Grace and peace to thee from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Gal. 1.3). It is my desire, Holy Father, (let it not be extravagant in your sight) to ask about Easter, in accordance with that canticle, Ask thy father and he will show thee, thy elders and they will tell thee.
(Deut. 32.7)For although, considering my insignificance, when my poverty writes to your distinction, I might be branded with that unusual remark of a certain philosopher, which he is said once to have made at the sight of a painted harlot, I do not admire the art, but I admire the cheek
(cf. Ecclus. 9.8.); yet trusting in the faith of your evangelical humility I dare to write to you, and subjoin the matter of my grief. For there is no pride in writing when necessity demands a letter, though it be addressed to one's superiors.
What then do you say about an Easter on the twenty-first or twenty-second moon, which already (yet let it be said without offence to you) is proved to be no Easter, considering its darkness, by many laborious scholars? For as I believe, it does not escape your diligence, how scathingly Anatolius, a man of curious learning
(Hieron. De Viris Illustr. 73)as St. Jerome says, excerpts from whose writings Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, inserted in his ecclesiastical history, and St. Jerome praised this same work on Easter in his cataloguehow scathingly Anatolius reasons about this period of the moon; who recorded a terrible judgement against the Gallican authorities in their error, as he maintains, concerning Easter, saying Certainly if the moon's rising shall have delayed until the end of two watches, which marks the middle of the night, light does not prevail over darkness, but darkness over light; which is certain to be impossible at Easter, so that some part of darkness should rule over the light, since
p.5the festival of the Lord's resurrection is light, and there is no communication of light with darkness
(cf. 2. Cor. 6. 14). And if the moon has begun to shine in the third watch, there is no doubt that the twenty-first or twenty-second moon has arisen, on which it is impossible for the true Easter to be offered. For those who determine that Easter can be celebrated at this period of the moon, not only cannot maintain this on the authority of holy scripture, but also incur the charge of sacrilege and contumacy, together with the peril of their souls, when they maintain that the true light, which rules over all darkness, can be offered under conditions where darkness rules to some extent. And we also read in the book of sacred dogma: Easter, that is the festival of the Lord's resurrection, cannot be celebrated before the passing of the Spring equinox, the beginning of the fourteenth moon
(Gennad. De Dogm. Eccl. 87), namely to avoid its preceding the equinox. Victorius has certainly broken this rule in his cycle, and thus has long since introduced error into Gaul, or to speak more humbly, has strengthened its growth. For on what principle can either practice stand, namely that the Lord's resurrection should be celebrated prior to His passion, which is ridiculous even to be thought of, or that the seven days
(cf. Exod. 12. 15)ordained by the Lord's bidding in the law, on which alone the Lord's Passover is commanded to be eaten legally, which are to be reckoned from the fourteenth moon up to the twentieth, should be exceeded contrary to law and right? For the twenty-first or twenty-second moon is outwith the jurisdiction of light, since at that point of time it has arisen after the middle of the night, and with darkness prevailing over light it is illegal, as they say, for the festival of light to be held.
Why then, with all your learning, when indeed the streams of your holy wisdom are, as of old, shed abroad over the earth with great brightness, do you favour a dark Easter? I am surprised, I must confess, that this error of Gaul has not long since been scraped away by you, as if it were a warty growth; unless perhaps I am to think, what I can scarce believe, that while it is patent that this has not been righted by you, it has met with approval in your eyes. Yet your statesmanship can be excused in another and more honourable way; perhaps while you fear to be stamped as an innovator like Hermagoras, you are content with your predecessors' authority, and especially with that of Pope Leo. Refrain, I beg you, from relying in such a dispute only on humility or seemliness, which are often deceived; perhaps in this riddle a living dog
p.7is better than a dead Lion
(sq. Eccles. 9. 4); for a living saint can right what by another and greater one has not been righted. For you must know that Victorius has not been accepted by our teachers, by the former scholars of Ireland, by the mathematicians most skilled in reckoning chronology, but has earned ridicule or indulgence rather than authority. Wherefore in my anxiety, as a stranger rather than a savant, I beg you to favour me with the support of your judgement, and not to scorn sending in good time the mark of your approval, for the quelling of this storm that surrounds us; for I am not satisfied, after reading such weighty authorities, with the single judgement of those bishops who can only say, We ought not to hold Easter with the Jews
(cf. Euseb. Hist. Eccl. v. 22). Bishop Victor also said this once, but no one in the Eastern Church accepted his falsehood; but our soporific sting of Dagon has drunk in this erroneous tumor. What, I ask, is this so frivolous and so uneducated judgement, which is based on no proofs from holy scripture: We ought not to hold Easter with the Jews? What relevance has it to reality? Are we really to believe that the reprobate Jews hold Easter now, considering that they are without a temple, outside Jerusalem, and that Christ then prefigured has been crucified by them? Or are we really to believe that the Easter of the fourteenth moon is rightly theirs, and not rather to confess that it is the Passover of God Himself Who instituted it, and Who alone clearly knows the mystery by which the fourteenth moon was chosen for the Exodus? This may perhaps shed some light for scholars and persons like yourself. And let those who oppose this, though without authority, reproach God, because He did not before this in His foreknowledge then guard against the Jews' obstinacy, in such a way as to appoint nine days of unleavened bread in the law, if He did not wish us to hold Easter together with them, so that even the beginning of our festival should not post-date their festival's end. For if Easter is to be celebrated on the twenty-first or twenty-second, nine days will be reckoned from the fourteenth up to the twenty-second, that is, seven appointed by God, and two added by men. But if men are permitted to add anything of themselves to the divine appointment, I question whether it may not perhaps seem contrary to that judgement of Deuteronomy: Behold [it says] the word which I command thee, thou shalt neither add to it, nor diminish from it
(cf. Deut. 4. 2).
But while I write this with more presumption than humility, I realize that I have brought upon myself the straits of a most grievous impudence, without knowing that they must yet be crossed. For it befits neither place nor station that your great authority should be at all
p.9questioned by the appearance of debate, and that you, who indeed lawfully occupy the chair of Peter the apostle and bearer of the keys, should ludicrously be troubled about Easter by my letters from the West. But in this matter you should not pay so much attention to my insignificant person, as to the many dead and living teachers who maintain these same conclusions I have noted, and you should imagine yourself to be prolonging the debate with them; for you must know that I am opening my voluble mouth from pious motives, though it be out of turn and out of measure. Do you then either exonerate or condemn your Victorius, knowing that if you commend him, a question of credibility will be raised between yourself and the aforesaid Jerome, who indeed commended Anatolius his opposite, so that the follower of one cannot accept the other. Then let your attentive consideration ensure that, in weighing the credibility of the two authors aforesaid, who are mutually opposed to each other, there be no discord between yourself and Jerome in pronouncing judgement, lest we should be straitened on both sides, whether to agree with you or him. Spare the weak in this, lest you disclose the scandal of disunion. For I admit to you simply, that anyone impugning the authority of St. Jerome will be a heretic or reprobate in the eyes of the Western Churches, whoever that man may be; for at all points they repose an undoubted confidence in the holy scriptures. But let this suffice for Easter.
Concerning those bishops, however, who ordain uncanonically, that is for hire, I ask what you decree; Gildas the writer set them down as simoniacs and plagues
(Gildas, De Excid. Brit. 67). Are we really to communicate with them? For many, which is too serious a matter, are known to be such in this province. Or concerning others who, defiled as deacons, are later elected to the rank of bishops? For some exist, whose confessions I have heard on this, and who, discussing the matter with my poor self, wished to know for certain, whether after this they could without peril be bishops, that is to say, after buying orders for money, or after a secret adultery as deaconsyet I mean adultery committed with their wives; which among our teachers is reckoned to be of no less guilt.
In the third part of my inquiry, please tell me now, if it is not troublesome, what is to be done about those monks who, for the sake of God, and inflamed by the desire for a more perfect life, impugn their vows, leave the places of their first profession, and against their abbots' will, impelled by monastic fervour, either relapse or flee to the deserts. Finnian the writer questioned Gildas about them, and he sent a most polished reply; but yet through the zeal for learning anxiety grows ever greater.
With more humility and clarity all these questions, and many more
p.11which the brief scope of a letter does not permit, should have been asked in person, did not bodily weakness and the care of my fellow-pilgrims keep me tied at home, though I desire to journey to you, to drink that spiritual channel of the living fountain, and the living stream of wisdom which flows from heaven and springs up unto eternal life
(Ioann. 4. 14). And if body followed mind, Rome would again suffer a real scorning of herself, so that, just as we read in the narrative of learned Jerome, how some men once came to Rome from the last confines of the strand of Hyele, and, wonderful to tell, sought something other than Rome
(Hieron. Epist. liii), so I too would seek, desiring now, not Rome, but you, saving the reverence due to the ashes of the saints; for though I confess myself to be no scholar but athirst, this same thing would I do, if I had leisure.
I have read your book containing the pastoral rule, brief in style, pregnant in doctrine, replete with sacred lore; I confess that the work is sweeter than honey to the needy; wherefore in my thirst I beg you for Christ's sake to bestow on me your tracts, which, as I have heard, you have compiled with wonderful skill upon Ezekiel. I have read six books of Jerome on him; but he did not expound even half. But if you see fit, send me something from your lectures delivered in the city, I mean the final expositions of the book; send too the Song of Songs from that passage in which it says, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense
(Cant. 4. 6), right up to the end; treat it, I pray, either with others' comments or with your own in brief; and in order to expound all the obscurity of Zechariah, open up his secrets, so that in this a blind Westerner may render thanks to you. My demands are pressing, my inquiries large, who knows it not? But you too have large resources, since you know well that from a small stock less must be lent and from a great one more
(cf. Luc. 12. 48).
Let charity move you to reply, let not the roughness of my letter restrain your exposition, since wrath is distracted into error
(cf. Horat. Epist. i. 2. 62), and it is my heart's desire to pay you honour due; my part was to challenge, question, ask; let it be yours not to deny what you have freely received
(cf. Matt. 10. 8), to lend your talent to the seeker
(cf. Luc. 6. 30; Matt. 14. 16-17), and to give the bread
(cf. Luc. 6. 30; Matt. 14. 16-17)of doctrine according to Christ's command. Peace to you and yours; please pardon my rashness, holy father, for having written so boldly, and I beseech you to pray for me a most wretched sinner even once in your holy prayers to our common Lord.
I think it quite unnecessary to commend to you my own, whom the Saviour enjoins to be received
(cf. Matt. 10. 40)as walking in His name.
And if, as I have heard from holy Candidus your officer, you wish to make this reply, that what has been confirmed by long passage of time cannot be changed, clearly the error is of long standing; but truth has always stood longer, and is its refutation.