Fathers of the Church
Letter VI: to the Wife of Nectarius
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. I HESITATED to address your excellency, from the idea that, just as to the eye when inflamed even the mildest of remedies causes pain, so to a soul distressed by heavy sorrow, words offered in the moment of agony, even though they do bring much comfort, seem to be somewhat out of place. But I bethought me that I should be speaking to a Christian woman, who has long ago learned godly lessons, and is not inexperienced in the vicissitudes of human life, and I judged it right not to neglect the duty laid upon me. I know what a mother's heart is, and when I remember how good and gentle yon are to all, I can reckon the probable extent of your misery at this present time. You have lost a son whom, while he was alive, all mothers called happy, with prayers that their own might be like him, and on his death bewailed, as though each bad hidden her own in the grave. His death is a blow to two provinces. both to mine and to Cilicia. With him has fallen a great and illustrious race, dashed to the ground as by the withdrawal of a prop. Alas for the mighty mischief that the contact with an evil demon was able to wreak! Earth, what a calamity thou hast been compelled to sustain! If the sun bad any feeling one would think he might have shuddered at so sad a sight. Who could utter all that the spirit in its helplessness would have said?
2. But our lives are not without a Providence. So we have learnt in the Gospel, for not a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of our Father. Whatever has come to pass has come to pass by the will of our Creator. And who can resist God's will? Let us accept what has befallen us; for if we take it ill we do not mend the past and we work our own ruin. Do not let us arraign the righteous judgment of God. We are all too untaught to assail His ineffable sentences. The Lord is now making trial of your love for Him. Now there is an opportunity for you, through your patience, to take the martyr's lot. The mother of the Maccabees saw the death of seven sons without a sigh, without even shedding one unworthy tear. She gave thanks to God for seeing them freed from the fetters of the flesh by fire and steel and cruel blows, and she won praise from God, and fame among men. The loss is great, as I can say myself; but great too are the rewards laid up by the Lord for the patient. When first you were made a mother, and saw your boy, and thanked God, you knew all the while that, a mortal yourself, you had given birth to a mortal. What is there astonishing in the death of a mortal? But we are grieved at his dying before his time. Are we sure that this was not his time? We do not know how to pick and choose what is good for our souls, or how to fix the limits of the life of man. Look round at all the world in which you live; remember that everything you see is mortal, and all subject to corruption. Look up to heaven; even it shall be dissolved; look at the sun, not even the sun will last for ever. All the stars together, all living things of land and sea, all that is fair on earth, aye, earth itself, all are subject to decay; yet a little while and all shall be no more. Let these considerations be some comfort to you in your trouble. Do not measure your loss by itself; if you do it will seem intolerable; but if you take all human affairs into account you will find that some comfort is to be derived from them. Above all, one thing I would strongly urge; spare your husband. Be a comfort to others. Do not make his trouble harder to bear by wearing yourself away with sorrow. Mere words I know cannot give comfort. Just now what is wanted is prayer; and I do pray the Lord Himself to touch your heart by His unspeakable power. and through good thoughts to cause light to shine upon your soul, that you may have a source of consolation in yourself.
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. (PNPF II/VIII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.