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Home > Fathers of the Church > Registrum Epistolarum (Gregory the Great) > Book III, Letter 7

Book III, Letter 7

To John, Bishop.

Gregory to John, bishop of Larissa.

Our brother Adrian, bishop of the city of Thebæ;, has come to Rome, bitterly complaining of having been condemned, neither lawfully nor canonically, on certain charges by your Fraternity, and also by John, bishop of Prima Justiniana. And, when for a long time we saw no representative of the opposite party arrive here who might have replied to his objections, we delivered for perusal , with a view to the necessary ascertainment of the truth, the proceedings which had taken place before you. From these we ascertained that John and Cosmas, deacons who had been deposed from their office, one for frailty of the body and the other for fraudulent dealing with ecclesiastical property, had sent a representation to our most pious emperors against him, with respect to pecuniary matters and also criminal charges.

They, in their commands sent to you, desired you (that is with strict observance of law and canons) to take cognizance of the matter so as to pass a sentence firm in law as to the pecuniary questions, but, as to the criminal charges, to report to their Clemency after a searching examination. Now if your Fraternity had received in a right frame of mind these such right commands, you would never have accepted for a general accusation of their bishop men removed from their own office for their transgressions, and already hostilely disposed; especially as by their representation addressed to our most pious lords their untruthfulness is detected, in that they declared that they made it with the consent of all the clergy.

Yet after this, to touch briefly and summarily on some of the proceedings before you, the first head of accusation was concerning the Theban deacon Stephen, whom the bishop Adrian had failed to deprive of the dignity of his order, though supposed to have been aware of his most shameful life. As to this head, no witnesses were produced to show that bishop Adrian had any knowledge of the matter, except that Stephen alone, a man of shameful life and on his own confession to be condemned, is alleged to have said so. The second charge made against him appears to have been concerning infants having been debarred by his order from receiving holy baptism, and so having died with the filth of sin unwashed away. But none of the witnesses brought forward against him declared their knowledge of anything of the kind having come under the notice of bishop Adrian, but said that they had learned it from the mothers of the infants, whose husbands, it is said, had been removed from the church for their crimes. But even so they did not declare that the hour of death had overtaken those infants while unbaptized, as was contained in the invidious representation of the accusers, it being evident that they had been baptized in the city of Demetrias. So much then for the criminal charges.

But, as to the pecuniary matters, after what manner they were adjudged by you is attested by the enquiry of the men deputed by the prince in pursuance of the most pious order of the most serene princes. For, when the oft-named Adrian had appealed against your sentence, then, so far as we have ascertained from the depositions of four witnesses which were laid before John, bishop of Prima Justiniana, he was thrust into most close confinement, and forced by your Fraternity to produce a document in which he confessed the charges brought against him. And it is true that in the document so produced by him he is found to have assented to your sentence as to pecuniary matters. But the criminal charges he touched on in an indefinite and dubious sort of way, so that both your purpose might be frustrated by the raising of certain clouds, and he might afterwards the better escape from his confession in the obscurity of a perplexed mode of speech. And when the appeal handed in by his people, and the rest of the proceedings under your cognizance, had been reported to the most pious princes, and Honoratus, deacon of our See, with the glorious antigraphus Sebastian having been deputed, as we have said, he was exempted by the most serene lords from all further orders. But, by what sought out contrivances I know not, another imperial order was again elicited, requiring John, bishop of Prima Justiniana, to enquire closely and pass judgment concerning all the aforesaid charges. In which trial all bishop Adrian's clergy, and Demetrius the deacon, the latter in the midst of torments, declared that all this calumny against bishop Adrian had been got up by the contrivance of your Fraternity. Nor were any of the criminal charges that had been made in your audience against the bishop Adrian proved. But there came up, contrary to canons and laws, another cruel and crafty enquiry directed against his deacon Demetrius and other persons, in the course of which nothing was discovered for which the oft-mentioned Adrian could have been lawfully condemned, but rather ground for his acquittal. But with respect to John, prelate of the city of Prima Justiniana, and his most iniquitous and abominable judgment, we shall take further measures. As to bishop Adrian, we find both that he has laboured under your enmity in a way ill-befitting your priestly character, and that he has been condemned in pecuniary matters for no just cause by the sentence of your Fraternity.

Since then, having been deposed also by the above-said John bishop of Prima Justiniana in contravention of law and canons, he could not be left deprived of his rank and honour, we have decreed that he be reinstated in his church, and recalled to the order of his proper dignity. And, though you ought to have been deprived of the communion of the Lord's body, for that, setting at naught the admonition of my predecessor of holy memory, whereby he exempted him and his church from the jurisdiction of your authority, you have again presumed to retain some jurisdiction over them, yet we, decreeing more humanely, and still allowing you the sacrament of communion, decree that your Fraternity shall abstain from all exercise of the jurisdiction formerly held by you over him and his church; but that, according to the written instructions of our predecessor, if any case should possibly arise, whether touching the faith, or criminal, or pecuniary, against the aforesaid Adrian our fellow priest, it be either taken cognizance of, if the question be a slight one, by those who are or may be our representatives in the royal city, or, if it be an arduous one, it be brought hither to the Apostolic See, to the end that it may be heard and decided before ourselves. But, if you should attempt at any time, on any pretext or by any surreptitious device, to contravene these our ordinances, know that we decree you to be deprived of holy communion, and not to partake of it except at the close of your life, unless upon leave granted by the Roman pontiff. For this we lay down as a rule, agreeably to the teaching of the holy fathers, that whosoever knows not how to obey the holy canons, neither is he worthy to minister or receive the communion at the holy altars. Moreover let your Fraternity restore to him without any delay the sacred property, or any other, movable or immovable, which you are said to retain so far; a specification whereof, that has been handed to us, we append to this letter. Concerning which if any question arises between you, we desire it to be considered by our representative in the royal city.

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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/360203007.htm>.

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