Fathers of the Church
Letter XXII: Without Address. on the Perfection of the Life of solitaries
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. MANY things are set forth by inspired Scripture as binding upon all who are anxious to please God. But, for the present, I have only deemed it necessary to speak by way of brief reminder concerning the questions which have recently been stirred among you, so far as I have learnt from the study of inspired Scripture itself. I shall thus leave behind me detailed evidence, easy of apprehension, for the information of industrious students, who in their turn will be able to inform others. The Christian ought to be so minded as becomes his heavenly calling, and his life and conversation ought to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. The Christian ought not to be of doubtful mind, nor by anything drawn away from the recollection of God and of His purposes and judgments. The Christian ought in all things to become superior to the righteousness existing under the law, and neither swear nor lie. He ought not to speak evil; to do violence; to fight; to avenge himself; to return evil for evil; to be angry. The Christian ought to be patient, whatever he have to suffer, and to convict the wrong-doer in season, not with the desire of his own vindication, but of his brother's reformation, according to the commandment of the Lord. The Christian ought not to say anything behind his brother's back with the object of calumniating him, for this is slander, even if what is said is true. He ought to turn away from the brother who speaks evil against him; he ought not to indulge in jesting. he ought not to laugh nor even to suffer laugh makers. He must not talk idly, saying things which are of no service to the hearers nor to such usage as is necessary and permitted us by God; so that workers may do their best as far as possible to work in silence; and that good words be suggested to them by those who are entrusted with the duty of carefully dispensing the word to the building up of the faith, lest God's Holy Spirit be grieved. Any one who comes in ought not to be able, of his own tree will, to accost or speak to any of the brothers, before those to whom the responsibility of general discipline is committed have approved of it as pleasing to God, with a view to the common good. The Christian ought not to be enslaved by wine; nor to be eager for flesh meat, and as a general rule ought not to be a lover of pleasure in eating or drinking, "for every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things." The Christian ought to regard all the things that are given him for his use, not as his to hold as his own or to lay up; and, giving careful heed to all things as the Lord's, not to overlook any of the things that are being thrown aside and disregarded, should this be the case. No Christian ought to think of himself as his own master, but each should rather so think and act as though given by God to be slave to his like minded brethren; but "every man in his own order."
2. The Christian ought never to murmur either in scarcity of necessities, or in toil or labour, for the responsibility in these matters; lies with such as have authority in them. There never ought to be any clamour, or any behaviour or agitation by which anger is expressed, or diversion of mind from the full assurance of the presence of God.
The voice should be modulated; no one ought to answer another, or do anything, but in all thing roughly or contemptuously, moderation and respect should be shewn to every one. No wily glances of the eye are to be allowed, nor any behaviour or gestures which grieve a brother and shew contempt. Any display in cloak or shoes is to be avoided; it is idle ostentation. Cheap things ought to be used for bodily necessity; and nothing ought to be spent beyond what is necessary, or for mere extravagance; this is a misuse of our property. The Christian ought not to seek for honour, or claim precedence. Every one ought to put all others before himself. The Christian ought not to be unruly. He who is able to work ought not to cat the bread of idleness, but even he who is busied in deeds well done for the glory of Christ ought to force himself to the active discharge of such work as he can do. Every Christian, with the approval of his superiors, ought so to do everything with reason and assurance, even down to actual eating and drinking, as done to the glory of God. The Christian ought not to change over from one work to another without the approval of those who are appointed for the arrangement of such matters; unless some unavoidable necessity suddenly summon any one to the relief of the helpless. Every one ought to remain in his appointed post, not to go beyond his own bounds and intrude into what is not commanded him, unless the responsible authorities judge any one to be in need of aid. No one ought to be found going from one workshop to another. Nothing ought to be done in rivalry or strife with any one.
3. The Christian ought not to grudge another's reputation, nor rejoice over any man's faults; he ought in Christ's love to grieve and be afflicted at his brother's faults, and rejoice over his brother's good deeds. He ought not to be indifferent or silent before sinners. He who shows another to be wrong ought to do so with all tenderness, in the fear of God, and with the object of converting the sinner. He who is proved wrong or rebuked ought to take it willingly, recognizing his own gain in being set right. When any one is being accused, it is not right for another, before him or any one else, to contradict the accuser; but if at any time the charge seems groundless to any one, he ought privately to enter into discussion with the accuser, and either produce, or acquire, conviction. Every one ought, as far as he is able, to conciliate one who has ground of complaint against him. No one ought to cherish a grudge against the sinner who repents, but heartily to forgive him. He who says that he has repented of a sin ought not only to be pricked with compunction for his sin, but also to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. He who has been corrected in first faults, and received pardon, if he sins again prepares for himself a judgment of wrath worse than the former. He, who after the first and second admonition abides in his fault, ought to be brought before the person in authority, if haply after being rebuked by more he may be ashamed. If even thus he fail to be set right he is to be cut off from the rest as one that maketh to offend, and regarded as a heathen and a publican, for the security of them that are obedient, according to the saving, When the impious fall the righteous tremble. He should be grieved over as a limb cut from the body. The sun ought not to go down upon a brother's wrath, lest haply night come between brother and brother, and make the charge stand in the day of judgment. A Christian ought not to wait for an opportunity for his own amendment, because there is no certainty about the morrow; for many after many devices bare not reached the morrow. He ought not to be beguiled by over eating, whence come dreams in the night. He ought not to be distracted by immoderate toil, nor overstep the bounds of sufficiency, as the apostle says, "Having food and raiment let us be therewith content;" unnecessary abundance gives appearance of covetousness, and covetousness is condemned as idolatry. A Christian ought not to be a lover of money, nor lay up treasure for unprofitable ends. He who comes to God ought to embrace poverty in all things, and to be riveted in the fear of God, according to the words, "Rivet my flesh in thy fear, for I am afraid of thy judgments." The Lord grant that you may receive what I have said with full conviction and shew forth fruits worthy of the Spirit to the glory of God, by God's good pleasure, and the cooperation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (PNPF II/VIII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.