Fathers of the Church
Letter XIV. to Alexandra
by Theodoret in Unknown | translated by Blomfield Jackson
Had I only considered the character of the loss which you have sustained, I should have wanted consolation myself, not only because I count that what concerns you concerns me, be it agreeable or otherwise, but because I did so dearly love that admirable and truly excellent man. But the divine decree has removed him from us and translated him to the better life. I therefore scatter the cloud of sorrow from my soul, and urge you, my worthy friend, to vanquish the pain of your sorrow by the power of reason, and to bring your soul in this hour of need under the spell of God's word. Why from our very cradles do we suck the instruction of the divine Scriptures, like milk from the breast, but that, when trouble falls upon us, we may be able to apply the teaching of the Spirit as a salve for our pain? I know how sad, how very grievous it is, when one has experienced the worth of some loved object, suddenly to be deprived of it, and to fall in a moment from happiness to misery. But to them that are gifted with good sense, and use their powers of right reason, no human contingency comes quite unforeseen; nothing human is stable; nothing lasting; nor beauty, nor wealth, nor health, nor dignity; nor any of all those things that most men rank so high. Some men fall from a summit of opulence to lowest poverty; some lose their health and struggle with various forms of disease; some who are proud of the splendour of their lineage drag the crushing yoke of slavery. Beauty is spoilt by sickness and marred by old age, and very wisely has the supreme Ruler suffered none of these things to continue nor abide, with the intent that their possessors, in fear of change, may lower their proud looks, and, knowing how all such possessions ebb and flow, may cease to put their confidence in what is short lived and fleeting, and may fix their hopes upon the Giver of all good. I am aware, my excellent friend, that you know all this, and I beg you to reflect on human nature; you will find that it is mortal, and received the doom of death from the beginning. It was to Adam that God said "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." The giver of the law is He that never lies, and experience witnesses to His truth. Divine Scripture tells us "all men have one entrance into life and the like going out," and every one that is born awaits the grave. And all do not live a like length of time; some men come to an end fill too soon; some in the vigour of manhood, and some after they have experienced the trials of old age. Thus, too, they who have taken on them the marriage yoke are loosed from it, and it must needs be that either husband first depart or wife reach this life's end before him. Some have but just entered the bridal chamber when their lot is weeping and lamentation; some live together a little while. Enough to remember that the grief is common to give reason ground for overcoming grief. Besides all this, even they who are mastered by bitterest sorrow may be comforted by the thought that the departed was the father of sons; that he left them grown up; that he had attained a very high position, and in it, so far from giving any cause for envy, made men love him the more, and left behind him a reputation for liberality, for hatred of all that is bad, for gentleness and indeed for every kind of moral virtue.
But what excuse for despondency will be left us if we take to heart God's own promises and the hopes of Christians; the resurrection, I mean, eternal life, continuance in the kingdom, and all that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him"? Does not the Apostle say emphatically, "I would not have you to be ignorant brethren concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope"? I have known many men who even without hope have got the better of their grief by the force of reason alone, and it would indeed be extraordinary if they who are supported by such a hope should prove weaker than they who have no hope at all. Let us then, I implore you, look at the end as a long journey. When he went on a Journey we used indeed to be sorry, but we waited his return. Now let the separation sadden us indeed in some degree, for I am not exhorting what is contrary to human nature, but do not let us wail as over a corpse; let us rather congratulate him on his setting forth and his departure hence, because he is now free from a world of uncertainties, and fears no further change of soul or booty or of corporeal conditions. The strife now ended, he waits for his reward. Grieve not overmuch for orphanhood and widowhood. We have a greater Guardian whose law it is that all should take good care of orphans and widows and about whom the divine David says "The Lord relieveth the fatherless and widow, but the way of the wicked He turneth upside down. Only let us put the rudders of our lives in His hands, and we shall meet with an unfailing Providence. His guardianship will be surer than can be that of any man, for His are the words "Can a woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yet will I not forget thee." He is nearer to us than father and mother for He is our Maker and Creator. It is not marriage that makes fathers, but fathers are made fathers at His will.
I am now compelled thus to write because my bonds do not suffer me to hasten to you, but your most God-loving and most holy bishop is able unaided to give all consolation to your very faithful soul by word and by deed, by sight and by communication of thought and by that spiritual and God-given wisdom of his whereby I trust the tempest of your grief will be lulled to sleep.
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. (NPNF II/III, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.