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Fathers of the Church

Epistle IV: to Januarius, Bishop of Caralis


This epistle is from Book IX of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Agilulph, leader of the barbarian Lombards, had just invaded Sardinia. Here Gregory tells Januarius that a peace is being arranged with the Lombards, but to keep careful watch until the agreement is drawn up. Regarding the various complaints brought against Januarius, Gregory says that the worst of them all is that Januarius plowed up a field of corn not belonging to him and dug up its boundaries. (See Epistle I, Book IX for Gregory's first words to Januarius on this matter.)


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, a Bishop of Sardinia.

We knew before the letter of your Fraternity reached us what our enemies had effected in Sardinia. And, having for some time feared that this would be so, we now groan with you on what we foresaw having come to pass. But, if attention had been paid to what we wrote to our most excellent son Gennadius, as well as to yourself, telling you that this would be so, the enemy would either not have come into your regions, or, when they came, they would have incurred the danger which they have caused. Even now, then, let what has happened sharpen your vigilance for the future. For we, too, by no means omit whatever we are able to do for good, the Lord helping us.

Know, moreover, that the abbot whom, now a considerable time ago, we sent to Agilulph, has by the mercy of God arranged a peace with him, so far as was directed in writing by the most excellent Exarch. And so, till such time as the agreements for the confirmation of this peace shall be drawn up, lest perchance our enemies during the present delay should be inclined to come again into those parts, do you cause watches of the walls to be kept up, and careful attention given in all places. And we trust in the power of our Redeemer that the incursions or plots of our adversaries will not injure you anew.

As to your saying in your letter that many persons lay complaints against you before us, this is true; but among various things nothing has distressed us so much as what our most beloved son, the abbot Cyriacus, has reported to us; namely, that on the Lord's day before mass you caused a crop of corn to be ploughed up in the field which is in the possession of Donatus, and, as if that were not enough, went, after the sacrifice was finished, in person to the place, and dug up the boundaries. For this reason I exhort thee to consider with anxious attention the office which thou bearest, and to avoid entirely whatever may injure thy reputation or thy soul, and let no one persuade thee to do the like again. For know that thou hast not undertaken the care of earthly things, but the leadership of souls. On this, therefore, thou oughtest to fix thy heart, thy anxiety, thy entire devotion. and to give thy diligent thought to the winning of souls, that when thou shalt render to the Lord at His coming the talents that He has delivered to thee multiplied, thou mayest be counted worthy to receive from Him the fruit of retribution, and to be exalted among His faithful servants in eternal glory. Know, however, that what I now say in the way of reproach or blame comes not from asperity, but from brotherly love, since I desire thee to be found a priest before Almighty God, not in name only, which tends only to punishment, but also in desert, which looks to recompense. For, we being one member in the body of our Redeemer, as I am rent asunder in thy fault, so also am I rejoiced in thy good conduct.

Furthermore, with regard to your desire that we should depute a person from our side (a nostro latere), to whom you may communicate in detail the cases that are to be referred to us, write whatever you will to our most beloved son Peter and to Theodore the counsellor (consiliario), that, when it has been communicated to us through them, whatever reason may commend may be settled, the Lord revealing the way. Moreover, concerning our brother and fellow-bishop Marinianus, cognizance will be taken, when peace with the aforesaid Agilulph shall have been fully confirmed, and whatever the order of reason may dictate will be done.

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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