Fathers of the Church
Letter CCLXV: to Eulogius, Alexander, and Harpocration, Bishops of egypt, in Exile
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. In all things we find that the providence exercised by our good God over His Churches is mighty, and that thus the very things which seem to be gloomy, and do not turn out as we should like, are ordained for the advantage of most, in the hidden wisdom of God, and in the unsearchable judgments of His righteousness. Now the Lord has removed you from the regions of Egypt, and has brought you and established you in the midst of Palestine, after the manner of Israel of old, whom He carried away by captivity into the land of the Assyrians, and there extinguished idolatry through the sojourn of His saints. Now too we find the same thing, when we observe that the Lord is making known your struggle for the sake of true religion, opening to you through your exile the arena of your blessed contests, and to all who see before them your noble constancy, giving the boon of your good example to lead them to salvation. By God's grace, I have heard of the correctness of your faith, and of your zeal for the brethren and that it is in no careless or perfunctory spirit that you provide what is profitable and necessary for salvation, and that you support all that conduces to the edification of the Churches. I have therefore thought it right that I should be brought into communion with your goodness, and be united to your reverences by letter. For these reasons I have sent my very dear brother the deacon Elpidius, who not only conveys my letter, but is moreover fully qualified to announce to you whatever may have been omitted in my letter.
2. I have been specially moved to desire union with you by the report of the zeal of your reverences in the cause of orthodoxy. The constancy of your hearts has been stirred neither by multiplicity of books nor by variety of ingenious arguments. You have on the contrary, recognised those who endeavoured to introduce innovations in opposition to the apostolic doctrines, and you have refused to keep silence concerning the mischief which they are causing. I have in truth found great distress among all who cleave to the peace of the Lord at the divers innovations of Apollinarius of Laodicea. He has all the more distressed me from the fact that he seemed at the beginning on our side. A sufferer can in a certain sense endure what comes to him from an open enemy, even though it be exceedingly painful, as it is written, "For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could bare borne it." But it is intolerable, and beyond the power of comfort, to be wronged by a close and sympathetic friend. Now that very man whom I have expected to have at my right hand in defence of the truth, I have found in many ways hindering those who are being saved, by seducing their minds and drawing them away from direct doctrine. What rash and hasty deed has he not done? What ill considered and dangerous argument has he not risked? Is not all the Church divided against herself, specially since the day when men have been sent by him to the Churches governed by orthodox bishops, to rend them asunder and to set up some peculiar and illegal service? Is not ridicule brought upon the great mystery of true religion when bishops go about without people and clergy, having nothing but the mere name and title, and effecting nothing for the advancement of the Gospel of peace and salvation? Are not his discourses about God full of impious doctrines, the old impiety of the insane Sabellius being now renewed by him in his writings? For if the works which are current among the Sebastenes are not the forgery of foes, and are really his composition, he has reached a height of impiety which cannot be surpassed, in saying that Father, Son, and Spirit are the same, and other dark pieces of irreverence which I have declined even to hear, praying that I may have nothing to do with those who have uttered them. Does he not confuse the doctrine of the incarnation? Has not the economy of salvation been made doubtful to the many on account of his dark and cloudy speculations about it? To collect them all, and refute them, requires long time and much discussion. But where have the promises of the Gospel been blunted and destroyed as by his figments? So meanly and poorly has he dared to explain the blessed hope laid up for all who live according to the Gospel of Christ, as to reduce it to mere old wives' fables and doctrines of Jews. He proclaims the renewal of the Temple, the observance of the worship of the Law, a typical high priest over again after the real High Priest, and a sacrifice for sins after the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world. He preaches partial baptisms after the one baptism, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the Church which, through its faith in Christ, has not spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; cleansing of leprosy after the painless state of the resurrection; an offering of jealousy when they neither marry nor are given in marriage; shew-bread after the Bread from heaven; burning lamps after the true Light. In a word, if the law of the Commandments has been done away with by dogmas, it is plain that under these circumstances the dogmas of Christ will be nullified by the injunctions of the law. At these things shame and disgrace have covered my face, and heavy grief hath filled my heart. Wherefore, I beseech you, as skilful physicians, and instructed how to discipline antagonists with gentleness, to try and bring him back to the right order of the Church, and to persuade him to despise the wordiness of his own works; for he has proved the truth of the proverb "in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin" Put boldly before him the doctrines of orthodoxy, in order that his amendment may be published abroad, and his repentance made known to his brethren.
3. It is also desirable that I should remind your reverence about the followers of Marcellus, in order that you may decide nothing in their case rashly or inconsiderately. On account of his impious doctrines he has gone out from the Church. It is therefore necessary that his followers should only be received into communion on condition that they anathematize that heresy, in order that those who are united to me through you may he accepted by all the brethren. And now most men are moved to no small grief on hearing that you have both received them and admitted them to ecclesiastical communion on their coming to your excellency. Nevertheless you ought to have known that by God's grace you do not stand alone in the East, but have many in communion with you, who vindicate the orthodoxy of the Fathers, and who put forth the pious doctrine of the Faith at Nicaea. The Westerns also all agree with you and with me, whose exposition of the Faith I have received and keep with me, assenting to their sound doctrine. You ought, then, to have satisfied all who are in agreement with you, that the action which is being taken may he ratified by the general consent, and that peace may not be broken by the acceptance of some while others are kept apart. Thus you ought to have at the same time seriously and gently taken counsel about matters which are of importance to all the Churches throughout the world. Praise is not due to him who hastily determines any point, but rather to him who rules every detail firmly and unalterably, so that when his judgment is enquired into, even at a later time, it may be the more esteemed. This is the man who is acceptable both to God and man as one who guides his words with discretion. Thus I have addressed your reverence in such terms as are possible in a letter. May the Lord grant that one day we may meet, that so, after arranging everything together with you for the government of the Churches, I may with you receive the reward prepared by the righteous Judge for faithful and wise stewards. In the mean time he so good as to let me know with what intention you have received the followers of Marcellus, knowing this, that even if you secure everything, so far as you yourselves are concerned, you ought not to deal with a matter of such importance on your own sole responsibility. It is further necessary that the Westerns, and those who are in communion with them in the East, should concur in the restoration of these men.
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.