Fathers of the Church
Letter CCLXXII: to Sophronius the Magister Officiorum
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. It has been reported to me by Actiacus the deacon, that certain men have moved you to anger against me, by falsely stating me to be ill- disposed towards your excellency. I cannot be astonished at a man in your position being followed by certain sycophants. High position seems to be in some way naturally attended by miserable hangers-on of this kind. Destitute as they are of any good quality of their own whereby they may be known, they endeavour to recommend themselves by means of other people's ills. Peradventure, just as mildew is a blight which grows in corn, so flattery stealing upon friendship is a blight of friendship. So, as I said, I am by no means astonished that these men should buzz about your bright and distinguished hearth, as drones do about the hives. But what has moved my wonderment, and has seemed altogether astounding, is that a man like yourself, specially distinguished by the seriousness of your character, should have been induced to give both your ears to these people and to accept their calumny against me. From my youth up to this my old age I have felt affection for many men, but I am not aware that I have ever felt greater affection for any one than for your excellency. Even had not my reason induced me to regard a man of such a character, our intimacy from boyhood would have sufficed to attach me to your soul. You know yourself how much custom has to do with friendship. Pardon my deficiency, if I can show nothing worthy of this preference. You will not ask some deed from me in proof of my good will; you will be satisfied with a temper of mind which assuredly prays for you that yon may have all that is best. May your fortunes never fall so low, as that you should need the aid of any one so insignificant as myself!
2. How then was I likely to say anything against you, or to take any action in the matter of Memnonius? These points were reported to me by the deacon. How could I put the wealth of Hymetius before the friendship of one so prodigal of his substance as you are? There is no truth in any of these things. I have neither said nor done anything against you. Possibly some ground may have been given for some of the lies that are being told, by my remarking to some of those who are causing disturbance, "If the man has determined to accomplish what he has in mind, then, whether you make disturbance or not, what he means to be done will certainly be done. You will speak, or hold your tongues; it will make no difference. If he changes his mind, beware how you defame my friend's honourable name. Do not, under the pretence of zeal in your patron's cause, attempt to make some personal profit out of your attempts to threaten and alarm." As to that person's making his will. I have never said one word, great or small, directly or indirectly, about the matter.
3. You must not refuse to believe what I say, unless you regard me as quite a desperate character, who thinks nothing of the great sin of lying. Put away all suspicion of me in relation to the business, and for the future reckon my affection for you as beyond the reach of all calumny. Imitate Alexander, who received a letter, saying that his physician was plotting his death, at the very moment when he was just about to drink his medicine, and was so far from believing the slanderer that he at one and the same time read the letter and drank the drought. I refuse to admit that I am in any way inferior to the men who have been famous for their friendship, for I have never been detected in any breach of mine; and, besides this, I have received from my God. the commandment of love, and owe you love not only as part of mankind in general, but because I recognise you individually as a benefactor both of my country and of myself.
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.