(As to whether a priest may minister after a lapse.)
For those are in error who think that the priests of the Lord, after a lapse, although they may have exhibited true repentance, are not capable of ministering to the Lord, and engaging their honourable offices, though they may lead a good life thereafter, and keep their priesthood correctly. And those who hold this opinion are not only in error, but also seem to dispute and act in opposition to the power of the keys committed to the Church, whereof it is said: “Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.”14 And in short, this opinion either is not the Lord’s, or it is true. But be that as it may, we believe without hesitation, that both the priests of the Lord and other believers may return to their honours after a proper satisfaction for their error, as the Lord Himself testifies by His prophet: “Shall he who falls not also rise again? and shall he who turns away not return? ”15 And in another passage the Lord says: “I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he may turn, and live.”16 And the prophet David, on his repentance, said: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.”17 And he indeed, after his repentance, taught others also, and offered sacrifice to God, giving thereby an example to the teachers of the holy Church, that if they have fallen, and thereafter have exhibited a right repentance to God, they may do both things in like manner. For he taught when he said: “I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.”18 And he offered sacrifice for himself, while he said: “The sacrifice for God is a broken spirit.”19 For the prophet, seeing his own transgressions purged by repentance, had no doubt as to healing those of others by preaching, and by making offering to God. Thus the shedding of tears moves the mind’s feeling (passionem). And when the satisfaction is made good, the mind is turned aside from anger. For how does that man think that mercy will be shown to himself, who does not forgive his neighbour? If offences abound, then, let mercy also abound; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption.20 In the Lord’s hand there is abundance of all things, because He is the Lord of powers (virtutum) and the King of glory.21 For the apostle says: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, ‘I say, ’at this time His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”22 And David says: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”23 Man, therefore, is cleansed of his sin, and rises again by the grace of God though he has fallen, and abides in his first position, according to the above-cited authorities. Let him see to it that he sin no more, that the sentence of the Gospel may abide in him: “Go, and sin no more.”24 Whence the apostle says: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof: neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men.”25 For greater is the sin of him who judgeth, than of him who is judged. “Thinkest thou,” says the apostle, “O man, that judgest them that do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering? Dost thou not know that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek: but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good.”26 My brethren, shun not only the holding, but even the hearing, of the judgment that bans mercy; for better is mercy than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.27 We have replied to your interrogations shortly, because your letter found us burdened overmuch, and preoccupied with other judgments. Given on the 8th day of October, in the consulship of the most illustrious Antonine and Alexander.”28
Note by the American Editor.
See p. 613, note 1. For Callistus and his times, see the testimony of Hippolytus, vol. v. pp. 158, 159, 160; Elucidations X., XI., XII., XIII., XIV., XV. It must be owned that the forgery is better than the genuine productions of this forerunner of the Popes of the ninth and tenth centuries. The title “Pope,” in its later sense, seems not inappropriate to such a character.
Of the church’s receiving only the property of the faithful, and not the price of the same, as in the times of the apostles; And as to why elevated seats should be prepared in the churches for the bishops; And as to the fact that no one should have intercourse with those whom the bishops excommunicate, and that no one should receive those whom they have cast out in any manner whatever.2
Urban, bishop, to all Christians, in sanctification of the spirit, in obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, greeting.
It becomes all Christians, most dearly beloved, to imitate Him whose name they have received. “What doth it profit, my brethren,” says the Apostle James, “though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? ”3 “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that ye receive (sumitis) the greater condemnation; for in many things we offend all.”4 “Let him who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge among you, show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”5