Who could listen to a greenhorn? Who would not say at once: Who is this bumptious babbler, that dares to write such things unbidden? What apostle of scrupulous justice would not immediately break out into that old abusive speech, the retort to Moses of the Hebrew that was doing wrong to his brother: Who made thee a lord or judge over us?
(Exod. 2. 14)To such a man I answer before he speaks, that there is no impudence where there is an agreed need for the edification of the church; and if he takes exception to my person, let him consider not the character of the speaker, but the matter of my speech. For how shall a foreign Christian suppress what your neighbour Arian has long been shouting? Better [indeed] are the wounds of a friend than the treacherous kisses of a foe
(Prov. 27. 6). Others gladly cavil in private; I in my sorrow and woe shall dispute in
p.39public, but my theme shall be the evils of deadly schism, not the goods of ungodly peacemakers. So it is not for vainglory or for impudence that I, a creature of the meanest station, dare to write to such exalted men; for grief rather than pride drives me to suggest to you with the humblest indication, as befits me, that the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through your mutual contest.
Indeed I grieve, I confess, for the disgrace of St. Peter's chair; yet I know that the affair is beyond me, and that at the first blush I am, as the saying goes, thrusting my face into the fire. But what care I for saving face before mankind, when zeal for the faith must needs be shown? Before God and the angels
(1 Tim. 5. 21)I shall not be dismayed; it is praiseworthy to be dismayed for God's sake before men. If I am heard, all shall share the profit; if I am set at naught, mine shall be the reward. For I shall speak as a friend, disciple, and close follower of yours, not as a stranger; therefore I shall speak out freely, saying to those that are our masters and helmsmen of the spiritual ship and mystic sentinels, Watch, for the sea is stormy and whipped up by fatal blasts, for it is not a solitary threatening wave such as, even across a silent ocean, is raised to overweening heights from the ever-foaming eddies of a hollow rock, though it swells from afar, and drives the sails before it while Death walks the waves, but it is a tempest of the entire element, surging indeed and swollen upon every side, that threatens shipwreck of the mystic vessel; thus do I, a fearful sailor, dare to cry, Watch, for water has now entered the vessel of the Church, and the vessel is in perilous straits. For all we Irish, inhabitants of the world's edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Ghost, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching; none has been a heretic, none a Judaizer, none a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was delivered by you first, who are the successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken. Strengthened and almost goaded by this confidence, I have dared to arouse you against those who revile you and call you the partisans of heretics and describe you as schismatics, so that my boasting
(cf. 1. Cor. 9. 15), in which I trusted when I spoke for you in answer to them, should not be in vain
(cf. 1. Cor. 9. 15), and so that they, not us, might be dismayed. For I promised on your behalf (as the disciples should so feel for their master) that the Roman Church defends no heretic against the Catholic Faith. Therefore do you accept with willing mind and dutiful ears my necessarily presumptuous interference; for whatever I say that is useful or orthodox will redound to you; for the master's praise lies in the doctrine of his disciples; thus if a son [speaks] wisely his father will rejoice
(cf. Prov. 10. 1, 15. 20); and yours will be the credit, since, as I said, it was delivered by you; for purity is due, not to the river, but the spring. But
¶41] if you find some thoughtless words of a zeal that seems excessive, either in this letter or in the other against Agrippinus, who provoked my pen, set it down to my tactlessness, not pride.
Watch therefore for the Church's peace, succour your sheep, who already tremble at what seem the terrors of the wolves, and who also fear yourselves with too much trembling as they are driven into various folds. Thus they are in doubt, partly coming, but partly going, and as they come so they return, and ever are in fear. Then use, dear Pope, the call and known voice of the true shepherd, and stand between sheep and wolves, so that, shedding their fear, they may then first fully acknowledge you as shepherd. For the people that I see, though it maintains many heretics, is zealous and quickly troubled like a trembling flock, and so is not quickly pacified, since Italy has had so many wolves, whose cubs can scarcely all be exterminated, while indeed so many have been reared at home. But may God destroy such a progeny
(cf. 1 Reg. 24. 22), and nourish His flock and fight with you; do you fulfil your pastoral duty with all vigilance, standing on your guard
(cf. Isa. 21. 8)day and night, that you may see that almond staff
(cf. Ierem. 1. 11)which afterwards you may deserve to see in the shape of a crook at the time of gathering the true fruits. Therefore, that you may not lack apostolic honour, maintain the apostolic Faith, establish it by testimony, strengthen it by writing, defend it by a synod, that none may lawfully resist you. Do not despise a foreigner's word of counsel, as being the teacher of him who is zealous for your sake. The world is already in its latter days; the chief of shepherds hastens; beware lest He find you heedless and striking your fellow servants [with the blows of a bad example] and eating and drinking with the drunken
(Matt. 24. 49), lest carelessness receive the consequent reward; for he who disregards shall be disregarded
(1 Cor. 14. 38). It is not enough for you, who have undertaken responsibility for many, to be careful for yourself; for to whom more is entrusted, from him will more be demanded
(cf. Luc. 12. 48).
Watch therefore, I beg you, Pope, watch, and again I say, watch; since perhaps Vigilius was not very vigilant, whom our friends, who lay blame on you, describe as the main stumbling-block. Watch first for the Faith, then for bidding works of faith and for spurning vices, since your watchfulness will be the salvation of many, just as on the other side your carelessness will be the destruction of many. May Isaiah send you to the mountain, who publish good tidings to Zion
(cf. Isa. 40. 9), rather may God through Isaiah place you on the watch-tower of true contemplation, according to the meaning of your name, and there, as it were placed above all mortals and made near to the heavenlies, may you lift up your
p.43voice like a trumpet and proclaim their sins to the people [of your Lord, committed to you by Him], and to the house of Jacob their iniquities
(sqq. Isa. 58. 1). Do not fear to be blamed for falsehood; for you have a message that you ought to proclaim; for many (which is too serious a matter) are cast down in these parts through the carelessness of their shepherds, and many are beguiled by the prosperity of a most unhappy wealth. Then, since according to the Lord's warnings the blood of so many will be sought for at the hands of their shepherds, careful watch must be kept, that is, the word of the Lord must be often preached, and preached by the shepherds, by the Church's bishops and teachers, that none may perish through ignorance; for if he perishes through lack of heed, his blood will lie on his own head.
But my reason for too scathing a recitation of these matters, long known to all, I shall subjoin in the sequel. For these also have a bearing on the declared outlines of my first proposal, since both are linked together; for on these the rest depend; and thus your troubles must first be eliminated; for none is concerned with the mistake who is not concerned with our religion; for here the entire controversy centres, here the whole case takes its stand; here must the nerves be cut back to the bone by that twice-sharpened sword, which reaches even to the separation of flesh and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and which is a discerner of the heart and of its thoughts
(Apoc. 1. 16 et Heb. 4. 12). Hence is our speech seasoned with [divine] salt
(Coloss. 4. 6), since with salt every sacrifice is commanded to be sprinkled; hence as they fall may the sparks from that divine fire
(Luc. 12. 49), which the Lord came to cast upon the earth
(Luc. 12. 49), consume wood, straw, stubble
(1 Cor. 3. 12), which many wrongly build upon this [marvellous] foundation
(1 Cor. 3. 12), on which all we Christians are built, over which none can set anything apart from what is set, which is Jesus Christ
(1 Cor. 3. 11). Oh, what fuel for hell-fire is everywhere made ready from these unhappy buildings, on the burning of which that sparkling word of the Lord, describing the vastness of that ever-living fire, fell with the saying, Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be hardened in wine-bibbing and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you unawares; for as a snare shall it come on all who dwell over the face of the entire earth
(Luc. 21. 34-35).
You see the terror by which the Lord awakens our sleep and deadly sloth to watchfulness, lest we be found unready. Therefore I said: Watch, dear Pope, it is time to arise from sleep, [the Lord] approaches
(Rom. 13. 11-12), and already we stand almost at the end in the midst of perilous times. See, the nations are troubled, the kingdoms are moved
(Ps. 45. 6); therefore soon shall the Most High utter His voice, and the earth shall be shaken
(Ps. 45. 6). I, like a trembler, while I am no brave soldier, since I see that our enemies' army has surrounded us, try to awaken you as the chief of our leaders with cries that I admit to be importunate; for it is you that are concerned with the danger of the Lord's whole army in these regions, sleeping
p.45rather than fighting on the field, and partly (which gives even more cause for tears) surrendering rather than opposing the foe. You are awaited by the whole, you have the power of ordering all things, of declaring war, arousing the generals, bidding arms to be taken up, forming the battle-array, sounding the trumpets on every side, and finally of entering the conflict with your own person in the van; since for long, alas, as is obvious in this district, even we Christians are conquered in this spiritual warfare, first by our carnal vices and proud way of life, and then by the weakness of our wavering faith, whose feebleness is the reason for our being surrounded unawares by our enemies in triple ranks, who have been given us to punish our luxurious ease. For prosperity's blind ease is the cause of all the evils.
I am surprised, I must confess, at such ease, and at the source of this mortal sloth which has almost overwhelmed us all; I know not the hearts, ears, senses, that the Lord's own fiery words have failed to arouse into the watchfulness of an ever-burning zeal, into scorn for the world, into the poverty of Christ, even as thus they have trained many races. For I, coming from the world's end, where I have seen spiritual leaders fighting the Lord's battles, and formerly hoping to behold stronger and more skilful leaders of this holy warfare, and finding the position just as if I were some beholder of the corpses on the battlefield, bedewed and spattered after the fight, I am astounded and in grief and fear I look to you only, who are the sole hope
(cf. Sedul. Carm. Pasch. i. 60)among the chiefs in your power that flows from the honour of St. Peter the Apostle, as I bewail the slaughter of so great an army. But since my mind's frail bark
(cf. Cassian. Conl. i, Praef.)is not so much drawn into the deep
(Luc. 5. 4), according to the Lord's word, but rather would stick fast in one spot (for paper cannot contain all that my thoughts for various reasons would enclose in the confines of a letter) I am next asked by the king to mention to your godly ears item by item the matter of his grief; for the division of his people is grief to him, for the sake of the queen, of their son, and perhaps for his own sake also; for he is said to have remarked, that if he knew for certain, he also would believe.
Let us return to the book, which we left on one side. Then, lest the old Enemy bind men with this very lengthy cord of error, let the cause of division, I beg, be cut off by you immediately, so to say with St. Peter's knife, that is, with a true and synodical confession of faith and with an abhorrence and utter condemnation of all heretics, so that you may cleanse the chair of Peter from every error, if any, as they say, has been introduced, and if not, so that its purity may be recognized by all. For
p.47it is a matter for grief and lamentation, if the Catholic Faith is not maintained in the Apostolic See. But, to speak my entire mind, lest I should seem to flatter even you beyond your due, it is also a matter for grief that you in zeal for the faith, as has long been your duty, have not first condemned outright or excommunicated the party withdrawing from you, after first demonstrating the purity of your own faith, seeing that you are the man who has the lawful power; and for this reason they even dare to defame the chief See of the orthodox faith. For you know how bitter were the remarks with which the fathers at the holy synod of Nicaea condemned the accusers of the innocent. But while I say this, not forgetting that in a vociferous, shrill, and uproarious crowd there are many reasons which prevent a clear and complete investigation of these matters, it is not because I believe them, but because action is now imperative, that I have spoken. If there are any rebels against truth among your fellow Italians, let your censure include these alone; for a mouth that is filled with flour or another substance cannot blow up the fire; for everything is harmed by the proximity of its opposite; therefore I beg you for Christ's sake, rescue your good name which is being torn to shreds among the Gentiles, lest rivals attribute it to your treachery if you longer hold your peace. Then do not longer hide your mind, do not hold your peace; but rather sound the note of the true shepherd, which his sheep know, who hear not the voice of others but flee from such
(Ioann. 10. 4-5).
I summon you, my fathers and my own patrons, to dispel confusion from before the face of your sons and disciples, who are confounded for your sakes, and (what is more than this) to remove the cloud of suspicion from St. Peter's chair. So call a conference, that you may clear the charges laid against you; for it is no mere racing game with which you are charged. For, as I hear, you are alleged to favour hereticsGod forbid men should believe that this has been, is, or shall be true. For they say that Eutyches, Nestorius, and Dioscorus, old heretics as we know, were favoured at some Council, at the fifth, by Vigilius. Here, as they say, is the cause of the whole calumny; if, as is reported, you also favour thus, or if you know that even Vigilius himself died under such a taint, why do you repeat his name against your conscience? For everything which is not of faith is sin
(Rom. 14. 23). Already it is your fault if you have erred from the true belief and made your first faith void
(1 Tim. 5. 12); justly do your subordinates oppose you, and justly do they hold no communion with you, until the remembrance of the damned is blotted out and consigned to oblivion. For if these things are rather true than fabled, with changed roles your sons are turned into the head
(cf. Deut. 28. 44), while you become the tail
(cf. Deut. 28. 44), which is a grief even to suggest; thus too shall they be your judges
(Luc. 11. 19), who have always kept the orthodox faith, whoever these may have been, even
p.49if they seem to be your subordinates; but they themselves are the orthodox and true catholics, since they have never favoured or supported any heretics or suspect persons, hut have remained in eager love of the true faith. Therefore if your party are not also of such a character, with the result that their greater guilt deprives their seniority of the right to judge, then let them eagerly in their turn seek pardon for such long disharmony and let neither party defend any contrary to reason, neither heretics on your side nor suspect persons on theirs, but inasmuch as both are guilty do you the more speedily agree.
But you must pardon me as I handle such rough passages, if any of my words have caused outward offence to godly ears, since the inner nature of the sequence of events allows me to omit nothing from my inquiry, and the freedom of my country's customs, to put it so, has been part-cause of my audacity. For amongst us it is not a man's station but his principles that matter; yet love for the peace of the gospel compels me to say all, to shame you both, who ought to have been one choir, and this motive is joined by the greatness of my concern for your harmony and peace; for if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it
(1 Cor. 12. 26). For we, as I have said before, are bound to St. Peter's chair; for though Rome be great and famous, among us it is only on that chair that her greatness and her fame depend. For although the name of the city which is Italy's glory, like something most holy and far removed from heaven's common climes, a city once founded to the great joy of almost all nations, has been published far and wide through the whole world, even as far as the Western regions of earth's farther strand, miraculously unhindered by ocean's surging floods, though they leaped and rose beyond measure upon every side, yet from that time when the Son of God deigned to be Man, and on those two most fiery steeds of God's Spirit, I mean the apostles Peter and Paul, whose dear relics
(cf. Verg. Ecl. viii. 92)have made you blessed, riding over the sea of nations troubled many waters
(cf. Horat. Carm. iv. 4. 43, Ovid. Met. iii. 475)and increased His chariots with countless thousands of peoples, the Most Highest Pilot of that carriage Who is Christ, the true Father, the Charioteer of Israel, over the channels' surge, over the dolphins' backs, over the swelling flood, reached even unto us. From that time are you great and famous, and Rome herself is nobler and more famed; and if it may be said, for the sake of Christ's twin apostles (I speak of those called by the Holy Spirit heavens declaring the glory of God
(Ps. 18. 2), to whom is applied the text, Their voice is gone out into every land and their words to the ends of the earth
(Ps. 18. 4)) you are made near to the heavenlies
(cf. Origen. (transl. Rufin.) Homil. in Gen. i. 13), and Rome is the head of the Churches of the world, saving the special privilege of the place of the Lord's Resurrection. And thus, even as your honour is great in proportion to the dignity of your see, so great care is
p.51needful for you, lest you lose your dignity through some mistake. For power will be in your hands just so long as your principles remain sound; for he is the appointed key-bearer of the Kingdom of Heaven, who opens by true knowledge to the worthy and shuts to the unworthy; otherwise if he does the opposite, he shall be able neither to open nor to shut.
Therefore, since these things are true and are accepted without any gainsaying by all who think truly, though it is known to all and there is none ignorant of how Our Saviour bestowed the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven upon St. Peter, and you perhaps on this account claim for yourself before all others some proud measure of greater authority and power in things divine; you ought to know that your power will be the less in the Lord's eyes, if you even think this in your heart, since the unity of faith has produced in the whole world a unity of power and privilege, in such wise that by all men everywhere freedom should be given to the truth, and the approach of error should be denied by all alike, since it was his right confession that privileged even the holy bearer of the keys, the common teacher of us all; it should be lawful even for your subordinates to entreat you for their zeal in the faith, for their love of peace, and for the unity of the Church our common mother, who is indeed torn asunder like Rebekah in her maternal womb, and grieves for the strife and civil warfare of her sons, and in sorrow bewails the discord of her dearest. There is more need in this for tears than words, how the enemy of the Christian name has increased after the living words of the Son of God, after the fulness of the gospels, after the apostolic teaching, after the recent writing of orthodox authorities, who from the Old and New Testament have expounded in varied speech the mysteries of faith. To divide the Body of Christ and separate His members and part the vesture, which means unity
(cf. Cypr. De Unit. Eccl. 7, Aug. Tract. in Ioann 13. 13), of the very Son of God, the Saviour of the worldyours, Satan, is this craft, but may Christ our peace, Who has made both one,
(Eph. 2. 14)defeat you.
Then quickly, my dearest friends, agree and meet together and refuse to argue over ancient quarrels, but rather hold your peace and commit them to eternal silence and forgetting; and if any things are doubtful, reserve them for God's judgement; but the things that are clear, on which men can make decision, decide these justly without favouritism
(1 Pet. 1. 17), and let there be peaceful judgement in your gates
(Zach. 8. 16), and pardon one another, that there may be joy in heaven
(Luc. 15. 7)and on earth for your peace and concord. Why should you uphold anything other than the catholic faith if you are true Christians on both sides? For I cannot understand for what reason a Christian can strive about the faith with a Christian; but whatever has been said by the orthodox Christian, who rightly glorifies the Lord, the other will reply Amen, because he also loves and believes alike. Thus do you all say and mean one thing
(sq. cf. 1 Cor. 1. 10), that
p.53you may both be one
(sq. cf. Ioann 17. 11), all Christians. For if, as I have heard, some do not accept two natures in Christ, they are to be accepted as heretics rather than as Christians; for Christ Our Saviour is true God eternal without time, and true man without sin in time, Who in His divinity is co-eternal with the Father and in His humanity is younger than His mother, Who born in the flesh never left heaven, remaining in the Trinity
(cf. Antiphon. Benchor. fol. 5 v)lived in the world; and thus, if it was written at the Fifth Council, as someone has told me, that a man who adores two natures has his prayer divided, the writer is divided from the saints and separate from God
(Constant. II, anathema 9). For we, in respect of the unity of the Person, in Whom it pleased the fulness of deity to reside bodily
(Coloss. 2. 9), believe one Christ, His divinity and humanity, since He Who descended is Himself He Who ascended above every heaven that He might fill all things
(Eph. 4. 10). If any think otherwise about the Lord's Incarnation, he is a foe to the faith, and fit for scorn and anathema from all Christians, of whatever order, position, or rank he may have been; for none should honour a man in despite of God; thus I beseech you for Christ's sake, spare none who has tried to separate you from Christ; but rather resist him to the face
(cf. Gal. 2. 11), if any, refusing to believe rightly, has wished to recall you from the Catholic faith.
I beg you to pardon me, too hurtful and rough a speaker; on such a matter I could not write otherwise. For while in all things I have wanted to agree with truth, not without knowing that I must eat unleavened bread with bitterness, I have served only God, Who is blessed for ever. I have shown my brotherly feelings and the eagerness of my faith, when I preferred to give an opportunity to detractors, rather than in such a cause not to open my mouth, however impolite. Thus, although the triple-tongued
(cf. Hieron. Adv. Vigilant. 8)scorpion with bent blow rise up in those of whom it is written, They bent their tongue like a bow of falsehood
(Ierem. 9. 3), who judge everything however threadbare to be new, obviously making themselves out to be rich in overweening measure, and who, licking their lips like beasts(?), always oppose the deceits of a jealous recalcitrance to whatever writings they deem inelegant; but yet when a gentile King of the Lombards asks a dull Scots pilgrim to write, when the tide of the old flood is turning back, who will not wonder rather than revile? Yet I shall not tremble, nor in God's cause shall I fear the tongues of men, who lie more often then they speak the truth, while we must rather overcome modesty than submit to cowardice, when need compels.
Therefore, to return to the point from which I digressed, I ask you, since many are doubtful about your faith's integrity, that you will
p.55quickly remove this wart from the good name of the Holy See; for this report of constant caprice does not suit the weighty purpose of the Roman Church, so that any power could move it from the firmness of your faith, for which so many of its martyrs have shed their blood, preferring to die than be confounded. For surely, if in our times has come the last persecution of that hateful sea-monster, whose hide all the ships could scarcely carry, shall we not resist unto blood, striving against sin
(Heb. 12. 4), as our fathers did, I mean the apostles and so many martyrs? If persecution was severe at the beginning of the faith, how much more shall it be at the end, of which the Lord says: Think you that at His coming the Son of Man shall find faith on the earth?
(Luc. 18. 8)and again: Unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved
(Matt. 24. 22). Happy is he, whom death removes before he weakens and denies. Yet He says that there will be elect souls there, of whom doubtless He made to His disciples the prophecy: Lo I am with you always, even to the end of time
(Matt. 28. 20). Thus, when the future elect, in those days more perilous even than the rest before and utterly unlike the past, shall by the Lord's strength bear greater trials, why will not we by the Lord's help bear lesser ones in these still safer and more settled times, even for the sake of our faith by which we are distinguished from Gentiles, Jews, and heretics?
But while I urge such considerations, like a man sluggish in action and speaking rather than doing (I am called Jonah in Hebrew, Peristera in Greek, Columba in Latin, yet so much is my birth-right in the idiom of your language, though I use the ancient Hebrew name of Jonah, whose shipwreck I have also almost undergone) I beg you, as I have often asked, to pardon me, since necessity rather than vainglory compels me to write, while a certain character in his letters, with which he greeted me almost on my arrival at the frontiers of this province, pointed you out to me as an object of suspicion, as if you were slipping into the sect of Nestorius. To this man in my astonishment I replied briefly, as I was able, not believing his charge; but lest I should in any way be an opponent of the truth, considering his letter and my own good opinion of you (for I believe that there is always a strong pillar of the Church at Rome) I have changed the tenor of my answer, and sent it you to read and controvert, if in any part it has attacked the truth; for I dare not claim to be amongst the faultless.
But on top of this occasion for writing, there is added the bidding of King Agilulf, whose request reduced me to amazement and manifold anxiety; since indeed I think that what I observe cannot be devoid of the miraculous. For the rulers in this province have long trampled on the Catholic faith and consolidated this lapse into Arianism; now they ask that our faith should be confirmed. Perhaps Christ now looks on us with
p.57favour, for it is by His approval that all good is born. We are terribly contemptible, if on our side the offence grows worse. Thus the king asks, the queen asks, all ask you that as soon as may be, all should be made one, that as peace comes to the country, peace should come quickly to the Faith, that everyone may in turn become one flock of Christ. Let the king follow the King, do you follow Peter, and let the whole Church follow you. What is sweeter than peace after the wars? What more pleasant than the concord of brothers long divided? How readily does a father return after many years? How sweet is the news of his arrival to the long-awaiting mother? Thus to God the Father shall His sons' peace be joy world without end, and the rejoicing of Mother Church shall be the revels of eternity. For the rest, Holy Father and brethren, pray for me, a most wretched sinner, and for my fellow-pilgrims beside the holy places and the ashes of the Saints, and especially beside Peter and Paul, men equally great captains of the great King, and also most brave warriors on a favoured field, following by their death the Crucified Lord, that we may be counted worthy to abide in Christ, to please Him and give thanks, and to praise Him unceasingly with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in your company and in the communion of all saints, here and eternally world without end. Amen.