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St Gregory of Nyssa On Pilgrimages, Complete

Translated by W. Moore and H. A. Wilson

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On Pilgrimages. [1581]



Since, my friend, you ask me a question in your letter, I think that it is incumbent upon me to answer you in their proper order upon all the points connected with it. It is, then, my opinion that it is a good thing for those who have dedicated themselves once for all to the higher life to fix their attention continually upon the utterances in the Gospel, and, just as those who correct their work in any given material by a rule, and by means of the straightness of that rule bring the crookedness which their hands detect to straightness, so it is right that we should apply to these questions a strict and flawless measure as it were,--I mean, of course, the Gospel rule of life [1582] ,--and in accordance with that, direct ourselves in the sight of God. Now there are some amongst those who have entered upon the monastic and hermit life, who have made it a part of their devotion to behold those spots at Jerusalem where the memorials of our Lord's life in the flesh are on view; it would be well, then, to look to this Rule, and if the finger of its precepts points to the observance of such things, to perform the work, as the actual injunction of our Lord; but if they lie quite outside the commandment of the Master, I do not see what there is to command any one who has become a law of duty to himself to be zealous in performing any of them. When the Lord invites the blest to their inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, He does not include a pilgrimage to Jerusalem amongst their good deeds; when He announces the Beatitudes, He does not name amongst them that sort of devotion. But as to that which neither makes us blessed nor sets us in the path to the kingdom, for what reason it should be run after, let him that is wise consider. Even if there were some profit in what they do, yet even so, those who are perfect would do best not to be eager in practising it; but since this matter, when closely looked into, is found to inflict upon those who have begun to lead the stricter life a moral mischief, it is so far from being worth an earnest pursuit, that it actually requires the greatest caution to prevent him who has devoted himself to God from being penetrated by any of its hurtful influences. What is it, then, that is hurtful in it? The Holy Life is open to all, men and women alike. Of that contemplative Life the peculiar mark is Modesty [1583] . But Modesty is preserved in societies that live distinct and separate, so that there should be no meeting and mixing up of persons of opposite sex; men are not to rush to keep the rules of Modesty in the company of women, nor women to do so in the company of men. But the necessities of a journey are continually apt to reduce this scrupulousness to a very indifferent observance of such rules. For instance, it is impossible for a woman to accomplish so long a journey without a conductor; on account of her natural weakness she has to be put upon her horse and to be lifted down again; she has to be supported [1584] in difficult situations.

[1581] The modern history of this Letter is curious. Its genuineness though suspected by Bellarmine, is admitted by Tillemont, and even by Caesar Baronius. After having been edited by Morel in Greek and Latin, 1551, it was omitted from his son's edition of the works of Gregory by the advice of Fronto Ducaeus, lest it should seem to reflect upon the practice of pilgrimages. But in 1607 it was again edited (Hannov.) by Du Moulin, with a defence of it, and a translation into French by R. Stephen: this is the only instance of a vernacular version of Gregory at this time, and shows the importance attached to this Letter. It appears in the second Paris Edition, but with the vehement protests, printed in the notes, of the Jesuit Gretser, against Du Moulin's interpretation of its scope, and even against its genuineness. He makes much of its absence from the Bavarian (Munich) Cod., and of the fact that even "heretical printers" had omitted it from the Basle Edition of 1562: and he is very angry with Du Moulin for not having approached the Royal Library while in Paris, and while he had leisure from his "Calvinistic evening communions." But why should he, when the Librarian, no less a person than I. Casaubon (appointed 1598), had assured him that the Letter was in the Codex Regius? It is in Migne iii. col. 1009. See Letter to Eustathia, &c.

[1582] politeian, "vivendi rationem." Cf. Basil, Homil. xiii.

[1583] he euschemosune

[1584] parakratoumene; cf. Epict. (cited by Diosc.) tas trichas rheousas parakratein, "to stop the hair from falling off."

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