Pope Gregory I writes to Maxim, the bishop of Salona, on a variety of matters, including the latest advances of the Slavs and their recent incursions into Italy by way of Istria.
Gregorius Maximo episcopo Salonitano.
Ad Romanam urbem veniens communis filius presbyter Veteranus, ita me podagrae doloribus debilem repperit, ut fraternitati tuę per me epistolis respondere nullatenus valuissem.
Et quidem de Sclavorum gente, quę vobis valde imminet, et affligor valdea et conturbor. Affligor in his que iam in vobis patior; conturbor, quia per Hystriae aditum iam ad Italiam intrare coeperunt.
De Iuliano autem scribone quid dicam, quando ubique video, quia nobis peccata nostra respondeant, ut et foris a gentibus et intus a iudicibus conturbemur? Sed nolite de talibus omnino contristari, quia qui post nos vixerint deteriora tempora videbunt, ita ut in comparatione sui temporis felices nos ęstiment dies habuisse.
In quantum vero prevalet fraternitas tua, opponere se pro pauperibus, pro oppressis debet. Que etiam si prodesse minime valuerit, ipsar omnipotenti Deo mentis devotio sufficit quam dedit. Scriptum est enim: “Eripe eos qui ducuntur ad mortem, et qui trahuntur ad interitum liberare necesses.”1 Quod si dixeris: “Vires non suppetunt,” qui inspector est cordis, Ipse intellegit. In omne ergo quod agis, inspectoremb cordis appete habere placatum; quicquid vero est, unde illi placeas, facere non omittas. Nam humani terrores et gratiae fumo sunt similes, qui leni aura raptus evanescit. Hoc certissime scito, quia placere Deo et pravis hominibus nullus potest. In tanto ergo se ęstimet fraternitas tua omnipotenti Deo placuisse, quanto se perversis hominibus displicuisse cognoverit. Ipsa tamen defensio pauperum moderata et gravis sit, namc, si quid nimis rigide agimus, ex iuventute nosd arbitrentur homines superbire. Sed talis necesse est ut inveniatur pro oppressis nostra defensio, quatenus et humiles defensioneme sentiant et oppressores non facile inveniant, quod ex malivola mente reprehendant. Attende ergo quod, ad Ezechielem dicitur: “Fili hominis, increduli et subversores sunt tecum, et cum scorpionibus habitas.”2 Et beatus Iob ait: “Frater fui draconum et socius strutionum.”3 Et Paulus discipulis dicit: “In medio nationis pravę et perversae, inter quos lucetis sicut luminaria in mundo.”4 Tanto ergo debemus cautius ambulare, quanto nos scimus inter Dei inimicos vivere.
De Frontinianistis autem fraternitas tua sit omnino sollicita et, sicut coepit, ad sinum matris Ęcclesię studeat, quatenus revocentur. Si qui vero ad me venire voluerint et rationem recipere, prius iusiurandum prebeant, quia non permittant suis, quod in eorum errore etiam ratione recepta persistant. Et postmodum illisf tua sanctitas promittant, quia nullam a me violentiam patientur, sed rationem reddo. Si veritatem cognoverint, suscipiant; si non cognoverint, inlesos dimitto. Si qui vero contra vos ex eis ad nos venire voluerint, minime eos fraternitas tua retineat, quia venientes aut rationem recipient, aut scito, quia terram illam ulterius non videbunt.
a) vehementer ed. Ewald et Hartmann.
c) ne ed. Ewald et Hartmann.
e) protectionem ed. Ewald et Hartmann.
b) ex inspecterem corr.
d) vos ed. Ewald et Hartmann.
f) eis ed. Ewald et Hartmann.
1) Prov. 24, 11.
2) Ezec. 2,6.
3) Iob. 30, 29.
4) Phil. 2, 15.
Gregory to Maximus, the Bishop of Salona.
When our common son the presbyter Veteranus came to the Roman city, he found me so weak from the pains of gout as to be quite unable to answer your Fraternity’s letters myself.
And indeed, with regard to the nation of the Slavs, from which you are in great danger, I am exceedingly afflicted and disturbed. I am afflicted as suffering already in your suffering; I am disturbed because they have already begun to enter Italy by way of Istria.
Further, of Julian the scribe, what shall I say, seeing that I see everywhere how our sins find us out, so as to cause us to be disturbed by the nations from without and by judges from within? But be not at all saddened by such things, since those who shall live after us will see worse times; so much so, that they will regard us as having had happy days in comparison with their own.
But, so far as your Fraternity has power, you ought to oppose yourself in behalf of the poor, in behalf of the oppressed. And, even if you should be unable to do any good, the very devotion of your heart, which Almighty God has given, is enough for Him. For it is written: “Rescue them that are drawn unto death, and forbear not to deliver them that are ready to be slain.” But if you shouldest say, “My powers are insufficient,” He who sees into the heart understands. In all that you do, then, desire to have Him who sees into the heart well-pleased with you. But whatever there is whereby He may be pleased, do not refrain from doing so. For human terrors and favors are like smoke, which is snatched by a light breeze and vanishes away. Know this most assuredly, that no one can please God and bad men. Let, therefore, your Fraternity esteem yourself to have pleased Almighty God in such degree as you know yourself to have displeased froward men. Yet let your defense of the poor itself be moderate and grave, lest, if anything be done too rigidly, men should think we actuated by the pride of youth. But our defense of the poor must needs be found of such sort that both the humble may feel protection and oppressors may not easily find what out of a malevolent disposition they may blame. Attend, then, to what is said to Ezekiel: “Son of man, unbelievers and destroyers are with thee, and you do dwell among scorpions.” And the blessed Job says: “I have been a brother of dragons, and a companion of owls.” And Paul says to his disciples: “In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” We ought, then, to walk all the more cautiously as we know that we are living among the enemies of God.
Further, with regard to the Photinianists, let your Fraternity pay the utmost attention; and, as you have begun, study how to recall them to the bosom of holy Church. But, if any should wish to come to me, and to receive an explanation, let them first make oath that they will not permit their followers to persist in their error even after an explanation has been received. And then let your Holiness promise them that they will suffer no wrong from me, but that I will give them an explanation. If they should acknowledge the truth, let them accept it; if they should not acknowledge it, I will dismiss them unharmed. But, if any of them should wish to come to us against you, let your Fraternity by no means detain them; for, when they come, they shall either accept an explanation, or assuredly they will not see that land anymore.
[the translation is based, slightly modified by the editor, on James Barmby, trans., From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol. 13, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, NY 1898), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360210036.htm]
The letter is one of the most important written testimonies of early medieval Slavic incursions into Istria. It forms a part of the following series of primary sources:
1) The letter of Pope Gregory I to Callinicus, the Exarch of Ravenna, dated May of 599, mentioning the victory over the Slavs in a battle fought in Istria (see the source here);
2) The letter of Pope Gregory I to Maximus, the Bishop of Salona, mentioning the Slavic incursions into Italy by way of Istria (the source hereby edited);
3) The narrative accounts of 7th-century Slavic incursions penned by John the Deacon (see the source here);
4) The narrative accounts of Slavic incursions penned by Paul the Deacon (see the source here);
5) The narrative account from Liber pontificalis regarding the mission of abbot Martin, sent by Pope John IV to retrieve the relics from Dalmatia and Istria (see the source here).
After the middle of the 7th century, there are no more written testimonies of Slavic presence in Istria until the fateful Plea of Rižana of 804 (see the source here).
The images were downloaded from the official webpage of Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis.
The editor has subsequently inserted red arrows on the folios to mark the parts of the manuscript that refer to this particular letter that is hereby edited.
The images remain under the copyright of their respective institution.