A few more letters of Isidore of Pelusium

Isidore seems to be an unrecognised spiritual classic.  The more of his letters I read, the more clear this seems to me, and the more obvious the need for a good plain English translation, with enough footnotes to make it possible to follow the intertwined threads. 

Today I got the first volume of the Sources Chrétiennes edition from an inter-library loan.   What a relief to have clearly printed Greek!  Interestingly the editor, Pierre Evieux, says that he intends to release a monograph on the manuscripts, and that this is “far advanced.”  I don’t think he did, so wonder where the draft text is.

Anyway, here are a few more letters.  Enjoy!  I give the manuscript letter number first, then the Migne book/letter no.

1214 (V.1) TO ANTIOCHUS.

The indispositions of the body originate from excess. Indeed, when its elements exceed their own limits and are suddenly put out of order, then there is illness, and a painful death. But the same goes for the soul. If we precipitately pass from a balanced life into a disordered one, we end up swollen with pride and reduced to slavery: the first hateful and the other risible. By mixing these opposite evils, arrogance with adulation, we earn hatred and we make others laugh. But if we prune whatever excess there is in things we try, we will be as humble when necessary, we will ascend without risk of falling. Such is indeed our philosophy, which links modesty and grandeur in a single choice: modesty in not rising by stepping on others; greatness, while allowing no-one to flatter us.

Antiochus is a scholasticus, evidently a man on the rise in society. 

Rotten bishops and their side-kicks are a perennial problem, as is getting other bishops in the same area to do anything about them.  The three bishops that follow held sees in the area of Pelusium.  Zosimus and co were clergmen in the diocese of Pelusium, whose bishop Eusebius was a rotter.  Isidore, like any honest man, could be impatient.

1215 (V.2) TO HERMOGENES, LAMPETIUS, AND LEONTIUS, BISHOPS.

If indeed, like Zosimus, Eustathius and Maron, people who don’t have a shred of honesty, who never bother about the facts, or listen to the advice of others, but find themselves thrown into a perdition recognized by everyone, it is superfluous, according to you, to discuss what it is necessary to do, then you should indeed ask God in your prayers to tell you quickly how to draw them out of the abyss of vice; because, apparently, that is God’s business.

Meanwhile Isidore was writing to others. In his letter to Paul, an important pagan in the district, who received several letters, he alludes to Homer (n. 1: Iliad IV,350; XIII,729; Odyssey 8,167):

1216 (V.3) TO PAUL

If riches, beauty, strength, glory, power, everything we find beautiful, are soon consumed and dissipate like smoke, who is insane enough to put his self-satisfaction and his pride in just one of these advantages, when we see that he who has them all at the same time being stripped and deprived of them, sometimes even of his life, in any case at his death? If someone doesn’t have them all — in fact, it’s impossible to have all of them together at the same time! (1) — how will he avoid being laughed at if he prides himself on shadows, dreams and vague illusions?

The priest Athanasius obviously wondered why human beings are not blessed with being all-knowing.  Isidore merely imagines what effect such a ‘blessing’ would have on people like you and I:

1217 (IV.82) TO ATHANASIUS

Personally, I find wise the things that you you claim are absurd. If everything in life was obvious, where would be the use of our intelligence? There would be no chance to seek things out. If nothing were unknown, then we would be completely lost: there would be nothing to discover. In reality from what is obvious we reason in a certain way to that which is not. And if what is not obvious still escapes us, we then gain thereby in lowering our self-satisfaction.

Simple pastoral advice is also part of the letters:

1218 (V.4) TO ZOSIMUS, PRIEST

It is necessary, my dear chap, to persuade your listeners by facts that the kingdom of heaven exists, and then to get those who listen to want it. However listeners let themselves be persuaded when they see their teacher acting in a way worthy of the kingdom. But if he philosophizes on the kingdom, while acting in a manner which deserves punishment, as you have done, how can he persuade his listeners? He acts like a man trying to persuade people to desire something which he has previously persuaded them does not exist!

2 thoughts on “A few more letters of Isidore of Pelusium

  1. “If nothing were unknown, then we would be completely lost: there would be nothing to discover.”

    Beautiful! (Where have you been all my life, Isidore?)

    This is very cool, Roger. Thank you.

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