Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXXVI: to John, Bishop of Syracuse


This epistle is from Book XI of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Since Venantius is very ill, Gregory asks John to urge him to return to his professed state of life, that of a monk, before he dies. Gregory also asks John to care for Venantius' daughters, since bad men are already seeking to obtain their property. See also Epistle XXXV, Book XI, written to Venantius' daughters.


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 John, &c.

I have received your Fraternity's letters telling me of the sickness of my most sweet son the lord Venantius, and relating how all things are going on about him. But when I heard at one and the same time that he was desperately and grievously sick, and that unfair men were laying claim to the property of the orphans, the sorrow in my heart could scarce contain itself. But in this there was comfort, in that tears relieved my groans. Your Holiness therefore ought not to neglect, what should be your first care, to take thought for his soul, by exhorting him, beseeching him, putting before him God's terrible judgment, and promising His ineffable mercy, so as to induce him to return even at his last moments to his former state of life, lest the guilt of so great a fault should stand against him in the eternal judgment. And then it is your duty to take thought how his daughters, the ladies Barbara and Antonina, may be disposed of, so that no opportunity be afforded to bad men. For after he had conjured me to take anxious care for them, adding that I should see to the disposal of them, he went on in his letter to mention a thing which, when I consider the matter, I have no doubt might stand in the way. For he says that I should repeatedly petition the most pious lord Emperor, that he should himself cause provision to be made for the disposal of them. You observe how different this is from his former wish. And I fear lest an apt opportunity might hence be given to men in Sicily who are seeking all opportunity for interfering in his affairs. For, when this is known, what will those men do who have already, as report goes, been attempting to put a seal on his effects? Would not reason seem to be on their side, and to afford them as it were a just ground for this proceeding? If they should say, the girls have been commended to the lord Emperor; we cannot neglect the matter; it is at our peril if we do; we make the property safe till such time as the lord Emperor may order them to be taken to Constantinople;—tell me, I pray thee, what I could do in such a case, wherein the father's commendation seems to support a man that has authority. For he conjures me to see to their being so disposed of that they may either be in the Roman city or not be taken away from Sicily; and be so acts as to leave no way of either bringing them hither or retaining them there. But, do you, as far as you can, oppose these bad men. Defend their substance for the sake of Almighty God as if it were your own: and, if it is still possible, see to all opportunity for wrong being removed with regard to the will of the aforesaid lord Venantius. But, if it is thought fit that they should be commended to the palace, he ought not to impose such a burden on me as to wish to charge my soul with the care of the disposal of them; as to which be it enough that God Almighty knows how I am taking thought. Hence I have taken care to write at once to my most beloved son the deacon Anatolius, bidding him endeavour to speak with the glorious patrician lady Rusticiana, and telling him in what manner he should enquire anti inform me about the persons whose names have been transmitted to me; that so be may inform us of all things speedily, and what is to be done, may under the ordering of God be arranged.

Furthermore, in the letters that have been sent to us we find that your Fraternity has been grieved at our not having wished you to come hither, as though it had been on account of some displeasure; whereas we acted with a sole view to utility, knowing that on account of persons in your locality your presence there was exceedingly necessary. But, lest you should hence suppose that we have any feeling or displeasure towards you (which God forbid), if you have the will to come to us, present yourself at a suitable time at the threshold of the apostles. For, so far as we are concerned, we so love your Charity that we desire to see you often.

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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