Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Fathers of the Church

Letter XLIV: to a Lapsed Monk


Basil calls a lapsed monk back to the fold.


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

1. I DO not wish you joy, for there is no joy for the wicked. Even now I cannot believe it; my heart cannot conceive iniquity so great as the crime which you have committed: if, that is, the truth really is what is generally understood. I am at a loss to think how wisdom so deep can have been made to disappear; how such exact discipline can have been undone; whence blindness so profound can have been shed round you; how with utter inconsiderateness you have wrought such destruction of souls. If this be true, you have given over your own soul to the pit, and have slackened the earnestness of all who have heard of your impiety. You have set at nought the faith; you have missed the glorious fight. I grieve over you. What cleric does not lament as he hears? What ecclesiastic does not beat the breast? What layman is not downcast? What ascetic is not sad? Haply, even the sun has grown dark at your fall, and the powers of heaven have been shaken at your destruction. Even senseless stones have shed tears at your madness; even your enemies have wept at the greatness of your iniquity. Oh hardness of heart! Oh cruelty! You did not fear God; you did not reverence men; you cared nothing for your friends you made shipwreck of all at once; at once you were stripped of all. Once more I grieve over you, unhappy man. You were proclaiming to all the power of the kingdom, and you fell from it. You were making all stand in fear of your teaching, and there was no fear of God before your eyes. You were preaching purity, and you are found polluted. You were priding yourself on your poverty, and you are convicted of covetousness; you were demonstrating and explaining the chastisement of God, and you yourself brought! chastisement on your own head. How am I to lament you, flow grieve for you? How is Lucifer that was rising in the morning fallen and dashed on the ground? Both the ears of every hearer will tingle. How is the Nazarite, brighter than gold, become dark above pitch? How has the glorious son of Sion become an unprofitable vessel! Of him, whose memory of the sacred Scriptures was in all men's mouths, the memory to-day has perished with the sound. The man of quick intelligence has quickly perished. The man of manifold wit has wrought manifold iniquity. All who profiled by your teaching have been injured by your fall. All who came to listen to your conversation have stopped their ears at your fall. I, sorrowful and downcast, weakened in every way, eating ashes for breast and with sackcloth on my wound, am thus recounting your praises; or rather, with none to comfort and none to cure, am making an inscription for a tomb. For comfort is hid from my eyes. I have no salve, no oil, no bandage to put on. My wound is sore, how shall I be healed?

2. If you have any hope of salvation; if you have the least thought of God, or any desire for good things to come; if you have any fear of the chastisements reserved for the impenitent, awake without delay, lift up your eyes to heaven, come to your senses, cease from your wickedness, shake off the stupor that enwraps you, make a stand against the foe who has struck you down. Make an effort to rise from the ground. Remember the good Shepherd who will follow and rescue you. Though it be but two legslobe of an ear, spring back from the beast that has wounded you. Remember the mercies of God and how He cures with oil and wine. Do not despair of salvation. Recall your recollection of how it is written in the Scriptures that he who is filling rises and he who turns away returns; the wounded is healed, the prey of beasts escapes; he who owns his sin is not rejected. The Lord willeth not the death of a sinner but rather that he should turn and live. Do not despise, like the wicked in the pit of evil. There is a time of endurance, a time of long suffering, a time of healing, a time of correction. Have you stumbled? Arise. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand in the way of sinners, but spring away. When you are converted and groan you shall be saved. Out of labour comes health, out of sweat salvation. Beware lest, from your wish to keep certain obligations, you break the obligations to God which you professed before many witnesses. Pray do not hesitate to come to me for any earthly considerations. When I have recovered my dead I shall lament, I shall tend him, I will weep "because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people." All are ready to welcome you, all will share your efforts. Do not sink back. Remember the days of old. There is salvation; there is amendment. Be of good cheer; do not despair. It is not a law condemning to death without pity, but mercy remitting punishment and awaiting improvement. The doors are not yet shut; the bridegroom hears; sin is not the master. Make another effort, do not hesitate, have pity on yourself and on all of us in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and might now and for ever and ever. Amen.

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.

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