Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ID
ER 2329
Archpresbyter Epiphanius from Cagliari (Sardinia) informs Gregory on some issues concerning the diocese of Cagliari, including the the case of local abesses dressing as "presbyterae" have a custom to do. Gregory the Great, Letter 9.198, AD 599.
Letter 9.198 to Bishop Januarius of Cagliari (July 599)
 
Gregorius Ianuario episcopo caralitano
 
Gregory is surprised that Sirica, the late abbess of the monastery of Saints Gavin and Luxorius, made a will when she was awarded her position of power and left some legacies to various people. This was done against the law stipulating that the monk or nun's property belongs to his or her monastery.
 
Et dum de sanctitatis uestrae sollicitudine quereremur, cur res monasterio competentes ab aliis pertulerit detineri, communis filius Epiphanius archipresbyter uester praesens inuentus respondit memoratam abbatissam usque diem obitus sui induisse uestem monachicam noluisse sed in uestibus, quibus loci illius utuntur presbyterae, permansisse. Ad haec replicabat praedicta Gauinia hoc paene ex consuetudine licuisse, adeo ut abbatissam, quae ante suprascriptam siricam fuerat, talibus usam fuisse uestibus allegaret. Cum que ergo de qualitate uestium nec nos mediocriter coepissemus ambigere, necessarium uisum est ut tam cum consiliariis nostris quam cum aliis huius ciuitatis doctis uiris quid esset de lege tractare.
 
People consulted by Gregory state that the manner of abbess' dress falls under the responsibility of the local bishop. Januarius should equally inquire whether indeed some property was unlawfully taken from the monastery's possession and illegealy bequethed to a certain xenodochium.
 
(ed. Norberg 1982: )
Letter 9.198 to Bishop Januarius of Cagliari (July 599)
 
Gregory to Januarius, bishop of Cagliari
 
Gregory is surprised that Sirica, the late abbess of the monastery of Saints Gavin and Luxorius, made a will when she was awarded her position of power and left some legacies to various people. This was done against the law which stipulating that the monk or nun's property belongs to his or her monastery.
 
And while we inquired about the concern of your Holiness, and why you allowed the property belonging to the convent to be kept by others, our common son, Epiphanius, your archpresbyter, came to visit us. He replied to us that the above-mentioned abbess, up to the day of her death, had been unwilling to wear the monastic habit, but she had kept on wearing the kind of dress used by presbyterae in that place. To this the aforesaid Gavinia [Sirica's successor in abbacy – JSz] replied that this had almost been allowed through custom, so much so that she alledged that the abbess who had served before the aforesaid Sirica had worn the same sort of clothes. We had begun to feel uneasy about the nature of the clothes, and to no small degree either, and we thought it necessary to seek legal opinion, both from our advisers and from other learned men of this city.
 
People consulted by Gregory state that the manner of abbess' dress falls under the responsibility of local the bishop. Januarius should equally inquire whether indeed some property was unlawfully taken from the monastery's possession and illegealy bequethed to a certain xenodochium.
 
(trans. Martyn 2004: 665–666, slightly altered by J. Szafranowski)

Discussion:

It is difficult to establish what exactly the dress of the presbytera looked like, especially because it is not clear to whom Gregory is referring here. Although the word presbytera usually denotes a woman which was a wife of a presbyter, there is some evidence that it was also employed to describe widows ([771]), which seems to fit better with the context of this letter.
 
Gary Macy saw this passage as a proof that presbyterae not only constituted one of the separate ordines, but also that they had their distinct garment. Macy argued, however, that these presbyterae were neither widows, nor merely wives of presbyters, but they had the right to celebrate Eucharist (which is extremely unlikely). Mary Schaefer entertains this possibility as well. See Macy: 76–77 and Schaefer 2013: 180.
 
This was not the first of Epiphanius' trips to Rome ([2328]). He seems to have enjoyed some special relationship with Gregory.
 
In an earlier letters mentioning Epiphanius, Gregory refers to him only as a presbyter ([2327] and [2328]). It seems that in the meantime he was promoted to archpresbyterate, or that he simply became the oldest among Cagliari's presbyters, thus earning the prefix "arch". He is mentioned as archpresbyter also in the letter 14.2 ([2330]).
 
Dey 2008 argues that xenodochium was a type of a monastic institution whose everyday obligation was the care for the sick. Thus, Martyn's translation of xenodochia as hostelries might be misleading.

Place of event:

Region
  • Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
  • Rome
City
  • Cagliari
  • Rome

About the source:

Author: Gregory the Great
Title: Letters, Epistulae, Epistolae, Registrum epistularum, Registrum epistolarum
Origin: Rome (Rome)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Gregory, later called the Great (Gregorius Magnus), was born ca 540 to an influential Roman family with some connection to the ancient gens Anicia. His great-great-grandfather was Felix III, who served as the bishop of Rome from 526 to 530. Possibly, Agapetus I, pope between 535 and 536, was his relative as well. Little is known about his early career, but in 573 Gregory ascended to the high office of city prefect. Shortly afterwards, however, he resigned from his post and adopted the monastic way of life. He founded a monastery dedicated to St. Andrew within his family estate on Coelian Hill, next to the library established by Agapetus and Cassiodorus. Six other monasteries were founded in the estates his family owned in Sicily. Soon after his monastic conversion, he started to be given various tasks by Popes Benedict I (575–578) and Pelagius II (578–590). At that time, he was ordained a deacon. Between 579 and 585/6, Gregory acted as Pelagius` envoy in Constantinople. In 590, he was elected Pelagius` successor to the bishopric of Rome. The registry of his letters contained copies of Gregory`s papal correspondence up to his death in 604. The scope of Gregory`s original registry is still the subject of scholarly speculation. There are 854 extant letters gathered in fourteen volumes, most of them (686 letters) originating from the collection compiled at the time of Pope Hadrian I (772–795).
 
It is worth remembering that the majority of Gregory’s correspondence was jointly produced by the pope and his subordinates, see Pollard 2013.
Edition:
D. Norberg ed., S. Gregorii Magni Registrum Epistularum, Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina 140, 140A, Turnhout 1982.
 
Translation:
The Letters of Gregory the Great, trans. J.R.C. Martyn, Mediaeval Sources in Translation 40, Toronto 2004.
Bibliography:
R.M. Pollard, A Cooperative Correspondence: The Letters of Gregory the Great, in: M. Dal Santo, B. Neil (eds.), A Companion to Gregory the Great, Leiden-Boston 2013, pp. 291–312.
 
G. Macy, The Hidden History of Women's Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West, Oxford 2008.
 
M.M. Schaefer, Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome, New York 2013.
 
H.W. Dey, "Diaconiae, xenodochia, hospitalia and monasteries: 'social security' and the meaning of monasticism in early medieval Rome", Early Medieval Europe 16 (2008), pp. 398–422.
 
 

Categories:

Family life - Permanent relationship continued after ordination
    Food/Clothes/Housing - Clothes
      Travel and change of residence
      Functions within the Church - Archpresbyter
      Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
      Described by a title - Abba
        Reverenced by
        Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
        Relation with - Monk/Nun
        Female ministry
          Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: J. Szafranowski, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER2329, http://www.presbytersproject.ihuw.pl/index.php?id=6&SourceID=2329