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Pope St. Gregory the Great. 540 - 604 AD

Pope St. Gregory the Great

540 - 604 AD

Note. For the full texts of Gregory the Great’s letters, visit the electronic library at Wheaton University. The passages quoted here have been adapted into modern English and divided into numbered paragraphs, by John Wijngaards.

1. The pallium is a sign of episcopal authority, which only a Pope can give.

Gregory to Donus, Bishop of Messana (Messene).

§1. Moved by the benevolence of the Apostolic See, and following ancient custom, I have thought fit to grant to you, who are known to have undertaken the office of government in the Church of Messana, the use of the pallium. You should wear it at such times and in such manner as I dispute not that your predecessor used it. At the same time I warn you that, as you rejoice in having received from me a decoration of this kind to the honour of your priestly office, so also you strive, by probity of manners and deeds, to adorn, to the glory of Christ, the office which you have undertaken under our authority. For your external and internal decorations should mutually correspond, by the dress on your body agreeing with the good qualities of your soul.

§2. All the privileges which are known to have been granted of old to your Church I confirm by my authority, and decree that they shall continue inviolate.

Register of Letters by Pope Gregory the Great, Book 6, no 9.

2. The pallium may only be worn during the liturgy of Mass or during solemn litanies

Gregory to John, Bishop of Ravenna.

§ 1. It is not long since certain things have been told us about your Fraternity concerning which I remember having declared ourselves in full, when Castorius, notary of the holy church over which I preside, went into your area. For it had come to my ears that some things were being done in your church contrary to custom and to the way of humility, which alone, as you well know, exalts the priestly office. Now, if your Wisdom had received my admonitions kindly or with episcopal seriousness, you ought not to have been incensed by them, but have corrected these same things with thanks to us. For it is contrary to ecclesiastical use, if even unjust correction (which, however, is far from whqat I am doing) is not most patiently borne.

a bishops's pallium

§2. But your Fraternity has been too much moved; and when, in the swelling of your heart, as if to justify yourself, you wrote that you did not use the pallium except after the laity had been dismissed from the sacristy, and at the time of mass, and in solemn litanies, your words betrayed you with most manifest truth as your having usurped something contrary to the usage of the Church in general.

§3. For how can it be that at a time of ashes and sackcloth, through the streets among the noises of the people you could do lawfully what you have disclaimed of ever doing, as being unlawful in the assembly of the poor and nobles, and in the sacristy of the Church? Yet this, dearest brother, is not, I think, unknown to you; that it has hardly ever been heard of any metropolitan in any parts of the world that he has claimed to himself the use of the pallium except at the time of mass. And that you knew well this custom of the Church in general you have shown clearly in your letters, in which you have sent to us appended the precept of my predecessor John of blessed memory, to the effect that all the customs conceded in the way of privilege to you and your church by my predecessors should be retained.

§4. You acknowledge, then, that the custom of the Church in general is different, seeing that you claim the right of doing what you do on the score of privilege. Thus, as I think, I can have no remaining doubt in this matter. For either the usage of all metropolitans should be observed also by your Fraternity, or, if you say that something has been specially conceded to your church, it is for your side to show the precept of former pontiffs of the Roman City wherein these things have been conceded to the Church of Ravenna. But, if this is not shown, it stands, seeing that you establish your claim to do such things on the score neither of general custom nor of privilege, that you prove yourself to have usurped in what you have done.

§5. And what shall I say to the future judge, most beloved brother, if I defend the use of that heavy yoke and chain on my neck with a view, I do not say to ecclesiastical, but to a certain secular dignity; judging ourselves to be lowered if I am without so great a weight even for a short space of time? How could one desire to be adorned with the pallium, even though unadorned in character; whereas nothing shines more splendidly on a bishop's neck than humility?

§6. It is therefore the duty of your Fraternity, if you art firmly determined to defend your honours with any kind of arguments, either to follow the use of the general Church without written authority, or to defend yourself under privileges shown in writing. Or, if lastly you do neither, I will not have you set an example of presumption of this sort to other metropolitans. But, lest you should perhaps think that I, in thus writing to you, have neglected what belongs to fraternal charity, know that careful search has been made in my archives for the privileges of your Church. And indeed some things have been found, sufficient to obviate entirely the aims of your Fraternity, but nothing to support the contentions of your Church on the points in question. For even concerning the very custom of your Church which you allege against us, which custom I wrote before should be proved on your side, I would have you know that I have already taken thought sufficiently, having questioned my assistants, Peter the deacon and Gaudiosus the primicerius, and also Michael the guardian of my see, or others who on various commissions have been sent by my predecessors to Ravenna; and they have most positively denied that you have done these things in their presence.

§7. It is therefore apparent that what was done in secret must have been an unlawful usurpation. Hence what has been latently introduced can have no firm ground to justify its continuance. What things, then, you or your predecessors have presumed to do on your own authority, I urge you, having regard to charity, and with brotherly kindness, to correct. To no degree attempt--I do not say of your own accord, but after the fashion set by others, even your predecessors,--to deviate from the rule of humility.

§8. For, to sum up in brief what I have said above, I admonish you to this effect: that unless you cans show that this has been allowed you by my predecessors in the way of privilege, you presume not any more to use the pallium in the streets, lest you come not to have even for mass what you audaciously usurpest even in the streets. But as to your sitting in the sacristy, and receiving the prominent laity with the pallium on (which thing your Fraternity has both done and disclaimed), I now for the present make no complaint; since, following the decision of synods, I refuse to punish minor faults, which are denied. Yet I know this to have been done once and again, and I prohibit its being done any more. But let your Fraternity take careful heed, lest presumption which in its commencement is pardoned be more severely visited if it proceeds further.

Register of Letters by Pope Gregory the Great, Book 3, no 56.

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