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Synesius of Cyrene


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

Letter 11, written in 410,  is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It resembles Letter 96.

Letter 11: Accepting the Bishopric

To the Elders

I was unable, for all my strength, to prevail against you and to decline the bishopric, and this in spite of all my machinations; nor is it to your will that I have yielded. Rather was it a divine force which brought about the delay then, as it has caused my acceptance now. I would rather have died many deaths than have taken over this religious office, for I did not consider my powers equal to the burden. But now that God has accomplished, not what I asked, but what He willed, I pray that He who has been the shepherd of my life may become also the defender of His charge.

How shall I, who have devoted my youth to philosophic leisure and to the idle contemplation of abstract being, and have only mingled as much in the cares of the world as to be able to acquit myself of duties to the life of the body and to show myself a citizen - how, I say, shall I ever be equal to a life of daily routine?

Again, if I deliver myself over to a host of practical matters, shall I ever be able to apply myself to the fair things of the mind which may be gathered in happy leisure alone? Without all this, would life be worth living to me, and to all those who resemble me? I, for one, know not, but to God they say all things are possible, even impossible things.

Do you therefore lift up your hands in prayer to God in my behalf, and give orders both to the people in the town, and as many as inhabit the fields or frequent the village churches, to offer prayers for us alike in private and in the congregation. If I am not forsaken by God, I shall then know that this office of priesthood is not a decline from the realms of philosophy, but, on the contrary, a step upwards to them.
Online 2007
Revision: 17 August 2007
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