Fathers of the Church
Letter CXXXV: to Diodorus, Presbyter of Antioch
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. I HAVE read the books sent me by your excellency. With the second I was delighted, not only with its brevity, as was likely to be the case with a reader out of health and inclined to indolence, but, because it is at once full of thought, and so arranged that the objections of opponents, and the answers to them, stand out distinctly. Its simple and natural style seems to me to befit the profession of a Christian who writes less for self-advertisement than for the general good. The former work, which has practically the same force, but is much more elaborately adorned with rich diction, many figures, and niceties of dialogue, seems to me to require considerable time to read, and much mental labour, both to gather its meaning and retain it in the memory. The abuse of our opponents and the support of our own side, which are thrown in, although they may seem to add some charms of dialectic to the treatise, do yet break the continuity of the thought and weaken the strength of the argument, by causing interruption and delay. I know that your intelligence is perfectly well aware that the heathen philosophers who wrote dialogues, Aristotle and Theophrastus, went straight to the point, because they were aware of their not being gifted with the graces of Plato. Plato, on the other hand, with his great power of writing, at the same time attacks opinions and incidentally makes fun of his characters, assailing now the rashness and recklessness of a Thrasymachus, the levity and frivolity of a Hippias, and the arrogance and pomposity of a Protagoras. When, however, he introduces unmarked characters into his dialogues, he uses the interlocutors for making the point clear, but does not admit anything more belonging to the characters into his argument. An instance of this is in the Laws.
2. It is well for us too, who betake ourselves to writing, not from any vain ambition, but from the design of bequeathing counsels of sound doctrine to the brethren, if we introduce some character well known to all the world for presumption of manners, to interweave into the argument some points in accordance with the quality of the character, unless indeed we have no right at all to leave our work and to accuse men. But if the subject of the dialogue be wide and general, digressions against persons interrupt its continuity and tend to no good end. So much I have written to prove that you did not send your work to a flatterer, but have shared your toil with a real brother. And I have spoken not for the correction of what is finished, but as a precaution for the future; for assuredly one who is so accustomed to write, and so diligent in writing, will not hesitate to do so; and the more so that there is no falling off in the number of those who give him subjects. Enough for me to read your books. I am as far from being able to write anything as, I had very nearly said, I am from being well, or from having the least leisure from my work. I have however now sent back the larger and earlier of the two volumes, after perusing it as far as I have been able. The second I have retained, with the wish to transcribe it, but, hitherto, without finding any quick writer. To such a pitch of poverty has come the enviable condition of the Cappadocians!
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.