St.-Gregory-NazianzenAnd what in these short days will be our gain, save that after it has been ours to see, or suffer, or perchance even to do, more ill, we must discharge the common and inexorable tribute to the law of nature, by following some, preceding others, to the tomb.

[…] Such, my brethren, is our existence, who live this transient life, such our pastime upon earth:  we come into existence out of non-existence, and after existing are dissolved.

We are unsubstantial dreams, impalpable visions (Job 20:8), like the flight of a passing bird, like a ship leaving no track upon the sea (Wisd. 5:10), a speck of dust, a vapour, an early dew, a flower that quickly blooms, and quickly fades.

As for man his days are as grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth (Ps. C102/103:15).  Well hath inspired David discoursed of our frailty, and again in these words, “Let me know the shortness of my days;” and he defines the days of man as “of a span long” (Ps. 38/39:5).

[…]  I have seen all things (Eccles. 1:14), says the preacher, I have reviewed in thought all human things, wealth, pleasure, power, unstable glory, wisdom which evades us rather than is won; then pleasure again, wisdom again, often revolving the same objects, the pleasures of appetite, orchards, numbers of slaves, store of wealth, serving men and serving maids, singing men and singing women, arms, spearmen, subject nations, collected tributes, the pride of kings, all the necessaries and superfluities of life, in which I surpassed all the kings that were before me.

And what does he say after all these things?  Vanity of vanities (Eccles. 12:8), all is vanity and vexation of spirit, possibly meaning some unreasoning longing of the soul, and distraction of man condemned to this from the original fall. But hear, he says, the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God” (Eccles. 12:13).

This is his stay in his perplexity, and this is thy only gain from life here below, to be guided through the disorder of the things which are seen (2 Cor. 4:18), and shaken, to the things which stand firm and are not moved (Heb. 12:27).

Let us not then mourn Cæsarius but ourselves, knowing what evils he has escaped to which we are left behind, and what treasure we shall lay up, unless, earnestly cleaving unto God and outstripping transitory things, we press towards the life above, deserting the earth while we are still upon the earth, and earnestly following the spirit which bears us upward.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 7, 17-19 (Panegyric on His Brother S. Cæsarius).

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