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Catholic Culture Resources

Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXIV: to Fortunatus, Bishop of Neapolis (Naples)


This epistle is from Book X of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory reproves Fortunatus for not being careful enough in his choice of an abbot, as several monks from the monastery have recently left it. He warns him to ensure that all monks have a probation period of two years before they are tonsured, and states that no soldier may become a monk without his consent.


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 Fortunatus, &c.

When your Fraternity pays too little attention to the monasteries that are under you, you both lay yourself open to reproof, and make us sorry for your laxity. Now it has come to our ears that one Mauricius, who lately became a monk in the monastery of Barbacianus, has fled from the same monastery, taking other monks with him. In this case the hastiness of the aforesaid Barbacianus inculpates him exceedingly in our sight, in that he rashly tonsured a secular person without even previous probation. Did we not write to you that you should prove him first, and then, if he were fit, should make him abbot? Even now, then, look well after him whom you chose. For you are delinquent in his delinquency, if he has begun so to demean himself as to shew himself unfit to have the government of brethren.

Further, let your Fraternity more strictly interdict all monasteries from venturing by any means to tonsure those whom they may have received for monastic profession before they have completed two years in monastic life. But in this space of time let their life and manners be carefully proved, lest any one of them should either not be content with what he had desired or not keep firm to what he had chosen. For, it being a serious matter that untried men should be associated under obedience to any master, how much more serious is it that any who have not been proved should be attached to the service of God?

Further, if a soldier should wish to become a monk, let no one for any cause whatever presume to receive him without our consent, or before it has been reported to us. If this rule is not diligently observed, know that all the guilt of those that are under thee redounds on thyself, seeing that thou provest thyself by the very facts of the case to be too little anxious about them.

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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