Fathers of the Church

Letter CCLXI: to the Sozopolitans

Description

Basil writes against those who are trying to overthrow the doctrine of the Incarnation.

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

I HAVE received the letter which you, right honourable brethren, have sent me concerning the circumstances in which you are placed. I thank the Lord that you have let me share in the anxiety you feel as to your attention to things needful and deserving of serious heed. But I was distressed to hear that over and above the disturbance brought on the Churches by the Arians, and the confusion caused by them in the definition of the faith, there has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture. You write that there are men among you who are trying to destroy the saving incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, so far as they can, are overthrowing the grace of the great mystery unrevealed from everlasting, bat manifested in His own times, when the Lord, when He had gone through all things pertaining to the cure of the human race, bestowed on all of us the been of His own sojourn among us. For He helped His own creation, first through the patriarchs, whose lives were set forth as examples anti rules to all willing to follow the footsteps of the saints, and with zeal like theirs to reach the perfection of good works. Next for succour He gave the Law, ordaining it by angels in the hand of Moses; then the prophets, foretelling the salvation to come; judges, kings, and righteous men, doing great works, with a mighty a hand. After all these in the last days He was Himself manifested ill the flesh, "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."

2. If, then, the sojourn of the Lord in flesh has never taken place, the Redeemer paid not the fine to death on our behalf, nor through Himself destroyed death's reign. For if what was reigned over by death was not that which was assumed by the Lord death would not have ceased working his own ends, nor would the sufferings of the God-bearing flesh have been rustle our gain; He would not have killed sin in the flesh: we who had died in Adam should not have been made alive in Christ; the fallen to pieces would not have been framed again; the shattered would not have been set up again; that which by the serpent's trick had been estranged from God would never have been made once more His own. All these boons are undone by those that assert that it was with a heavenly body that the Lord came among us. And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained to be assumed of the lump of Adam, what need was there of the Holy Virgin? But who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma of Valentinus, now long ago silenced? For this impious doctrine of the seeming is no novelty. It was started long ago by the feeble-minded Valentinus, who, after tearing off a few of the Apostle's statements, constructed for himself this impious fabrication, asserting that the Lord assumed the "form of a servant," and not the servant himself, and that He was made in the " likeness," but that actual manhood was not assumed by Him. Similar sentiments are expressed by these men who can only be pitied for bringing new troubles upon you.

3. As to the statement that human feelings are transmitted to the actual Godhead, it is one made by men who preserve no order in their thoughts, and are ignorant that there is a distinction between the feelings of flesh, of flesh endowed with soul, and of soul using a body. It is the property of flesh to undergo division, diminution, dissolution; of flesh endowed with soul to feel weariness, pain, hunger, thirst, and to be overcome by sleep; of soul using body to feel grief, heaviness, anxiety, and such like. Of these some are natural and necessary to every living creature; others come of evil will, and are superinduced because of life's lacking proper discipline and training for virtue. Hence it is evident that oar Lord assumed the natural affections to establish His real incarnation, and not by way of semblance of incantation, and that all the affections derived from evil that besmirch the purity of our life. He rejected as unworthy of His unsullied Godhead. It is on this account that He is said to have been "made in the likeness of flesh of sin; " not, as these men hold, in likeness of flesh, but of flesh of sin. It follows that He took our flesh with its natural afflictions, but " did no sin." Just as the death which is in tim flesh. transmitted to us through Adam, was swallowed up by the Godhead, so was the sin taken away by the righteousness which is in Christ Jesus, so that in the resurrection we receive back the flesh neither liable to death nor subject to sin.

These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God's judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware. May the Lord grant that one day we may meet, so that all that my argument has let slip I may supply when we stand face to face! I have written little when there was much to say, for I did not like to go beyond my letter's bounds. At the same time I do not doubt that to all that fear the Lord a brief reminder is enough.

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.