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Fathers of the Church

Letter CCCXXXIX: Basil to Libanius

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

WHAT could not a sophist say? And such a sophist! One whose peculiar art is, whenever he likes, to make great things small, and to give greatness to small things! This is what you have shewn in my case. That dirty little letter of mine, as, perhaps, you who live in all luxury of eloquence would call it, a letter in no way more tolerable than the one you hold in your hands now you have so extolled as, forsooth, 'to be eaten by it, and to be yielding me the prize for composition! You are acting much as fathers do, when they join in their boys' games, and let the little fellows be proud of the victories which they have let them win without any loss to themselves, and with much gain to the children's emulation. Really and truly the delight your speech must have given, when you were joking about me, must have been indescribable !It is as though some Polydamas or Milo were to decline the pancratium or a wrestling bout with me ! After carefully examining, I have found no sign of weakness. So those who look for exaggeration are the more astonished at your being able to descend in sport to my level, than if you had led the barbarian in full sail over Athos. I, however, my dear sir, am now spending my time with Moses and Elias, and saints like them, who tell me their stories in a barbarous tongue, and I utter what I learnt from them, true, indeed, in sense, though rude in phrase, as what I am writing testifies. If ever I learned anything from you, I have forgotten it in the course of time. But do you continue to write to me, and so suggest other topics for correspondence. Your letter will exhibit you, and will not convict me. I have already introduced to you the son of Anysius, st as a son of my own. If he is my son, he is e the child of his father, poor, and a poor man's e son. What I am saying is well known to who is wise as well as a sophist.

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.