To the most blessed Lord pope Gregory, Licinianus, bishop.
The Book of Rules issued by Your Holiness, and by the aid of divine grace conveyed to us, we have read with all the more pleasure for the spiritual rules which we find contained in it. Who can fail to read that with pleasure wherein by constant meditation he may find medicine for his soul; wherein, despising the fleeting things of this world which vary in their mutability, he may open the eyes of his soul to the settled estate of eternal life? This book of yours is a palace of all virtues. In it prudence fixes the boundary line between good and evil; justice gives each one his own, while it subjects the soul to God, and the body to the soul. In it fortitude also is found ever the same in adversity and in prosperity, being neither broken by opposition nor lifted up by success. In it temperance subdues the rage of lust, and discriminately imposes a limit upon pleasures. In it you comprehend all things that pertain to the partaking of eternal life: and not only for pastors layest down a rule of life, but also to those who have no office of government you supply a rule of life. For pastors may learn in your fourfold division what they should be in coming to this office; what life they should lead after coming to it; how and what they should teach, and what they should do to avoid being lifted up in so high a position as that of priesthood. This excellent teaching of yours is attested by the holy ancient fathers, doctors, and defenders of the Church; Hilary, Ambrose Augustine, Gregory Nazianzen: these all bear testimony to you as did the prophets to the apostles. Saint Hilary says, in expounding the words of the Apostle who was the teacher of the Gentiles,
For so he signifies that the things belonging to discipline and morals serve to the good desert of the priesthood, if those things also which are necessary for the science of teaching and guarding the faith shall not be wanting among the rest; since it does not all at once constitute a good and useful priest only to act innocently, or only to preach knowingly, seeing that, though a man be innocent, he profits himself only unless he be learned, and that he that is learned is without the authority of a teacher unless he be innocent. Saint Ambrose gives attestation to this book of yours in the books which he wrote about Duties (de officiis). Saint Augustine gives attestation, saying,
In action dignity should not be loved in this life, neither power; since all things under the sun are vain. But the work itself which is done by means of this dignity or power, if it is rightly and profitably done, this is what avails for that good of subjects which is according to God. Wherefore the Apostle says,
He that desires the office of a bishop desires a good work. He wished to explain what episcopus means; that it is a title denoting work, not dignity. For it is a Greek word derived hence—that he who is put over others overlooks those whom he is put over, to wit, as taking care of them; for episcopacy is overlooking. Therefore, if we choose, we may say in Latin that to exercise the office of a bishop is to overlook; so that one who delights to be over others and not to profit them may understand that he is no bishop. For so it is that no one is prohibited from longing to become acquainted with truth, for which purpose leisure is to be commended; but as to a position of superiority, without which the people cannot be governed, though it may be held and administered becomingly, it is unbecoming to covet it. Wherefore charity seeks holy leisure, so as to have time for perceiving and defending the truth. But if [the burden of government] be imposed, it is to be undertaken on account of the obligation of charity. But not even so should delight in the truth be altogether forsaken, lest the former sweetness should be withdrawn, and the present obligation be oppressive (Lib. viii. de Trinit, num. 1).
Saint Gregory attests, whose style you follow, and after whose example you desired to hide yourself in order to avoid the weight of priesthood; which weight, of what sort it is, is clearly declared in the whole of your book: and yet you bear what you were afraid of. For your burden is borne upwards, not downwards; not so as to sink you to the depths, but to lift you to the stars; while by the grace of God, and the merit of obedience, and the efficiency of good work, that is made sweet which seemed to have heaviness through human weakness. For you say the things that are in agreement with the apostles and with apostolic men. For, being fair, you have said things fair, and in them hast shown yourself fair. I would not have you liken yourself to an ill-favoured painter painting fair things, seeing that spiritual teaching issues from a spiritual soul. The human painter is by most men esteemed more highly than the inanimate picture. But put not this down to flattery or adulation, but to truth: for it neither becomes me to lie, nor you to commend what is false. I then, though plainly sincere, have seen you and all that is yours to be fair, and have seen myself as ill-favoured enough in comparison with you. Wherefore I you pray by the grace of God which abounds in you that thou reject not my prayer, but willingly teach me what I confess myself ignorant of. For we are compelled of necessity to do what you teach.
For, when there is no skilled person found for the sacerdotal office, what is to be done but that an unskilled one such as I am, should be ordained? You order that no unskilled one should be ordained. But let your prudence consider whether it may not suffice him for skill to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified: for, if this does not suffice, there will, according to this book, be no one who can be called skilled: and so no one will be a priest, if none, unless he be skilled, should be one. For with open front we resist bigamists, lest the sacrament should be thus corrupted. What if the husband of one wife should have touched a woman before his wife? What if he should not have had a wife, and yet should not have been without touch of a woman? Comfort us with your pen, that we may not be punished either for our own sin or that of others. For we are exceedingly afraid lest we should be forced to do what we ought not to do. Lo, obedience must be paid to your precepts, that such a one may be made a priest as authority approves; and such a one as is sought is not found. Thus faith will cease which comes of hearing; baptism will cease, if there should be no one to baptize; those most holy mysteries will cease which are effected through priests and ministers. In either case danger remains: either such a one must be ordained as ought not to be, or there must be no one to celebrate or administer sacred mysteries.
A few years ago Leander, Bishop of Hispalis, on his return from the royal city, saw us in passing, and told us that he had some homilies issued by your Blessedness on the Book of Job. And, as he passed by in haste, he did not show them to us as we requested. But you wrote afterwards to him about trine immersion, and saidest in your letter, as I am told, that you were dissatisfied with that work, and had determined on maturer consideration to change those homilies into the form of a treatise.
We have indeed six books of Saint Hilary, Bishop of Pictavia, which he turned into Latin from the Greek of Origen: but he has not expounded the whole of the book of holy Job in order. And I am not a little surprised that a man so very learned and so holy should translate the silly tales of Origen about the stars. I, most holy father, can in no way be persuaded to believe that the heavenly luminaries are rational spirits, Holy Scripture not declaring them to have been made either along with angels or along with men. Let then your Blessedness deign to transmit to my littleness not only this work, but also the other books on morals which in this Book of Rules you speak of having composed. For we are yours, and are delighted to read what is yours. For to me it is a desirable and glorious thing, as your Gregory says, to learn even to extreme old age. May God the Holy Trinity vouchsafe to preserve your crown unharmed for instructing His Church, as we hope, most blessed father.
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/360202054.htm>.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.