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St Gregory of Nyssa Letters, Complete

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Letters [2161] .



Letter I.--To Eusebius [2162] .

When the length of the day begins to expand in winter-time, as the sun mounts to the upper part of his course, we keep the feast of the appearing of the true Light divine, that through the veil of flesh has cast its bright beams upon the life of men: but now when that luminary has traversed half the heaven in his course, so that night and day are of equal length, the upward return of human nature from death to life is the theme of this great and universal festival, which all the life of those who have embraced the mystery of the Resurrection unites in celebrating. What is the meaning of the subject thus suggested for my letter to you? Why, since it is the custom in these general holidays for us to take every way to show the affection harboured in our hearts, and some, as you know, give proof of their good will by presents of their own, we thought it only right not to leave you without the homage of our gifts, but to lay before your lofty and high-minded soul the scanty offerings of our poverty. Now our offering which is tendered for your acceptance in this letter is the letter itself, in which there is not a single word wreathed with the flowers of rhetoric or adorned with the graces of composition, to make it to be deemed a gift at all in literary circles, but the mystical gold, which is wrapped up in the faith of Christians, as in a packet [2163] , must be my present to you, after being unwrapped, as far as possible, by these lines, and showing its hidden brilliancy. Accordingly we must return to our prelude. Why is it that then only, when the night has attained its utmost length, so that no further addition is possible, that He appears in flesh to us, Who holds the Universe in His grasp, and controls the same Universe by His own power, Who cannot be contained even by all intelligible things, but includes the whole, even at the time that He enters the narrow dwelling of a fleshly tabernacle, while His mighty power thus keeps pace with His beneficent purpose, and shows itself even as a shadow wherever the will inclines, so that neither in the creation of the world was the power found weaker than the will, nor when He was eager to stoop down to the lowliness of our mortal nature did He lack power to that very end, but actually did come to be in that condition, yet without leaving the universe unpiloted [2164] ?

[2161] The first fourteen of these Letters have been once edited; i.e. by Zacagni (Rome, 1698), from the Vatican ms. See Prolegomena, p. 30. They are found also in the Medicean ms., of which Bandinus gives an accurate account, and which is much superior, on the authority of Caraccioli, who saw both, to the Vatican. Zacagni did not see the Medicean: but many of his felicitous emendations of the Vatican lacunae correspond with it. They are here translated by the late Reverend Harman Chaloner Ogle, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford (Ireland Scholar), who died suddenly (1887), to the grief of very many, and the irreparable loss to scholarship, on the eve of his departure to aid the Mission of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Armenian Church. The notes added by him are signed with his initials.

[2162] Sent as an Easter present to Eusebius, bishop of Chalcis, in Coele-Syria, a staunch Catholic, who attended the Council of Constantinople. For this custom amongst the Eastern Christians of exchanging presents at the great festivals, cf. On the Making of Man (p. 387), which Gregory sent to his brother Peter: Gregory Naz. Letter 54 to Helladius, and Letter 87 to Theodore of Tyana.

[2163] apodesmo.

[2164] Evidently an allusion to the myth in Plato.

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