Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Fathers of the Church

Epistle XXIX: to Victor, Bishop


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 Victor and his fellow-bishops with investigating the matter.


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 Victor, &c.

While on the one hand it is a joy to us to learn that our brethren are solicitous about their children in fatherly charity, on the other we count it no less a matter for sadness when neither regard for other brethren nor consideration of their priestly office avails to restrain them from unlawful doings. How serious, then, and how harsh is the complaint against our brother Paulinus, bishop of the city of Tegessis, made by his clerics and by those who are in sacred orders, I have no doubt is well known to thy Fraternity, since what has reached us from a distance cannot have been hidden from thee who art near at hand. And, since there is need of great caution lest this bodily injury which they complain of at his hands in excess of his powers should be ventured on with allowance, or should grow worse by being connived at, manifest excesses should ever be so suppressed by canonical control that one proceeding may serve as a reproof of what is past and a rule for the future. Accordingly it becomes thee, together with our most beloved common brother the bishop Columbus, and with other priests whom you may think fit to call on, to sift the case between our above-named brother and his clergy by means of a thorough investigation. And, if the complaint of the petitioners stands with truth, so correct ye this thing by a regular reformation, that he may both be made aware what evil thing he has done and learn for the future not to exceed the limits of his office. And suffer him not, as is said to be the case, to disregard the rank of thy position, lest his contempt be to his risk and to thy blame. For whatever is committed by an inferior, unless it be carefully corrected, reflects on the person who occupies the superior place.

That other matter also, namely that the same our brother Paulinus is said to confer ecclesiastical orders for money, you should fully and very strictly enquire into. And, if it should clearly appear to be so, as we hope will not be the case, let your zeal for God so kindle itself to avenge this wrong that both the avarice of the ordainer may be turned into a penalty, and, the unlawful ordination being void of effect, the person ordained may not enjoy the longed-for object of his ambition. Herein we exhort you and before all things admonish you, that your Fraternity study to be so solicitous that, before the iniquity of simoniacal heresy shall gain strength in your parts from the offence of one, it may be cut off from the root by the pruning-hook of your sentence after a council diligently held. For whosoever does not, in consideration of his office, burn vehemently to correct this atrocity, let him not doubt that he will have his portion with him from whom this peculiar enormity took its beginning. And so, as we have said, you must act vigilantly and earnestly, that your council, which up to this time, under God's keeping, has been preserved from any bad repute of this kind, may not by any possibility be polluted and ruined by the poison of this wickedness.

Furthermore, we have given orders to Hilarus our Chartularius, that, if the case should require it, he defer not to join you. Wherefore, should it be necessary, inform him by your letters of the need of his coming to you, to the end that you, together with him, may be able, God helping you, to determine all these things in a salutary way.

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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