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E06344: A letter of Pope Gregory the Great (Register 3.37) of 593, to Libertinus, praetor of Sicily, seeks the punishment of a Jew who has set up an altar to *Helias/Elijah (Old Testament prophet, S00239), and tricked many Christians into praying there. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 11.09.2018, 00:00 by frances
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 3.37


Extract from the letter:

Ab ipso administrationis exordio deus uos in causae suae uoluit uindicta procedere et hanc uobis mercedem propitius cum laude seruauit. Fertur siquidem quod Nasas, quidam sceleratissimus Iudaeorum, sub nomine beati Heliae altare punienda temeritate construxerit multosque illic Christianorum ad adorandum sacrilega seductione deceperit.

‘From the very beginning of your administration, God has wanted you to proceed in the defence of his cause, and has graciously reserved this reward for you with his praise. For indeed it is said that Nasas, one of the most wicked of the Jews, has built an altar in the name of Saint Helias, with a temerity that must be punished, and has tricked many Christians there into prayer by means of a sacrilegious seduction.’

Gregory continues by insisting that Libertinus inflict corporal punishment on Nasas.


Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 1, 182-3. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 1, 260.

History

Evidence ID

E06344

Saint Name

Elijah, Old Testament prophet : S00217

Saint Name in Source

Helias

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

593

Evidence not after

593

Activity not before

593

Activity not after

593

Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Rome

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Cult activities - Places

Altar

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Condemnation/rejection of a specific cultic activity

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Jews Ecclesiastics - bishops Officials

Source

A letter transmitted as part of Gregory the Great’s Register of Letters. This letter collection, organised into fourteen books, is large and contains letters to a variety of recipients, including prominent aristocrats, members of the clergy and royalty. The issues touched on in the letters are equally varied, ranging from theological considerations to mundane administrative matters. This collection of letters, which was possibly curated by Gregory, was originally much larger. The surviving Register comprises several groups of letters which were extracted at several later moments in history, the largest of which took place in the papacy of Hadrian I (772-795).

Discussion

What precisely is going on here is unclear. Gregory seeks harsh punishment from the secular authorities of Sicily on a Jew who has set up an altar somewhere on the island to the Prophet Elijah, and persuaded many Christians to pray there. Was it in his home? Did he perhaps claim to have relics of the prophet? Is this an indication that, at a level below the church hierarchy, Jews and Christians worshipped together? The text raises these intriguing questions, but does not answer them.

Bibliography

Edition: Norberg, D., S. Gregorii Magni, Registrum epistularum. 2 vols. (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 140-140A; Turnhout: Brepols, 1982). English translation: Martyn, J.R.C., The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 vols. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004). Further Reading: Dal Santo, M., Debating the Saints' Cult in the Age of Gregory the Great (Oxford: OUP, 2012). McCulloch, J., "The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Gregory the Great," Traditio 32 (1976), 145-184. Neil, B., and Dal Santo, M. (eds.), A Companion to Gregory the Great (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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