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Home > Fathers of the Church > Registrum Epistolarum (Gregory the Great) > Book V, Letter 15

Book V, Letter 15

To John, Bishop.

Gregory to John, Bishop of Ravenna.

In the first place this makes me sad; that your Fraternity writes to me with a double heart, exhibiting one sort of blandishment in letters, but another sort with the tongue in secular intercourse. In the next place, it grieves me that my brother John even to this day retains on his tongue those gibes which notaries while still boys are wont to indulge in. He speaks bitingly, and seems to delight in such pleasantry. He flatters his friends in their presence, and maligns them in their absence. Thirdly, it is to me grievous and altogether execrable, that he imputes shameful crimes to his servants , whatever the hour may be, calling them effeminate; and, what is still more grievous, this is done openly. Then there is this in addition that there is no discipline for keeping guard over the life of the clergy, but that he exhibits himself only as their lord. The last thing, but first in importance as evidence of elation, is about his use of the pallium outside the church, which is a thing he never presumed to do in the times of my predecessors, and what none of his predecessors ever presumed to do, as our delegates testify (except it might be when relics were deposited, though with regard to relics one person only could be found to say that it was so); yet this in my days, in contempt of me, with extreme audacity, he not only did, but even made a habit of doing.

From all these things I find that the dignity of the Episcopacy is with him all in outside show, not in his mind. And indeed I return thanks to Almighty God that at the time when this came to my knowledge, which had never reached the ears of my predecessors, the Lombards were posted between me and the city of Ravenna. For perchance I had it in my mind to show to men how severe I can be.

Lest, however, you should suppose that I wish your church to be depressed or lessened in dignity, remember where the deacon of Ravenna used to stand in solemnization of mass at Rome, and enquire where he stands now; and you will recognize the fact that I desire to honour the church of Ravenna. But that any one whatever should snatch at anything out of pride, this I cannot tolerate.

Nevertheless I have already written on this matter to our deacon at Constantinople, that he should enquire of all who have under them even thirty or forty bishops. And if there is anywhere this custom of their walking in litanies wearing the pallium, God forbid that through me the dignity of the church of Ravenna should seem to be in any way lessened.

Reflect, therefore, dearest brother, on all that I have said above: think of the day of your call: consider what account you will render of the burden of episcopacy. Amend those manners of a notary. See what becomes a bishop in tongue and in deed. Be entirely sincere to your brethren. Do not speak one thing, and have another in your heart. Do not desire to seem more than you are, that so you may be able to be more than you seem. Believe me, when I came to my present position, I had such consideration and charity towards you that, if you had wished to keep hold of this my charity, thou still wouldest not have ever found such a brother as myself, or one so sincerely loving you, or so concurring with you in all devotion: but when I came to know of your words and your manners, I confess I started back. I beseech you, then, by Almighty God, amend all that I have spoken of, and especially the vice of duplicity. Allow me to love you; and for the present and the future life it may be of advantage to you to be loved of your brethren. Reply, however, to all this, not by words, but by behaviour.

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Source. Translated by James Barmby. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360205015.htm>.

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