Letter CLXIV. 2547
To Ascholius. 2548
1. It would not be easy for me to say how very much delighted I am with your holinesss letter. My words are too weak to express all that I feel; you, however, ought to be able to conjecture it, from the beauty of what you have written. For what did not your letter contain? It contained love to God; the marvellous description of the martyrs, which put the manner of their good fight so plainly before me that I seemed actually to see it; love and kindness to myself; p. 216 words of surpassing beauty. So when I had taken it into my hands, and read it many times, and perceived how abundantly full it was of the grace of the Spirit, I thought that I had gone back to the good old times, when Gods Churches flourished, rooted in faith, united in love, all the members being in harmony, as though in one body. Then the persecutors were manifest, and manifest too the persecuted. Then the people grew more numerous by being attacked. Then the blood of the martyrs, watering the Churches, nourished many more champions of true religion, each generation stripping for the struggle with the zeal of those that had gone before. Then we Christians were in peace with one another, the peace which the Lord bequeathed us, of which, so cruelly have we driven it from among us, not a single trace is now left us. Yet my soul did go back to that blessedness of old, when a letter came from a long distance, bright with the beauty of love, and a martyr travelled to me from wild regions beyond the Danube, preaching in his own person the exactitude of the faith which is there observed. Who could tell the delight of my soul at all this? What power of speech could be devised competent to describe all that I felt in the bottom of my heart? However, when I saw the athlete, I blessed his trainer: he, too, before the just Judge, after strengthening many for the conflict on behalf of true religion, shall receive the crown of righteousness.
2. By bringing the blessed Eutyches 2549 to my recollection, and honouring my country for having sown the seeds of true religion, you have at once delighted me by your reminder of the past, and distressed me by your conviction of the present. None of us now comes near Eutyches in goodness: so far are we from bringing barbarians under the softening power of the Spirit, and the operation of His graces, that by the greatness of our sins we turn gentle hearted men into barbarians, for to ourselves and to our sins I attribute it that the influence of the heretics is so widely diffused. Peradventure no part of the world has escaped the conflagration of heresy. You tell me of struggles of athletes, bodies lacerated for the truths sake, savage fury despised by men of fearless heart, various tortures of persecutors, and constancy of the wrestlers through them all, the block and the water whereby the martyrs died. 2550 And what is our condition? Love is grown cold; the teaching of the Fathers is being laid waste; everywhere is shipwreck of the Faith; the mouths of the Faithful are silent; the people, driven from the houses of prayer, lift up their hands in the open air to their Lord which is in heaven. Our afflictions are heavy, martyrdom is nowhere to be seen, because those who evilly entreat us are called by the same name as ourselves. Wherefore pray to the Lord yourself, and join all Christs noble athletes with you in prayer for the Churches, to the end that, if any further time remains for this world, and all things are not being driven to destruction, God may be reconciled to his own Churches and restore them to their ancient peace.
Placed in 374.215:2548
cf. Letter liv.216:2549
Eutyches was a Cappadocian, who was taken prisoner by the Goths, in the reign of Gallienus, in a raid into Cappadocia. It was through the teaching of these captives that the ancestors of Ulphilas became Christians. cf. Philost., H.E. ii. 5.216:2550
The Ben. note illustrates these modes of martyrdom from the letter of the Gothic Church, supposed to have been written by Ascholius, sent to Cæsarea with the body of Saint Sabas, who suffered under Athanaricus, king of the Goths, in the end of the fourth century. “They bring him down to the water, giving thanks and glorifying God; then they flung him down, and put a block about his neck, and plunged him into the depth. So slain by wood and water, he kept the symbol of salvation undefiled, being 38 years old.” cf. Ruinart., Act. Sinc. p. 670.