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Fathers of the Church

Letter CCXLIV: to Patrophilus, Bishop of Aegae


Basil relates the charges against him and the defense that he has prepared.


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. I HAVE read, and read with pleasure, the letter which you have sent by Strategius the presbyter. How should I not so read it, written as it is by a wise man, and dictated by a heart which has learned to observe the universal love taught by the commandment of the Lord? Possibly I am not unaware of the reasons which have hitherto kept you silent. You have been, as it were, amazed and astounded, at the idea of the change in the notorious Basil. Why, ever since he was a boy he did such and such service to such an one; at such and such times he did such and such things; he waged war against foes innumerable for the sake of his allegiance to one man; now he has become a totally different character; he has exchanged love for war; he is all that you have written; so you naturally shew considerable astonishment at the very unexpected turn of affairs. And if you have found some fault, I do not take it ill. I am not so beyond correction as to be amazed at the affectionate rebukes of my brothers. Indeed so far was I from being vexed at your letter that it really almost made me laugh to think that when there were, as I thought, so many strong causes already existing to cement our friendship, you should have expressed such very great astonishment at the trifles which have been reported to you. So truly have you suffered the fate of all those who omit to enquire into the nature of circumstances, and give heed to the men who are being discussed; of all who do not examine into the truth, but judge by the distinction of persons, in forgetfulness of the exhortion "Ye shall not respect persons in judgment."

2. Nevertheless, since God in judgment of man does not accept persons, I will not refuse to make known to you the defence which I have prepared for the great tribunal. On my side, from the beginning, there has been no cause of quarrel, either small or great; but men who hate me, for what reason is best known to themselves (I must not say a word about them), incessantly calumniated me. I cleared myself again and again of slanders. There seemed no end to the matter, and no good came of my continual defence, because I was far away, and the authors of the false statements, being on the spot, were able by their calumnies against me to wound a susceptible heart, and one which has never learnt to keep one ear open. for the absent. When the Nicopolitans, as you yourself are partly aware, were asking for some proof of faith, I determined to have recourse to the written document. I thought that I should fulfil two objects at once; I expected both to persuade the Nicopolitans not to think ill of the man, and to shut the mouths of my calumniators, because agreement in faith would exclude slander on both sides. Indeed the creed had been drawn up, and it was brought from me, and signed. After it had been signed, a place was appointed for a second meeting, and another date fixed, so that my brethren in the diocese might come together and be united with one another, and our communion for the future be genuine and sincere. I, for my part, arrived at the appointed time, and, of the brethren who act with me, some were on the spot, and others were hurrying thither, all joyous and eager as though on the high road to peace. Couriers and a letter from myself announced my arrival; for the spot appointed for the reception of those who were assembling was mine. But nobody appeared on the other side; no one came in advance; no one to announce the approach of the expected bishops. So those who had been sent by me returned with the report of the deep dejection and the complaints of those who were assembled, as though a new creed had been promulgated by me. They were moreover said to be for deciding, that they certainly would not suffer their bishop to go over to me. Then came a messenger bringing me a letter hastily drawn up, and containing no mention of the points originally agreed on. My brother Theophilus, a man worthy of all respect and honour at my hands, sent one of his adherents, and made certain announcements, which he thought it not improper for him to utter, nor unbecoming in me to hear. He did not condescend to write, not so much because he was afraid of being convicted on written evidence, as because he was anxious not to be compelled to address me as bishop. Assuredly his language was violent, and came from a heart a vehemently agitated. Under these circumstances I departed abashed and depressed, not knowing what to answer to my questioners. Then, without any long interval of time, there was the journey into Cilicia, the return thence, and forthwith a letter repudiating communion with me.

3. The cause of the rupture was the allegation that I wrote to Apollinarius and was in communion with the presbyter Diodorus. I never regarded Apollinarius as an enemy, and for some reasons I even respect him. But I never so far trotted myself to him as to take upon me the charges against him; indeed I have myself some accusations to bring against him after reading some of his books. I do not know that I ever asked him for a book on the Holy Spirit, or received it on his sending: I am told that he has become a most copious writer, but I have read very few of his works. I have not even time to investigate such matters. Indeed I shrink from admitting any of the more recent works, for my health does not even allow of my reading the inspired Scriptures with diligence and as I ought. What, then, is it to me, if some one has written something displeasing to somebody else? Yet if one man is to render an account on behalf of another, let him who accuses me for Apollinarius' sake defend himself to me for the sake of Arius his own master and of Aetius his own disciple. I never learnt anything from, nor taught anything to this man whose guilt is laid at my door. Diodorus, as a nursling of the blessed Silvanus, I did receive from the beginning: I love him now and respect him on account of his grace of speech, whereby many who meet him are made the better men.

4. At this letter I was affected in such a manner as might be expected, and astounded at so sudden and pleasant a change. I felt quite unable to reply. My heart could hardly beat; my tongue failed me, and my hand grew numb. I felt like a poor creature (for the truth shall be told; yet it is pardonable); I all but fell into a state of misanthropy; I looked on every one with suspicion and thought that there was no charity to be found in mankind. Charity seemed a mere specious word, serving as a kind of decoration to those who use it, while no such sentiment was really to be found in the heart of man. Could it really be that out who seethed to have disciplined himself froth boyhood to old age, could be so easily brutalized on such grounds, without a thought for me, without any idea that his experience of bygone years ought to have more weight than this wretched slander? Could he really, like an unbroken colt as yet untaught to carry his rider properly, on some petty suspicion rear and unseat his rider and fling to the ground what was once his pride? If so, what must be thought of the rest with whom I had no such strong ties of friendship, and who had given no such proofs of a well trained life? All this I turned over in my soul and continually revolved in my heart, or, shall I rather say my heart was turned over by these things fighting and pricking me at the recollection of them? I wrote no answer; not that I kept silence from contempt; do not think it of me my brother, for I am not defending myself to men but I speak before God in Christ. I kept silence from utter inability to say a word commensurate with my grief.

5. While I was in this position another letter came to me, addressed to a certain Dazizas, but in reality written to all the world. This is obvious from its very rapid distribution, for in a few days it was delivered all over Pontus, and was travelling about Galatia; indeed it is said that the carriers of this good news traversed Bithynia, and reached the Hellespont itself. What was written against me to Dazizas you are very well aware, for they do not reckon you as so far beyond the bounds of their friendship as to have left you alone undistinguished by this honour. However, if the letter has not reached you, I will send it to you. In it you will find me charged with craft and treachery, with corruption of Churches and with ruin of souls. The charge which they think the truest of all is, that I made that exposition of the faith for secret and dishonest reasons, not to do service to the Nicopolitans, but with the design of disingenously extracting a confession from them. Of all this the Lord is Judge. What clear evidence can there be of the thoughts of the heart? One thing I do wonder at in them, that after signing the document presented by me, they show so much disagreement, that they confuse truth and falsehood to satisfy those who t are accusing them, quite forgetful that their written confession of the Nicene Creed is preserved at Rome, and that they with their own hand delivered to the council at Tyana the document brought from Rome which is in my hands, and contains the same creed. They forgot their own address, when they came forward and bewailed the deceit by which they had been tricked into giving their adhesion to the document drawn up by the faction of Eudoxius, and so bethought them of the defence for that error, that they should go to Rome and there accept the creed of the Fathers, that so they might make amends, for the mischief they had done the Church by their agreement in evil, by their introduction of something better. Now the very men who undertook long journeys for the faith's sake, and made all these fine speeches, are reviling me for walking craftily, and for playing the plotter under the cloke of love. It is plain from the Letter, now bring carried about, that they have condemned the faith of Nicaea. They saw Cyzicus, and came home with another creed.

6. But why say anything of mere verbal inconsistency? The practical proofs of their change of position afforded by their conduct are far stronger. They refused to yield to the sentence of fifty bishops passed against them. They declined to resign the government of their Churches although the number of bishops assenting to the decree for their deposition was so many, on the alleged ground that they were not partakers of the Holy Ghost, and were not governing their Churches by the grace of God, but had clutched their dignity by the aid of human power, and through lust of vain glory. Now they are for receiving the men consecrated by these same persons as bishops. I should like you to ask them in my stead, (although they despise all mankind, is bereft of eyes, ears, and common sense), to perceive the inconsistency of their conduct, what sentiments they do really entertain in their own hearts. How can there be two bishops, one deposed by Euippius, and the other consecrated by him? Both are the actions of the same man. Had he not been endowed with the grace bestowed upon Jeremiah to pull down and build again, to root out and to plant, he certainly would not have rooted the one out and planted the other. Grant him the one and you must grant him the other. Their one object, as it seems, is everywhere to look to their own advantage, and to regard every one who acts in accordance with their own wishes as a friend, while they treat any one who opposes them as an enemy, and spare no calumny to run him down.

7. What measures are they now taking against the Church? For the shiftiness of their originators, shocking; for the apathy of all who are affected by them, pitiable. By a respectable commission the children and grandchildren of Euippius have been summoned from distant regions to Sebasteia, and to them the people have been entrusted. They have taken possession of the altar. They have been made the leaven of that Church. I am persecuted by them as a Homoousiast. Eustathius, who brought the Homoousion in the script from Rome to Tyana, although he was not able to get admitted into their much to be coveted communion, either because they feared, or respected the authority of, the large number of persons who had agreed in condemning him, is now in intimate alliance with them. I only hope that I may never have time enough on my hands to tell of all their doings—who were gathered together, how each one had been ordained, and from what kind of earlier life each arrived at his present dignity. I have been taught to pray "that my mouth may not utter the works of the men." If you enquire you will learn these things for yourself, and, if they are hidden from you, they will not assuredly continue hidden from the judges.

8. I will not, however, omit to tell you, my dear friend, in what a state I have been. Last year I suffered from a very violent fever, and came near to the gates of death. When, by God's mercy, I was restored, I was distressed at coming back to life, as I bethought me of all the troubles before me. I considered with myself for what reason, hidden in the depths of the wisdom of God, yet further clays of life in the flesh had been allowed me. But when I heard of these matters I concluded that the Lord wished a me to see the Churches at rest after the storm c which they had previously suffered from the alienation of the men in whom, on account of their fictitious gravity of character, every confidence had been placed. Or peradventure the Lord designed to invigorate my soul, and to render it more vigilant for the future, to the end that, instead of giving heed to men, it might be made perfect through those precepts of the Gospel which do not share in the changes and chances of human seasons and circumstances, but abide for ever the same, as they were uttered by the blessed lips that cannot lie.

9. Men are like clouds, shifting hither and thither in the sky with the change of the winds. And of all men who have ever come within my experience these of whom I am speaking are the most unstable. As to the other business of life, those who have lived with them may give evidence; but as to what is within my own knowledge, their inconsistency as regards the faith, I do not know that I have ever myself observed it or heard from any one else, of anything like it. Originally they were followers of Arius; then they went over to Hermogenes, who was diametrically opposed to the errors of Arius, as is evinced by the Creed originally recited by him at Nicaea. Hermogenes, fell asleep, and then they went over to Eusebius, the coryphaeus, as we know on personal evidence, of the Arian ring. Leaving this, for whatever reasons, they came home again, and once more concealed their Arian sentiments. After reaching the episcopate, to pass by what occurred in the interval, how many creeds did they put forth? One at Ancyra; another at Seleucia; another at Constantinople, the famous one; another at Lampsacus, then that of Nike in Thrace; and now again the creed of Cyzicus. Of this last I know nothing, except that I am told that they have suppressed the homoousion, and are supporting the like in essence, while they subscribe with Eunomius the bias phemies against the Holy Spirit. Although all of the creeds which I have enumerated may not be opposed to one another, yet they alike exhibit the inconsistency of the men's minds, from their never standing by the same words. I have said nothing as to countless other points, but this that I do say is true. Now that they have gone over to you, I beg you to write back by the same man, I mean our fellow presbyter Strategius, whether you have remained in the same mind towards me, or whether you have been alienated in consequence of your meeting them. For it was not likely that they would be silent, nor that you yourself, after writing to me as yon have. would not use free speaking to them too. If you remain in communion with me, it is well; it is what I would most earnestly pray for. If they have drawn you over to them, it is sad. How should separation from such a brother not be sad? If in nothing else, at least in bearing losses like this, we have been considerably tried at their hands.

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.