Fathers of the Church

Letter CCCLXVI: Basil to Urbicius the Monk, Concerning Continency

Description

Among the letters of recommendation that Basil wrote are his communications with Libanius of Antioch. Basil's missives to Libanius introduce young Cappadocian students to the distinguished Greek sophist and rhetorician; Libanius' letters to Basil are notes of thanks. The entire correspondence is interesting for the history of the personalities involved as well as for the fact that such an exchange between a priest and a pronounced pagan was at all possible. (Quasten)

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. Always ready to help, Basil addressed a great number of letters to high authorities and wealthy persons in order to recommend the poor and oppressed, to intercede for cities and towns, for relatives and friends. (Quasten)

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

You do well in making exact definitions for us, so that we may recognise not only continency, but its fruit. Now its fruit is the companionship of God. For not to be corrupted, is to have part with God; just as to be corrupted is the companionship of the world. Continency is denial of the body, and confession to God. It withdraws from anything mortal, like a body which has the Spirit of God. It is without rivalry and envy, and causes us to be united to God. He who loves a body envies another. He who has not admitted the disease of corruption into his heart, is for the future strong enough to endure any labour, and though he have died in the body, he lives in incorruption. Verily, if I rightly apprehend the matter, God seems to me to be continency. because tie desires nothing, but has all things in Himself. He reaches after nothing, nor has any sense in eyes or ears; wanting nothing, He is in all respects complete and full. Concupiscence is a disease of the soul; but continency is its health. And continency must not be regarded only in one species, as, for instance, in matters of sensual love. It must be regarded in everything which the soul lusts after in an evil manner, not being content with what is needful for it. Envy is caused for the sake of gold, and innumerable wrongs for the sake of other lusts. Not to be drunken is continency. Not to overeat one's self is continency. To subdue the body is continency, and to keep evil thoughts in subjection, whenever the soul is disturbed by any fancy false and bad, and the heart is distracted by vain cares. Continency makes men free, being at once a medicine and a power, for it does not teach temperance; it gives it. Continency is a grace of God. Jesus seemed to be continency, when He was made light to land and sea; for He was carried neither by earth nor ocean, and just as He walked on the sea, so He did not weigh down the earth. For if death comes of corruption, and not dying comes of not having corruption, then Jesus wrought not mortality but divinity. He ate and drank in a peculiar manner, without rendering his food., So mighty a power in Him was continency, that His food was not corrupted in Him, since He had no corruption. If only there be a little continency in us, we are higher than all. We have been told that angels were ejected from heaven because of concupiscence and became incontinent. They were vanquished; they did not come down. What could that plague have effected there, if an eye such as I am thinking of had been there? Wherefore I said, If we have a little patience, and do not love the world, but the life above, we shall be found there where we direct our mind. For it is the mind, apparently, which is the eye that seeth unseen things. For we say "the mind sees;" "the mind hears." I have written at length, though it may seem little to you. But there is meaning in all that I have said, and, when you have read it, you will see it.

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.