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Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

“What are you saying? that your unintermitting ailments have hindered you from visiting me? but you have come, you are present with me. From your very intention I have gained all this, nor have you any need to excuse yourself in this matter. That warm and true charity of yours, so vigorous, so constant, suffices to make me very happy. What I have ever declared in my letters, I now declare again, that, wherever I may be, though I be transported to a still more desolate place than this, you and your matters I never shall forget. Such pledges of your warm and true charity have you stored up for me, pledges which length of time can never obliterate nor waste; but, whether I am near you or far away, ever do I cherish that same charity, being assured of the loyalty and sincerity of your affection for me, which has been my comfort hitherto.”—Ep. 227.

No one could live in his friends more intimately than St. John Chrysostom; he had not a monk’s spirit of detachment in such severity as to be indifferent to the presence, the hand-writing, the doings, the welfare, soul and body, of those who were children of the same grace with him, and heirs of the same promise. He writes as if he considered that the more religious a man is, the more sensitive he will be of a separation from his friends in religion; and, by the very topics which he uses in handling the subject of bereavement, in one of his letters to Olympias, he betrays his own acute suffering under the trial. The passage is too long to quote, but I may attempt an abstract of it.

“It is not a light effort,” he says (Ep. 2), “but it demands an energetic soul and a great mind to bear separation from one whom we love in the charity of Christ. Every one knows this who knows what it is to love sincerely, who knows the power of supernatural love. Take the blessed Paul: here was a man who had stripped himself of the flesh, and who went about the world almost with a disembodied soul, who had exterminated from his heart every wild impulse, and who imitated the passionless sereneness of the immaterial intelligences, and who stood on high with the Cherubim, and shared with them in their mystical music, and bore prisons, chains, transportations, scourges, stoning, shipwreck, and every form of suffering; yet he, when separated from one soul loved by him in Christian charity, was so confounded and distracted as all at once to rush out of that city, in which he did not find the beloved one whom he expected. ‘When I was come to Troas,’ he says, ‘for the gospel of Christ, and a door was opened to me in the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother; but bidding them farewell, I went into Macedonia.’

“Is it Paul who says this?” he continues; “Paul who, even when fastened in the stocks, when confined in a dungeon, when torn with the bloody scourge, did nevertheless convert and baptize and offer sacrifice, and was chary even of one soul which was seeking salvation? and now, when he has arrived at Troas, and sees the field cleansed of weeds, and ready for the sowing, and the floor full, and ready to his hand, suddenly he flings away the profit, though he came thither expressly for it. ‘so it was,’ he answers me, ‘just so; I was possessed by a predominating tyranny of sorrow, for Titus was away; and this so wrought upon me as to compel me to this course.’ Those who have the grace of charity are not content to be united in soul only, they seek for the personal presence of him they love.

“Turn once more to this scholar of charity, and you will find that so it is. ‘We, brethren,’ he says, ‘being bereaved of you for the time of an hour, in sight, not in heart, have hastened the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. For we would have come unto you, I, Paul, indeed, once and again, but Satan hath hindered us. For which cause, forbearing no longer, we thought it good to remain at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy.’ What force is there in each expression! That flame of charity living in his soul is manifested with singular luminousness. He does not say so much as ‘separated from you,’ nor ‘torn,’ nor ‘divided,’ nor ‘abandoned,’ but only ‘bereaved;’ moreover, not ‘for a certain period,’ but merely ‘for the time of an hour;’ and separated, ‘not in heart, but in presence only;’ again, ‘have hastened the more abundantly to see your face.’ What! it seems charity so captivated you that you desiderated their sight, you longed to gaze upon their earthly, fleshly countenance? ‘Indeed I did,’ he answers: ‘I am not ashamed to say so; for in that seeing all the channels of the senses meet together. I desire to see your presence; for there is the tongue which utters sounds and announces the secret feelings; there is the hearing which receives words, and there the eyes which image the movements of the soul.’ But this is not all: not content with writing to them letters, he actually sends to them Timothy, who was with him, and who was more than any letters. And, ‘We thought it good to remain alone;’ that is, when he is divided from one brother, he says, he is left alone, though he had so many others with him.”


The tone of this passage certainly makes it clear that, when the Saint so eagerly calls on his friends for letters, it is for his own sake, in order to supply, as best he may, the severe deprivation—the pœna damni, as it is called—which his absence from them became to him.

This feeling of isolation is expressed in the following letter:

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