Innocent, bishop, to presbyters and deacons, and to all the clergy and people of the church of Constantinople, the brethren beloved who are subject to the bishop John, greeting.
From the letters of your love which ye have sent by the hands of Germanus the presbyter, and Casianus the deacon, I have studied with anxious care the scene of calamity which ye have placed before my eyes, and by repeated perusal of your description I thoroughly perceived under what great distress and toil your faith is labouring: and this is a matter which can be cured only by the consolation of patience: for our God will speedily grant an end to such great afflictions, and He will aid you in your endurance of these things. Moreover whilst praising the statement of your case which contains many testimonies encouraging to patience I notice this necessary consolation placed at the beginning of the epistle of your love: for the consolation which we ought to have written to you, ye have anticipated by your letter. For this is the kind of patience which our Master is wont to supply to those who are in distress, in order that the servants of Christ when they are in affliction may console themselves by reflecting that the things which they themselves are suffering have happened to the saints also in former times. And we also from your letter shall be able to derive consolation: for we are not estranged from sympathy with you, inasmuch as we also are chastised in your persons. For who will be able to endure the offences committed by those men who ought to be specially zealous promoters of the tranquillity of the Church and of concord itself. At the present time, by a perversion of custom, guiltless priests are expelled from the presidency of their own Churches. And this is what your chief brother, and fellow minister, John, your bishop has unjustly suffered, not having obtained any hearing: no crime is charged against him, none is heard. And what is the object of this iniquitous device? that no pretext for a trial may occur, or be sought, other men are introduced into the places of living priests, as if those who start from an offence of this description could be judged by any one to have anything good or to have done anything right. 1 For we understand that such deeds have never been perpetrated by our fathers; or rather that they were prevented by the fact that no one had authority given him to ordain another to take the place of one who was still living. For a spurious ordination cannot deprive the priest of his rank: seeing that neither can he be a bishop who is wrongfully substituted for another. And as regards the observance of the canons we lay it down that we ought to follow those, which were defined at Nicaea, to which alone the Catholic Church is bound to pay obedience and recognition. And if others are brought forward by certain men, which are at variance with the canons framed at Nicaea, and are proved to have been composed by heretics, let them be rejected by the Catholic bishops. For the inventions of heretics ought not to be appended to the Catholic canons; for by their adverse and unlawful decrees they are always intending to weaken the design of the canons of Nicaea. Not only therefore do we say that these ought not to be followed, but rather that they should be condemned amongst heretical and schismatic decrees, as was formerly done in the Council of Sardica by the bishops who were before us. 2 For it were more fitting, most honoured brethren, that good deeds should be condemned than that things done in direct opposition to the canons should have any validity. But what are we to do against such things at the present time? A synodical decision of them is necessary, and we have long declared that a synod ought to be convened, as it is the only means of allaying the agitation of such tempests as these: and if we obtain this it is expedient that the healing of these evils should be committed to the will of the great God, and His Christ our Lord. All the disturbances then which have been caused by the envy of the devil for the probation of the faithful will be mitigated; through the firmness of our faith we ought not to despair of anything from the Lord. For we ourselves also are considering much by what means the oecumenical synod may be brought together in order that by the will of God these disturbing movements may be brought to an end. Let us therefore endure for a while, and fortified by the wall of patience let us hope that all things may be restored to us by the assistance of our God. Moreover all things which ye say ye have undergone we have learned by accurate enquiry from our fellow bishops who have already taken refuge in Rome, although for the most part at different times, that is to say, Demetrius, Cyriacus, Eulysius and Palladius, who are here with us.
I have followed the Latin here. The Greek version of the passage seems to me hopelessly confused. ↩
The Council of Sardica was convened A.D. 343, (or A.D. 344?) with a view of settling the Arian controversy. The Oriental bishops, however, of whom the majority belonged to the Arian faction, seceded from Sardica, and held a separate council at Philippopolis, where they drew up a creed which was condemned by the Western bishops as heretical. ↩