The orthodox faith
For the youth

GREGORY OF NYSSA: Life of Macrina

[960 A ] The form of this volume, if one may judge from its heading, is apparently epistolary, but its bulk exceeds that of a letter, extending as it does to the length of a book. My apology must be that the subject on which you bade me write is greater than can be compressed within the limits of a letter.
I am sure you do not forget our meeting, when, on my way to Jerusalem in pursuance of a vow, in order to see the relics of the Lord's sojourning in the flesh on the actual spots. [note: Reading [Greek: en tois topois] Migne has [Greek: en tois tupois] "in their impressions." The intention was not fulfilled until a year or two later, after his visit to the Church of Babylon.] I ran across you in the city of Antioch; and you must remember all the different talks we enjoyed, for it was not likely that our meeting would be a silent one, when your wit provided so many subjects for conversation. As often happens at such times, the [960 B] talk flowed on until we came to discuss the life of some famous person. In this case it was a woman who provided us with our subject ; if indeed she should be styled woman' for I do not know whether it is fitting to designate her by her sex, who so surpassed her sex. Our account of her was not based on the narrative of others' but our talk was an accurate description of what we had learned by personal experience nor did it need to be authenticated by strangers. Nor even was the virgin referred to unknown to our family circle' to make it necessary to learn the wonders of her life through others, but she came from the same parents as ourselves' being' so to speak 'an offering of firstfruits' since she was the earliest born of my mother's womb. As then you have decided that the story of her noble career is worth telling' to prevent such a life being unknown to our time, and the record of a woman who raised [960 C] herself by " philosophy '' [note: ' The use of the word " philosophy " to designate Christianity is common in the writings of the fourth century, and may perhaps be traced back to Origen's synthesis of the Gospel and philosophy. It is employed in a twofold sense, of the Christian religion generally and of asceticism in particular. Cf. Greg. Naz., Or., VII, 9 (describing the asceticism of his brother Cæsarius): " As philosophy is the greatest, so is it the most difficult, of professions, which can be taken in hand by but few, and only by those who have been called forth by the divine magnanimity." See a careful note in Boulenger, Gregoire de Nazianze, Discours funèbres (Paris, 1908), p. lvi.] to the greatest height of human virtue passing into the shades of useless oblivion, I thought it well to obey you' and in a few words, as best I can' to tell her story in unstudied and simple style.

The virgin's name was Macrina; she was so called by her parents after a famous Macrina some time before in the family' our father's mother' who had confessed Christ [962 A] like a good athlete in the time of the persecutions. This indeed was her name to the outside world' the one used by her friends. But another name had been given her privately' as the result of a vision before she was born into the world. For indeed her mother was so virtuous that she was guided on all occasions by the divine will. In particular she loved the pure and unstained mode of life so much that she was unwilling to be married. But since she had lost both her parents, and was in the very flower of her youthful beauty, and the fame of her good looks was attracting many suitors, and there was a danger that, if she were not mated to some one willingly, she might suffer some [962 B] unwished for violent fate' seeing that some men' inflamed by her beauty' were ready to abduct her-on this account she chose for her husband a man who was known and approved for the gravity of his conduct' and so gained a protector of her life.

At her first confinement she became the mother of Macrina. When the due time came for her pangs to be ended by delivery' she fell asleep and seemed to be carrying in her hands that which was still in her womb. And some one in form and raiment more splendid than a human being appeared and addressed the child she was carrying by the name of Thecla, that Thecla, I mean, who is so famous among the virgins. [note: Thecla was a contemporary of St. Paul, according to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which may well have been founded on fact. See article " Thecla " in Dictionary of Christian Biography, and the chapter on Thecla in Sir W. M. Ramsay's Church in the Roman Empire. ] After doing this and testifying to it three times, he departed from her sight and gave her easy delivery, so that at that moment she awoke from sleep and saw her dream realised. Now this name was used only in secret. But it [962 C] seems to me that the apparition spoke not so much to guide the mother to a right choice of name' as to forecast the life of the young child' and to indicate by the name that she would follow her namesake's mode of life.

Well, the child was reared. Although she had her own nurse, yet as a rule her mother did the nursing with her own hands. After passing the stage of infancy, she showed herself apt in acquiring childish accomplishments' and her natural powers were shown in every study to which her parents' judgment directed her. The education of the child was her mother's task ; she did not' however, employ the usual worldly method of education, which makes a practice of using poetry as a [962 D] means of training the early years of the child. For she considered it disgraceful and quite unsuitable, that a tender and plastic nature should be taught either those tragic passions of womanhood which afforded poets their suggestions and plots, or the indecencies of comedy' to be' so to speak, defiled with unseemly tales of " the harem." [note: [Greek: tois asemnoterois tOn gunaikeiOn diEgEmasin]] But such parts of inspired Scripture as you would think were incomprehensible to young children were the subject of the girl's studies ; in particular the Wisdom of Solomon, and those parts of it especially which have an ethical bearing. Nor was she ignorant of any part of the Psalter' but at stated times she recited every part of it. When she rose from bed, or engaged in household duties' or rested, [964 A] or partook of food' or retired from table, when she went to bed or rose in the night for prayer, the Psalter was her constant companion, like a good fellowtraveller that never deserted her.

Filling her time with these and the like occupations, and attaining besides a considerable proficiency in woolwork, the growing girl reached her twelfth year, the age when the bloom of adolescence begins to appear. In which connection it is noteworthy that the girl's beauty could not be concealed in spite of efforts to hide it. Nor in all the countryside, so it seems, was there anything so marvellous as her beauty in comparison with that of others. So fair was she that even painters' hands could not do justice to her [964 B] comeliness; the art that contrives all things and essays the greatest tasks, so as even to model in imitation the figures of the heavenly bodies, could not accurately reproduce the loveliness of her form. In consequence a great swarm of suitors seeking her in marriage crowded round her parents. But her father - a shrewd man with a reputation for forming right decisions-picked out from the rest a young man related to the family, who was just leaving school, of good birth and remarkable steadiness, and decided to betroth his daughter to him, as soon as she was old enough. Meantime he aroused great hopes, and he offered to his future fatherinlaw his fame in public speaking' as it were one of the bridegroom's gifts; for he displayed the [964 C] power of his eloquence in forensic contests on behalf of the wronged.

But envy cut off these bright hopes by snatching away the poor lad from life. Now Macrina was not ignorant of her father's schemes. But when the plan formed for her was shattered by the young man's death, she said her father's intention was equivalent to a marriage, and resolved to remain single henceforward, just as if the intention had become accomplished fact. And indeed her determination was more steadfast than could have been expected from her age. For when her parents brought proposals of marriage to her, as often happened owing to the number of suitors that came attracted by the fame of her beauty, she would say that it was absurd and unlawful not to be faithful to the marriage that had been arranged for her by her father, but to be compelled to consider another ; since in the nature of things there was but one marriage, as there is one birth and one death. She persisted that the man who had been linked to her by her [964 D] parents' arrangement was not dead, but that she considered him who lived to God, thanks to the hope of the resurrection, to be absent only, not dead; it was wrong not to keep faith with the bridegroom who was away.

With such words repelling those who tried to talk her over, she settled on one safeguard of her good resolution, in a resolve not to be separated from her mother even for a moment of time. So that her mother would often say that she had carried the rest of her children in her womb for a definite time, but that Macrina she bore always, since in a sense she ever carried her about. But the daughter's companionship was not a burden to her mother' nor profitless. For the attentions received from her daughter were worth those [966 A] of many maidservants, and the benefits were mutual. For the mother looked after the girl's soul, and the girl looked after her mother's body, and in all respects fulfilled the required services, even going so far as to prepare meals for her mother with her own hands. Not that she made this her chief business. But after she had anointed her hands by the performance of religious duties- for she deemed that zeal for this was consistent with the principles of her life-in the time that was left she prepared food for her mother by her own toil. And not only this, but she helped her mother to bear her burden of responsibilities. For she had four sons and five daughters, and paid taxes to three different governors, since her property was scattered in as many districts. In consequence [966 B] her mother was distracted with various anxieties, for her father had by this time departed this life. In all these matters she shared her mother's toils, dividing her cares with her, and lightening her heavy load of sorrows. At one and the same time, thanks to her mother's guardianship, she was keeping her own life blameless, so that her mother's eye both directed and witnessed all she did ; and also by her own life she instructed her mother greatly, leading her to the same mark, that of philosophy I mean, and gradually drawing her on to the immaterial and more perfect life.

When the mother had arranged excellent marriages for the other sisters, such as was best in each case, Macrina's brother, the great Basil, returned after his long period of [966 C] education, already a practised rhetorician. He was puffed up beyond measure with the pride of oratory and looked down on the local dignitaries, excelling in his own estimation all the men of leading and position. Nevertheless Macrina took him in hand, and with such speed did she draw him also toward the mark of philosophy that he forsook the glories of this world and despised fame gained by speaking, and deserted it for this busy life where one toils with one's hands. His renunciation of property was complete, lest anything should impede the life of virtue. But, indeed, his life and the subsequent acts, by which he became renowned throughout the world and put into the shade all those who have won renown for their virtue, would [966 D ]need a long description and much time. But I must divert my tale to its appointed task.
Now that all the distractions of the material life had been removed, Macrina persuaded her mother to give up her ordinary life and all showy style of living and the services of domestics to which she had been accustomed before, and bring her point of view down to that of the masses, and to share the life of the maids, treating all her slave girls and menials as if they were sisters and belonged to the same rank as herself.
But at this point I should like to insert a short parenthesis in my narrative and not to pass over unrelated such a matter as the following, in which the lofty character of the maiden is displayed.

The second of the four brothers, Naucratius by name, who came next after the great Basil, excelled the rest in natural endowments and physical beauty, in strength, speed and ability to turn his hand to anything. When [968 A] he had reached his twentyfirst year, and had given such demonstration of his studies by speaking in public, that the whole audience in the theatre was thrilled, he was led by a divine providence to despise all that was already in his grasp, and drawn by an irresistible impulse went off to a life of solitude and poverty. He took nothing with him but himself, save that one of the servants named Chrysapius followed him, because of the affection he had towards his master and the intention he had formed to lead the same life. So he lived by himself, having found a solitary spot on the banks of the Iris-a river flowing through the midst of Pontus. It rises actually in Armenia, passes through our parts, and discharges its stream into the [968 B] Black Sea. By it the young man found a place with a luxuriant growth of trees and a hill nestling under the mass of the overhanging mountain. There he lived far removed from the noises of the city and the distractions that surround the lives both of the soldier and the pleader in the law courts. Having thus freed himself from the din of cares that impedes man's higher life, with his own hands he looked after some old people who were living in poverty and feebleness, considering it appropriate to his mode of life to make such a work his care. So the generous youth would go on fishing expeditions, and since he was expert in every form of sport, he provided food to his grateful clients by this means. And at the same time by such exercises he was taming his own manhood.
Besides this, he also gladly obeyed his mother's wishes whenever she issued a command. And so in these two ways he guided his life, [968 C] subduing his youthful nature by toils and caring assiduously for his mother, and thus keeping the divine commands he was travelling home to God.
In this manner he completed the fifth year of his life as a philosopher, by which he made his mother happy, both by the way in which he adorned his own life by continence, and by the devotion of all his powers to do the will of her that bore him.

Then there fell on the mother a grievous and tragic affliction, contrived, I think, by the Adversary, which brought trouble and mourning upon all the family. For he was snatched suddenly away from life. No previous sickness had prepared them for the blow, nor did any of the usual and wellknown mischances bring death upon the young man. [968 D] Having started out on one of the expeditions, by which he provided necessaries

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