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Fathers of the Church

Letter CXXV

Description

Basil discusses the Nicene Creed, and as usual, focuses on the Arian heresy of calling the Holy Spirit a "creature."

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

A transcript of the faith as dictated by Saint Basil, and subscribed by Eustathius, bishop of Sebasteia.

1. Both men whose minds have been preoccupied by a heterodox creed and now wish to change over to the congregation of the orthodox, and also those who are now for the first time desirous of being instructed in the doctrine of truth, must be taught the creed drawn up by the blessed fathers in the Council which met at Nicaea. The same training would also be exceedingly useful in the case of all who are under suspicion of being in a state of hostility to sound doctrine, and who by ingenious and plausible excuses keep the depravity of their sentiments out of view. For these too this creed is all that is needed. They will either get cured of their concealed unsoundness, or, by continuing to keep it concealed, will themselves bear the load of the sentence due to their dishonesty, and will provide us with an easy defence in the day of judgment, when the Lord will lift the cover from the hidden things of darkness, and "make manifest the counsels of the hearts." It is therefore desirable to receive them with the confession not only that they believe in the words put forth by our fathers at Nicaea, but also according to the sound meaning expressed by those words, For there are men who even in this creed pervert the word of truth, and wrest the meaning of the words in it to suit their own notions. So Marcellus, when expressing impious sentiments concerning the hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ, and describing Him as being Logos and nothing more, had the hardihood to profess to find a pretext for his principles in that creed by affixing an improper sense upon the Homoousion. Some, moreover, of the impious following of the Libyan Sabellius, who understand hypostasis and substance to be identical, derive ground for the establishment of their blasphemy from the same source, because of its having been written in the creed "if any one says that the Son is of a different substance or hypostasis, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes him." But they did not there state hypostasis and substance to be identical. Had the words expressed one and the same meaning, what need of both? It is on the contrary clear that while by some it was denied that the Son was of the same substance with the Father, and some asserted that He was not of the substance and was of some other hypostasis, they thus condemned both opinions as outside that held by the Church. When they set forth their own view, they declared the Son to be of the substance of the Father, but they did not add the words "of the hypostasis." The former clause stands for the condemnation of the faulty view; the latter plainly states the dogma of salvation. We are therefore bound to confess the Son to be of one substance with the Father, as it is written; but the Father to exist in His own proper hypostasis, the Son in His, and the Holy Ghost in His, as they themselves have clearly delivered the doctrine. They indeed clearly and satisfactorily declared in the words Light of Light, that the Light which begat and the Light which was begotten, are distinct, and yet Light and Light; so that the definition of the Substance is one and the same. I will now subjoin the actual creed as it was drawn up at Nicaea.

2. pisteu'omen eis he'na Theo`n Pate'ra pantokra'tora, pa'ntwn horatw^n te kai` aora'twn poihth'n: [poihth`n ouranou^ kai` gh^s horatw^n te pa'ntwn kai aora'twn.]

kai eis he'na Ku'rion Ihsou^n Xristo'n, ton huio`n tou^ Theou^ [to`n monogenh^] gennhthe'nta ek tou^ Patro`s monogenh^. [to`n ek tou^ Patro`s gennhthe'nta pro` pa'ntwn tw^n aiw^nwn.]

toute'stin ek th^s ousi'as tou^ Patro's, Theo`n ek Theou^ [omit], Ph^s ek Phwp^tos, Theo`n alhthino`n ek Theou^ alhthinou^, gennhthe'nta ou poihthe'nta, omoou'sion tw^(i) Patri, di' ou ta` pa'nta ege'neto, ta' te en tw^(i) ouranw^(i) kai` ta' en th^(i) gh^(i) [omit].

to`n di' hhma^s tous anthrwpou`s kai` dia` th`n hhme'teran swthri'an, kateltho'nta [ek tw^n ouranw^n] kai` sarkwthe'nta. [ek pneu'matos hagi'ou kai` Mari'as th^s parthe'nou.]

kai` enanthrwph'santa [staurwthe'nta te hupe`r hhmw^n epi` Ponti'ou Pila'tou, kai`], patho'nta [kai` taphe'nta], kai' anasta'nta th^(i) trith^(i) hhme'ra [kata` ta`s grapha`s kai`], aneltho'nta eis tou`s ouranou`s. [kai` kathezo'menon ek dexiw^n tou^ Patro's.]

kai' pa'lin ercho'menon [meta` do'xhs] kri^nai zw^ntas kai` nekrou's: [ou^ th^s basilei'as ouk e'stai te'los:]

kai` eis to` Pneu^ma to` ha'gion. [to` Ku'rion kai` to` zwopoio`n to` ek tou^ Patro`s ekporeuo'menon, to` su`n Patri` kai` Huiw^(i) sumproskunou'menon kai` sundoxazo'menon, to` lalh^san dia` tw^n prophhtw^n: eis mi'an hagi'an katholikhn` kai` apostolikh`n ekklhsi'an, homologou^men he`n ba'ptisma eis a'phesin amartiw^n, prosdokw^men ana'stasin nekrw^n, kai` zwh`n tou^ me'llontos aiw^nos. Amh`n.]

tous de` le'gontas, h^n pote ho'te ouk h^n, kai` pri`n gennhthh^nai ouk h^n, kai` ho'ti ex ouk o'ntwn ege'neto, h` ex ete'ras uposta'sews h` ousi'as pha'skontas ei^nai, h` ktisto`n h` h` trepto`n h` alloiwto`n to`n Huio`n tou^ Theou^, toutou`s anathemati'zei hh katholikh` kai` apostolikh` ekklhsi'a. [Omit all the Anathemas.]

3. Here then all points but one are satisfactorily and exactly defined, some for the correction of what had been corrupted, some as a precaution against errors expected to arise. The doctrine of the Spirit, however, is merely mentioned, as needing no elaboration, because at the time of the Council no question was mooted, and the opinion on this subject in the hearts of the faithful was exposed to no attack. Little by little, however, the growing poison-germs of impiety, first sown by Arius, the champion of the heresy, and then by those who succeeded to his inheritance of mischief, were nurtured to the plague of the Church, and the regular development of the impiety issued in blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Under these circumstances we are under the necessity of putting before the men who have no pity for themselves, and shut their eyes to the inevitable threat directed by our Lord against blasphemers of the Holy Ghost, their bounden duty. They must anathematize all who call the Holy Ghost a creature, and all who so think; all who do not confess that He is holy by nature, as the Father is holy by nature, and the Son is holy by nature, and refuse Him His place in the blessed divine nature. Our not separating Him from Father and Son is a proof of our right mind, for we are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received and to profess belief in the terms in which we are baptized, and as we have professed belief in, so to give glory to Father, on, and Holy Ghost; and to hold aloof from the communion of all who call Him creature, as from open blasphemers. One point must be regarded as settled; and the remark is necessary because of our slanderers; we do not speak of the Holy Ghost as unbegotten, for we recognise one Unbegotten and one Origin of all things, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: nor do we speak of the Holy Ghost as begotten, for by the tradition of the faith we have been taught one Only-begotten: the Spirit of truth we have been taught to proceed from the Father, and we confess Him to be of God without creation. We are also bound to anathematize all who speak of the Holy Ghost as ministerial, inasmuch as by this term they degrade Him to the rank of a creature. For that the ministering spirits are creatures we are told by Scripture in the words "they are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister." But because of men who make universal confusion, and do not keep the doctrine of the Gospels, it is necessary to add yet this further, that they are to be shunned, as plainly hostile to true religion, who invert the order left us by the Lord, and put the Son before the Father, and the Holy Spirit before the Son. For we must keep unaltered and inviolable that order which we have received from the very words of the Lord, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them m the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

I, Eustathius, bishop, have read to thee, Basil, and understood; and I assent to what is written above. I have signed in the presence of our Fronto, Severus, the chorepiscopus, and several other clerics.

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.