Gregory, the servant of the servants of God, to Boniface, our most holy brother and colleague in the episcopate.
Your devout messenger Denual has brought us the welcome news that you are well and that, by the help of God, you are making progress in the work for which you were sent. He also delivered to us letters from you reporting that the field of the Lord which had long lain fallow and was overgrown with the weeds of pagan customs has now been ploughed up and sown with the truth of the Gospel, producing an abundant harvest of souls.
in the same report you included a number of questions concerning the faith and teaching of the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church. This is a commendable practice, for here Saint Peter the Apostle held his see and the episcopate had its beginning. And since you seek our advice on matters dealing with ecclesiastical discipline, we will state with all the authority of apostolic tradition what you must hold, though we speak not from our own insufficiency but relying on the grace of Him who opens the mouths of the dumb and makes eloquent the tongues of babes.
Your first question is: Within what degrees can marriage be solemnized? Our answer is that if the parties know themselves to be related by blood they should not marry; but since moderation weighs more with these savage people than strict legal duties, they should be allowed to marry after the fourth degree of consanguinity.
As to what a man shall do if his wife is unable through illness to allow him his marital rights, it would be better if he remained apart and practised continence. But since this is practicable only in the case of men of high ideals, the best course if he is unable to be continent would be for him to marry. Nevertheless, he should continue to support the woman who is sick, unless she has contracted the disease through her own fault.
As regards a priest or bishop who has been accused by the people, if the evidence for the charge against him is not substantiated by reliable witnesses he should protest his innocence on oath before God, from whom nothing is concealed, and retain the rank which is his due. For once a man has been ordained or consecrated he cannot be ordained or consecrated anew.
In the sacred ceremony of the Mass that rite must be observed which our Lord transmitted to His Disciples, for he took the chalice and gave it to them, saying: “This is the chalice of the New Testament in my blood: do this as often as you shall drink it.” Therefore it is not fitting that two or three chalices should be placed on the altar during the celebration of Mass.
As to foods offered in sacrifice to idols, you ask whether a believer is permitted to eat them or not after he has first made a sign of the cross over them. A sufficient answer to this question is provided in the words of Saint Paul when he said: ” If any man says to you, This has been offered in sacrifice, eat not for the sake of the man who mentioned it and for conscience sake.”
You ask further: If a father or mother gives a child during its early years to a monastery to be brought up in monastic discipline, is it lawful for that child, after reaching the age of puberty, to leave the cloister and enter into matrimony? This we strictly forbid, for it is an impious thing to allow children who have been offered to God by their parents to follow their baser instincts for pleasure.
You mention also that some have been baptized by adulterous and unworthy priests without being questioned on their belief in the articles of the Creed. In such cases you must hold fast to the ancient custom of the Church, because whoever is baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost cannot be baptized again. For he has received this grace not in the name of the minister but in the name of the Trinity. Hold fast the teaching of the Apostles, ” One Lord, one faith, one baptism “. We require you to impart spiritual instruction to such people with particular earnestness.
As regards small children who have been separated from their parents and do not know whether they have been baptized or not, reason demands that you should baptize them, unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Lepers who belong to the Christian faith should be allowed to partake of the body and blood of the Lord, but they may not attend sacred functions with people in good health. In the case of a contagious disease or plague attacking a church or monastery you ask whether those who have not been infected may escape danger by flight. We declare this to be utterly foolish; no man can escape the hand of God.
At the end of your letter you state that some priests and bishops are so vicious that their fives are a continual reproach to the priesthood and you enquire whether it would be lawful to eat and speak with them provided they are not heretics. We answer that you are to admonish and correct them with our apostolic authority and so bring them back to the purity of ecclesiastical discipline. If they obey, they will save their souls, and you, on your side, will attain your reward. Do not refuse to eat and speak with them at the same table. It often happens that where correction fails to bring men to an acknowledgment of the truth, the constant and gentle persuasion of their table companions leads them back to the paths of goodness. You should follow this same rule in dealing with the nobles who are of assistance to you.
This, my dear brother, is all that need be said with the authority of the Apostolic See. For the rest, we call upon the mercy of (34 which has sent you, under our apostolic authority, to shed the light of truth on those regions of darkness, to crown your work with success so that you may receive the reward of your labours and the forgiveness of our sins.
May God keep you from all harm, most reverend brother.
Given on the tenth of the kalends of December in the tenth year of the reign of our august emperor Leo, in the seventh of his son Constantine the Great, the tenth indiction.