Basil: letters, hexaemeron - II. WORKS
LXI. The thief, if he have repented of his own accord and charged himself, shall only be prohibited from partaking of the sacrament for a year; if he be convicted, for two years. The period shall be divided between kneeling and standing. Then let him be held worthy of communion.
LXII. He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers.
LXIII. He who confesses his iniquity in the case of brutes shall observe the same time in penance.
LXIV. Perjurers shall be excommunicated for ten years; weeping for two, hearing for three, kneeling for four, and standing only during one year; then they shall be held worthy of communion.
LXV. He who confesses-magic or sorcery shall do penance for the time of murder, and shall be treated in the same manner as he who convicts himself of this sin.
LXVI. The tomb breaker shall be ex-communicated for ten years, weeping for two, hearing for three, kneeling for four, standing for one, then he shall be admitted.
LXVII. Incest with a sister shall incur penance for the same time as murder.
LXVIII.The union of kindred within the prohibited degrees of marriage, if detected as having taken place in acts of sin, shall receive the punishment of adultery.12
LXIX. The Reader who has intercourse with his betrothed before marriage, shall be allowed to read after a year’s suspension, remaining without advancement. If he has had secret intercourse without betrothal, he shall be deposed from his ministry. So too the minister.13
LXX. The deacon who has been polluted in lips, and has confessed his commission of this sin, shall be removed from his ministry. But he shall be permitted to partake of the sacrament together with the deacons. The same holds good in the case of a priest. If any one be detected in a more serious sin, whatever be his degree, he shall be deposed.14
LXXI. Whoever is aware of the commission of any one of the aforementioned sins, and is convicted without having confessed, shall be under punishment for the same space of time as the actual perpetrator.
LXXII. He who has entrusted himself15 to soothsayers, or any such persons, shall be under discipline for the same time as the homicide.
LXXIII. He who has denied Christ, and sinned against the mystery of salvation, ought to weep all his life long, and is bound to remain in penitence, being deemed worthy of the sacrament in the hour of death, through faith in the mercy of God.
LXXIV. If, however, each man who has committed the former sins is made good, through penitence.16 he to whom is committed by the loving-kindness of God the power of loosing and binding17 will not be deserving of condemnation, if he become less severe, as he beholds the exceeding greatness of the penitence of the sinner, so as to lessen the period of punishment, for the history in the Scriptures informs us that all who exercise penitence18 with greater zeal quickly receive the loving-kindness of God.19
LXXV. The man who has been polluted with Iris own sister, either on the father’s or the mother’s side, must not be allowed to enter the house of prayer, until he has given up his iniquitous and unlawful conduct. And, after he has come to a sense of that fearful sin, let him weep for three years standing at the door of the house of prayer, and entreating the people as they go in to prayer that each and all will mercifully offer on his behalf their prayers with earnestness to the Lord. After this let him be received for another period of three years to hearing alone, and while hearing the Scriptures and the instruction, let him be expelled and not be admitted to prayer. Afterwards, if he has asked it with tears and has fallen before the Lord with contrition of heart and great humiliation, let kneeling be accorded to him during other three years. Thus, when he shall have worthily shown the fruits of repentance, let him be received in the tenth year to the prayer of the faithful without oblation; and after standing with the faithful in prayer for two years, then, and not till then, let him be held worthy of the communion of the good thing.
LXXVI. The same rule applies to those who take their own daughters in law.
LXXVII. He who abandons the wife, lawfully trailed to him, is subject by the sentence of the Lord to the penalty of adultery. But it has been laid down as a canon by our Fathers that such sinners should weep for a year, be hearers for two years, in kneeling for three years, stand with the faithful in the seventh; and thus be deemed worthy of the oblation, if they have repented with tears.20
LXXVIII. Let the same rule hold good in the case of those who marry two sisters, although at different times.21
LXXIX. Men who rage after their stepmothers are subject to the same canon as those who rage after their sisters.22
LXXX. On polygamy the Fathers are silent, as being brutish and altogether inhuman. The sin seems to me worse than fornication. It is therefore reasonable that such sinners should be subject to the canons; namely a year’s weeping, three years kneeling and then reception.23
LXXXI. During the invasion of the barbarians many men have sworn heathen oaths, tasted things unlawfully offered them in magic temples and so have broken their faith in God. Let regulations be made in the case of these men in accordance with the canons laid down by our Fathers.24 Those who have endured grievous tortures and have been forced to denial, through inability to sustain the anguish, may be excluded for three years, hearers for two, kneelers for three, and so be received into communion. Those who have abandoned their faith in God, laying hands on the tables of the demons and swearing heathen oaths, without under going great violence, should be excluded for three years, hearers for two. When they have prayed for three years as kneelers, and have stood other three with the faithful in supplication, then let them be received into the communion of the good thing.
LXXXII. As to perjurers, if they have broken their oaths under violent compulsion, they are under lighter penalties and may therefore be received after six years. If they break their faith without compulsion, let them be weepers for two years, hearers for three, pray as kneelers for five, during two be received into the communion of prayer, without oblation, and so at last, after giving proof of due repentance, they shall be restored to the communion of the body of Christ.
LXXXIII. Consulters of soothsayers and they who follow heathen customs, or bring persons into their houses to discover remedies and to effect purification, should fall under the canon of six years. After Weeping a year, hearing a year, kneeling for three years and standing with the faithful for a year so let them be received.
LXXXIV. I write all this with a view to testing the fruits of repentance.25 I do not decide such matters absolutely by time, but I give heed to the manner of penance. If men are in a state in which they find it hard to be weaned from their own ways and choose rather to serve the pleasures of the flesh than to serve the Lord, and refuse to accept the Gospel life, there is no common ground between me and them. In the midst of a disobedient and gainsaying people I have been taught to hear the words “Save thy own soul.”26 Do not then let us consent to perish together with such sinners. Let us fear the awful judgment. Let us keep before our eyes the terrible day of the retribution of the Lord. Let us not consent to perish in other men’s sins, for if the terrors of the Lord have not taught us, if so great calamities have not brought us to feel that it is A because of our iniquity that the Lord has abandoned us, and given us into the hands of barbarians, that the people have been led, captive before our foes and given over to dispersion, because the bearers of Christ’s name have dared such deeds; if they have not known nor understood that it is for these reasons that the wrath of God has come upon us, what common ground of argument have I with them?
But we ought to testify to them day and night, alike in public and in private. Let us not consent to be drawn away with them in their wickedness. Let us above all pray that we may do them good, and rescue them from the snare of the evil one. If we cannot do this, let us at all events do our best to save our own souls from everlasting damnation,
To Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium.
Brother Aelianus has himself completed the business concerning which he came. and has stood in neeed of no aid from me. l owe him, however, double thanks, both for bringing me a letter from your reverence and tot affording me an opportunity of writing to you. By him, therefore, I salute your true and unfeigned love, and beseech you to pray for me more than ever now, when I stand in such need of the aid of your prayers. My health has suffered terribly from the journey to Pontus and my sickness is unendurable. One thing I have long been anxious to make known to you. I do not mean to say that I have been so affected by any other cause as to forget it, but now I wish to put you in mind to send some good man into Lycia, to enquire who are of the right faith, for peradventure they ought not to be neglected, if indeed the report is true, which has been brought to me by a pious traveller from thence, that they have become altogether alienated from the opinion of the Asiani2 and wish to embrace communions with us. If any one is to go let him enquire at Corydala3 for Alexander, the late monk, the bishop; at Limyra4 for Diotimus, and at Myra5 for Tatianus, Polemo,6 and Macarius presbyters; at Patara7 for Eudemus,8 the bishop; at Telmessus9 for Hilarius, the bishop: at Phelus for Lallianus, the bishop. Of these and of more besides I have been informed that they are sound in the faith, and I have been grateful to God that even any in the Asian region should be clear of the heretic’s pest. If, then, it be possible, let us in the meanwhile make personal enquiry about them. When we have obtained information I am for writing a letter, and am anxious to invite one of them to meet me. God grant that all may go well with that Church at Iconium, which is so dear to me. Through you I salute all the honourable clergy and all who are associated with your reverence.
To the clergy of Samosata.
The Lord ordereth “all things in measure and weight,”2 and brings on us the temptations which do not exceed our power to endure them,3 but tests all that fight in the cause of true religion by affliction, not suffering them to be tempted above that they are able to bear.4 He gives tears to drink in great measure5 to all who ought to show whether in their affections they are preserving their gratitude to Him. Especially in His dispensation concerning you has He shown His loving-kindness, not suffering such a persecution to be brought on you by your enemies as might turn some of you aside, or cause you to swerve from the faith of Christ. He has matched you with adversaries who are of small importance and easy to be repelled, and has prepared the prize for your patience in your victory over them. But the common enemy of our life, who, in his wiles, strives against the goodness of God, because he has seen that, like a strong wall, you are despising attack from without. has devised, as I hear, that there should arise among yourselves mutual offences and quarrels. These indeed, at the outset, are insignificant and easy of cure; as time goes on, however, they are increased by contention and are wont to result in irremediable mischief.6 I have, therefore, undertaken to exhort you by this letter. Had it been possible, I would have come myself and supplicated you in person. Butt this is prevented by present circumstances, and so, in lieu of supplication, I hold out this letter to you, that you may respect my entreaty, may put a stop to your mutual rivalries, and may soon send me the good news that all cause of offence among you is at an end.
2. I am very anxious that you should know that be is great before God who humbly submits to his neighbour and submits to charges against himself, without having cause for shame, even though they are not true, that he may bring the great blessing of peace upon God’s Church.
I hope that there will arise among you a friendly rivalry, as to who shall first be worthy of being called God’s son, after winning this rank for himself because of his being a peacemaker. A letter has also been written to you by your very God-beloved bishop as to the course which you ought to pursue. He will write again what it belongs to him to say. But I too, because of its having been already allowed me to be near you, cannot disregard your position. So on the arrival of the very devout brother Theodorus the sub-deacon, and his report that your Church is in distress and disturbance, being deeply grieved and much pained at heart, I could not endure to keep silence. I implore you to fling away all controversy with one another, and to make peace, that you may avoid giving pleasure to you opponents and destroying the boast of the Church, which is now noised abroad throughout the world, that you all, as you are ruled by one soul and heart, so live in one body. Through your reverences I salute all the people of God, both those in rank and office and the rest of the clergy. I exhort you to keep your old character. I can ask for nothing more than this because by the exhibition of your good works you have anticipated and made impossible any improvement on them.
To the Beraeans.2
The Lord has given great consolation to all who are deprived of personal intercourse in allowing them to communicate by letter. By this means, it is true, we cannot learn the express image of the body, but we can learn the disposition of the very soul. Thus on the present occasion, when I had received the letter of your reverences, I at the same moment recognised you, and took your love towards me into my heart, and needed no long time to create intimacy with you. The disposition shewn in your’ letter was quite enough to enkindle in me affection for the beauty of your soul. And, besides your letter, excellent as it was, I had a yet plainer proof of how things are with you from the amiability of the brethren who have been the means of communication between us. The well-beloved and reverend presbyter Acacius, has told me much in addition to what you have written, and has brought before my eyes the conflict you have to keep up day by day, and the stoutness of the stand you are making for the true religion. He has thus so moved my admiration, and roused in me so earnest a desire of enjoying the good qualities in you, that I do pray the Lord that a time may come when I may know you and yours by personal experience. He has told me of the exactitude of those of you who are entrusted with the ministry of the altar, and moreover of the harmonious agreement of all the people, and the generous character and genuine love towards God of the magistrates and chief men of your city. I consequently congratulate the Church on consisting of such members, and pray that spiritual peace may be given to you in yet greater abundance, to the end (hat in quieter times you may derive enjoyment from your labours in the day of affliction. For sufferings that are painful while they are being experienced are naturally often remembered with pleasure. For the present I beseech you not to faint. Do not despair because your troubles follow so closely one upon another. Your crowns are near: the help of the Lord is near. Do not let all you have hitherto undergone go l for nothing; do not nullify a struggle which has been famous over all the world. Human life is but of brief duration. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. ... The grass withereth, tile flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”3 Let us hold fast to the commandment that abideth, and despise the unreality that passeth away. Many Churches have been cheered by your example. In calling new champions into the field you have won for yourselves a great reward, though you knew it not. The Giver of the prize is rich. and is able to reward you not unworthily for your brave deeds.
To the Beraeans.
You were previously known to me, my dear friends, by your far-famed piety, and by the crown won by your confession in Christ. Peradventure one of you may ask in reply who can have carried these tidings of us so far? The Lord Himself; for He puts His worshippers like a lamp on a lamp-stand, and makes them shine throughout tile whole world. Are not winners in the games wont to be made famous by the prize of victory, and craftsmen by the skilful design of their work? Shall the memory of these and others like them abide for ever unforgotten, and shall not Christ’s worshippers concerning whom the Lord says Himself, Them that honour me I will honour, be made famous and glorious by Him before all? Shall He not display the brightness of their radiant splendour as He does the beams of the sun? But I have been moved to greater longing for you by the letter which you have been good enough to send me, a letter in which, above and beyond your former efforts on behalf of the truth, yon have been yet more lavish of your abounding and vigorous zeal for the true faith. In all this I rejoice with you, and I pray with you that the God of the universe, Whose is the struggle and the arena, .and Who gives the crown, may fill you with enthusiasm, may make your souls strong, and make your work such as to meet with His divine approval.
Lo the people of Chalcis.2
The letter of your reverences came upon me in an hour affliction like water poured into the mouths of racehorses, inhaling dust with each eager breath at high noontide in the middle of the course. Beset by trial after trial, I breathed again, at once cheered by your words and invigorated by the thought of your struggles to meet that which is before me with unflinching courage. For the conflagration which has devoured a great part of the East is already advancing by slow degrees into our own neighbourhood, and after burning everything round about us is trying to reach even the Churches in Cappadocia, already moved to tears by the smoke that rises from the ruins of our neighbours’ homes.3 The flames have almost reached me. May the Lord divert them by the breath of His mouth, and stay this wicked fire. Who is such a coward, so unmanly, so untried in the athlete’s struggles, as not to be nerved to the fight by your cheers, and pray to be hailed victor at your side? You have been the first to step into the arena of true religion; you have beaten off many an attack in bouts with the heretics; you have borne the strong hot wind4 of trial, both you who are leaders of the Church, to whom has been the ministry of the altar, and every individual of the laity, including those of higher rank. For this in you is specially admirable and worthy of all praise, that you are all one in the Lord. some of you leaders in the march to what is good, others willingly following. It is for this reason that you are too strong for the attack of your assailants, and allow no hold to your antagonists in any one of your members, wherefore day and night I pray the King of the ages to preserve the people in the integrity of their faith, and for them to preserve the clergy, like a head unharmed at the top, exercising its own watchful forethought for every portion of the body underneath. For while the eyes discharge their functions, the hands can do their work as they ought, the feet can move without tripping, and no part of the body is deprived of due care. I beseech you, then, to cling to one another, as you are doing and as you will do. I beseech you who are entrusted with the care of souls to keep each and all together, and to cherish them like beloved children. I beseech the people to continue to show you the respect and honour due to fathers, that in the goodly order of your Church you may keep your strength and the foundation of your faith in Christ; that God’s name may be glorified and the good gift of love increase and abound. May I, as I hear of you, rejoice in your progress in God. If I am still bidden to sojourn in the flesh in this world, may I one day see you in the peace of God. If I be now summoned to depart this life, may I see you in the radiant glory of the saints, together with all them who are accounted worthy through patience and showing forth of good works, with crowns upon your heads.
Against Eustathius of Sebasteia.2
1). There iS a time to keep silence and a time to speak,3 is the saying of the Preacher. Time enough has been given to silence, and now the time has come to open my mouth for the publication of the truth concerning matters that are, up to now, unknown. The illustrious Jb bore his calamities for a long time in silence, and ever showed his courage by holding out under the most intolerable sufferings, but when he had struggled long enough in silence, and had persisted in covering his anguish in the bottom of his heart, at last he opened his mouth and uttered his well-known words.4 In my own case this is now the third year of my silence, and my boast has become like that of the Psalmist “I was as a man that heareth not and in whose mouth are no reproofs.”5 Thus I shut up in the bottom of my heart the pangs which I suffered on account of the calumnies directed against me, for calumny humbles a man, and calumny makes a poor man giddy.6 If, therefore, the mischief of calumny is so great as to cast down even the perfect man from his height, for this is what Scripture indicates by the word man, and by the poor man is meant he who lacks the great doctrines, as is the view also of the prophet when he says, “These are poor, therefore they shall not hear; ... I will get me unto the great men,”7 he means by poor those who are lacking in understanding; and here, too, he plainly means those who are not yet furnished in the inner man, and have not even come to the full measure of their age; it is.these who are said by the proverb to be made giddy and tossed about. Nevertheless I thought that I ought to bear my troubles in silence, waiting for some indication to come out of them. I did not even think that what was said against me proceeded from ill will; I thought it was the result of ignorance of the truth. But now I see that hostility increases with time, and that my slanderers are not sorry for what they said at the beginning, and do not take any trouble to make amends for the past, but go on and on and rally themselves together to attain their original object. This was to make my life miserable and to devise means for sullying my reputation among the brethren. I, therefore, no longer see safety in silence. I have bethought me of the words of Isaiah: “I have long time holden my peace, shall I always be still and refrain myself? I have been patient like a travailing woman.”8 God grant that I may both receive the reward of silence, and gain some strength to confute my opponents, and that thus, by confuting them, I may dry up the bitter torrent of falsehood that has gushed out against me. So might I say, “My soul bus passed over the torrent;”9 and, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when men rose up against us, ... then they had swallowed us up quick, the water had drowned us.”10
2. Much time had I spent in vanity, and had wasted nearly all my youth in the vain labour which I underwent in acquiring the wisdom made foolish by God. Then once upon a time, like a man roused from deep sleep, I turned my eyes to the marvellous light of the truth of the Gospel, and I perceived the uselessness of “the wisdom of the princes of this world, that come to naught.” I wept many tears over my miserable life and I prayed that guidance might be vouchsafed me to admit me to the doctrines of true religion. First of all was I minded to make some mending of my ways, long perverted as they were by my intimacy with wicked men. Then I read the Gospel, and I saw there that a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one’s goods, the sharing them with the poor, the giving up of all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy to things of earth. And I prayed that I might find some one of the brethren who had chosen this way of life, that with him I might cross life’s short11 and troubled strait. And many did I find in Alexandria, and many in the rest of Egypt, and others in Palestine, and in Coele Syria, and in Mesopotamia. I admired their continence in living, and their endurance in toil; I was amazed at their persistency in prayer, and at their triumphing over sleep; subdued by no natural necessity, ever keeping their souls’ purpose high and free, in hunger, in thirst, in cold, in nakedness,12 they never yielded to the body; they were never willing to waste attention on it; always, as though living in a flesh that was not theirs, they shewed in very deed what it is to sojourn for a while in this life,13 and what to have one’s citizenship and home in heaven.14 All this moved my admiration. I called these men’s lives blessed, in that they did in deed shew that they “bear about in their body the dying of Jesus.”15 And I prayed that I, too, as far as in me lay, might imitate them.
3. So when I beheld certain men in my own country striving to copy their ways, I felt that I had found a help to my own salvation, and I took the things seen for proof of things unseen. And since the secrets in the hearts of each of us are unknown, I held lowliness of dress to be a sufficient indication of lowliness of spirit; and there was enough to convince me in the coarse cloak, the girdle, and the shoes of untanned hide.16 And though many were for withdrawing me from their society, I would not allow it, because I saw that they put a life of endurance before a life of pleasure; and, because of the extraordinary excellence of their lives, I became an eager supporter of them. And so it came about that I would not hear of any fault being found with their doctrines, although many maintained that their conceptions about God were erroneous, and that they bad become disciples of the champion of the present heresy, and were secretly propagating his teaching. But, as I had never at any time heard these things with my own ears, I concluded that those who reported them were calumniators. Then I was called to preside over the Church. Of the watchmen and spies, who were given me under the pretence of assistance and loving communion, I say nothing, lest I seem to injure my own cause by telling an incredible tale, or give believers an occasion for hating their fellows, if I am believed. This had almost been my own case, had I not been prevented by the mercy of God. For almost every one became an object of suspicion to me, and smitten at heart as I was by wounds treacherously inflicted, I seemed to find nothing in any man that I could trust. But so far there was, nevertheless, a kind of intimacy kept up between us. Once and again we held discussions on doctrinal points. and apparently we seemed to agree and keep together. But they began to find out that I made the same statements concerning my faith in God which they had always heard from me. For, if other things in me may move a sigh, this one boast at least I dare make in the Lord, that never for one moment have I held erroneous conceptions about God, or entertained heterodox opinions, which I have learnt later to change. The teaching about God which I had received as a boy from my blessed mother and my grandmother Macrina, I have ever held with increased conviction. On my coming to ripe years of reason I did not shift my opinions from one to another, but carried out the principles delivered to me by my parents. Just as the seed when it grows is first tiny and then gets bigger but always preserves its identity, not changed in kind though gradually perfected in growth, so I reckon the same doctrine to have grown in my case through gradually advancing stages. What t hold now has not replaced what I held at the beginning. Let them search their own consciences. Let these men who have now made me the common talk on the charge of false doctrine, and deafened all men’s ears with the defamatory letters which they have written against me, so that I am compelled thus to defend myself, ask themselves if they have ever heard anything from me, differing from what I now say, and let them remember the judgment seat of Christ.
4. I am charged with blasphemy against God. Yet it is impossible for me to be convicted on the ground of any treatise concerning the Faith, which they urge against me, nor can I be charged on the ground of the utterances which I have from thee to thee delivered by word of mouth, without their being committed to writing, in the churches of God. Not a single witness has been found to say that he has ever heard from me, when speaking in private, anything contrary to true religion. If then I am not an unorthodox writer, if no fault can be found with my preaching, if I do not lead astray those who converse with me in my own homer on what ground am I being judged? But there is a new invention! Somebody,17 runs the charge, in Syria has written something inconsistent with true religion; and twenty years or more ago you wrote him a letter: so you are an accomplice of the fellow, and what is urged against him is urged against you. O truth-loving sir, I reply, you who have been taught that lies are the offspring of the devil; what has proved to you that I wrote that letter? You never sent; you never asked; you were never informed by me, who might have told you the truth. But if the letter was mine, how do you know that the document that has come into your hands now is of the same date as my letter? Who told you that it is twenty years old? How do you know that it is a composition of the man to whom my letter was sent? And if he was the composer, and I wrote to him, and my letter and his composition belong to the same date, what proof is there that I accepted it in my judgment, and that I hold those views?
5. Ask yourself. How often did you visit me in my monastery on the Iris, when my very God-beloved brother Gregory was with me, following the same course of life as myself? Did you ever hear anything of the kind? Was there any appearance of such a thing, small or great? How many days did we spend in the opposite village, at my mother’s, living as friend with friend, and discoursing together night and day? Did you ever find me holding any opinion of the kind? And when we went together to visit the blessed Silvanus,18 did we not talk of these things on the way? And at Eusinoe,19 when you were about to set out with other bishops for Lampsacus,20 was not our discourse about the faith? Were not your shorthand writers at my side the whole thee while I was dictating my objections to the heresy? Were not your most faithful disciples there too? When I was visiting the brotherhood, and passing the night with them in their prayers, continually speaking and hearing of the things pertaining to God without dispute, was not the evidence which I gave of my sentiments exact and definite? How came you then to reckon this rotten and slender suspicion as of more importance than the experience of such a length of time?
What evidence of my frame of mind ought you to have preferred to your own? Has there been the slightest want of harmony in my utterances about the faith at Chalcedon, again and again at Heraclea, and at an earlier period in the suburb of Caesarea? Are they not all mutually consistent? I only except the increase in force of which I spoke just now, resulting from advance, and which is not to be regarded as a change from worse to better, but rather as a filling up of what was wanting in the addition of knowledge. How can you fail to bear in mind that the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son bear the iniquity of the father, but each shall die in his own sin?21 I have neither father nor son slandered by you; I have had neither teacher nor disciple. But if the sins of the parents must be made charges against their children, it is far fairer for the sins of Arius to be charged against his disciples; and, whoever begat the heretic Aetius,22 for the charges against the son to be applied to the father. If on the other hand it is unjust for any one to be accused for their sakes, it is far more unjust that I should be held responsible for the sake of men with whom I have nothing to do, even if they were in every respect sinners, and something worthy of condemnation has been written by them. I must be pardoned if I do not believe all that is urged against them. since my own experience shows me how very easy it is for accusers to slip into slander.
6. Even if they did come forward to accuse me, because they had been deceived, and thought that I was associated with the writers of those words of Sabellius which they are carrying about, they were guilty of unpardonable conduct in straightway attacking and wounding me, when I had done them no wrong, before they had obtained plain proof. I do not like to speak of myself as bound to them in the closest intimacy; or of them as being evidently not led by the Holy Spirit, because of their cherishing false suspicions. Much anxious thought must be taken, and many sleepless nights must be passed, and with many tears must the truth be sought from God, by him who is on the point of cutting himself off from a brother’s friendship. Even the riders of this world, when they are on the point of sentencing some evil doer to death, draw the veil aside,23 and call in experts for the examination of the case, and consume considerable thee in weighing the severity of the law against the common fault of humanity, and with many a sigh and many a lament for then stern necessity of the case, proclaim before all the people that they are obeying the law from necessity, and not passing sentence to gratify, their own wishes.24 How much greater care and diligence, how ranch more counsel, ought to be taken by one who is on the point of breaking off from long established friendship with a brother! In this case there is only a single letter and that of doubtful genuineness. It would be quite impossible to argue that it is known by the signature, for they possess not the original, but only a copy. They depend on one single document and that an old one. It is now twenty years since anything has been written to that person.25 Of my opinions and conduct in the intervening thee I can adduce no better witnesses than the very men who attack and accuse me.
7. But the real reason of separation is not this letter. There is another cause of alienation. I am ashamed to mention it; and I would have been for ever silent about it had not recent events compelled me to publish all their mind for the sake of the good of the mass of the people. Good men have thought that communion with me was a bar to the recovery of their authority. Some have been influenced by the signature of a certain creed which I proposed to them, not that I distrusted their sentiments, I confess, but because I wished to do away with the suspicions which the more part of the brethren who agree with me entertained of them. Accordingly, to avoid anything arising from that confession to prevent their being accepted by the present authorities,26 they have renounced communion with me. This letter was devised by an after-thought as a pretext for the separation. A very plain proof of what I say is, that after they had denounced me, and composed such complaints against me as suited them, they sent round their letters in all directions before communicating with me. Their letter was in the possession of others who had received it in the course of transmission and who were on the point of sending it on seven days before it had reached my hands. The idea was that it would be handed from one to another and so would be quickly distributed over the whole country. This was reported to me at the thee by those who were giving me clear information of all their proceedings. But I determined to hold my tongue until the Revealer of all secrets should publish their doings by plain and incontrovertible demonstration.
To the presbyter Genethlius.
1. I have received your reverence’s letter and I am delighted at the title which you have felicitously applied to the writing which they have composed in calling it “a writing of divorcement,”2 What defence the writers will be able to make before the tribunal of Christ, where no excuse will avail, I am quite unable to conceive. After accusing me, violently running me down, and telling tales in accordance not with the truth but with what they wished to be true, they have assumed a great show of humility, and have accused me of haughtiness for refusing to receive their envoys. They have written, as they have, what is all—or nearly all—for I do not wish to exaggerate,—lies, in the endeavour to persuade men rather than God, and to please men rather than God, with Whom nothing is more precious than truth. Moreover into the letter written against me they have introduced heretical expressions, and have concealed the author of the impiety, in order that most of the more unsophisticated might be deceived by the calumny got up against me, and suppose the portion introduced to be mine. For nothing is said by my ingenious slanderers as to the name of the author of these vile doctrines, and it is left for the simple to suspect that these inventions, if not their expression in writing. is due to me. Now that you know all this, I exhort you not to be perturbed yourselves, and to calm the excitement of those who are agitated. I say this although I know that it will not be easy for my defence to be received, because I have been anticipated by the vile calumnies uttered against me by persons of influence.
2. Now as to the point that the writings going the round as mine are not mine at all, the angry feeling felt against me so confuses their reason that they cannot see what is profitable. Nevertheless, if the question were put to them by yourselves, I do think that they would not reach such a pitch of obstinate perversity as to dare to utter the lie with their own lips, and allege the document in question to be mine. And if it is not mine, why am I being judged for other men’s writings? But they will urge that I am in communion with Apollinarius, and cherish in my heart perverse doctrines of this kind. Let them be asked for proof. If they are able to search into a man’s heart, let them say so; and do you admit the truth of all that they say about everything. If on the other hand, they are trying to prove my being in communion on plain and open grounds, let them produce either a canonical letter written by me to him, or by him to me. Let them shew that I have held intercourse with his clergy, or have ever received any one of them into the communion of prayer. If they adduce the letter written now five and twenty years ago, written by layman to layman, and not even this as I wrote it, but altered (God knows by whom), then recognise their unfairness. No bishop is accused if, while he was a layman, he wrote something somewhat incautiously on an indifferent matter; not anything concerning the Faith, but a mere word of friendly greeting. Possibly even my opponents are known to have written to Jews and to Pagans, without incurring any blame. Hitherto no one has ever been judged for any such conduct as that on which I am being condemned by these strainers-out of gnats.3 God, who knows men’s hearts, knows that I never wrote these things, nor sanctioned them, but that I anathematize all who hold the vile opinion of the confusion of the hypostases, on which point the most impious heresy of Sabellius has been revived. And all the brethren who have been personally acquainted with my insignificant self know it equally well. Let those very men who now vehemently accuse me, search their own consciences, and they will own that from my boyhood I have been far removed from any doctrine of the kind.
Basil: letters, hexaemeron - II. WORKS