Letters 97-101 of Isidore of Pelusium

LETTER XCVII — to Hymetios.  Against the Macedonians, or Spirit-Contesters.

It was in order to show the union of the most Holy Spirit with Himself and the Father said to the disciples that Our Lord and Master, after rising from the dead, said to his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive any ones’ sins, they are forgiven.”- namely, by the authority [1] of the divine Spirit you receive, who has divine power to remit sins.

LETTER XCVIII- to Frontinos the Monk.  Concerning him who received (a slap)on the cheek.

If you have been injured by words and given way to unrestrained anger, how can you become a worker in the Lord‘s Vineyard? For He determines that whosoever, struck on one cheek  [2], is capable also of presenting the other, is that one who “bears the oppressiveness of the day and its heat” [3] and who thus will have accomplishedall the labour of the Lord’s command. For if you aspire to those greater rewards, do not be distraught at the lesser toils, but learn to bear with love the greater ones, for you will not otherwise receive a penny unless witnessed to by the perfection of (your) own efforts.

LETTER XCIX- to Duke Gelasios

Concerning pride, impotence and insignificance

It is usual for human beings- at least for most, although foreign to divine legislation, to be puffed up by (noble) descent, practical wisdom, possessions, beauty or rank.[4] However it helps in no way the pride of those who are from earth and who again return to it. That you possess none at all of these qualities you will scarcely deny. If then you are deprived of all the things that cause one to swell and be puffed up, since you are of lowly extraction, poor, of weak intellect, [very] ordinary and ill-shaped,[5] why do you strut through the city, as though you were the most reputed of all, and become the author of many disturbances there? Rather get to know yourself and acquire a manner proportioned to your insignificance, or alternatively prepare yourself for efforts and dangers, with which those in power will reward you. For you are lacking in wealth, which frequently smoothes over the asperities of circumstances and the blows of fate.

LETTER C — to Syros the Reader

Against theNovatians

Say to the disciple of Novatian’s pride: why are you foolishly boasting as if [you were] clean? Why are you pretending that you are sinless? Why deny the (fault) common to nature? Isaiah declares himself unclean; David knows that every man is a liar and that all were conceived and carried in the womb in sin. God Himself knows that human beings are devotedly attached to evil and require only the mercy of divine kindness- and do you arrogantly boast of being clean? Either then give over lying or from what you are doing be exposed as a laughing-stock or indeed mightily shameful.

LETTER CI — to Theognostos, a newly-professed monk

Concerning the need always to be sober

You have grasped the ploughshare well and to the point. You are succeeding in escaping from suffocating [6] matter. You have stepped forth well towards a higher citizenship. Stand [7] therefore wide awake as a heavy-armed soldier, lest sleep slip in rendering you flabby and show you up as a deserter, which God forbid. For we are not unaware of the designs of the Evil One.

[1] The Greek relative pronoun could also refer to Christ, who is the initial subject and whose power to forgive is central to the NT. The translation would then read: by the authority of whose divine Spirit…
[2] Mt.5.39
[3] Mt.20.12 
[4] See L. Meridier, L’influence de la seconde sophistique sur l’œuvre de Grégoire de Nysse, Rennes, 1906.
[5] For a Christian writer’s effort to include ψογος in his rhetorical repertoire see J. Bernardi, Grégoire de Nazianze, Discours 4-5, Contre Julien, (Sources Chrétiennes 309) introduction p.15, Cerf, 1983.
[6] cf. Mk. 4,7
[7] cf. Plato, Ap. 28D

These letters were translated for us by Clive Sweeting — many thanks!


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