Ab Aegyptiis
(Letter to the theologians of Paris), Pope Gregory IX (1228)

     
     
 

GREGORY IX 1227-1241

The Necessity of Preserving Theological Terminology and Tradition *

[From the letter "Ab Aegyptiis" to the theologians of Paris, July 7, 1228]

442 "Touched inwardly with sorrow of heart" [Gen. 6:6], "we are filled with the bitterness of wormwood" [cf. Lam. 3:15], because as it has been brought to our attention, certain ones among you, distended like a skin by the spirit of vanity, are working with profane novelty to pass beyond the boundaries which thy fathers have set [cf. Prov. 22:28], the understanding of the heavenly page limited by the fixed boundaries of expositions in the studies of the Holy Fathers by inclining toward the philosophical doctrine of natural things, which it is not only rash but even profane to transgress; (they are doing this) for a show of knowledge, not for any profit to their hearers; so that they seem to be not taught of God or speakers of God, but rather revealed as God. For, although they ought to explain theology according to the approved traditions of the saints and not with carnal weapons, "yet with (weapons) powerful for God to destroy every height exalting itself against the knowledge of God and to lead back into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ" [cf. 2 Cor. 10:4 f.], they themselves "led away by various and strange doctrines" [cf.Heb. 13:9] reduce the "head to the tail" [cf. Deut. 28:13, 44] and they force the queen to be servant to the handmaid, that is, by earthly documents attributing the heavenly, which is of grace, to nature. Indeed relying on the knowledge of natural things more than they ought, returning "to the weak and needy elements" of the world, which they served while they were "little" and "serving them again" [ Gal. 4:9] as foolish in Christ they feed on "milk and not solid food" [ Heb. 5:12 f.], and they seem by no means to have established "the heart in grace" [cf. Heb. 13:9]; and so despoiled of their rewards "plundered and wounded by their natural possessions * they do not reduce to memory that (saying) of the Apostle which we believe they have already frequently read: "Avoiding the profane novelties of words, and the oppositions of knowledge falsely so called, which some seeking have erred concerning the faith" [cf.1 Tim. 6:20 f.]. "O foolish and slow of heart in all things" which the protectors of divine grace, namely "the prophets" the evangelists and the apostles "have spoken" [cf.Luke 24:25], since nature in itself cannot (work) anything for salvation unless it is helped by grace [see n. 105, 138]. Let presumers of this kind speak, who embracing the doctrine of natural things offer the leaves and not the fruit of words to their hearers, whose minds as if fed with husks remain empty and vacant; and their soul cannot be "delighted in fatness" [ Is. 55:2], because thirsty and dry it cannot drink "from the waters of Siloe running with silence" [cf.Is. 8:6] but rather from those which are drawn from the philosophical torrents, of which it is said: "The more they are drunk, the more the waters are thirsted for, because they do not bring satiety, but rather anxiety and labor. And while by extorted, nay rather distorted, expositions they turn the sacred words divinely inspired to the sense of the doctrine of philosophers who are ignorant of God, "do they not place the ark of the covenant by Dagon" [ 1 Samuel 5:2], and set up the image of Antiochus to be adored in the temple of the Lord? And while they try to add to faith by natural reason more than they ought, do they not render it in a certain way useless and empty since "faith does not have merit for one to whom human reason furnishes proof?" * Finally, nature believes what is understood, but faith by its freely given power comprehends what is believed by the intelligence, and bold and daring it penetrates where natural intellect is not able to reach. Will such followers of the things of nature, in whose eyes grace seems to be proscribed, say that "the Word which was in the beginning with God, was made flesh, and dwelt in us" [John 1] is of grace or of nature? As for the rest, God forbid that a "most beautiful woman" [ Song. 5:9], with "eyes painted with stiblic" [ 2 Kings 9:30] by presumers, be adorned with false colors, and that she who "girded with clothes" [ Ps. 44:10] and "adorned with jewels" [ Is. 61:10 ] proceeds splendid as a queen, be clothed with stitched semi-girdles of philosophers, sordid apparel. God forbid that "cows ill favored" and consumed with leanness, which "give no mark of being full would devour the beautiful" [Gen. 41:18 ff.] and consume the fat.

443 Therefore, lest a rash and perverse dogma of this kind "as a canker spreads" [ 2 Tim. 2:17], and infects many and makes it necessary that "Rachel bewail her lost sons" [Jer. 31:15], we order and strictly command by the authority of those present that, entirely forsaking the poison mentioned above, without the leaven of worldly knowledge, that you teach theological purity, not "adulterating the word of God" [2 Cor. 2:17] by the creations of philosophers, lest around the altar of God you seem to wish to plant a grove contrary to the teaching of the Lord, and by a commingling of honey to cause the sacrifice of doctrine to ferment which is to be presented "with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" [ 1 Cor. 5:8]. But content with the terminology established by the Fathers, you should feed the minds of your listeners with the fruit of heavenly words, so that after the leaves of the words have been removed, "they may draw from the fountains of the Savior" [ Is. 12:3 ]; the clear and limpid waters which tend principally to this, that they may build up faith or fashion morals, and refreshed by these they may be delighted with internal richness. *

 

 



 


 

 

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