Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Fathers of the Church

Epistle IX: to Callinicus, Exarch of Italy


This epistle is from Book IX of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory clarifies that Callinicus does not need to compel unwilling schismatics to return to the Church.


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 Callinicus, &c.

In the midst of what you have announced to me of your victories over the Sclaves, know that I have been refreshed with great joy that the bearers of these presents, hastening to be joined to the unity of holy Church from the island of Capritana, have been sent by your Excellency to the blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles. For hereby you will the more prevail over your enemies, if you recall under the yoke of the true Lord those whom you know to be the enemies of God; and you will prosecute your causes among men with all the more effect as with sincere and devout mind you maintain the causes of God.

Now as to your having desired that a copy should be shewn me of the order that has been sent to you for the defence of the schismatic, your to me most sweet Excellency ought to have considered carefully how that, although that order has been elicited, you are still not therein enjoined to repel those who come to the unity of the Church, but only, at this unsettled time, not to compel those who are unwilling to come. Whence it is necessary for you with all speed to inform our most pious Emperors of these things, to the end that they may be aware how that in their times, through the succour of Almighty God and your exertions, schismatics are hastening to return of their own accord. What I have decided as to the ordering of things in the island of Carituna, your Excellency will learn through our most reverend brother and fellow-bishop Marinianus. But I would have you know that this has caused me no slight distress; that your Majordomo, who took charge of the petition of the bishop who was wishing to return, declared that he had lost it, and that afterwards he was got hold of by the adversaries of the Church: which proceeding, in my opinion, was due not to his neglect but to his venality. Wherefore I wonder that your Excellency has not in any way visited his fault in him. And yet I soon blamed myself for wondering at this, for where the lord Justinus gives advice, there heretics cannot be arraigned.

Moreover you tell us that you wish to keep the anniversary of Peter, Prince of the apostles, in the city of Rome. And we pray Almighty God to protect you with His mercy, and grant you a fulfilment of your desires. But I beg that the aforesaid most eloquent man may come with you, or that, if he does not come, he may retire from attendance on you. Or certainly, if your Excellency should be unable to come owing to business that may arise, let him either communicate with the unity of holy Church, or I beg that he may not be a sharer of your counsels. For I hear of him as a good man, were he not in most mischievous error. As to the cause of Maximus, inasmuch as we can no longer stand against the importunity of your Sweetness, you will learn from Castorius, the notary, what we have determined.

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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