Fathers of the Church
Letter LXXXIV: to the President
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. YOU will hardly believe what I am about to write, but it must be written for truth's sake. I have been very anxious to communicate as often as possible with your excellency, but when I got this opportunity of writing a letter I did not at once seize the lucky chance. I hesitated and hung back. What is astonishing is, that when I got what I had been praying for, I did not take it. The reason of this is that I am really ashamed to write to you every time, not out of pure friendship, but with the object of getting something. But then I bethought me (and when you consider it, I do hope you will not think that I communicate with you more for the sake of a bargain than of friendship) that there must be a difference between the way in which one approaches a magistrate and a private man. We do not accost a physician as we do any mere nobody; nor a magistrate as we do a private individual. We try to get some advantage from the skill of the one and the position of the other. Walk in the sun, and your shadow will follow you, whether you will or not. Just so intercourse with the great is followed by an inevitable gain, the succour of the distressed. The first object of my letter is fulfilled in my being able to greet your excellency. Really, if I had no other cause for writing at all, this must be regarded as an excellent topic. Be greeted then, my dear Sir; may you be preserved by all the world while you fill office after office, and succour now some now others by your authority. Such greeting I am wont to make; such greeting is only due to you from all who have had the least experience of your goodness in your administration.
2. Now, after this prayer, hear my supplication on behalf of the poor old man whom the imperial order had exempted from serving in any public capacity; though really I might say that old age anticipated the Emperor in giving him his discharge. You have yourself satisfied the boon conferred on him by the higher authority, at once from respect to natural infirmity, and, I think, from regard to the public interest, lest any harm should come to the state from a man growing imbecile through age. But how, my dear Sir, have you unwittingly dragged him into public life, by ordering his grandson, a child not yet four years old, to be on the roll of the senate? You have done the very same thing as to drag the old man, through his descendant, again into public business. But now, I do implore you, have mercy on both ages, and free both on the ground of what in each case is pitiable. The one never saw father or mother, never knew them, but from his very cradle was deprived of both, and has entered into life by the help of strangers: the other has been preserved so long as to have suffered every kind of calamity. He saw a son's untimely death; he saw a house without successors; now, unless you devise some remedy commensurate with your kindness, he will see the very consolation of his bereavement made an occasion of innumerable troubles, for, I suppose, the little lad will never act as senator, collect tribute, or pay troops; but once again the old man's white hairs must be shamed. Concede a favour in accordance with the law and agreeable to nature; order the boy to be allowed to wait till he come to man's estate, and the old man to await death quietly on his bed. Let others, if they will, urge the pretext of press of business and inevitable necessity. But, even if you are under a press of business, it would not be like you to despise the distressed, to slight the law, or to refuse to yield to the prayers of your friends.
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.