Fathers of the Church
Letter LXVI: to Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
No one. I feel sure, is more distressed at the present condition, or, rather to speak more truly, ill condition of the Churches than your excellency; for you compare the present with the past, and take into account how great a change has come about. You are well aware that if no check is put to the swift deterioration which we are witnessing, there will soon be nothing to prevent the complete transformation of the Churches. And if the decay of the Churches seems so pitiful to me, what must—so I have often in my lonely musings reflected—be the feelings of one who has known, by experience, the old tranquillity of the Churches of the Lord, and their one mind about the faith? But as your excellency feels most deeply this distress, it seems to me only becoming that your wisdom should be more strongly moved to interest itself in the Church's behalf. I for my part have long been aware, so far as my moderate intelligence has been able to judge of current events, that the one way of safety for the Churches of the East lies in their having the sympathy of the bishops of the West. For if only those bishops liked to show the same energy on behalf of the Christians sojourning in our part of the world which they have shewn in the case of one or two of the men convicted of breaches of orthodoxy in the West, our common interests would probably reap no small benefit, our sovereigns I treating the authority of the people with respect, and the laity in all quarters unhesitatingly following them. But, to carry out these objects, who has more capacity than yourself, with your intelligence and prudence? Who is keener to see the needful course to be taken? Who has more practical experience in working a profitable policy? Who feels more deeply the troubles of the brethren? What through all the West is more honoured than your venerable gray hairs? O most honoured father, leave behind you some memorial worthy of your life and character. By this one act crown your innumerable efforts on behalf of true religion. Despatch from the holy Church placed under your care men of ability in sound doctrine to the bishops in the West. Recount to them the troubles whereby we are beset. Suggest some mode of relief. Be a Samuel to the Churches. Share the grief of the beleaguered people. Offer prayers for peace. Ask favour from the Lord, that He will send some memorial of peace to the Churches. I know how weak letters are to move men in matters of such importance; but you yourself no more need exhortation from others than the noblest athletes need the children's cheers. It is not as though I were instructing one in ignorance; I am only giving a new impulse to one whose energies are already roused. For the rest of the affairs of the East perhaps you may need the aid of more, and we must wait for the Westerns. But plainly the discipline of the Church of Antioch depends upon your reverence's being able to control some, to reduce others to silence, and to restore strength to the Church by concord. No one knows better than you do, that, like all wise physicians, you ought to begin your treatment in the most vital parts, and what part is more vital to the Churches throughout the world than Antioch? Only let Antioch be restored to harmony, and nothing will stand in the way of her supplying, as a healthy head, soundness to all the body. Truly the diseases of that city, which has not only been cut asunder by heretics, but is torn in pieces by men who say that they are of one mind with one another, stand in need of your wisdom and evangelic sympathy. To unite the sundered parts again, and bring about the harmony of one body, belongs to Him alone Who by His ineffable power grants even to the dry bones to come back again to sinews and flesh. But the Lord always works His mighty works by means of them that are worthy of Him. Once again, in this case too, we trust that the ministry of matters so important may beseem your excellency, with the result that yon will lay the tempest of the people, do away with the party superiorities, and subject all to one another in love, and give back to the Church her ancient strength.
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.