Fathers of the Church
Letter CCLXIX: to the Wife of Ariathaeus, the General
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. IT had been only proper, and due to your affection, that I should have been on the spot, and have taken part in the present occurrences. Thus I might have at once assuaged my own sorrow, and given some consolation to your excellency. But my body will no longer endure long journeys, and so I am driven to approach you by letter, that I seem not to count what has happened as altogether of no interest to me. Who has not mourned for that man? Who is so stony of heart as not to have shed a warm tear over him? I especially have been filled with mourning at the thought of all the marks of respect which I have received from him, and of the general protection which he has extended to the Churches of God. Nevertheless, I have bethought me that he was human, and had done the work he had to do in this life, and now in the appointed time has been taken back again by God Who ordains our lots. All this, I beseech you, in your wisdom, to take to heart, and to meet the event with meekness, and, so far as is possible, to endure your loss with moderation. Time may be able to soothe your heart, and allow the approach of reason. At the same time your great love for your husband, and year goodness to all, lead me to fear that, from the very simplicity of your character, the wound of your grief may pierce yon deeply, and that yon may give yourself up entirely to your feelings. The teaching of Scripture is always useful, and specially at times like this. Remember, then, the sentence passed by our Creator. By it all we who are dust shall return to dust. No one is so great as to be superior to dissolution.
2. Your admirable husband was a good and great man, and his bodily strength rivalled the virtues of his soul. He was unsurpassed, I must own, in both respects. But he was human, and he is dead; like Adam. like Abel, like Noah, like Abraham, like Moses, or any one else of like nature that you can name. Let us not then complain because he has been taken from us. Let us rather thank Him, who joined us to him, that we dwelt with him from the beginning. To lose a husband is a lot which you share with other women; but to have been united to such a husband is a boast which I do not think any other woman can make. In truth our Creator fashioned that man for us as a model of what human nature ought to be. All eyes were attracted towards him, and every tongue told of his deeds. Painters and sculptors fell short of his excellence, and historians, when they tell the story of his achievements in war, seem to fall into the region of the mythical and the incredible. Thus it has come about that most men have not even been able to give credit to the report conveying the sad tidings, or to accept the truth of the news that Arinthaeus is dead. Nevertheless Arinthaeus has suffered what will happen to heaven and to sun and to earth. He has died a bright death; not bowed down by old age; without losing one whir of his honour; great in this life; great in the life to come; deprived of nothing of his present splendour in view of the glory hoped for, because he washed away all the stain of his soul, in the very moment of his departure hence, in the layer of regeneration. That you should have arranged and joined in this rite is cause of supreme consolation. Turn now your thoughts from the present to the future, that you may be worthy through good works to obtain a place of rest like his. Spare an aged mother; spare a tender daughter, to whom you are now the sole comfort. Be an example of fortitude to other women, and so regulate your grief that you may neither eject it from your heart, nor be overwhelmed by your distress. Ever keep your eyes fixed on the great reward of patience, promised, as the requital of the deeds of this life, by our Lord Jesus Christ.
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.