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Home > Fathers of the Church > Registrum Epistolarum (Gregory the Great) > Book V, Letter 43

Book V, Letter 43

To Eulogius and Anastasius, Bishops.

Gregory to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, and Anastasius, Bishop of Antioch.

When the excellent preacher says, As long as I am the apostle of the Gentiles I will honour my ministry Romans 11:13; saying again in another place, We became as babes among you 1 Thessalonians 2:7, he undoubtedly shows an example to us who come after him, that we should retain humility in our minds, and yet keep in honour the dignity of our order, so that neither should our humility be timid nor our elevation proud. Now eight years ago, in the time of my predecessor of holy memory Pelagius, our brother and fellow bishop John in the city of Constantinople, seeking occasion from another cause, held a synod in which he attempted to call himself Universal Bishop. Which as soon as my said predecessor knew, he dispatched letters annulling by the authority of the holy apostle Peter the acts of the said synod; of which letters I have taken care to send copies to your Holiness. Moreover he forbade the deacon who attended us the most pious Lords for the business of the Church to celebrate the solemnities of mass with our aforesaid fellow priest. I also, being of the same mind with him, have sent similar letters to our aforesaid fellow priest, copies of which I have thought it right to send to your Blessedness, with this special purpose, that we may first assail with moderate force the mind of our before-named brother concerning this matter, wherein by a new act of pride, all the bowels of the Universal Church are disturbed. But, if he should altogether refuse to be bent from the stiffness of his elation, then, with the succour of Almighty God, we may consider more particularly what ought to be done.

For, as your venerable Holiness knows, this name of Universality was offered by the holy synod of Chalcedon to the pontiff of the Apostolic See which by the providence of God I serve. But no one of my predecessors has ever consented to use this so profane a title; since, forsooth, if one Patriarch is called Universal, the name of Patriarch in the case of the rest is derogated. But far be this, far be it from the mind of a Christian, that any one should wish to seize for himself that whereby he might seem in the least degree to lessen the honour of his brethren. While, then, we are unwilling to receive this honour when offered to us, think how disgraceful it is for any one to have wished to usurp it to himself perforce.

Wherefore let not your Holiness in your epistles ever call any one Universal, lest you detract from the honour due to yourself in offering to another what is not due. Nor let any sinister suspicion make your mind uneasy with regard to our most serene lords, inasmuch as he fears Almighty God, and will in no way consent to do anything against the evangelical ordinances, against the most sacred canons. As for me, though separated from you by long spaces of land and sea, I am nevertheless entirely conjoined with you in heart. And I trust that it is so in all respects with your Blessedness towards me; since, when you love me in return, you are not far from me. Hence we give thanks the more to that grain of mustard seed Matthew 13:31-32, for that from what appeared a small and despicable seed it has been so spread abroad everywhere by branches rising and extending themselves from the same root that all the birds of heaven may make their nests in them. And thanks be to that leaven which, in three measures of meal, has leavened in unity the mass of the whole human race Matthew 13:33; and to the little stone, which, cut out of the mountain without hands, has occupied the whole face of the earth Daniel 2:35, and which to this end everywhere distends itself, that from the human race reduced to unity the body of the whole Church might be perfected, and so this distinction between the several members might serve for the benefit of the compacted whole.

Hence also we are not far from you, since in Him who is everywhere we are one. Let us then give thanks to Him who, having abolished enmities, has caused that in His flesh there should be in the whole world one flock, and one sheepfold under Himself the one shepherd; and let us be ever mindful how the preacher of truth admonishes us, saying, Be careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace Ephesians 4:3, and, Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see God Hebrews 12:14. And he says also to other disciples, If it be possible, as much as lies in you, having peace with all men Romans 12:18. For he sees that the good cannot have peace with the bad; and therefore, as you know, he premised, If it be possible.

But, because peace cannot be established except on two sides, when the bad fly from it, the good ought to keep it in their inmost hearts. Whence also it is admirably said, As much as lies in you; meaning that it should remain in us even when it is repelled from the hearts of evil men. And such peace we truly keep, when we treat the faults of the proud at once with charity and with persistent justice, when we love them and hate their vices. For man is the work of God; but vice is the work of man. Let us then distinguish between what God and what man has made, and neither hate the man on account of his error nor love the error on account of the man.

Let us then with united mind attack the evil of pride in the man, that from his enemy, that is to say his error, the man himself may first be freed. Our Almighty Redeemer will supply strength to charity and justice; He will supply to us, though placed far from each other, the unity of His Spirit; even He by whose workmanship the Church, having been constructed as it were after the manner of the ark with the four sides of the world, and bound together with the compacture of incorruptible planks and the pitch of charity, is disturbed by no opposing winds, by the swelling of no billow coming from without.

But inasmuch as, with His grace steering us, we ought to seek that no wave coming upon us from without may throw us into confusion, so ought we to pray with all our hearts, dearest brethren, that the right hand of His providence may draw out the accumulation of internal bilgewater within us. For indeed our adversary the devil, who, in his rage against the humble, as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour 1 Peter 5:8, no longer, as we perceive, walks about the folds but so resolutely fixes his teeth in certain necessary members of the Church that, unless with the favour of the Lord, the heedful crowd of shepherds unanimously run to the rescue, no one can doubt that he will soon tear all the sheepfold; which God forbid. Consider, dearest brethren, who it is that follows close at hand, of whose approach such perverse beginnings are breaking out even in priests. For it is because he is near of whom it is written, He is king over all the sons of pride Job 41:25— not without sore grief I am compelled to say it— that our brother and fellow bishop John, despising the Lord's commands, precepts, and rules of Fathers, attempts through elation to be his forerunner in name.

But may Almighty God make known to your Blessedness with what sore groaning I am tormented by this consideration; that he, the once to me most modest man, he who was beloved of all, he who seemed to be occupied in alms, deeds, prayers, and fastings, out of the ashes he sat in, out of the humility he preached, has grown so boastful as to attempt to claim all to himself, and through the elation of a pompous expression to aim at subjugating to himself all the members of Christ, which cohere to one Head only, that is to Christ. Nor is it surprising that the same tempter who knows pride to be the beginning of all sin, who used it formerly before all else in the case of the first man, should now also put it before some men at the end of virtues, so as to lay it as a snare for those who to some extent seemed to be escaping his most cruel hands by the good aims of their life, at the very goal of good work, and as it were in the very conclusion of perfection.

Wherefore we ought to pray earnestly, and implore Almighty God with continual supplications, that He would avert this error from that man's soul, and remove this mischief of pride and confusion from the unity and humility of the Church. And with the favour of the Lord we ought to concur, and make provision with all our powers, lest in the poison of one expression the living members in the body of Christ should die. For, if this expression is suffered to be allowably used, the honour of all patriarchs is denied: and while he that is called Universal perishes per chance in his error, no bishop will be found to have remained in a state of truth.

It is for you then, firmly and without prejudice, to keep the Churches as you have received them, and not to let this attempt at a diabolical usurpation have any countenance from you. Stand firm; stand secure; presume not ever to issue or to receive writings with the falsity of the name Universal in them. Bid all the bishops subject to your care abstain from the defilement of this elation, that the Universal Church may acknowledge you as Patriarchs not only in good works but also in the authority of truth. But, if perchance adversity is the consequence, we ought to persist unanimously, and show even by dying that in case of harm to the generality we do not love anything of our own especially. Let us say with Paul, To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain Philippians 1:21. Let us hear what the first of all pastors says; If you suffer anything for righteousness' sake, happy are you 1 Peter 3:14. For believe me that the dignity which we have received for the preaching of the truth we shall more safely relinquish than retain in behalf of the same truth, should case of necessity require it. Finally, pray for me, as becomes your most dear Blessedness, that I may show forth in works what I am thus bold to say to you.

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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/360205043.htm>.

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