Fathers of the Church
Letter XCIX: to Count Terentius
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
I HAVE had every desire and have really done my best to obey, if only in part, the imperial order and the friendly letter of your excellency. I am sure that your every word and every thought are full of good intentions and right sentiments. But I have not been permitted to show my ready concurrence by practical action. The truest cause is my sins, which always rise before me and always hamper my steps. Then, again, there is the alienation of the bishop who had been appointed to cooperate with me, why, I know not; but my right reverend brother Theodotus, who promised from the beginning to act with me, had cordially invited me from Getusa to Nicopolis. When however he saw me in the town, he was so shocked at me, trod so afraid of my sins, that he could not bear to take me either to morning or evening prayer. In this he acted quite justly so far as my deserts go, and quite as befits my course of life, but not in a manner likely to promote the interests of the Churches. His alleged reason was that I had admitted the very reverend brother Eustathius to communion. What I have done is as follows. When invited to a meeting held by our brother Theodotus, and wishful, for love's sake, to obey the summons, that I might not make the gathering fruitless and vain, I was anxious to hold communication with the aforementioned brother Eustathius. I put before him the accusations concerning the faith, advanced against him by our brother Theodotus, and I asked him, if he followed the right faith, to make it plain to me, that I might communicate with him; if he were of another mind he must know plainly that I should be separated from him. We had much conversation on the subject, and all that day was spent in its examination; when evening came on we separated without arriving at any definite conclusion. On the morrow, we had another sitting in the morning and discussed the same points, with the addition of our brother Poemenius, the presbyter of Sebasteia, who vehemently pressed the argument against me. Point by point I cleared up the questions on which he seemed to be accusing me, and brought them to agree to my propositions. The result was, that, by the grace of the Lord, we were found to be in mutual agreement, even on the most minute particulars. So about the ninth hour, after thanking God for granting us to think and say the same thing, we rose up to go to prayer. In addition to this I ought to have got some written statement from him, so that his assent might be made known to his opponents and the proof of his opinion might be sufficient for the rest. But I was myself anxious, with the desire for great exactitude. to meet my brother Theodotus, to get a written statement of the faith from him, and to propose it to Eustathius; that so both objects might be obtained at once, the confession of the right faith by Eustathius and the complete satisfaction of Theodotus and his friends, and they would have no ground for objection after the acceptance of their own propositions. But Theodotus, before learning why we were met and what had been the result of our intercourse, decided not to allow us to take part in the meeting. So midway on our journey we set out back again, disappointed that our efforts for the peace of the Churches had been counteracted.
3. After this, when I was compelled to undertake a journey into Armenia, knowing the man's character, and with the view both of making my own defence before a competent witness, for what had taken place and of satisfying him, I travelled to Getusa, into the territory of the very godly bishop Meletius, the aforementioned Theodotus being with me; and while there, on being accused by him of my communication with Eustathius, I told him that the result of our intercourse was my finding Eustathius to be in all things in agreement with myself. Then he persisted that Eustathius, after leaving me, had denied this and asseverated to his own disciples that he had never come to any agreement with me about the faith. I, therefore, combated this statement; and see, O most excellent man, if the answer I made was not most fair and most complete. I am convinced, I said, judging from the character of Eustathius, that he cannot thus lightly be turning from one direction to another, now confessing now denying what he said; that a man, shunning a lie, even in any little matter, as an awful sin, is not likely to choose to run counter to the truth in matters of such vast importance and so generally notorious: but if what is reported among you turns out to be true, he must be confronted with a written statement containing the complete exposition of the right faith; then, if I find him ready to agree in writing, I shall continue in communion with him; but, if I find that be shrinks from the test, I shall renounce all intercourse with him. The bishop Meletius agreed to these arguments, and the brother Diodorus the presbyter, who was present, and then the right reverend brother Theodotus, assented, and invited me to go to Nicopolis, both to visit the Church there, and to keep him company as far as Satala. But he left me at Getasa, and, when I reached Nicopolis, forgetting all that he heard from me, and the agreement he had made with me, dismissed me, disgraced by the insults and dishonours which I have mentioned.
4. How, then, right honourable sir, was it possible for me to perform any of the injunctions laid on me, and to provide bishops for Armenia? How could I act, when the sharer of my responsibilities was thus disposed towards me,—the very man by whose aid I was expecting to be able to find suitable persons, because of his having in his district reverend and learned men, skilled in speech, and acquainted with the other peculiarities of the nation? I know their names, but I shall refrain from mentioning them, lest there arise any hindrance to the interests of Armenia being served at some future time.
Now, after getting as far as Satala in such a state of health, I seemed to settle the rest by the grace of God. I made peace between the Armenian bishops, and made them a suitable address, urging them to put away their customary indifference, and resume their ancient zeal in the Lord's cause. Moreover, I delivered them rules as to how it behoved them to give heed to iniquities generally practised in Armenia. I further accepted a decision of the Church of Satala, asking that a bishop might be given them through me. I was also careful to inquire into the calumnies promulgated against our brother Cyril, the Armenian bishop, and by God's grace I have found them to be started by the lying slanders of his enemies. This they confessed to me. And I seemed to some extent to reconcile the people to him, so that they avoid communion with him no more. Small achievements these, maybe, and not worth much, but in consequence of the mutual discord caused by the wiles of the devil, it was impossible for me to effect more. Even this much I ought not to have said, so as not to seem to be publishing my own disgrace. But as I could not plead my cause before your excellency in any other way, I was under the necessity of telling you the entire truth.
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.