Fathers of the Church
Letter XCIV: to Elias, Governor of the Province
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
I TOO have been very anxious to meet your excellency, lest by my failure to do so I might come off worse than my accusers; but bodily sickness has prevented me, attacking me even more seriously than usual, and so I am perforce reduced to address you by letter. When, not long ago, most excellent sir, I had the pleasure of meeting your excellency, I was anxious to communicate with your wisdom about all my affairs; and I was also anxious to address you on behalf of the Churches, that no ground might be left for future calumnies. But I restrained myself, thinking it altogether superfluous and importunate to add troubles outside his own necessary business to a man charged with so many responsibilities. At the same time (for the truth shall be told) I did shrink from being driven to wound your soul by our mutual recriminations, when it ought in pure devotion to God to reap the perfect reward of piety. For really, if I attract your attention to me, I shall leave you but scant leisure for your public duties; shall act something like a man overloading with additional luggage some boatmen managing a new boat in very rough water, when all the while he ought to lessen the cargo and do his best to lighten the craft. For this very reason, I think, our great Emperor, after seeing how fully occupied I am, leaves me to manage the Churches by myself. Now I should like those who are besieging your impartial ears to be asked what harm the government suffers from me? What depreciation is suffered by any public interests, be they small or great, by my administration of the Churches? Still, possibly, it might be urged that I have done damage to the government by erecting a magnificently appointed church to God, and round it a dwelling house, one liberally assigned to the bishop, and others underneath, allotted to the officers of the Church in order, the use of both being open to you of the magistracy and your escort. But to whom do we do any harm by building a place of entertainment for strangers, both for those who are on a journey and for those who require medical treatment on account of sickness, and so establishing a means of giving these men the comfort they want, physicians, doctors, means of conveyance, and escort? All these men must learn such occupations as are necessary to life and have been found essential to a respectable career; they must also have buildings suitable for their employments, all of which are an honour to the place, and, as their reputation is credited to our governor, confer glory on him. Not indeed that for this reason you were unwillingly induced to accept the responsibility of ruling us, for you alone are sufficient by your high qualities to restore our ruins, to people deserted districts and turn wildernesses into towns. Would it be better to harrass and annoy, or to honour and reverence an associate in the discharge of these duties? Do not think, most excellent sir, that what I say is mere words. We have already, in the meanwhile, begun providing material. So much for our defence, before our ruler. As to what is to be said in answer to the charges of our accusers, to a Christian and to a friend who cares for my opinion, I must now say no more; the subject is too long for a letter, and cannot, besides, be safely committed to writing. But lest, before we have an opportunity of meeting, you are driven by the inducement of some men's calumnies to give up any of your good will towards me, do as Alexander did. The story is, as you remember, that, when one of his friends was being calumniated, he left one ear open to the slanderer, and carefully closed the other with his hand, with the object of showing that he whose duty is to judge ought not to be easily and wholly given over to the first occupants of his attention, but should keep half his hearing open for the defence of the absent.
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.