Macrina the Younger (c 327-390)
A Saintly Woman
The family group of which Basil the Great, Macrina the Blessed, the distinguished bishop of Nyssa, Gregory, and the less-known Peter of Sebaste were members, deserves a volume rather than the few pages at our command. Three of the four were bishops at one time. Macrina, her father and mother, her grandmother Macrina, and three of her brothers were all canonized as saints in the ancient church. We are not surprised that Butler, in his "Lives of the Fathers," should say: "We admire to see a whole family of saints. This prodigy of grace, under God, was owing to the example, prayers and exhortation of the elder St. Macrina, which had this wonderful influence and effect."
"Macrina the Blessed."
Macrina was born A.D. 327. By her intellectual ability, force of character, and earnest piety she became the real head of the family, and largely shaped the lives of her distinguished brothers. She early added the name Thecla to her baptismal name, after the proto-martyr among Christian women. She was educated with great care by her mother, under whose direction she committed to memory large portions of the Bible, including the whole of the Psalms.
Her rare personal beauty, great accomplishments and large fortune attracted many suitors; Gregory says she surpassed in loveliness all of her age and country. She was betrothed to a young advocate, who was inspired and stimulated by her ambition and zeal, but was cut off by an early death. She thenceforth regarded herself as a wife in the eyes of God, and confident of a reunion hereafter, refused to listen to offers of marriage, saying that her betrothed was living in a distant realm, and that the resurrection would reunite them.
A Saintly Woman
A.D. 349, when she was thirty-two, her father died, and thereafter she devoted herself to the care of her widowed mother and the family of nine children, and large estates which were scattered through three provinces. Her rare executive ability and personal devotedness to her mother and brothers and sisters were phenomenal, descending to the most minute domestic offices.
After the death of her father, and on the death of her brother Naucratius, A.D. 357, she never left her home, a beautiful place in Annesi, near Neo-Cæsarea.
A.D. 355, on the return of her brother Basil from Athens, full of conceit and the ambition inspired by his secular learning, Macrina filled his mind and heart with the love for a life of Christian service that animated herself, and he located himself near his sister. In 355 she established a religious sisterhood with her mother, and consecrated her life to retirement and religious meditation, holy thoughts and exercises--as she said, "to the attainment of the angelical life." The community consisted of herself, her mother, her female servants and slaves, and soon devout women of rank joined them, and the community became very prosperous.
Peter was made Presbyter A.D. 371. Her mother died in 373 and her distinguished brother in 379. Her own health had failed, when, some months after Basil's death, her brother Gregory visited her. 2 He found her in an incurable fever, stretched on planks on the ground, and, according to the ascetic ideas then beginning to prevail, the planks barely covered with sackcloth. Gregory relates what followed with great minuteness. He was overwhelmed with grief at Basil's death. Macrina comforted him, and even rebuked him for mourning like a heathen when he possessed the Christian's hope. He described the persecutions he had experienced, whereupon she chided and reminded him that he ought rather to thank his parents who had qualified him to be worthy of such experiences. Gregory relates that she controlled all evidences of suffering, and that her countenance continually wore a angelic smile.
Macrina's Religious Sentiments
He probably gives us her exact sentiments in his own language on universal restoration, in which she rises into a grand description of the purifying effects of all future punishment, and the separation thereby of the evil from the good in man, and the entire destruction of all evil. Her words tell us their mutual views. On the "all in all" of Paul she says:
"The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them."
"For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being. For since by its very nature evil cannot exist apart from free choice, when all free choice becomes in the power of God, shall not evil advance to utter annihilation so that no receptacle for it at all shall be left?"
In this conversation in which the sister sustains by far the leading part, the resurrection (anastasis) and the restoration (apokatastasis) are regarded as synonymous, as when Macrina declares that "the resurrection is only the restoration of human nature to its pristine condition."
On Phil. 2:10, Macrina declares. "When the evil has been exterminated in the long cycles of the æons nothing shall be left outside the boundaries of good, but even from them shall be unanimously uttered the confession of the Lordship of Christ."
She said: "The process of healing shall be proportioned to the measure of evil in each of us, and when the evil is purged and blotted out, there shall come in each place to each immortality and life and honor."
Her Last Days
Seeing the weariness of her brother she bade him rest. Revisiting her at the close of the day she reviewed thankfully her past life and rejoiced that she had never in her life refused any one who had asked a charity of her, and had never been compelled to ask a charity for herself.
Next morning, Gregory says, she consoled and cheered him as long as she could talk, and when her voice failed she conversed with her hands and silent lips. Repeating the sign of the cross to the latest moment she finished her life and her prayers together. Her last words were in advocacy of the doctrine of universal salvation, of which Gregory's writings are full.
She was buried by her brother in the grave of her parents, in the Chapel of the "Forty Martyrs."
Macrina a Representative Universalist
We have here a most suggestive picture to contemplate. Macrina at the head of a sisterhood, consisted of several hundred women of all grades, from her own rank down to slaves. Their sole object was the cultivation of the religious life. Can it be otherwise than that the views of human destiny she held were dwelt upon by her in the religious exercises of the institution, and must they not have been generally sympathized with by the devout in mates? And can we doubt that those who had here retired from the world to cultivate their religious natures, were representative in their views of human destiny of the Christian community generally? The fact that Macrina and her brothers, high functionaries in the church, express Universalism, not argumentatively or disputingly, but as a matter uncontested, should persuade us that it was the unchallenged sentiment of the time.
Curiously enough, Cave, in his "Lives of the Fathers," questions Macrina's Universalism. In his life of Gregory he says, after sketching Macrina's life: "She is said by some to have been infected with Origen's opinions, but finding it reported by no other than Nicephorus, I suppose he mistook her for her grandmother, Macrina, auditor of St. Gregory, who had Origen for his tutor." This is a specimen instance of the manner in which historians have read history through theological spectacles, and written history in ink squeezed from their creeds.
There is no doubt that the elder Macrina was of the same faith as her granddaughter, for she was a disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgus, who idolized Origen. On the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, "the blessed Macrina" lived a holy life and died the death of a perfect Christian, molded, guided and sustained by the influence and power of Universalism. And the careful reader of the history of those early days can but feel that she represents the prevailing religious faith of the three first and three best centuries of the church.
By J.W. Hanson (Excerpt from "Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Church for its First 500 Years")