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Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXVIII: to Columbus, Bishop of Numidia


This epistle is from Book XII of the Register of the Epistles of Saint Gregory the Great. Having heard that Paulinus, bishop of Tegessis, is accused of punishing his clerics too severely and also of conferring ecclesiastical orders for bribes, Gregory charges Columbus and his fellow-bishops with investigating the matter. See also Epistle XXIX, Book XII.


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 Columbus, &c.

Inasmuch as it has long been known to us how thy Fraternity is distinguished for priestly gravity and ecclesiastical zeal, we have seen sufficient reason for thy taking part in the cognizance of things that require rebuke, lest, if they should be put off through connivance, every one should suppose that what he is able to do is allowed him. Now after what manner our brother Paulinus, bishop of the city of Tegessis is alleged by his clerics and by those who are constituted in sacred orders, to have been excessive towards them in corporal correction, thou needest not to be told, seeing that, before this complaint reached us, the matter, as we have learnt from their statement, had already been made known to thee. And, since superiors ought not to have the right of punishing their subordinates savagely, we have taken care to write to Victor our brother and fellow- bishop, who holds the primacy among you, that, together with thy Fraternity, or with others our brethren and fellow bishops whom you may think fit to call in, he may take cognizance of and thoroughly investigate the case between our aforesaid brother priest and his clergy. And let thy Love so give the matter thy close and careful attention, that the things that have been reported to us may not pass without a hearing, lest discord should be fomented in the Church, whence it ought by all means to be banished. And, if indeed the complaint of his clergy against him is well rounded, so take cognizance of his fault, which he has scorned of his own accord to correct, with the force of our ecclesiastical decision that he may both feel for the present what a grave offence he has committed, and may learn for the future that he cannot do more than it is lawful for him to do. Above all things, then, we exhort thee that thou study ardently to exercise the zeal which we know thee to have for the sake of God.

And, inasmuch as our said brother Paulinus is said to confer ecclesiastical orders through simoniacal heresy, which is a thing awful to hear of, let it be thy care, along with the aforesaid primate or others, to enquire thoroughly into this also with all diligence. And, if it should be found to be so (which God forbid), effort must be made and action taken that both he who has not feared to accept and he who has not feared to give a bribe may be smitten by a sentence of canonical punishment, to the end that their correction may avail as a reproof to many. And, before this deadly root acquires strength and slays many more, let it be condemned by the decision of the whole council, so that no one may ever dare to accept or to give anything for any order whatever, nor any be promoted for favour, but all for merit, test both ecclesiastical order be confounded, and probity of life be held in contempt, if one that is unworthy should receive the reward of merit.

Further we have given orders to Hilarus our Chartularius that, if the case should require it, he refuse not to take part in your enquiry.

If, therefore, it should be necessary, inform him by letter that you wish him to come to you, to the end that by treating the matter together with him you may better determine what ought to be ordained. In the month of March, Indiction.

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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