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E07401: A letter of Pope Gregory the Great (Register 11.36) of 601, to *Augustine (first bishop of Canterbury, ob. 604 or 609, S02766), warns him against pride, after hearing reports that he has begun to perform miracles; later excerpted in the Ecclesiastical History of Bede, writing at Wearmouth-Jarrow (north-east Britain), 731. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2019-02-19, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters, 11.36

Extract from a long letter warning Augustine of the danger of pride in the fact that he can effect miracles:

[...] Scio enim, quia omnipotens Deus per dilectionem tuam in gente quam eligi voluit magna miracula ostendit. Unde necesse est, ut de eodem dono caelesti et timendo gaudeas et gaudendo pertimescas; gaudeas videlicet, quia Anglorum animae per exteriora miracula ad interiorem gratiam pertrahuntur, pertimescas vero, ne inter signa quae finut infirmus animus in sui praesumptione se elevet et, unde foras in honore attollitur, inde per inanem gloriam intus cadat [...] Non enim omnes electi miracula faciunt, sed tamen eorum nomina omnium in caelo tenentur ascripta [...]

'Gregory to Augustine, bishop of the English
[...] For I know that almighty God has revealed great miracles through your Beloved in the nation that he wanted to be chosen. From this, it is necessary that you should rejoice with fear over that heavenly gift, and should be most fearful in rejoicing. You should rejoice, of course, because the souls of the English are being drawn to inner grace through external miracles. But you should be greatly afraid, in case among the miracles that appear, a weak mind puffs itself up into pride, and where it is raised to honour externally, there it collapses through vainglory... Not all of those chosen work miracles, but the names of all of them are kept registered in Heaven [...]'

Text: Ewald and Hartmann, 1881-99, ii. 305-8. Translation: Martyn 2004, 779-82.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Augustine, first bishop of Canterbury (south-east Britain), ob. 604 or 609 : S02766

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Letter


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Wearmouth and Jarrow Rome

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

Wearmouth and Jarrow St Albans St Albans Verulamium Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Unspecified miracle Miracles causing conversion

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - Popes


This letter appears in both the later 8th century Registrum Hadrianum of Gregory's letters, as well as the Collectio Pauli. In 731 Bede included an abridged version of this letter in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (1.31). He states in his preface to the History that Nothhelm, a priest of London (and, after Bede's death, archbishop of Canterbury, 735-9), had provided him with copies of 'some letters of Saint Gregory and other popes', following a period of research in the Roman archives (sanctae ecclesiae Romanae scrinio) with the permission of Pope Gregory II (715-31). There has been some debate, however, about whether all Bede's papal letters were copied from Roman registers, rather than English archives (see further Story, 2012, 785 ff.). There is a possibility that this particular letter could have come to Bede via Canterbury.


This document holds a special value as a contemporary letter to a living, miracle-working figure, one perhaps already becoming recognised as a saint. Whether we might consider it as evidence for a nascent 'cult' is less clear: but the stories which brought the news of Augustine's purported miraculous powers to Gregory may well have originated in very early cultic activity in Canterbury, while Bede's later decision to include this excerpt in his History may attest to a general recognition of Augustine as a saint by the turn of the 8th century.


Edition and translation of Bede: Colgrave, B., and Mynors, R.A.B., Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969). Edition and translation of Gregory's letters: Ewald, P., and Hartmann, L., Gregorii I papae registrium epistolarum, 2 vols (Berlin, 1881-99). Martyn, J.R.C., The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 vols. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004). Further reading: Mommsen, T., "Die Papstbriefe bei Beda," Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 17 (1892), 387-96. Story, J., "Bede, Willibrord and the Letters of Pope Honorius I on the Genesis of the Archbishopric of York," English Historical Review 127 (2012), 782-818.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity