Chapter 2. Labours of Basil

"And I said, I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength without cause, and in vain: therefore my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God."


THE instruments raised up by Almighty God for the accomplishment of His purposes are of two kinds, equally gifted with faith and piety, but from natural temper and talent, education, or other circumstances, differing in the means by which they promote their sacred cause. The first of these are men of acute and ready mind, with accurate knowledge of human nature, and large plans, and persuasive and attractive bearing, genial, sociable, and popular, endued with prudence, patience, instinctive tact and decision in conducting matters, as well as boldness and zeal. Such in a measure we may imagine the single-minded, the intrepid, the much-enduring Hildebrand, who, at a time when society was forming itself anew, was the saviour, humanly speaking, of the City of God. Such, in an earlier age, was the majestic Ambrose; such the never-wearied Athanasius. These last-named luminaries of the Church came into public life early, and thus learned how to cope with the various tempers, views, and measures of the men they encountered there. Athanasius was but twenty-seven {29} when he went with Alexander to the Nicene Council, and the year after he was Bishop of Alexandria. Ambrose was consecrated soon after the age of thirty.

Again, there is an instrument in the hand of Providence, of less elaborate and splendid workmanship, less rich in its political endowments, so to call them, yet not less beautiful in its texture, nor less precious in its material. Such is the retired and thoughtful student, who remains years and years in the solitude of a college or a monastery, chastening his soul in secret, raising it to high thought and single-minded purpose, and when at length called into active life, conducting himself with firmness, guilelessness, zeal like a flaming fire, and all the sweetness of purity and integrity. Such an one is often unsuccessful in his own day; he is too artless to persuade, too severe to please; unskilled in the weaknesses of human nature, unfurnished in the resources of ready wit, negligent of men's applause, unsuspicious, open-hearted, he does his work, and so leaves it; and it seems to die; but in the generation after him it lives again, and on the long run it is difficult to say, which of the two classes of men has served the cause of truth the more effectually. Such, perhaps, was Basil, who issued from the solitudes of Pontus to rule like a king, and minister like the lowest in the kingdom; yet to meet little but disappointment, and to quit life prematurely in pain and sorrow. Such was his friend, the accomplished Gregory, however different in other respects from him, who left his father's roof for an heretical city, raised a church there, and was driven back into retirement by his own people, as soon as his triumph over the false creed was secured. Such, perhaps, St. Peter Damiani in the middle age; such St. Anselm, such St. Edmund. No comparison is, of course, attempted here between the {30} religious excellence of the two descriptions of men; each of them serves God according to the peculiar gifts given to him. If we might continue our instances by way of comparison, we should say that St. Paul reminds us of the former, and Jeremiah of the latter.

These remarks are intended as introductory to portions of Basil's letters, on various subjects indeed, but all illustrative of the then distracted state of the Church in his part of Christendom, and of his labours, apparently fruitless at the time, in restoring to it truth and peace.


The disorders of Christendom, and especially of the East, and still more of Asia Minor, were so great in Basil's day, that a heathen spectator might have foretold the total overthrow of the Church. So violent a convulsion never has been experienced in Christendom since, not even in the times of St. Gregory the Seventh and St. Pius the Fifth; it would almost seem as if the powers of evil, foreseeing what the Kingdom of the Saints would be, when once heathen persecutions ceased, were making a final effort to destroy it. In Asia Minor the Church was almost without form, "and void and empty;" religious interests were reduced, as it were, to a state of chaos, and Basil seems to have been the principle of truth and order, divinely formed, divinely raised up, for harmonising the discordant elements, and bringing them to the unity of faith and love. However, the destined result did not show itself in his day. Valens persecuted in behalf of Arianism till the year before the saint's death; the Semi-Arians continued their schism after it: and, trying to lead them towards the truth, Basil exposed himself to calumnies both on the part of his brethren, as if favouring the prevailing heresy, and of the heretics, as {31} if maintaining an opposite one. There were dissensions, too, existing within the Church, as well as without. I have already spoken of Basil's difference with his predecessor Eusebius, and of a party which his uncle joined, which was formed against him on his succeeding to the see. Jealousies or suspicions, of which he was the subject, extended throughout his exarchate. He seems to have had authority, more or less defined, over the whole of the country which the Romans called Pontus, which was more than half of Asia Minor, and comprised in it eleven provinces. Ancyra, Neocęsarea, Tyana, among other principal sees, acknowledged him more or less as their ecclesiastical superior. Now we have records of his being opposed by the bishops of each of these cities. When he passed out of his own district into the neighbouring jurisdiction of Antioch, he found that metropolis distracted by schism; four bishops in the see at once, two heretical, a third acknowledged by Rome and the Alexandrians, a fourth in communion with himself. When he went on to the South and West, and negotiated with Alexandria and Rome for the settlement of these disorders, he met with nothing but disappointment, though saints were upon the ecclesiastical thrones of either city. Such is the history of his episcopate,—for which he exchanged his sweet monastic life.

As to the party of bishops who withstood his election, he overcame most of them in the course of a few years, as he did his uncle, by firmness and kindness, though for a time they gave him trouble. "Our friends," he says to Eusebius of Samosata, shortly after his elevation, "have not shown themselves at all better than we expected. They made their appearance immediately you were gone, and said and did many disagreeable things; and at length departed, confirming their schism with us."— {32} Ep. 20. Three years afterwards he complains to the same friend of the impediments which their conduct threw in the way of his exertions for the Church.

"That you may not suppose," he says, "that the interests of the Churches are betrayed to our enemies by my negligence, I would have your reverence know, that the bishops in communion with me, whether from disinclination, or from continued suspicion of me and want of frankness, or from that opposition to right measures, which the devil engenders, refuse to act with me. In profession, indeed, the greater number of us are all together, including the excellent Bosporius; but in truth in not one even of the most important matters do they act with me. The despondency which this occasions is the principal cause why I do not get well, indisposition returning to me continually from excessive grief. What can I do by myself? the canons, as you yourself know, do not permit one man to put them in force. Yet what remedy have I not tried? What rule is there to which I have not called their attention, by letter or in conversation? For they came up into town on the news of my death; and, when it pleased God that they found me alive, I represented to them what was reasonable. And they defer to me when present, and promise all that is reasonable; but when they have gone away, they recur to their own opinion."—Ep. 141.

Among the injuries which Eustathius inflicted upon Basil, was his spreading a report that Basil was a follower of the heresiarch Apollinaris. This calumny, which is alluded to in the letter written in his own defence in answer to Eustathius, which I have quoted in the foregoing chapter, seems to have reached and been believed by the bishop of Ancyra, by name Athanasius; who, having been once an Arian, had since conformed, and shown a good deal of zeal for the true faith. This bishop said some very harsh things of Basil in consequence; which led the latter, who had an esteem for him, to write him the following letter:— {33}


"I am told by persons who come to me from Ancyra, and that by many more than I can number, and all saying the same thing, that you, dear friend (how may I use mild terms?) have not the kindest recollections of me, nor feel in the way natural to you. For myself, nothing that can happen astonishes me, be sure of that; there is no one at all whose change would contradict my expectation, since I have long learned the weakness of human nature and its proneness to turn right round. Hence I think it no great matter, though my cause has fallen back, and for the honour which I had, calumny and slight are my present portion. But this is what seems to me so very strange and preternatural, that you should be the man to be angry or incensed with me; nay, and to use threats against me, as those say who heard them. Now, as to the threats, I must speak frankly, I plainly laughed at them. Indeed, I should be a very child to fear such bugbears. But what is a real cause of apprehension to me, and of much anxiety, is, that an accurate judgment, such as yours,—which I believed was preserved for the comfort of the Churches, both as a rare foundation of orthodoxy and a seed of ancient and genuine love,—that it should so far yield to the existing state of things, as to trust the calumnies of chance-comers more than your long experience of myself, and to be carried away without evidence, to such extravagant suspicions. Yet why do I say suspicions? for a person who was indignant, and who threatened, as they report of you, seems to have manifested the anger, not of suspicion, but of clear and unanswerable conviction.

"But as I have said, I ascribe it all to the times; for what was the trouble, excellent man, in your (as it were) talking with me confidentially in a short letter, on the matters you wished to speak about? or, if you did not like to trust such things to writing, why not send for me? But if it was altogether necessary to speak out, and the impetuosity of anger left no time for delay, at any rate you might have made use of some intimate friend, who could keep a secret, to convey your message to us. But, as the case stands, who has come to you on any business, whose ears have not been filled with the charge, that I am writing and putting together certain mischievous things? For this was your very word, as accurate reporters say. I have thought a good deal on the subject, but am in as great difficulty as ever. It has come into my mind to think whether some heretic, maliciously giving my name to his own writing, has not distressed {34} your orthodoxy, and led you to utter that speech. You yourself may free me from my perplexity, if you would kindly state, without reserve, what has induced you to take such offence at me."—Ep. 25.


Another achievement of the same Eustathius was the separation of a portion of the coast of Pontus from the Church of Cęsarea, on the pretence that its Bishops were in heresy, which for a time caused Basil great despondency, as if he were being left solitary in all Christendom, without communion with other places. With the advice of the bishops of Cappadocia, he addressed an expostulation to these separatists; a portion of which runs as follows:—

"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 you are My disciples, if you 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 on all sides, as rocks running out into the sea, sustain the fury of the heretical waves, which, because they break around us, fail to cover the district behind us. 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 full sea. {35} 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.

"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 the continental by love. Nothing, brethren, separates us from 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 decreed, 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,—we 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.'"—Ep. 203.

It does not appear what success attended this appeal; difficulties of a similar but more painful nature, which occurred at the same time, hide from us the sequel of the history. I allude to the alienation from him of the Church of Neocęsarea, a place dear to Basil, as having been his residence in youth, the home of many of his relations, and the see of St. Gregory, the Wonder-worker, {36} in the third century, from whom, through his father's family, Basil had especially received his traditions of Christian truth. There seems to have been in high quarters there a lurking attachment to Sabellian doctrine. Sabellianism is the opposite extreme to Arianism; and its upholders would call Basil Arian, first because he was Catholic, and not Sabellian, as is the way with the partisans of extremes; and next because he had Semi-Arian friends. This was one chief cause of the opposition shown to him; but there were other causes unknown. It is remarkable that the coolness began during the episcopate of Musonius, though he was a man whom Basil mentions with much respect and gratitude. He thus speaks of him, on his death, in a letter of condolement addressed to the Neocęsareans. This was before Basil became Bishop.

"A man is gone, undeniably preeminent among his contemporaries for all earthly endowments, the bulwark of his country, the ornament of the Churches, a pillar and ground of the truth, the firm stay of faith in Christ, a protection to his friends, invincible by his adversaries, a guardian of the rules of the Fathers, a foe to innovation; exemplifying in himself the Church's primitive fashion, moulding the form of the Church, committed to him, after its ancient constitution, as after some sacred image, so that those who lived with him seemed to have lived with those who have been luminaries in it for two hundred years and more." He adds, "I would have you aware, that if this blessed man did not concur with me in the pacification of the Churches, on account of certain previous views, as he avowed to me, yet (as God knows, and men know who have had experience of me) at least I omitted no opportunity of fellowship of sentiment with him, and of inviting his assistance in the struggle against heretics."—Ep. 28.


But to return: if Basil's Semi-Arian acquaintances brought suspicion upon himself in the eyes of Catholic {37} believers, much more, I say, would they be obnoxious to persons attached, as certain Neocęsareans were, to the Sabellian party, who were in the opposite extreme to the Semi-Arians, and their especial enemies in those times. It is not wonderful, then, that, some years after, he had to write to the Church in question in a strain like the following:—

"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, though no just occasion of estrangement exists, 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, who pointedly says: 'By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.' 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 have desire for them. Why is it, then, O venerable among cities, for through you I address the whole city, that no courteous writing comes from you, no welcome voice, but your ears are open to those who aim at slander? What say I, brethren? not that I am a sinless man; not that my life is not full of numberless faults. I know myself; and indeed I cease not my tears by reason of my sins, if by any means I may be able to appease my God, and to escape the punishment threatened against them. But this I say: let him who judges me, search for motes in my eye, if he can say that his own is clear. And in a word, brethren, if my offences admit of cure, why does not such a one obey the Doctor of the Churches, saying, 'Reprove, rebuke, exhort?' If, on the other hand, my iniquity be past cure, why does he not withstand me to the face, and by publishing my transgressions, deliver the {38} Churches from the mischief which I bring on them? 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. If the fault be in 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 seem otherwise to those who are deficient in accurate judgment. Equal weights seem unequal, when the arms of the balance are of different sizes."

I interrupt the thread of his self-defence to call attention to this happy illustration. The weights in a balance are the antagonist arguments for and against a point; and its arms represent the opposing assumptions and presumptions on either side, which, varying with each individual judging, modify and alter the motive force of the weights. He continues:—

"Let no one suppose I am making excuses to evade the charge. It is put into your hands, dearest brethren, to investigate for yourselves the points alleged against me. If there be anything you do not understand, put questions to me through persons of your appointment, 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.

"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 most 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 whomever I found walking in the rule of religious faith as delivered to us, those I set down as fathers.

"The fair thing would be to judge of me, not from one or two {39} who do not walk uprightly in the truth, but from the multitude of bishops throughout the world, united with me through the grace of the Lord. Make inquiry of Pisidians, Lycaonians, Isaurians, Phrygians of both provinces, Armenians your neighbours, Macedonians, Achęans, 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. Whoso shuns communion with me, he, 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. 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."—Ep. 204.


No good could come of these expostulations, however sincere and affectionate, when there was an heretical spirit at work at bottom. But now let us turn from the North to the South, from Basil's own neighbourhood to foreign Churches, from the small Sabellian party at home, to the extended Arian confederation abroad. We shall find fresh trials befalling Basil. Arianism, indeed, itself, in spite of the patronage of Valens, languished and gave tokens of dying a natural death; but its disputants had raised questions which perplexed numbers whom they did not draw over; till at length the sacred subject in controversy was so clouded and confused by explanations, refinements, and distinctions, that there seemed no chance of Christians ever becoming unanimous in the orthodox creed. The particular party labouring under this mistiness of theological opinions at {40} that day were called Semi-Arians, or Macedonians, for reasons it is not necessary here to detail. They were zealous opponents of the Arians, though originating from among them; and, after the death of Constantius (A.D. 361), they showed a disposition to come back to the Catholics. A union was partially effected, but matters were still in an unsatisfactory state on Basil's elevation (A.D. 371), when he wrote the following letter concerning them to the great Athanasius, then on the point of removal from the Church below:—


"I suppose there is no one feels such pain at the present condition, or rather want of condition of the Churches, as your Grace; comparing, as you naturally must, the present with the past, and considering the difference between the two, and the certainty there is, if the evil proceeds at its present pace, that in a short time the Churches will altogether lose their existing constitution. I have often thought with myself, if the corruption of the Churches seems so sad to me, what must be the feelings of one who has witnessed their former stability and unanimity in the faith. And as your Perfectness has more abundant grief, so one must suppose you have greater anxiety for their welfare. For myself, I have been long of opinion, according to my imperfect understanding of ecclesiastical matters, that there was one way of succouring our Churches—viz., the coöperation of the bishops of the West. If they would but show, as regards our part of Christendom, the zeal which they manifested in the case of one or two heretics among themselves, there would be some chance of benefit to our common interests; the civil power would be persuaded by the argument derived from numbers, and the people in each place would follow their lead without hesitation. Now there is no one more able to accomplish this than yourself, from sagacity in counsel, and energy in action, and sympathy for the troubles of the brethren, and the reverence felt by the West for your hoary head. Most Reverend Father, leave the world some memorial worthy of your former deeds. Crown your former numberless combats for religion with this one additional achievement. Send to the bishops of the West {41} from your Holy Church, men powerful in sound doctrine: relate to them our present calamities; suggest to them the mode of relieving us. Be a Samuel to the Churches; condole with flocks harassed by war; offer prayers of peace; ask grace of the Lord, that He may give some token of peace to the Churches. I know letters are but feeble instruments to persuade so great a thing; but while you have no need to be urged on by others, any more than generous combatants by the acclamation of boys, I, on the other hand, am not as if lecturing the ignorant, but adding speed to the earnest.

"As to the remaining matters of the East, you will perhaps wish the assistance of others, and think it necessary to wait for the arrival of the Western bishops. However, there is one Church, the prosperity of which depends entirely on yourself—Antioch. It is in your power so to manage the one party, and to moderate the other, as at length to restore strength to the Church by their union. You know, better than anyone can tell you, that, as is seen in the prescriptions of wise physicians, it is necessary to begin with treating the more vital matters. Now what can be more vital to Christendom than the welfare of Antioch? If we could but settle the differences there, the head being restored, the whole body would regain health."—Ep. 66.

I have already observed, that there were two orthodox bishops at Antioch, one of the original succession, the other of the Arian, who had conformed. At the period under review, the Eastern bishops, and Basil among them, had bound themselves in communion with the bishop of the Arian stock; whereas Athanasius, as well as the Western Churches, were, from the very first, on terms of friendship and intercourse with the representative of the original line. In this letter, then, Basil invites Athanasius to what was, in fact, impossible, even to the influence and talents of the great primate of Egypt; for, having recognised one side in dispute, he could not mediate between them. Nothing, then, came of the application. {42}


Basil next addressed himself to the Western Churches. A letter is extant, which is seemingly written to the then Pope, Damasus, on the affairs of the East.

"What," he says, "can be more pleasant than to see persons who are so far disjoined by place, yet, by the union of love, connected into harmony of membership in the body of Christ? Nearly the whole East, most reverend Father, by which I mean the country from Illyricum to Egypt, labours under a heavy storm and surge. We have been in expectation of a visitation from your tender compassion, as the one remedy of these evils. Your extraordinary love has in past time ever charmed our souls, and they were encouraged for a while by the glad report that we were to have some visitation on your part. Send persons like-minded with us, either to reconcile the parties at variance, or to bring the Churches of God to unity, or at least to give you a clearer understanding of the authors of the confusion: so that you may be clear in future with whom it is fitting to hold communion. We are pressing for nothing at all new, but what was customary with the other blessed and divinely-favoured men of old time, and especially with you: We know, from the memory of former times, as we learn on questioning our fathers, and from documents which we still preserve, that Dionysius [Note 1], that most blessed bishop, who was eminent with you for orthodoxy and other virtues, visited by letter our Church of Cęsarea, and consoled by letter our fathers, and sent persons to ransom the brotherhood from captivity."—Ep. 70.

He next addressed the Western bishops generally, in two letters, which give a most painful account of the state of the East.


"The merciful God, who ever joins comfort to affliction, has lately given me some consolation amid my sorrows, in the letters which our most reverend Father, Athanasius, has transmitted to us from {43} your Holinesses. Our afflictions are well known without my telling; the sound of them has now gone forth over all Christendom. The dogmas of the fathers are despised; apostolical traditions are set at nought; the discoveries of innovators hold sway in the Churches. Men have learned to be speculatists instead of theologians. The wisdom of the world has the place of honour, having dispossessed the glorying in the Cross. The pastors are driven away, grievous wolves are brought in instead, and plunder the flock of Christ. Houses of prayer are destitute of preachers; the deserts are full of mourners: the aged sorrow, comparing what is with what was; more pitiable the young, as not knowing what they are deprived of. What has been said is sufficient to kindle the sympathy of those who are taught in the love of Christ, yet, compared with the facts, it is far from reaching their gravity."—Ep. 90.

In the second letter, addressed to the bishops of Italy and Gaul, he says:—

"The danger is not confined to one Church; not two or three only have fallen in with this heavy tempest. Almost from the borders of Illyricum down to the Thebais, this evil of heresy spreads itself. The doctrines of godliness are overturned; the rules of the Church are in confusion; the ambition of the unprincipled seizes upon places of authority; and the chief seat is now openly proposed as a reward for impiety; so that he whose blasphemies are the more shocking, is more eligible for the oversight of the people. Priestly gravity has perished; there are none left to feed the Lord's flock with knowledge; ambitious men are ever spending, in purposes of self-indulgence and bribery, possessions which they hold in trust for the poor. The accurate observance of the canons is no more; there is no restraint upon sin. Unbelievers laugh at what they see, and the weak are unsettled; faith is doubtful, ignorance is poured over their souls, because the adulterators of the word in wickedness imitate the truth. Religious people keep silence; but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship, as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven.

"While, then, any Christians seem yet to be standing, hasten to us; hasten then to us, our own brothers; yea, we beseech you. Stretch out your hands, and raise us from our knees, suffer not the {44} half of the world to be swallowed up by error; nor faith to be extinguished in the countries whence it first shone forth. What is most melancholy of all, even the portion among us which seems to be sound, is divided in itself, so that calamities beset us like those which came upon Jerusalem when it was besieged."—Ep. 92.

Elsewhere Basil says: "The name of the episcopate has at length belonged to wretched men, the slaves of slaves, none of the servants of God choosing to make himself their rivals, none but the abandoned."—Ep. 239. His friend Gregory gives us, in various parts of his works, the very same account of the Eastern Church in his day.

"At this time," he says, "the most holy Order is like to become the most contemptible portion of all that is ours. For the chief seat is gained by evil-doing more than by virtue; and the sees belong not to the more worthy, but to the more powerful. A ruler is easily found, without effort, who is but recent in point of reputation, sown and sprung up all at once, as fable speaks of giants. We make saints in a day, and we bid men have wisdom who have not learned it, nor have brought beforehand anything to their Order, over and above the will to rise to it."—Orat. 43.


The letters addressed to the bishops of the West, which have already been reviewed, were written in 372. In the course of three years, Basil's tone changes about his brethren there: he had cause to be dissatisfied with them, and above all with Pope Damasus, who, as he thought, showed little zeal for the welfare of the East. Basil's discontent is expressed in various letters. For instance, a fresh envoy was needed for the Roman mission; and he had thoughts of engaging in it his brother Gregory, bishop of Nyssa.

"But," he says, "I see no persons who can go with him, and I {45} feel that he is altogether inexperienced in ecclesiastical matters; and that, though a candid person would both value and improve his acquaintance, yet when a man is high and haughty, and sits aloft, and is, in consequence, unable to hear such as speak truth to him from the earth, what good can come for the common weal, from his intercourse with one who is not of the temper to give in to low flattery?"—Ep. 215.

It is observable and curious, that he who was unjustly accused by saints of pride, falls into a like injustice of accusing another saint of pride himself. In another letter, he says to his friend Eusebius:—

"The saying of Diomede suggests itself as applicable, 'I would thou hadst not begged, for haughty is that man.' For, in truth, an elated mind, if courted, is sure to become only still more contemptuous. Besides, if the Lord be entreated, what need we more? but if God's wrath remain, what succour lies for us in Western superciliousness [Note 2]? They neither know nor bear to learn the true state of things, but, preoccupied by false suspicions, they are now doing just what they did before in the case of Marcellus, when they quarrelled with those who told them the truth, and by their measures strengthened the heresy. As to myself, I had in mind to write to their chief, putting aside form—nothing, indeed, ecclesiastical, but just so much as to insinuate, that they do not know our real state, nor go the way to learn it; and to write generally, concerning the impropriety of pressing hard upon those who are humbled by temptations, or of considering haughtiness as dignity, a sin which is, by itself, sufficient to make God our enemy."—Ep. 239.

Though he began to despair of aid from the West, he did not less need it. By the year 376 matters had got worse in the East, and, in spite of his dissatisfaction, he was induced to make a fresh application to his distant brethren. His main object was to reconcile the East and West together, whereas the latter, so far from supporting the Catholics of Asia against the Arians, had {46} been led to acknowledge a separate communion at Antioch,—almost to introduce a fresh succession,—and had thereby indirectly thrown suspicion upon the orthodoxy of Basil and his friends.

"Why," he expostulates, "has no writing of consolation been sent to us, no invitation of the brethren, nor any other of those attentions which are due to us from the law of love? This is the thirteenth year since the heretical war arose against us, during which more afflictions have come on the Churches than are remembered since Christ's Gospel was preached. Matters have come to this:—the people have left their houses of prayer, and assemble in deserts; a pitiable sight, women and children, old men and others infirm, wretchedly faring in the open air amid the most profuse rains, and snow-storms, and winds, and frost of winter; and again in summer under a scorching sun. To this they submit, because they will not have part in the wicked Arian leaven. —Ep. 342.

He repeats this miserable description in another letter, addressed about the same time specially to the bishops of Italy and Gaul.

"Only one offence is now vigorously punished, an accurate observance of our fathers' traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into the deserts. The iniquitous judges have no reverence for the hoary head, nor for pious abstinence, nor for a Gospel life continued from youth to age. The people are in lamentation; in continual tears at home and abroad; condoling in each other's sufferings. Not a heart so stony but at a father's loss must feel bereavement. There is a cry in the city, a cry in the country, in the roads, in the deserts; one pitiable voice of all, uttering melancholy things. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts, are turned into mourning; our houses of prayer are shut up; our altars deprived of the spiritual worship. No longer are there Christians assembling, teachers presiding, saving instructions, celebrations, hymns by night, or that blessed exultation of souls, which arises from communion and fellowship of spiritual gifts. Lament for us; that the Only-begotten {47} is blasphemed, and there is no one to protest; the Holy Spirit is set at nought, and he who could refute, is an exile. Polytheism has got possession. They have among them a great God and a lesser; 'Son' is considered not to denote nature, but to be a title of honour. The Holy Spirit does not complete the Trinity, nor partake in the Divine and Blessed Nature, but, as if one among creatures, is carelessly and idly added to Father and Son. The ears of the simple are led astray, and have become accustomed to heretical profaneness. The infants of the Church are fed on the words of impiety. For what can they do? Baptisms are in Arian hands; the care of travellers; visitation of the sick; consolation of mourners; succour of the distressed; helps of all sorts; administration of the mysteries; which all, being performed by them, become a bond to the people to be on a good understanding with them; so that in a little while, even though liberty be granted to us, no hope will remain that they, who are encompassed by so lasting a deceit, should be brought back again to the acknowledgment of the truth."—Ep. 243.


I will add one letter more; written several years before these last; and addressed to Evagrius, a priest of Antioch, who had taken part in Basil's negotiations with Rome, and had expressed an intention, which he did not fulfil, of communicating with Meletius, the bishop of Antioch, whom Basil and the East acknowledged. The letter insinuates the same charges against the Western bishops, which we have seen him afterwards expressing with freedom.


"So far from being impatient at the length of your letter, I assure you I thought it even short, from the pleasure it gave me in reading it. For is there anything more pleasing than the idea of peace? Or, is anything more suitable to the sacred office, or more acceptable to the Lord, than to take measures for effecting it? May you have the reward of the peacemaker, since so blessed an office has {48} been the object of your good desires and efforts. At the same time, believe me, my revered friend, I will yield to none in my earnest wish and prayer to see the day when those who are one in sentiment shall all fill the same assembly. Indeed, it would be monstrous to feel pleasure in the schisms and divisions of the Churches, and not to consider that the greatest of goods consists in the knitting together the members of Christ's body. But, alas! my inability is as real as my desire. No one knows better than yourself, that time alone is the remedy of ills that time has matured. Besides, a strong and vigorous treatment is necessary to get at the root of the complaint. You will understand this hint, though there is no reason why I should not speak out.

"Self-importance, when rooted by habit in the mind, yields to the exertions of no one man, nor one letter, nor a short time; unless there be some arbiter in whom all parties have confidence, suspicions and collisions will never altogether cease. If indeed the influence of divine grace were shed upon me, and gave me power in word and deed and spiritual gifts to prevail with these rival parties, then this daring experiment might be demanded of me; though, perhaps, even then you would not advise me to attempt this adjustment of things by myself, without the coöperation of the bishop [Meletius of Antioch] on whom principally falls the care of the church. But he cannot come hither, nor can I easily undertake a long journey while the winter lasts, or rather I cannot any how, for the Armenian mountains will be soon impassable even to the young and vigorous, to say nothing of my continued bodily ailments. I have no objection to write to tell him all this; but I have no expectation that writing will lead to anything, for I know his cautious character, and after all, written words have little power to convince the mind. There are so many things to urge, and to hear, and to answer, and to object, and to all this a letter is unequal, as having no soul, and being in fact only so much waste paper. However, as I have said, I will write. Only give me credit, most religious and dear brother, for having no private feeling in the matter. Thank God, I have such towards no one. I have not busied myself in the investigation of the supposed or real complaints which are brought against this or that man; so my opinion has a claim on your attention as that of one who really cannot act from partiality or prejudice. I only desire, through the Lord's good-will, that all things may be done with ecclesiastical propriety. {49}

"I was vexed to find from my dear son, Dorotheus, our associate in the ministry, that you had been unwilling to communicate with him. This was not the kind of conversation which you had with me, as well as I recollect. As to my sending to the West, it is quite out of the question. I have no one fit for the service. Indeed, when I look round, I seem to have no one on my side. I can but pray I may be found in the number of those seven thousand who have not bent the knee to Baal. I know the present persecutors of all of us seek my life; yet that shall not diminish aught of the zeal which I owe to the Churches of God."—Ep. 156.

The reader cannot have failed to remark the studiously courteous tone in which the foregoing letters are written. The truth is, Basil had to deal on all hands with most untoward materials, which one single harsh or heedless word addressed to his correspondents would have served to set in a blaze. Thus he, the Exarch of Cęsarea, made himself the servant of all.

"My brother Dorotheus," he writes to Peter of Alexandria, the successor of Athanasius, in 377, "distressed me by failing, as you report, in gentleness and mildness in his conversations with your excellency. I attribute this to the times. For I seem, for my sins, to prosper in nothing, since the worthiest brethren are found deficient in gentleness and fitness for their office, from not acting according to my wishes."—Ep. 266.

Basil did not live to see the Churches, for which he laboured, in a more Catholic condition. The notes of the Church were impaired and obscured in his part of Christendom, and he had to fare on as he best might,—admiring, courting, yet coldly treated by the Latin world, desiring the friendship of Rome, yet wounded by her reserve,—suspected of heresy by Damasus, and accused by Jerome of pride.

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1. Pope, about A.D. 260.
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2. [tes dutikes ophruos].
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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