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Fathers of the Church

Letter XX: to Leontius the Sophist


Basil sends Leonitus his treatise Against Eunomius, and asks that the great Sophist point out any error he may find in them.


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

I Too do not write often to you, but not more seldom than you do to me, though many have travelled hitherward from your part of the world. If you had sent a letter by every one of them, one after the other, there would have been nothing to prevent my seeming to be actually in your company, and enjoying it as though we had been together, so uninterrupted has been the stream of arrivals. But why do you not write? is no trouble to a Sophist to write. Nay, if your hand is tired, you need not even write another will do that for you. Only your tongue is needed. And though it does not speak to me, it may assuredly speak to one of your companions. If nobody is with you, it will talk by itself. Certainly the tongue of a Sophist and of an Athenian is as little likely to be quiet as the nightingales when the spring stirs them to song. In my own case, the mass of business in which I am now engaged may perhaps afford some excuse for my lack of letters. And peradventure the fact of my style having been spoilt by constant familiarity with common speech may make me somewhat hesitate to address Sophists like you, who are certain to be annoyed and unmerciful, unless you hear something worthy of your wisdom. You, on the other hand, ought assuredly to use every opportunity of making your voice heard abroad, for you are the best speaker of all the Hellenes that I know; and I think I know the most renowned among you; so that there really is no excuse for your silence. But enough on this point.

I have sent you my writings against Eunomius. Whether they are to be called child's play, or something a little more serious, I leave you to judge. So far as concerns yourself, I do not think you stand any longer in need of them; but I hope they will be no unworthy weapon against any perverse men with whom you may fall in. I do not say this so much because I have confidence in the force of my treatise, as because I know well that you are a man likely to make a little go a long way. If anything strikes you as weaker than it ought to be, pray have no hesitation in showing me the error. The chief difference between a friend and a flatterer is this; the flatterer speaks to please, the friend will not leave out even what is disagreeable.

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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