Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IX:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Letters of St. Chrysostom to Olympias.: To Olympias.
p. 297 to olympias.
Having risen from the very gates of death I address this letter to the discreet lady; and I am very glad that thy servants have met me just as I am anchoring at last in harbour. For had they met me when I was still tossing on the open sea, and experiencing the cruel waves of bodily sickness, it would not have been easy for me to deceive your cautious spirit, by sending good tidings instead of sorrowful. For the winter, which has become more than commonly severe, brought on a storm of internal disorder even more distressing, and during the last two months I have been no better than one dead, nay worse. For I had just enough life to be sensible of the horrors which encircled me, and day and dawn and noon were all one night to me as I spent all my time closely confined to my bed, and in spite of endless contrivances I could not shake off the pernicious effects of the cold; but although I kept a fire burning, and endured a most unpleasant amount of smoke, and remained cooped up in one chamber, covered with any quantity of wraps, and not daring to set a foot outside the threshold I underwent extreme sufferings, perpetual vomiting supervening on headache, loss of appetite, and constant sleeplessness. Thus restlessly did I pass through my long dark sea of troubles. But not to distress thy mind by dwelling upon my miseries, from all of them I am now relieved. For as soon as spring approached, and a little change in the temperature took place, all my troubles spontaneously vanished. Nevertheless I still require great care as regards diet; therefore I put only a light load on my stomach, so that it may be able to digest it easily. But it has occasioned me no little concern to learn that my discreet mistress was brought to the verge of death. Nevertheless in consideration of my great affection, and anxiety, and solicitude for your welfare I was relieved from this care, even before the arrival of your letters, many persons having come from thence who brought me tidings of your restoration to health.
And now I am exceedingly glad and delighted to hear, not only that you have been released from your infirmity, but above all that you bear the things which befall you so bravely, calling them all but an idle tale; and, which is indeed a greater matter, that you have applied this name even to your bodily infirmity, which is an evidence of a robust spirit, rich in the fruit of courage. For not only to bear misfortunes bravely but to be actually insensible to them, to overlook them, and with such little exertion to wreathe your brows with the garland prize of patience, neither labouring, nor toiling, neither feeling distress nor causing it to others, but as it were leaping and dancing for joy all the while, this is indeed a proof of the most finished philosophy. 948 Therefore I rejoice, and leap for joy; I am in a flutter of delight, I am insensible to my present loneliness, and the other troubles which surround me, being cheered, and brightened, and not a little proud on account of your greatness of soul, and the repeated victories which you have won, and this, not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of that large and populous city, 949 where you are like a tower, a haven, and a wall of defence, speaking in the eloquent voice of example, and through your sufferings instructing either sex to strip readily for these contests, and descend into the lists with all courage, and cheerfully bear the toils which such contests involve. And the wonder is that without thrusting yourself into the forum, or occupying the public centres of the city, but sitting all the while in a small house and confined chamber you serve and anoint the combatants for the contest, and whilst the sea is thus raging round you, and the billows are rising to a crest, and crags and reefs, and rocky ledges and fierce monsters appear on every side, and everything is shrouded in the most profound darkness you, setting the sails of patience, float on with great serenity, as if it was noonday, and calm weather, and a favourable breeze wafting you on, and so far from being overwhelmed by this grievous tempest are not even sprinkled by the spray; and very naturally so; such is the force of virtue as a rudder. Now merchants and pilots, and sailors and voyagers when they see clouds gathering up, or fierce winds rushing down upon them, or the breakers seething with an abundance of foam keep their vessels moored inside harbour; and if they chance to be tempest-tossed in the open sea they do their best, and devise every means to bring their ship to some anchorage, or island or shore. But you, although such innumerable winds, and fierce waves burst upon you together, and the sea is heaved up from its very depths owing to the severity of the storm, and some are submerged, others floating dead upon the water, others drifting naked upon planks, you plunging into the mid ocean of calamities call all these things an idle tale, sailing on with a favourable breeze in the midst of the tempest; and naturally so; for pilots, even if they are infinitely wise in that science, nevertheless have not skill sufficient to withstand every kind p. 298 of storm; consequently they often shrink from doing battle with the waves. But the science which you have is superior to every kind of storm—the power of a philosophic soul—which is stronger than ten thousand armies, more powerful than arms, and more secure than towers and bulwarks. For the arms, and bulwarks, and towers which soldiers have, are serviceable for the security of the body only, and this not always, nor in every way; but there are times when all these resources are baffled, and leave those who fly to them for refuge destitute of protection. But thy powers do not repel the weapons of barbarians, nor the devices of hostile men, nor any assaults and stratagems of that kind, but they have trampled under foot the constraining forces of nature, put down their tyranny and levelled their citadel. And whilst ceaselessly contending with demons, you have won countless victories, yet have not received a single blow, but stand unwounded in the midst of a storm of darts and turn the spears which are hurled at you back upon those who discharge them. Such is the wisdom of your art; by the sufferings which you undergo you take vengeance on those who inflict them; by the plots of which you are the subject you put your enemies to pain, possessing in their malice the best foundation for the materials of fame. And you, knowing these things well yourself, and having gained perception by experience, naturally call them all an idle tale. For how, pray, should you not call them by that name, possessing as you do a mortal body, and yet despising death as if you were hastening to quit a foreign country, and return to your own land; a chronic sufferer from the most severe infirmity, and yet more cheerfully disposed than the thriving and robust, not depressed by insults, nor elated by honours and glory, the latter being a cause of infinite mischief to many who after an illustrious career in the priesthood, and after reaching extreme old age, and the most venerable hoar hairs, have fallen into disgrace on this account, and become a common spectacle of derision for those who wish to make merry. But you on the contrary, woman as you are, clothed with a fragile body, and subject to these severe attacks, have not only avoided falling into such a condition yourself, but have prevented many others from so doing. They indeed before they had advanced far in the contest, even at the very outset and starting point, have been overthrown; whereas you, after having gone countless times round the farther turning post, have won a prize in every course, after playing your part in manifold kinds of wrestling and combats. And very naturally so; for the wrestlings of virtue do not depend upon age, or bodily strength, but only on the spirit and the disposition. Thus women have been crowned victors, while men have been upset; so also boys have been proclaimed conquerors, while aged men have been put to shame. It is indeed always fitting to admire those who pursue virtue, but especially when some are found to cling to it at a time when many are deserting it. Therefore, my sweet lady, you deserve superlative admiration, inasmuch as after so many men, women, and aged persons who seemed to enjoy the greatest reputation have been turned to flight, all lying prostrate before the eyes of the world, and this not after a severe onslaught, nor any alarming muster of the enemys force, but overthrown before the encounter and worsted before the struggle, you on the contrary after so many battles and such large muster of the enemy are so far from being unstrung, or dismayed by the number of your adversities, that you are all the more vigorous, and the increase of the contest gives you an increase of strength. For the recollection of what has been already achieved becomes the ground of cheerfulness, and joy, and greater zeal. Therefore I rejoice, and leap for joy; for I will not cease repeating this, and taking about with me everywhere the material of my joy; so that although my separation from you distresses you, yet you have this very great consolation arising from your successful exploits; for I also who am banished to so great a distance gain no small cheerfulness from this cause,—I mean your courage.
Here, as often elsewhere, St. Chrysostom uses the word φιλοσοφία in the sense of Christian training and moral discipline. The monastic form of life was commonly called ἡ φιλοσοφιὰ, the “philosophy.”297:949
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