before the seat of the apostles. For his other actings, however, he is rather to be borne with by his flock and those put under him, than accused or made the subject of public detraction; because when any offence is committed in these matters by those put under them, His ordinance is withstood who set them before him, as the apostle says, "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." But he who fears Almighty God, agrees in no way to do anything contrary to the Gospel, or contrary to the apostles, or contrary to the prophets or the institutions of the holy fathers. The priests therefore are to be honoured, and not to be injured or reproached. Thus read we in Ecclesiasticus: "Fear the Lord with all thy soul, and reverence His priests. Love Him that made thee with all thy strength, and forsake not His ministers. Honour God with thy whole soul, and honour the priest, and cleanse thyself beforehand with the shoulders (propurga te cum brachiis). Give him his portion, as it is commanded thee, of the first-fruits; and purge thyself concerning negligence with a few things. Thou shalt offer the gift of thy shoulders, and the sacrifice of sanctification, and the first-fruits of the holy things to the Lord. And stretch thine hand unto the poor, that thine atonement and blessing may be perfected." We desire these things to become known not to you only, but through you to all the brethren, that we may abide in Christ of one accord and one mind, making no claim for ourselves through strife or vainglory, and being pleasers not of men, but of God our Saviour. To Him belongeth honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.


That extraneous judgments should be rejected, and that the accused person should carry out his cause in his own locality; and that everyone who brings forward a charge should intimate in writing his ability to prove it, and that if he fails to prove what he alleges, he should bear the penalty which he advanced.

FABIAN, to my dearly beloved brother Bishop Hilary.

We ought to be mindful of the grace of God to us, who, in the compassion of His own regard, hath raised us for this reason to the summit of sacerdotal dignity, that by cleaving to His commandments, and by being set in a certain eminence as overseers of His priests, we may restrain things unlawful, and inculcate things that are to be followed. For we have heard that in those western parts in which you dwell, the craft of the devil rageth so violently against the people of Christ, and breaketh forth in delusions so manifold, that it oppresseth and troubleth not only the secular laity, but the priests of the Lord themselves also. Wherefore, involved as we are in deep grief, we cannot conceal what we ought severely to correct. Accordingly a sufficient remedy must be employed for such wounds, lest a hasty facility in the cure may prove of no service for the deadly disease of the head; and lest the trouble, by being too easily dealt with, may involve, through the defect of an illegitimate mode of cure, the hurt and the healers together in its evil.

I. Of those who ought not to be admitted to the right of accusation.

On this account, therefore, we decree and resolve, that those who are not of good conversation, or whose life is impeachable, or whose faith and life and liberty are unknown, should not have the power of accusing the priests of the Lord, lest vile persons should thus be admitted to the liberty of accusing them. In like manner, those who are involved in any matters of accusation, or who are under suspicion, should not have a voice in laying charges against their seniors; for the voice of the suspected and the inimical is wont to oppress the truth.

II. Of extraneous judgments.

Moreover, by a general ordinance, and without prejudice to the authority of the apostles in all things, we prohibit extraneous judgments, because it is not fit that he should be judged by strangers, who ought to have those of his own province and those elected by himself as his judges, unless an appeal has been made. Wherefore, if any one of the bishops is accused on precise charges, he ought to be heard by all the bishops who are in the province; for it is not right that an accused person should be heard elsewhere than in his own circuit. Again, if any one is of opinion that he has a judge adverse to him, he should claim the right of appeal; and an appellant ought to be injured by no kind of oppression or detention; but an appellant ought to have the liberty of righting his case, when wronged, by the remedy of appeal. There ought also to be liberty of appeal in criminal cases. And the right of appealing ought to be denied to no one whom judgment has destined for punishment.

III. Of the arraigned.

A person arraigned ought to plead his cause before his judge; and an arraigned person may refuse to speak, if he choose so, before one who is not his own proper judge; and indulgence (inducioe) should be granted to the arraigned as often as they appeal.

IV. Of the case of any one bringing forward a charge in passion, or failing to prove his allegations.

If, then, any one in passion brings a charge rashly against any one, mere abuse is not to be taken for an accusation. But a certain time being allowed for dealing with the matter, the person should profess his ability in writing to prove what he has alleged in passion; so that, if he should happen to think better of the things he uttered in passion, and decline to repeat or write them, the person may not be held as charged with the crime. Every one, therefore, who adduces a charge, ought to state in writing his ability to prove it. And, indeed, a cause should always be dealt with in the place where the charge is admitted; and the man who fails to substantiate his allegation, should himself bear the penalty which he advanced.

V. On the question of an accused bishop appealing to the seat of the apostles.

It is determined, moreover, that, in the case of an accused bishop appealing to the seat of the apostles, that should be held to be a settlement which is the decision of the pontiff of that same seat. On all occasions, however, in cases concerning priests, let this form be maintained, that no one be bound by a decision pronounced by another than his own proper judge. It is the duty also of all the faithful to be ready to help the oppressed and the miserable in their distress, in order that by the manifestation of another manner of recompense (vindictoe) they may be able to keep the recompense (vengeance) of God from themselves. For he offers (libat) things prosperous to the Lord who keeps off things adverse from the afflicted. Whence it is written, "A brother Riding a brother shall be exalted." For the Church of God ought to be without spot or wrinkle, and therefore it ought not to be trodden and defiled by certain persons; for it is written, "My dove, my undefiled, is but one." Hence, again, the Lord says to Moses, "There is a place with me (penes me), and thou shalt stand upon a rock." What place is there that belongs not to the Lord, seeing that all things consist in Him by whom they were created? There is a place, however, with God—to wit, the unity of the holy Church—in which there is a standing upon a rock, while the perfection of the confession (confessionis soliditas) is held in lowliness. We admonish thee, our brother, and all our brethren who are rulers in the Church of Christ, which He hath purchased with His blood, to keep back, by whatever checks ye possess, all men from that abyss into which some brethren are slipping, in reviling the Lord's pastors, and persecuting them both by word and deed; and we counsel you not to suffer them to be wounded with the hook of passion: for it is written, "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." Hence it is said again, "Let every man be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and slow to wrath." Now I doubt not that with God's help you observe all these things; but as an occasion for counsel has arisen, I also secretly attach my word to your good desires and deeds, so that what you are doing of yourselves and independently of admonition you may do presently not by yourselves alone, now that the counsellor himself is added to you. Wherefore, brethren, it becomes you and all the faithful to love each other, and not to calumniate or accuse one another: for it is written, "Love thy neighbour, and be faithful unto him. But if thou bewrayest his secrets, thou shalt follow no more after him. For as a man who destroyeth his friend, so is he that loseth the love of his neighbour. And as one that letteth a bird go out of his hand, so art thou who hast let thy neighbour go, and shalt not get him again. Follow after him no more, for he is far off. For he is as a roe escaped out of the snare, since his soul is wounded. Further thou wilt not be able to bind him up, and after reviling there may be reconcilement; but to bewray the secrets of a friend is the despair of an unhappy mind. He that winketh with the eye worketh evil, and every one will cast him off. When thou art present, he will speak sweetly, and will admire thy words. But at last he will writhe his mouth, and slander thy sayings. I have hated many things, but nothing like him; and the Lord will hate him. Whoso casteth a stone on high, it will fall upon his own head; and a deceitful stroke shall make wounds in the deceiver. Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that placeth a stone in his neighbour's way shall stumble thereon; and he that setteth a trap for another shall perish in it. He that worketh mischief, it shall fall upon him; and he shall not know whence it cometh on him. Mockery and reproach are from the proud; and vengeance, as a lion, shall lie in wait for them. They that rejoice at the fall of the righteous shall be taken in the snare; and anguish shall consume them before they die. Wrath and fury are both abominations, and the sinful man shall have them both." "He that desireth to be avenged shall find vengeance from the Lord, and He will surely keep his sins in remembrance. Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he hath done thee; so shall thy sins also be forgiven thee when thou prayest. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He showeth no mercy to a man which is like himself, and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins from the Most High? He, though he is but flesh, nourishes hatred; and does he implore mercy from God? Who will entreat for pardon of his sins? Remember thy end, and let enmity cease. For corruption and death impend on His commandments. Remember the fear of God, and bear no malice to thy neighbour. Remember the covenant of the Highest, and wink at the ignorance of thy neighbour. Abstain from strife, and thou shalt diminish thy sins. For a furious man will kindle strife, and a sinful man will disquiet friends, and will make debate among them that be at peace. For according to the trees of the wood, so will the fire burn; and according as a man's strength is, so will his wrath be; and according to his riches, his anger will rise. An hasty contention will kindle a fire; and an hasty fighting will shed blood; and a tale-bearing (testificans) tongue will cause death. If thou blow the spark, it shall burn like a fire; and if thou spit upon it, it shall be quenched; and both these come out of thy mouth. The whisperer and double-tongued is cursed; for he has destroyed many that were at peace. A backbiting (tertia) tongue hath disquieted many, and driven them from nation to nation. Strong cities of the rich hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men. It has destroyed the strength of peoples, and has scattered strong nations. A backbiting tongue hath east out virtuous women (viratas, spirited), and deprived them of their labours. Whoso hearkeneth unto it shall never find rest, and shall never have a friend on whom he may repose. The stroke of the whip maketh marks; but the stroke of the tongue will break the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not so many as have fallen by the tongue. Well is he that is defended from the evil tongue, and hath not passed through the venom thereof; who hath not drawn the yoke thereof, nor hath been bound in her bands. For the yoke thereof is a yoke of iron, and the bands thereof are bands of brass. The death thereof is an evil death, and the grave were better than it. Its endurance shall not abide, but it shall possess the ways of the unrighteous. In its flame it shall not burn the righteous. Such as forsake the Lord shall fall into it; and it shall burn in them, and not be quenched; and it shall be sent upon them as a lion, and devour them as a leopard. Hedge thine ears (soepi aures) about with thorns, and refuse to listen to the evil tongue, and make a door for thy mouth and bars for thine ears. Smelt (confla) thy gold and thy silver, and make a balance for thy words, and a right bridle for thy mouth. And beware lest thou slide perchance in thy tongue, and fall in the sight of thine enemies that be in wait for thee, and thy fall be irremediable unto death." Let all beware of these things, and "keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." "Finally, dearly beloved, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places (coelestibus). Wherefore take unto you the armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and to stand perfect in all (omnibus perfecti). Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in all (in omnibus) taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." It is our wish, brother, that those things which we have written to you should be made known generally to all, in order that things which touch the others should be made known to all. May Almighty God protect you, brother, and all our brethren everywhere situate, even to the end,—even He who has thought good to redeem the whole world, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever. Amen.—Given on the 16th day of October, in the consulship of the most illustrious Africanus and Decius.

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.

To Fathers of the Church home page