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Fathers of the Church

Letter LIII: to the Chorepiscopi

Description

Basil condemns the practice of taking money from candidates in exchange for ordination. The Chorepiscopi was the name originally given in the Eastern Church to bishops whose jurisdiction was confined to rural districts. In the beginning the chorepiscopi seem to have exercised all episcopal functions in their rural districts, but from the second half of the third century they were subject to the city bishops, such as St. Basil.

Provenance

St. Basil's correspondence is a copious and invaluable store of information for the history of the Eastern Church in the fourth century, particularly in Cappadocia. Since he never found a real biographer, his letters represent the best source for his life and times, for his many activities and far-reaching influence, especially for his personality and his character. (Quasten)

by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A

1. MY soul is deeply pained at the enormity of the matter on which I write, if for this only, that it has caused general suspicion and talk. But so far it has seemed to me incredible. I hope then that what I am writing about it may be taken by the guilty as medicine, by the innocent as a warning, by the indifferent, in which class I trust none of you may be found, as a testimony. And what is it of which I speak? There is a report that some of you take money from candidates for ordination, and excuse it on grounds of religion. This is indeed worse. If any one does evil under the guise of good he deserves double punishment; because he not only does what is in itself not good, but, so to say, makes good an accomplice in the commission of sin. If the allegation be true, let it be so no more. Let a better state of things begin. To the recipient of the bribe it must be said, as was said by the Apostles to him who was willing to give money to buy the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, "Thy money perish with thee. It is a lighter sin to wish in ignorance to buy, than it is to sell, the gift of God. A sale it was; and if you sell what you received as a free gift you will be deprived of the boon, as though you were yourself sold to Satan. You are obtruding the traffic of the huckster into spiritual things and into the Church where we are entrusted with the body and blood of Christ. These things mast not be. And I will mention wherein lies an ingenious contrivance. They think that there is no sin because they take the money not before but after the ordination; but to take is to take at whatever time.

2. I exhort you, then, abandon this gain, or, I would rather says this approach to Hell. Do not, by defiling your hands with such bribes, render yourselves unfit to celebrate holy mysteries. But forgive me. I began by discrediting; and now I am threatening as though I were convinced. If, after this letter of mine, any one do anything of the kind, he will depart from the altars here and will seek a place where he is able to buy and to sell God's gift. We and the Churches of God have no such custom. One word more, and I have done. These things come of covetousness. Now covetousness is the root of all evil and is called idolatry. Do not then price idols above Christ for the sake of a little money. Do not imitate Judas and once more betray for a bribe Him who was crucified for us. For alike the lands and the hands of all that make such gain shall be called Aceldama.

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.