Document: Letter 2
Date: 379
Addressee: Constantius, a bishop
English Translation: FC 26.76-90
Summary of Contents: Explication of episcopal duties to the new bishop

You have entered upon the office of bishop and, sitting at the helm of the Church, you are piloting the ship in the face of the waves. Take firm hold of the rudder of faith so that the heavy storms of this world cannot disturb you. The sea is mighty and widespread, but do not fear,because ‘He hath founded it upon the seas; and hath prepared it upon the rivers. Therefore, not without cause does the Church Of the Lord, built upon the rock of the Apostles, remain unmoved amid the many storms of this world and, with her foundation unshaken, stand firm against the assaults of the seething sea. She is lashed by waves, she is not shattered, and, although the elements of this world often beat upon her with loud crashing sound, she has a place where she receives those in distress, the well-guarded harbor of salvation.

Nevertheless, although she tosses on the sea, she rides on the floods; see that she rides no more upon those floods of which it is said: ‘The floods have lifted up their voice.’ There are rivers which flow from the belly of him who drinks from Christ and partakes of the Spirit of God. These rivers, therefore, when they redound with the grace of the Spirit, lift up their voice. There is also a stream which overflows upon its holy ones like a torrent. Likewise, there is a stream of a river which gladdens the peaceful and tranquil soul. Whoever receives of the fullness of this stream, like John the Evangelist, like Peter and Paul, lifts up his voice. Just as the Apostles with the harmony of their message spread the sound of their preaching of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth, so also does he begin to tell the good tidings of the Lord Jesus. Drink, then, from Christ so that your sound, too, may go out.

The sea is holy Scripture which has within it profound meanings and the mysterious depths of the Prophets. Into this sea many rivers have entered. Delightful and clear are these streams; these fountains are cool, springing up into life everlasting; there, too, are pleasant words, like ‘honey-comb,’ and courteous conversations which water souls with the sweetness of moral commands. The streams of holy Scripture are diverse; you know that which you should drinkfrom first, second, and last.

Store up the water of Christ, that which praises the Lord. Store up the water from many places, the water which the clouds of prophecy pour out. He who gathers water from the mountains and draws it to himself, or drinks from the fountains, he himself also sheds dew like the clouds. Therefore, fill the center of your mind so as to have your plot of land moistened and watered by fountains from the family estate. Accordingly, he who reads much and also understands is filled; he who has been filled sheds water upon others. So Scripture says: ‘If the clouds be full, they will pour out rain upon the earth.’

Therefore, let your sermons be flowing, let them be clear and lucid so that by suitable disputation you may pour sweetness into the ears of the people, and by the grace of your words may persuade the crowd to follow willingly where you lead. But if in the people, or in some persons, there is any stubbornness or any fault, let your sermons be such as to goad the listener, to sting the person with a guilty conscience. ‘The words of the wise are as goads.’ Even the Lord Jesus goaded Saul when he was a persecutor. Consider how salutary was the goad which made of a persecutor an apostle, saying: ‘lt is hard for you to kick against the goad.’

There are also sermons like milk which Paul gave to the Corinthians; those who cannot eat strong food develop from infancy by drinking a natural milk.

Let your exhortations be full of meaning. Concerning this Solomon says: ‘The weapons of the intellect are the lips of the wise.’ And in another place: ‘Thy lips have been bound for wisdom,’ that is, let the revelation of your sermons shine forth, let your understanding be bright, and let your sermon by itself protect itself, as it were, with its own weapons, and let not any word of yours go out in vain and go forth without meaning. Speech is a bandage which ties up the wounds of souls, and if anyone rejects this, he shows his despair of his own salvation. Likewise, with those who are vexed by a serious sore, use the oil of speech that you may soften their hardness of heart; apply a poultice; put on a bandage of salutary advice, so that you may never allow those who are astray or who are wavering regarding the faith or the observance of discipline to perish through loss of courage and a breakdown of activity.

Warn the Lord’s people, therefore, and beg them to abound in good works, to renounce vice, not to enkindle the fires of passion – I shall not say on the Sabbath, but in every season. Let them not destroy their bodies; let there be no immorality and uncleanness in the servants of God, because we are the servants of the unspotted Son of God. Let each one know himself and possess his vessel, and when the soil of the body has been ploughed, let him wait for the fruit in due season, and let his land not bring forth thorns and thistles, but let him, too, say: ‘Our earth has yielded her fruit,’ and in the once thickly wooded frailty of passion let there flourish ingrafted virtues.

Teach and instruct them to do what is good, and let no one interrrupt a laudable work whether he is being seen by many or is without a witness, for conscience is a trustworthy security for him.

Let the people also shun evil deeds, even though they do not believe they can be found out. Although men are enclosed in the house, surrounded by darkness, without a witness, without an accomplice, they have the Judge of their deeds whom nothing deceives, to whom all deeds cry out. Each one also has himself and his soul as a severe judge of himself, as an avenger of wickedness, a vindicator of crime. In fear and trembling Cain wandered over the earth paying the penalty of the murder of his brother, so that for him death was a remedy, for it set free the wandering exile who at every moment had a dread of death. Let no one either alone or with another do anything base or wicked. And if anyone is alone, let him respect himself, rather than others, himself whom he ought especially to reverence.

Let your people not desire many things, for the reason that a few things are many to them: poverty and riches are names which imply want and satiety. He is not rich who wants anything, nor poor who does not want. Let no one spurn a widow, or cheat an orphan, or defraud his neighbor. Woe to him who has a fortune amassed by deceit, and builds in blood a city, in other words, his soul. For it is this [the soul] which is built like a city. Greed does not build it, but sets it on fire and burns it. Do you wish to build your city well? ‘Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasures without fear.’ The riches of a man ought to work to the redemption of his soul, not to its destruction. Wealth is redemption if one uses it well; so, too, it is a snare if one does not know how to use it. For what is a man’s money if not provision for his journey? A great amount is a burden; a little is useful. We are wayfarers in this life; many are walking along, but a man needs to make a good passage; the Lord Jesus is with him who makes a good passage. Thus we read: ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and the rivers shall not cover you, nor fire burn your garments when you shall walk through.’ But, one who keeps a fire pent up in his body, the fire of lust, the fire of immoderate desire, does not pass through but burns the covering of his soul. A good name is more excellent than money, and above heaps of silver is good favor. Faith itself redounds to itself, sufficiently rich and more than rich in its possession. There is nothing which is not the possession of the wise man except what is contrary to virtue, and wherever he goes he finds all things to be his. The whole world is his possession, since he uses it all as his own.

Why, therefore, is a brother cheated? Why is a hireling defrauded? The gain from the sale of a harlot is not great, he [the writer of Proverbs] says; it is the gain of fleeting frailty. A harlot is not one’s own possession, but a public possession; not woman alone is a harlot, but every wandering desire is a harlot. Every act of faithlessness, every like, is a harlot, and not the one who prostitutes her body, but every soul which sells her hope, which seeks disgraceful profit and an unworthy reward. We, too, are hired men who work for a price and hope for the price of our labors from our Lord and God. If anyone wants to know how mercenary we are, let him hear the one who says: ‘How many hired men in my father’s house have bread in abundance, while I am perishing her with hunger!’ And below: ‘Make me as one of your hired men.’ All are hired men, all are laborers. Let the man who is waiting for the fruit of his labor consider that he who defrauds another of his pay will himself be defrauded of his own. In lending he acts unwisely and will repay later with greater measure. Therefore, let one who does not wish to lose what endures forever, take not from another what is only for a time.

Let no one speak deceitfully to his neighbor. A snare is on our lips, and often one is not set free by his words but is ensnared. The mouth of one speaking ill is a great pit, a steep precipice for the innocent, but steeper for one of ill will. An innocent man, though easily credulous, falls quickly, but when he has fallen rises again. The slanderer is thrown headlong by his own acts, from which he will never emerge or escape. Therefore, let each one weight his words without fraud and deceit; A deceitful balance is an abomination before the Lord.’ I do not mean that balance which weighs out another’s pay (in trivial matters the flesh is deceitful). Before God that balance of words is detestable which simulates the weight of sober gravity while practicing at the same time cunning fraud. God condemns especially the man who deceives his neighbor with kind promises and overwhelms his debtor with treacherous injustice. He will have no gain from his clever skill. For, what does it profit a man if he gains the wealth of the whole world but defrauds his own soul of the payment of eternal life?

Pious souls must consider another scale by which the deeds of individuals are weighed, in which, generally, sins are overbalanced toward judgment, or deeds well done are of more weight than sins. Alas for me if my sins are heavy and incline toward a decree of death by their mortal weight! More tolerable would it be if all the things manifest to the Lord came to pass, even before my judgment; good deeds cannot be concealed nor can those be hidden which are full of offense.

How happy is the man who has been able to cut out the root of vices, avarice. Surely he will not dread this balance. Avarice generally dulls men’s senses and corrupts their judgments, so that they think piety a gain, and money, a soil of reward for sagacity. But great is the reward of piety and the gaining of sobriety; the possession of these virtues is sufficient. For, what do superfluous riches profit in this world when they do not assist our birth or impede our dying? We are born into this world naked, we leave it without a cent, we are buried without our inheritance.

Each one will have the weight of his good deeds hung in the balance, and for a few moments of a good work or a degenerate deed the scale often inclines to this side or that. If evil inclines the scale, alas for me; if good, pardon is ready at hand. No one is free from sin, but, when good deeds prevail, the weight of sins is lessened; they are cast into the shadow and covered up. So, in the day of judgment, our works will either succor us or plunge us into the depths, like men weighted down with a millstone. Iniquity is heavy, supported, as it were, on a talent of lead; avarice is hard to carry; so, too, all pride and ignoble fraud. Urge the people of the Lord to hope more in the Lord, therefore, to abound in the riches of simplicity, in which they may walk without a snare, without hindrance.

The guilelessness of plain speech is also good; it is rich before God, even if it walks amid snares, for, not knowing how to weave snares or bands for another, it is not bound.

It is also very important that you persuade them to know how to be humbled, to know the true character and nature of humility. Many have the appearance of humility, but they do not have the virtue. Many make a pretense of it on the outside, yet within they fight against it. They make a display of it for pretense, yet reject the truth; they say ‘no’ to grace, for ‘There is one who humbles himself wickedly and his interior is full of deceit.’ Such a person is very far from humility. Humility does not exist except without pretense, without fraud. That is true which has a pious sincerity of soul. Great is its virtue. Finally, through the disobedience of one man death entered, and through the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ was wrought the redemption of all men.

Saintly Joseph knew how to be humble. When he was sold into slavery by his brothers and purchased by merchants, bound in fetters, as Scripture says, he learned the strength of humility, he scorned frailty. When he was bought in Egypt by an official of the royal palace a man in charge of the household although he knew his noble lineage and his descent from the sons of Abraham, Joseph did not become disgusted with his lowly condition, unworthy [as he was to perform] the duties of a servant. Rather, he showed himself diligent and faithful to his master’s commands, knowing by great prudence that it makes no difference in what condition of life one is found trustworthy, but that the purpose of a good man is to be approved in any condition, and, in particular, that character dignifies the position more than position the character. In fact, the lower the status, the more outstanding the virtue. He proved so earnest that his master entrusted to him his whole house and committed to him all his goods.

Then the wife of his master cast her eyes upon him, captivated by his comeliness. We need not be concerned whether his age or beauty is coveted by her impure glances: provided these be artless, there is no crime in comeliness; provided enticement is not present, seemliness and charm of beauty are innocent. This woman, deeply aroused and maddened, accosts the young man, and driven on by lust, overcome by the sting of passion, admits her crime. But he disowns any wickedness, saying that it is not in keeping with the custom or the laws of the Hebrews for those to violate the stranger’s bed who have the duty of protecting its purity; that the chaste spouse may be joined in marriage with chaste maidens, but they are not allowed marriage with a woman who does not make us of her legitimate marriage rights. Moreover, he is bound not to be overcome with wanton intemperance or to be ungrateful for his master’s kindness, nor may he bring deadly injury upon one to whom he owes obedience.

Was he ashamed to say that his owner was a despised person, and to admit that he himself was a slave? No, even when the woman strove to gain him, entreated him with fear of betrayal, or poured out passionate tears in order to win him by force, he was not drawn to consent to the crime through a sense of duty, nor compelled by fear, and he resisted her entreaties. He did not yield to her threats, preferring to have as his reward honor fraught with danger, a base remuneration for his chaste modesty. Again, beginning with greater inducements when she saw him inflexible and unmoved by her second attempt, wild with passion, her shamelessness furnishing strength, the woman went up to the young man, and, catching hold of his garment, dragged him to a couch, offering her embrace. And she would almost have succeeded In holding him, except that Joseph tore off the garment by which he was held, lest he tear off the cloak of humility, the garment of purity.

He knew how to be humble, for he was humbled even to prison, and while he bore this outrage he preferred to submit to a false charge rather than to bring a true one. I say he knew how to be humbled for the sake of virtue. He was humbled in the manner of Him who was humbled unto death, even to the death of the Cross. He was to come to arouse this life of ours from sleep, and to show that our use of life, in which there are various sorts of vicissitudes, was a dream with nothing solid or firm therein, as in sleep we see a dream but do not see, hearing do not hear, eating are not filled, rejoicing are not made glad, running do not reach our goal. Vain are the hopes of men in this world when they think they must attain things which do not exist, as if they did exist. So the empty and vain appearances of things, just as in sleep, come and go. They stop beside us, they vanish. They are near and they disappear. They seem to be grasped but they are not. Finally, when one hears it said: ‘Awake, sleeper,’ and he rises from his dream of this world, he knows then that everything is false. He awakes and his dream flees; he loses his concern over an inheritance, over the charm of beauty and the desire for honors. These are dreams by which those are undisturbed who watch with the heart, while those who are asleep are disturbed. The saintly Joseph provides material for my statement that the things of this world are not everlasting or even of long duration. He who from youth was of noble lineage, rich in his possessions, is suddenly a lowly slave, and to further embitter his mean estate of servitude his purchase was paid for with the money of a degenerate master. It is considered less disgraceful to be the slave of a freedman; slavery is twice servitude when one is the slave of a slave. Joseph, the slave, was nobly born, a pauper, richly sired, experiencing instead of love, hatred, instead of favor, punishment, dragged time and again from prison to palace, from criminal charge to seat of judgment. Yet he was not broken by adversity or carried away by success.

That the turn of events is momentary is further proved by the constantly changing fortune of blessed David, who was an object of scorn to his father, but precious to God. Noble in triumph, cheapened by envy, called to a kingly ministry, loved as a son, but later changed in appearance and features, fleeing his own murderous son, he used to deplore his personal offenses and atone for those of others, more noble in winning back his heir’s affection than if he had disgraced him. Having experienced all this, he fittingly remarked: ‘lt is good for me that you have humbled me.’

Yet, this saying can also be referred to Him who, being God by nature, could bend the heavens without effort, but, coming down to earth and taking the nature of a slave, bore our infirmities, because He foresaw that His saints would not think it fitting to claim honors due to themselves, but would submit to their equals and prefer others to themselves, He said: ‘It is good for me that you have humbled me.’ It is good for me that I have brought myself down so that all things may be under me, and God may be all in all. Infuse this humility into every individual soul, and show yourself an example to all, saying: ‘Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.’

Let them learn to search for the riches of good works and to be rich in character. The beauty of riches is not in the purses of the rich, but in their support of the poor. In the weak and needy, riches shine brighter. Let the wealthy learn to seek not their own interests, but those which are Christ’s, so that Christ may search for them to bestow His possessions upon them. He spent His blood for them; He poured out His Spirit; He offers them His kingdom. What more will He give who has offered Himself? Or what is the Father not going to give, who delivered His only-begotten Son to death for us? Therefore, admonish them to serve the Lord in purity and grace, to lift up their eyes to heavenly things with all the intensity of their minds, to count nothing as gain except that which is for eternal life, because all the gain of this world is the loss of souls. Finally, the one who wished to gain Christ suffered the loss of all things, and although he spoke wonderfully well, he still fell short of expressing what he had received, for he spoke of things which were not his own; but Christ has said: ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself.’ In this way he becomes his own loss, that he may become Christ’s gain. All such possessions are perishable, accompanied by loss and without gain. There is gain only where there is everlasting enjoyment, where eternal peace is the reward.

My son, I am giving to your care the church at Forum Cornelius, so that by reason of its nearness you may visit it from time to time until a bishop is ordained for it. I cannot travel such a distance, because I am occupied with the approaching days of Lent.

You have there Illyrians, imbued with the false teaching of the Arians; beware of their cockle, do not let them come near the faithful or insidiously spread their false seeds of doctrine. Let the faithful take note of what has happened to them because of their perfidy; let them be quiet so they may follow the true faith. With difficulty can minds imbued with the poisons of infidelity be delivered from their impiety. And if the virus unfortunately is implanted in them, do not think they can be easily trusted. The strength and power of wisdom is not to be trusted rashly, especially in the matter of faith, which is rarely perfect in man.

Nevertheless, if you find one tainted with this dangerous doctrine and of doubtful disposition, who wishes to get rid of the reputation in which he is held, permit him to think that he has made satisfaction, indulge him somewhat, for if satisfaction is not allowed a person his mind is estranged. Even skilled doctors, when they notice the signs of illness, do not immediately upon naming them administer medicine, but wait for the proper time for dispensing it. They do not give up the patient, but with words or with what ointments they can use, they soothe him so that the neglected illness may not grow worse through a loss of spirit, or the patient, being sick to his stomach, spit out the medicine; if a physician inexperienced in matters of this kind treat the illness prematurely, it will never be able to come to a head. So also an unripe apple quickly rots if it is shaken from a tree.

Continuing our figure from agriculture, teach your people to keep sacred their boundary laws, to guard their fathers’ boundary stones which the law will protect. The good favor of a neighbor is frequently of more value than the love of one’s brother. A brother is often far away; a neighbor is near, a witness of a whole life, the judge of daily living. One should be glad to have his neighbor’s flock wander freely through the nearby open spaces and lie on the green grass, taking its rest without a care.

Let the master also keep his slaves subdued by the law of slavery instead of by control of force, treating them as kindred souls. For he is called paterfamilias so that he may govern them as sons; and he himself is a slave of God and calls the Lord of heaven Father, the Ruler of all the powers.

Farewell, and love us as you do, for we love you.

Translation from FC 26.76-90, adapted by SMT

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