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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 72, written in 411, is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.

Letter 72: The Beginning of the Andronicus Affair

To the Bishops

Let Andronicus, who has deceived the Church, have experience of her truth. Just now, even yesterday, he sinned against God and insulted man. For these reasons we closed the church here against him, and dictated a letter to your brotherhood, acquainting you with the sentence which had been passed upon him. He anticipated the dispatch of this letter by pretending to be a suppliant, and making promise of repentance. All were desirous that I should admit him to penitence, except myself, for I thought that I knew the fellow only too well, and that he was quite capable of saying and doing anything. I had this presentiment, and even predicted that he would return to his natural bent upon the very first opportunity. I thought, however, that he would be much less daring while under the load of our ecclesiastical sentence, than if he were entirely free from all suspicion. I therefore desired to hold by the decree, as the aim of my deliberations was to be at once pious toward God and useful to my fellow-citizens.

But it is presumptuous to attempt to resist, when you are alone against many, a younger man against elder men, one who had not taken office a year ago, against those whose lives have been spent in the priesthood. I therefore yielded to their demand that I should not circulate the letter yet, and that I should receive Andronicus on his promise that henceforth he would give up his mad treatment of his peers, and that he would take reason as the guide of him, 'within those limitations that you have set yourself, we will not only pray for the pardon of your sin, but for the future we will pray in your company. On the other hand, if you shirk the fulfillment of your agreement, the sentence awaits you, and will be made public before all men. The punishment will only be put off such a time as is necessary to let all see that your character is incorrigible.' So the matter was settled.

He assured us that he would give and we receive proof. He has given it, and we have received it. He has lavished upon us additional reason for his excommunication. Up to that moment confiscation of property had not been ventured upon, and murder had not been taken in hand. To-day how many there are who are exiled because of this man, how many of those formerly rich have been reduced to beggary! But all this is nothing in comparison with the case of Magnus, so well born, so foully to death. He lies fallen, this son of a distinguished citizen, after having spent his whole fortune on public objects. He has perished, a victim of one man's envy of another. Andronicus demanded gold of him, and when he would not give it, he was flogged; it he did give it, he was flogged again, because they found him a means of gain. How was it that he was selling his estate mot to his friends, but to the general? I mourn both over this young life treated so lawlessly, and the hopes of the city in it, thus rendered vain; but the old age of his mother is more pitiable than his youth. She had two sons: the one was exiled by Andronicus and she knows not in what country he is. As to the other, she knows very well where he buried him. Alas for the laws, trampled on even by those prefects who govern their country, and who in defiance of them borrow sums of money to purchase office! For these laws indeed God desires different guardians. As to us, it is sufficient to remain pure amongst the pure, if we but keep within the sacred precincts, and debar the unholy from the holy altars.
Online 2007
Revision: 12 August 2007
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