Fathers of the Church
Letter to Rusticus, Bishop of Gallia Narbonensis, With the Replied His Questions on Various Points
by Leo the Great in 459-460 | translated by Charles Lett Feltoe, M.A
Leo, the bishop, to Rusticus, bishop of Gallia Narbonensis.
I. He exhorts him to act with moderation towards two bishops who have offended him.
Your letter, brother. which Hermes your archdeacon brought, I have gladly received; the number of different matters it contains makes it indeed lengthy, but not so tedious to me on a patient perusal that any point should be passed over, amid the cares that press upon me from all sides. And hence having grasped the gist of your allegation and reviewed what took place at the inquiry of the bishops and leading men, we gather that Sabinian and Leo, presbyters, lacked confidence in your action, and that they have no longer any just cause for complaint, seeing that of their own accord they withdrew from the discussion that had been begun. What form or what measure of justice you ought to mete out to them I leave to your own discretion advising you, however, with the exhortation of love that to the healing of the sick you ought to apply spiritual medicine, and that remembering the Scripture which says "be not over just," you should act with mildness towards these who in zeal for chastity seem to have exceeded the limits of vengeance, lest the devil, who deceived the adulterers, should triumph over the avengers of the adultery.
II. He expostulates with him for wishing to give up his office, which would imply distrust of GOD's promises.
But I am surprised, beloved, that you are so disturbed by opposition in consequence of offences, from whatever cause arising, as to say you would rather be relieved of the labours of your bishopric, and live in quietness and ease than continue in the office committed to you. But since the LORD says, "blessed is he who shall persevere unto the end," whence shall come this blessed perseverance, except from the strength of patience? For as the Apostle proclaims, "All who would live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution." And it is not only to be reckoned persecution, when sword or fire or other active means are used against the Christian religion; for the direst persecution is often inflicted by nonconformity of practice and persistent disobedience and the barbs of ill-natured tongues: and since all the members of the Church are always liable to these attacks, and no portion of the faithful are free from temptation, so that a life neither of ease nor of labour is devoid of danger, who shall guide the ship amidst the waves of the sea. if the helmsman quit his post? Who shall guard the sheep from the treachery of wolves, if the shepherd himself be not on the watch? Who, in fine, shall resist the thieves and robbers. if love of quietude draw away the watchman that is set to keep the outlook from the strictness of his watch? One must abide, therefore, in the office committed to him and in the task undertaken. Justice must be stedfastly upheld and mercy lovingly extended. Not men, but their sins must be hated. The proud must be rebuked, the weak must be borne with; and those sins which require severer chastisement must be dealt with in the spirit not of vindictiveness but of desire to heal. And if a fiercer storm of tribulation fall upon us, let us not be terror-stricken as if we had to overcome the disaster in our own strength, since both our Counsel and our Strength is Christ, and through Him we can do all things, without Him nothing, Who, to confirm the preachers of the Gospel and the ministers of the mysteries, says, "Lo, I am with you all the days even to the consummation of the age." And again He says, "these things I have spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace. In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the worlds." The promises, which are as plain as they can be, we ought not to let any causes of offence to weaken, lest we should seem ungrateful to GOD for making us His chosen vessels, since His assistance is powerful as His promises are true.
III. Many of the questions raised could be more easily settled in a personal interview than on paper.
On those points of inquiry, beloved, which your archdeacon has brought me separately written out, it would be easier to arrive at conclusions on each point face to face, if you could grant us the advantage of your presence. For since some questions seem to exceed the limits of ordinary diligence, I perceive that they are better suited to conversation than to writing: for as there are certain things which can in no wise be controverted, so there are many things which require to be modified either by considerations of age or by the necessities of the case; always provided that we remember in things which are doubtful or obscure, that must be followed which is found to be neither contrary to the commands of the Gospel nor opposed to the decrees of the holy Fathers.
QUESTION I. Concerning a presbyter or deacon who falsely claims to be a bishop, and those whom they have ordained.
REPLY. No consideration permits men to be reckoned among bishops who have not been elected by the clergy, demanded by the laity, and consecrated by the bishops of the province with the assent of the metropolitan. And hence, since the question often arises concerning advancement unduly obtained, who need doubt that that can in no wise be which is not shown to have been conferred on them, And if any clerics have been ordained by such false bishops in those churches which have bishops of their own, and their ordination took place with the consent and approval of the proper bishops, it may be held valid on condition that they continue in the same churches. Otherwise it must be held void, not being connected with any place nor resting on any authority.
QUESTION II. Concerning a presbyter or deacon, who an his crime being known asks for public penance, whether it is to be granted hint by laying on of hands?
REPLY. It is contrary to the custom of the Church that they who have been dedicated to the dignity of the presbyterate or the rank of the diaconate, should receive the remedy of penitence by laying on of hands for any crime; which doubtless descends from the Apostles' tradition, according to what is written," If a priest shall have sinned, who shall pray for him?" And hence such men when they have lapsed in order to obtain GOD's mercy must seek private retirement, where their atonement may be profitable as well as adequate.
QUESTION III. Concerning those who minister at the altar and have wives, whether they may lawfully cohabit with them?
REPLY. The law of continence is the same for the ministers of the altar as for bishops and priests, who when they were laymen or readers, could lawfully marry and have offspring. But when they reached to the said ranks, what was before lawful ceased to be so. And hence, in order that their wedlock may become spiritual instead of carnal, it behaves them not to put away their wives but to "have them as though they had them not," whereby both the affection of their wives may be retained and the marriage functions cease.
QUESTION IV. Concerning a presbyter or deacon who has given his unmarried daughter in marriage to a man who already had a woman joined to him, by whom he had also had children.
REPLY. Not every woman that is joined to a man is his wife, even as every son is not his father's heir. But the marriage bond is legitimate between the freeborn and between equals: this was laid down by the LORD long before the Roman law had its beginning. And so a wife is different from a concubine, even as a bondwoman from a freewoman. For which reason also the Apostle in order to show the difference of these persons quotes from Genesis, where it is said to Abraham, "Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with my son Isaac." And hence, since the marriage tie was from the beginning so constituted as apart from the joining of the sexes to symbolize the mystic union of Christ and His Church, it is undoubted that that woman has no part in matrimony, in whose case it is shown that the mystery of marriage has not taken place. Accordingly a clergyman of any rank who has given his daughter in marriage to a man that has a concubine, must not be considered to have given her to a married man, unless perchance the other woman should appear to have become free, to have been legitimately dowered and to have been honoured by public nuptials.
QUESTION V. Concerning young women who have married men that have concubines.
REPLY. Those who are joined to husbands by their fathers' will are free from blame, if the women whom their husbands had were not in wedlock.
QUESTION VI. Concerning those who leave the women by whom they have children and take wives.
REPLY. Seeing that the wife is different from the concubine, to turn a bondwoman from one's couch and take a wife whose free birth is assured, is not bigamy but an honourable proceeding.
QUESTION VII. Concerning those who in sickness accept terms of penitence, and when they have recovered, refuse to keep them.
REPLY. Such men's neglect is to be blamed but not finally to be abandoned, in order that they may be incited by frequent exhortations to carry out faithfully what under stress of need they asked for. For no one is to be despaired of so long as he remain in this body, because sometimes what the diffidence of age puts off is accomplished by maturer counsels.
QUESTION VIII. Concerning those who their deathbed promise repentance and die before receiving communion.
REPLY. Their cause is reserved for the judgment of GOD, in Whose hand it was that their death was put off until the very time of communion. But we cannot be in communion with those, when dead, with whom when alive we were not in communion.
QUESTION IX. Concerning those who under pressure of great pain ask for penance to be granted them, and when the presbyter has come to give what they seek, if the pain has abated somewhat, make excuses and refuse to accept what is offered.
REPLY. This tergiversation cannot proceed from contempt of the remedy but from fear of falling into worse sin. Hence the penance which is put off, when it is more earnestly sought must not be denied in order that the wounded soul may in whatever way attain to the healing of absolution.
QUESTION X. Concerning those who have professed repentance, if they begin to go to law in the forum.
REPLY. To demand just debts is indeed one thing and to think nothing of one's own property from the perfection of love is another. But one who craves pardon for unlawful doings ought to abstain even from many things that are lawful, as says the Apostle, "all things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient." Hence, if the penitent has a matter which perchance he ought not to neglect, it is better for him to have recourse to the judgment of the Church than of the forum.
QUESTION XI. Concerning those who during or after penance transact business.
REPLY. The nature of their gains either excuses or condemns the trafficker, because there is an honourable and a base kind of profit. Notwithstanding it is more expedient for the penitent to suffer loss than to be involved in the risks of trafficking, because it is hard for sin not to come into transactions between buyer and seller.
QUESTION XII. Concerning those who return to military service after doing penance.
REPLY. It is altogether contrary to the rules of the Church to return to military service in the world after doing penance, as the Apostle says, "No soldier in GOD'S service entangles himself in the affairs of the world." Hence he is not free from the snares of the devil who wishes to entangle himself in the military service of the world.
QUESTION XIII. Concerning those who after penance take wives or join themselves to concubines.
REPLY. If a young man under fear of death or the dangers of captivity has done penance, and afterwards fearing to fall into youthful
incontinence has chosen to marry a wife lest he should be guilty of fornication, he seems to have comitted a pardonable act, so long as he has known no woman whatever save his wife. Yet herein we lay down no rule, but express an opinion as to what is less objectionable. For according to a true view of the matter nothing better suits him who has done penance than continued chastity both of mind and body.
QUESTION XIV. Concerning monks who take to military service or to marriage.
REPLY. The monk's vow being undertaken of his own will or wish cannot be given up without sin. For that which a man has vowed to GOD, he ought also to pay. Hence he who abandons his profession of a single life and betakes himself to military service or to marriage, must make atonement and clear himself publicly, because although such service may be innocent and the married state honourable, it is transgression to have forsaken the higher choice.
QUESTION XV. Concerning young women who have worn the religious habit for some time but have not been dedicated, if they afterwards marry.
REPLY. Young women, who without being forced by their parents' command but of their own free-will have taken the vow and habit of virginity, if afterwards they choose wedlock, act wrongly, even though they have not received dedication: of which they would doubtless not have been defrauded, if they had abided by their vow.
QUESTION XVI. Concerning those who have been left as infants by Christian parents, if no proof of thee? baptism can be found whether they ought to be baptized?
REPLY. If no proof exist among their kinsfolk and relations, nor among the clergy or neighbours whereby those, about whom the question is raised, may be proved to have been baptized, steps must be taken for their regeneration: lest they evidently perish; for in their case reason does not allow that what is not shown to have been done should seem to be repeated.
QUESTION XVII. Concerning those who have been captured by the enemy and are not aware whether they have been baptized but know, they were several times taken to church by their parents, whether they can or ought to be baptized when they come back to Roman territory?
REPLY. Those who can remember that they used to go to church with their parents can remember whether they received what used to be given to their parents. But if this also has escaped their memory, it seems that that must be bestowed on them which is not known to have been bestowed because there can be no presumptuous rashness where the most loyal carefulness has been exercised.
QUESTION XVIII. Concerning those who have come from Africa or Mauretania and know not in what sect they were baptized, what ought to be done in their case?
REPLY. These persons are not doubtful of their baptism, but profess ignorance as to the faith of those who baptized them: and hence since they have received the form of baptism in some way or other, they are not to be baptized but are to be united to the catholics by imposition of hands, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit's power, which they could not receive from heretics.
QUESTION XIX. Concerning those who after being baptized in infancy were captured by the Gentiles, and lived with them after the manner of the Gentiles, when they come back to Roman territory as still young men, if they seek communion, what shall be done?
REPLY. If they have only lived with Gentiles and eaten sacrificial food, they can be purged by fasting and laying on of hands, in order that for the future abstaining from things offered to idols, they may be partakers of Christ's mysteries. But if they have either worshipped idols or been polluted with manslaughter or fornication, they must not be admitted to communion, except by public penance.
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/XII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.