Gregory Naz. 3300
33100 Ep. VII.
(On the death of the Emperor Constantius the undisputed succession devolved on his cousin Julian the Apostate, who at once began to employ all the power of the Empire to discourage, while not absolutely persecuting, Christianity, and to restore the supremacy of the ancient Paganism. One of his first acts was to dismiss all the men who had held high dignities under his predecessor. S. Caesarius, Gregory’s brother, was however to be excepted; Julian, who had perhaps known and esteemed him at Athens, did all that he could to keep him at Court, and to attach him to himself. This caused much anxiety to Gregory and other friends of Caesarius, who foresaw that Julian would do his utmost to shake the young man’s faith, and could not feel sure that he would have courage to resist such assaults. In his trouble Gregory wrote him the following letter. Shortly afterwards the expected attempt was made. S. Caesarius bravely held his ground against the Emperor, and after declaring his unalterable determination to hold firm to his faith, resigned his office at Court and withdrew to Nazianzus).
I have had enough to blush for in you; that I was grieved, it is hardly necessary to say to him who of all men knows me best. But, not to speak of my own feelings, or of the distress with which the rumour about you filled me (and let me say also the fear), I should have liked you, had it been possible, to have heard what was said by others, both relations and outsiders, who are any way acquainted with us (Christians I mean, of course,) about you and me; and not only some of them, but everyone in turn alike; for men are always more ready to philosophize about strangers than about their own relations. Such speeches as the following have become a sort of exercise among them: Now a Bishop’s son takes service in the army; now he covets exterior power and fame; now he is a slave of money, when the fire is being rekindled for all, and men are running the race for life; and he does not deem the one only glory and safety and wealth to be to stand nobly against the times, and to place himself as far as possible out of reach of every abomination and defilement. How then can the Bishop exhort others not to be carried along with the times, or to be mixed up with idols? How can he rebuke those who do wrong in other ways, seeing his own home takes away his right to speak freely? We have every day to hear this, and even more severe things, some of the speakers perhaps saying them from a motive of friendship, and others with unfriendly feelings. How do you think we feel, and what is the state of mind with which we, men professing to serve God, and to deem the only good to be to look forward to the hopes of the future, hear such things as these? Our venerable Father is very much distressed by all that he hears, which even disgusts him with life. I console and comfort him as best I can, by making myself surety for your mind, and assuring him that you will not continue thus to grieve us. But if our dear Mother were to hear about you (so far we have kept her in the dark by various devices), I think she would be altogether inconsolable; being, as a woman, of a weak mind, and besides unable, through her great piety, to control her feelings on such matters. If then you care at all for yourself and us, try some better and safer course. Our means are certainly enough for an independent life, at least for a man of moderate desires, who is not insatiable in his lust for more. Moreover, I do not see what occasion for your settling down we are to wait for, if we let this one pass. But if you cling to the same opinion, and every thing seems to you of small account in comparison with your own desires, I do not wish to say anything else that may vex you, but this I foretell and protest, that one of two things must happen; either you, remaining a genuine Christian, will be ranked among the lowest, and will be in a position unworthy of yourself and your hopes; or in grasping at honours you will injure yourself in what is more important, and will have a share in the smoke, if not actually in the fire.
Ep. XIV. And XXIII.
(Under the Emperor Valens Caesarius returned to public life and was made Quaestor of Bithynia. While he was in this office the following letters were written to him by his brother on behalf of two cousins, Eulalius, who afterwards succeeded Gregory in the Bishopric of Nazianzus, and with whom Gregory was on terms of intimate friendship, and Amphilochius, who, through the roguery of a partner, had got into some trouble at Constantinople about money matters, and for whom he asks aid and advice. Some however think that this letter is not addressed to his brother (who may have been at Constantinople at the time), but to some other officer of high rank at the Imperial Court. Amphilochius soon after retired from the world, and by a.d. 347 was already bishop of the important See of Iconium. Gregory’s letters to him are given later in this division).
Do a kindness to yourself and to me, of a kind that you will not often have an opportunity of doing, because opportunities for such kindnesses do not often occur. Undertake a most righteous protection of my dear cousins, who are worried more than enough about a property which they bought as suitable for retirement, and capable of providing them with some means of living; but after having completed the purchase they have fallen into many troubles, partly through finding the vendors dishonest, and partly through being plundered and robbed by their neighbours, so that it would be a gain to them to get rid of their acquisition for the price they gave for it, plus the not small sum they have spent on it besides. If, then, you would like to transfer the business to yourself, after examining the contract to see how it may be best and most securely done, this course would be most acceptable both to them and me; but if you would rather not, the next best course would be to oppose yourself to the officiousness and dishonesty of the man, that he may not succeed in gaining one advantage over their want of business habits, either by wronging them if they retain their property, or by inflicting loss upon them if they part with it. I am really ashamed to write to you on such a subject. All the same, since we owe it to them, on account both of their relationship and of their profession (for of whom would one rather take care than of such, or what would one be more ashamed of than of being unwilling to confer such a benefit?) do you either for your own sake, or for mine, or for the sake of the men themselves, or for all these sakes put together, by all means do them this kindness.
Do not be surprized if I ask of you a great favour; for it is from a great man that I am asking it, and the request must be measured by him of whom it is made; for it is equally absurd to ask great things from a small man, and small things from a great man, the one being unseasonable, and the other mean. I therefore present to you with my own hand my most precious son Amphilochius, a man so famous (even beyond his years) for his gentlemanly bearing, that I myself, though an old man, and a Priest, and your friend, would be quite content to be as much esteemed. What wonder is it if he was cheated by a man’s pretended friendship, and did not suspect the swindle? For not being himself a rogue, he did not suspect roguery, but thought that correction of language rather than of character was what was wanted, and therefore entered into partnership with him in business. What blame can attach to him for this with honest men? Do not then allow wickedness to get the better of virtue; and do not dishonour my grey hairs, but do honour to my testimony, and add your kindness to my benedictions, which are perhaps of some account with God before Whom we stand.
(In a.d. 368 the City of Nicaea in Bithynia was almost entirely destroyed by a terrible earthquake. Caesarius lost his house, and his personal escape was almost miraculous. Gregory writes (as also did Basil) to congratulate him on his escape, and profits by the occasion to urge upon him retirement from his secular avocations. Caesarius soon resolved to follow this advice, and was taking steps to carry this resolution into effect, when he died suddenly, early in a.d. 369, aged only 40. He left the whole of his large property to the poor, but it fell for a time into the hands of designing persons, and Gregory, who was his brother’s executor, had much difficulty in recovering it for the purpose for which it had been intended. (See the letter to Sophronius, Prefect of Constantinople on this subject). He was buried at Nazianzus in the Church of the Martyrs, in a vault which his parents had prepared for themselves. Gregory preached the funeral sermon, which is given in the former part of this volume. These four are the only letters known to have passed between the brothers).
Even frights are not without use to the wise; or, as I should say, they are very valuable and salutary. For, although we pray that they may not happen, yet when they do they instruct us. For the afflicted soul, as Peter somewhere admirably says, is near to God; and every man who escapes a danger is brought into nearer relation to Him Who preserved him. Let us not then be vexed that we had a share in the calamity, but let us give thanks that we were delivered. And let us not shew ourselves one thing to God in the time of peril, and another when the danger is over, but let us resolve, whether at home or abroad, whether in private life or in public office (for I must say this and may not omit it), to follow Him Who has preserved us, and to attach ourselves to His side, thinking little of the little concerns of earth; and let us furnish a tale to those who come after us, great for our glory and the benefit of our soul, and at the same time a very useful lesson to all, that danger is better than security, and that misfortune is preferable to success, at least if before our fears we belonged to the world, but after them we belong to God. Perhaps I seem to you somewhat of a bore, by writing to you so often on the same subject, and you will think my letter a piece not of exhortation but of ostentation, so enough of this. You will know that I desire and wish especially that I might be with you and share your joy at your preservation, and to talk over these matters later on. But since that cannot be, I hope to receive you here as soon as may be, and to celebrate our thanksgiving together.
(Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, was a younger brother of Basil the Great. Ordained a Reader at an early age he grew tired of his vocation, and became a professor of Rhetoric. This gave scandal in the Church and occasioned much grief to his friends. Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote him the following letter of remonstrance, which was not without effect, for shortly afterwards he gave up his secular avocation, and retired to the Monastery which his brother Basil had founded in Pontus. Here he spent several years in the study of Holy Scripture and the best Commentators).
There is one good point in my character, and I will boast myself of one point out of many. I am equally vexed with myself and my friends over a bad plan. Since, then, all are friends and kinsfolk who live according to God, and walk by the same Gospel, why should you not hear from me in plain words what all men are saying in whispers? They do not approve your inglorious glory (to borrow a phrase from your own art), and your gradual descent to the lower life, and your ambition, the worst of demons, according to Euripides. For what has happened to you, O wisest of men, and for what do you condemn yourself, that you have cast away the sacred and delightful books which you used once to read to the people (do not be ashamed to hear this), or have hung them up over the chimney, as men do in winter with rudders and hoes, and have applied yourself to salt and bitter ones, and preferred to be called a Professor of Rhetoric rather than of Christianity? I, thank God, would rather be the latter than the former. Do not, my dear friend, do not let this be longer the case, but, though it is full late, become sober again, and come to yourself once more, and make your apology to the faithful, and to God, and to His Altars and Sacraments, from which you have withdrawn yourself. And do not say to me in proud rhetorical style, What, was I not a Christian when I practised rhetoric? Was I not a believer when I was engaged among the boys? And perhaps you will call God to witness. No, my friend, not as thoroughly as you ought to have been, even if I grant it you in part. What of the offence to others given by your present employment—to others who are prone naturally to evil —and of the opportunity afforded them both to think and to speak the worst of you? Falsely, I grant, but where was the necessity? For a man lives not for himself alone but also for his neighbour; nor is it enough to persuade yourself, you must persuade others also. If you were to practise boxing in public, or to give and receive blows in the theatre, or to writhe and twist yourself shamefully, would you speak of yourself as having a temperate soul? Such an argument does not befit a wise man; it is frivolous to accept it. If you make a change I shall rejoice even now, said one of the Pythagorean philosophers, lamenting the fall of a friend; but, he wrote, if not you are dead to me. But I will not yet say this for your sake. Being a friend, he became an enemy, yet still a friend, as the Tragedy says. But I shall be grieved (to speak gently), if you do neither yourself see what is right, which is the highest method of all, nor will follow the advice of others, which is the next. Thus far my counsel. Forgive me that my friendship for you makes me grieve, and kindles me both on your behalf and on behalf of the whole priestly Order, and I may add on that of all Christians. And if I may pray with you or for you, may God who quickeneth the dead aid your weakness.
(When S. Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Nyssa the Imperial Throne was occupied by Valens, an ardent Arian, whose mind was bent on the destruction of the Nicene Faith. He appointed, with this object, one Demosthenes, a former clerk of the Imperial Kitchen, to be Vicar of the civil Diocese of Pontus. An old quarrel with Basil had made this man unfriendly to Gregory, and after persecuting him in various small ways for some time he procured, a.d. 275, the summoning of a Synod to enquire into some allegations of irregularity in his consecration, and to try Gregory on some frivolous charges of malversation of Church funds. Gregory was unable to attend this Synod, which met at Ancyra, on account of an attack of pleurisy; and another was summoned to meet at Nyssa itself. Gregory however refused to appear, and was deposed as contumacious. Thereupon Valens banished him, and he seems to have fallen into very low spirits, almost into despondency at the apparent triumph of the heretical party. The three letters which follow throw some light upon his state at this time. They were written in answer to letters of his now lost, and their object was to comfort him in his trouble and to encourage him to take heart again in the hope of a good day coming. This more cheerful tone was justified by the event, for on the death of Valens, a.d. 378, the exiled Bishops were restored by Gratian, and Gregory was replaced in his Episcopal Throne, to the great joy of the faithful of his Diocese).
Do not let your troubles distress you too much. For the less we grieve over things, the less grievous they are. It is nothing strange that the heretics have thawed, and are taking courage from the springtime, and creeping out of their holes, as you write. They will hiss for a short time, I know, and then will hide themselves again, overcome both by the truth and the times, and all the more so the more we commit the whole matter to God.
As to the subject of your letter, these are my sentiments. I am not angry at being overlooked, but I am glad when I am honoured. The one is my own desert, the other is a proof of your respect. Pray for me. Excuse this short letter, for anyhow, though it is short, it is longer than silence.
Although I am at home, my love is expatriated with you, for affection makes us have all things common. Trusting in the mercy of God, and in your prayers, I have great hopes that all will turn out according to your mind, and that the hurricane will be turned into a genfie breeze, and that God will give you this reward for your orthodoxy, that you will overcome your opponents. Most of all I long to see you shortly, and to have a good time with you, as I pray. But if you delay owing to the pressure of affairs, at any rate cheer me by a letter, and do not disdain to tell me all about your circumstances, and to pray for me, as you are accustomed to do. May God grant you health and good spirits in all circumstances,—you who are the common prop of the whole Church.
(Basil the Great died Jan. 1, a.d. 379. Gregory of Nazianzus was prevented by very serious illness from attending his funeral, and therefore wrote as follows to Gregory of Nyssa).
This, then, was also reserved for my sad life, to hear of the death of Basil, and the departure of that holy soul, which has gone from us that it may be with the Lord, for which he had been preparing himself all his life. And among all the other losses I have had to endure this is the greatest, that by reason of the bodily sickness from which I am still suffering and in great danger, I cannot kiss that holy dust, or be with you to enjoy the consolations of a just philosophy, and to comfort our common friends. But to see the desolation of the Church, shorn of such a glory, and bereft of such a crown, is what no one, at least no one of any feeling, can bear to let his eyes look upon, or his ear hearken to. But you, I think, though you have many friends and will receive many words of condolence, yet will not derive comfort so much from any as from yourself and your memory of him; for you two were a pattern to all of philosophy, a kind of spiritual standard, both of discipline in prosperity, and of endurance in adversity; for philosophy bears prosperity with moderation and adversity with dignity. This is what I have to say to Your Excellency. But for myself who write so, what time or what words shall comfort me, except your company and conversation, which our blessed one has left me in place of all, that seeing his character in you as in a bright and shining mirror, I may think myself to possess him also!
You are distressed by your travels, and think yourself unsteady, like a stick carried along by a stream. But, my dear friend, you must not let yourself feel so at all. For the travels of the stick are involuntary, but your course is ordained by God, and your stability is in doing good to others, even though you are not fixed to a place; unless indeed one ought to find fault with the sun, for going about the world scattering his rays, and giving life to all thins on which he shines; or, while praising the fixed stars, one should revile the planets, whose very wandering is harmonious.
(Gregory after his resignation of the Patriarchal See of Constantinople had retired to Nazianzus, and had been persuaded to undertake the administration of the diocese then vacant, until the vacancy should be filled. The Bishops of the Province wished him to retain it altogether, and therefore were in no hurry to proceed to election. At length however they yielded to the continually expressed wishes of Gregory and chose his cousin Eulalius. Soon however Gregory’s enemies spread abroad a report that this election had been made against his wishes, and with the intention of unfairly ousting him from the administration of that Church. The following letter was written in consequence of this slander).
Woe is me that my sojourning is prolonged, and, which is the greatest of my misfortunes, that war and dissensions are among us, and that we have not kept the peace which we received from our holy fathers. This I doubt not you will restore, in the power of the Spirit who upholds you and yours. But let no one, I beg, spread false reports about me and my lords the bishops, as though they had proclaimed another bishop in my place against my will. But being in great need, owing to my feeble health, and fearing the responsibility of a Church neglected, I asked this favour of them, which was not opposed to the Canon Law, and was a relief to me, that they would give a Pastor to the Church. He has been given to your prayers, a man worthy of your piety, and I now place him in your hands, the most reverend Eulalius, a bishop very dear to God, in whose arms I should like to die. If any be of opinion that it is not right to ordain another in the lifetime of a Bishop, let him. know that he will not in this matter gain any hold upon us. For it is well known that I was appointed, not to Nazianzus, but to Sasima, although for a short time out of reverence for my father, I as a stranger undertook the government.
Ep. CXCVII. A Letter of Condolence on the Death of His Sister Theosebia.
(The writer of the article on Gregory Nyssen in the Dict. Biogr. supposes her to have been his wife, but produces no evidence of this beyond the ambiguous expression in this letter which speaks of her as “the true consort of a priest,” but on the other hand she is expressly called his Sister in the same letter. Some writers have imagined that she was the wife of Gregory Nazianzen himself, but there is no evidence to show that he was ever married. The date of her death is uncertain, but it was probably subsequent to a.d. 381. It would seem that the term Consort might have a general application to those who shared in the same work, and consequently the Benedictine Editors regard Theosebia as a Deaconess of the Church of Nyssa).
I had started in all haste to go to you, and had got as far as Euphemias, when I was delayed by the festival which you are celebrating in honour of the Holy Martyrs; partly because I could not take part in it, owing to my bad health, partly because my coming at so unsuitable a time might be inconvenient to you. I had started partly for the sake of seeing you after so long, and partly that I might admire your patience and philosophy (for I had heard of it) at the departure of your holy and blessed sister, as a good and perfect man, a minister of God, who knows better than any the things both of God and man; and who regards as a very light thing that which to others would be most heavy, namely to have lived with such a soul, and to send her away and store her up in the safe garners, like a shock of the threshingfloor gathered in due season, to use the words of Holy Scripture; and that in such time that she, having tasted the joys of life, escaped its sorrows through the shortness of her life; and before she had to wear mourning for you, was honoured by you with that fair funeral honour which is due to such as she. I too, believe me, long to depart, if not as you do, which were much to say, yet only less than you. But what must we feel in presence of a long prevailing law of God which has now taken my Theosebia (for I call her mine because she lived a godly life; for spiritual kindred is better than bodily), Theosebia, the glory of the church, the adornment of Christ, the helper of our generation, the hope of woman; Theosebia, the most beautiful and glorious among all the beauty of the Brethren; Theosebia, truly sacred, truly consort of a priest, and of equal honour and worthy of the Great Sacraments, Theosebia, whom all future time shall receive, resting on immortal pillars, that is, on the souls of all who have known her now, and of all who shall be hereafter. And do not wonder that I often invoke her name. For I rejoice even in the remembrance of the blessed one. Let this, a great deal in few words, be her epitaph from me, and my word of condolence for you, though you yourself are quite able to console others in this way through your philosophy in all things. Our meeting (which I greatly long for) is prevented by the reason I mentioned. But we pray with one another as long as we are in the world, until the common end, to which we are drawing nigh, overtake us. Wherefore we must bear all things, since we shall not for long have either to rejoice or to suffer.
(This letter, urging his friend to attend at Caesarea for the election of a Metropolitan in succession to Eusebius, has been already given in the second division of this Selection).
(Eusebius, having in response to the appeal referred to above, betaken himself to Caesarea, the Eider Gregory, though in very feeble health, resolved to attend the Synod in person, that Basil’s Election might be secured by their joint exertions, Gregory the Younger sent the following letter by his father to explain to his friend the reason why he had not come too. The date is about September of the year 379).
Whence shall I begin your praises, and by what name shall I give you your right appellation? The pillar and ground of the church, or a light in the world, using the very words of the apostle, or a crown of glory to the remaining portion of christendom; or a gift of God, or the bulwark of your country, or the standard of faith, or the ambassador of truth, or all these at once, and more than all? And these excessive praises I will prove by what we shall see. What rain ever came so seasonably to a thirsty land, what water flowing out of the rock to those in the wilderness? What such Bread of Angels did ever man eat? When did Jesus the common Lord ever so seasonably present Himself to His drowning disciples, and tame the sea, and save the perishing, as you have shewn yourself to us in our weariness and distress, and in our immediate danger as it were of shipwreck? I need not speak of other points, with what courage and joy you filled the souls of the orthodox, and how many you delivered from despair.
But our mother church, Caesarea I mean, is now really putting off the garments of her widowhood at the sight of you, and putting on again her robe of cheerfulness, and will be yet more resplendent when she receives a pastor worthy of herself and of her former Bishops and of your hands. For you yourself see what is the state of our affairs, and what a miracle your zeal has wrought, and your toil, and your godly plainness of speech. Age is renewed, disease is conquered, they leap who were in their beds, and the weak are girded with power. By oil this I guess that our matters too will turn out as we desire. You have my father, moreover, representing both himself and me, to put a glorious close to his whole life and to his venerable age by this present struggle on behalf of the Church. And I shall receive him back, I am well assured, strengthened by your prayers, and with youth renewed, for one must confidently commit all in faith to them. But if he should end his life in this anxiety, it would be no calamity to attain to such an end in such a cause. Pardon me, I beg of you, if I give way a little to the tongues of evil men, and delay a little to come and embrace you, and to complete in person what I now pass over of the praises due to you.
(In the year 374 Eusebius and other orthodox Bishops of the East were banished by Valens and their thrones filled with Arian intruders. Eusebius was ordered to retire to Thrace, and his journey lay through Cappadocia, where he saw Basil, but Gregory to his great grief was too unwell to leave his house and go to meet him. Instead he sent the following letter).
When Your Reverence was passing through our country I was so ill as not to be able even to look out of my house. And I was grieved not so much on account of the illness, though it brought about the fear of the worst, as by the inability to meet your holiness and goodness. My longing to see your venerable face was like that which a man would naturally feel who needed healing of spiritual wounds, and expected to receive it from you. But though at that time the effect of my sins was that I missed the meeting with you, it is now by your goodness possible for me to find a remedy for my trouble, for if you will deign to remember me in your acceptable prayers, this will be to me a store of every blessing from God, both in this my life and in the age to come. For that such a man, such a combatant for the Faith of the Gospel, one who has endured such persecutions, and won for himself such confidence before the all-righteous God by his patience in tribulation—that such a man should deign to be my patron also in his prayers will gain for me, I am persuaded, as much strength as I should have gained through one of the holy martyrs. Therefore let me entreat you to remember your Gregory without ceasing in all the matters in which I desire to be worthy of your remembrance.
(Eusebius having replied to the former letter Gregory wrote again, having an opportunity of communicating with his friend through one Eupraxius, a disciple of Eusebius, who passed through Cappadocia on his way to visit his master.This letter is sometimes attributed to Basil).
Our reverend brother Eupraxius has always been dear to me and a true friend, but he has shewn himself dearer and truer through his affections for you, inasmuch as even at the present time he has hurried to your reverence, like, to use David’s words, a hart to quench his great and unendurable thirst with a sweet and pure spring at your patience in tribulations. Deign then to be his patron and mine.
Happy indeed are they who are permitted to come near you, and happier still is he who can place upon his sufferings for Christ’s sake and upon his labours for the truth, a crown such as few of those who fear God have obtained. For it is not an untested virtue that you have shown, nor is it only, in a time of calm that you have sailed aright and steered the souls of others, but you have shone in the difficulties of temptations, and have been greater than your persecutors, having nobly departed from the land of your birth. Others possess the threshold of their fathers,—we the heavenly City; others perhaps hold our throne, but we Christ. O what a profitable exchange! How little we give up, to receive how much! We went through fire and water, and I believe that we shall also come out into a place of refreshment. For God will not forsake us for ever, or abandon the true faith to persecution, but according to the multitude of our pains His comforts shall make us glad. This at any rate we believe and desire. But do you, I beg, pray for our humility. And as often as occasion shall present itself bless us without hesitation by a letter, and cheer us up by news of yourself, as you have just been good enough to do.
(The following letter is sometimes attributed to Basil, and is found in his works as well as in those of Gregory. The mss. however, with only a single exception, give it to the latter).
You give me pleasure both by writing and remembering me, and a much greater pleasure by sending me your blessing in your letter. But if I were worthy of your sufferings and of your conflicts for Christ and through Christ I should have been counted worthy also to come to you, to embrace Your Piety, and to take example by your patience in your sufferings. But since I am not worthy of this, being troubled with many afflictions and hindrances I do what is next best. I address Your Perfection, and I beg you not to be weary of remembering me. For to be deemed worthy of your letters is not only profitable to me, but is also a matter to boast of to many people, and is an honour, because I am considered by a man of so great virtue, and such near relations with God, that he can bring others also by word and example into relation to Him.
Gregory Naz. 3300