Fathers of the Church
Letter XLV: to a Lapsed Monk
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. I AM doubly alarmed to the very bottom of my heart, and you are the cause. I am either the victim of some unkindly prepossession, and so am driven to make an unbrotherly charge; or, with every wish to feel for you, and to deal gently with your troubles, I am forced to take a different and an unfriendly attitude. Wherefore, even as I take my pen to write, I have nerved my unwilling hand by reflection; but my face, downcast as it is, because of my sorrow over you, I have had no power to change. I am so covered with shame, for your sake, that my lips are turned to mourning and my mouth straightway falls. Ah me! What am I to write? What shall I think in my perplexity?
If I call to mind your former empty mode of life, when you were rolling in riches and had abundance of petty mundane reputation, I shudder; then you were followed by a mob of flatterers, and had the short enjoyment of luxury, with obvious peril and unfair gain on the one hand, fear of the magistrates scattered your care for your salvation, on the other the agitations of public affairs disturbed your home, and the continuance of troubles directed your mind to Him Who is able to help yon. Then, little by little, you took to seeking for the Saviour, Who brings you fears for your good, Who delivers you and protects you, though you mocked Him in your security. Then you began to train yourself for a change to a worthy life, treating all your perilous property as mere dung, and abandoning the care of your household and the society of your wife. All abroad like a stranger and a vagabond, wandering through town and country, you betook yourself to Jerusalem. There I myself lived with you, and, for the toil of your ascetic discipline, called you blessed, when fasting for weeks you continued in contemplation before God, shunning the society of your fellows, like a routed runaway. Then you arranged for yourself a quiet and solitary life, and refused all the disquiets of society. You pricked your body with rough sackcloth; you tightened a hard belt round your loins; you bravely put wearing pressure on your bones; you made your sides hang loose from front to back, and all hollow with fasting; you would wear no soft bandage, and drawing in your stomach, like a gourd, made it adhere to the parts about your kidneys. You emptied out all fat from your flesh; all the channels below your belly you dried up; your belly itself you folded up for want of food; your ribs, like the caves of a house, you made to overshadow all the parts about your middle, and, with all your body contracted, you spent the long hours of the night in pouring out confession to God, and made your beard wet with channels of tears. Why particularize? Remember how many mouths of saints you saluted with a kiss, how many bodies you embraced, how many held hands as undefiled, how many servants God, as though in worship, ran and clasped you by the knees.
2. And what is the end of all this? My ears are wounded by a charge of adultery, flying swifter than an arrow, and piercing my heart with a sharper sting. What crafty wiliness of wizard has driven you into so deadly a trap? What many-meshed devil's nets have entangled you and disabled all the powers of your virtue? What has become of the story of your labours? Or must we disbelieve them? How can we avoid giving credit to what has long been hid when we see what is plain? What shall we say of your having by tremendous oaths bound souls which fled for refuge to God, when what is there than yea and nay is carefully attributed to the devil? You have made yourself security for fatal perjury; and, by setting the ascetic character at nought, you have cast blame even upon the Apostles and the very Lord Himself. You have shamed the boast of purity. You have disgraced the promise of chastity; we have been made a tragedy of captives, and our story is made a play of be-Jews and Greeks. You have made a in the solitaries' spirit, driving those of exacter discipline into fear and cowardice, while they still wonder at the power of the devil, and seducing the careless into imitation of your incontinence. So far as you have been able, you have destroyed the boast of Christ, Who said, "Be of good cheer I have overcome the world," and its Prince. You have mixed for your country a bowl of ill repute. Verily you have proved the truth of the proverb, "Like a hart stricken through the liver."
But what now? The tower of strength has not fallen, my brother. The remedies of correction are not mocked; the city of refuge is not shut. Do not abide in the depths of evil. Do not deliver yourself to the slayer of souls. The Lord knows how to set up them that are dashed down. Do not try to flee afar off, but hasten to me. Resume once more the labours of your youth, and by a fresh course of good deeds destroy the indulgence that creeps foully along the ground. Look to the end, that has come so near to our life. See how now the sons of Jews and Greeks are being driven to the worship of God, and do not altogether deny the Saviour of the World. Never let that most awful sentence apply to you, "Depart from me, I never knew 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. (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.