Letter of Pope Gelasius to Anastasius Augustus
Trans. John S. Ott,
University, from Andreas Thiel, ed., Epistolae Romanorum pontificum genuinae et quae
ad eos scriptae sunt a S. Hilaro usque ad Pelagium II., vol. 1 (Brunsberg: Eduard Peter, 1867),
Letter no. 12, pp. 349-358. A translation of c. 2 is given by J. H.
Robinson, Readings in European History (Boston: Ginn, 1905), 72-73, which is reproduced
(with typos) in the Medieval Internet Sourcebook. Other translations
of the same section of the letter are widely available. An English
translation of the first half of the letter has been furnished by Hugo Rahner,
Church and State
in Early Christianity, trans. Leo
Donald Davis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992 [orig. pub. 1960]), 173-76.
A complete translation of the letter was subsequently published by Bronwen
Neil and Pauline Allen in The Letters of
Gelasius I (492-496): Pastor and Micro-Manager of the Church of Rome
(Turnhout: Brepols, 2014), 73-80.
The abridged translation
below, made with reference to Rahner's, is my own. Notes and translation
are (c) John S. Ott, Portland State University. Full permission is freely
granted for classroom use. Last revised 30 December 2020.
Notes to the text:
Gelasius I was briefly pope from 492 until 496; the
letter below thus falls at the mid-point of his pontificacy. Despite the brevity of his rule, Gelasius was quite active. He wrote and introduced new prayers into the Latin liturgy
(the cycle of prayers recited in the church throughout the year); expelled
Manicheans from Rome and banned their books; sought to impose uniformity
of sacramental practice in the Latin churches; and tried -- less successfully
-- to eliminate the pagan Roman ceremony of the Lupercalia. He was also posthumously praised for having seen the city
of Rome through
a particularly harsh famine.
Gelasius ascended the Roman see at a moment when papal
relations with the eastern Christian (Greek) churches and the Roman (Byzantine)
emperor were greatly strained by the outcome of a long and violent theological
schism that had rent the churches of the eastern Mediterranean
for decades. In 482, Acacius, the Patriarch of Constantinople
(471-489), succeeded in brokering an agreement between the orthodox eastern
churches and the schismatic Monophysite churches of Syria and Egypt. The
accord was called the Henotikon and it was given legitimacy
by the backing of the emperor, who was motivated by a desire to restore union
among the Christian churches of the empire. Acacius
implemented the Henotikon's theological compromises without papal support, however,
and this omission led Pope Felix III (483-492, Gelasius' predecessor) to
excommunicate both Acacius and the then-emperor Zeno (r. 476-491) in 484. The break between the Constantinopolitan and Roman churches
persisted past the lifetimes of the principal adversaries, enduring from
484 until 518. During this time, the Emperor Anastasius
I came to power (r. 491-519). Anastasius was tolerant
toward the formerly schismatic churches and supportive of the Henotikon; Pope Gelasius was not.
More broadly, the thirty-four years of schism saw renewed
papal energy in asserting Rome's
religious supremacy. During this time, Gelasius wrote
Anastasius the letter outlining the respective qualities of the papal authority
and the imperial power. The letter is referred to as
Duo sunt ("There are two"), after the Latin words of the passage
containing the distinction. In later centuries, it
achieved foundational status as a claim of papal authority vis-à-vis
imperial authority in the Latin church, and was incorporated into the Decretum (c. 1139) of the canonist Gratian.
At the time he wrote, Gelasius probably did not envision the letter as a
clear statement of political ideology, but as a pastoral exhortation to cooperation
between Rome and Byzantium in the face of schism. Other scholars have seen
in this letter a sign of Gelasius' political weakness rather than an assertion
of strength (Neil and Allen, Letters of
For an important consideration of the letter in its
fifth-century context, see Alan Cottrell, "Auctoritas and Potestas: A Reevaluation of the Correspondence
of Gelasius I on Papal-Imperial Relations," Mediaeval Studies 55 (1993): 95-109.
Letter of Pope Gelasius to
1. The servants of Your
Piety, my sons and the distinguished men Master Faustus and Ireneus, along
with their colleagues holding public office, had said on returning to the
that your clemency had inquired why I had not sent to you a letter of greeting. Not, I confess, by my arrangement! But
some time ago, when they had been dispatched from eastern lands, they spread
word through the whole city that they had been denied permission to see me
by your command, and, so that I should not come across as onerous rather
than courteous, I felt this [situation] ought to be smoothed over by a letter. So you see, this situation came about not because of my
dissimulation, but out of due caution that I should not cause annoyances
to those already hostile to me. But since I learned from the aforementioned
men that the benevolence of your serenity has mildly requested a word from
my smallness, I considered that I would not undeservedly be questioned if
I were to remain silent. And because, O glorious son, as a native Roman I
love, revere, and esteem the Roman emperor ; and because, like him, I
am a God-loving Christian, I accordingly wish to have knowledge of the truth.
And as unworthy vicar of the apostolic see, wherever I perceive a full catholic
faith to be lacking, I strive to complete it with suitable proposals in my
own little way. For I am compelled by the dispensation of the divine word,
"it would be misery for me not to preach!"  For if that chosen vessel
the blessed apostle Paul was fearful and yet preached, how much more should
I tremble were I to withhold the ministry of preaching which has been sent
by divine inspiration and paternal devotion.
2. I beseech
your piety, that you not consider arrogant the office of divine reason. May this be furthest thing from the Roman prince's mind,
so that he may judge with his own senses his true inner wound. There are two [powers], august Emperor, which hold first
place in ruling this world, namely the sacred authority (auctoritas
sacrata) of the priests and the royal power (regalis potestas).
Of these, that of the priests is weightier, since they have to render an account
for even the kings of men in the divine judgment. You
are also aware, most clement son, that while you are permitted honorably
to rule over human kind, yet in divine matters you bend your neck devotedly
to the bishops and await from them the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly
sacraments you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior
to the religious order, and that in these things you depend on their judgment
rather than wish to bend them to 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, no slight
danger befalls bishops if they keep silent concerning the divine cult, which
is appropriate; given these things, there is no little risk for those who
despise -- God forbid! -- when they ought to 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 more is obedience
due to the bishop of that diocese [Rome] which the Most High ordained to
be above all others, and subsequently what the general piety of the church
3. As your piety is obviously
aware, it is humanly impossible to elevate oneself either by privilege or
confession over him whom the voice of Christ put above everyone, whom the
church has always held ought to be revered and enjoy primacy of devotion. What is established by divine judgment may be attacked
by human presumptions but cannot be vanquished by any human power.  Even the boldest audacity could not stand against that
shining example, because it was established by the same author of holy religion
that it cannot be toppled by any force whatsoever! "Firm
is the foundation of God!"  For is it not the
case that when religion is assaulted by others, that just when it is thought
it can be vanquished by novelty, it emerges that much stronger than what
was once thought would overcome it? And so I beseech
you, may those people desist, who under your aegis run about headlong seeking
to disrupt the church, which ought not be permitted -- or at least that these
men should in no way lay their hands on what they are disingenuously striving
after, nor keep their positions before God. 
4. For this reason, I purely and sincerely beseech, adjure, and exhort
your piety before God that you receive my petition without disdain. I will
say again: I ask that you hear me beseeching you in this life rather than
accusing you -- God forbid! -- before the divine tribunal. Nor is the zeal
of your piety in private life hidden from me, O august emperor. You have
always chosen to be a participant in the eternal promise. For that reason
do not, I beseech, be angry with me, for as much as I love you I wish the
) which you hold temporarily
to last in perpetuity, so that you who rules the world may be able to reign
with Christ. Certainly, emperor, by your laws you would permit nothing to
extinguish the Roman name, nor allow anything to happen to its detriment.
Is it therefore the case, distinguished prince, that you who so desire not
only the present but future blessings of Christ will not in your time suffer
any loss to befall either religion, truth, or the sincerity and faith of
the catholic communion? By what faith, I ask you, will you strive for his
later reward whose insult you do not now forbid?
5. I ask you not to bear heavily what is said with your eternal salvation
in mind. You have read what is written: "A friend's blows are better than
an enemy's embraces."  I ask your piety that you hear what I am saying
as it is intended. May no one deceive your piety. What Scripture says figuratively
through the prophet is true, "there is one alone, my dove, my perfect one."
There is only one faith, and that is the universal (catholica
.  The Catholic faith is that which
is sincere, pure, and spotless, set off from communion with all evil-doers
and their successors. Were this not the case, wretched confusion would take
the place of divinely mandated discretion. Nor would it stay that way if
we opened it up to any sort of contagion, or if we were to clear a path or
doorway for all sorts of heresies. "For he who offends in one aspect of it,
does so for all of it," and "He who scorns the little things will himself
fall, little by little." 
6. This is because the apostolic see takes special care that, since
its pristine foundation is the apostle's glorious confession, it should in
no way be tainted by contagion or cracks of depravity. . . . Accordingly,
if your piety refuses to allow the people of a city to gather together, what
shall we do about the peoples of the entire globe if (may it not happen!)
they are confused by our prevarication? If the whole world was corrected
from the contemptible, profane tradition of its fathers, how can the population
of a single city not be corrected if authentic preaching follows? Therefore,
glorious emperor, how can I not want the peace of churches, which I embrace,
even if it comes about at the cost of my blood? But, I beseech you, this
peace ought not to be of just any sort, but authentically Christian. For
how may there be a true peace for him who lacks unstinting charity? . . .
. . . .
12. It is often the quality of the weak that they find fault with
the physicians restoring them to health with suitable prescriptions, rather
than that they should consent to abandon or reject their own noxious appetites.
If we who administer the fitting remedy of souls are prideful, what should
those who resist be called? If we who say that the institutes of the
fathers should be obeyed are proud, what shall we call those who question
them? If we who desire the divine cult to be carried out in a pure
and unimpaired matter are conceited, what shall we call those who speak and
act against Divinity? So we consider the others who are in error, because
we do not consent to their insanities. Thus, truth itself shines wherever
the spirit of pride truthfully stands firm and fights on.
1. The Latin reads, "Roman prince" (Romanum principem).
2. 1 Cor. 9:16.
3. The Latin is quorumlibet potestate (by the power of anyone whatsoever); the use of the potestas echoes the distinction between sacral authority and
temporal power in c. 2, above.
4. 2 Tim. 2:19.
5. A reference to the clergy who supported the Henotikon,
presumably, and a less-than-direct way of asserting that they should be removed
6. Prov. 27:6.
7. Song of Songs 6:9.
8. James 2:10 and Ecclesiasticus 19:1.