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Fathers of the Church

Epistle LXXVII: to Theodore, Bishop of Tyana


Gregory wrote the following letter to dissuade him from this course, by shewing him how much more noble it is to forgive than to revenge.


Theodore, a native of Arianzus, and an intimate friend of Gregory, accompanied him to Constantinople A.D. 379, and shared his persecution by the Arians, who broke into their church during the celebration of the divine liturgy, and pelted the clergy with stones. Theodore could not bring himself to put up with this, and declared his intention of prosecuting the aggressors.

by Gregory Nazianzen in 379 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A

I hear that you are indignant at the outrages which have been committed on us by the Monks and the Mendicants. And it is no wonder, seeing that you never yet had felt a blow, and were without experience of the evils we have to endure, that you did feel angry at such a thing. But we as experienced in many sorts of evil, and as having had our share of insult, may be considered worthy of belief when we exhort Your Reverence, as old age teaches and as reason suggests. Certainly what has happened was dreadful, and more than dreadful,—no one will deny it: that our altars were insulted, our mysteries disturbed, and that we ourselves had to stand between the communicants and those who would stone them, and to make our intercessions a cure for stonings; that the reverence due to virgins was forgotten, and the good order of monks, and the calamity of the poor, who lost even their pity through ferocity. But perhaps it would be better to be patient, and to give an example of patience to many by our sufferings. For argument is not so persuasive of the world in general as is practice, that silent exhortation.

We think it an important matter to obtain penalties from those who have wronged us: an important matter, I say, (for even this is sometimes useful for the correction of others)—but it is far greater and more Godlike, to bear with injuries. For the former course curbs wickedness, but the latter makes men good, which is much better and more perfect than merely being not wicked. Let us consider that the great pursuit of mercifulness is set before us, and let us forgive the wrongs done to us that we also may obtain forgiveness, and let us by kindness lay up a store of kindness.

Phineas was called Zelotes because he ran through the Midianitish woman with the man who was committing fornication with her,(a) and because he took away the reproach from the children of Israel: but he was more praised because he prayed for the people when they had transgressed.(b) Let us then also stand and make propitiation, and let the plague be stayed, and let this be counted unto us for righteousness. Moses also was praised because he slew the Egyptian that oppressed the Israelite;(g) but he was more admirable because he healed by his prayer his sister Miriam when she was made leprous for her murmuring.(d) Look also at what follows. The people of Nineve are threatened with an overthrow, but by their tears they redeem their sin. (e) Manasses was the most lawless of Kings.(z) but is the most conspicuous among those who have attained salvation through mourning.

O Ephraim what shall I do unto thee,(h) saith God. What anger is here expressed—and yet protection is added. What is swifter than Mercy? The Disciples ask for flames of Sodom upon those who drive Jesus away, but He deprecates revenge.(th) Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus, one of those who outraged Him, but Jesus restores it.(k) And what of him who asks whether he must seven times forgive a brother if he has trespassed, is he not condemned for his niggardliness, for to the seven is added seventy times seven?(a) What of the debtor in the Gospel who will not forgive as he has been forgiven?(b) Is it not more bitterly exacted of him for this? And what saith the pattern of prayer? Does it not desire that forgiveness may be earned by forgiveness?

Having so many examples let us imitate the mercy of God, and not desire to learn from ourselves how great an evil is requital of sin. You see the sequence of goodness. First it makes laws, then it commands, threatens, reproaches, holds out warnings, restrains, threatens again, and only when forced to do so strikes the blow, but this little by little, opening the way to amendment. Let us then not strike suddenly (for it is not safe to do so), but being selfrestrained in our fear let us conquer by mercy, and make them our debtors by our kindness, tormenting them by their conscience rather than by anger. Let us not dry up a fig tree which may yet bear fruit,(g) nor condemn it as useless and cumbering the ground, when possibly the care and diligence of a skilful gardener may yet heal it. And do not let us so quickly destroy so great and glorious a work through what is perhaps the spite and malice of the devil; but let us choose to shew ourselves merciful rather than severe, and lovers of the poor rather than of abstract justice; and let us not make more account of those who would enkindle us to this than of those who would restrain us, considering, if nothing else, the disgrace of appearing to contend against mendicants who have this great advantage that even if they are in the wrong they are pitied for their misfortune. But as things are, consider that all the poor and those who support them, and all the Monks and Virgins are falling at your feet and praying you on their behalf. Grant to all these for them this favour (since they have sufferred enough as is clear by what they have asked of us) and above all to me who am their representative. And if it appear to you monstrous that we should have been dishonoured by them, remember that it is far worse that we should not be listened to by you when we make this request of you. May God forgive the noble Paulus his outrages upon us.

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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