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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Fathers of the Church

Epistle Xl: to the Great Basil


Gregory reproaches Basil for his deceit in the matter of the election.


Gregory was the first Greek author to publish a collection of his letters; he did so at the request of Nicobulus, a grandson of his sister Gorgonia. Incidentally, he also sets forth a theory of epistolography; he demands that a good letter should have four characteristics: shortness, clearness, charm and simplicity. Although he refuses to present his own epistles as models, they are carefully written, in many cases not without humor, and most of them are brief and pointed. (Quasten)

On the death of Eusebius Basil seems to have formed a desire that his friend Gregory should succeed to the vacant Metropolitanate; and so he wrote to him, without mentioning the death of the Archbishop, to come to him at Caesarea, representing himself as dangerously ill. Gregory, deeply grieved at the news, set off at once, but had not proceeded far on his way when he learned that Basil was in his usual health, and that the Bishops of the Province were assembling at Caesarea for the Election of a Metropolitan. He saw through the artifice at once; and thinking that Basil had wished to secure his presence at the Metropolis in order that his influence might bring about his own (Basil's) Election, he wrote him the following indignant letter. Nevertheless both he and his father felt that no one was so well fitted to succeed to the vacant throne; and so Gregory wrote in his father's name the three letters (XLI, XLIII, XLII), addressed respectively to the people of Caesarea, to the Bishops attending the Synod, and to Eusebius Bishop of Samosata.

by Gregory Nazianzen in 370 | translated by Charles Gordon Browne, M.A., James Edward Swallow, M.A

Do not be surprized if I say something strange, which has not been said before by anyone. I think you have the reputation of being a steady safe and strong-minded man, but also of being more simple than safe in much that you plan and do. For that which is free from evil is also in proportion slow to suspect evil, as is shewn by what has just occurred. You have summoned me to the Metropolis at the moment when a council has been called for the election of a Bishop, and your pretext is very seemly and plausible. You pretend to be very ill, indeed at your last breath, and to long to see me and to bid me a last farewell; I do not know with what object, even what my presence can effect in the matter. I started in great grief at what had happened; for what could be of higher value to me than your life, or more distressing than your departure? And I shed a fountain of tears; and I wailed aloud; and I felt myself now for the first time unphilosophically disposed. What did I leave unperformed of all that befits a funeral? But as soon as I found that the Bishops were assembling at the City, at once I stopped short in my course; and I wondered first that you had not perceived what was proper, or guarded against people's tongues, which are so given to slander the guileless; and secondly that you did not think the same course to be fitting for me as for yourself, though our life and our rule and everything is common to us both, who have been so closely associated by God from the first. Thirdly, for I must say this also, I wondered whether you remembered that such nominations are worthy of the more religious, not of the more powerful, nor of those most in favour with the multitude. For these reasons then I backed water, and held back. Now, if you think as I do, come to this determination, to avoid these public turmoils and evil suspicions. I shall see your Reverence when the matters are settled and time allows, and I shall have more and graver reproaches to address to you.

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. (LNPF II/VII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.

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