Bishop Hosius said: Our importunity and great pertinacity and unjust petitions have brought it about that we do not have as much favour and confidence as we ought to enjoy. For many of the bishops do not intermit resorting to the imperial Court, especially the Africans, who, as we have learned from our beloved brother and fellow-bishop, Gratus, do not accept salutary counsels, but so despise them that one man carries to the Court petitions many and diverse and of no possible benefit to the Church, and does not (as ought to be done and as is fitting) assist and help the poor and the laity or the widows, but is intriguing to obtain worldly dignities and offices for certain persons. This evil then causes enfeeblement [better, murmuring (read τονθρυσμόν or τονθορυσμόν)], not without some scandal and blame to us. But I account it quite p. 422 proper for a bishop to give assistance to one oppressed by some one, or to a widow suffering injustice, or, again, an orphan robbed of his estate, always provided that these persons have a just cause of petition.
If, then, beloved brethren, this seems good to all, do ye decree that no bishop shall go to the imperial Court except those whom our most pious emperor may summon by his own letters. Yet since it often happens that persons condemned for their offences to deportation or banishment to an island, or who have received some sentence or other, beg for mercy and seek refuge with the Church [i.e., take sanctuary], such persons are not to be refused assistance, but pardon should be asked for them without delay and without hesitation. If this, then, is also your pleasure, do ye all vote assent.
All gave answer: Be this also decreed.
Bishop Hosius said: Importunities and excessive pertinacity and unjust petitions have caused us to have too little favour or confidence, while certain bishops cease not to go to the Court, especially the Africans, who (as we have learned) spurn and contemn the salutary counsels of our most holy brother and fellow-bishop, Gratus, so that they not only bring to the Court many and diverse petitions (not for the good of the Church nor, as is usual and right, to succour the poor or widows or orphans), but even seek to obtain worldly dignities and offices for certain persons. This evil therefore stirs up at times not only murmurings, but even scandals. But it is proper that bishops should intercede for persons suffering from violence and oppression, afflicted widows and defrauded orphans, provided, nevertheless, that these persons have a just cause or petition.
If, then, brethren dearly beloved, such be your pleasure, do we decree that no bishops go to the Court except those who may have been invited or summoned by letters of the God-fearing emperor. But since it often happens that those who are suffering from injustice or who are condemned for their offences to deportation or banishment to an island, or, in short, have received some sentence or other, seek refuge with the mercy of the Church, such persons should be succoured and pardon be begged for them without hesitation. Decree this, therefore, if it be your pleasure.
All said: It is our pleasure and be it decreed.
Ancient Epitome of Canon VII.
When an orphan, widow, and other desolate persons are oppressed by force let the bishop give them succour and approach the Emperor; but through a pretext of this kind let him not be a hanger on of the camp, but rather let him send a deacon.
The “salutary counsels” (salutaria consilia) here seem to be synodical admonitions, as Zonaras notes; and these might well be ascribed to Gratus, the bishop of Carthage, because many of the African synods were held under his presidency and direction.
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Nothing is more noteworthy than how from the first princes summoned bishops in counsel with regard to affairs touching either the estate of the Church or of the Realm; and called them to their presence in urgent and momentous cases, and kept them with them.
Justinian, the emperor, in his Novels (Chapter II.) defines that no one of the God-beloved bishops shall dare to be absent any more from his diocese for a whole year, and adds this exception, “unless he does so on account of an imperial jussio; in this case alone he shall be held to be without blame.”
On this whole matter of bishops interceding for culprits, and especially for those condemned to death, see St. Augustine (Epist. 153 ad Macedonium).
With this canon may be compared Canon VII. of the Council of Rheims in a.d. 630.
This canon is found in part in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratians Decretum, P. II., Causa xxiij., Quæst. viij., c. xxviij.