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Epistle LI.

To All Bishops.

Gregory to all bishops in the matter of the Three Chapters14581458    This letter, being in reply to one from the bishops addressed who are spoken of as being at the time schismatics, cannot have been meant for the universal episcopate.  They were probably those of Istria or elsewhere, who were out of communion with Rome because of their refusal to accept the condemnation of the “Three Chapters” by the fifth Council.  See I. 16, note 3:  IV. 1, 2, 3, 4, 38, 39..

I have received your letters with the utmost gratification:  but I shall have far abundant joy, if it should be my lot to rejoice in your return from error.  Now the forefront of your Epistle notifies that you suffer severe persecution.  But persecution, if endured irrationally, is of no profit at all unto salvation.  For it is impious in any one to expect a recompense of reward for sin.  For you ought to know, as the blessed Cyprian says, that it is not the suffering that makes the martyr, but the cause for which he suffers.  This being so, it is exceedingly incongruous for you to glory in the persecution whereof you speak, seeing that you are not thereby at all advanced towards eternal rewards.  Let, then, purity of faith bring your Charity back to your mother church who bare you; let no bent of your mind dissociate you from the unity of concord; let no persuasion deter you from seeking again the right way.  For in the synod which dealt with the three chapters it is distinctly evident that nothing pertaining to faith was subverted, or in the least degree changed; but, as you know, the proceedings had reference only to certain individuals; one of whom, whose writings evidently deviated from the rectitude of the Catholic Faith, was not unjustly condemned14591459    I.e. Theodorus of Mopsuestia, whose person, and not his writings only, was anathematized in the fifth Council.  The sentence was; “Prædicta tria capitula anathematizamus, id est, Theodorum Mopsuestenum cum nefandis ejus scriptis, et quæ impie Theodoritus conscripsit, et impiam epistolam quæ dicitur Ibæ, et defensores eorum.”.

Moreover, as to what you write about Italy among other provinces having been especially scourged since that time, you ought not to twist this into a reproach, since it is written, Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (Hebr. xii. 6).  If, then, it is as you say, Italy has been since that time the more loved by God, and in all ways approved, having been counted worthy of enduring the scourge of the Lord.  But, since it is not as ye try to make out by way of insulting over her, attend ye to reason.

After the Pope Vigilius of illustrious memory, having been appointed in the royal city14601460    Vigilius, having gone to Constantinople with pope Agapetus, who died there, was selected by the Empress Theodora as his successor, and sent back to Italy with an order from her to Belisarius to bring about his election (Liberatus, Breviar. c. 22).  Gregory seems to have been unaware of the fact stated by Liberatus, namely that Vigilius had come to a secret understanding with the Empress that he would support the Monophysite party and disallow the Council of Chalcedon, as there is good evidence that he did after his accession.  It is true that he afterwards declared for orthodoxy, and condemned all abettors of the Eutychian heresy.  But this appears to have been not till a.d. 540, in reply to a letter received from the Emperor Justinian and therefore subsequent to the occupation of Rome by the Gothic King Theodatus, which was in 536, and to its siege by Vitiges, who retired in 538.  Thus what Gregory goes on to say about Rome having been attacked and captured by enemies after the condemnation of heresy by Vigilius must be due to serious ignorance of the facts of the case.  Nor does he appear to have known—at any rate he does not intimate—that the condemnation of the Three Chapters, pressed upon the fifth Council by the Emperor Justinian, had been in spite of the opposition of Vigilius, though it is true that this sorry pope did afterwards assent to it., promulgated a sentence of condemnation against Theodora, then empress, or against the Acephali14611461    The Monophysites—or some of them—had come to be so called, as being without a head, after their leader, Peter Mongus, had accepted the See of Alexandria on the doctrinal basis of Zeno’s Henoticon., the city of Rome was then attacked and captured by enemies.  Does it follow from this that the Acephali had a good case, or that they were unjustly condemned, because such things happened after their condemnation?  Away with the thought!  For it is not fit that either any one of you, or any others who have been instituted in the mysteries of the Catholic Faith, should say or in any way acknowledge this.  This then being recognized, retire ye even now at length from the determination you have come to.  Wherefore, that full satisfaction may be infused into your minds, and all doubt removed, with respect to the three chapters, I have judged it of advantage to send you the book which my predecessor of holy memory, Pope Pelagius, had written on this subject14621462    Pelagius I., who succeeded Vigilius, though he had formerly with him opposed the condemnation of the Three Chapters, upheld it after his accession to the popedom.  The “book” sent by Gregory to the bishops may have been the Epistle given as Ep. VII., among those attributed to Pelagius, addressed to Helias and the bishops of Istria..  Which book if you should be willing to read again and again, putting aside the spirit of wilful self-defence, I have confidence that you will follow it in all respects, and, notwithstanding all, return to union with us.  But if henceforth, after perusal of this book, you should decide to persist in your present determination, you will doubtless shew that you gave yourselves up not to reason but to obstinacy.  Wherefore once more, in a spirit of compassion, I admonish your Charity, that, inasmuch as under God the 118bpurity of our faith has remained inviolate in the matter of the Three Chapters, ye put away from you all swelling of mind, and return to your mother the Church, who expects and invites her sons; and this all the more speedily as you know that she expects you daily.

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