Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great.: Letter I
To the Bishop of Aquileia.
I. Through the negligence of the authorities the Pelagian heresy has been spreading in his province.
From the account of our holy brother and fellow-bishop Septimus which is contained in the subjoined letter 16 , we have understood that certain priests and deacons and clergy of various orders 17 in your province who have been drawn in by the Pelagian or Cælestian heresy, have attained to catholic communion without any recantation of their peculiar error being required of them; and that, whilst the shepherds set to watch were fast asleep, wolves clothed in sheep-skins but without laying aside their bestial minds have entered into the Lords sheep-fold: and that they make a practice of what is not allowed even to non-offenders by the injunctions of our canons and decrees 18 : to wit that they should leave the churches in which they received or regained their office and carry their uncertainty in all directions, loving to continue wandering and never to remain on the foundations of the Apostles. For without being sifted by any test or bound by any previous confession of faith, they make a great point of their right to the privilege of going to one house after another under cover of their being in communion with the Church, and corrupting the hearts of many through mens ignorance 19 of their false name. And yet I am sure they could not do this, if the rulers of the churches had exercised their rightful diligence in the matter of receiving such, and had not allowed any of them to wander from place to place.
II. He orders a provincial synod to be convened to receive the recantation of the heretics in express terms.
Accordingly, lest this should be attempted any further, and lest this pernicious habit, which owes its introduction to certain persons negligence, should result in the overthrow of many souls, by this our authoritative injunction we charge you, brother, to give diligence that a synod of the clergy 20 of your province be convened, and all, whether priests or deacons or clerics of any rank who have been re-admitted from their alliance with the Pelagians and the Cælestians into catholic communion with such precipitation that they were not first constrained to recant their error, be now at least forced to a true correction, which can advantage themselves and hurt no one, since their deceitfulness has in part been disclosed. Let them by their public confession condemn the authors of this presumptuous 21 error and renounce all that the universal Church has repudiated in their doctrine: and let them announce by full and open statements, signed by their own hand, that they embrace and entirely approve of all the synodal decrees which the authority of the Apostolic See has ratified to the rooting out of this heresy. Let nothing obscure, nothing ambiguous be found in their words. For we know that their cunning is such that they reckon that the meaning of any particular clause of their execrable doctrine can be defended if they only keep it distinct from the main body of their damnable views 22 .
p. 2 III. The Pelagian view of Gods grace is unscriptural.
And when they pretend to disapprove of and give up all their definitions to facilitate evasion through their complete art of deception, unless their meaning is detected, they make exception of the dogma that the grace of God is given according to the merits of the recipient. And yet surely, unless it is given freely, it is not a gift 23 , but a price and compensation for merits: for the blessed Apostle says, “by grace ye have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves but it is the gift of God; not of works lest any should perchance be exalted. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God prepared that we should walk in them 24 .” Thus every bestowal of good works is of Gods preparing: because a man is justified by grace rather than by his own excellence: for grace is to every one the source of righteousness, the source of good and the fountain of merit. But these heretics say it is anticipated by mens natural goodness for this reason, that that nature which (in their view) is before grace conspicuous for good desires of its own, may not seem marred by any stain of original sin, and that what the Truth says may be falsified: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost 25 .”
IV. Prompt measures are essential.
You must take heed, therefore, beloved, and with great diligence make provision that offences which have long been removed be not set up again through such men and that no seed of the same evil spring up in your province from a doctrine which has once been uprooted: for not only will it take root and grow, but also will taint the future generations of the Church with its poisonous exhalations. Those who wish to appear corrected must purge themselves of all suspicion: and by obeying us, prove themselves ours. And if any of them decline to satisfy our wholesome injunctions, be he cleric or layman, he must be driven from the society of the Church lest he deal treacherously by others safety as well as forfeit his own soul.
V. The canons must be enforced against clerics who wander from one church to another.
We admonish you also to restore to full working that part of the discipline of the Church whereby the holy Fathers and we have often in former times decreed that neither in the grade of the priesthood nor in the order of the diaconate nor in the lower ranks of the clergy, is any one at liberty to migrate from church to church: to the end that each one may persevere where he was ordained without being enticed by ambition, or led astray by greed, or corrupted by mens evil beliefs: and thus that if any one, seeking his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ 26 , neglect to return to his own people 27 and church, he may be reckoned out of the pale both in respect of promotion and of the bond of communion. But do not doubt, beloved, that we must be somewhat sorely moved if, as we think not, our decrees for the maintenance of the canons and the integrity of the faith be neglected: because the short-comings of the lower orders 28 are to be laid at the door of none so much as of those slothful and remiss rulers who often foster much pestilence by shrinking from the application of a stringent remedy.
It is to be supposed that the letter of Septimus, bp. of Altinum, was sent with this letter. See Lett. XVIII. n. 3.1:17
Viz. members of the minor order as they are now called, subdeacons, exorcists, &c.1:18
It has been the rule at least since the council of Nicæa (325) that the clergy should stay in the church (or “diocese” as we should call it) of their ordination, cf. Canons of Nicæa xxi. de his qui Ecclesias deserunt et ad alias transeunt, and xxii. de non suscipiendis alterius Ecclesiæ clericis. And we often find Leo insisting on the observance of the rule.1:19
Inscientiam: the general reading being scientiam, the sense of which is not clear.1:20
Sacerdotum: I am in doubt as to what this term here includes, but think it probable that all ranks of the clergy were to be summoned. The words sacerdos and antistes in early ecclesiastical Latin very often mean the bishop (episcopus) specifically rather than the presbyter (sacerdos secundi ordinis), because it was the bishop who offered the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” (i.e. the Eucharist), and the presbyter only in his default; but the term sacerdos does certainly often include the presbyters and also the deacons (sacerdotes tertii ordinis) when in connexion with the priests and bishops, and it seems likely that the whole body of the clergy of the province would be summoned to the synod: see Brights note 110: also Bingham, Antiq., Bk. II., chap. xix., §§ 14, 15.1:21
Superbi (proud): the epithet is well chosen and not a random one: for pride and presumption are at the root of the Pelagian views as birth-sin and baptismal grace: perfectionism is little in accordance with Christian humility.1:22
For the same sentiment cf. Prosper, de ingratis, v. 188.2:23
The reader need hardly be reminded that in the New Testament “grace” (Lat. gratia, Gk. χάρις) signifies “a free gift.”2:24
Eph. ii. 8-10.2:25
S. Luke ix. 10. Between this and the next chapter some of the mss. and the earlier editions insert a passage from Augustines Enchiridion, which thus formed chapter iv.2:26
A reminiscence of Phil. ii. 21.2:27
Plebem: this being the regular term for the “Laity” in early Christian Latin.2:28
Sc. of the clergy.
Next: To Septimus, Bishop of Altinum.
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