Church Fathers: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 05: 25.01.64 Letters I - VI

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to | Download

Church Fathers: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 05: 25.01.64 Letters I - VI

TOPIC: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 05 (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 25.01.64 Letters I - VI

Other Subjects in this Topic:


Letter I. To Eusebiushyperlink .

When the length of the day begins to expand in winter-time, as the sun mounts to the upper part of his course, we keep the feast of the appearing of the true Light divine, that through the veil of flesh has cast its bright beams upon the life of men: but now when that luminary has traversed half the heaven in his course, so that night and day are of equal length, the upward return of human nature from death to life is the theme of this great and universal festival, which all the life of those who have embraced the mystery of the Resurrection unites in celebrating. What is the meaning of the subject thus suggested for my letter to you? Why, since it is the custom in these general holidays for us to take every way to show the affection harboured in our hearts, and some, as you know, give proof of their good will by presents of their own, we thought it only right not to leave you without the homage of our gifts, but to lay before your lofty and high-minded soul the scanty offerings of our poverty. Now our offering which is tendered for your acceptance in this letter is the letter itself, in which there is not a single word wreathed with the flowers of rhetoric or adorned with the graces of composition, to make it to be deemed a gift at all in literary circles, but the mystical gold, which is wrapped up in the faith of Christians, as in a packethyperlink , must be my present to you, after being unwrapped, as far as possible, by these lines, and showing its hidden brilliancy. Accordingly we must return to our prelude. Why is it that then only, when the night has attained its utmost length, so that no further addition is possible, that He appears in flesh tous, Who holds the Universe in His grasp, and controls the same Universe by His own power, Who cannot be contained even by all intelligible things, but includes the whole, even at the time that He enters the narrow dwelling of a fleshly tabernacle, while His mighty power thus keeps pace with His beneficent purpose, and shows itself even as a shadow wherever the will inclines, so that neither in the creation of the world was the power found weaker than the will, nor when He was eager to stoop down to the lowliness of our mortal nature did He lack power to that very end, but actually did come to be in that condition, yet without leaving the universe unpilotedhyperlink ? Since, then, there is some account to be given of both those seasons, how it is that it is winter-time when He appears in the flesh, but it is when the days are as long as the nights that He restores to life man, who because of his sins returned to the earth from whence he came,-by explaining the reason of this, as well as I can in few words, I will make my letter my present to you. Has your own sagacity, as of course it has, already divined the mystery hinted at by these coincidences; that the advance of night is stopped by the accessions to the light, and the period of darkness begins to be shortened, as the length of the day is increased by the successive additions? For thus much perhaps would be plain enough even to the uninitiated, that sin is near akin to darkness; and in fact evil is so termed by the Scripture. Accordingly the season in which our mystery of godliness begins is a kind of exposition of the Divine dispensation on behalf of our souls. For meet and right it was that, when vice was shed abroadhyperlink without bounds, [upon this night of evil the Sun of righteousness should rise, and that in us who have before walked in darknesshyperlink ] the day which we receive from Him Who placed that light in our hears should increase more and more; so that the life which is in the light should be extended to the greatest length possible, being constantly augmented by additions of good; and that the life in vice should by gradual subtraction be reduced to the smallest possible compass; for the increase of things good comes to the same thing as the diminution of things evil. But the feast of the Resurrection; occurring when the days are of equal length, of itself gives us this interpretation of the coincidence, namely, that we shall no longer fight with evils only upon equal terms, vice grappling with virtue in indecisive strife, but that the life of light will prevail, the gloom of idolatry melting as the day waxes stronger. For this reason also, after the moon has run her course for fourteen days, Easter exhibits her exactly opposite to the rays of the sun, full with all the wealth of his brightness, and not permitting any interval of darkness to take place in its turnhyperlink : for, after taking the place of the sun at its setting, she does not herself set. before she mingles her own beams with the genuine rays of the sun, so that one light remains continuously, throughout the whole space of the earth's course by day and night, without any break whatsoever being caused by the interposition of darkness. This discussion, dear one, we contribute by way of a gift from our poor and needy hand; and may your whole life be a continual festival and a high day, never dimmed by a single stain of nightly gloom.


1 Sent as an Easter present to Eusebius, bishop of Chalcis, in Coele-Syria, a staunch Catholic, who attended the Council of Constantinople. For this custom amongst the Eastern Christians of exchanging presents at the great festivals, cf. On the Making of Man (p. 387), which Gregory sent to his brother Peter: Gregory Naz. Letter 54 to Helladius, and Letter 87 to Theodore of Tyana.

2 apodesmw.

3 Evidently an allusion to the myth in Plato.

4 The xusij thj kakiaj is a frequent expression in Origen.

5 A corrupt passage. Probably some lines have been lost. A double opposition seems intended; (1) between the night of evil and our Saviour's coming like the Sun to disperse it; and (2) between walking in darkness and walking in light on the part of the individual (H. C. O.).

6 en tw merei, or "on her part" or "at that particular season." To support this last, Col. ii. 16, en merei eorthj,, may be compared, as Origen interprets it, "in a particular feast," c. Cels. viii. 23: "Paul alludes to this, when he names the feast selected in preference to others only `part of a feast,

0' hinting that the life everlasting with the Word of God is not `in the part of a feast, but in a complete and continuous one.

0' Modern commentators on that passage, it is true, interpret en merei "with regard to," "on the score of." But has Origen's meaning been sufficiently considered?

Letter II. To the City of Sebasteiahyperlink .

Some of the brethren whose heart is as our heart told us of the slanders that were being propagated to our detriment by those who hate peace, and privily backbite their neighbour; and have no fear of the great and terrible judgment-seat of Him Who has declared that account will be required even of idle words in that trial of our life which we must all look for: they say that the charges which are being circulated against us are such as these; that we entertain opinions opposed to those who at Nicaea set forth the right and sound faith, and that without due discrimination and inquiry we received into the communion of the Catholic Church those who formerly assembled at Ancyra under the name of Marcellus. Therefore, that falsehood may not overpower the truth, in another letter we made a sufficient defence against the charges levelled at us, and before the Lord we protested that we had neither departed from the faith of the Holy Fathers, nor had we done anything without due discrimination and inquiry in the case of those who came over from the communion of Marcellus to that of the Church: but all that we did we did only after the orthodox in the East, and our brethren in the ministry had entrusted to us the consideration of the case of these persons, and had approved our action. But inasmuch as, since we composed that written defence of our conduct, again some of the brethren who are of one mind with us begged us to make separatelyhyperlink with our own lips a profession of our faith, which we entertain with full convictionhyperlink , following as we do the utterances of inspiration and the tradition of the Fathers, we deemed it necessary to discourse briefly of these heads as well. We confess that the doctrine of the Lord, which He taught His disciples, when He delivered to them the mystery of godliness, is the foundation and root of right and sound faith, nor do we believe that there is aught else loftier or safer than that tradition. Now the doctrine of the Lord is this: "Go," He said, "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Since, then, in the case of those who are regenerate from death to eternal life, it is through the Holy Trinity that the life-giving power is bestowed on those who with faith are deemed worthy of the grace, and in like manner the grace is imperfect, if any one, whichever it be, of the names of the Holy Trinity be omitted in the saving baptism-for the sacrament of regeneration is not completed in the Son and the Father alone without the Spirit: nor is the perfect boon of life imparted to Baptism in the Father and the Spirit, if the name of the Son be suppressed: nor is the grace of that Resurrection accomplished in the Father and the Son, if the Spirit be left outhyperlink :-for this reason we rest all our hope, and the persuasion of the salvation of our souls, upon the three Persons, recognizedhyperlink by these names; and we believe in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Fountain of life, and in the Only-begotten Son of the Father, Who is the Author of life, as saith the Apostle, and in the Holy Spirit of God, concerning Whom the Lord hath spoken, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth". And since on us who have been redeemed from death the grace of immortality is bestowed, as we have said, through faith in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, guided by these we believe that nothing servile, nothing created, nothing unworthy of the majesty of the Father is to be associated in thought with the Holy Trinity; since, I say, our life is one which comes to us by faith in the Holy Trinity, taking its rise from the God of all, flowing through the Son, and working in us by the Holy Spirit. Having, then, this full assurance, we are baptized as we were commanded, and we believe as we are baptized, and we hold as we believe; so that with one accordour baptism, our faith, and our ascription of praise are tohyperlink the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. But if any one makes mention of two or three Gods, or of three God-heads, let him be accursed. And if any, following the perversion of Arius, says that the Son or the Holy Spirit were produced from things that are not, let him be accursed. But as many as walk by the rule of truth and acknowledge the three Persons, devoutly recognized in Their several properties, and believe that there is one Godhead, one goodness, one rule, one authority and power, and neither make void the supremacy of the Sole-sovereigntyhyperlink , nor fall away into polytheism, nor confound the Persons, nor make up the Holy Trinity of heterogeneous and unlike elements, but in simplicity receive the doctrine of the faith, grounding all their hope of salvation upon the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,-these according to our judgment are of the same mind as we, and with them we also trust to have part in the Lord.


1 Marcellus of Ancyra had been deposed in the Council of Constantinople in 336, for teaching the doctrine of Paul of Samosata. Basil and Athanasius successively separated from their communion all who were united to Marcellus; and these, knowing that Valens the Emperor had exiled several bishops of Egypt to Diocaesarea, went to find them (375) and were admitted to their communion. Armed with letters from them, they demanded to be received into that of the other bishops of the East, and at length Basil and others, having examined the matter closely, admitted them. Gregory followed Basil's example, being assured of their Catholicity: and to justify himself wrote this letter to the Catholics of Sebasteia.

2 idiwj, i.e. as a distinct matter from the previous apologia; or perhaps "privately."

3 peplhroforhmeqa; a deponent, the same use as in Rom. iv. 21, of Abraham, plhroforhqeij oti o ephggeltai k.t.l.: cf. plhroforia pistewj, Heb. x. 22: plhroforia thj elpidoj, Heb. vi. 11. The other N. T. use of this word, as an active and passive, is found 2 Tim. iv. 5, "fulfil thy ministry;" 2 Tim. iv. 17; S. Luke i. 1, peplhroforhmenwn, "most surely believed" (A. V.): in all which the R.V. follows the Vulgate interpretation. In the latin translation of this passage in Gregory, "(professionem) qua sacris nos Scripturis ac Patrum traditioni penitus inhaerere persuasum omnibus foret," the meaning put upon plhroforeisqai by A. V. in the last text is adopted, "we are fully believed to follow," with a very harsh construction.

4 There is some repetition and omission here. Gregory ought to have said in one of the clauses, "Nor is Baptism in the name of the Son and Holy Ghost sufficient, without the name of the Father" (H. C. O.).

5 gnwrizomenhn looks as if it ought to be gnwrizomenaij, and the Latin translator renders accordingly (H. C. O.).

6 The same preposition eij is used after baptisma, pistij, and doca.

7 monapxia, i.e. the One First Cause or Principle. See p. 84, note 7.

Letter III. To Ablabiushyperlink .

The Lord, as was meet and right, brought us safe through, accompanied as we had been by your prayers, and I will tell you a manifest token of His loving kindness. For when the sun was just over the spot which we left behind Earsushyperlink , suddenly the clouds gathered thick, and there was a change from clear sky to deep gloom. Then a chilly breeze blowing through the clouds, bringing a drizzling with it, and striking upon us with a very damp feeling, threatened such rain as had never yet been known, and on the left there were continuous claps of thunder, and keen flashes of lightning alternated with the thunder, following one crash and preceding the next, and all the mountains before, behind, and on each side were shrouded in clouds. And already a heavyhyperlink cloud hung over our heads, caught by a strong wind and big with rain, and yet we, like the Israelites of old in their miraculous passage of the Red Sea, though surrounded on all sides by rain, arrived unwetted at Vestena. And when we had already found shelter there, and our mules had got a rest, then the signal for the down-pour was given by God to the air. And when we had spent some three or four hours there, and had rested enough, again God stayed the down-fall, and our conveyance moved along more briskly than before, as the wheel easily slid through the mud just moist and on the surface. Now the road from that point to our little town is all along the river side, going down stream with the water, and there is a continuous string of villages along the banks, all close upon the road, and with very short distances between them. In consequence of this unbroken line of habitations all the road was full of people, some coming to meet us, and others escorting us, mingling tears in abundance with their joy. Now there was a little drizzle, not unpleasant, lust enough to moisten the air; but a little way before we got home the cloud that overhung us was condensed into a more violent shower, so that our entrance was quite quiet, as no one was aware beforehand of our coming. But just as we got inside our portico, as the sound of our carriage wheels along the dry hard ground was heard, the people turned up in shoals, as though by some mechanical contrivance, I know not whence nor how, flocking round us so closely that it was not easy to get down from our conveyance, for there was not a foot of clear space. But after we had persuaded them with difficulty to allow us to get down, and to let our mules pass, we were crushed on every side by folks crowding round, insomuch that their excessive kindness all but made us faint. And when we were near the inside of the portico, we see a stream of fire flowing into the church; for the choir of virgins, carrying their wax torches in their hands, were just marching in file along the entrance of the church, kindling the whole into splendour with their blaze. And when I was within and had rejoiced and wept with my people-for I experienced both emotions from witnessing both in the multitude,-as soon as I had finished the prayers, I wrote off this letter to your Holiness as fast as possible, under the pressure of extreme thirst, so that I might when it was done attend to my bodily wants.


1 This Letter must have been written, either (i) After the first journey of Gregory to Constantinople, i.e. after the Council, 381; or (2) On his return from exile at the death of Valens, 378. The words at the end, "rejoiced and wept with my people," are against the first view.

2 0Earsou. The distance prevents us conjecturing "Tarsus" here, though, Gregory was probably coming from the sea (and the Holy Land). But "Garsaura" is marked on the maps as about 40 miles south of Nyssa with the "Morimene" mountains (Erjash Dagh) intervening. (Nyssa lay on a southern tributary of the Halys, N.W. of Nazianzum.) The Medicean ms. is said by Migue to read eautwn here-"we left behind us." Nothing is known of Vestena below.

3 Adopting the conjecture of the Latin translator bareia for braxeia. His translation, however, though ingenious, would require something different in the Greek. It runs "jamque nubes, quae nostro impendebat capiti, postquam acri vehementique vento abrepta alio delata fuit, hiemem peperit." As the text stands upolhfqeisa cannot bear this translation (H. C. O.)

Letter IV. To Cynegiushyperlink .

We have a law that bids us "rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep": but of these commandments it often seems that it is in our power to put only one into practice. For there is a great scarcity in the world of "them that rejoice," so that it is not easy to find with whom we may share our blessings, but there are plenty who are in the opposite case. I write thus much by way of preface, because of the sad tragedy which some spiteful power has been playing among people of long-standing nobility. A young man of good family, Synesius by name, not unconnected with myself, in the full flush of youth, who has scarcely begun to live yet, is in great dangers, from which God alone has power to rescue him, and next to God, you, who are entrusted with the decisions of all questions of life and death. An involuntary mishap has taken place. Indeed, what mishap is voluntary? And now those who have made up this suit against him, carrying with it the penalty of death, have turned his mishap into matter of accusation. However, I will try by private letters to soften their resentment and incline them to pity; but I beseech your kindliness to side with justice and with us, that your benevolence may prevail over the wretched plight of the youth, hunting up any and every device by which the young man may be placed out of the reach of danger, having conquered the spiteful power which assails him by the help of your alliance. I have said all that I want in brief; but to go into details, in order that my endeavour may be successful, would be to say what I have no business to say, nor you to hear from me.


1 Cynegius was "prefect of the praetorium," from 384 to 390. Cod. Medic. has on the title, 9Ieriw 9Hgemoni: but this must be wrong. It was this Cynegius, not then Prefect of the East, whom Libanius was to lead however unwilling, to the study of eloquence (see end of Letter xi.). The four Praetorian Prefects remained, after Diocletian's institution of the four Princes, trader whom they served, hail been abolished by Constantine. The Prefect of the East stretched his jurisdiction "from the cataracts of the Nile to the banks of the Phasis, and from the mountains of Thrace to the frontiers of Persia." From all inferior jurisdictions an appeal in every matter of importance, either civil or criminal, might be brought before the tribunal of the Prefect; but his sentence was final: the emperors themselves refused to dispute it. Hence Gregory says, that, "next to God, Cynegins had the power to remove his young relative from danger." How intimate Gregory was, not only with the highest officers but at the Court itself, is shown in his orations on Pulcheria and Flacilla. He must have been over sixty when this letter was written.

Letter V. A Testimonial.

That for which the king of the Macedonians is most admired by people of understanding,-for he is admired not so much for his famous victorieshyperlink over the Persians and Indians, and his penetrating as far the Ocean, as for his saying that he had his treasure in his friends;-in this respect I dare to compare myself with his marvellous exploits, and it will be right for me to utter such a sentiment too. Now because I am rich in friendships, perhaps I surpass in that kind of property even that great man who plumed himself upon that very thing. For who was such a friend to him as you are to me, perpetually endeavouring to surpass yourself in every kind of excellence? For assuredly no one would ever charge me with flattery, when I say this, if he were to look at my age and your life: for grey hairs are out of season for flattery, and old age is ill-suited for complaisance, and as for you, even if you are ever in season for flattery, yet praise would not fall under the suspicion of flattery, is your life shows forth your praise before words. But since, when men are rich in blessings, it is a special gift to know how to use what one has, and the best use of superfluities is to let one's friends share them with one, and since my beloved son Alexander is most of all a friend united to me in all sincerity, be persuaded to show him my treasure, and not only to show it to him, but also to put it at his disposal to enjoy abundantly, by extending to him your protection in those matters about which he has come to you, begging you to be his patron. He will tell you all with his own lips. For it is better so than that I should go into details in a letter.


1 dihghmasin. "He believed in fidelity, and was capable of the sublimest, most intimate friendships. He loved Hephaestion so fervently, that . ...he remained inconsolable for his loss."-F. Schlegel. Achilles was his hero: for he too knew the delight of a constant friendship.

Letter VI. To Stagirius.

They say that conjurorshyperlink in theatres contrive some such marvel as this which I am going to describe. Having taken some historical narrative, or some old story as the ground-plot of their sleight of hand, they relate the story to the spectators in action. And it is in this way that they make their representations of the narrativehyperlink . They put on their dresses and masks, and rig up something to resemble a town on the stage with hangings, and then so associate the bare scene with their life-like imitation of action that they are a marvel to the spectators-both the actors themselves of the incidents of the play, and the hangings, or rather their imaginary city. What do I mean, do you think, by this allegory? Since we must needs show to those who are coming together that which is not a city as though it were one, do you let yourself be persuaded to become for the nonce the founder of our cityhyperlink , by just putting in an appearance there; I will make the desert-place seem to be a city; now it is no great distance for you, and the favour which you will confer is very great; for we wish to show ourselves more splendid to our companions here, which we shall do if, in place of any other ornament, we are adorned with the splendour of your party.


1 qau,atpoiountaj ...qaumatopoiiaj; something more than ordinary mime playing, or than the optical illusion of tableaux-vivants, but less than what we should call conjuring seems to be meant (H. C. O.).

2 ta katallhla twn istoroumenwn.

3 oikisthj autosxedioj.