Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Fathers of the Church

Epistle CXLI: to Olympius


The people of Nazianzus had in some way incurred the loss of civic rights; and the Order for the forfeiture of the title of City had been signed by Olympius. This led to something like a revolt on the part of a certain number of the younger citizens: and this Olympius determined to punish by the total destruction of the place. St. Gregory was again prevented by sickness from appearing in person before the Governor: but he pleaded the cause of his native city (using its official Latin name of Diocaesarea) in several letters so successfully as to induce Olympius to pardon the outbreak.


Olympius was Prefect of Cappadocia Secunda in 382, to whom Gregory wrote many letters asking favors for people or even cities.

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

Again an opportunity for kindness: and again I am bold enough to commit to a letter my entreaty about so important a matter. My illness makes me thus bold, for it does not even allow me to go out, and it does not permit me to make a fitting entrance to you. What then is my Embassy? Pray receive it from me gently and kindly. The death of a single man, who to-day is and to-morrow will not be and will not return to us is of course a dreadful thing. But it is much more dreadful for a City to die, which Kings rounded, and time compacted, and a long series of years has preserved. I speak of Diocaesarea, once a City, a City no longer, unless you grant it mercy. Think that this place now falls at your feet by me: let it have a voice, and be clothed in mourning and cut off its hair as in a tragedy, and let it speak to you in such words as these:

Give a hand to me that lie in the dust: help the strengthless: do not add the weight of your hand to time, nor destroy what the Persians have left me. It is more honourable to you to raise up cities than to destroy those that are distressed. Be my founder, either by adding to what I possess, or by preserving me as I am. Do not suffer that up to the time of your administration I should be a City, and after you should be so no longer: do not give occasion to after times to speak evil of you, that you received me numbered among cities, and left me an uninhabited spot, which was once a city, only recognizable by mountains and precipices and woods.

This let the City of my imagination do and say to your mercy. But deign to receive an exhortation from me as your friend: certainly chastise those who have rebelled against the Edict of your authority. On this behalf I am not bold to say anything, although this piece of audacity was not, they say, of universal design, but was only the unreasoning anger of a few young men. But dismiss the greater part of your anger, and use a larger reasoning. They were grieved for their Mother's being put to death; they could not endure to be called citizens, and yet to be without political rights: they were mad: they committed an offence against the law: they threw away their own safety: the unexpectedness of the calamity deprived them of reason. Is it really necessary that for this the city should cease to be a city? Surely not. Most excellent, do not write the order for this to be done. Rather respect the supplication of all citizens and statesmen and men of rank—for remember the calamity will touch all alike—even if the greatness of your authority keeps them silent, sighing as it were in secret. Respect also my gray hair: for it would be dreadful to me, after having had a great city, now to have none at all, and that after your government the Temple which we have raised to God, and our love for its adornment, is to become a dwelling for beasts. It is not a terrible thing if some statues were thrown down—though in itself it would be so—but I would not have you think that I am speaking of this, when all my care is for more important things: but it is dreadful if an ancient city is to be destroyed with them—one which has splendidly endured, as I, who am honoured by you, and am supposed to have some influence, have lived to see. But this is enough upon such a subject, for I shall not, if I speak at greater length, find anything stronger than your own reasons, by which this nation is governed—and may more and greater ones be governed by them too, and that in greater commands. This however it was needful that Your Magnanimity should know about those who have fallen before your feet, that they are altogether wretched and despairing, and have not shared in any disorder with those who have broken the law, as I am certified by many who were then present. Therefore deliberate what you may think expedient, both for your own reputation in this world, and your hopes in the next. We will bear what you determine—not indeed without grief—but we will bear it: for what else can we do? If the worse determination prevail, we shall be indignant, and shall shed a tear over our City that has ceased to be.

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.

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