Papal Decrees

Papal Decrees

Gelasius: On the Two Powers

Gelasius I on Spiritual and Temporal Power, 494

Letter of Pope Gelasius to Emperor Anastasius on the superiority of the spiritual over temporal power: The pope’s view of the natural superiority of the spiriitual over the temporal power finds a clear expression the following remarkable letter of Gelasius I (494).

There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment. You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will.

If the ministers of religion, recognizing the supremacy granted you from heaven in matters affecting the public order, obey your laws, lest otherwise they might obstruct the course of secular affairs by irrelevant considerations, with what readiness should you not yield them obedience to whom is assigned the dispensing of the sacred mysteries of religion. Accordingly, just as there is no slight danger m the case of the priests if they refrain from speaking when the service of the divinity requires, so there is no little risk for those who disdain – which God forbid -when they should obey. And if it is fitting that the hearts of the faithful should submit to all priests in general who properly administer divine affairs, how much the more is obedience due to the bishop of that see which the Most High ordained to be above ,ill others, and which is consequently dutifully honored by the devotion of the whole Church.

translated in J. H. Robinson,

Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905), pp. 72-73

Pope St. Gelasius I

Died at Rome, 19 Nov., 496. Gelasius, as he himself states in his letter to the Emperor Anastasius (Ep. xii, n. 1), was Romanus natus. The assertion of the “Liber Pontificalis” that he was natione Afer is consequently taken by many to mean that he was of African origin, though Roman born. Others, however, interpreting natione Afer as “African by birth”, explain Romanus natus as “born a Roman citizen”. Before his election as pope, 1 March, 492, Gelasius had been much employed by his predecessor, Felix II (or III), especially in drawing up ecclesiastical documents, which has led some scholars to confuse the writings of the two pontiffs.

On his election to the papacy, Gelasius at once showed his strength of character and his lofty conception of his position by his firmness in dealing with the adherents of Acacius (see ACACIUS, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE). Despite all the efforts of the otherwise orthodox patriarch, Euphemius of Constantinople, and the threats and wiles by which the Emperor Anastasius tried to obtain recognition from the Apostolic See, Gelasius, though hard-pressed by difficulties at home, would make no peace that compromised in the slightest degree the rights and honor of the Chair of Peter. The constancy with which he combated the pretensions, lay and ecclesiastical, of the New Rome; the resoluteness with which he refused to allow the civil or temporal pre-eminence of a city to determine its ecclesiastical rank; the unfailing courage with which he defended the rights of the “second” and the “third” sees, Alexandria and Antioch, are some of the most striking features of his pontificate. It has been well said that nowhere at this period can be found stronger arguments for the primacy of Peter’s See than in the works and writings of Gelasius. He is never tired of repeating that Rome owes its ecclesiastical princedom not to an oecumenical synod nor to any temporal importance it may have possessed, but to the Divine institution of Christ Himself, Who conferred the primacy over the whole Church upon Peter and his successors. (Cf. especially his letters to Eastern bishops and the decretal on the canonical and apocryphal books.) In his dealing with the emperor he is at one with the great medieval pontiffs. “There are two powers by which chiefly this world is ruled: the sacred authority of the priesthood and the authority of kings. And of these the authority of the priests is so much the weightier, as they must render before the tribunal of God an account even for the kings of men.” Gelasius’s pontificate was too short to effect the complete submission and reconciliation of the ambitious Church of Byzantium. Not until Hormisdas (514-23) did the contest end in the return of the East to its old allegiance. Troubles abroad were not the only occasions to draw out the energy and strength of Gelasius. The Lupercalia, a superstitious and somewhat licentious vestige of paganism at Rome, was finally abolished by the pope after a long contest. Gelasius’s letter to Andromachus, the senator, covers the main lines of the controversy.

A stanch upholder of the old traditions, Gelasius nevertheless knew when to make exceptions or modifications, such as his decree obliging the reception of the Holy Eucharist under both kinds. This was done as the only effective way of detecting the Manichæans, who, though present in Rome in large numbers, sought to divert attention from their hidden propaganda by feigning Catholicism. As they held wine to be impure and essentially sinful, they would refuse the chalice and thus be recognized. Later, with the change of conditions, the old normal method of receiving Holy Communion under the form of bread alone returned into vogue. To Gelasius we owe the ordinations on the ember days (Ep. xv), as well as the enforcement of the fourfold division of all ecclesiastical revenues, whether income from estates or voluntary donations of the faithful, one portion for the poor, another for the support of the churches and the splendour of Divine service, a third for the bishop, and the fourth for the minor clergy. Though some writers ascribe the origin of this division of church funds to Gelasius, still the pontiff speaks of it (Ep. xiv, n. 27) as dudum rationabiliter decretum, having been for some time in force. Indeed, Pope Simplicius (475, Ep. i, n. 2) imposed the obligation of restitution to the poor and the Church upon a certain bishop who had failed in this duty; consequently it must have been already regarded as at least a custom of the Church. Not content with one enunciation of this charitable obligation, Gelasius frequently inculcates it in his writings to bishops. For a long time the fixing of the Canon of the Scriptures was attributed to Gelasius, but it seems now more probably the work of Damasus (367-85). As Gelasius, however, in a Roman synod (494), published his celebrated catalogue of the authentic writings of the Fathers, together with a list of apocryphal and interpolated works, as well as the proscribed books of the heretics (Ep. xlii), it was but natural to prefix to this catalogue the Canon of the Scriptures as determined by the earlier Pontiff, and thus in the course of time the Canon itself came to be ascribed to Gelasius. In his zeal for the beauty and majesty of Divine service, Gelasius composed many hymns, prefaces, and collects, and arranged a standard Mass-book, though the Missal that has commonly gone by his name, the “Sacramentarium Gelasianum”, belongs properly to the next century. How much of it is the work of Gelasius is still a moot question. Though pope but for four years and a half, he exerted a deep influence on the development of church polity, of the liturgy and ecclesiastical discipline. A large number of his decrees have been incorporated into the Canon Law.

In his private life Gelasius was above all conspicuous for his spirit of prayer, penance, and study. He took great delight in the company of monks, and was a true father to the poor, dying empty-handed as a result of his lavish charity. Dionysius Exiguus in a letter to his friend, the priest Julian (P.L., LXVII, 231), gives a glowing account of Gelasius as he appeared to his contemporaries.

As a writer Gelasius takes high rank for his period. His style is vigorous and elegant, though occasionally, obscure. Comparatively little of his literary work has come down to us, though he is said to have been the most prolific writer of all the pontiffs of the first five centuries. There are extant forty-two letters and fragments of forty-nine others, besides six treatises, of which three are concerned with the Acacian schism, one with the heresy of the Pelagians, another with the errors of Nestorius and Eutyches, while the sixth is directed against the senator Andromachus and the advocates of the Lupercalia. The best edition is that of Thiel.

Source: Catholic Encyclopedia

Pope Nicholas I: Responses to the Questions of the Bulgars A.D. 866, Letter 99

Chapter I.

Now then, at the very beginning of your questions, you properly and laudably state that your king seeks the Christian law. If we attempted to explain this law fully, innumerable books would have to be written; but, in order to show briefly in what things it chiefly consists, one should know that the law of the Christians consists in faith and good works. For faith is the first of all virtues in the lives of believers. Whence, even on the first day there is said to be light, since God is portrayed as having said: Let there be light,[Gen.1:3] that is, “let the illumination of belief appear.” Indeed, it is also because of this illumination that Christ came down to earth. Good work is no less demanded from a Christian; for just as it is written in our law: Without faith it is impossible to please God,[Heb. 11:6] so it is also written: Just as a body without a spirit is dead, so, too, faith without works is dead.[James 2:20] This is the Christian law, and whoever keeps this law properly, shall be saved.

Chapter II.

A person should love the one who receives him from the sacred font just like a father; indeed, since this is spiritual patronage and adoption according to God, by however much the spirit is more outstanding than the flesh, so much should the spiritual father be more beloved in every way by the spiritual son. Indeed, Mark the Evangelist, the disciple of Peter, was also his son because of holy baptism.[cf. I Peter 5:13] If he had not loved Peter like a father, Mark would not have obeyed him in all things like a son. But there is no consanguinity between these men and their children, because the spirit does not know ties which are of blood: For the flesh, according to the Apostle, strives against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; they are indeed opposed to one another.[Gal. 5:17] Nevertheless, there is between them another communion of grace, which should not be called “consanguinity”, but should rather be considered “spiritual kinship” (spiritalis proximitas). As a result, we do not think that there can be any conjugal relationship (conubium) between them, since the venerable Roman laws do not allow a marriage to be contracted between those who are children by nature and those who are children by adoption. Indeed, in the first book of the Institutions, when it speaks of marriage, it says among other things: Some unions have to be avoided. Marriage cannot be contracted between people in the relation of parent and child, for instance father and daughter or grandfather and granddaughter or mother and son or grandmother and grandson and so on up and down the line. A union within these degrees is evil and incestuous. If their relationship as parent and child is based on adoption, they still cannot marry; …. You cannot marry a girl who has become your daughter or granddaughter through adoption; and later: There can be no marriage between me and my adopted sister, as long as the adoption stands.[2] Therefore, if marriage is not contracted between those whom adoption joins, how much more fitting is it that those whom the regeneration of the Holy Spirit binds through a heavenly sacrament, cease from carnal intimacy with one another? Hence, it is far more appropriate that someone be called the son of my father or my brother whom divine grace rather than human wit has chosen to be my son or my brother, and it is far more prudent to keep ourselves from mixing with each other’s bodies because the Holy Spirit has united us in its love than to do so because carnal necessity or the changeable judgment of some corruptible person had joined us to each other.

[2] Justinian I, Institutes I,1,1 & 2 (trans.P. Birks & G. McLeod, p.43). Composed in 533 under the Emperor Justinian I, the Institutes, which was bound together with the Digest, was intended to serve as an introduction to the principles of law that were explored in greater depth through the cases and opinions assembled in the latter volume.

Chapter III.

We shall strive, while avoiding a wordy style, to show you that the custom, which you say the Greeks maintain in their marital unions, recalls in small ways the custom which the Roman Church received in antiquity and still maintains in unions of this sort. Now then, our men and women do not wear upon their heads a band of gold, silver, or some other metal when they contract a marriage pact. Instead, after the betrothal is celebrated — which is the promised pact of future marriage made with the consent of both those who contract the pact and those under whose power they are — the betrothed man joins the bride to himself with vows through the finger marked by him with the ring of faith and the betrothed man hands over to her a dowry (dos) pleasing to both people along with a document containing this agreement in the presence of those invited by both parties. Then, either soon after or at an appropriate time, namely in order that no such thing be presumed to be done before the time defined by law, both are brought to the wedding. First, they are stationed by the hand of the priest in the church of the Lord along with offerings which they should offer to God and so at last they receive the blessing and the celestial veil, on the model, namely, of the Lord who, after placing the first people in paradise, said to them: Increase and multiply, etc. [Gen.1:38] Tobias, before he had come together with his wife, is also described as having prayed to God with this same prayer.[cf.Tobit 8:4] The person who passes into a second marriage, however, does not receive this veil. When they leave the church after this, they wear crowns on their heads, which are always kept by custom in the church. And so, after the wedding is celebrated, they are directed to lead their own life with God disposing over the rest. These are the wedding vows, these are the solemn agreements of married people, as well as those which at present do not come to mind. But we do not claim that it is a sin if all of these things do not occur in a marriage agreement, as you say the Greeks told you, especially since so great a lack of wealth usually oppresses people that it offers them no help in preparing these things. And for this reason, according to the laws, the consent alone of those whose union is at issue, is enough [to make a marriage]. Yet if this consent alone is perchance lacking in the wedding, all the rest, even if it is consummated with intercourse itself, is in vain, as the great teacher John Chrysostom attests, who says: Not intercourse but will makes marriage.[3]

[3] Homilies on Matthew 32.

Now then, since you ask if a man can take another wife when his own wife has died, know that of course he can, as the excellent preacher Paul advises, who says: I do not say to married people and widows: It is a good thing for them if they remain just as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, let them marry;[I Cor. 7:8-9] and again he says: A woman is bound to the law, as long as her husband lives; if her husband dies, she is free: let her marry whomever she wishes.[I Cor. 7:39] Whatever he decreed concerning a woman, should in fact be understood about a man as well, since Sacred Scripture often speaks about a man but is understood to speak nonetheless about a woman. For behold we say: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the impious etc.[Ps.1:1] and again: Blessed is the man who fears the Lord [Ps.111:1] passages in which we believe not without reason that not only a man but also a woman is blessed, who does not walk in the counsel of the impious and who fears the Lord.

Chapter IV.

We consider it unnecessary to explain to you, who are rough and in some ways children in the faith, how many times or days in the course of a year one should abstain from meat. For the time being, on the days of fasting on which one should especially supplicate the Lord through abstinence and the lamentation of penance, one should completely abstain from meat. For, although it is fitting to pray and abstain at all times, one should nevertheless be even more of a slave to abstinence at times of fasting, namely so that the person who recalls that he has committed illicit deeds may keep himself on these days even from licit things in accordance with the sacred decretals, namely during Lent, which is before Easter, on the fast before Pentecost, at the fast before the assumption of the holy mother of God and the ever virgin Mary, our Lady, as well as on the fast before the feast of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ: these are the fasts which the holy Roman church received in antiquity and maintains. But on the sixth day of every week [i.e. Friday] and on all the vigils of famous feasts one should cease from eating meat and should apply oneself to fasting, so that one may truly be able to say with the writer of the Psalms: Weeping shall last the night, but in the morning shall come happiness.[Ps. 29:6] But if some wish to abstain from meat on other days, they should not be forbidden to do so, because the more tears someone sows in this life, the greater shall their harvest of joy be in the eternal life.[cf. Ps.125:5] Yet we cannot impose this heavy yoke upon you who are, as we have said, still rough and like children to be nourished with milk, until you come to solid food. And therefore, just as we advise you of this for the time being, so we admonish you in every way that you not touch what has been forbidden. For by tasting a mere apple that was forbidden, the first formed people were expelled from the pleasantness of paradise.

Chapter V.

One should engage in lamentation more on the fourth day of the week [Wednesday] than on the other days except the sixth [Friday], because the Lord had already been buried in a certain way on this day in the heart of the earth, i.e. in the heart of the traitor Judas, when he was planning to betray Him to death.[cf. Matthew 26:14-16] If one of you wishes to eat meat on this day, however, he absolutely can do so, unless perchance it is known that a priest has forbidden him this, since it is written: Obedience is better than sacrifice,[cf.I Kings 15:22] or if this day happens to fall among the fast days, because Jonathan, after violating the fast imposed by his father by tasting a bit of honey, was sought by his father in order that his father might kill him; [cf. I Kings 14:43-44] and of course if the person has constrained himself not to eat meat on this day, since it is written: Vow and render it unto the Lord your God.[Ps. 75:12] But on the sixth day of the week [Friday] our sense of taste should be kept from the feasts and fat of all flesh as we recall the Lord’s passion and the sorrow of the apostles, unless the Lord’s nativity [December 25], his Epiphany [January 6], or the feast of the blessed mother of the Lord and immaculate virgin Mary [September 8], or the feasts of the princes of the apostles Peter and Paul [June 29], of St. John the Baptist [June 24], John the Evangelist [December 27], or of the brother of the bearer of the keys to heaven, namely the apostle Andrew [November 30], as well as the feast of the blessed protomartyr Stephen [December 26] should chance to fall on this day. For the Lord attests that the holy Church and the faithful soul should observe on the feast days of the saints the fasts or abstinences, which have not be undertaken with an eternal vow, when he says in the Gospel: When a woman gives birth, she is sad; but after she has given birth to the child, she no longer recalls the anguish because of her joy that a human being was born into the world.[Jn. 16:21] He calls the holy Church a woman, for just as a woman rejoices in a human being born into this world, so the Church is filled with worthy exultation when a people passes into the life of the faithful that is to come. After laboring greatly and groaning over its birth, it suffers at present as if giving birth. Nor should this seem new to anyone, if one who has passed from this life is called “a newborn”; for just as one is said to be born, following the accustomed usage, when the person proceeds from his mother’s womb and comes forth into the light, so, too, can a person rightly be called “newborn” who comes into the light of the living once freed from the shadows of this world. Therefore, because of this situation, it is rightly maintained by ecclesiastical custom that the feast days of the blessed martyrs and confessors of Christ, upon which they passed from this world to the land of the living, are called “natal days”, and their solemnities are not called funerals, as if they were for the dead, but rather the birthdays of those born in the true life. Therefore, if they have been born to God, for Whom all live and in Whose hands the souls of the just are placed, when they seem to the eyes of fools to die, their holy mother “no longer recalls her anguish because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world,” i.e. into the eternal light. Because she rejoices over his birth, she should not spend her time in any lamentations on this day. Yet in this valley of tears one should always mourn and persist in lamentation until we come to that feast of angels. For although the festival is celebrated in this world, it is but momentary and does not last forever and is scarcely ever completed without sadness.

Chapter VI.

You also mention something which the Greeks assert, namely that you should by no means bathe on Wednesday or Friday of the week. In contrast, as our response on this matter we offer you who have asked for our counsel, something from a certain Sunday sermon which the blessed Pope Gregory and the apostle of the English nation is read to have preached to the Romans. He says: It has come to my attention that certain perverse individuals have preached to you that no one should wash on Sunday. And indeed, if someone wishes to bathe out of a desire for luxury or pleasure, we do not grant that this should occur on any day: but if it is done out of bodily necessity, we do not forbid this even on Sunday. For truly it is written: “No one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it;”[Eph. 5:29] and again: “Do not care for the flesh to fulfill its desires.”[Rom.13:14] Hence the one who forbids care for the flesh [motivated by] desires,in fact grants it in cases of necessity. For if it is a sin to wash on Sundays, the face should not be washed on this day either. But if washing is conceded on this part of the body, why is it denied to the whole body, if necessity demands it?[4] Thus, what this most excellent bishop and most gentle teacher granted on Sunday — a day more venerable than the other days — we do not deny on Wednesday or Friday, though we preserve this distinction, that, if someone wishes to bath out of a desire for luxury or pleasure, we do not allow this to occur on any day, but if it is done because of bodily necessity, we prohibit this on neither Wednesday nor Friday.

[4] Gregory I, Register XIII.3.

Chapter VII.

You further inquire, whether a clean or unclean person is allowed to kiss or carry the cross of the Lord when he holds it. [We answer] that for the person who is clean, it is completely permissible; for what is indicated in a kiss if not the love with which someone burns for these things? And in carrying it, what else is expressed if not the mortification or fellow-suffering of the flesh? Indeed, the Lord also ordered this person to carry this cross, but in his mind; but when it is performed with the body, one is more easily reminded that it should also be performed in the mind. As the aforementioned bishop explains: The cross (crux) is in fact named after “torment” (cruciatus) and we bear the Lord’s cross in two ways, when we afflict our flesh through abstinence and when we consider the need of our neighbor as our own through our compassion for our neighbor.[5] Therefore kiss the Lord’s cross when you venerate His passion and out of your love for him, if necessity demands it, be armed with this same thought. Carry the cross, but with the highest reverence and the cleanest body and heart, so that it may never fall from your mind, i.e. that you may both afflict your flesh always through abstinence and consider the needs of your neighbors as your own through compassion. He who suffers at the need of another, bears a cross in his mind. An unclean person, in contrast we allow to carry the cross by no arrangement; indeed it is written: Let you who bear the vessels of the Lord be clean.[Is.52:11] No vessel of the Lord is more sacred than the Lord’s cross, which deserved to bear the Lord Himself. The unclean person is also not permitted to kiss the cross, for by the very fact that he is unclean, he is his own witness that he does not love the mortification of the flesh; therefore he may not kiss what he does not love, lest perhaps it be said of him what the Lord says of the reprobate as a rebuke through the prophet: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,[Is. 29:13 & Mt.15:8] and the Psalmist says: They have loved him in their mouth and have lied to him in their tongue.[Ps. 77:36] Regarding the relics of the saints, whose bodies have been and are the temples and vessels of God and which the Holy Spirit has used as its instruments for all it good works, when it has so wished, we say these same thing.

[5] Gregory I, Homilies on the Gospels 37, trans. D. Hurst, Gregory the Great. Forty Gospel Homilies (= CS 123), Kalamazoo, MI, 1990, pp. 327-37 at 330.

Chapter VIII.

Therefore, if fitting reverence has preceded and a cleanliness of mind and body accompany it, even during Lent (about which you requested special instruction) you are permitted to carry the Lord’s cross when it is pleasing for the cross to be kissed, as long as the above rule is maintained; but then and there especially, when and where the struggles and treacheries of the ancient enemy are particularly feared.

Chapter IX.

You ask whether you should communicate with the body and blood of the Lord every day during greater Lent.[6] We humbly pray to omnipotent God and exhort you all most vehemently that you do so, but [you should not do so] if your mind is disposed towards sin; if your conscience, perhaps because it is unrepentant or unreconciled [with God?], does not accuse the mind for its criminal sins; and if one of you has not been reconciled with the brother with whom you are at odds because of your own vice. For we judge that, when someone is bitten by their conscience concerning one of these things, receiving communion weighs him down with a great accusation more than it offers him a remedy. Indeed, according to the Apostle: He eats and drinks his own judgment [I Cor. 11:29]. But regarding this and those who in fact enter the church but do not communicate when the offering is made, the sacred canons adequately speak. These canons should be administered by the bishop who is to be ordained for you by our mediocrity with God’s support. He then should reveal them to the priests, who hold the keys of knowledge, and make no less known to you the canons regarding the matters which are necessary and not forbidden. In the meantime, only during Lent, which Church custom calls the “greater [fast],” should one communicate every day, observing a longer duration. For one should always spend time in prayer, come together at the sacrifices of the faithful, and recall constantly to mind those words of the prophet in which it is said: Your will is found on the day of your fast.[Is. 58:3] Indeed if, with the consent of the spouse, one perhaps spends time in prayer with a clean body at some other time as well, how much the more on this day — a day upon which we give the tithes of our flesh to God, we imitate the Lord Himself in abstinence, and we rightly cut from ourselves not only illicit things, but also from many things which are allowed — should we not also renounce every pleasure and apply ourselves to the chastity of our mind and body, in order that we may licitly spend time in prayer!

[6] The forty days preceding Easter.

Note: the letter follows in the entry about Bulgars.

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