On the Usefulness of Adversity
Even fearful events are not useless for the wise; I would say they are highly beneficial and healthy! For although we certainly pray that they not happen, we learn something when they do. “The afflicted soul is near to God,” says Peter in a truly wonderful passage, and everyone who escapes danger is all the more attached to the one who has saved him from it.
Let us not be troubled, then, by the fact that we sometimes experience evil, but let us give thanks that we have escaped it. Let us not show ourselves to God in one way in the moment of danger, and in another after dangers are over; but whether we are at home or away, living as private citizens or carrying out public duties (for I must speak this way, and not give up doing so12), let us make up our minds to follow the one who has saved us, taking little account of little, earthbound events. And we should give those who come after us a story to tell, something great for our own glory but also great for the profit of their souls. For this event can be a very useful instruction for many, teaching them that danger is better than safety and misfortune preferable to success, for the simple reason that before our terrors we belonged to the world, but after them we belong to God.
Perhaps we will seem heavy-handed in writing often to you about these same subjects, and you may think our words not exhortation but rhetorical show. For that reason, enough of this! Know that we are eager, and hoping very much, to visit you, so that we can rejoice with you over your safety and have the chance for more satisfactory conversation on these things. In any case, we hope to receive you here very soon, and celebrate our thanks to God together.
Even frights are not without use to the wise; or, as I should say, they are very valuable and beneficial. For, although we pray that they may not happen, yet when they do, they instruct us. “For the afflicted soul,” as Peter somewhere admirably says, “is near to God”1; and every man who escapes a danger is brought into nearer relation to Him Who preserved him.
Let us not be troubled, then, by the fact that we sometimes experience evil, but let us give thanks that we have escaped it.
Let us not show ourselves to God in one way in the moment of danger, and in another after dangers are over; but whether we are at home or away, living as private citizens or carrying out public duties, let us make up our minds to follow the One Who has saved us, taking little account of little, earthbound events; and let us prepare a story to those who come after us — great for our glory and the benefit of our soul, and at the same time a very useful lesson to all — that danger is better than security, and that misfortune is preferable to success, at least if before our fears we belonged to the world, but after them we belong to God.
Perhaps I seem to you somewhat of a bore, by writing to you so often on the same subject, and you will think my letter a piece not of exhortation but of ostentation, so enough of this. You will know that I desire and wish especially that I might be with you and share your joy at your preservation, and to talk over these matters later on. But since that cannot be, I hope to receive you here as soon as may be, and to celebrate our thanksgiving together.
Gregory Nazianzen, “Select Letters of Saint Gregory Nazianzen,” in S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 459.
- Cf. Ps 33:18: “The Lord is near to them that are of a contrite heart; and will save the lowly in spirit.” ↩