Fathers of the Church
Letter CCLVIII: to Epiphanius the Bishop
by Basil the Great in 357-370 | translated by Blomfield Jackson, M.A
1. IT has long been expected that, in accordance with the prediction of our Lord, because of iniquity abounding, the love of the majority would wax cold. Now experience has confirmed this expectation. But though this condition of things has already obtained among us here, it seems to be contradicted by the letter brought from your holiness. For verily it is no mere ordinary proof of love, first that you should remember an unworthy and insignificant person like myself; and secondly, that you should send to visit me brethren who are fit and proper ministers of a correspondence of peace. For now, when every man is viewing every one else with suspicion, no spectacle is rarer than that which you are presenting. Nowhere is pity to be seen; nowhere sympathy; nowhere a brotherly tear for a brother in distress. Not persecutions for the truth's sake, not Churches with all their people in tears; not this great tale of troubles closing round us, are enough to stir us to anxiety for the welfare of one another. We jump on them that are fallen; we scratch and tear at wounded places; we who are supposed to agree with one another launch the curses that are uttered by the heretics; men who are in agreement on the most important matters are wholly severed from one another on some one single point. How, then, can I do otherwise than admire him who in such circumstances shews that his love to his neighbour is pure and guileless, and, though separated from me by so great a distance of sea and land, gives my soul all the care he can?
2. I have been specially struck with admiration at your having been distressed even by the dispute of the monks on the Mount of Olives, and at your expressing a wish that some means might be found of reconciling them to one another. I have further been glad to hear that you have not been unaware of the unfortunate steps, taken by certain persons, which have caused disturbance among the brethren, and that you have keenly interested yourself even in these matters. But I have deemed it hardly worthy of your wisdom that you should entrust the rectification of matters of such importance to me: for I am not guided by the grace of God, because of my living in sin; I have no power of eloquence, because I have cheerfully withdrawn from vain studies; and I am not yet sufficiently versed in the doctrines of the truth. I have therefore already written to my beloved brethren at the Mount of Olives, our own Palladius, and Innocent the Italian, in answer to their letters to me, that it is impossible for me to make even the slightest addition to the Nicene Creed, except the ascription of Glory to the Holy Ghost, because our Fathers treated this point cursorily, no question having at that time arisen concerning the Spirit. As to the additions it is proposed to make to that Creed, concerning the incarnation of our Lord, I have neither tested nor accepted them, as being beyond my comprehension. I know well that, if once we begin to interfere with the simplicity of the Creed, we shall embark on interminable discussion, contradiction ever leading us on and on, and shall but disturb the souls of simpler folk by the introduction of new phrases.
3. As to the Church at Antioch (I mean that which is in agreement in the same doctrine), may the Lord grant that one day we may see it united. It is in peril of being specially open to the attacks of the enemy, who is angry with it because there the name of Christian first obtained. There heresy is divided against orthodoxy, and orthodoxy is divided against herself. My position, however, is this. The right reverend bishop Meletius was the first to speak boldly for the truth, and fought that good fight in the days of Constantine, Therefore my Church has felt strong affection towards him, for the sake of that brave and firm stand, and has held communion with him. I, therefore, by God's grace, have held him to be in communion up to this time; and, if God will, I shall continue to do so. Moreover the very blessed Pope Athanasius came from Alexandria, and was most anxious that communion should be established between Meletius and himself; but by the malice of counsellors their conjunction was put off to another season. Would that this had not been so! I have never accepted communion with any one of those who have since been introduced into the see, not because I count them unworthy, but because I see no ground for the condemnation of Meletius. Nevertheless I have heard many things about tile brethren, without giving heed to them, because the accused were not brought face to face with their accusers, according to that which is written, "Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" I cannot therefore at present write to them, right honourable brother, and I ought not to be forced to do so. It will be becoming to your peaceful disposition not to cause union in one direction and disunion in another, but to restore the severed member to the original union. First, then, pray; next, to the utmost of your ability, exhort, that ambition may be driven from their hearts, and that reconciliation may be effected between them both to restore strength to the Church, and to destroy the rage of oar foes. It has given great comfort to my soul that, in addition to your other right and accurate statements in theology, you should acknowledge the necessity of stating that the hypostases are three. Let the brethren at Antioch be instructed by you after this manner. Indeed I am confident that they have been so instructed; for I am sure you would never have accepted communion with them unless you had carefully made sure of this point in them.
4. The Magusaeans, as you were good enough to point out to me in your other letter, are here in considerable numbers, scattered all over the country, settlers having long ago been introduced into these parts from Babylon. Their manners are peculiar, as they do not mix with other men. It is quite impossible to converse with them, inasmuch as they have been made the prey of the devil to do his will. They have no books; no instructors in doctrine. They are brought up in senseless institutions, piety being handed down from father to son. In addition to the characteristics which are open to general observation, they object to the slaying of animals as defilement, and they cause the animals they want for their own use to be slaughtered by other people. They are wild after illicit marriages; they consider fire divine, and so on. No one hitherto has told me any fables about the descent of the Magi from Abraham: they name a certain Zarnuas as the founder of their race. I have nothing more to write to your excellency about them.
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.