Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Letters.: To Eustathia, Ambrosia, and Basilissa.
p. 542 Letter XVII.—To Eustathia, Ambrosia, and Basilissa 2242 . To the most discreet and devout Sisters, Eustathia and Ambrosia, and to the most discreet and noble Daughter, Basilissa, Gregory sends greeting in the Lord.
The meeting with the good and the beloved, and the memorials of the immense love of the Lord for us men, which are shown in your localities, have been the source to me of the most intense joy and gladness. Doubly indeed have these shone upon divinely festal days; both in beholding the saving tokens 2243 of the God who gave us life, and in meeting with souls in whom the tokens of the Lords grace are to be discerned spiritually in such clearness, that one can believe that Bethlehem and Golgotha, and Olivet, and the scene of the Resurrection are really in the God-containing heart. For when through a good conscience Christ has been formed in any, when any has by dint of godly fear nailed down the promptings of the flesh and become crucified to Christ, when any has rolled away from himself the heavy stone of this worlds illusions, and coming forth from the grave of the body has begun to walk as it were in a newness of life, abandoning this low-lying valley of human life, and mounting with a soaring desire to that heavenly country 2244 with all its elevated thoughts, where Christ is, no longer feeling the bodys burden, but lifting it by chastity, so that the flesh with cloud-like lightness accompanies the ascending soul—such an one, in my opinion, is to be counted in the number of those famous ones in whom the memorials of the Lords love for us men are to be seen. When, then, I not only saw with the sense of sight those Sacred Places, but I saw the tokens of places like them, plain in yourselves as well, I was filled with joy so great that the description of its blessing is beyond the power of utterance. But because it is a difficult, not to say an impossible thing for a human being to enjoy unmixed with evil any blessing, therefore something of bitterness was mingled with the sweets I tasted: and by this, after the enjoyment of those blessings, I was saddened in my journey back to my native land, estimating now the truth of the Lords words, that “the whole world lieth in wickedness 2245 ,” so that no single part of the inhabited earth is without its share of degeneracy. For if the spot itself that has received the footprints of the very Life is not clear of the wicked thorns, what are we to think of other places where communion with the Blessing has been inculcated by hearing and preaching alone 2246 . With what view I say this, need not be explained more fully in words; facts themselves proclaim more loudly than any speech, however intelligible, the melancholy truth.
The Lawgiver of our life has enjoined upon us one single hatred. I mean, that of the Serpent: for no other purpose has He bidden us exercise this faculty of hatred, but as a resource against wickedness. “I will put enmity,” He says, “between thee and him.” Since wickedness is a complicated and multifarious thing, the Word allegorizes it by the Serpent, the dense array of whose scales is symbolic of this multiformity of evil. And we by working the will of our Adversary make an alliance with this serpent, and so turn this hatred against one another 2247 , and perhaps not against ourselves alone, but against Him Who gave the commandment; for He says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy,” commanding us to hold the foe to our humanity as our only enemy, and declaring that all who share that humanity are the neighbours of each one of us. But this gross-hearted age has disunited us from our neighbour, and has made us welcome the serpent, and revel in his spotted scales 2248 . I affirm, then, that it is a lawful thing to hate Gods enemies, and that this kind of hatred is pleasing to our Lord: and by Gods enemies I mean those who deny the glory of our Lord, be they Jews, or downright idolaters, or those who through Arius teaching idolize the creature, and so adopt the error of the Jews. Now when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are with orthodox devotion being glorified and adored by those who believe that in a distinct and unconfused Trinity there is One Substance, Glory, Kingship, Power, and Universal Rule, in such a case as this what good excuse for fighting can there be? At the time, certainly, when p. 543 the heretical views prevailed, to try issues with the authorities, by whom the adversaries cause was seen to be strengthened, was well; there was fear then lest our saving Doctrine should be over-ruled by human rulers. But now, when over the whole world from one end of heaven to the other the orthodox Faith is being preached, the man who fights with them who preach it, fights not with them, but with Him Who is thus preached. What other aim, indeed, ought that mans to be, who has the zeal for God, than in every possible way to announce the glory of God? As long, then, as the Only-begotten is adored with all the heart and soul and mind, believed to be in everything that which the Father is, and in like manner the Holy Ghost is glorified with an equal amount of adoration, what plausible excuse for fighting is left these over-refined disputants, who are rending the seamless robe, and parting the Lords name between Paul and Cephas, and undisguisedly abhorring contact with those who worship Christ, all but exclaiming in so many words, “Away from me, I am holy”?
Granting that the knowledge which they believe themselves to have acquired is somewhat greater than that of others: yet can they possess more than the belief that the Son of the Very God is Very God, seeing that in that article of the Very God every idea that is orthodox, every idea that is our salvation, is included? It includes the idea of His Goodness, His Justice, His Omnipotence: that He admits of no variableness nor alteration, but is always the same; incapable of changing to worse or changing to better, because the first is not His nature, the second He does not admit of; for what can be higher than the Highest, what can be better than the Best? In fact, He is thus associated with all perfection, and, as to every form of alteration, is unalterable; He did not on occasions display this attribute, but was always so, both before the Dispensation that made Him man, and during it, and after it; and in all His activities in our behalf He never lowered any part of that changeless and unvarying character to that which was out of keeping with it. What is essentially imperishable and changeless is always such; it does not follow the variation of a lower order of things, when it comes by dispensation to be there; just as the sun, for example, when he plunges his beam into the gloom, does not dim the brightness of that beam; but instead, the dark is changed by the beam into light; thus also the True Light, shining in our gloom, was not itself overshadowed with that shade, but enlightened it by means of itself. Well, seeing that our humanity was in darkness, as it is written, “They know not, neither will they understand, they walk on in darkness 2249 ,” the Illuminator of this darkened world darted the beam of His Divinity through the whole compound of our nature, through soul, I say, and body too, and so appropriated humanity entire by means of His own light, and took it up and made it just that thing which He is Himself. And as this Divinity was not made perishable, though it inhabited a perishable body, so neither did it alter in the direction of any change, though it healed the changeful in our soul: in medicine, too, the physician of the body, when he takes hold of his patient, so far from himself contracting the disease, thereby perfects the cure of the suffering part. Let no one, either, putting a wrong interpretation on the words of the Gospel, suppose that our human nature in Christ was transformed to something more divine by any gradations and advance: for the increasing in stature and in wisdom and in favour, is recorded in Holy Writ only to prove that Christ really was present in the human compound, and so to leave no room for their surmise, who propound that a phantom, or form in human outline, and not a real Divine Manifestation, was there. It is for this reason that Holy Writ records unabashed with regard to Him all the accidents of our nature, even eating, drinking, sleeping, weariness, nurture, increase in bodily stature, growing up—everything that marks humanity, except the tendency to sin. Sin, indeed, is a miscarriage, not a quality of human nature: just as disease and deformity are not congenital to it in the first instance, but are its unnatural accretions, so activity in the direction of sin is to be thought of as a mere mutilation of the goodness innate in us; it is not found to be itself a real thing, but we see it only in the absence of that goodness. Therefore He Who transformed the elements of our nature into His divine abilities, rendered it secure from mutilation and disease, because He admitted not in Himself the deformity which sin works in the will. “He did no sin,” it says, “neither was guile found in his mouth 2250 .” And this in Him is not to be regarded in connection with any interval of time: for at once the man in Mary (where Wisdom built her house), though naturally part of our sensuous compound, along with the coming upon her of the Holy Ghost, and her overshadowing with the power of the Highest, became that which that overshadowing power in essence was: for, without controversy, it is the Less that is blest by the Greater. Seeing, then, that the power of the Godhead is an immense and immeasurable thing, while man is a weak atom, at the moment when the Holy Ghost came upon the Virgin, and the power of the Highest overp. 544 shadowed her, the tabernacle formed by such an impulse was not clothed with anything of human corruption; but, just as it was first constituted, so it remained, even though it was man, Spirit nevertheless, and Grace, and Power; and the special attributes of our humanity derived lustre from this abundance of Divine Power 2251 .
There are indeed two limits of human life: the one we start from, and the one we end in: and so it was necessary that the Physician of our being should enfold us at both these extremities, and grasp not only the end, but the beginning too, in order to secure in both the raising of the sufferer. That, then, which we find to have happened on the side of the finish we conclude also as to the beginning. As at the end He caused by virtue of the Incarnation that, though the body was disunited from the soul, yet the indivisible Godhead which had been blended once for all with the subject (who possessed them) was not stripped from that body any more than it was from that soul, but while it was in Paradise along with the soul, and paved an entrance there in the person of the Thief for all humanity, it remained by means of the body in the heart of the earth, and therein destroyed him that had the power of Death (wherefore His body too is called “the Lord 2252 ” on account of that inherent Godhead)—so also, at the beginning, we conclude that the power of the Highest, coalescing with our entire nature by that coming upon (the Virgin) of the Holy Ghost, both resides in our soul, so far as reason sees it possible that it should reside there, and is blended with our body, so that our salvation throughout every element may be perfect, that heavenly passionlessness which is peculiar to the Deity being nevertheless preserved both in the beginning and in the end of this life as Man 2253 . Thus the beginning was not as our beginning, nor the end as our end. Both in the one and in the other He evinced His Divine independence; the beginning had no stain of pleasure upon it, the end was not the end in dissolution.
Now if we loudly preach all this, and testify to all this, namely that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, always changeless, always imperishable, though He comes in the changeable and the perishable; never stained Himself, but making clean that which is stained; what is the crime that we commit, and wherefore are we hated? And what means this opposing array 2254 of new Altars? Do we announce another Jesus? Do we hint at another? Do we produce other scriptures? Have any of ourselves dared to say “Mother of Man” of the Holy Virgin, the Mother of God 2255 : which is what we hear that some of them say without restraint? Do we romance about three Resurrections 2256 ? Do we promise the gluttony of the Millennium? Do we declare that the Jewish animal-sacrifices shall be restored? Do we lower mens hopes again to the Jerusalem below, imagining its rebuilding with stones of a more brilliant material? What charge like these can be brought against us, that our company should be reckoned a thing to be avoided, and that in some places another altar should be erected in opposition to us, as if we should defile their sanctuaries? My heart was in a state of burning indignation about this: and now that I have set foot in the City 2257 again, I am eager to unburden my soul of its bitterness, by appealing, in a letter, to your love. Do ye, whithersoever the Holy Spirit shall lead you, there remain; walk with God before you; confer not with flesh and blood; lend no occasion to any of them for glorying, that they may not glory in you, enlarging their ambition by anything in your lives. Remember the Holy Fathers, into whose hands ye were commended by your Father now in bliss 2258 , and to whom we p. 545 by Gods grace were deemed worthy to succeed and remove not the boundaries which our Fathers have laid down, nor put aside in any way the plainness of our simpler proclamation in favour of their subtler school. Walk by the primitive rule of the Faith: and the God of peace shall be with you, and ye shall be strong in mind and body. May God keep you uncorrupted, is our prayer.
This Letter was published, Paris 1606, by R. Stephens (not the great lexicographer), who also translated On Pilgrimages into French for Du Moulin (see p. 382): and this edition was reprinted a year after at Hanover, with notes by Isaac Casaubon, “viro docto, sed quod dolendum, in castris Calvinianis militanti” (Gretser). Heyns places it in 382, and Rupp also.542:2243
σωτήρια σύμβολα. Casaubon remarks “hoc est τοῦ σωτῆρος, Salvatoris, non autem σωτηρίας ποιητικὰ.” This is itself doubtful; and he also makes the astounding statement that both Jerome, Augustine, and the whole primitive Church felt that visits to the Sacred Places contributed nothing to the alteration of character. But see especially Jerome, De Peregrinat., and Epistle to Marcella. Fronto Ducæus adds, “At, velis nolis, σωτήρια sunt illa loca: tum quia aspectu sui corda ad pœnitentiam et salutares lacrymas non raro commovent, ut patet de Mariâ Ægyptiacâ; tum quia…”542:2244
ἐπουράνιον πολίτειαν. Even Casaubon (against Du Moulin here) allows this to mean the ascetic or monastic Life; “sublimius propositum.” Cf. Macarius. Hom. v. p. 85. ἐνάρετος πολιτεία: Isidore of Pelusium, lib. 1, c. xiv, πνευματικὴ πολιτεία.542:2245
1 John 5.19John v. 19.542:2246
ψιλῆς: this word expresses the absence of something, without implying any contempt: cf. ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος, ψιλὸς λόγος (prose).542:2247
τοῖς τῶν φολίδων στίγμασιν. For στίγμα with this meaning and connexion, see Hesiod, Scutum. 166.543:2249
Ps. lxxxii. 5.543:2250
1 Pet. ii. 22.544:2251
Compare Gregory against Apollinaris (Ad Theophil. iii. 265): “The first-fruits of humanity assumed by omnipotent Deity were, like a drop of vinegar merged in a boundless ocean, found still in that Deity, but not in their own distinctive properties: otherwise we should be obliged to think of a duality of Sons.” In Orat. Cat. c. 10, he says that the Divine nature is to be conceived as having been so united with the human, as flame is with its fuel, the former extending beyond the latter, as our souls also overstep the limits of our bodies. The first of these passages appeared to Hooker (V. liii. 2) to be “so plain and direct for Eutyches,” that he doubted whether the words were Gregorys. But at the Council of Ephesus, S. Cyril (of Alexandria), in his contest with the Nestorians, had showed that these expressions were capable of a Catholic interpretation, and pardonable in discussing the difficult and mysterious question of the union of the Two Natures.544:2252
S. Matt. xxviii. 6. “Come see the place where the Lord lay.” Cf. S. John 20:2, 13.544:2253
“Here is the true vicariousness of the Atonement, which consisted not in the substitution of His punishment for ours, but in His offering the sacrifice which man had neither the purity nor the power to offer. From out of the very heart or centre of human nature…there is raised the sinless sacrifice of perfect humanity by the God Man.…It is a representative sacrifice, for it consists of no unheard-of experience, of no merely symbolic ceremony, but of just those universal incidents of suffering, which, though he must have felt them with a bitterness unknown to us, are intensely human.” Lux Mundi, p. 218.544:2254
As early as 250, Dionysius of Alexandria, in his letter to Paul of Samosata, frequently speaks of ἡ θεοτόκος Μαρία. Later, in the Council of Ephesus (430), it was decreed that “the immaculate and ever-Virgin mother of our Lord should be called properly (κυρίως) and really θεοτόκος,” against the Nestorian title χριστοτόκος. Cf. Theodoret. Anath. I. tom. iv. p. 709, “We call Mary not Mother of Man, but Mother of God;” and Greg. Naz. Or. li. p. 738. “If any one call not Mary Mother of God he is outside divinity.”544:2256
μὴ τρεῖς ἀναστάσεις μυθοποιοῦμεν; For the first Resurrection (of the Soul in Baptism) and the second (of the Body), see Rev. xx. 5, with Bishop Wordsworths note.544:2257
i.e.Cæsarea in Cappadocia.544:2258
Basil, probably: who after Cyrils exile had been called in to heal the heresy of Apollinaris, which was spreading in the convents at Jerusalem. The factious purism, however, which Gregory deplores here, and which led to rival altars, seems to have evinced itself amongst the orthodox themselves, “quo majorem apud omnes opinionem de suâ præstantiâ belli isti cathari excitarent” (Casaubon). Cyril, it is true, had returned this year, 382; and spent the last years of his life in his see; but with more than twenty years interval of Arian rule (Herennius, Heraclius, and Hilarius, according to Sozomen) the communities of the Catholics must have suffered from want of a constant control: and unity was always difficult to maintain in a city frequented by all the ecclesiastics of the world. Gregory must have “succeeded” to this charge in his visit to Jerusalem after the Council of Antioch in 379, to which he refers in his letter On Pilgrimages: but it is possible that he had paid even an earlier visit: see Letter XIV. p. 539, note 5.
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