on Images


 Pope Gregory and Bp. Leander
 BMM S0321-c. 1190

NPNF Ser. 2, vol 13: Reg. Epist. Bk 9. let. 105; Bk. 11, let. 13; Latin text (critical edition) Gregorius Magnus - Registrum epistularum 1714, CCSL 140A, lib. 9, epist. 195; lib 11, epist. 10.


GREGORY to Serenus,
Bishop of Marseilles

Gregorius sereno episcopo massiliensi

NPNF Ser. 2, vol 13: Reg. Epist. Bk 9. let. 105;  Latin text (critical edition) Gregorius Magnus - Registrum epistularum 1714, CCSL 140A, lib. 9, epist. 195

Christ. 7th-cent. encaustic icon
St. Katherine's Sinai

THAT we have been so long in sending a letter to your Fraternity attribute not to sluggishness, but to press of business. We now commend to you in all respects the bearer of these presents, our most beloved son Cyriacus, the Father of our Monastery, that no delay may detain him in the city of Massilia, but that he may proceed under Godís protection to our brother and fellow-bishop Syagrius with the succour of your Holiness.

quod fraternitati uestrae tam sero scripta transmittimus, non hoc torpori sed occupationi deputate.   Latorem uero praesentium dilectissimum filium nostrum cyriacum monasterii patrem uobis in omnibus commendamus, ut nulla hunc in massiliensi ciuitate mora detineat, sed ad fratrem et coepiscopum nostrum syagrium cum sanctitatis uestrae solacio deo protegente proficiscatur.  

Furthermore we notify to you that it has come to our ears that your Fraternity, seeing certain adorers of images, broke and threw down these same images in Churches. Praeterea indico dudum ad nos peruenisse quod fraternitas uestra quosdam imaginum adoratores aspiciens easdem ecclesiis imagines confregit atque proiecit.
And we commend you indeed for your zeal against anything made with hands being an object of adoration; but we signify to you that you ought not to have broken these images. Et quidem zelum uos, ne quid manufactum adorari possit, habuisse laudauimus, sed frangere easdem imagines non debuisse iudicamus.  
For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books.  Idcirco enim pictura in ecclesiis adhibetur, ut hi qui litteras nesciunt saltem in parietibus uidendo legant, quae legere in codicibus non ualent.

 Your Fraternity therefore should have both preserved the images and prohibited the people from adoration of them, to the end that both those who are ignorant of letters might have wherewith to gather a knowledge of the history, and that the people might by no means sin by adoration of a pictorial representation .

Tua ergo fraternitas et illa seruare et ab eorum adoratu populum prohibere debuit, quatenus et litterarum nescii haberent, unde scientiam historiae colligerent, et populus in picturae adoratione minime peccaret.  






GREGORY to Serenus,
Bishop of Marseilles

Gregorius sereno episcopo massiliensi
Bk. 11, let 13 (Latin 10)

Peter. 7th-cent. encaustic icon
St. Katherine's Sinai





THE beginning of your letter so showed you to have in thee the good will that befits a priest as to cause us increased joy in your Fraternity. But its conclusion was so at variance with its commencement that such an epistle might be attributed, not to one, but to different, minds. Nay, from thy very doubts about the epistle which we sent to thee it appears how inconsiderate thou art. For, had you paid diligent attention to the admonition which in brotherly love we gave you, not only would you not have doubted, but have perceived what in priestly seriousness it was your duty to do.

litterarum tuarum primordia ita sacerdotalem in te esse beniuolentiam demonstrabant, ut maior nobis fieret de fraternitate tua laetitia.    Sed tanto eorum finis a suis dissensit initiis, ut non unius sed diuersarum esse mentium talis crederetur epistula.   Ex illo autem, quod de scriptis nostris, quae ad te misimus, dubitasti, quam sis incautus apparuit.   Nam si diligenter ea quae fraterno amore monuimus attendisses, non solum minime dubitasses sed immo, quid te sacerdotali grauitate oporteret agere cognouisses.   

For Cyriacus formerly abbot, who was the bearer of our letter, was not a man of such training and erudition as to dare, as you imagined, to make up another, nor for you to entertain this suspicion of falseness against his character. But, while putting aside consideration of our wholesome admonitions, you have come to be culpable, not only in your deeds, but in your questionings also. Neque enim cyriacus quondam abbas, qui scriptorum nostrorum portitor exstitit, istius disciplinae uel eruditionis fuit, ut uel ipse aliud facere, sicut putas, auderet uel tu de eius tibi persona suspicionem falsitatis assumeres.   Sed dum monita salubria pensare postponis, contigit ut iam non solum actu uerum etiam esses interrogatione culpabilis.
FOR indeed it had been reported to us that, inflamed with inconsiderate zeal, you had broken images of saints, as though under the plea that they ought not to be adored. Perlatum siquidem ad nos fuerat quod inconsiderato zelo succensus sanctorum imagines sub hac quasi excusatione, ne adorari debuissent, confringeres.
And indeed in that you forbade them to be adored, we altogether praise you; but we blame thee for having broken them. Tell me, brother, what priest has ever been heard of as doing what you have done? If nothing else, should not even this thought have restrained you, so as not to despise [your] other [bishop-]brother, supposing that only you were holy and wise?    Et quidem quia eas adorari uetuisses omnino laudauimus, fregisse uero reprehendimus.   Dic, frater, a quo factum sacerdote aliquando auditum est quod fecisti?   Si non aliud, uel illud te non debuit reuocare, ut despectis aliis fratribus solum te sanctum et esse crederes sapientem?

For to adore a picture is one thing,
but to learn through the story of a picture what is to be adored is another

Aliud est enim picturam adorare,
aliud per picturae historiam quid sit adorandum addiscere.

For what writing presents to readers,
this a picture presents to the unlearned who behold,

Nam quod legentibus scriptura,
hoc idiotis praestat pictura cernentibus,

since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow;
in it the illiterate read.

quia in ipsa ignorantes uident quod sequi debeant,
in ipsa legunt qui litteras nesciunt;

Thus especially for ordinary people [gentes], a picture taks the place of reading. unde praecipue gentibus pro lectione pictura est.  
And this ought to have been attended to especially by you who live among ordinary people, lest, while inflamed inconsiderately by a proper zeal, you should breed offence to scandalize souls. Quod magnopere a te, qui inter gentes habitas, attendi decuerat, ne, dum recto zelo incaute succenderis, ferocibus animis scandalum generares.  
  Frangi ergo non debuit quod non ad adorandum in ecclesiis sed ad instruendas solummodo mentes fuit nescientium collocatum.
And, seeing that ancient [tradition] has not without reason admitted the histories of saints to be painted in venerable places, if you had seasoned zeal with discretion, you might undoubtedly have obtained what you were aiming at, and not scattered the collected flock,  Et quia in locis uenerabilibus sanctorum depingi historias non sine ratione uetustas admisit, si zelum discretione condisses, sine dubio et ea quae intendebas salubriter obtinere et collectum gregem non dispergere,
but rather gathered together a scattered one; that so the deserved renown of a shepherd might have distinguished you, instead of the blame of being a scatterer lying upon you. sed dispersum potius poteras congregare, ut pastoris in te merito nomen excelleret, non culpa dispersoris incumberet.

But from having acted inconsiderately on the impulse of thy feelings you are said to have so offended your children that the greatest part of them have suspended themselves from communion with you.

  Haec autem dum in hoc animi tui incaute nimis motu exsequeris, ita tuos scandalizasse filios perhiberis, ut maxima eorum pars a tua se communione suspenderet.

When, then, will you bring wandering sheep to the Lordís fold, not being able to retain those you had? Henceforth we exhort you that you study even now to be careful, and restrain yourself from this presumption, and make haste, with fatherly sweetness, with all endeavour, with all earnestness, to recall to yourself the minds of those whom you find to be disjoined from thee. Quando ergo ad ouile dominicum errantes oues adducas, qui quas habes retinere non praeuales?   Proinde hortamur ut uel nunc studeas esse sollicitus atque ab hac te praesumptione compescas et eorum animos quos a tua disiunctos unitate cognoscis paterna ad te dulcedine, omni annisu omni que studio reuocare festines.   
For the dispersed children of the Church must be called together, and it must he shown then by testimonies of sacred Scripture that it is not lawful for anything made with hands to be adored, since it is written, Thou shall adore the Lord thy God, and him only shalt serve (Luke 4. 8). Conuocandi enim sunt diuersi ecclesiae filii, eis que scripturae sacrae est testimoniis ostendendum quia omne manufactum adorare non liceat, quoniam scriptum est: dominum deum tuum adorabis et illi soli seruies;
And then, with regard to the pictorial representations which had been made for the edification of an unlearned people in order that, though ignorant of letters, they might by turning their eyes to the story itself learn what had been done, it must be added that, because you had seen these [images] come to be adored, you had been so moved as to order them to be broken. ac deinde subiungendum: quia picturas imaginum, quae ad aedificationem imperiti populi factae fuerant, ut nescientes litteras ipsam historiam intendentes, quid dictum sit discerent, transisse in adorationem uideras, idcirco commotus es, ut eas imagines frangi praeciperes.   
And it must be said to them, If for this instruction according to which images were made [in] ancient [times] you wish to have them in the church, I permit them by all means both to be made and to be kept. Atque eis dicendum: si ad hanc instructionem, ad quam imagines antiquitus factae sunt, habere uultis in ecclesia, eas modis omnibus et fieri et haberi permitto.   
And explain to them that it was not the sight of the story itself which the picture was intended to portray that displeased you, but rather the adoration that had been improperly paid to the pictures. Atque indica quod non tibi ipsa uisio historiae, quae pictura teste pandebatur, displicuerit sed illa adoratio, quae picturis fuerat incompetenter exhibita.
And with such words appease thou their minds; recall them to agreement with you And if any one should wish to make images, by no means prohibit him, but by all means forbid the adoration of images.   Atque in his uerbis eorum mentes demulcens eos ad concordiam tuam reuoca.   Et si quis imagines facere uoluerit, minime prohibe, adorare uero imagines omnimodis deuita.

But let thy Fraternity carefully admonish them that from the sight of the event portrayed they should catch the ardour of compunction, and bow themselves down in adoration of the One Almighty Holy Trinity.

  Sed hoc sollicite fraternitas tua admoneat ut ex uisione rei gestae ardorem compunctionis percipiant et in adoratione solius omnipotentis sanctae trinitatis humiliter prosternantur.   

Now we say all this in our love of Holy Church, and of your Fraternity. Do not thus be shaken, in consequence of my rebuke, in the zeal of uprightness, but rather be helped in the earnestness of your pious administration.

Cuncta uero haec et amore sanctae ecclesiae et tuae fraternitatis loquimur.   Non ergo ex mea correptione frangatur a zelo rectitudinis, sed magis adiuuetur in studio piae dispensationis.

Furthermore, it has come to our ears that your Love gladly receives had men into its society; so much so as to have as a familiar friend a certain presbyter who, after having fallen, is said to live still in the pollution of his iniquity. This indeed we do not entirely believe, since he that receives such a one does not correct wickedness, but rather appears to give licence to others to perpetrate the like things. But, lest haply by any subornation or dissimulation he should prevail on thee to receive him and keep him still in favour, it becomes thee not only to drive him further from thee, but also in all ways to cut away his excesses with priestly zeal. But as to others who are reported to be bad, study to restrain them from their badness by fatherly exhortation, and to recall them to the way of rectitude. But, if (which God forbid) you seem not to profit them at all by salutary admonition, these also thou wilt take care to cast aft far from thee, lest, froth their being received, their evil doings should seem not at all to displease thee, and lest not only they themselves should remain unamended, but others also should be corrupted in consequence of thy reception of them. And consider how execrable it is before men, and how perilous before the eyes of God, if vices should seem to be nurtured through him whose duty it is to punish crimes. Attend therefore to these things diligently, most beloved brother; and study so to act as both wholesomely to correct the bad and to avoid breeding offence in the minds of thy children by associating with evil men.

Praeterea peruenit ad nos quod dilectio tua libenter malos homines in societate sua recipiat, adeo ut presbyterum quendam, qui, postquam lapsus est, |et| in suae adhuc dicitur iniquitatis pollutione uersari, familiarem habeat.   Quod quidem nos ex toto non credimus, quia qui talem recipit scelera non corrigit, sed magis aliis talia perpetrare uidetur dare licentiam.   Sed ne forte aliqua tibi subreptione uel dissimulatione ut a te reciperetur atque adhuc habeatur grate suaserit, non solum hunc a te longius expellere uerum etiam excessus ipsius sacerdotali te zelo modis omnibus conuenit resecare, alios uero, qui praui esse memorantur, paterna adhortatione a sua prauitate compesce et ad uiam stude rectitudinis reuocare.   Quod si, quod absit, salubri monitu eos uideris in nullo proficere, et hos quoque curabis a te procul abicere, ne prauitates eorum ex eo, quod recipiuntur, displicere minime uideantur et non solum ipsi inemendati remaneant, sed etiam eorum receptione alii corrumpantur.   Et considerate quam et hominibus exsecrabile et periculosum ante dei sit oculos, si per eum a quo plectenda sunt crimina nutriri uitia uideantur.   Haec igitur, dilectissime fratrum, diligenter attende et ita agere stude, ut et prauos salubriter corrigas et scandalum de malorum societate filiorum tuorum animis non inducas.





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