Letter of Pope Gelasius to the Emperor Anastasius on the superiority of the spiritual over temporal power: The Church's view of the natural superiority of the spiritual over the temporal power finds a clear expression in the following letter of Pope Gelasius.
Pope St Gelasius IAD 494
§ 1 Your Piety’s servants, my sons, the master Faustus and Irenaeus, illustrious men, and their companions who exercise the public office of legate, when they returned to the City, said that Your Clemency asked why I did not send my greeting to you in written form. Not, I confess, by my design; but since those who had been dispatched a little while ago from the regions of the East had spread [word] throughout the whole City that they had been denied permission of seeing me by your commands, I thought that I ought to refrain from [writing] letters, lest I be judged burdensome rather than dutiful. You see, therefore, that it came not from my dissembling, but rather from proper caution, lest I inflict annoyance on one minded to reject me. But when I learned that the benevolence of Your Serenity had, as indicated above, expected a word from my humility, then I truly recognized that I would not unjustly be blamed if I remained silent. For, glorious son, I as a Roman born love, honor, and accept you as the Roman Prince. And as a Christian I desire to have knowledge according to the truth with one who has zeal for God. And as the Vicar of the Apostolic See (of whatever quality), whenever I see something (however little) lacking from the fullness of the Catholic Faith, I attempt to supply it by moderate and timely suggestions. For the dispensing of the divine word has been enjoined on me: «woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel» (1 Cor 9:16). Because, if the vessel of election, blessed Paul the Apostle, is afraid and cries out, how much more urgently must I fear if in my preaching I omit anything from the ministry of preaching which has been divinely inspired and handed down by the piety of the fathers.
§ 2 I pray your Piety not to judge [my] duty toward the divine plan as arrogance. Far be it from the Roman Prince, I beg, that he judge the truth that he senses in his heart to be an injury. For there are two, O emperor Augustus, by which the world is principally ruled: the sacred authority of pontiffs and the royal power. Among which how much heavier is the burden of priests, such that they will have to render an account to the Lord at the time of judgment even for those very kings. For you know, O most merciful son, that although by dignity you preside over the human race, nevertheless you devoutly bow your neck to the leaders of divine matters, and from them you await the causes of your salvation, and you recognize that, in partaking of the celestial sacraments, and being disposed to them (as is appropriate), you must be submitted to the order of religion rather than rule over it. Therefore you know that in these matters you depend on their judgement, not willing to force them to your will. For if, inasmuch as it pertains to the order of public discipline, even the bishops themselves obey your laws, knowing that rule [imperium] has been bestowed to you from on high, lest they seem in mundane things to oppose the eminent sentence; with what passion, I ask, does it become you to obey those, who have been assigned for the distribution of the venerable mysteries? Just as the danger does not fall upon pontiffs lightly, to have been silent on behalf of the cult of the Divinity, which is fitting; thus there is no slight peril to those who (perish the thought!) when they ought to obey, look askance. And if it is settled that the faithful submit their hearts to all the priests in general who pass on divine things rightly, how much more must they submit to the prelate of that See, whom the highest Divinity willed also to be preëminent above all priests, and which the piety of the universal Church subsequently celebrated.
§ 3 Clearly, wherever Your Piety turns, no one at all has been able to raise himself to the privilege or confession of that one, whom the voice of Christ has put over all, who has been always confessed and venerated by the Church, and has the first devotion. Those things which have been constituted by divine judgement can be attacked by human presumption, but they cannot be conquered by any power. And if only boldness would not be so pernicious against those struggling, as those things which have been fixed by the very founder of sacred religion cannot be dislodged by any force: the foundation of God stands firm (2 Tim 2:19). For is religion, when it is infested by some [persons], able to be overcome by novelties? Does it not rather remain unconquered by the thing supposed to be able to defeat it? And I ask you therefore, may they desist, who under your aegis run about headlong seeking the disruption of the church, which is not permitted: or at least that these should in no way achieve those things which they wickedly desire, and not keep their measure before God and men.
§ 4 For this reason, before God, I beg, adjure, and exhort your piety purely and earnestly that you not receive my request disdainfully: I say again: I ask that you hear me beseeching you now in this life rather than (later) accusing you—perish the thought!—before the divine tribunal. Nor is it hidden from me, O Emperor Augustus, what the devotion of Your Piety has been in private life. You always chose to be a participator of the eternal promise. Wherefore, I pray you, be not angry with me, if I love you so much that I want you to have that reign, which you have temporarily, forever, and that you who rule the age, might be able to rule with Christ. Certainly, by your laws, Emperor, you do not allow anything to perish, nor do you allow any damage to be done to the Roman name. Surely then it is not true, Excellent Prince, who desires not only the present benefits of Christ but also the future ones, that you would suffer anyone under your aegis to bring loss to religion, to truth, to the sincerity of the Catholic Communion, and to the Faith? By what faith (I ask you) will you ask reward of him there, whose loss you do not prohibit here?
§ 5 Be they not heavy, I pray thee, those things that are said for your eternal salvation. You have read it written: «the wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy» (Prov. 27:8). I ask your piety to receive what I say into your mind in the same sentiment in which I say it. No one should deceive Your Piety. What the Scriptures witness figuratively through the prophet is true: «One is my dove, one is my perfect one» (Cant. 6:8), one is the Christian faith, which is Catholic. But that faith is truly Catholic, which is divided by a sincere, pure, and unspotted communion from all the perfidious and their successors and associates. Otherwise there would not be the divinely commanded distinction, but a deplorable muddle. Nor would there be any reason left, if we allow this contagion in anyone, not to open wide the gate to all the heresies. For who in one thing offends, is guilty of all (James 2:10); and: who despises little things shall little by little fall (Sirach 19:1)
§ 6 This is what the Apostolic See vigorously guards against, that since the pure root is the glorious confession of the Apostle, it might not be soiled by any fissure of perversity, nor by any direct contagion. For if something like that were to happen (which God forbid, and which we trust is impossible), how could we dare to resist any error, or from whence could we request the correction to those in error? Moreover, if Your Piety denies that the people of a single city can be brought together in peace, what would we do with the whole world, if (God forbid) it were to be deceived by our prevarication? If the whole world has been set right, despising the profane traditions of its fathers, how could the people of a single city not be converted if the preaching of the faith persevere. Therefore, glorious Emperor, do I not will the peace, I who would embrace it even if it came at the price of my blood? But, I prithee, let us hold in our mind of what sort the peace ought to be; not any kind, but a truly Christian peace. For how can there be a true peace where chaste charity is lacking? But how charity ought to be, the Apostle evidently preaches for us, who says, Charity is from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith (1 Tim. 1:5). How, I pray thee, shall it be from a pure heart, if it is poisoned by an external contagion? How shall it be from a good conscience, if it is commingled with depraved and evil things? How shall it be from an unfeigned faith if it remains united with the perfidious? While these things have often been said by us, it is nevertheless necessary to repeat them incessantly, and not to be silent as long as the name of “peace” continues to be put forward as an excuse; it is not for us (as the is enviously asserted) to make “peace”, but we nevertheless teach that we want that true peace, which is the only peace, apart from which none other can be shown.
§ 7 Certainly if the dogma of Eutyches, against which the caution of the Apostolic See vigilantly watches, is believed to be consistent with the saving Catholic faith, then it ought to be brought forward plainly and asserted and supported with as much force as possible, for then it will be possible to show not only how inimical it is to the Christian faith itself, but also how many and how deadly are the heresies it contains in its dregs. But if rather (as we are confident you will) you judge that this dogma should be excluded from Catholic minds, I ask you why you do not also suppress the contagion of those who have been shown to be contaminated by it? As the Apostle says: Are only those who do things that ought not to be done guilty, and not also they that consent to them that do them? (cf. Rom 1:32). Accordingly, just as one cannot accept a participant in perversity without equally approving of the perversity, so too, one cannot refute perversity while admitting an accomplice and partisan of perversity.
§ 8 Certainly, by your laws, accomplices of crimes and harbourers of thieves are judged to be bound equally by the same punishment; nor is he considered to have no part in a crime, who, though he did not do it himself, nevertheless accepts the familiarity and the alliance of the doer. Accordingly, when the Council of Chalcedon, celebrated for the Catholic and Apostolic faith and the true communion, condemned Eutyches, the progenitor of those detestable ravings, it did not leave it at that, but likewise also struck down his consort Dioscorus and the rest. In this way, therefore, just as in the case of every heresy there is no ambiguity about what has always been done or what is being done: their successors Timothy [the Cat], Peter [the Hoarse], and the other Peter, the Antiochian, have been cut out— not individually by councils called again to deal with them singly, but once and for all as a consequence of the regular acts of the synod. Therefore, as it has not been clear that even those who were their correspondents and accomplices are all bound with a similar strictness, and are by right wholly separated from the Catholic and Apostolic communion, We hereby declare that Acacius, too, is to be removed from communion with Us, since he preferred to cast in his lot with perfidy rather than to remain in the authentic Catholic and Apostolic communion (though for almost three years he has been authoritatively advised by letters of the Apostolic See, lest it should come to this). But after he went over to another communion, nothing was possible except that he should be at once cut off from association with the Apostolic See, lest on his account, if We delayed even a little, We also should seem to have come into contact with the perfidious. But when he was struck with such a blow, did he come to his senses, did he promise correction, did he emend his error? Would he have been coerced by more lenient treatment, when even harsh blows left no impression? While he tarries in his perfidy and damnation, it is both impossible to use his name in the liturgy of the church, and unnecessary to tolerate any external contact with him. Wherefore he will be led in good faith away from the heretical communion into which he has mixed himself, or there will be no choice but to drive him away with them.
§ 9 But if the bishops of the East murmur, that the Apostolic See did not apply such judgments to them, as if they had either convinced the Apostolic See that Peter [the Hoarse] was to be accepted as legitimate, or had not yet been fully complicit in this unheard-of acceptation: just as they cannot demonstrate that he was free of heretical depravity, neither can they in anyway excuse themselves, being in communion with heretics. If perhaps they should add that they all with one voice reported the reception of Peter [the Hoarse] by Acacius to the Apostolic See, then by the same token they know how he responded to them. But the authority of the Apostolic See— that in all Christian ages it has been set over the universal Church— is confirmed both by a series of canons of the Fathers, and by manifold tradition. But even hence, whether anyone should prevail to usurp anything for himself against the ordinances of the Synod of Nicaea, this can be shown to the college of the one communion, not to the opinion of external society. If anyone has confidence amongst them, let him go out into the midst, and disprove and instruct the Apostolic See concerning each part. Therefore let his name [Acacius] be removed from our midst, which works the separation of churches far from Catholic communion, in order that sincere peace of faith and of communion should be repaired, and unity: and then let it competently and legitimately be investigated which of us either has risen up or struggles to rise up against venerable antiquity. And then shall appear who by modest intention guards the form and tradition of the elders, and who irreverently leaping beyond these, reckons himself able to become equal by robbery.
§ 10 But if it is proposed to me that the character [persona] of the Constantinopolitan people makes it impossible (it is said) that the name of scandal, that is Acacius, be removed; I am silent, because with both the heretic Macedonius formerly having been driven out, and Nestorius recently having been thrown out, the Constantinopolitan people have elected to remain Catholic rather than be retained by affection for their condemned greater prelates. I am silent, because those who had been baptized by these very same condemned prelates, remaining in the Catholic faith, are disturbed by no agitation. I am silent, because for ludicrous things the authority of Your Piety now restrains popular tumults; and thus much more for the necessary salvation of their souls the multitude of the Constantinopolitan city obeys you, if you princes should lead them back unto the Catholic and Apostolic communion. For, Emperor Augustus, if anyone perhaps were to attempt something against public laws (perish the thought!), for no reason would you have been able to suffer it. Do you not reckon it to concern your conscience that the people subject to you should be driven back from the pure and sincere devotion of Divinity? Finally, if the mind of the people of one city is not reckoned to be offended if divine things (as the matter demands) are corrected— how much more does it hold that, lest divine things should be offended, we ought not (nor can we) strike the pious faith of all those of the Catholic name?
§ 11 And nevertheless these same ones demand that they should be healed by our will. Therefore they allow that they can be cured by competent remedies: otherwise (Heaven forfend!) by crossing over into their ruin, we can perish with them, whereas we cannot save them. Now here I leave to your conscience under divine judgement what must rather be done: whether, as We desire, we should return all at once unto certain life; or, as those demand, we should tend unto manifest death.
§ 12 But still they strain to call the Apostolic See proud and arrogant for furnishing them with medicines. The quality of the languishing often has this: that they should accuse rather the medics calling them back to healthful things by fitting observations, than that they themselves should consent to depose or reprove their noxious appetites. If we are proud, because we minister fitting remedies of souls, what are those to be called who resist? If we are proud who say that obedience must be given to paternal decrees, by what name should those be called who oppose them? If we are puffed up, who desire that the divine cult should be served with pure and unblemished tenor; let them say how those who think even against divinity should be named. Thus also do the rest, who are in error, reckon us, because we do not consent to their insanity. Nevertheless, truth herself indicates where the spirit of pride really stands and fights.