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Epistle LIII.

To John, Bishop.

Gregory to John, Bishop of Constantinople15031503    John Jejunator (or the Faster), so called from his ascetic habits.  Gregory had known and esteemed him during his residence at Constantinople.  See above, III. 4.  The occasion of the letter before us was as follows.  Two presbyters, John of Chalcedon and Athanasius of Isauria (the latter being also a monk in the monastery of St. Mile in Isauria), had been accused of heresy at Constantinople, found guilty, and one of them beaten with cudgels in the church.  They had gone to Rome to lay their grievances before the pope, who had written to John Jejunator the Patriarch more than once to protest against so uncanonical a punishment.  The Patriarch seems to have replied that he knew nothing about the matter:  whereupon Gregory sent him this stinging letter.  In the following year (593–4), it appears from a letter to Narses, a patrician at Constantinople, that the case was still pending.  Narses had reported the Patriarch as wishing to act canonically; and Gregory, doubtfully hoping so, threatens strong measures if it should be otherwise (IV. 32).  Afterwards (a.d. 594–5) it seems as if the Patriarch had written on the subject pleasantly:  for at the end of a long letter to him protesting against his assumption of the title of “Œcumenical Bishop,” Gregory alludes to his “scripta dulcissima atque suavissima” in the matter of John and Athanasius, promising a reply (V. 18).  In the following year (a.d. 595–6) we find that the charges of heresy against the two presbyters had been entertained before Gregory in a Roman synod; and this apparently with the assent of the Patriarch, who had transmitted a statement of the case.  John of Chalcedon had been fully acquitted of heresy; but some doubt still remained as to the orthodoxy of Athanasius.  Accordingly John was at once sent back to Constantinople with a letter from Gregory to the Patriarch, reversing the sentence against him which had been passed at Constantinople and demanding that he should be received with favour and reinstated.  As though doubtful of the Patriarch’s compliance, Gregory addressed also the Emperor, and Theoctistus, a relation of the Emperor’s, requesting them to protect the acquitted appellant (VI. 14, 15, 16, 17).  In the same year Athanasius, who had explained or retracted what had been objected to in his writings, was also declared orthodox, and sent back to Constantinople as acquitted.  But this was after the death of John Jejunator; and accordingly the letter demanding the reinstatement of Athanasius was addressed to his successor Cyriacus (VI. 66; VII. 5).  How John Jejunator would have acted at this stage of the proceedings, had he lived, we have no means of knowing; nor is there record of the action of Cyriacus.  The only further reference to the subject in the epistles is in one to the two Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch (VII. 34), in writing to whom Gregory sets forth at some length the doctrinal questions that had been treated in the trial of Athanasius, as though desirous of having the assent of those apostolical and patriarchal sees, which (as we have seen) he elsewhere acknowledges as sharing with his own the authority of St. Peter, to the decision come to at Rome.  The whole history of the case, which, as has been seen, was protracted through several years, is of some importance as illustrating Gregory’s claim to entertain appeals from Constantinople, and to reverse at Rome what had been decided there, though it is not equally clear, from what is before us in this particular case, how such claims were viewed at Constantinople.  On the one hand we find no sign of the appeal of the two presbyters to Rome having been objected to; while on the other, Gregory evidently had his doubts as to whether the Roman decision would be acted on at Constantinople; and whether it was so or not we do not know.  The letters about it, above referred to, are III. 53; IV. 32; V. 18; VI. 14, 15, 16, 17, 66; VII. 5, 34..

Though consideration of the case moves me, yet charity also impels me to write, since I have written once and again to my most holy brother the lord John, but have received no letter from him.  For some one else, a secular person, addressed me under his name; seeing that, if those were really his letters, I have not been vigilant, having believed of him something far different from what I have found.  For I had written about the case of the most reverend presbyter John, and about the questions of the monks of Isauria, one of whom, being in priest’s orders, 136bhas been beaten with clubs in your church; and thy most holy Fraternity (as appears from the signature of the letter) has written back to me professing ignorance of what I wrote about.  At this reply I was exceedingly astonished, revolving within myself in silence, if he speaks the truth, what can be worse than that such things should be done against the servants of God, and even he who was close at hand should not know?  For what excuse can a shepherd have if the wolf devours the sheep and the shepherd knows it not?  But, if your Holiness knew both what I referred to in my letter and what had been done, whether against John the presbyter or against Athanasius, monk of Isauria and presbyter, and wrote to me, I know not; what can I reply to this, since the Truth says through His Scripture, The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul (Wisd. i. 11)?  I demand of thee, most holy brother; has that so great abstinence of thine come to this, that by denial thou wouldest hide from thy brother what thou knewest to have been done?  Had it not been better that flesh should go into that mouth for food, than that falsehood should come out of it for deceiving a neighbour; especially when the Truth says, Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man (Matth. xv. 11)?  But far be it from me to believe anything of the kind of your most holy heart.  Those letters were headed with your name, but I do not think they were yours.  I had written to the most blessed lord John; but I believe that that familiar of yours has replied,—that youngster, who as yet has learnt nothing about God; who knows not the bowels of charity; who in his wicked doings is accused by all; who daily lays snares against the deaths of divers people by means of concealed wills; who neither fears God nor regards men.  Believe me, most holy brother, you must first correct this man, that from the example of those who are near to you those who are not near may be better amended.  Do not give ear to his tongue:  he ought to be directed after the counsel of your holiness; not your holiness swayed by his words.  For, if you listen to him, I know that you cannot have peace with your brethren.  For I, as my conscience bears me witness, wish to quarrel with no man; and with all my power I avoid it.  And, though I desire exceedingly to be at peace with all mankind, it is especially so with you, whom I exceedingly love, if only you are yourself the person whom I knew.  For, if you do not observe the canons, and wish to tear to pieces the statutes of the Fathers, I know not who you are.  So act, then, most holy and most dear brother, that we may mutually recognize each other, lest, if the ancient foe should move us two to take offence, he slay many through his most atrocious victory.  As for me, to shew that I seek to do nothing in a haughty spirit, if that youngster of whom I have before spoken did not hold the topmost place of evil doing with thy Fraternity, I could meanwhile have passed over in silence what is ready to my hand from the canons, and have sent back to thee with confidence the persons who came to me at the first, knowing that your Holiness would receive them with charity.  But even now I say; Either receive these same persons, restoring them to their orders, and leaving them in quiet; or, if perchance thou art unwilling to do this, observe in their case the statutes of the Fathers and the definitions of the canons, putting aside all altercation with me.  But, if thou shouldest do neither, we indeed are unwilling to bring on a quarrel, but still do not shun one if it comes from your side.  Moreover your Fraternity knows well what the canons say about bishops who desire to inspire fear by blows.  For we have been made shepherds, not persecutors.  And the excellent preacher says, Argue, beseech, rebuke, with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. iv. 2).  But new and unheard of is this preaching, which exacts faith by blows.  But I need not speak at length by letter about these things, since I have sent my most beloved son, the deacon Sabinianus, as my representative in ecclesiastical matters, to the threshold of our lords; and he will speak with you about everything more particularly.  Unless you are disposed to wrangle with us, you will find him prepared for all that is just.  Him I commend to your Blessedness, that he at least may find that lord John whom I knew in the royal city.


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