Fathers of the Church

Epistle XLI: to the People of Caesarea, in His Father's Name

Description

Gregory casts his vote for Basil in the election of the Metropolitan.

Provenance

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 many cases not without humor, and most of them are brief and pointed. (Quasten)

On the death of Eusebius Basil seems to have formed a desire that his friend Gregory should succeed to the vacant Metropolitanate; and so he wrote to him, without mentioning the death of the Archbishop, to come to him at Caesarea, representing himself as dangerously ill. Gregory, deeply grieved at the news, set off at once, but had not proceeded far on his way when he learned that Basil was in his usual health, and that the Bishops of the Province were assembling at Caesarea for the Election of a Metropolitan. He saw through the artifice at once; and thinking that Basil had wished to secure his presence at the Metropolis in order that his influence might bring about his own (Basil's) Election, he wrote him the following indignant letter. Nevertheless both he and his father felt that no one was so well fitted to succeed to the vacant throne; and so Gregory wrote in his father's name the three letters (XLI, XLIII, XLII), addressed respectively to the people of Caesarea, to the Bishops attending the Synod, and to Eusebius Bishop of Samosata.

by Gregory Nazianzen in 370 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A

I am a little shepherd, and preside over a tiny flock, and I am among the least of the servants of the Spirit. But Grace is not narrow, or circumscribed by place. Wherefore let freedom of speech be given even to the small,—especially when the subject matter is of such great importance, and one in which all are interested—even to deliberate with men of hoary hairs, who speak with perhaps greater wisdom than the ordinary run of men. You are deliberating on no ordinary or unimportant matter, but on one by which the common interest must necessarily be promoted or injured according to the decision at which you arrive. For our subject matter is the Church, for which Christ died, and the guide who is to present it and lead it to God. For the light of the body is the eye,(a) as we have heard; not only the bodily eye which sees and is seen, but that which contemplates and is contemplated spiritually. But the light of the Church is the Bishop, as is evident to you even without our writing it. As then the straightness or crookedness of the course of the body depends upon the clearness or dulness of the eye, so must the Church necessarily share the peril or safety incurred by the conduct of its Chief. You must then take thought for the whole Church as the Body of Christ, but more especially for your own, which was from the beginning and is now the Mother of almost all the Churches, to which all the Commonwealth looks, like a circle described round a centre, not only because of its orthodoxy proclaimed of old to all, but also because of the grace of unanimity so evidently bestowed upon it by God. You then have summoned us also to your discussion of this matter, and so are acting rightly and canonically. But we are oppressed by age and infirmity, and if we by the strength given us by the Holy Ghost could be present (nothing is incredible to them that believe), this would be best for the common welfare and most pleasant to ourselves, that we might confer something on you, and ourselves have a part of the blessing; but if I should be kept away through weakness, I will give at any rate whatever can be given by one who is absent.

I believe that there are others among you worthy of the Primacy, both because of the greatness of your city, and because it has been governed in times past so excellently and by such great men; but there is one man among you to whom I cannot prefer any, our son well beloved of God, Basil the Priest (I speak before God as my witness); a man of pure life and word, and alone, or almost alone, of all qualified in both respects to stand against the present times, and the prevailing wordiness of the heretics. I write this to men of the priestly and monastic Orders, and also to the dignitaries and councillors, and to the whole people. If you should approve it, and my vote should prevail, being so just and right, and given with God's aid, I am and will be with you in spirit; or rather I have already set my hand to the work and am bold in the Spirit. But if you should not agree with me, but determine something else, and if the matter is to be settled by cliques and relationships, and if the hand of the mob is again to disturb the sincerity of your vote, do what pleases you—I shall stay at home.

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.