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 in 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

Item Gelasius Papa Anastasio Inperatori.


Duo sunt quippe, inperator auguste, quibus principaliter hic mundus regitur: auctoritas sacra Pontificum,et regalis potestas. In quibus tanto grauius est pondussacerdotum, quanto etiam pro ipso regibus hominum in diuino sunt reddituri examine rationem. Et post pauca: . 1. Nosti itaque inter hec ex illorum te pendere iudicio, non illos ad tuam posse redigi uoluntatem.
. 2. Talibus igitur institutis, talibusque fulti auctoritatibus plerique Pontificum, alii reges, alii inperatores excommunicauerunt. Nam si speciale aliquod de personis principum requiratur exemplum, B. Innocentius Papa Archadium inperatorem (quia consensit, ut S. Iohannes Crisostomus a sua sede pelleretur), excommunicauit. B.etiam Ambrosius, licet sanctus, non tamen uniuersalis ecclesiae episcopus, pro culpa, que aliis sacerdotibus non adeo grauis uidebatur, Theodosium Magnum inperatorem excommunicans ab ecclesia exclusit; qui etiam in suis scriptis ostendit, quod aurum non tam pretiosius sit plumbo, quam regia potestate sit altior ordo sacerdotalis, hoc modo circa principium sui pastoralis scribens: "Honor,
fratres, et sublimitas episcopalis nullis poterit conparationibus adequari. Si regum fulgori conpares et principum diademati, longe erit inferius quam si plumbi metallum ad
auri fulgorem conpares, quippe cum uideas regum colla et principum submitti genibus sacerdotum, et osculata eorum dextera, orationibus eorum credant se communicari."

 

 


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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu