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Home > Fathers of the Church > Registrum Epistolarum (Gregory the Great) > Book I, Letter 34

Book I, Letter 34

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To Venantius, Ex-Monk, Patrician of Syracuse.

Gregory to Venantius, etc.

Many foolish men have supposed that, if I were advanced to the rank of the episcopate, I should decline to address you, or to keep up communication with you by letter. But this is not so; since I am compelled by the very necessity of my position not to hold my peace. For it is written, Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet Isaiah 58:1. And again it is written, I have given you for a watchman unto the house of Israel, you shall hear the word at my mouth, and declare it to them from me Ezekiel 3:17. And what follows to the watchman or to the hearer from such declaration being kept back or uttered is immediately intimated; If, when I say to the wicked, You shall surely die, you declare it not to him, nor speak to him, that he may turn from his wicked way and live, the wicked man himself shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand. Yet if you declare it to the wicked, and he turn not from his iniquity and from his wicked way, he himself indeed shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your soul. Hence also Paul says to the Ephesians, My hands are pure this day from the blood of all of you. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God Acts 20:26-27. He would not, then, have been pure from the blood of all, had he refused to declare unto them the counsel of God. For when the pastor refuses to rebuke those that sin, there is no doubt that in holding his peace he slays them. Compelled, therefore, by this consideration, I will speak whether you will or no; for with all my powers I desire either you to be saved or myself to be rescued from your death. For you remember in what state of life you were, and know to what you have fallen without regard to the animadversion of supernal strictness. Consider, then, your fault while there is time; dread, while you can, the severity of the future judge; lest you then find it bitter, having shed no tears to avoid it now. Consider what is written; Pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day Matthew 24:20. For the numbness of cold impedes walking in the winter, and, according to the ordinance of the law, it is not lawful to walk on the Sabbath day. He, then, attempts to fly in the winter or on the Sabbath day, who then wishes to fly from the wrath of the strict Judge when it is no longer allowed him to walk. Wherefore, while there is time, while it is allowed, fly from the animadversion which is of so great dreadfulness: consider what is written; Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is neither work, nor device, nor wisdom, in the grave whither you hasten Ecclesiastes 9:10 By the witness of the Gospel you know that divine severity accuses us for idle talk, and demands a strict account of an unprofitable word. Matthew 12:36 Consider, then, what it will do for perverse doing, if in its judgment it reprobates some for talking. Ananias had vowed money to God Acts 5:2 seq., which, afterwards, overcome by diabolical persuasion, he withheld. But by what death he was mulcted you know. If then he was deserving of the penalty of death who withdrew the money which he had given to God, consider of how great penalty you will be deserving in the divine judgment, who hast withdrawn, not money, but yourself, from Almighty God, to whom you had devoted yourself in the monastic state of life. Wherefore, if you will hear the words of my rebuke so as to follow them, you will come to know in the end how kind and sweet they are. Lo, I confess it, I speak mourning and constrained by sorrow for what you have done. I scarce can utter words; and yet your mind, conscious of guilt, is hardly able to bear what it hears, blushes, is confounded, remonstrates. If, then, it cannot bear the words of dust, what will it do at the judgment of the Creator? And yet I acknowledge the exceeding mercy of heavenly grace, in that it beholds you flying from life, and nevertheless still reserves you for life; that it sees you acting proudly, and still bears with you; that through its unworthy servants it administers to you words of rebuke and admonition. So great a thing is this that you ought anxiously to ponder on what Paul says; We exhort you, brethren that you receive not the grace of God in vain: for he says, I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured you. Behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation 2 Corinthians 6:1 seq.

But I know that, when my letter is received, immediately friends come about you, your literary clients are called in, and advice about the purpose of life is sought from the promoters of death; who, loving not you, but what belongs to you, tell you nothing but what may please you at the time. For such, as you yourself remember, were those your former counsellors, who drew you on to the perpetration of so great a sin. To quote to you something from a secular author , All things should be considered with friends, but the friends themselves should be considered first. But, if in your case you seek an adviser, take me, I pray you, as your adviser. For no one can be more to be relied on for advice than one who loves not what is yours, but you. May Almighty God make known to your heart with what love and with what charity my heart embraces you, though so far only as not to offend against divine grace. For I so attack your fault as to love your person; I so love your person as not to embrace the viciousness of your fault. If, therefore, you believe that I love you, approach the threshold of the apostles, and use me as an adviser. But if perchance I am supposed to be too keen in the cause of God, and am suspected for the ardour of my zeal, I will call the whole Church together into counsel on this question, and whatever all are of opinion should be done for good, this I will in no wise contradict, but gladly fulfil and subscribe to what is decided in common. May Divine grace keep you while accomplishing what I have warned you to do.

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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. <>.

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