Basil: letters, hexaemeron - II. WORKS
To the learned Maximus.
The excellent Theotecnus has given mean account of your highness, whereby he has inspired me with a longing for your acquaintance, so clearly do his words delineate the character of your mind. He has enkindled in me so ardent an affection for you, that were it not that I am weighed down with age, that I am the victim of a congenital ailment, that I am bound hand and foot by the numberless cares of the Church, nothing would have hindered my coming to you. For indeed it is no small gain that a member of a great house, a man of illustrious lineage, in adopting the life of the gospel, should bridle the propensities of youth by reflection, and subject to reason the affections of the flesh; should display a humility consistent with his Christian profession, bethinking himself, as is his duty, whence he is come and whither he is going. For it is this consideration of our nature that reduces the swelling of the mind, and banishes all boastfulness and arrogance. In a word it renders one a disciple of our Lord, Who said, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”2 And in truth, very dear son, the only thing that deserves our exertions and praises is our everlasting welfare; and this is the honour that comes from God.
Human affairs are fainter than a shadow; more deceitful than a dream. Youth fades more quickly than the flowers of spring; our beauty wastes with age or sickness. Riches are uncertain; glory is fickle. The pursuit of arts and sciences is bounded by the present life; the charm of eloquence, which all covet, reaches but the ear: whereas the practice of virtue is a precious possession for its owner, a delightful spectacle for all who witness it. Make this your study; so will yon be worthy of the good things promised by the Lord.
But a recital of the means whereby to make the acquisition, and secure the enjoyment of these blessings, lies beyond the intention of this present letter. Thus much however, after what I heard from my brother Theotecnus, it occurred to me to write to you. I pray that he may always speak the truth, especially in his accounts of you; that the Lord may be the more glorified in you, abounding as you do in the most precious fruits of piety, although derived from a foreign root.
I Desired, when in Orphanene,2 to see your excellency; I had also hoped that while you were living at Corsagaena, there would have been nothing to hinder your coming to me at a synod which I had expected to hold at Attagaena; since, however, I failed to hold it, my desire was to see you in the bill-country; for here again Evesus,3 being in that neighbourhood, held out hopes of our meeting. But since I have been disappointed on both occasions, I determined to write and beg that you would deign to visit me; for I think it is but right and proper that the young man should come to the old. Furthermore, at our meeting, I would make you a tender of my advice, touching your negotiations with certain at Caesarea: a right conclusion of the matter calls for my intervention. If agreeable then, do not be backward in coming to me.
To Modestus the Prefect.
Although so numerous are my letters, conveyed to your excellency by as many bearers, yet, having regard to the especial honour you have shewn me, I cannot think that their large number causes you any annoyance.
I do not hesitate therefore to entrust to this brother the accompanying letter: I know that he will meet with all that he wishes, and that you will count me hut as a benefactor in furnishing occasion for the gratification of your kind inclinations. He craves your advocacy. His cause be will explain in person, if you but deign to regard him with a favourable eye, and embolden him to speak freely in the presence of so august an authority. Accept my assurance that any kindness shewn to him, I shall regard as personal to myself. His special reason for leaving Tyana and coming to me was the high value he attached to the presentation of a letter written by myself in support of his application. That he may not be disappointed of his hope; that I may continue in the enjoyment of your consideration; that your interest in all that is good may, in this present matter, find scope for its full exercised are the grounds on which I crave a gracious reception for him, and a place amongst those nearest to you.
To Modestus the Prefect.
I Feel my boldness in pressing my suit by letter upon a man in your position; still the honour that you have paid me in the past has banished all my scruples. Accordingly I write with confidence.
My plea is for a relative of mine, a man worthy of respect for his integrity. He is the bearer of this letter, and he stands to me in the place of a son. Your favour is all that he requires for the fulfilment of Iris wishes. Deign therefore to receive, at the hands of the aforesaid bearer, my letter in furtherance of his plea. I pray you to give him an opportunity of explaining his affairs at an interview with those in a position to help him. So by your direction shall he quickly obtain his desires; while I shall have occasion for boasting that by God’s favour I have found a champion who regards the entreaties of my friends as personal claims to his protection.
To Modestus the Prefect.
I AM mindful of the great honour I received in the encouragement you gave me, along with others, to address your excellency. I avail myself of the privilege and the enjoyment of your gracious favour.
I congratulate myself upon having such a correspondent, as also upon the opportunity afforded your excellency of conferring an honour on me by your reply.
I claim your clemency on behalf of Helladius my special friend. I pray that he may be relieved from the anxieties of Tax assessor, and so be enabled to work in the interests of our country.
You have already so far given a gracious consent, that I now repeat my request, and pray you to send instructions to the governor of the Province, that Helladius may be released from this infliction.
To a bishop.
You blame me for not inviting you; and, when invited, you do not attend. That your former excuse was an empty one is clear from your conduct on the second occasion. For had you been invited before, in all probability you would never have come.
Act not again unadvisedly, but obey this present invitation; since you know that its repetition strengthens an indictment, and that a second lends credibility to a previous accusation.
I exhort you always to bear with me; or even if you cannot, at any rate it is your duty not to neglect the Martyrs, to join in whose commemoration you are invited. Render therefore your service to us both; or if you will not consent to this, at any rate to the more worthy.
To a widow.
I Hope to find a suitable day for the conference, after those which I intend to fix for the hill-country. I see no opportunity for our meeting (unless the Lord so order it beyond my expectation), other than at a public conference.
You may imagine my position from your own experience. If in the care of a single household you are beset with such a crowd of anxieties, how many distractions, think you, each day brings to me?
Your dream, I think, reveals more perfectly the necessity of making provision for spiritual contemplation, and cultivating that mental vision by which God is wont to be seen. Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.
To the assessor in the case of monks.
Concerning the monks, your excellency has, I believe, already rules in force, so that I need ask for no special favour on their behalf.
It is enough that they share with others the enjoyment of your general beneficence; still I feel it incumbent upon me too to interest myself in their case. I therefore submit it to your more perfect judgment, that men who have long since taken leave of this life, who have mortified their own bodies, so that they have neither money to spend nor bodily service to render in the interests of the common weal, should be exempted from taxation. For if their lives are consistent with their profession, they possess neither money nor bodies; for the former is spent in communicating to the needy; while their bodies are worn away in prayer and fasting.
Men living such lives you will, I know, regard with special reverence; nay you will wish to secure their intervention, since by their life in the Gospel they are able to prevail with God.
The hearer of this letter is one on whom rests the care of our Church and the management of its property—our beloved son.
Deign to grant him freedom of speech on those points that are referred to year holiness, and attention to the expression of his own views; so shall our Church at length recover herself, and henceforth be released from this many-headed Hydra.
Our property is our poverty; so much so that we are ever in search of one to relieve us of it; for the expenses of the Church property amount to more than any profit that she derives from it.
To the Commentariensis.2
Whereas certain vagabonds have been arrested in the church for stealing, in defiance of God’s commandment, some poor men’s clothing, of little value otherwise, yet such as they had rather have on than off their backs; and whereas you consider that in virtue of your office you yourself should have the custody of the offenders:—I hereby declare, that I would have you know that for offences committed in the church it is our business to mete out punishment, and that the intervention of the civil authorities is in these cases superfluous. Wherefore, the stolen property, as set forth in the document in your possession and in the transcript made in the presence of eyewitnesses, I enjoin you to retain, reserving part for future claims, and distributing the rest among the present applicants.
As for the offenders,—that they be corrected in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. By this means I hope to work their successive reformations. For where the stripes of human tribunals have failed, I have often known the fearful judgments of God to be effectual. If it is, however, your wish to refer this matter also to the count, such is my confidence in his justice and uprightness that I leave you to follow your own counsels.
IT is difficult to deal with this man. I scarcely know how to treat so shifty, and, to judge from the evidence, so desperate a character. When summoned before the court, he fails to appear; and if he does attend, he is gifted with such volubility of words and oaths, that I think myself well off to be quickly rid of him. I have often known him twist round his accusations upon his accusers. In a word, there is no creature living upon earth so subtile and versatile in villainy. A slight acquaintance with him suffices to prove this. Why then do you appeal to me ? Why not at once bring yourselves to submit to his ill-treatment, as to a visitation of God’s anger?
At the same time you must not be contaminated by contact with wickedness.
I enjoin therefore that he and all his household be forbidden the services of the Church, and all other communion with her ministers. Being thus made an example of, he may haply be brought to a sense of his enormities.
Without address. Excommunicatory.
When public punishment fails to bring a man to his senses, or exclusion from the prayers of the Church to drive him to repentance, it only remains to treat him in accordance with our Lord’s directions—as it is written, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee ....tell him his fault between thee and him; ... if he will not hear thee, take with ’thee another;” “and if he shall” then “neglect to hear, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear even the Church, let him be unto thee henceforth as an heathen man, and as a publican.”1 Now all this we have done in the case of this fellow. First, he was accused of his fault; then he was convicted in the presence of one or two witnesses; thirdly, in the presence of the Church. Thus we have made our solemn protest, and he has not listened to it. Henceforth let him be excommunicated.
Further, let proclamation be made throughout the district, that he be excluded from participation in any of the ordinary relations of life; so that by our withholding ourselves from all intercourse with him he may become altogether food for the devil.2
Without address. Concerning an afflicted woman.
I Consider it an equal mistake, to let the guilty go unpunished, and to exceed the proper limits of punishment. I accordingly passed upon this man the sentence I considered it incumbent on me to pass—ex-communication from the Church. The sufferer I exhorted not to avenge herself; but to leave to God the redressing of her wrongs. Thus if my admonitions had possessed any weight, I should then have been obeyed, for the language I employed was far more likely to ensure credit, than any letter to enforce compliance.
So, even after listening to her statements that contained matter sufficiently grave, I still held my peace; and even now I am not sure that it becomes me to treat again of this same question.
For, she says, I have foregone husband, children, all (he enjoyments of life, for the attainment of this single object, the favour of God, and good repute amongst men. Yet one day the offender, an adept from boyhood in corrupting families, with the impudence habitual to him, forced an entrance into my house; and thus within the bare limits of an interview an acguaintanceship was formed. It was only owing to my ignorance of the man, and to that timidity which comes from inexperience, that I hesitated openly to turn him out of doors. Yet to such a pitch of impiety and insolence did he come, that he filled the whole city with slanders, and publicly inveighed against me by affixing to the church doors libellous placards. For this conduct, it is true, he incurred the displeasure of the law: but, nevertheless, he returned to his slanderous attacks on me. Once more the market-place was filled with his abuse, as well as the gymnasia, theatres, and houses whose congeniality of habits gained him an admittance. Nor did his very extravagance lead men to recognise those virtues wherein I was conspicuous, so universally had I been represented as being of an incontinent disposition. In these calumnies, she goes on to say, some find a delight—such is the pleasure men naturally feel in the disparagement of others; some profess to be pained, but shew no sympathy; others believe the truth of these slanders; others again, having regard to the persistency of his oaths, are undecided. But sympathy I have none. And now indeed I begin to realise my loneliness, and bewail myself. I have no brother, friend, relation, no servant, bond or free, in a word, no one whatever to share my grief. And yet, I think, I am more than any one else an object of pity, in a city where the haters of wickedness are so few. They bandy violence; but violence, though they fail to see it, moves in a circle, and in time will overtake each one of them.
In such and still more appealing terms she told her tale, with countless tears, and so departed. Nor did she altogether acquit me of blame; thinking that, when I ought to sympathise with her like a father, I am indifferent to her troubles, and regard the sufferings of others too philosophically.
For it is not, she urged, the loss of money that you bid me disregard; nor the endurance of bodily sufferings; but a damaged reputation, an injury involving loss upon the Church at large.
This is her appeal; and now I pray you, most excellent sir, consider what answer you would have me make her. The decision I have come to in my own mind is, not to surrender offenders to the magistrates; yet not to rescue those already in their custody, since it has long ago been declared by the Apostle, that the magistrates should be a terror to them in their evil-doings; for, it is said, “he beareth not the sword in vain.”2 To surrender him, then, is contrary to my humanity; while to release him would be an encouragement to his violence.
Perhaps, however, you will defer taking action until my arrival. I will then shew you that I can effect nothing from there being none to obey me).
May many blessings rest on those who encourage your excellency in maintaining a constant correspondence with me! And regard not such a wish as conventional merely, but as expressing my sincere conviction of the value of your utterances. Whom could I honour above Nectarius—known to me from his earliest days as a child of fairest promise, who now through the exercise of every virtue has reached a position of the highest eminence?—So much so, that of all my friends the dearest is the bearer of your letter.
Touching the election of those set over districts,2 God forbid that I should do anything for the gratification of man, through listening to importunities or yielding to fear. In that case I should be not a steward. but a huckster, battering the gift of God for the favour of man. But seeing that votes are given but by mortals, who can only bear such testimony as they do from outward appearances, while the choice of fit persons is committed in all humility to Him Who knows the secrets of the heart, haply it is best for everybody, when he has tendered the evidence of his vote, to abstain from all heat and contention, as though some self-interest were involved in the testimony, and to pray to God that what is advantageous may not remain unknown. Thus the result is no longer attributable to man, but a cause for thankfulness to God. For these things, if they be of man, cannot be said to be; but are pretence only, altogether void of reality.
Consider also, that when a man strives with might and main to gain his end, there is no small danger of his drawing even sinners to his side; and there is much sinfulness, such is the weakness of man’s nature, even where we should least expect it.
Again, in private consultation we often offer our friends good advice, and, though we do not find them taking it, yet we are not angry. Where then it is not man that counsels, but God that determines, shall we feel indignation at not being preferred before the determination of God?
And if these things were given to man by man, what need were there for us to ask them of ourselves ? Were it not better for each to take them from himself ? But if they are the gift of God, we ought to pray and not to grieve. And in our prayer we should not seek oar own will, but leave it to God who disposes for the best.
Now may the holy God keep from your home all taste of sorrow; and grant to you and to your family a life exempt from harm and sickness.
To Timotheus the Chorepiscopus.2
The due limits of a letter, and that mode of addressing you, render it inconvenient for me to write all I think; at the same time to pass over my thoughts in silence, when my heart is burning with righteous indignation against you, is well-nigh impossible. I will adopt the midway course: I will write some things; others I will omit. For I wish to chide you, if so I may, in terms both flank and friendly.
Yes ! that Timotheus whom I have known from boyhood, so intent upon an upright and ascetic life, as even to be accused of excess therein, now forsakes the enquiry after those means whereby we may be united to God; now makes it his first thought what some one else may think of him, and lives a life of dependence upon the opinions of others; is mainly anxious how to serve his friends, without incurring the ridicule of enemies; and fears disgrace with the world as a great misfortune. Does he not know, that while he is occupied with these trifles he is unconsciously neglecting his highest interests? For, that we cannot be engaged with both at once—the things of this world and of Heaven—the holy Scriptures are full of teaching for us. Nay, Nature herself is full of such instances. In the exercise of the mental faculty, to think two thoughts at the same time is quite impossible. In the perceptions of our senses, to admit two sounds falling upon our ears at the same moment, and to distinguish them, although we are provided with two open passages, is impossible. Our eyes, again, unless they are both fixed upon the object of our vision, are unable to perform their action accurately.
Thus much for Nature; but to recite to you the evidence of the Scriptures were as ridiculous as, so runs the proverb, ` to carry owls to Athens.’3 Why then combine things incompatible—the tumults of civil life and the practice of religion?
Withdraw from clamour; be no more the cause or object of annoyance; let us keep ourselves to ourselves. We long since proposed religion as our aim; let us make the attainment of it our practice, and shew those who have the wish to insult us that it does not lie with them to annoy us at their will. But this will only be when we have clearly shewn them that we afford no handle for abuse.
For the present enough of this ! Would that some day we might meet and more perfectly consider those things that be for our souls’ welfare; so may we not be too much occupied with thoughts of vanity, since death mast one day overtake us.
I was greatly pleased with the gifts you kindly sent me. They were most welcome on their own account; the thought of who it was that sent them made them many times more welcome. The gifts from Pontus, the tablets and medicines, kindly accept when I send them. At present they are not by me.
N.B. The letters numbered CCXCII.-CCCLXVI. are included by the Ben. Ed. in a “Classis Tertia,” having no note of time. Some are doubtful, and some plainly spurious. Of these I include such as seem most important.
The one-half of my desire has God fulfilled in the interview He granted me with our fair sister, your wife. The other half He is able to accomplish; and so with the sight of your excellency I shall render my full thanks to God.
And i am the more desirous of seeing you, now that I hear you have been adorned with that great ornament, the clothing of immortality, which clokes our mortality, and puts out of sight the death of the flesh; by virtue of which the corruptible is swallowed up in incorruption.
Thus God of His goodness has now alienated you from sin, united you to Himself, has opened the doors of Heaven, and pointed out the paths that lead to heavenly bliss. I entreat you therefore by that wisdom wherein you excel all other men, that you receive the divine favour circumspectly, proving a faithful guardian of this treasure, as the repository of this royal gift, keeping watch over it with all carefulness. Preserve this seal of righteousness unsullied, that so you may stand before God, shining in the brightness of the Saints. Let no spot or wrinkle defile the pure robe of immortality; but keep holiness in all your members, as having put on Christ. “For,” it is said, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”1 Wherefore let all your members be holy as becomes their investment in a raiment of holiness and light.
How fare you this long while? Have you altogether recovered the use of your hand ? And how do other things prosper? According to your wishes and my prayers ? In accordance with your purposes ?
Where men are readily disposed to change, it is only natural that their lives are not well ordered: but where their minds are fixed, steadfast and unalterable, it follows that their lives should be conformable to their purposes.
True, it is not in the helmsman’s power to make a calm when he wishes; but with us. it is quite easy to render our lives tranquil by stilling the storms of passion that surge within, by rising superior to those that assail us from without. The upright man is touched by neither loss, nor sickness, nor the other ills of life; for he walks in heart with God. keeps his gaze fixed upon the future, and easily and lightly weathers the storms that rise from earth.
Be not troubled with the cares of earth. Such men are like fat birds, in vain endowed with flight, that creep like beasts upon the ground. But you—for I have witnessed you in difficulties—are like swimmers racing out at sea.
A single claw reveals the whole lion: so from a slight acquaintance I think I know you fully. And I count it a great thing, that you set some store by me, that I am not absent from your thoughts, but constantly in your recollection.
Now writing is a proof of recollection; and the oftener you write, the better pleased I am).
To Festus and Magnus.
IT is doubtless a father’s duty to make provision for his children; a husbandman’s to tend his plants and crops; a teacher’s to bestow care upon his pupils, especially when, innate goodness shews signs of promise for them.
The husbandman finds toil a pleasure when he sees the ears ripen or the plants increase; the teacher is gladdened at his pupils’ growth in knowledge, the father at his son’s in stature. But greater is the care I feel for you; higher the hopes I entertain; in proportion as piety is more excellent than all the arts, than all the animals and fruits together.
And piety I planted in your heart while still pure and tender, and I matured it in the hopes of seeing it reach maturity and bearing fruits in due season. My prayers meanwhile were furthered by your love of learning. And you know well that you have my good wishes, and that God’s favour rests upon your endevours; for when rightly directed, called or uncalled, God is at hand to further them.
Now every man that loves God is prone to teaching; nay, where there is the power to teach things profitable, their eagerness is well nigh uncontrollable; but first their hearers’ minds must be cleared of all resistance.
Not that separation in the body is a hindrance to instruction. The Creator, in the fulness of His love and wisdom, did not confine our minds within our bodies, nor the power of speaking to our tongues. Ability to profit derives some advantage even from lapse of time; thus we are able to transmit instruction, not only to those who are dwelling far away, but even to those who are hereafter to be born. And experience proves my words: those who lived many years before teach posterity by instruction preserved in their writings; and we, though so far separated in the body, are always near in thought, and converse together with ease.
Instruction is bounded neither by sea nor land, if only we have a care for our souls’ profit.
I DO not think that I need further commend you to God’s grace, after the words that I addressed to you in person. I then bade you adopt the life in common, after the manner of living of the Apostles. This you accepted as wholesome instruction, and gave God thanks for it.
Thus your conduct was due, not so much to the words I spoke, as to my instructions to put them into practice, conducive at once to your advantage who accepted, to my comfort who gave you the advice, and to the glory and praise of Christ, by Whose name we are called.
For this reason I have sent to you our well-beloved brother, that he may learn of your zeal, may quicken your sloth, may report to me of opposition. For great is my desire to see you all united in one body, and to hear that you are not content to live a life without witness; but have undertaken to be both watchful of each other’s diligence, and witnesses of each other’s success.
Thus will each of you receive a reward in full, not only on his own behalf, but also for his brother’s progress. And, as is fitting, you will be a source of mutual profit, both by your words and deeds, as a result of constant intercourse and exhortation. But above all I exhort you to be mindful of the faith of the Fathers, and not to be shaken by those who in your retirement would try to wrest you from it. For you know that unless illumined by faith in God, strictness of life availeth nothing; nor will a right confession of faith, if void of good works, be able to present you before the Lord.
Faith and works must be joined: so shall the man of God be perfect, and his life not halt through any imperfection.
For the faith which saves us, as saith the Apostle, is that which worketh by love.
To a widow.
[A short letter in which Basil excuses himself for making use of the widow’s mules.]
To a widow.
[A short letter of introduction.]
[A short letter of commendation.]
To a Censitor.1
I Was aware, before you told me, that you do not like your employment in public affairs. It is an old saying that those who are anxious to lead a pious life do not throw themselves with pleasure into office. The case of magistrates seems to me like that of physicians. They see awful sights; they meet with bad smells; they get trouble for themselves out of other people’s calamities. This is at least the case with those who are real magistrates. All men who are engaged in business, look also to make a profit, and are excited about this kind of glory, count it the greatest possible advantage to acquire some power and influence by which they may be able to benefit their friends, punish their enemies, and get what they want for themselves. You are not a man of this kind. How should you be? You have voluntarily withdrawn from even high office in the State. You might have ruled the city like one single house, but you have preferred a life free from care and anxiety. You have placed a higher value on having no troubles yourself and not troubling other people, than other people do on making themselves disagreeable. But it has seemed good to the Lord that the district of Ibora2 should not be under the power of hucksters, nor be turned into a mere slave market. It is His will that every individual in it should be enrolled, as is right. Do you therefore accept this responsibility ? It is vexatious, I know, but it is one which may bring you the approbation of God. Neither fawn upon the great and powerful, nor despise the poor and needy. Show to all under your rule an impartiality of mind, balanced more exactly than any scales. Thus in the sight of those who have entrusted you with these responsibilities your zeal for justice will be made evident, and they will view you with exceptional admiration. And even though you go unnoticed by them, you will not be unnoticed by our God. The prizes which He has put before us for good works are great.
[A consolatory letter to a father.]
[Consolatory on the death of his wife.]
To the wife of Briso.
[Consolatory on the death of her husband. These three consolatory letters present no features different from those contained in previous letters of a similar character.]
To the Comes Privatarum.
You have, I think, been led to impose a contribution of mares1 on these people by false information on the part of the inhabitants. What is going on is quite unfair. It cannot but be displeasing to your excellency, and is distressing to me on account of my intimate connexion with the victims of the wrong. I have therefore lost no time in begging year Lordship not to allow these promoters of iniquity to succeed in their malevolence.
Basil: letters, hexaemeron - II. WORKS