Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Selected Epistles of Gregory the Great.: Epistle XVI
From Felix Bishop of Messana 243 to St. Gregory.
To the most blessed and honourable lord, the holy father Pope Gregory, Felix lover of your Weal and Holiness.
p. 108 The claims under God of your most blessed Weal and Holiness are manifest. For, though the whole earth was filled with observance of the true faith by the preaching and doctrine of the apostles, yet the orthodox Church of Christ, having been founded by apostolical institution and most firmly established by the faithful fathers, is further built up through the teaching of divine discourses, while instructed by your hortatory admonition. To it did all the most blessed apostles, endowed with an equal participation of dignity and authority 244 , convert hosts of peoples; and by salutary precepts and admonitions, piously and holily, brought such as were foreknown in the grace of divine predestination from darkness to light, from error to the true faith, from death to life. Following the merits of these holy apostles, and perfectly acting up to their example, your honoured Paternity adorns with them the Church of God by probity of manners and holiness of deeds; and, strong in sacred faith and Christian manners, enjoins what should be done to please God, and unceasingly follows and fulfils pontifical duties, thus observing the precepts of divine law; since (as says the Apostle) Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified (Rom. ii. 13).
As we were meditating on these things, news was brought us by certain who came from Rome that you had written to our comrade Augustine (afterwards ordained Bishop for the nation of the Angli, and thither sent by your venerable Holiness), and to the Angli (whom we have long known to have been converted to the faith through you), that persons related in the fourth degree of descent, if married, should not be separated 245 . Now this was not formerly the custom either in those or in these parts, when I was brought up and taught together with you from infancy; nor have I read of it in any decrees of your predecessors, or in the institutes of other Fathers generally or specially, or learnt that it had been allowed hitherto by any of the wise. But I have found from your holy predecessors, and from the rest of the holy Fathers, assembled as well in the Nicene synod as in other holy councils, that this [i.e. this prohibition of marriage] should be observed down to the seventh degree of descent; and I know that this is carefully seen to by men who live aright and fear the Lord. While these things were being discussed among us, other things also supervened, concerning which it seems necessary for us to consult your authority. For there came to us both Benedict, bishop of the Syracusan Church, and also others of our brethren, being bishops, weeping, and saying that they were greatly disturbed and afflicted in mind on account of the immoderate proceedings of secular and lay persons, in consequence of which some unjust things were also being said against them.
There are also some churches in our province about the consecration of which doubt is felt; and, because both of their antiquity and of the carelessness of their custodians, it is unknown whether they have been dedicated by bishops or not. As to all these things we beg to be instructed by your Holiness, and by the authority of your holy see; and we ask to be informed by your letters whether what, as we have before said, we have heard that you had written to our aforesaid comrade Augustine and to the nation of the Angli was written specially to them or generally to all; and we desire to be fully informed both on this matter and on the others above written.
For we do not signify to you what we have read, and what we know to be observed by the faithful, by way of finding fault (which be far from us); but we seek to know what we may reasonably and faithfully observe in this matter. And, since no slight murmuring is going on among us on this question, we seek an answer from you, as from the head, as to what we should reply to our brethren and fellow bishops; lest we should remain doubtful in the matter, and lest this murmuring should remain among us both in your times and in times to come, and your reputation, which has always been good and excellent, should be lacerated or disparaged through detractions, or your name (which God forbid) should be evil spoken of in succeeding times. For we, observing under God what is right with humble heart, being bound to you in one bond of charity, and defending your religion in all things as faithful pupils, seek knowledge of what is right from you. For we know that, as the apostles in the first place who were prelates of the holy See, and their successors afterwards, have always done, so you also take care of the universal Church, and especially of bishops, who on account of their contemplation and speculation are called the eyes of the Lord; and that you think continually about our religion and law, as it is written, p. 109 Blessed is he who shall meditate in the law of the Lard day and night (Ps. i. 2). Which meditation of yours is not only seen by reading, through the outward expression of letters, but, by the grace of Christ abounding in you, is known to be immoveably engrafted in your conscience; while the most holy law of Christ the Lord in no wise departs from your heart; as says the Prophet in the Psalms, The mouth of the righteous will meditate wisdom, and his tongue will be talking of judgments: the law of God is in his heart (Ps. xxxvi. 30); written not with ink, but in secret by the Spirit of the living God; not therefore on tables of stone, but on the tables of the heart. Let all gloom of darkness, we pray you, be dispelled by your most wise replies and assistance, that the morning star may shine upon us through you, most holy Father, and a dogmatic definition causing joy to all everywhere, because the glorious Fathers of holy Church are known to have preached proper and most pious dogmas unto secure inheritance of eternal life.
Subscription. May the Lord keep you safe and well-pleasing to God for ever, holy father of fathers, while you pray for us.
Messina in Sicily. This Felix cannot be identified with Felix, bishop of the same See, to whom previous letters (viz. I. 66, together with two others, I. 40, and II. 5, which have not been translated) had been addressed. For he had been succeeded in the see by Donus, probably in the 14th Indiction, i.e. a.d. 595–6, (see VI. 9), when Gregorys reply to Augustines interrogatories, which is the main subject of the epistle before us, had not yet been sent. Augustine does not appear to have even arrived in Britain till a.d. 597. But there seems to be no reason against the supposition that a second Felix had succeeded Donus at Messina before the death of Gregory, the last mention of Donus being in the superscription of Ep. XVIII. in Book XIII., assigned to the 16th Indiction, i.e. a.d. 602–3.108:244
See also below—“the apostles in the first place who were prelates of the Apostolic See.” It would seem from these expressions that the Sicilian bishops went on the tradition of St. Paul and St. Peter having been joint founders of the Roman Church and throughout the epistle, though the supremacy of the See of Rome is acknowledged, it is not spoken of as derived especially from St. Peter.108:245
See XI., 64 (Responsio ad Interrog. vi.).
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