Fathers of the Church
Letter CXII: to Andronicus, a General
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. DID but my health allow of my being able to undertake a journey without difficulty, and of putting up with the inclemency of the winter, I should, instead of writing, have travelled to your excellency in person, and this for two reasons. First to pay my old debt, for I know that I promised to come to Sebastia and to have the pleasure of seeing your excellency; I did indeed come, but I failed to meet you because I arrived a little later than your lordship; secondly, to be my own ambassador, because I have hitherto shrunk from sending, from the idea that I am too insignificant to win such a boon, and at the same time reckoning that no one by merely writing would be so likely to persuade any one of public or private rank, in behalf of any one, as by a personal interview, in which one might clear up some points in the charges, as to others make entreaty, and for others implore pardon; none of which ends can be easily achieved by a letter. Now against all this I can only set one thing, your most excellent self; and because it will suffice to tell you my mind in the matter, and all that is wanting you will add of yourself, I have ventured to write as I do.
2. But you see how from my hesitation, and because I put off explaining the reasons of my pleading, I write in roundabout phrase. This man Domitianus has been an intimate friend of my own and of my parents from the beginning, and is like a brother to me. Why should I not speak the truth? When I learnt the reasons for his being in his present troubles, I said that he had only got what he deserved. For I hoped that no one who has ever committed any offence be it small or great, will escape punishment. But when I saw him living a life of insecurity and disgrace, and felt that his only hope depends on your decision, I thought that he had been punished enough; and so I implore you to be magnanimous and humane in the view you take of his case. To have one's opponents under one's power is right and proper for a man of spirit and authority; but to be kind and gentle to the fallen is the mark of the man supereminent in greatness of soul, and in inclemency. So, if you will, it is in your power to exhibit your magnanimity in the case of the same man, both in punishing him and in saving him. Let the fear Domitian has of what he suspects, and of what he knows he deserves to suffer, be the extent of his chastisement. I entreat you to add nothing to his punishment, for consider this: many in former times, of whom no record has reached us, have had those who wronged them in their power. But those who surpassed their fellows in philosophy did not persist in their wrath, and of these the memory has been handed down, immortal through all time. Let this glory be added to what history will say of you. Grant to us, who desire to celebrate your praises, to be able to go beyond the instances of kindnesses sting of in days of old. In this manner Croesus, it is said, ceased from his wrath against the slayer of his son, when he gave himself up for punishment, and the great Cyrus was friendly to this very Croesus after his victory. We shall number you with these and shall proclaim this your glory, with all our power, unless we be counted too poor heralds of so great a man.
3. Yet another plea that I ought to urge is this, that we do not chastise transgressors for what is past and gone, (for what means can be devised for undoing the past?) but either that they may be reformed for the future, or may be an example of good behaviour to others. Now, no one could say that either of these points is lacking in the present case; for Domitian will remember what has happened till the day of his death; and I think that all the rest, with his example before them, are dead with alarm. Under these circumstances any addition which we make to his punishment will only look like a satisfaction of our own anger. This I should say is far from being true in your case. I could not indeed be induced to speak of such a thing did I not see that a greater blessing comes to him that gives, than to him that receives. Nor will your magnanimity be known only to a few. All Cappadocia is looking to see what is to be done, and I pray that they may be able to number this among the rest of your good deeds. I shrink from concluding my letter for fear any omission may be to my hurt. But one thing I will add. Domitian has letters from many, who plead for him, but he thinks mine the most important of all, because he has learnt, from whom I know not, that I have influence with your excellency. Do not let the hopes he has placed in me be blasted; do not let me lose my credit among my people here; be entreated, illustrious sir, and grant my boon. You have viewed human life as clearly as ever philosopher viewed it, and you know how goodly is the treasure laid up for all those who give their help to the needy.
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.