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St Gregory of Nyssa On the Early Deaths of Infants, Complete

Translated by W. Moore and H. A. Wilson

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But if some one says that such a life does not only exist, but exists as one of the good ones, and that God gives, though He does not repay, what is good to such, we may ask what sort of reason he advances for this partiality; how is justice apparent in such a view; how will he prove his idea in concordance with the utterances in the Gospels? There (the Master) says, the acquisition of the Kingdom comes to those who are deemed worthy of it, as a matter of exchange. "When ye have done such and such things, then it is right that ye get the Kingdom as a reward." But in this case there is no act of doing or of willing beforehand, and so what occasion is there for saying that these will receive from God any expected recompense? If one unreservedly accepts a statement such as that, to the effect that any so passing into life will necessarily be classed amongst the good, it will dawn upon him then that not partaking in life at all will be a happier state than living, seeing that in the one case the enjoyment of good is placed beyond a doubt even with barbarian parentage, or a conception from a union not legitimate; but he who has lived the span ordinarily possible to Nature gets the pollution of evil necessarily mingled more or less with his life, or, if he is to be quite outside this contagion, it will be at the price of much painful effort. For virtue is achieved by its seekers not without a struggle; nor is abstinence from the paths of pleasure a painless process to human nature. So that one of two probations must be the inevitable fate of him who has had the longer lease of life; either to combat here on Virtue's toilsome field, or to suffer there the painful recompense of a life of evil. But in the case of infants prematurely dying there is nothing of that sort; but they pass to the blessed lot at once, if those who take this view of the matter speak true. It follows also necessarily from this that a state of unreason is preferable to having reason, and virtue will thereby be revealed as of no value: if he who has never possessed it suffers no loss, so, as regards the enjoyment of blessedness, the labour to acquire it will be useless folly; the unthinking condition will be the one that comes out best from God's judgment. For these and such-like reasons you bid me sift the matter, with a view to our getting, by dint of a closely-reasoned inquiry, some firm ground on which to rest our thoughts about it.

For my part, in view of the difficulties of the subject proposed, I think the exclamation of the Apostle very suitable to the present case, just as he uttered it over unfathomable questions: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord [1542] ?" But seeing on the other hand that that Apostle declares it to be a peculiarity of him that is spiritual to "judge all things [1543] ," and commends those who have been "enriched [1544] " by the Divine grace "in all utterance and in all knowledge," I venture to assert that it is not right to omit the examination which is within the range of our ability, nor to leave the question here raised without making any inquiries, or having any ideas about it; lest, like the actual subject of our proposed discussion, this essay should have an ineffectual ending, spoilt before its maturity by the fatal indolence of those who will not nerve themselves to search out the truth, like a new-born infant ere it sees the light and acquires any strength.

[1542] Rom. xi. 33, 34.

[1543] 1 Cor. ii. 15.

[1544] 1 Cor. i. 5.

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