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Fathers of the Church

Epistle IV


Gregory wrote this letter in answer to Basil's Epistle XIV. He describes the countryside surrounding Basil's home in a satirical manner.


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

You may mock and pull to pieces my affairs, whether in jest or in earnest. This is a matter of no consequence; only laugh, and take your fill of culture, and enjoy my friendship. Everything that comes from you is pleasant to me, no matter what it may be, and how it may look. For I think you are chaffing about things here, not for the sake of chaffing, but that you may draw me to yourself, if I understand you at all; just like people who block up streams in order to draw them into another channel. That is how your sayings always seem to me.

For my part I will admire your Pontus and your Pontic darkness, and your dwelling place so worthy of exile, and the hills over your head, and the wild beasts which test your faith, and your sequestered spot that lies under them ... or as I should say your mousehole with the stately names of Abode of Thought, Monastery, School; and your thickets of wild bushes, and crown of precipitous mountains, by which may you be, not crowned but, cloistered; and your limited air; and the sun, for which you long, and can only see as through a chimney, O sunless Cimmerians of Pontus, who are condemned not only to a six months' night, as some are said to be, but who have not even a part of your life out of the shadow, but all your life is one long night, and a real shadow of death, to use a Scripture phrase. And admire your strait and narrow road, leading ... I know not if it be to the Kingdom, or to Hades, but for your sake I hope it is the Kingdom ... And as for the intervening country, what is your wish? Am falsely to call it Eden, and the fountain divided into four heads, by which the world is watered, or the dry and waterless wilderness (only what Moses will come to tame it, bringing water out of the rock with his staff)? For all of it which has escaped the rocks is full of gullies; and that which is not a gully is a thicket of thorns; and whatever is above the thorns is a precipice; and the road above that is precipitous, and slopes both ways, exercising the mind of travellers, and calling for gymnastic exercises for safety. And the river rushes roaring down, which to you is a Strymon of Amphipolis for quietness, and there are not so many fishes in it as stones, nor does it flow into a lake, but it dashes into abysses, O my grandiloquent friend and inventor of new names. For it is great and terrible, and overwhelms the psalmody of those who live above it; like the Cataracts and Catadoupa of the Nile, so does it roar you down day and night. It is rough and fordless; and it has only this morsel of kindness about it, that it does not sweep away your dwelling when the torrents and winter storms make it mad. This then is what I think of those Fortunate Islands and of you happy people. And you are not to admire the crescent-shaped curves which strangle rather than cut off the accessible parts of your Highlands, and the strip of mountain ridge that hangs over your heads, and makes your life like that of Tantalus; and the draughty breezes, and the vent-holes of the earth, which refresh your courage when it fails; and your musical birds that sing (but only of famine), and fly about (but only about the desert). No one visits it, you say, except for hunting; you might add, and except to look upon your dead bodies. This is perhaps too long for a letter, but it is too short for a comedy. If you can take my jokes kindly you will do well, but if not, I will send you some more.

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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