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Epistle LXVII.

To Domitian, Metropolitan15171517    This Domitian, Bishop of Melitene and Metropolitan of Roman Armenia, was a kinsman of the Emperor Maurice, and had lately been successfully employed by him in coming to terms with the Persian king, Chosroes II., as is related in the histories of Evagrius and Theophylact.  The latter describes him as “holy in life, sweet in speech, ready in action, most prudent in council” (Hist. iv. 14).  He also gives at length an eloquent sermon of his, delivered after the cession, through his mediation, of the city Martyropolis in Mesopotamia to the Roman Emperor (IV. 16).  Chosroes II., who is said to have had a strong regard for Domitian, appears to have had some leanings towards Christianity.  We are told that, when flying from his enemies in Persia, and in doubt whether to seek refuge with the Romans or the Turks, he had let his horse take its own course, calling on the God of the Christians for guidance, and thus found his way to Circesium, where he was received by Probus the Governor (Theophyl. IV. 10; Evagr. H. E. VI. 16).  Further, it is related that, on one occasion, when Probus, bishop of Chalcedon, had been sent to him as ambassador by the Emperor, he requested to be shewn a portrait of the Blessed Virgin, which he adored when he saw it, saying that he had seen the original in a vision (Theophyl. V. 15); and also that he attributed his own success in arms, and the pregnancy of his favourite wife Syra (Shirin), who was herself a Christian, to the intercession of S. Sergius, whom he had invoked, and that he sent a cross of pure gold, adorned with jewels, which he had vowed with other presents, to the shrine of the saint, together with a letter of acknowledgment addressed to him (Theophyl. V. 13, 14; Evagr. H. E. VI. 20).  But he certainly never became a Christian, though it appears from the letter before us that Domitian had done his best to convert him.  The earlier part of this epistle refers evidently to some allegorical interpretation of Scripture by Gregory after his usual manner, to which Domitian had taken objection..

Gregory to Domitian, &c.

On receiving the letters of your most sweet Blessedness I greatly rejoiced, since they spoke much to me of sacred Scripture.  And, finding in them the dainties that I love, I greedily devoured them.  Therein also were many things intermingled about external and necessary affairs.  And you have acted as though preparing a banquet for the mind so that the offered dainties might please the more from their diversity.  And if indeed external affairs, like inferior and ordinary kinds of food, are less savoury, yet they have been treated by you so skilfully as to be taken gladly, since even contemptible kinds of food are usually made sweet by the sauce of one who cooks well.  Now, while the truth of the History is kept to, what I had said some time ago about its divine meaning ought not to be rejected.  For, although, since you will have it so, its meaning may not suit my case, yet, from its very context, what was said as being drawn from it may be held without hesitation.  For her violator (i.e. Dinah’s) is called the prince of the country (Genes. xxxiv. 2), by whom the devil is plainly denoted, seeing that our Redeemer says, Now shall the prince of this world be cast out (John xii. 31).  And he also seeks her for his wife, because the evil spirit hastens to possess lawfully the soul which he has first corrupted by hidden seduction.  Wherefore the sons of Jacob, being very wroth, take their swords against the whole house of Sichem and his country (Genes. xxxiv. 25), because by all who have zeal those also are to be attacked who become abettors of the evil spirit.  And they first enjoin on them circumcision, and afterwards, while they are sore, slay them.  For severe teachers, if they know not how to moderate their zeal, though cutting off the bias of corruption by preaching, nevertheless, when delinquents already mourn for the evil they had done, are frequently still savage in roughness of discipline, and harder than they should be.  For those who had already cut off their foreskins ought not to have died, since such as lament the sin of lechery, and turn the pleasure of the flesh into sorrow, ought not to experience from their teachers roughness of discipline, lest the Redeemer of the human race be Himself loved less, if in His behalf the soul is afflicted more than it should be.  Hence also to these his sons Jacob says, Ye have troubled me, and made me odious to the Canaanites (Ibid. v. 30).  For, when teachers still cruelly attack what the delinquents already mourn for, the weak mind’s very love for its Redeemer grows cold, because it feels itself to be afflicted in that wherein of itself it does not spare itself.

So much therefore I would say in order to shew that the sense which I set forth is not improbable in connexion with the context.  But what has been inferred from the same passage by your Holiness for my comfort I gladly accept, since in the understanding of sacred Scripture whatever is not opposed to a sound faith ought not to be rejected.  For, even as from the same gold some make necklaces, some rings, and some bracelets, for ornament, so from the same knowledge of sacred Scripture different expositors, through innumerable ways of understanding it, compose as it were various ornaments, which 143bnevertheless all serve for the adornment of the heavenly bride.  Further, I rejoice exceedingly that your most sweet Blessedness, even though occupied with secular affairs, still brings back its genius vigilantly to the understanding of Holy Writ.  For so indeed it is needful that, if the former cannot be altogether avoided, the latter should not be altogether put aside.  But I beseech you by Almighty God, stretch out the hand of prayer to me who am labouring in so great billows of tribulation, that by your intercession I may be lifted up to the heights, who am pressed down to the depths by the weight of my sins.  Moreover, though I grieve that the Emperor of the Persians has not been converted, yet I altogether rejoice for that you have preached to him the Christian faith; since, though he has not been counted worthy to come to the light, yet your Holiness will have the reward of your preaching.  For the Ethiopian, too, goes black into the bath, and comes out black; but still the keeper of the bath receives his pay.

Further, of Mauricius you say well, that from the shadow I may know the statue; that is, that in small things I may perpend greater things.  In this matter, however, we trust him, since oaths and hostages bind his soul to us.

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