Document: Letter 1
Date: 379
Addressee: Gratian
English Translation: FC 26.3-6
Summary of Contents: Reply to Gratian’s request for a treatise of faith

I do not lack affection, most Christian of princes: I have nothing more true and glorious to say than this. I am not lacking in affection, I say, but a sense of awe has kept my affection from meeting your clemency. If I did not go on foot to meet you as you returned, I did meet you in spirit, I met you with prayer, in which lies the most important duty of a bishop. I met you, I say? When I was not with you, did I not follow with all my love you to whom I clung with mind and heart? Surely, the presence of minds is more important. I read of your journey from day to day; I put myself in your camp day and night by my concern for you and by my thought. I stretched out for you a coverlet of prayers; if I was unable to give you the attention which you deserved, yet was I unremitting in my affection.

In fact, when I showed myself solicitous for your welfare, I was acting in my own interest. Here is not flattery, which you do not want and which I consider unbefitting my office; it is merely the good grace which you have shown me. God who is our judge, He whom you profess, He in whom you piously believe, understands that my strength is refreshed by your faith, your salvation, your glory. And He knows that I give prayers which are due you not only because of your public office, but also because of my personal love for you. For you have given back to me the peace of the Church, you have closed the mouths of the wicked – ah, would that you had closed their hearts, also! You have done this not less by your faith than by the weight of your power.

What shall I say of your recent letter? You wrote the entire letter with your own hand, so that the very marks of punctuation bespoke your faith and piety. In the same way with his own hand did Abraham of old slay an ox to serve his guests at dinner, and in this performance of his duty did not ask the help of others. As a humble servant he ministered to the Lord and His angels, or to the Lord in His angels. O Emperor, you honor a lowly priest with royal dignity, but deference is shown to the Lord when a servant is honored, for God Himself has said: ‘What you did to one of the least of these, you did unto me.’

But shall I praise only the lofty humility in you, the emperor, and not rather the faith of your mind fully conscious of your deserts, that faith taught you by Him whom you do not deny? Who else could have taught you not to reproach Him for being of the created nature which you see in yourself? Nothing could be said more characteristically, nothing more clearly. For to say that the creature is Christ is to put forth an insult, not to confess reverence. Furthermore, what is so insulting as to think that He is what we are? You have instructed me, then, the one from whom you said that you wanted to learn. I have never read or heard so good an interpretation as yours.

Moreover, how pious, how admirable is the fact that you do not fear jealousy in God! From the Father you expect remuneration for your love of the Son, and by praising the Son you say that you cannot add anything to His glory, but you wish to commend yourself to the Father by praising His Son. This He alone taught you who said: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father.’

You have remarked in addition that, being weak and frail, you cannot so praise Him as to exalt the Godhead by your words. But you will preach Him according to your ability, not according to what the Godhead warrants. This weakness is more powerful in one who is in Christ, as the Apostle says: ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’ Humility like this does away with frailty.

To be sure, I shall come as you bid and I shall hasten to hear these words in your presence, to pick up these words in your presence when they fall from your lips. I have also sent the two books you requested and, since they are approved by your clemency, I shall not fear any damage to them. Meanwhile, I shall ask indulgence from the Holy Spirit for writing them, since I know who will be the judge of my speech.

In the meantime, your love and faith in our Lord and Savior, drawn from the Son of God, grows into such overwhelming conviction that you also believe in the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and you do not reproach Him as being of the created nature which you see in yourself, nor think that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is jealous of His Spirit. That which lacks all association with created nature is divine.

If the Lord grants His favor, I shall comply with the will of your clemency; as you have received His grace, may you realize that one so pre-eminent in the glory of God has a right to our veneration in His own name.

May almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, deign to protect you, that you may be blessed and flourish for many years, and may He deign to conform your reign most gloriously in peace, O lord, august Emperor, elected by divine choice, most glorious of princes.

Translation from FC 26.3-6, adapted by SMT

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