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Epistle LIII.

To Virgilius, Bishop.

Gregory to Virgilius, Bishop of Arelate (Arles).

O how good is charity, which through an image in the mind exhibits what is absent as present to ourselves, through love unites what is divided, settles what is confused, associates things that are unequal, completes things that are imperfect!  Rightly does the excellent preacher call it the bond of perfectness; since, though the other virtues indeed produce perfectness, yet still charity binds them together so that they can no longer be loosened from the heart of one who loves.  Of this virtue, then, most dear brother, I find thee to be full, as both those who came from the Gallican parts and the words also of thy letter addressed to me testify to me of thee.

Now as to thy having asked therein, according to ancient custom, for the use of the pallium and the vicariate of the Apostolic See, far be it from me to suspect that thou hast sought eminence of transitory power, or the adornment of external worship, in our vicariate and in the pallium.  But, since it is well known to all whence the holy faith proceeded in the regions of Gaul, when your Fraternity asks for a repetition of the old custom of the Apostolic See, what is it but that a good offspring reverts to the bosom of its mother?16171617    Gregory here asserts the view of his day, which after his manner he takes for granted that Gaul had derived its Christianity from Rome.  Similarly, long before him, pope Zosimus (417–418), writing to the bishops of Gaul in support of the jurisdiction over them of Patroclus of Arles, speaks of such jurisdiction being of ancient right, derived from Trophimus having been sent from Rome as first bishop of Arles, and all Gaul having received the stream of faith from that fountain.  Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc. i. 28), referring to Passio S. Saturnini Episc. Solos., speaks of seven missionary bishops having been sent from Rome to Gaul “Decio et Grato consulibus,” i.e. a.d. 250, including Trophimus, who is said to have founded the see of Arles.  But the see of Arles must have existed before the date assigned, since it appears from Cyprian (Ep. VI. 7), that in 254 Marcian had long been its bishop.  And generally, the well-known differences of the Gallican liturgy and usages from the Roman, to which pope Gregory himself alludes in his letter to Augustine (XI. 64), as well as Irenæus of Lyons, in the second century, being said to have been a disciple of Polycarp points to an Asiatic rather than Roman origin of the Church in Gaul.  With willing mind therefore we grant what has been asked for, lest we should seem either to withdraw from you anything of the honour due to you, or to have despised the petition of our most excellent son king Childebert.  But the present state of things requires the greater earnestness, that with increase of dignity solicitude also may advance, and watchfulness in the custody of others may grow, and the merits of your life may serve as an example to your subjects, and that your Fraternity may never seek your own through the dignity accorded you, but the gains of the heavenly country.  For you know what the blessed apostle says, groaning, For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s (Philip. ii. 21).

For I have learnt from information given me by certain persons that in the parts of Gaul and Germany no one attains to holy orders except for a consideration given.  If this is so, I say it with tears, I declare it with groans, that, when the priestly order has fallen inwardly, neither will it be able to stand outwardly for long.  For we know from the Gospel what our Redeemer in person did; how He went into the temple, and overthrew the seats of them that sold doves (Matth. xxi. 12).  For to sell doves is to receive a temporal consideration for the Holy Spirit, whom, being consubstantial with Himself, God Almighty gives to men through the imposition of hands.  From which evil what follows is already intimated.  For of those who presumed to sell doves in the temple of God the seats fell by God’s judgment.

And in truth this transgression is propagated with increase among subordinates.  For he who is promoted to any sacred order for a price, being already corrupted in the very root of his advancement, is the more ready to sell to others what he has bought.  And where is that which is written, Freely ye have received, freely give (Matth. x. 8)?

And, seeing that the simoniacal heresy was 183bthe first to arise against the holy Church, why is it not considered, why is it not seen, that whoso ordains any one for money, causes him in advancing him, to become a heretic?

Another very detestable thing has also been reported to us; that some persons, being laymen, through desire of temporal glory, are tonsured on the death of bishops, and all at once are made priests.  In such cases it is already known what manner of man he is who attains to priesthood, passing suddenly from a lay estate to sacred leadership.  And one who has never served as a soldier fears not to become a leader of the religious16181618    Religiosorum.  The appellation is applied to persons generally who gave themselves to a religious life, including monks, nuns, dedicated virgins, and the like.  It must be here taken to include the clergy..  How is that man to preach who has perhaps never heard any one else preach?  Or how shall he correct the ills of others who has never yet bewailed his own?  And, where Paul the apostle prohibits a neophyte from coming to sacred orders, we are to understand that, as one was then called a neophyte who had been newly planted in the faith, so we now reckon among neophytes one who is still new in holy conversation.

Moreover, we know that walls after being built, are not made to carry a weight of timber till they are dried of the moisture of their newness, lest, if a weight be put on them before they are settled, it bear down the whole fabric together to the ground.  And, when we cut trees for a building, we wait for the moisture of their greenness to be first dried out, lest, if the weight of the fabric is imposed on them while still fresh, they be bent from their very newness, and be the sooner broken and fall down from having been elevated prematurely.  Why, then, is not this scrupulously seen to among men, which is so carefully considered even in the case of timber and stones?

On this account your Fraternity must needs take care to admonish our most excellent son king Childebert that he remove entirely the stain of this sin from his kingdom, to the end that Almighty God may give him the greater recompense with Himself as He sees him both love what He loves and shun what He hates.

And so we commit to your Fraternity, according to ancient custom, under God, our vicariate in the Churches which are under the dominion of our most excellent son Childebert16191619    Childebert II., the son of Sigebert I. and Brunechild, was at this time the ruler of nearly all the dominions of the Franks in Gaul.  Having been proclaimed by the Austrasian nobles king of Austrasia on the death of his father, a.d. 575, he acquired also Burgundy on the death of his uncle Guntramn in 593.  These kingdoms at this time comprised by far the greatest part of Gaul, the kingdom of what was called Neustria under Clotaire II. including only a small territory on the north-west coast., with the understanding that their proper dignity, according to primitive usage, be preserved to the several metropolitans.  We have also sent a pallium for thy Fraternity to use within the Church for the solemnization of mass only.  Further, if any one of the bishops should by any chance wish to travel to any considerable distance, let it not be lawful for him to remove to other places without the authority of thy Holiness.  If any question of faith, or it may be relating to other matters, should have arisen among the bishops, which cannot easily be settled, let it be ventilated and decided in an assembly of twelve bishops.  But, if it cannot be decided after the truth has been investigated, let it be referred to our judgment.

Now may Almighty God keep you under His protection, and grant unto you to preserve by your behaviour the dignity that you have received.  Given the 12th day of August, Indiction 13.

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