Fathers of the Church
Letter CCIII: to the Bishops of the Sea Coast
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
I Have had a strong desire to meet you, but from time to time some hindrance has supervened and prevented my fulfilling my purpose. I have either been hindered by sickness, and you know well how, from my early manhood to my present old age, this ailment has been my constant companion, brought up with me, and chastising me, by the righteous judgment of God, Who ordains all things in wisdom; or by the cares of the Church, or by struggles with the opponents of the doctrines of truth. [Up to this day I live in much affliction and grief, having the feeling present before me, that you are wanting to me. For when God tells me, who took on Him His sojourn in the flesh for the very purpose that, by patterns of duty, He might regulate our life, and might by His own voice announce to us the Gospel of the kingdom,—when He says, 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another,' and whereas the Lord left His own peace to His disciples as a farewell gift, when about to complete the dispensation in the flesh, saying, 'Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you,' I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ. I have waited a long while for the chance of your love paying us a visit. For ye are not ignorant that we, being exposed to all, as rocks running out in the sea, sustain the fury of the heretical waves, which, in that they break around us, do not cover the district behind. I say "we" in order to refer it, not to human power, but to the grace of God, Who, by the weakness of men shows His power, as says the prophet in the person of the Lord, 'Will ye not fear Me, who have placed the sand as a boundary to the sea? ' for by the weakest and most contemptible of all things, the sand, the Mighty One has bounded the great and fall sea. Since, then, this is our position, it became your love to be frequent in sending true brothers to visit us who labour with the storm, and more frequently letters of love, partly to confirm our courage, partly to correct any mistake of ours. For we confess that we are liable to numberless mistakes, being men, and living in the flesh.
2. But hitherto, very honourable brethren, you have not given me my due; and this for two reasons. Either you failed to perceive the proper course; or else, under the influence of some of the calumnies spread abroad about me, you did not think me deserving of being visited by you in love. Now, therefore, I myself take the initiative. I beg to state that I am perfectly ready to rid myself, in your presence, of the charges urged against me, but only on condition that my revilers are admitted to stand face to face with me before your reverences. If I am convicted, I shall not deny my error. You, after the conviction, will receive pardon from the Lord for withdrawing yourselves from the communion of me a sinner. The successful accusers, too, will have their reward in the publication of my secret wickedness. If, however, you condemn me before you have the evidence before you, I shall be none the worse, barring the loss I shall sustain of a possession I hold most dear- -your love: while you, for your part, will suffer the same loss in losing me, and will seem to be running counter to the words of the Gospel: "Doth our law judge any man before it hear him?" The reviler, moreover, if he adduce no proof of what he says, will be shewn to have got nothing from his wicked language but a bad name for himself. For what name can be properly applied to the slanderer except that which he professes to bear by the very conduct of which be is guilty? Let the reviler, therefore, appear not as slanderer, but as accuser; nay, I will not call him accuser, I will rather regard him as a brother, admonishing in love, and producing conviction for my amendment. And you must not be hearers of calumny, but triers of proof. Nor must I be left uncured, because my sin is not being made manifest.
3. Let not this consideration influence you. 'We dwell on the sea, we are exempt from the sufferings of the generality, we need no succour from others; so what is the good to us of foreign communion?' For the same Lord Who divided the islands from the continent by the sea, bound the island Christians to those of the continent by love. Nothing, brethren, separates us froth each other, but deliberate estrangement. We have one Lord, one faith, the same hope. The hands need each other; the feet steady each other. The eyes possess their clear apprehension from agreement. We, for our part, confess our own weakness, and we seek your fellow feeling. For we are assured, that though ye are not present in body, yet by the aid of prayer, ye will do us much benefit in these most critical times. It is neither decorous before men, nor pleasing to God, that you should make avowals which not even the Gentiles adopt, which know not God. Even they, as we hear, though the country they live in be sufficient for all things, yet, on account of the uncertainty of the future, make much of alliances with each other, and seek mutual intercourse as being advantageous to them. Yet we, the sons of fathers who have laid down the law that by brief notes the proofs of communion should be carried about from one end of the earth to the other, and that all should be citizens and familiars with all, now sever ourselves from the whole world, and are neither ashamed at our solitariness, nor shudder that on us is fallen the fearful prophecy of the Lord, 'Because of lawlessness abounding, the love of the many shall wax cold.'
4. Do not, most honourable brethren, do not suffer this. Rather, by letters of peace and by salutations of love, comfort me for the past. You have made a wound in my heart by your former neglect. Soothe its anguish, as it were, by a tender touch. Whether you wish to come to me, and examine for yourselves into the truth of what you hear of my infirmities, or whether by the addition of more lies my sins are reported to you to be yet more grievous, I must accept even this. I am ready to welcome you with open hands and to offer myself to the strictest test, only let love preside over the proceedings. Or if you prefer to indicate any spot in your own district to which I may come and pay you the visit which is due, submitting myself, as far as may be, to examination, for the healing of the past, and the prevention of slander for the future, I accept this. Although my flesh is weak, yet, as long as I breathe, I am responsible for the due discharge of every duty which may tend to the edification of the Churches of Christ. Do not, I beseech you. make light of my entreaty. Do not force me to disclose my distress to others. Hitherto, brethren, as you are well aware, I have kept my grief to myself, for I blush to speak of your alienation from me to those of our communion who are at a distance. I shrink at once from paining them and from gratifying those who hate me. I alone am writing this now; but I send in the name of all the brethren in Cappadocia, who have charged me not to employ any chance messenger, but some one who, in case I should, from my anxiety not to be too prolix, leave out any points of importance, might supply them with the intelligence wherewith God has gifted him. I refer to my beloved and reverend fellow presbyter Petrus. Welcome him in love, and send him forth to me in peace, that he may be a messenger to me of good things.
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.