« Prev To Januarius, Bishop. Next »

Epistle XXVI.

To Januarius, Bishop.

Gregory to Januarius, Bishop of Caralis (Cagliari).

We have ascertained from the report of our fellow-bishop Felix and the abbot Cyriacus that in the island of Sardinia priests are oppressed by lay judges, and that thy ministers despise thy Fraternity; and that, so far as appears, while you aim only at simplicity, discipline is neglected.  Wherefore I exhort thee that, putting aside all excuses, thou take pains to rule the Church of which thou hast received the charge, to keep up discipline among the clergy, and fear no one’s words.  But, as I hear, thou hast forbidden thy Archdeacon to live with women, and up to this time art set at naught with regard to this thy prohibition.  Unless he obey thy command, our will is that he be deprived of his sacred order.

There is another thing also which is much to be deplored; namely, that the negligence of your Fraternity has allowed the peasants (rusticos) belonging to holy Church to remain up to the present time in infidelity.  And what is the use of my admonishing you to bring such as do not belong to you to God, if you neglect to recover your own from infidelity?  Hence you must needs be in all ways vigilant for their conversion.  For, should I succeed in finding a pagan peasant belonging to any 153bbishop whatever in the island of Sardinia, I will visit it severely on that bishop.

But now, if any peasant should be found so perfidious and obstinate as to refuse to come to the Lord God, he must be weighted with so great a burden of payment as to be compelled by the very pain of the exaction to hasten to the right way15491549    The rustici, or coloni, who cultivated the land, made their living out of it, having to pay dues in money or in kind (see I. 44).  Gregory’s suggestion is that such dues should be made so heavy in the case of natives who refused to be converted as to starve them into compliance.  Elsewhere we find him deprecating compulsion, or any kind of persecution, for the conversion of Jews and heretics, on the ground that forced conversions were unreal.  But he appears to have had no such compunctions in the case of these illiterate pagans.  This is not the only instance of religious zeal betraying him into a certain human inconsistency.  Cf. IX. 65..

It has also come to our knowledge that some in sacred orders who have lapsed, either after doing penance or before, are recalled to the office of their ministry; which is a thing that we have altogether forbidden and the most sacred canons also declare against it.  Whoso, then, after having received any sacred order, shall have lapsed into sin of the flesh, let him so forfeit his sacred order as not to approach any more the ministry of the altar.  But, lest those who have been ordained should ever perish, previous care should be taken as to what kind of people are ordained, so that it be first seen to whether they have been continent in life for many years, and whether they have had a care for reading and a love of almsgiving.  It should be enquired also whether a man has perchance been twice married.  It should also be seen to that he be not illiterate, or under liability to the state, so as to be compelled after assuming a sacred order to return to public employment.  All these things therefore let your Fraternity diligently enquire into, that, every one having been ordained after diligent examination, none may be easily liable to be deposed after ordination.  These things which we have written to your Fraternity do you make known to all the bishops under you, since I myself have been unwilling to write to them, lest I might seem to lessen your dignity.

It has also come to our ears that some have been offended by our having forbidden presbyters to touch with chrism those who are to be baptized.  And we indeed acted according to the ancient use of our Church:  but, if any are in fact hereby distressed, we allow that, where there is a lack of bishops, presbyters may touch with chrism, even on their foreheads, those who are to be baptized15501550    See above, IV. 9.  There is some doubt as to what the practice was which Gregory had forbidden in his former epistle but now allows.  In Ep. IX. he had said, “Episcopi baptizatos infantes signare bis in fronte chrismate non præsumant; sed presbyteri baptizandos ungant in pectore, ut episcopi postmodum ungere debeant in fronte.”  There is obvious reference here to the two unctions, before and after baptism.  The first, in preparation for baptism, was with simple oil, on the breast and other parts of the body, and was administered by presbyters both in the East and West:  the second for confirmation after baptism, was with chrism (a mixture of oil and balsam), on the forehead, and in the Eastern Churches might be, as it still is, administered immediately after baptism by the baptizing presbyter, but in the West was usually reserved for the bishop in person.  It would seem that in Sardinia the Eastern usage had been followed with regard to the presbyter signing the baptized child on the forehead with chrism immediately after baptism, but that it had been also customary for the bishop afterward to repeat the rite (“signare bis in fronte chrismate”).  Such repetition Gregory, in Ep. IX., appears to forbid in cases where the presbyter had already administered the rite; but, in the second clause of the sentence, he directs that the Western usage should thenceforth be observed:  the presbyter who baptized was to anoint on the breast before the baptism; but the bishop, and he alone, on the forehead with chrism afterwards.  Such being the most obvious meaning of what is said in Ep. IX. the equally obvious meaning of the concession in Ep. XXVI. would be allowance for presbyters in the absence of bishops, to confirm with chrism after baptism, according to the Eastern usage, but for the fact that the expression now used is not baptizatos, but baptizandos.  Hence one opinion is that all that is here allowed to presbyters is the anointing of the forehead with chrism, as well as the breast with oil, previously to baptism; in which case of course it would not be confirmation.  But it seems more likely that the intention was to allow presbyters to administer confirmation in the absence of bishops, the term baptizandos being used loosely to denote candidates for baptism.  The fact that it is only where bishops could not be had (ubi desunt episcopi) that the practice is allowed adds probability to this view; and also his saying that in his previous prohibition he had been following the ancient custom of the Roman Church, which was to reserve the signing the forehead with chrism after baptism, i.e. confirmation, to the bishop.  Innocent I. (Ep. i. ad. Decent. c. iii.) lays down the rule thus; “Presbyteris, qui, seu extra episcopum seu pæesente episcopo, baptizant, chrismate baptizatos ungere licet, sed quod ab episcopo fuerit consecratum; non tamen frontem ex eodem oleo signare, quod solis debetur episcopis, quum tradunt Spiritum Sanctum Paracletum.”  Here, we observe, the usage of the Roman Church allows the baptizing presbyter to anoint with chrism after baptism, only not therewith to sign the forehead for actual confirmation; and this is still the Roman usage.  It should be observed further that in all cases, in the East as well in the West, confirmation was regarded as belonging peculiarly to the Bishop’s office, the chrism used having always been consecrated by him, though it might be applied by presbyters:  and thus Gregory, in allowing presbyters to administer the rite in Sardinia, would not regard any essential principle of Church order as being infringed.  He only shews the same wise liberality as we find evidence of in other cases, allowing varieties of usage in various churches, where no important principle seemed to be involved.  Thus he approves of single instead of triune immersion in baptism being practised in Spain (I. 43), and bids Augustine in England adopt according to his discretion the customs of other Churches (XI. 64).  With regard to the essential form of confirmation recognized in the time of Gregory, it appears evidently from these epistles to have been unction, and not mere imposition of hands.  It is also evident that it was administered, as in the East now, to infants; cf. XIII. 18, where the phrase is “ad consignandos imantes.”.

« Prev To Januarius, Bishop. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection