Fathers of the Church
Letter CCXLIII: to the Bishops of Italy and Gaul Concerning the condition and Confusion of the Churches
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. To his brethren truly God-beloved and very dear, and fellow ministers of like mind, the bishops of Gaul and Italy, Basil, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has deigned to style the universal Church of God His body, and has made us individually members one of another, has moreover granted to all of us to live in intimate association with one another, as befits the agreement of the members. Wherefore, although we dwell far away from one another, yet, as regards our close conjunction, we are very near. Since, then, the head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you, you will not, I am sure, endure to reject us; you will, on the contrary, sympathize with us in the troubles to which, for our sins, we have been given over, in proportion as we rejoice together with you in your glorying in the peace which the Lord has bestowed on you. Ere now we have also at another time invoked your charity to send us succour and sympathy; but our punishment was not full, and you were not suffered to rise up to succour us. One chief object of our desire is that through you the state of confusion in which we are situated should be made known to the emperor of your part of the world. If this is difficult, we beseech you to send envoys to visit and comfort us in our affliction, that you may have the evidence of eyewitnesses of those sufferings of the East which cannot be told by word of mouth, because language is inadequate to give a clear report of our condition.
2. Persecution has come upon us, right honourable brethren, and persecution in the severest form. Shepherds are persecuted that their flocks may be scattered. And the worst of all is that those who are being treated ill cannot accept their sufferings in proof of their testimony, nor can the people reverence the athletes as in the army of martyrs, because the name of Christians is applied to the persecutors. The one charge which is now sure to secure severe punishment is the careful keeping of the traditions of the Fathers. For this the pious are exiled from their homes, and are sent away to dwell in distant regions. No reverence is shown by the judges of iniquity to the hoary head, to practical piety, to the life lived from boyhood to old age according to the Gospel. No malefactor is doomed without proof, but bishops have been convicted on calumny alone, and are consigned to penalties on charges wholly unsupported by evidence. Some have not even known who has accused them, nor been brought before any tribunal, nor even been falsely accused at all. They have been apprehended with violence late at night, have been exiled to distant places, and, through the hardships of these remote wastes, have been given over to death. The rest is notorious, though I make no mention of it—the flight of priests; the flight of deacons the foraying of all the clergy. Either the image must be worshipped, or we are delivered to the wicked flame of whips. The laity groan; tears are filling without ceasing in public and in private; all are mutually lamenting their woes. No one's heart is so hard as to lose a father, and bear the bereavement meekly. There is a sound of them that mourn in the city—a sound in the fields, in the roads, in the deserts. But one voice is heard from all that utter sad and piteous words. Joy and spiritual gladness are taken away. Our feasts are turned into mourning. Our houses of prayer are shut. The altars of the spiritual service are lying idle. Christians no longer assemble together; teachers no longer preside. The doctrines of salvation are no longer taught. We have no more solemn assemblies, no more evening hymns, no more of that blessed joy of souls which arises in the souls of all that believe in the Lord at communions, and the imparting of spiritual boons. We may well say, " Neither is there at this time prince, or prophet, or reader, or offering, or incense, or place to sacrifice before thee, and to find mercy."
3. We are writing to those who know these things, for there is not a region of the world which is ignorant of our calamities. Do not suppose that we are using these words as though to give information, or to recall ourselves to your recollection. We know that you could no more forget us than a mother forget the sons of her womb. But all who are crushed by any weight of agony find some natural alleviation for their pain in uttering groans of distress, and it is for this that we are doing as we do. We get rid of the load of our grief in telling you of our manifold misfortunes, and in expressing the hope that you may haply be the more moved to pray for us, and may prevail on the Lord to be reconciled to us. And if these afflictions had been confined to ourselves, we might even have determined to keep silence, and to rejoice in our sufferings for Christ's sake, since "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." But at the present time we are alarmed, lest the mischief growing day by days like a flame spreading through some burning wood, when it has consumed what is close at hand, may catch distant objects too. The plague of heresy is spreading, and there is ground of apprehension lest, when it has 'devoured our Churches, it may afterwards creep on even so far as to the sound portion of your district. Peradventure it is because with us iniquity has abounded that we have been first delivered to be devoured by the cruel teeth of the enemies of God. But the gospel of the kingdom began in our regions, and then went forth over all the world. So, peradventure—and this is most probable—the common enemy of our souls, is striving to bring it about that the seeds of apostasy, originating in the same quarter, should be distributed throughout the world. For the darkness of impiety plots to come upon the very hearts whereon the "light of the knowledge" of Christ has shone.
4. Reckon then, as true disciples of the Lord, that our sufferings are yours. We are not being attacked for the sake of riches, or glory, or any temporal advantages. We stand in the arena to fight for our common heritage, for the treasure of the sound faith, derived from our Fathers. Grieve with us, all ye who love the brethrens at the shutting of the mouths of our men of true religion, and at the opening of the bold and blasphemous lips of all that utter unrighteosness against God. The pillars and foundation of the truth are scattered abroad. We, whose insignificance has allowed of our being overlooked, are deprived of oar right of free speech. Do ye enter into the straggle, for the people's sake. Do not think only of your being yourselves moored in a safe haven, where the grace of God gives you shelter from the tempest of the winds of wickedness. Reach out a helping hand to the Churches that are being buffeted by the storm, lest, if they be abandoned, they suffer complete shipwreck of the faith. Lament for us, in that the Only-begotten is being blasphemed, and there is none to offer contradiction. The Holy Ghost is being set at nought and he who is able to confute the error has been sent into exile. Polytheism has prevailed. Our opponents own a great God and a small God. "Son" is no longer a name of nature, but is looked upon as a title of some kind of honour. The Holy Ghost is regarded not as complemental of the Holy Trinity, nor as participating in the divine and blessed Nature, but as in some sort one of the number of created beings, and attached to Father and Son, at mere haphazard and as occasion may require. ' Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears," and I will weep many days for the people who are being driven to destruction by these vile doctrines. The ears of the simple are being led astray, and have now got used to heretical impiety. The nurslings of the Church are being brought up in the doctrines of iniquity. What are they to do? Our opponents have the command of baptisms; they speed the dying on their way; they visit the sick; they console the sorrowful; they aid the distressed; they give succour of various kinds; they communicate the mysteries. All these things, as long as the performance of them is in their hands, are so many ties to bind the people to their views. The result will be that in a little time, even if some liberty be conceded to us, there is small hope that they who have been long under the influence of error will be recalled to recognition of the truth.
5. Under these circumstances it would have been well for many of us to have travelled to your reverences, and to have individually reported each his own position. You may now take as a proof of the sore straits in which we are placed the fact that we are not even free to travel abroad. For if any one leaves his Church, even for a very brief space, he will leave his people at the mercy of those who are plotting their ruin. By God's mercy instead of many we have sent one, our very reverend and beloved brother the presbyter Dorotheus. He is fully able to supply by his personal report whatever has been omitted in our letter, for he has carefully followed all that has occurred, and is jealous of the right faith. Receive him in peace, and speedily send him back to us, bringing us good news of your readiness to succour the brotherhood.
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.