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Fathers of the Church

Epistle VI


Depsite previous letters written in jest (Epistles IV and V), Gregory expresses his intense desire to live the solitary life with Basil.


Gregory was the first Greek author to publish a collection of his letters; he did so at the request of Nicobulus, a grandson of his sister Gorgonia. Incidentally, he also sets forth a theory of epistolography; he demands that a good letter should have four characteristics: shortness, clearness, charm and simplicity. Although he refuses to present his own epistles as models, they are carefully written, in mnay cases not without humor, and most of them are brief and pointed. (Quasten)

Gregory opens one of his letters addressed to St. Basil with the sentence: "From the first I have taken you, and I take you still, for my guide of life and my teacher of dogma." With these words Gregory himself acknowledges his obligation to the great bishop of Caesarea. (Quasten) The two were friends from their youth, and maintained an active correspondence throughout most of their adult lives.

by Gregory Nazianzen in 361 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A

What I wrote before about our stay in Pontus was in joke, not in earnest; what I write now is very much in earnest. O that one would place me as in the month of those former days,(a) in which I luxuriated with you in hard living; since voluntary pain is more valuable than involuntary delight. O that one would give me back those psalmodies and vigils and those sojournings with God in prayer, and that immaterial, so to speak, and unbodied life. O for the intimacy and one-souledness of the brethren who were by you divinized and exalted: O for the contest and incitement of virtue which we secured by written Rules and Canons; O for the loving labour in the Divine Oracles, and the light we found in them by the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Or, if I may speak of lesser and slighter matters, O for the daily courses and experiences; O for the gatherings of wood, and the cutting of stone; O for the golden plane-tree, more precious than that of Xerxes, under which sat, not a King enfeebled by luxury, but a Monk worn out by hard life, which I planted and Apollos (I mean your honourable self) watered;(a) but God gave the increase to our honour, that a memorial might remain among you of my diligence, as in the Ark we read and believe, did Aaron's rod that budded.(b) To long for all this is very easy, but it is not easy to attain it. But do you come to me, and conspire with me in virtue, and co-operate with me, and aid me by your prayers to keep the profit which we used to get together, that I may not perish by little and little, like a shadow as the day draws to its close. I would rather breathe you than the air, and only live while I am with you, either actually in your presence, or virtually by your likeness in your absence.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/VII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.