Fathers of the Church
Letter LIX: to Gregory, His Uncle
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. "I HAVE long time holden my peace. Am I to hold my peace for ever? Shall I still further endure to enforce against myself the hardest punishment of silence, by neither writing myself, nor receiving any statement from another? By holding fast to this stern determination up to the present time I am able to apply to myself the prophet's words, "I endure patiently like travailing woman." Yet I am ever longing for communication either in person or by letter, and ever, for my own sins' sake, missing it. For I cannot imagine any reason for what is happening, other than what I am convinced is the true one, that by being cut off from your love I am expiating old sins; if indeed I am not wrong in using such a phrase as "cut off" in your case, from any one, much less from me, to whom you have always been as a father. Now my sin, like some dense cloud overshadowing me, has made me forget all this. When I reflect that the only result to me of what is going on is sorrow, how can I attribute it to anything but to my own wickedness? But if events are to be traced to sins, be this the end of my troubles; if there was any intended discipline in it, then your object has been very completely attained, for the punishment has been going on for a long time; so I groan no longer, but am the first to break silence, and beseech you to remember both me and yourself who, to a greater degree than our relationship might have demanded, have shewn me strong affection all my life. Now, I implore you, show kindness to the city for my sake. Do not on my account alienate yourself from it.
2. If, then, there is any consolation in Christ, any fellowship of the Spirit, any mercy and pity, fulfil my prayer. Put a stop to my depression. Let there be a beginning of brighter things for the future. Be yourself a leader to others in the road to all that is best, and follow no one else in the way to what is wrong. Never was any feature so characteristic of any one's body as gentleness and peace are of your soul. It were well becoming such a one as you are to draw all others to yourself, and to cause all who come near you to be permeated with the goodness of your nature, as with the fragrance of myrrh. For though there be a certain amount of opposition now, nevertheless ere long there will be a recognition of the blessings of peace. So long, however, as room is found for the calumnies that are bred of dissension, suspicion is sure to grow from worse to worse. It is most certainly unbecoming for the rest to take no notice of me, but it is especially unbecoming in your excellency. If I am wrong I shall be all the better for being rebuked. This is impossible if we never meet. But, if I am doing no wrong, for what am I disliked? So much I offer in my own defence.
3. As to what the Churches might say in their own behalf, perhaps it is better for me to be silent: they reap the result of our disagreement, and it is not to their gain. I am not speaking to indulge my grief but to put a stop to it. And your intelligence, I am sure, has suffered nothing to escape you. You will yourself be better able to discern and to tell to others points of far greater importance than I can conceive. You saw the mischief done to the Churches before I did; and you are grieving more than I am, for you have long learnt from the Lord not to despise even the least. And now the mischief is not confined to one or two, but whole cities and peoples are sharers in my calamities. What need to tell what kind of report will spread about me even beyond our borders? It were well for you, large hearted as you are, to leave the love of strife to others; nay rather, if it be possible, to root it from their hearts, while you yourself vanquish what is grievous by endurance. Any angry man can defend himself, but to rise above the actual anger belongs only to you, and any one as good as you, if such there be. One thing I will not say, that he who has a grudge against me is letting his anger fall on the innocent. Do then comfort my soul by coming to me, or by a letter, or by inviting me to come to you, or by some means or other. My prayer is that your piety may be seen in the Church and that you may heal at once me and the people, both by the sight of you and by the words of your good grace. If this be possible it is best; if you determine on any other course I shall willingly accept it. Only accede to my entreaty that you will give me distinct information as to what your wisdom decides.
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.