Leo the Great: letters 1159
(Leo, the bishop, to Nicaetas, bishop of Aquileia, greeting).
My son Adeodatus, deacon of our See, on returning to us has delivered your request, beloved, to receive from us the authority of the Apostolic See upon matters which seem indeed to be hard to decide, but which we must make provision for with a view to the necessities of the times that the wounds which have been inflicted by the attacks of the enemy may be healed chiefly by the agency of religion.
II. About the Women Who Married Again When Their Husbands Were Taken Prisoners.
As then you say that through the disasters of war and through the grievous inroads of the enemy families have in certain cases been so broken up that the husbands have been carried off into captivity and their wives remain forsaken, and these latter thinking their own husbands either dead or never likely to be freed from their masters, have contracted another marriage under stress of loneliness, and as, now that the state of things has im- proved through the Lord’s help, some of those who were thought to have perished have returned, you seem, dear brother, naturally to be in doubt what ought to be settled by us about women thus joined to other husbands. But because we know it is written that “a woman is joined to a man by God1 ,” and again, we are aware of the precept that “what God hath joined, man may not put asunder2 ,” we are bound to hold that the compact of the lawful marriage must be renewed, and after the removal of the evils inflicted by the enemy, what each lawfully had must be restored to him; and we must take every pains that each should recover what is his own.
III. Whether He is Blameable Who Has Taken the Prisoner’s Wife?
But notwithstanding let him not be held blameable and treated as the invader of another’s right, who took the place of the husband, who was thought no longer alive. For thus many things which belonged to those led into captivity happened to pass into the possession of others, and yet it is altogether fair that on their return their property should be restored. And if this is duly observed in the case of slaves or of lands, or even of houses and personal goods, how much more ought it to be done in the restoration of wives, that what has been disturbed by the necessitities of war may be restored by the remedy of peace?
IV. The Wife Must Be Restored to Her First Husband.
And, therefore, if husbands who have returned after a long captivity still feel such affection for their wives as to desire them to return to partnership3 , that, which necessity brought about, must be passed over and judged blameless and the demands of fidelity satisfied.
V. Women Must Be Excommunicated Who Refuse to Return.
And if any women are so possessed by love of their later husbands as to prefer to remain with them than to return to their lawful partners, they are deservedly to be branded: so that they be even deprived of the Church’s communion; for in a pardonable matter they have chosen to taint themselves with crime, showing that they have sought their own pleasure in their incontinence, when a rightful restitution could have obtained their forgiveness. Let them return then to their former state and make voluntary reparation, nor let that which a condition of necessity extorted from them be by any means turned into disgrace through evil desires; because, as those women who refuse to return to their husbands are to be held unholy, so they who return to an affection entered on with God’s sanction are deservedly to be praised.
VI. About Captives, Who Were Compelled to Eat of Sacrificial Food.
Concerning those Christians who are asserted to have been polluted with sacrificial food, while among those by whom they were taken prisoners, we have thought it right to make this reply to your enquiry, dear brother, that they be purged by a satisfactory penitence which is to be measured not so much by the duration of the process as by the intensity of the feeling. And whether their compliance was wrung from them by terror or hunger, there need be no hesitation at acquitting them, since the food was taken from fear or want, not from superstitious reverence.
VII. About Those Who in Fear or by Mistake Were Re-Baptized
But as to those about whom you thought. beloved, we ought likewise to be consulted who were either forced by fear or led by mistake to repeat their baptism, and now understand that they acted contrary to the ordinances of the catholic Faith, such moderation must be observed towards them that they be received into full communion with us, but not without the healing of penitence and the imposition of the bishop’s hands, the length of the penance (with due regard to moderation) being left to your judgment, as you shall perceive the minds of the penitents to be disposed: in which you must not forget to consider old age, illness, and other risks. For if a man be in so dangerous a case that his life is despaired of, while he is still under penance, he should receive the gracious aid of communion by the priest’s tender care.
VIII. About Baptism by Heretics.
For they who have received baptism from heretics, not having been previously baptized, are to be confirmed by imposition of hands with only the invocation of the Holy Ghost, because they have received the bare form of baptism without the power of sanctification4 . And this regulation, as you know; we require to be kept in all the churches, that the font once entered may not be defiled by repetition, as the Lord says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” And that washing may not be polluted by repetition, but, as we have said, only the sanctification of the Holy Ghost invoked, that what no one can receive from heretics may be obtained from catholic priests. This letter of ours, which we have sent in reply to the inquiries of the brotherhood you shall bring to the knowledge of all your brethren and fellow-bishops of the province, that our authority, now that it is given, may avail for the general observance. Dated 21st March, in the consulship of Majorian Augustus (458).
1 Pr 19,14. (LXX)..
2 Mt 19,6,
3 There is little doubt, I think, that the return of the wife was at the husband’s option in Leo’s opinion, and could not be forced upon him.
4 Leo repeats this injunction in Letter CLXVI. chap. 2. and Lett. CLXVII., inquiry 18. Quesnel identifies this ceremony with the right of Confirmtation, but the Ballerinii are probably right in thinking this a mistake, and in identifying it with the manuum impositio in poenitentiam mentioned by Cyprian and other fathers. See Lett. CLXVI. chap. 2 n. 5b).
(Exhorting them to remain stedfast in the Faith as fixed at Chalcedon, and to have no dealings with Atticus and Andrew unless they recant).
By the hand of Philoxenus agens in rebus1 . Leo the Bishop to Leo Augustus.
I. The Decrees of Chalcedon and Nicaea are Identical and Final.
With much joy my mind exults in the Lord, and great is my cause for thankfulness, now that I perceive your clemency’s most excellent faith to be in all things enlarged by the gifts of heavenly grace, and I experience by increased diligence the devotion of a priestly mind in you. For in your Majesty’s communications! it is beyond doubt revealed what the Holy Spirit is working through you for the good of the whole Church, and how greatly it is to be desired by the prayers of all the faithful that your empire may be everywhere extended with glory, seeing that besides your care for things temporal you so perseveringly exercise a religious foresight in the service of what is divine and eternal: to wit that the catholic Faith, which alone gives life to and alone in hallows mankind, may abide in the one confession, and the dissensions which spring from the variety of earthly opinions may be driven away, most glorious Emperor, from that solid Rock, on which the city of God is built. And these gifts of God will at last be granted us from Him, if we be not found ungrateful for what has been vouchsafed, and as though what we have gained were naught, we seek not rather the very opposite. For to seek what has been discovered, to reconsider what has been completed, and to demolish what has been defined, what else is it but to return no thanks for things gained and to indulge the unholy longings of deadly lust on the food of the forbidden tree? And hence by deigning to show a more careful regard for the peace of the universal Church, you manifestly recognize what is the design of the heretics’ mighty intrigues that a more careful discussion should take place between the disciples of Eutyches and Dioscorus and the emissary of the Apostolic See, as if nothing had already been defined, and that what with the glad approval of the catholic priests of the whole world was determined at the holy Synod of Chalcedon should be rendered invalid to the detriment also of the most sacred Council of Nicaea. For what in our own days at Chalcedon was determined concerning our Lord Jesus Christ’s Incarnation, was also so defined at Nicaea by that mystic number of Fathers2 , lest the confession of catholics should believe that God’s Only-begotten Son was in aught unequal to the Father, or that when He was made Son of man He had not the true nature of our flesh and soul.
II. The Wicked Designs of Heretics Must Be Stedfastly Resisted.
Therefore we must abhor and persistently avoid what heretical deceit is striving to obtain, nor must what has been well and fully defined be brought again under discussion, lest we ourselves should seem at the will of condemned men to have doubts concerning things which it is clear agree throughout with the authority of Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles. And hence, if there are any who disagree with these heaven-inspired decisions, let them be left to their own opinions and depart from the unity of the Church with that perverse sect which they have chosen. For it can in no wise be that men who dare to speak against divine mysteries are associated in any communion with us. Let them pride themselves on the emptiness of their talk and boast of the cleverness of their arguments against the Faith: we are pleased to obey the Apostle’s precepts, where he says, “See that no one deceive you with philosophy and vain seductions of men3 .” For according to the same Apostle, “ifI build up those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor4 ,” and subject myself to those conditions of punishment which not only the authority of Prince Marcian of blessed memory, but I myself also by my consent have accepted. Because as you have justly and truthfully maintained perfection admits of no increase nor fulness of addition. And hence, since I know you, venerable Prince, imbued as you are with the purest light of truth, waver in no part of the Faith, but with just and perfect judgment distinguish right from wrong, and separate what is to be embraced from what is to be rejected, I beseech you not to think that my humility is to be blamed for want of confidence, since my cautiousness is not only in the interests of the universal Church but also for the furtherance of your own glory, that under your reign the unscrupulousness of heretics may not seem to be advanced and the security of catholics disturbed.
III. He Promises to Send Envoys Not to Discuss with the Eutychians, But to Explain the Faith to the Emperor.
Although, therefore, I am very confident of the piety of your heart in all things, and perceive that through the Spirit of Gov dwelling in you, you are sufficiently instructed, nor can any error delude your faith, yet I will endeavour to follow your bidding so far as to send certain of my brothers to represent my person before you, and to set forth what the Apostolic rule of Faith is, although, as I have said, it is well known to you, in all things making it clear and certain that they are not in any way to be reckoned among catholics, who do not accept the definitions of the venerable Synod of Nicaea or the ordinances of the holy Council of Chalcedon, inasmuch as it is evident the holy decrees of both proceed from the Evangelical and Apostolical source, and whatever is not of Christ’s watering is like a snake-poisoned draught5 . Your Majesty should understand beforehand, most venerable Emperor, that those whom I undertake to send will come from the Apostolic See, not to fight with the enemies of the Faith nor to strive against any, because of matters already settled as it has pleased God both at Nicaea and at Chalcedon we dare not enter upon any discussion, as if what so great an authority has fixed by theHoly Spirit were doubtful or weak.
IV. The Heretics Must Be Formed to Give Up Their Usurpations and Left to the Judgment of God.
But we do not refuse the assistance of our ministry for the instruction of our little ones, who after being fed with milk desire to be satisfied with more solid food: and as we do not scorn the simple folk, so we will have no dealings with rebel heretics, remembering the Lord’s command, who says, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine6 .” Surely it is altogether unworthy and unjust to admit to freedom of discussion men whom the Holy Spirit describes in the words of the prophet, “the sons of the stranger have lied unto me7 .” For even though they resist not the Gospel, yet they have shown themselves to be of those of whom it is written “they profess that they know God but by their deeds they deny Him8 ,” while the blood of just Abel9 still cries against wicked Cain10 , who being rebuked by the Lord did not set quietly about his repentance but burst forth into murder. Whose punishment we wish to be reserved for the Lord’s judgment in such a way that, unprincipled plunderer and blood-thirsty murderer as he is, he may be thrown back upon himself and relinquish what is ours. We pray you also not to suffer the lamentable captivity of the holy church of Alexandria to be any further prolonged, which by the help of your faith and Justice ought to be restored to its liberty, that through all the cities of Egypt the dignity of the Fathers and their priestly rights may be restored. Dated 21st of March in the consulship of Leo and Majorian Augusti (458).
1 Cf. Lett. XCV. n. 6.
2 The number was 318: cf. Lett. CVI. 2, where the exact number is quoted and the explanation perhaps is given of Leo’s epithet “mystic” here applied to it).
3 Col 2,8,
4 Ga 2,18,
5 Poculi esse viperei.
6 Mt 7,6.
7 Ps 18,44
8 Tt 1,16,
9 Sc. in the persons of Proterius and Timothy Aelulrus.
10 Sc. in the persons of Proterius and Timothy Aelulrus.
(Glorying over the harshness of his former letter, to which Anatolius had objected, but persisting that he is not satisfied with the explanation Atticus had furnished of his orthodoxy).
Leo, the bishop, to Leo Augustus.
I. He Sends Envoys But de Deprecates Any Fresh Discussion of the Faith.
Rejoicing that it has been proved to me by many clear proofs with what earnestness you consult the interests of the universal Church, I have not delayed to obey your Majesty’s commands on the first opportunity, by despatching Domitian and Geminian my brothers and fellow-bishops, who in furtherance of my earnest prayers, shall entreat you for the peaceful acceptance of the gospel-teaching and obtain the liberty of the Faith in which through the instruction of the Holy Spirit you yourself are so conspicuously eminent, now that the enemies of Christ are driven far away, who even if they had wished to conceal their madness, could not lie hid, because the holy simplicity of the Lord’s flock is very different from the pretences of beasts who hide themselves in sheeps’ clothing, nor can they creep in by hypocrisy now that their exceeding madness has revealed them. Recognize, therefore, august and venerable Emperor, how that you are called by Divine providence to the guardianship of the whole world, and understand what aid you owe to your Mother, the Church, who makes especial boast of you. Disputes that are ended must not be allowed to rise with renewed vigour against the triumphs of the Almighty’s right hand, especially when this can in no wise be allowed to heretics, whose attempts have long ago been condemned and the labours of the faithful have a just claim to this result, that all the fulness of the Church shall remain secure in the completeness of her unity, and that nothing whatever of what has been well laid down shall be reconsidered, because, after constitutions have been legitimately framed under Divine guidance, to wish still to wrangle is the sign not of a peace-making but of a rebellious spirit, as says the Apostle, “for to strive with words is profitable for nothing, but for the subverting of them that hear2 .”
II. In Matters of Faith Human Rhetoric is Out of Place.
For if it be always free for human fancies to assert themselves in dispute, there never will be wanting men who will dare to oppose the Truth, and to put their trust in the glib utterances of this world’s wisdom, whereas the Christian Faith and wisdom knows from the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself how strictly it ought to shun this most harmful vanity. For when Christ was about to summon all nations to the illumination of the Faith, He chose those who were to devote themselves to the preaching of the Gospel not from among philosophers or orators,but took humble fishermen as the instruments by which He would reveal Himself, lest the heavenly teaching, which was of itself full of mighty power, should. seem to need the aid of words. And hence the Apostle protests and says, “For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the Gospel, not in wisdom of words lest the cross of Christ should be made void; for the word of the cross is to them indeed that perish foolishness, but to those which are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the prudence of the prudent will I reject. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the inquirer of this age? has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world3 ?” For rhetorical arguments and clever debates of man’s device make their chief boast in this, that in doubtful matters which are obscured by the variety of opinions they can induce their hearers to accept that view which each has chosen for his own genius and eloquence to bring forward; and thus it happens that what is maintained with the greatest eloquence is reckoned the truest. But Christ’s Gospel needs not this art; for in it the true teaching stands revealed by its own light: nor is there any seeking for that which shall please the ear, when to know Who is the Teacher is sufficient for true faith.
III. Eutyches’ Dogma is Condemned by the Testimony of Scripture and Cannot Further Be Entertained.
But nothing severs those who are deceived by their own inventions, from the light of the Gospel so much as their not thinking that the Lord’s Incarnation appertains in a true sense to man’s, that is, our, nature: as if it were unworthy of God’s glory that the majesty of the impossible Word should have taken the reality of human flesh, whereas men’s salvation could not otherwise have been restored had not He Who is in the form of God deigned also to take the form of a slave. And hence since the holy Synod of Chalcedon, which was attended by all the provinces of the Roman world and obtained universal acceptance for its decisions, and is in complete harmony therein with the most sacred council of Nicaea, has cut off all the wicked followers of the Eutychian dogma from the body of the catholic communion, how shall any of the lapsed regain the peace of the church, without purging himself by a full course of penitence? For what licence can be granted them for discussing, when they have deserved to be condemned by a just and holy judgment, so that they might most truly fall under that sentence of the blessed Apostle, wherewith at the very outset of the infant Church he overthrew the enemies of Christ’s cross, saying: “every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ to have come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which dissolves Jesus is not of God, but this is antichrist4 .” And this pre-existent teaching of the Holy Ghost we must faithfully and stedfastly make use of, lest, by admitting the discussions of such men the authority of the divinely inspired decrees be diminished, when in all parts of your kingdom and in all borders of the earth that Faith which was confirmed at Chalcedon is being established on the surest basis of peace, nor is any one worthy of the name of Christian who cuts himself off from communion with us. Of whom the Apostle says, “a man that is heretical after a first and a second admonition, avoid, knowing that such a one is perverse and condemned by his own judgment5 .”
IV. If the Divine Mercy is to Be Exercised, the Heretics Must Cease Entirely from the Error of Their Ways.
What therefore the unholy parricide has perpetrated by seizing on the holy Church and cruelly murdering its very ruler, cannot be expiated by man’s forgiveness, unless He Who alone can rightly punish such things, and alone can of His unspeakable mercy remit them, be propitiated. But though we are not anxious for vengeance, we cannot in any way be allied with the devil’s servants. Yet if we learn they are quitting the ranks of heresy, repenting, them of their error and turning from the weapons of discord to the lamentations of sorrow, we also can intercede for them, lest they perish for ever, thus following the example of the Lord’s loving-kindness, who, when nailed to the wood of the cross prayed for His persecutors, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do6 .” And that Christian love may do this profitably for its enemies, wicked heretics must cease to harass God’s ever religious and ever devout Church; they must not dare to disturb the souls of the simple by their falsehoods, to the end that, where in all former times the purest faith has flourished, the teaching of the Gospel and of the Apostles may now also have free course; because we also imitating, so far as we can, the Divine mercy desire no one to be punished by justice, but all to be released by mercy.
V. Let Him Restore the Refugee Clergy and Laity and Utterly Reject Those Who Persist in Heresy.
I entreat your clemency, listen to the suggestions of my brethren already mentioned, whom, as I some time ago have said in a former letter7 , I have sent not to wrangle with the condemned, but merely to intercede with you for the stability of the catholic Faith. And in accordance with your faith in and regard for the Divine Majesty this especially you should grant, that completely setting aside the contentions of heretics you should deign to bestow a merciful attention on those who have fallen upon such evil days, and, after restoring the liberty of the church of Alexandria to its pristine state, should set up there a bishop who, upholding the decrees of the Synod of Chalcedon and agreeing with the ordinances of the Gospel, shall be able to restore peace among that greatly disturbed people. Those bishops and clergy also whom the unholy parricide has driven out of their churches, should be recalled at your Majesty’s command, all others also, whom a like maliciousness has banished from their dwellings, being restored to their former estate, to the end that we may have due cause fully and perfectly to rejoice in the grace of God and your faith without any further noise of strife. For it any one is so forgetful of the Christian hope and his own salvation as to venture by any dispute to assail the Evangelical and Apostolical decrease of the holy Synod of Chalcedon, thus overthrowing the most sacred Council of Nicaea also, him with all heretics who have held blasphemous and abominable views on the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ we condemn by a like anathema and equal curse, so that, without refusing the remedy of repentance to those who make full and legitimate atonement, the sentence of the Synod, which is based on truth, may rest upon those who still resist. Dated 17th of August, in the consulship of Leo and Majorian Augusti (458).
1 Portions of this letter are found quoted by various ancient Fathers. e.g. by Popes Vigilius and Pelagius II. in the sixth cent; by Facundus, bishop of Hermioe, in the same century. and almost one half of the whole by Prudentius, bishop of Troyes (ninth cent). in his famous treatise on Predestination against John Scotus Erigena. Quesnel, however, appears to have been the first to print it as a whole ex codice Grimanico ; after which the Ball. also discovered it in the Ratisbon ms.
2 Loosely quoted from 2Tm 2,14.
3 1Co 1,17-20.
4 1Jn 4,2-3. For the reading solvit (dissolves), cf. Lett. XXVIII. (Tome), chap. 5 and note.
5 Tt 3,10-11.
6 Lc 23,34.
7 Viz. Lett. CLXII. chap. 3,
[This letter, which is sometimes called the Second Tome, contains the detailed statement of the catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, which Leo had promised the Emperor in Letter CLVI. It consists of 9 chapters, but, as chaps. 3,to 8,and parts of 2,and 9,are almost identical in language with Letter CXXIV. already given in full, I have not thought it necessary to reproduce the letter here. At the end a long series of quotations from Hilary, Ambrose and other Fathers bearing upon the doctrine are also added, but these also are dispensed with in accordance with our general practice, as we are now presenting Leo and no one else to the reader.]
Leo, the bishop, to Neo, bishop of Ravenna, greeting.
I. Those, Who Being Taken Captives in Infancy Cannot Remember or Bring Witnesses of Theirbaptism, Must Not Be Denied This Sacrament.
We have indeed frequently, God’s Spirit instructing us, steadied the brethren’s hearts, when they were tottering on the slippery places of doubtful questions, by formulating an answer either out of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures or from the rules of the Fathers: but lately in Synod a new and hitherto unheard-of subject of debate has arisen. For at the instance of certain brethren we have discovered that some of the prisoners of war, on their free return to their own homes, such to wit as went into captivity at an age when they could have no sure knowledge of anything, crave the healing waters of baptism, but in the ignorance of infancy cannot remember whether they have received the mystery and rites of baptism, and that therefore in this uncertainty of defective recollection their souls are brought into jeopardy, so long as under a show of caution they are denied a grace, which is withheld, because it is thought to have been bestowed. And so, since certain brethren in a not unjustifiable fear have hesitated to perform the rites of the Lord’s mystery, at a synodal meeting, as we have said, we have received a formal request for advice on this matter, and in carefully discussing it, we have desired to weigh each members opinion, and to handle it in so cautious a manner as to arrive with certainty at the truth by making use of the knowledge of many. Consequently the same things, which have come into our mind by the Divine inspiration, have received the assent and confirmation of a large number of the brethren. And so we are bound before all things to take heed test, while we hold fast to a certain show of caution, we incur a loss of souls who are to be regenerated. For who is so given over to suspicions as to decide that to be true which without any evidence he suspects by mere guesswork? And so wherever the man himself who is anxious for the new birth does not recollect his baptism, and no one can Bear witness about him being unaware of his consecration to God, there is no possibility for sin to creep In, seeing that, so far as their knowledge goes, neither the bestower or receiver of the consecration is guilty. We know indeed that an unpardonable offence is committed, whenever in accordance with the institutions of heretics which the holy Fathers have condemned, any one is forced twice to enter the font, which is but once available for those who are to be reborn, in opposition to the Apostle’s teaching1 , which speaks to us of One Godhead in Trinity, one confession in Faith, one sacrament in Baptism. But in this nothing similar is to be apprehended, since, what is not known to have been done at all, cannot come under the charge of repetition. And so, whenever such a case occurs, first sift it by careful investigation, and spend a considerable time, unless his last end is near, in inquiring whether there be absolutely no one who by his testimony can assist the other’s ignorance. And when it is established that the man who requires the sacrament of baptism is prevented by a mere baseless suspicion, let him come boldly to obtain the grace, of which he is conscious of no trace in himself. Nor need we fear thus to open the door of salvation which has not been shown to have been entered before.
II. Baptism by Heretics Must Not Be Invalidated by Second Baptism.
But if it is established that a man has been baptized by heretics, on him the mystery of regeneration must in no wise be repeated, but only that conferred which was wanting before, so that he may obtain the power of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the Bishop’s hands2 . This decision, beloved brother, we wish to be brought to the knowledge of you all generally, to the end that God’s mercy may not be refused to those who desire to be saved through undue timidity. Dated the 24th of Oct., in the consulship of Ms Majorian Augustus (458).
1 Viz. Ep 4,5. It will be remembered that the practice of rebaptism was very definitely condemned in the times of S. Cyprian (3rd cent)., who himself went wrong in advocating it in the case of heretics.
2 See n. 2 to Lett. CLIX. chap. 8.
Leo, the bishop, to Rusticus, bishop of Gallia Narbonensis).
I. He Exhorts Him to Act with Moderation Towards Two Bishops Who Have Offended Him.
Your letter, brother. which Hermes your archdeacon2 brought, I have gladly received; the number of different matters it contains makes it indeed lengthy, but not so tedious to me on a patient perusal that any point should be passed over, amid the cares that press upon me from all sides. And hence having grasped the gist of your allegation and reviewed what took place at the inquiry of the bishops and leading men3 , we gather that Sabinian and Leo, presbyters, lacked confidence in your4 action, and that they have no longer any just cause for complaint, seeing that of their own accord they withdrew from the discussion that had been begun. What form or what measure of justice you ought to mete out to them I leave to your own discretion advising you, however, with the exhortation of love that to the healing of the sick you ought to apply spiritual medicine, and that remembering the Scripture which says “be not over just5 ,” you should act with mildness towards these who in zeal for chastity seem to have exceeded the limits of vengeance, lest the devil, who deceived the adulterers, should triumph over the avengers of the adultery.
II. He Expostulates with Him for Wishing to Give Up His Office, Which Would Imply Distrust of God’s Promises.
But I am surprised, beloved, that you are so disturbed by opposition in consequence of offences, from whatever cause arising, as to say you would rather be relieved of the labours of your bishopric, and live in quietness and ease than continue in the office committed to you. But since the Lord says, “blessed is he who shall persevere unto the end6 ,” whence shall come this blessed perseverance, except from the strength of patience? For as the Apostle proclaims, “All who would live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution7 .” And it is not only to be reckoned persecution, when sword or fire or other active means are used against the Christian religion; for the direst persecution is often inflicted by nonconformity of practice and persistent disobedience and the barbs of ill-natured tongues: and since all the members of the Church are always liable to these attacks, and no portion of the faithful are free from temptation, so that a life neither of ease nor of labour is devoid of danger, who shall guide the ship amidst the waves of the sea. if the helmsman quit his post? Who shall guard the sheep from the treachery of wolves, if the shepherd himself be not on the watch? Who, in fine, shall resist the thieves and robbers. if love of quietude draw away the watchman that is set to keep the outlook from the strictness of his watch? One must abide, therefore, in the office committed to him and in the task undertaken. Justice must be stedfastly upheld and mercy lovingly extended. Not men, but their sins must be hated8 . The proud must be rebuked, the weak must be borne with; and those sins which require severer chastisement must be dealt with in the spirit not of vindictiveness but of desire to heal. And if a fiercer storm of tribulation fall upon us, let us not be terror-stricken as if we had to overcome the disaster in our own strength, since both our Counsel and our Strength is Christ, and through Him we can do all things, without Him nothing, Who, to confirm the preachers of the Gospel and the ministers of the mysteries, says, “Lo, I am with you all the days even to the consummation of the age9 .” And again He says, “these things I have spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace. In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world10 .” The promises, which are as plain as they can be, we ought not to let any causes of offence to weaken, lest we should seem ungrateful to God for making us His chosen vessels, since His assistance is powerful as His promises are true.
III. Many of the Questions Raised Could Be More Easily Settled in a Personal Interview Than on Paper.
On those points of inquiry, beloved, which your archdeacon has brought me separately written out, it would be easier to arrive at conclusions on each point face to face, if you could grant us the advantage of your presence. For since some questions seem to exceed the limits of ordinary diligence, I perceive that they are better suited to conversation than to writing: for as there are certain things which can in no wise be controverted, so there are many things which require to be modified either by considerations of age or by the necessities of the case; always provided that we remember in things which are doubtful or obscure, that must be followed which is found to be neither contrary to the commands of the Gospel nor opposed to the decrees of the holy Fathers.
Question I). Concerning a Presbyter or Deacon Who Falsely Claims to Be a Bishop, and Those Whom They Have Ordained.
Reply. No consideration permits men to be reckoned among bishops who have not been elected by the clergy, demanded by the laity, and consecrated by the bishops of the province with the assent of the metropolitan11 . And hence, since the question often arises concerning advancement unduly obtained, who need doubt that that can in no wise be which is not shown to have been conferred on them, And if any clerics have been ordained by such false bishops in those churches which have bishops of their own, and their ordination took place with the consent and approval of the proper bishops, it may be held valid on condition that they continue in the same churches. Otherwise it must be held void, not being connected with any place nor resting on any authority.
Question II). Concerning a Presbyter or Deacon, Who on His Crime Being Known Asks for Public Penance, Whether It is to Be Granted Hint by Laying on of Hands?
Reply. It is contrary to the custom of the Church that they who have been dedicated to the dignity of the presbyterate or the rank of the diaconate, should receive the remedy of penitence by laying on of hands for any crime; which doubtless descends from the Apostles’ tradition, according to what is written, “If a priest shall have sinned, who shall pray for him12 ?” And hence such men when they have lapsed in order to obtain God’s mercy must seek private retirement, where their atonement may be profitable as well as adequate.
Question III). Concerning Those Who Minister at the Altar and Have Wives, Whether They May Lawfully Cohabit with Them?
Reply. The law of continence is the same for the ministers13 of the altar as for bishops and priests, who when they were laymen or readers, could lawfully marry and have offspring. But when they reached to the said ranks, what was before lawful ceased to be so. And hence, in order that their wedlock may become spiritual instead of carnal, it behaves them not to put away their wives but to “have them as though they had them not14 ,” whereby both the affection of their wives may be retained and the marriage functions cease.
Question IV). Concerning a Presbyter or Deacon Who Has Given His Unmarried Daughter in Marriage to a Man Who Already Had a Woman Joined to Him, by Whom He Had Also Had Children.
Reply. Not every woman that is joined to a man is his wife, even as every son is not his father’s heir. But the marriage bond is legitimate between the freeborn and between equals: this was laid down by the Lord long before the Roman law had its beginning. And so a wife is different from a concubine, even as a bondwoman from a freewoman. For which reason also the Apostle in order to show the difference of these persons quotes from Genesis, where it is said to Abraham, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with my son Isaac15 .” And hence, since the marriage tie was from the beginning so constituted as apart from the joining of the sexes to symbolize the mystic union of Christ and His Church, it is undoubted that that woman has no part in matrimony, in whose case it is shown that the mystery of marriage has not taken place. Accordingly a clergyman of any rank who has given his daughter in marriage to a man that has a concubine, must not be considered to have given her to a married man, unless perchance the other woman should appear to have become free, to have been legitimately dowered and to have been honoured by public nuptials.
Question V). Concerning Young Women Who Have Married Men that Have Concubines.
Reply. Those who are joined to husbands by their fathers’ will are tree from blame, if the women whom their husbands had were not in wedlock.
Question VI). Concerning Those Who Leave the Women by Whom They Have Children and Take Wives.
Reply. Seeing that the wife is different from the concubine, to turn a bondwoman from one’s couch and take a wife whose free birth is assured, is not bigamy but an honourable proceeding).
Question VII). Concerning Those Who in Sickness Accept Terms of Penitence, and When They Have Recovered, Refuse to Keep Them.
Reply. Such men’s neglect is to be blamed but not finally to be abandoned, in order that they may be incited by frequent exhortations to carry out faithfully what under stress of need they asked for. For no one is to be despaired of so long as he remain in this body, because sometimes what the diffidence of age puts off is accomplished by maturer counsels.
Question VIII). Concerning Those Who Their Deathbed Promise Repentance and Die Before Receiving Communion.
Reply. Their cause is reserved for the judgment of God, in Whose hand it was that their death was put off until the very time of communion. But we cannot be in communion with those, when dead, with whom when alive we were not in communion.
Question IX). Concerning Those Who Under Pressure of Great Pain Ask for Penance to Be Granted Them, and When the Presbyter Has Come to Give What They Seek, If the Pain Has Abated Somewhat, Make Excuses and Refuse to Accept What is Offered.
Reply. This tergiversation cannot proceed from contempt of the remedy but from fear of falling into worse sin. Hence the penance which is put off, when it is more earnestly sought must not be denied in order that the wounded soul may in whatever way attain to the healing of absolution.
Question X). Concerning Those Who Have Professed Repentance, If They Begin to Go to Law in the Forum.
Reply. To demand just debts is indeed one thing and to think nothing of one’s own property from the perfection of love is another. But one who craves pardon for unlawful doings ought to abstain even from many things that are lawful, as says the Apostle, “all things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient16 .” Hence, if the penitent has a matter which perchance he ought not to neglect, it is better for him to have recourse to the judgment of the Church than of the forum.
Question XI). Concerning Those Who During or After Penance Transact Business.
Reply. The nature of their gains either excuses or condemns the trafficker, because there is an honourable and a base kind of profit. Notwithstanding it is more expedient for the penitent to suffer loss than to be involved in the risks of trafficking, because it is hard for sin not to come into transactions between buyer and seller.
Question XII). Concerning Those Who Return to Military Service After Doing Penance.
Reply. It is altogether contrary to the rules of the Church to return to military service in the world after doing penance, as the Apostle says, “No soldier in God’s service entangles himself in the affairs of the world17 .” Hence he is not free from the snares of the devil who wishes to entangle himself in the military service of the world.
Question XIII). Concerning Those Who After Penance Take Wives or Join Themselves to Concubines.
Reply. If a young man under fear of death or the dangers of captivity has done penance, and afterwards fearing to fall into youthfulincontinence has chosen to marry a wife lest he should be guilty of fornication, he seems to have comitted a pardonable act, so long as he has known no woman whatever save his wife. Yet herein we lay down no rule, but express an opinion as to what is less objectionable. For according to a true view of the matter nothing better suits him who has done penance than continued chastity both of mind and body.
Question XIV). Concerning Monks Who Take to Military Service or to Marriage.
Reply. The monk’s vow being undertaken of his own will or wish cannot be given up without sin. For that which a man has vowed to God, he ought also to pay. Hence he who abandons his profession of a single life and betakes himself to military service or to marriage, must make atonement and clear himself publicly, because although such service may be innocent and the married state honourable, it is transgression to have forsaken the higher choice.
Question XV). Concerning Young Women Who Have Worn the Religious Habit for Some Time But Have Not Been Dedicated, If They Afterwards Marry.
Reply. Young women, who without being forced by their parents’ command but of their own free-will have taken the vow and habit of virginity, if afterwards they choose wedlock, act wrongly, even though they have not re- ceived dedication: of which they would doubtless not have been defrauded, if they had abided by their vow.
Question XVI). Concerning Those Who Have Been Left as Infants by Christian Parents, If No Proof of Their Baptism Can Be Found Whether They Ought to Be Baptized?
Reply. If no proof exist among their kinsfolk and relations, nor among the clergy or neighbours whereby those, about whom the question is raised, may be proved to have been baptized, steps must be taken for their regeneration: lest they evidently perish; for in their case reason does not allow that what is not shown to have been done should seem to be repeated.
Question XVII). Concerning Those Who Have Been Captured by the Enemy and are Not Aware Whether They Have Been Baptized But Know, They Were Several Times Taken to Church by Their Parents, Whether They Can or Ought to Be Baptized When They Come Back to Roman Territory18 ?
Reply. Those who can remember that they used to go to church with their parents can remember whether they received what used to be given to their parents19 . But if this also has escaped their memory, it seems that that must be bestowed on them which is not known to have been bestowed because there can be no presumptuous rashness where the most loyal carefulness has been exercised.
Question XVIII). Concerning Those Who Have Come from Africa or Mauretania and Know Not in What Sect They Were Baptized, What Ought to Be Done in Their Case20 ?
Reply. These persons are not doubtful of their baptism, but profess ignorance as to the faith of those who baptized them: and hence since they have received the form of baptism in some way or other, they are not to be baptized but are to be united to the catholics by imposition of hands, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit’s power, which they could not receive from heretics.
Question XIX). Concerning Those Who After Being Baptized in Infancy Were Captured by the Gentiles, and Lived with Them After the Manner of the Gentiles, When They Come Back to Roman Territory as Still Young Men, If They Seek Communion, What Shall Be Done?
Reply. If they have only lived with Gentiles and eaten sacrificial food, they can be purged by fasting and laying on of hands, in order that for the future abstaining from things offered to idols, they may be partakers of Christ’s mysteries. But if they have either worshipped idols or been polluted with manslaughter or fornication, they must not be admitted to communion, except by public penance.
1 The date of this important letter has been variously conjectured, Quesnel assigning it to the years 442-4, Sirmond and Baluze to 452, and the Ball. preferring 458 or 9).
2 It is an inscription quoted from Gruter and Baluze by Quesnel Hermes is mentioned as diacunus to Rusticus episcopus.He was afterwards made bp of Biterra, but being unfairly expelled by that city, he succeeded Rusticus in Narbonensis.
4 Tuoe, others suoe (the bishops).
5 Qo 7,17 (A.V. overwicked)
6 Mt 24,13.
7 2Tm 3,12,
8 The thought of this fine passage is more fully worked out in Sermon XLVIII., chap. 2 and 3. Cf. esp. the remark, bellum vitiis potius quam hominibus indicunt, “nulli malum pro malo reddentes” sed correctionem peccantium semper optantes.
9 Mt 28,20.
10 Jn 16,33.
11 The same requisites of ordination of bishops are laid down in Lett. X. chap. 6.
12 1S 2,25,
13 The order of sub-deacons (acc. to Quesnel) is here particularly meant: cf. Lett. XIV. chap. 4. The readers (lectores) mentioned below were of course one of the Minor Orders of clergy: cf. Bingham, Antiq. Bk.V. chap. iii.
14 1Co 7,29, was also provided by the Apostolic canons (1Co). episcopus aut presbyter uxorem propriam nequaquam sub obteniu religionis abiciat.
15 Ga 4,30, from Gn 21,10.
16 1Co 6,12,
17 2Tm 2,4.
18 On these points, cf. Letter CLXVI., to Neo, bp. of Ravenna.
19 Viz. the sacred elements of the Eucharist.
20 On these points, cf. Letter CLXVI., to Neo, bp. of Ravenna.
Leo the Great: letters 1159