Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume VIII/The Letters/Letter 241
To the Presbyters of Nicopolis.
1. You have done quite right in sending me a letter, and in sending it by the hands of one who, even if you had not written, would have been perfectly competent to give me considerable comfort in all my anxieties, and an authentic report as to the position of affairs. Many vague rumours were continually reaching me, and therefore I was desirous of getting information on many points from some one able to give it through accurate knowledge. Touching all these I have received a satisfactory and intelligent narrative from our well-beloved and honourable brother Theodosius the presbyter. I now write to your reverences the advice which I give myself, for in many respects our positions are identical; and that not only at the present moment, but in times gone by too, as many instances may prove. Of some of these we possess records in writing; others we have received through unwritten recollection from persons acquainted with the facts. We know how, for the sake of the name of the Lord, trials have beset alike individuals and cities that have put their trust in Him. Nevertheless, one and all have passed away, and the distress caused by the days of darkness has not been everlasting. For just as when hail-storm and flood, and all natural calamities, at once injure and destroy things that have no strength, while they are only themselves affected by falling on the strong, so the terrible trials set in action against the Church have been proved feebler than the firm foundation of our faith in Christ. The hail-storm has passed away; the torrent has rushed over its bed; clear sky has taken the place of the former, and the latter has left the course without water and dry, over which it travelled, and has disappeared in the deep. So, too, in a little while the storm, now bursting upon us, will cease to be. But this will be on the condition of our being willing not to look to the present, but to gaze in hope at the future somewhat further off.
2. Is the trial heavy, my brethren? Let us endure the toil. No one who shuns the blows and the dust of battle wins a crown. Are those mockeries of the devil, and the enemies sent to attack us, insignificant? They are troublesome because they are his ministers, but contemptible because God has in them combined wickedness with weakness. Let us beware of being condemned for crying out too loud over a little pain. Only one thing is worth anguish, the loss of one’s own self, when for the sake of the credit of the moment, if one can really call making a public disgrace of one’s self credit, one has deprived one’s self of the everlasting reward of the just. You are children of confessors; you are children of martyrs; you have resisted sin unto blood. Use, each one of you, the examples of those near and dear to you to make you brave for true religion’s sake. No one of us has been torn by lashes; no one of us has suffered confiscation of his house; we have not been driven into exile; we have not suffered imprisonment. What great suffering have we undergone, unless peradventure it is grievous that we have suffered nothing, and have not been reckoned worthy of the sufferings of Christ? But if you are grieved because one whom I need not name occupies the house of prayer, and you worship the Lord of heaven and earth in the open air, remember that the eleven disciples were shut up in the upper chamber, when they that had crucified the Lord were worshipping in the Jews’ far-famed temple. Peradventure, Judas, who preferred death by hanging to life in disgrace, proved himself a better man than those who now meet universal condemnation without a blush.
3. Only do not be deceived by their lies when they claim to be of the right faith. They are not Christians, but traffickers in Christ, always preferring their profit in this life to living in accordance with the truth. When they thought that they should get this empty dignity, they joined the enemies of Christ: now that they have seen the indignation of the people, they are once more for pretending orthodoxy. I do not recognise as bishop—I would not count among Christ’s clergy—a man who has been promoted to a chief post by polluted hands, to the destruction of the faith. This is my decision. If you have any part with me, you will doubtless think as I do. If you take counsel on your own responsibility, every man is master of his own mind, and I am innocent of this blood. I have written thus, not because I distrust you, but that by declaring my own mind I may strengthen some men’s hesitation, and prevent any one from being prematurely received into communion, or after receiving the laying on of hands of our enemies, when peace is made, later on, trying to force me to enroll them in the ranks of the sacred ministry. Through you I salute the clergy of the city and diocese, and all the laity who fear the Lord.
- Placed in 376.
- cf. Heb. xii. 4.
- κατεξάνθη. cf. the use of καταξαίνω (=card or comb) in the Letter of the Smyrneans on the Martyrdom of Polycarp, § 2, “They were so torn by lashes that the mechanism of their flesh was visible, even as far as the veins and arteries.” cf. note, p. 2, on the difference between the persecution of the Catholics by Valens and that of the earlier Christians by earlier emperors, though exile and confiscation were suffered in Basil’s time.
- cf. Acts v. 41.
- χριστέμποροι. cf. the use of the cognate subst. χριστεμ πορία in the letter of Alexander of Alexandria in Theodoret, Ecc. Hist. i. 3. χριστέμπορος occurs in the Didache, § 12, and in the Pseud. Ig., e.g., ad Mag. ix.
- ἱερεῦσι. cf. note in Letter liv. p. 157.
- cf. Matt. iv. 24.