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Catholic Culture Resources

Fathers of the Church

Epistle CXI: to Virgilius, Bishop of Arelate (Arles)


This epistle is from Book IX of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Here Gregory asks Virgilius to observe carefully all those things set down and confirmed by apostolic authority for the rights of a monastery founded by Childebert, King of the Franks.


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 Virgilius, &c.

Inasmuch as the desire of a pious purpose and the bent of a laudable devotion ought always to be aided by the earnest endeavours of priests, anxious care should be taken that neither remissness, neglect nor presumption disturb whatever has been ordained for the quiet of monks and of religious conversation. But, as it was right that what reason required should be profitably prescribed, so what has been prescribed ought not to be violated. Now Childebert of glorious memory, King of the Franks, inflamed by love of the Catholic religion, in founding for his own reward a monastery for men within the walls of the city of Arelate, as we find set down in writing, granted certain things there for the sustentation of its inmates. And, lest his purpose should ever be frustrated, and what had been arranged for the quiet of the monks be disturbed, he prayed in his letters that whatever rights he conceded to the said monastery might be confirmed by apostolicaI authority; adding this also to his petition, that certain privileges might at the same time be accorded to the same monastery, as well in the management of its affairs as in the ordination of its abbot. This he did as knowing such reverence to be paid by the faithful to the Apostolic See that what had been settled by its decree no molestation of unlawful usurpation would thereafter shake. Hence, since the royal purpose as well as the thing desired, urgently demanded effect to be given to it, letters were sent by our predecessor Vigilius, bishop of the Roman See, to your predecessor Aurelius, wherein all things that a desire to embrace that purpose demanded were willingly confirmed by the support of apostolical authority, inasmuch as a thing of this kind, when requested, could not be allowed to encounter difficulty. But, that your Fraternity may know what was decreed at that time, we have seen to the written orders of our aforesaid predecessor being added to this letter. These having been perused, we exhort thee to keep them all inviolate with priestly earnestness, as becomes thee, and to allow nothing undue or unlawful to be imposed on that monastery, or the said orders to be infringed by any usurpation. For, though what has once been sanctioned by the authority of the Apostolic See has no lack of validity, yet we do, over and above, once more corroborate by our authority in all respects all things that were ordained by our predecessor for quiet in this matter. Let your Fraternity, then, so acquit yourself in observing them as both to shut out all occasion of disturbance, and also to persuade others to carry these things out, while you shew yourself careful and devoted, as becomes yon, in observing the most pious will of the departed one.

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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