Fathers of the Church
Letter CCXXVI: to the Ascetics Under Him
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
IT may be that the holy God will grant me the joy of a meeting with you, for I am ever longing to see you and bear about you, because in no other thing do I find rest for my soul than in your progress and perfection in the commandments of Christ. But so long as this hope remains unrealized I feel bound to visit you through the instrumentality of our dear and God- fearing brethren, and to address you, my beloved friends, by letter. Wherefore I have sent my reverend and dear brother and fellow-worker in the Gospel, Meletius the presbyter. He will tell you my yearning affection for you. and the anxiety of my soul, in that, night and day, I beseech the Lord in your behalf, that I may have boldness in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ through your salvation, and that when your work is tried by the just judgment of God you may shine forth in the brightness of the saints. At the same thee the difficulties of the day cause me deep anxiety, for all Churches have been tossed to and fro, and all souls are being sifted. Some have even opened their mouths without any reserve against their fellow servants. Lies are boldly uttered, and the truth has been hidden. The accused are being condemned without a trial, and the accusers are believed without evidence. I had heard that many letters are being carried about against myself, stinging, gibbeting, and attacking me for matters about which I have my defence ready for the tribunal of truth; and I had intended to keep Silence, as indeed I have done; for now for three years I have been bearing the blows of calumny and the whips of accusation, content to think that I have the Lord, Who knows all secrets, as witness of its falsehood. But I see now that many men have silence as a corroboration of these slanders, and have formed the idea that my silence was due, not to my longsuffering, but to my inability to open my lips in opposition to the truth. For these reasons I have attempted to write to you, beseeching your love in Christ not to accept these partial calumnies as true. because, as it is written, the law judges no man unless it have heard and known his actions.
2. Nevertheless before a fair judge the facts themselves are a sufficient demonstration of the truth. Wherefore, even if I be, silent, you can look at events. The very men who are now indicting me for heterodoxy have been seen openly numbered with the heretical faction. The very accusers who condemn the for other men's writings, are plainly contravening their own confessions, given to me by them in writing. Look at the conduct of the exhibitors of this audacity. It is their invariable custom to go over to the party in power, to trample on their weaker friends, and to court the strong. The writers of those famous letters against Eudoxius and all his t faction, the senders of them to all the brotherhood, the protesters that they shun their communion as fatal to souls, and would not accept the votes given for their deposition, because they were given by heretics, as they persuaded me then,—these very men, completely forgetful of all this, have joined their faction. No room for denial is left them. They laid their mind bare when they embraced private communion with them at Ancyra, when they had not yet been publicly received by them. Ask them, then, if Basilides, who gave communion to Ecdicius, is now orthodox, why when returning from Dardania, did they overthrow his altars in the territory of Gangra, and set up their own tables? Why have they comparatively recently attacked the churches of Amasea and Zela and appointed presbyters and deacons there themselves? If they communicate with them as orthodox, why do they attack them as heretical? If they hold them to be heretical, how is it that they do not shun communion with them? Is it not, my honourable brethren, plain even to he intelligence of a child, that it is always with a view to some personal advantage that they endeavour to calumniate or to give support? So they have stood off from me, not because I did not write in reply (which is alleged to be the main ground of offence), nor because I did not receive the chorepiscopi whom they assert they sent. Those who are trumping up the tale will render an account to the Lord. One man, Eustathius, was sent and gave a letter to the court of the vicar, and spent three days in the city. When he was on the point of going home, it is said that he came to my house late in the evening, when I was asleep. On hearing that I was asleep, he went away; he did not come near me on the next day, and after thus going through the mere form of discharging his duty to me, departed. This is the charge under which I am guilty. This is the sin against which these long-suffering people have neglected to weigh the previous service wherein I served them in love. For this error they have made their wrath against me so severe that they have caused me to be denounced in all the Churches throughout the world—at least, that is, wherever they could.
3. But of course this is not the real cause of our separation. It was when they found that they would recommend themselves to Euzoius if they were alienated from me, that they devised these pretences. The object was to find some ground of recommendation with the authorities for their attack upon me. Now they are beginning to run down even the Nicene Creed, and nickname me Homoousiast, because in that creed the Only begotten Son is said to be homoousios with God the Father. Not that one essence is divided into two kindred parts; God forbid! This was not the meaning of that holy and God-beloved synod; their meaning was that what the Father is in essence, such is the Son. And thus they themselves have explained it to us, in the phrase Light of Light. Now it is the Nicene Creed, brought by themselves from the west, which they presented to the Synod at Tyana, by which they were received. But they have an ingenious theory as to changes of this kind; they use the words of the creed as physicians use a remedy for the particular moment, and substitute now one and now another to suit particular diseases. The unsoundness of such a sophism it is rather for you to consider than for me to prove. For "the Lord will give you understanding" to know what is the right doctrine, and what the crooked and perverse. If indeed we are to subscribe one creed to-day and another tomorrow, and shift with the seasons, then is the declaration false of him who said, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." But if it is true, then "Let no man deceive you with [these] vain words." They falsely accuse me of introducing novelties about the Holy Spirit. Ask what the novelty is. I confess what I have received, that the Paraclete is ranked with Father and Son, and not numbered with created beings. We have made profession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and we are baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Wherefore we never separate the Spirit from conjunction with the Father and the Son. For our mind, enlightened by the Spirit, looks at the Son, and in Him, as in an image, beholds the Father. And I do not invent names of myself, but call the Holy Ghost Paraclete; nor do I consent to destroy His due glory. These are truly my doctrines. If any one wishes to accuse me for them, let him accuse me; let my persecutor persecute me. Let him who believes in the slanders against me be ready for the judgment. "The Lord is at hand." "I am careful for nothing,"
4. If any one in Syria is writing, this is nothing to me. For it is said "By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shall be condemned." Let my own words judge me. Let no one condemn me for other men's errors nor adduce letters written twenty years ago in proof that I would allow communion to the writers of such things. Before these things were written, and before any suspicion of this kind had been stirred against them, I did write as layman to layman. I wrote nothing about the faith in any way like that which they are now carrying about to calumniate me. I sent nothing but a mere greeting to return a friendly communication, for I shun and anathematize as impious alike all who are affected with the unsoundness of Sabellius, and all who maintain the opinions of Arius. If any one says that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are the same, and supposes one thing under several names, and one hypostasis described by three persons, I rank such an one as belonging to the faction of the Jews. Similarly, if any one says that the Son is in essence unlike the Father, or degrades the Holy Ghost into a creature, I anathematize him, and say that he is coming near to the heathen error. But it is impossible for the mouths of my accusers to be restrained by my letter; rather is it likely that they are being irritated at my defence, and are getting up new and more violent attacks against me. But it is not difficult for your ears to be guarded. Wherefore, as far as in you lies, do as I bid you. Keep your heart clear and unprejudiced by their calumnies; and insist on my rendering an account to meet the charges laid against me. If you find that truth is on my side do not yield to lies; if on the other hand you feel that I am feeble in defending myself, then believe my accusers as being worthy of credit. They pass sleepless nights to do me mischief. I do not ask this of you. They are taking to a commercial career, and turning their slanders against me into a means of profit. I implore you on the other hand to stop at home, and to lead a decorous life, quietly doing Christ's work. I advise you to avoid communication with them, for it always tends to the perversion of their hearers. I say this that you may keep your affection for the uncontaminated, may preserve the faith of the Fathers in its integrity. and may appear approved before the Lord as friends of the truth.
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.