Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Fathers of the Church

Epistle I: to Januarius, Bishop of Caralis


This epistle is from Book IX of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. It is one of Gregory's severest letters, in which he rebukes Januarius for various wicked deeds and declares his evil counselors excommunicated. Gregory ends by warning Januarius to mend his ways, lest he "no longer spare either thy simplicity or thy old age".


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 590-604 | translated by James Barmby, D.d

Gregory to Januarius, &c.

The preacher of Almighty God, Paul the apostle, says, Rebuke not an elder (1 Tim. v. 1). But this rule of his is to be observed in cases where the fault of an elder does not draw through his example the hearts of the younger into ruin. But, when an elder sets an example to the young for their ruin, he is to be smitten with severe rebuke. For it is written, Ye are all a snare to the young (Isai. xlii. 22). And again the prophet says, The sinner being an hundred years old is accursed (Isai. lxv. 20). But so great wickedness has been reported to us of thy old age that, unless we were humanely disposed, we should smite thee with a definitive curse. For it has been told me that on the Lord's day, before celebrating the solemnities of mass, thou wentest forth to plough up the crop of the bearer of these presents, and after ploughing it up didst celebrate the solemnities of mass. Also, after the solemnities of mass thou didst not fear to root up the landmarks of that possession. What punishment ought to follow such deeds all who hear of them know. We had, however, been in doubt as to so great perversity in thee as this; but our son Cyriacus the abbot, having been questioned by us, declared that when he was at Caralis he knew it to be the case. And, seeing that we still spare thy gray hairs, bethink thee at length, old man, and restrain thyself from such levity of behaviour, and perversity of deeds. The nearer thou art approaching death, the more careful and fearful oughtest thou to become. And indeed a sentence of punishment had been launched against thee; but, since we know thy simplicity accompanying thy old age, we meanwhile hold our peace. Those, however, by whose advice thou hast done these things we decree to be excommunicated for two months; but so that, if within the space of two months anything should happen to them after the manner of humanity they be not deprived of the blessing of the viaticum. But do thou henceforth be cautious to stand aloof from their counsels, lest, if thou be their disciple in evil whose master thou oughtest to have been in good, we no longer spare either thy simplicity or thy old age.

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.

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