Church Fathers: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 05: 25.01.65 Letters VII - XII

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to | Download

Church Fathers: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 05: 25.01.65 Letters VII - XII

TOPIC: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 05 (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 25.01.65 Letters VII - XII

Other Subjects in this Topic:

Letter VII. To a Friend.

What flower in spring is so bright, what voices of singing birds are so sweet, what breezes that soothe the calm sea are so light and mild, what glebe is so fragrant to the husbandman-whether it be teeming with green blades, or waving with fruitful ears as is the spring of the soul, lit up with your peaceful beams, from the radiance which shone? your letter, which raised our life from despondency to gladness? For thus, perhaps, it will not be unfitting to adapt the word of the prophet to our present blessings: "In the multitude of the sorrows which I had in my heart, the comforts of God," by your kindness, "have refreshed my soul,"hyperlink like sunbeams, cheering and warming our life nipped by frost. For both reached the highest pitch-the severity of my troubles, I mean, on the one side, and the sweetness of your favours on the other. And if you have so gladdened us, by only sending us the joyful tidings of your coming, that everything changed for us from extremest woe to a bright condition, what will your precious and benign coming, even the sight of it, do? what consolation will the sound of your sweet voice in our ears afford our soul? May this speedily come to pass, by the good help of God, Who giveth respite from pain to the fainting, and rest to the afflicted. But be assured, that when we look at our own case we grieve exceedingly at the present state of things, and men cease not to tear us in pieceshyperlink : but when we turn our eyes to your excellence, we own that we have great cause for thankfulness to the dispensation of Divine Providence, that we are able to enjoy in your neighbourhoodhyperlink your sweetness and good-will towards us, and feast at will on such food to satiety, if indeed there is such a thing as satiety of blessings like these.


1 Ps. xciv. 19.

2 diaforountaj. This letter is probably written during his exile, (375-8) and to Otreius, the bishop of Melitene. See Letter 14, note.

3 ek geitonwn.

Letter VIIIhyperlink . To a Student of the Classics.

When I was looking for some suitable and proper exordium, I mean of course from Holy Scripture, to put at the head of my letter, according to my usual custom, I did not know which to choose, not from inability to find what was suitable, but because I deemed it superfluous to write such things to those who knew nothing about the matter. For your eager pursuit of profane literature proved incontestably to us that you did not care about sacred. Accordingly I will say nothing about Bible texts, but will select a prelude adapted to your literary tastes taken from the poets you love so well. By the great master of your education there is introduced one, showing all an old man's joy, when after long affliction he once more beheld his son, and his son's son as well. And the special theme of his exultation is the rivalry between the two, Ulysses and Telemachus, for the highest meed of valour, though it is true that the recollection of his own exploits against the Cephallenians adds to the point of his speechhyperlink . For you and your admirable father, when you welcomed me, as they did Laertes, in your affection, contended in most honourable rivalry for the prize of virtue, by showing us all possible respect and kindness; he in numerous ways which I need not here mention, and you by pelting me withhyperlink your letters from Cappadocia. What, then, of me the aged one? I count that day one to be blessed, in which I witness such a competition between father and son. May you, then, never cease from accomplishing the rightful prayer of an excellent and admirable father, and surpassing in your readiness to all good works the renown which from him you inherit. I shall be a judge acceptable to both of you, as I shall award you the first prize against your father, and the same to your father against you. And we will put up with rough Ithaca, rough not so much with stones as with the manners of the inhabitants, an island in which there are many suitors, who are suitorshyperlink most of all for the possessions of her whom they woo, and insult their intended bride by this very fact, that they threaten her chastity with marriage, acting in a way worthy of a Melantho, one might say, or some other such person; for nowhere is there a Ulysses to bring them to their senses with his bow. You see how in an old man's fashion I go maundering off into matters with which you have no concern. But pray let indulgence be readily extended to me in consideration of my grey hairs; for garrulity is just as characteristic of old age as to be blear-eyed, or for the limbs to failhyperlink . But you by entertaining us with your brisk and lively language, like a bold young man as you are, will make our old age young again, supporting the feebleness of our length of days with this kind attention which so well becomes you.


1 Perhaps to Lupatrius (Cod. Medic.).

2 The text here seems hopelessly corrupt. Or the meaning may be, "Our main text shall be his exultation at the generous rivalry between Ulysses and Telemachus, though his mention of his exploits against the Cephallenians shall also contribute to illustrate our discussion;" but this can hardly be got out of the Greek. The reference is to Odyssey, xxiv. 514. Gregory was evidently fond of Homer: the comparison of Diomede to a winter torrent (Iliad, v. 87) is used De Virginit. c. 4: and Menelaus' words about the young and old (Iliad, iii. 108), c. 23: and in Letter II. of the seven edited by Caraccioli (Letter XV.) describing the gardens of Vanota, Od. vii. 115, xiii. 589. For other quotations from the classics see Letters XI. and XII. of this Series (H. C. O.).

3 ballontj, with allusion to the darts hurled by Ulysses and Telemachus (H. C. O.).

4 Reading mnhsthrej, for the unmeaning krathrej; "they are suitors not so much for the hand of Penelope as for her money" (H. C. O.). The Medicean has brwsthrej, "devourers." Just below the allusion is to Melantho's rudely threatening Ulysses, and getting hanged for it.

5 upo thj ghrwj aponoiaj, an irrelevant phrase, and, as not necessary to the sense, here omitted in translation (H. C. O.).

Letter IX. An Invitation.

It is not the natural wont of spring to shine forth in its radiant beauty all at once, but there come as preludes of spring the sunbeam gently warming earth's frozen surface, and the bud half hidden beneath the clod, and breezes blowing over the earth, so that the fertilizing and generative power of the air penetrates deeply into it. One may see the fresh and tender grass, and the return of birds which winter had banished, and many such tokens, which are rather signs of spring, not spring itself. Not but that these are sweet, because they are indications of what is sweetest. What is the meaning of all that I have been saying? Why, since the expression of your kindness which reached us in your letters, as a forerunner of the treasures contained in you, with a goodly prelude brings the glad tidings of the blessing which we expect at your hands, we both welcome the boon which those letters convey, like some first-appearing flower of spring, and pray that we may soon enjoy in you the full beauty of the season. For, be well assured, we have been deeply, deeply distressed by the passions and spite of the people here, and their ways; and just as ice forms in cottages after the rains that come in-for I will draw my comparison from the weather of our part of the worldhyperlink ,-and so moisture, when it gets in, if it spreads over the surface that is already frozen, becomes congealed about the ice, and an addition is made to the mass already existing, even so one may notice much the same kind of thing in the character of most of the people in this neighbourhood, how they are always plotting and inventing something spiteful, and a fresh mischief is congealed on the top of that which has been wrought before, and another one on the top of that, and then again another, and this goes on without intermission, and there is no limit to their hatred and to the increase of evils; so that we have great need of many prayers that the grace of the Spirit may speedily breathe upon them, and thaw the bitterness of their hatred, and melt the frost that is hardening upon them from their malice. For this cause the spring, sweet as it is by nature, becomes yet more to be desired than ever to those who after such storms look for you. Let not the boon, then, linger. Especially as our great holidayhyperlink is approaching, it would be more reasonable that the land which bare you should exult in her own treasures than that Pontus should in ours. Come then, dear one, bringing us a multitude of blessings, even yourself; for this will fill up the measure of our beatitude


1 For the climate, cf. Sozoomen, H. E. vi. 34: "I suppose that Galatia, Cappadocia, and the neighbouring provinces contained many other ecclesiastical philosophers at that time (i. e. reign of Valens). These monks, for the most part; dwelt in communities in cities and villages, for they did not habituate themselves to the tradition of their predecessors. The severity of the winter, which is always a natural feature of that country, would probably make hermit life impracticable."

2 For such invitations, cf. Greg. Naz. Epist. 99, 100, 102.

Letter Xhyperlink . To Libanius.

I Once heard a medical man tell of a wonderful freak of nature. And this was his story. A man was ill of an unmanageable complaint, and began to find fault with the medical faculty, as being able to do far less than it professed; for everything that was devised for his cure was ineffectual. Afterwards when some good news beyond his hopes was brought him, the occurrence did the work of the healing art, by putting an end to his disease. Whether it were that the soul by the overflowing sense of release from anxiety, and by a sudden rebound, disposed the body to be in the same condition as itself, or in some other way, I cannot say: for I have no leisure to enter upon such disquisitions, and the person who told me did not specify the cause. But I have just called to mind the story very seasonably, as I think: for when I was not as well as I could wish-now I need not tell you exactly the causes of all the worries which befel me from the time I was with you to the present,-after some one told me all at once of the letter which had arrived from your unparalleled Erudition, as soon as I got the epistle and ran over what you had written, forthwith, first my soul was affected in the same way as though I had been proclaimed before all the world as the hero of most glorious achievements-so highly did I value the testimony which you favoured me with in your letter,-and then also my bodily health immediately began to improve: and I afford an example of the same marvel as the story which I told you just now, in that I was ill when I read one half of the letter, and well when I read the other half of the same. Thus much for those matters. But now, since Cynegius was the occasion of that favour, you are able, in the overflowing abundance of your ability to do good, not only to benefit us, but also our benefactors; and he is a benefactor of ours, as has been said before, by having been the cause and occasion of our having a letter from you; and for this reason he well deserves both our good offices. But if you ask who are our teachers,-if indeed we are thought to have learned anything,-you will find that they are Paul and John, and the rest of the Apostles and Prophets; if I do not seem to speak too boldly in claiming any knowledge of that art in which you so excel, that competent judges declarehyperlink that the rules of oratory stream down from you, as from an overflowing spring, upon all who have any pretensions to excellence in that department. This I have heard the admirable Basil say to everybody, Basil, who was your disciple, but my father and teacher. But be assured, first, that I found no rich nourishment in the precepts of my teachershyperlink , inasmuch as I enjoyed my brother's society only for a short time, and got only just enough polish from his diviner tongue to be able to discern the ignorance of those who are uninitiated in oratory; next, however, that whenever I had leisure, I devoted my time and energies to this study, and so became enamoured of your beauty, though I never yet obtained the object of my passion. If, then, on the one side we never had a teacher, which I deem to have been our case, and if on the other it is improper to suppose that the opinion which you entertain of us is other than the true one-nay, you are correct in your statement, and we are not quite contemptible in your judgment,-give me leave to presume to attribute to you the cause of such proficiency as we may have attained. For if Basil was the author of our oratory, and if his wealth came from your treasures, then what we possess is yours, even though we received it through others. But if our attainments are scanty, so is the water in a jar; still it comes from the Nile.


1 This and the following letter appear to have been written when Gregory still publicly professed belles lettres. They are addressed to one of the masters whom Basil had had at Athens. For these see socrates, H. E. iv. 26: it was probably Libanius; rather than Prohaeresius, who did not live in Asia Minor, or Himaerius who (according to Eunapius, Philosoph. Vit. p. 126) had become a Christian before the reign of Julian, and it is clear that this Letter is written to a pagan. The Cod. Medic. has Libanius' name as a title to both Letters. No Letter to Gregory certainly is to be found amongst Libanius' unpublished Letters in the Vatican Library. as Zacagni himself testifies: but no conclusion can be drawn from this.

2 This passage as it stands is unmanageable. The Latin translator appears to give the sense required, but it is hard to see how it can be got out of the words (H. C. O.).

3 isqi me mhden exonta liparon (ms. lupron) en toij twn didaskalwn dihghmasin: but tou didaskalou perhaps should be read instead of twn didaskalwn (H. C. O.).

Letter XI. To Libanius.

It was a custom with the Romanshyperlink to celebrate a feast in winter-time, after the custom of their fathers, when the length of the days begins to draw out, as the sun climbs to the upper regions of the sky. Now the beginning of the month is esteemed holy, and by this day auguring the character of the whole year, they devote themselves to forecasting lucky accidents, gladness, and wealthhyperlink . What is my object in beginning my letter in this way? Why, I do so because I too kept this feast, having got my present of gold as well as any of them; for then there came into my hands as well as theirs gold, not like that vulgar gold, which potentates treasure and which those that have it give,-that heavy, vile, and soulless possession,-but that which is loftier than all wealth, as Pindar sayshyperlink , in the eyes of those that have sense, being the fairest presentation, I mean your letter, and the vast wealth which it contained. For thus it happened; that on that day, as I was going to the metropolis of the Cappadocians, I met an acquaintance, who handed me this present, your letter, as a new year's gift. And I, being overjoyed at the occurrence, threw open my treasure to all who were present; and all shared in it, each getting the whole of it, without any rivalry, and I was none the worse off. For the letter by passing through the hands of all, like a ticket for a feast, is the private wealth of each, some by steady continuous reading engraving the words upon their memory, and others taking an impressionhyperlink of them upon tablets; and it was again in my hands, giving me more pleasure than the hardhyperlink metal does to the eyes of the rich. Since, then, even to husbandmen-to use a homely comparison-approbation of the labours which they have already accomplished is a strong stimulus to those which follow, bear with us if we treat what you have yourself given as so much seed, and if we write that we may provoke you to write back. But I beg of you a public and general boon for our life; that you will no longer entertain the purpose which you expressed to us in a dark hint at the end of your letter. For I do not think that it is at all a fair decision to come to, that,-because there are some who disgrace themselves by deserting from the Greek language to the barbarian, becoming mercenary soldiers and choosing a soldier's rations instead of the renown of eloquence,-you should therefore condemn oratory altogether, and sentence human life to be as voiceless as that of beasts. For who is he who will open his lips, if you carry into effect this severe sentence against oratory? But perhaps it will be well to remind you of a passage in our Scriptures. For our Word bids those that can to do good, not looking at the tempers of those who receive the benefit, so as to be eager to benefit only those who are sensible of kindness, while we close our beneficence to the unthankful, but rather to imitate the Disposer of all, Who distributes the good things of His creation alike to all, to the good and to the evil. Having regard to this, admirable Sir, show yourself in your way of life such an one as the time past has displayed you. For those who do not see the sun do not thereby hinder the sun's existence. Even so neither is it right that the beams of your eloquence should be dimmed, because of those who are purblind as to the perceptions of the soul. But as for Cynegius, I pray that he may be as far as possible from the common malady, which now has seized upon young men; and that he will devote himself of his own accord to the study of rhetoric. But if he is otherwise disposed, it is only right, even if he be unwilling, he should be forced to it; so as to avoid the unhappy and discreditable plight in which they now are, who have previously abandoned the pursuit of oratory.


1 The custom of New Year's gifts (strenarum commercium) had been discontinued by Tiberius, because of the trouble it involved to himself, and abolished by Claudius: but in these times it had been revived. We find mention of it in the reigns of Theodosius, and of Arcadius; Auson. Ep. xviii. 4; Symmach. Ep. x. 28.

2 Or, not improbably, "they contrive lucky meetings, festivities, and contributions."

3 Pindar, Ol. i. 1: o de xrusoj, aiqomenon pur ate diaprepei nuktoj, megalanoroj ecoxa ploutou.

4 enapomorcamenwn.

5 apokroton.

Letter XIIhyperlink . On His Work Against Eunomius.

We Cappadocians are poor in well-nigh all things that make the possessors of them happy, but above all we are badly off for people who are able to write. This, be sure, is the reason why I am so slow about sending you a letter: for, though my reply to the heresy (of Eunomius) had been long ago completed, there was no one to transcribe it. Such a dearth of writers it was that brought upon us the suspicion of sluggishness or of inability to frame an answer. But since now at any rate, thank God, the writer and reviser have come, I have sent this treatise to you; not, as Isocrates sayshyperlink , as a present, for I do not reckon it to be such that it should be received in lieu of something of substantial value, but that it may be in our power to cheer on those who are in the full vigour of youth to do battle with the enemy, by stirring up the naturally sanguine temperament of early life. But if any portion of the treatise should appear worthy of serious consideration, after examining some parts, especially those prefatory to the "trials,"hyperlink and those which are of the same cast, and perhaps also some of the doctrinal parts of the book, you will think them not ungratefully composed. But to whatever conclusion you come, you will of course read them, as to a teacher and corrector, to those who do not act like the players at ballhyperlink , when they stand in three different places and throw it from one to the other, aiming it exactly and catching one ball from one and one from another, and they baffle the player who is in the middle, as he jumps up to catch it, pretending that they are going to throw with a made-up expression of face, and such and such a motion of the hand to left or right, and whichever way they see him hurrying, they send the ball just the contrary way, and cheat his expectation by a trick. This holds even now in the case of most of us, who, dropping all serious purpose, play at being good-naturedhyperlink , as if at ball, with men, instead of realizing the favourable hope which we hold out, beguiling to sinisterhyperlink issues the souls of those who repose confidence in us. Letters of reconciliation, caresses, tokens, presents, affectionate embrace by letters-these are the making as if to throw with the ball to the right. But instead of the pleasure which one expects therefrom, one gets accusations, plots, slanders, disparagement, charges brought against one, bits of a sentence torn from their context, caught up, and turned to one's hurt. Blessed in your hopes are ye, who through all such trials exercise confidence towards God. But we beseech you not to look at our words, but to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospel. For what consolation to one in anguish can another be, who surpasses him in the extremity of his own anguish, to help his luckless fortunes to obtain their proper issue? As He saith, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." But do you, best of men, go on in a manner worthy of yourself, and trust in God, and do not be hindered by the spectacle of our misfortunes from being good and true, but commit to God that judgeth righteously the suitable and just issue of events, and act as Divine wisdom guides you. Assuredly Joseph had in the result no reason to grieve at the envy of his brethren, inasmuch as the malice of his own kith and kin became to him the road to empire.


1 The Cod. Medic. has "to John and Maximinian." In this letter but one person seems to be addressed. Gregory here speaks, without doubt, of his books against Eunomius: not of his Antirrhetic against Apollinaris, which could have been transcribed in a very short time. Therefore we can place the date about 383, some months after Gregory's twelve Books against Eunomius, according to Hermantius, were published.

2 Oratio ad Demonicum.

3 See Against Eunamius, I. 1-9.

4 i. e. the game of faininda: called also efetinda by Hesychius.

5 en eufuia.

6 It is difficult to reproduce the play upon words in deciaj, and skaiothti, which refer to the kata to decion h euwnumon in the description of the game of ball: the words having both a local meaning, "right," and "left," and a metaphorical one, "favourable," and "sinister" (H. C. O.).