Letter of Pope Gelasius to
Trans. John S.
Ott, Portland State
University, from Andreas
Thiel, ed., Epistolae Romanorum
pontificum genuinae et quae ad eos scriptae sunt a S. Hilaro usque ad
II., vol. 1 (Brunsberg: Eduard Peter, 1867), Letter no. 12, pp.
A translation of c. 2 is
given by J. H. Robinson, Readings
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
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.
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 21 February 2017.
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
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
relations with the eastern Christian (Greek) churches and the Roman
were greatly strained by the outcome of a long and violent theological
that had rent the churches of the eastern Mediterranean
for decades. In 482, Acacius, the
Patriarch of Constantinople (471-489), succeeded in brokering an
between the “orthodox” eastern churches and the “schismatic”
churches of Syria
and Egypt. The accord was called the Henotikon
and given legitimacy by the backing of the emperor, who was motivated
by a desire to restore union
the Christian churches of the empire.
Acacius implemented the Henotikon’s
theological compromises without
Roman support, however, and this
Pope Felix III (483-492, Gelasius’ predecessor) to excommunicate both
the Patriarch 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
until 518. During this time, the Emperor
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
papal energy in asserting Rome’s
religious supremacy. During this time,
Gelasius wrote Anastasius the letter outlining the respective qualities
papal authority and the imperial power.
The letter is referred to as Duo
sunt (“There are two”), after the Latin words of the
makes the distinction. In later
centuries, it achieved foundational status as a claim of papal
vis-à-vis imperial authority in the Latin church, and was incorporated
into the Decretum (c. 1139)
of the canonist Gratian. In the fifth
century, 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 Gelasius, 70).
An important consideration of the letter in
its fifth-century context is
that of 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 Anastasius Augustus
1. The servants of
Your Piety, my sons and the distinguished men Master Faustus and
with their colleagues holding public office, had said on returning to
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
from eastern lands, they spread word through the whole city that they
denied permission to see me by your command, and, so that I shouldn’t
across as onerous rather than courteous, I felt this [situation] ought
smoothed over by a letter. So you see,
this situation came about not because of my dissimulation, but out of
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
the knowledge of 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
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, by
which this world is chiefly ruled, 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
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
you bend your neck devotedly to the bishops and await from them the
your salvation. In the reception and
proper disposition of the heavenly sacraments you recognize that you
subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in
things you depend on their judgment rather than wish to bend them to
If the ministers of religion,
recognizing the supremacy granted you from heaven in matters affecting
public order, obey your laws, lest otherwise they might obstruct the
secular affairs by irrelevant considerations, with what readiness
not yield them obedience to whom is assigned the dispensing of the
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
they ought to obey. And if it is fitting
that the hearts of the faithful should submit to all priests in general
properly administer divine affairs, how much more is obedience due
bishop of that diocese [Rome] which the Most High ordained to be above
others, and subsequently what the general piety of the
church appropriately celebrates.
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
whom the church has always held ought to be revered and enjoy primacy
devotion. What is established by divine
judgment may be attacked by human presumptions but cannot be vanquished
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
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’s
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
seeking to disrupt the church, which ought not be permitted: or at
these men should in no way lay their hands on what they are
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 empire (regnum
) 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 faith (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 are prideful, who
administer the fitting remedy of souls, what should those who resist be
called? If we are proud, who say that the institutes of the
fathers should be obeyed, 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
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 from power.
6. Prov. 27:6.
7. Song of Songs 6:9.
8. James 2:10 and Ecclesiasticus 19:1.