Fathers of the Church
Letter CCIV: to the Neocaesarcans
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. [THERE has been a long silence on both sides, revered and well- beloved brethren, just as if there were angry feelings between us. Yet who is there so sullen and implacable towards the party which has injured him, as to lengthen out the resentment which has begun in disgust through almost a whole life of man?] This [is happening in our case, no just occasion of estrangement existing, as far as I myself know, but on the contrary, there being, from the first, many strong reasons for the closest friendship and unity. The greatest and first is this, our Lord's command, pointedly saying, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another."] Again, the apostle clearly sets before us the good of charity where he tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law; and again where he says that charity is a good thing to be preferred to all great and good things, in the words. "Though I speak with tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burnt and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Not that each of the points enumerated could be performed without love, but that the Holy One wishes, as He Himself has said, to attribute to the commandment super- eminent excellency by the figure of hyperbole.
2. [Next, if it tend much towards intimacy to have the same teachers, there are to you and to me the same teachers of God's mysteries, and spiritual Fathers, who from the beginning were the founders of your Church. I mean the great Gregory, and all who succeeding in order to the throne of your episcopate, like stars rising one after another, have tracked the same course, so as to leave the tokens of the heavenly polity most clear to all who desire them.] And if natural relationships are not to be despised, but are greatly conducive to unbroken union and fellowship, these rights also exist naturally for you and me. [Why is it, then, O venerable among cities, for through you I address the whole city, that no civil writing comes from you, no welcome voice, but your ears are open to those who aim at slander?] I am therefore the more bound to groan, the more I perceive the end they have in view. There is no doubt as to who is the originator of the slander. He is known by many evil deeds, but is best distinguished by this particular wickedness, and it is for this reason that the sin is made his name. But you must pat up with my plain speaking. You have opened both ears to my slanderers. You heartily welcome all you hear without any enquiry. Not one of you distinguishes between lies and truth. Who ever suffered for lack of wicked accusations when struggling all alone? Who was ever convicted of lying in the absence of his victim? What plea does not sound plausible to the hearers when the reviler persists that such and such is the case, and the reviled is neither present nor hears what is urged against him? Does not even the accepted custom of this world teach you, in reference to these matters, that if any one is to be a fair and impartial hearer, he must not be entirely led away by the first speaker, but must wait for the defence of the accused, that so truth may be demonstrated by a comparison of the arguments on both sides? "Judge righteous judgment." This precept is one of those most necessary for salvation.
3. When I say this I am not forgetful of the words of the Apostle, who fled from human tribunals and reserved the defence of all his life for the unerring judgment seat, when he said, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man's judgment." Your ears have been preoccupied by lying slanders, slanders that have touched my conduct, slanders that have touched my faith in God. Nevertheless, knowing, as I do, that three persons at once are injured by the slanderer, his victim, his hearer, and himself; as to my own wrong, I would have held my tongue, be sure; not because I despise your good opinion,(how could I, writing now as I do and earnestly pleading as I do that I may not lose it?) but because I see that of the three sufferers the one who is least injured is myself. It is true that I shall be robbed of you, but you are being robbed of the truth, and he who is at the bottom of all this is parting me from you, but he is alienating himself from the Lord, inasmuch as no one can be brought near to the Lord by doing what is forbidden. Rather then for your sakes than for mine, rather to rescue you from unendurable wrong am I pleading. For who could suffer a worse calamity than the loss of the most precious of all things, the truth?
4. [What say I, brethren? Not that I am a sinless person; not that my life is not full of numberless faults. I know myself; and indeed I cease not my tears for my sins, if by any means I may be able to appease my d, and to escape the punishment threatened against them. But this I say: let him who: judges me, hunt for motes in my eye, if he can say that his own is clear.] I own, brethren, that I need the care of the sound and healthy, and need much of it. If he cannot say that it is clear, and the clearer it is the less will he say so—(for it is the part of the perfect not to exalt themselves; if they do they will certainly come under the charge of the pride of the Pharisee, who, while justifying himself, condemned the publican) let him come with me to the physician let him not "judge before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." Let him remember the words. "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; " and "Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned." [In a word, brethren, if my offences admit of cure, why does not such an one obey the teacher of the Churches, "Reprove, exhort, rebuke"? If, on the other hand, my iniquity he past cure, why does he not withstand me to the face, and, by publishing my transgressions, deliver the Churches from the mischief which I bring on them?] Do not put up with the calumny uttered against me within the teeth. This is the abuse which any slave-girl from the grindstone might utter; this is the kind of fine shewing-off you might expect from any street vagabond; their tongues are whetted for any slander. But [there are bishops; let appeal be made to them. There is a clergy in each of God's dioceses; let the most eminent be assembled. Let whoso will, speak freely, that I may have to deal with a charge, not a slander.] Let my secret wickedness be brought into full view; let me no longer be hated, but admonished as a brother. It is more just that we sinners should be pitied by the blessed and the sinless, than that we should be treated angrily.
5. [If the fault be a point of faith, let the document be pointed out to me. Again, let a fair and impartial inquiry be appointed. Let the accusation be read; let it be brought to the test, whether it does not arise from ignorance in the accuser, not from blame in the matter of the writing. For right things often do not seem such to those who are deficient in accurate judgment. Equal weights seem unequal when the arms of the balance are of different sizes.] Men whose sense of taste is destroyed by sickness, sometimes think honey sour. A diseased eye does not see many things which do exist, and notes many things which do not exist. The same thing frequently takes place with regard to the force of words, when the critic is inferior to the writer. The critic ought really to set out with much the same training and equipment as the author. A man ignorant of agriculture is quite incapable of criticising husbandry, and the distinctions between harmony and discord can only be adequately judged by a trained musician. But any one who chooses will set up for a literary critic, though he cannot tell us where he went to school, or how much time was spent in his education, and knows nothing about letters at all. I see clearly that, even in the case of the words of the Holy Spirit, the investigation of the terms is to be attempted not by every one, but by him who has the spirit of discernment, as the Apostle has taught us, in the differences of gifts;—"For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gift of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits." If, therefore, my gifts are spiritual, he who wishes to judge them must shew proof of his own possession of the gift of "discerning of spirits." If, on the contrary, as he calumniously contends, my gifts are of the wisdom of this world, let him shew that he is an adept in this world's wisdom, and I will submit myself to his verdict. And [let no one suppose that I am making excuses to evade the charge. I put it into your hands, dearest brethren, to investigate for yourselves the points alleged against me. Are you so slow of intelligence as to be wholly dependent upon advocates for the discovery of the truth? If the points in question seem to you to be quite plain of themselves, persuade the jesters to drop the dispute. [If there be anything you do not understand, put questions to me, through appointed persons who will do justice to me; or ask of me explanations in writing. And take all kinds of pains that nothing may be left unsifted.
6. What clearer evidence can there be of my faith, than that I was brought up by my grandmother, blessed woman, who came from you? I mean the celebrated Macrina who taught me the words of the blessed Gregory; which, as far as memory had preserved down to her day, she cherished herself. while she fashioned and formed me, while yet a child, upon the doctrines of piety. And when I gained the capacity of thought, my reason being matured by full age, I travelled over much sea and land, and whomsoever I found walking in the rule of godliness delivered, those I set down as fathers,] and made them my soul's guides in my journey to God. And up to this day, by the grace of Him who has called me in His holy calling to the knowledge of Himself, I know of no doctrine opposed to the sound teaching having sunk into my heart; nor was my soul ever polluted by the ill-famed blasphemy of Arius. If I have ever received into communion any who have come from that teacher, hiding their unsoundness deep within them, or speaking words of piety, or, at any rate. not opposing what has been said by me, it is on these terms that I have admitted them; and I have not allowed my judgment concerning them to rest wholly with myself, but have followed the decisions given about them by our Fathers. For after receiving the letter of the very blessed Father Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, which I hold in my hand, and shew to any one who asks, wherein he has distinctly declared that any one expressing a wish to come over from the heresy of the Arians and accepting the Nicene Creed. is to be received without hesitation and difficulty, citing in support of his opinion the unanimous assent of the bishops of Macedonia and of Asia; I, considering myself bound to follow the high authority of such a man and of those who made the rule, and with every desire on my own part to win the reward promised to peacemakers, did enroll in the lists of communicants all who accepted that creed.
7. [The fair thing would be to judge of me, not from one or two who do not walk uprightly in the truth, but from the multitude of bishops throughout the world, connected with me by the grace of the Lord. Make enquiries of Pisidians, Lycaonians, Isaurians, Phrygians of both provinces, Armenians your neighbours, Macedonians, Achaeans. Illyrians, Gauls. Spaniards, the whole of Italy, Sicilians, Africans, the healthy part of Egypt, whatever is left of Syria; all of whom send letters to me, and in turn receive them from me.] From these letters, alike from all which are despatched from them. and from all which go out from us to them, you may learn that we are all of one mind, and of one opinion. [Whoso shuns communion with me, it cannot escape your accuracy, cuts himself off from the whole Church. Look round about, brethren, with whom do you hold communion? If you will not receive it from me, who remains to acknowledge you? Do not reduce me to the necessity of counselling anything unpleasant concerning a Church so dear to me.] There are things now which I hide in the bottom of my heart, in secret groaning over and bewailing the evil days in which we live, in that the greatest Churches which have long been united to one another in brotherly love, now, without any reason, are in mutual opposition. Do not, oh! do not, drive me to complain of these things to all who are in communion with me. Do not force me to give utterance to words which hitherto I have kept in check by reflection and have hidden in my heart. Better were it for me to be removed and the Churches to be at one, than that God's people should suffer such evil through our childish ill- will. [Ask your fathers, and they will tell you that though our districts were divided in position, yet in mind they were one, and were governed by one sentiment. Intercourse of the people was frequent; frequent the visits of the clergy; the pastors, too, had such mutual affection, that each used the other as teacher and guide in things pertaining to the Lord.]
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.