Basil: letters, hexaemeron - II. WORKS
3. If any one enquires what my opinion is, he will learn it froth the actual little document, to which is appended their own autograph signature. This they wish to destroy, and they are anxious to conceal their own change of position in slandering me. For they do not like to own that they have repented of their subscription to the tract I gave them; while they charge me with impiety from the idea that no one perceives that their disruption from me is only a pretext, while in reality they have departed from that faith which they have over and over again owned in writing, before many witnesses, and have lastly received and subscribed when delivered to them by me. It is open to any one to read the signatures and to learn the truth from the document itself. Their intention will be obvious, if, after reading the subscription which they gave me, any one reads the creed which they gave Gelasius,4 and observes what a vast difference there is between the two confessions. It would be better for men who so easily shift their own position, not to examine other men’s motes but to cast out the beam in their own eye.5 I am making a more complete defence on every point in another letter;6 this will satisfy readers who want fuller assurance. Do you, now that you have received this letter, put away all despondency, and confirm the love to me,7 which makes me eagerly long for union with you. Verily it is a great sorrow to me, and a pain in my heart that cannot be assuaged, if the slanders uttered against me so far prevail as to chill your love and to alienate us from one another. Farewell.
To Demosthenes,2 as from the synod of bishops.
I am always very thankful to God and to the emperor, under whose rule we live. when I see the government of my country put Into the hands of one who is not only a Christian, but is moreover correct in life and a careful guardian of the laws according to which our life in this world is ordered. I have had special reason for offering this gratitude to God and to our God-beloved emperor on the occasion of your coming among us. I have been aware that some of the enemies of peace have been about to stir your august tribunal against me, and have been waiting to be summoned by your excellency that you might learn the truth from me; if indeed your high wisdom condescends to consider the examination of ecclesiastical matters to be within your province.3 The, tribunal overlooked me, but your excellency, moved by the reproaches of Philochares, ordered my brother and fellow-minister Gregory to be haled before your judgment seat. He obeyed your summons; how could he do otherwise? But he was attacked by pain in the side, and at the same time, in consequence of a chill, was attacked by his old kidney complaint. He has therefore been compelled, forcibly detained by your soldiers as he was, to be conveyed to some quiet spot, where he could have his maladies attended to, and get some comfort in his intolerable agony. Under these circumstances we have combined to approach your lordship with the entreaty that you will feel no anger at the postponement of the trial. The public interests have not in any way suffered through our delay, nor have those of the Church been injured. If there is any question of the wasteful expenditure of money, the treasurers of the Church funds are there, ready to give an account to any one who likes, and to exhibit the injustice of the charges advanced by men who have braved the careful hearing of the case before you. For they can have no difficulty in making the truth clear to any one who seeks it from the actual writings of the blessed bishop himself. If there is any other point of canonical order which requires investigation, and your excellency deigns to undertake to hear and to judge it, it will be necessary for us all to be present, because, if there has been a failure in any point of canonical order, the responsibility lies with the consecrators and not with him who is forcibly compelled to undertake the ministry. We therefore petition you to reserve the hearing of the case for us in our own country, and not to compel us to travel beyond its borders, nor force us to a meeting with bishops with whom we have not yet come to agreement on ecclesiastical questions.4 I beg you also to be merciful to my own old age and ill health. You will learn by actual investigation, if it please God, that no canonical rule be it small or great was omitted in the appointment of the bishop. I pray that under your administration unity and peace may be brought about with my brethren ; but so long as this does not exist it is difficult for us even to meet, because ninny of our simpler brethren suffer from our mutual disputes.
To the ascetics under him.
IT may be that the holy God will grant me the joy of a meeting with you, for I am ever longing to see yon and bear about you, because in no other thing do I find rest for my soul than in your progress and perfection in the commandments of Christ. But so long as this hope remains unrealized I feel bound to visit you through the instrumentality of our dear and God-fearing brethren, and to address you, my beloved friends, by letter. Wherefore I have sent my reverend and dear brother and fellow-worker in the Gospel, Meletius the presbyter. He will tell you my yearning affection for you. and the anxiety of my soul, in that. night and day, I beseech the Lord in your behalf, that I may have boldness in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ through your salvation, and that when your work is tried by the just judgment of God you may shine forth in the brightness of the saints. At the same thee the difficulties of the day cause me deep anxiety, for all Churches have been tossed to and fro, and all souls are being sifted. Some have even opened their mouths without any reserve against their fellow servants. Lies are boldly uttered, and the truth has been hidden. The accused are being condemned without a trial, and the accusers are believed without evidence. I had heard that many letters are being carried about against myself, stinging, gibbeting, and attacking me for matters about which I have my defence ready for the tribunal of truth; and I had intended to keep Silence, as indeed I have done; for now for three years I have been bearing the blows of calumny and the whips of accusation, content to think that I have the Lord, Who knows all secrets, as witness of its falsehood. But I see now that many men have silence as a corroboration of these slanders, and have formed the idea that my silence was due, not to my longsuffering, but to my inability to open my lips in opposition to the truth. For these reasons I have attempted to write to you, beseeching your love in Christ not to accept these partial calumnies as true. because, as it is written, the law judges no man unless it have heard and known his actions.2
2. Nevertheless before a fair judge the facts themselves are a sufficient demonstration of the truth. Wherefore, even if I be, silent, you can look at events. The very men who are now indicting me for heterodoxy have been seen openly numbered with the heretical faction. The very accusers who condemn the for other men’s writings, are plainly contravening their own confessions, given to me by them in writing. Look at the conduct of the exhibitors of this audacity. It is their invariable custom to go over to the party in power, to trample on their weaker friends, and to court the strong. The writers of those famous letters against Eudoxius and all his t faction, the senders of them to all the brotherhood, the protesters that they shun their communion as fatal to souls, and would not accept the votes given for their deposition, because they were given by heretics, as they persuaded me then,—these very men, completely forgetful of all this, have joined their faction.3 No room for denial is left them. They laid their mind bare when they embraced private communion with them at Ancyra, when they had not yet been publicly received by them. Ask them, then, if Basilides, who gave communion to Ecdicius, is now orthodox, why when returning from Dardania, did they overthrow his altars in the territory of Gangra, and set up their own tables?4 Why have they comparatively recently5 attacked the churches of Amasea and Zela and appointed presbyters and deacons there themselves? If they communicate with them as orthodox, why do they attack them as heretical? If they hold them to be heretical, how is it that they do not shun communion with them? Is it not, my honourable brethren, plain even to he intelligence of a child, that it is always with a view to some personal advantage that they endeavour to calumniate or to give support? So they have stood off from me, not because I did not write in reply (which is alleged to be the main ground of offence), nor because I did not receive the chorepiscopi whom they assert they sent. Those who are trumping up the tale will render an account to the Lord. One man, Eustathius,6 was sent and gave a letter to the court of the vicar, and spent three days in the city. When he was on the point of going home, it is said that he came to my house late in the evening, when I was asleep. On hearing that I was asleep, he went away; he did not come near me on the next day, and after thus going through the mere form of discharging his duty to me, departed. This is the charge under which I am guilty. This is the sin against which these long-suffering people have neglected to weigh the previous service wherein I served them in love. For this error they have made their wrath against me so severe that they have caused me to be denounced in all the Churches throughout the world—at least, that is, wherever they could).
3. But of course this is not the real cause of our separation. It was when they found that they would recommend themselves to Euzoius7 if they were alienated from me, that they devised these pretences. The object was to find some ground of recommendation with the authorities for their attack upon me. Now they are beginning to run down even the Nicene Creed, and nickname me Homoousiast, because in that creed the Only begotten Son is said to be homoousios with God the Father. Not that one essence is divided into two kindred parts; God forbid! This was not the meaning of that holy and God-beloved synod; their meaning was that what the Father is in essence, such is the Son. And thus they themselves have explained it to us, in the phrase Light of Light. Now it is the Nicene Creed, brought by themselves from the west, which they presented to the Synod at Tyana, by which they were received.8 But they have an ingenious theory as to changes of this kind; they use the words of the creed as physicians use a remedy for the particular moment, and substitute now one and now another to suit particular diseases. The unsoundness of such a sophism it is rather for you to consider than for me to prove. For “the Lord will give you understanding”9 to know what is the right doctrine, and what the crooked and perverse. If indeed we are to subscribe one creed to-day and another tomorrow, and shift with the seasons, then is the declaration false of him who said, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”10 But if it is true, then “Let no man deceive you with [these] vain words.” They falsely accuse me of introducing novelties about the Holy Spirit. Ask what the novelty is. I confess what I have received, that the Paraclete is ranked with Father and Son, and not numbered with created beings. We have made profession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and we are baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Wherefore we never separate the Spirit from conjunction11 with the Father and the Son. For our mind, enlightened by the Spirit, looks at the Son, and in Him, as in an image, beholds the Father. And I do not invent names of myself, but call the Holy Ghost Paraclete; nor do I consent to destroy His due glory. These are truly my doctrines. If any one wishes to accuse me for them, let him accuse me; let my persecutor persecute me. Let him who believes in the slanders against me be ready for the judgment. “The Lord is at hand.” “I am careful for nothing,”12
4. If any one in Syria is writing, this is nothing to me. For it is said “By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shall be condemned.”13 Let my own words judge me. Let no one condemn me for other men’s errors nor adduce letters written twenty years ago in proof that I would allow communion to the writers of such things. Before these things were written, and before any suspicion of this kind had been stirred against them, I did write as layman to layman. I wrote nothing about the faith in any way like that which they are now carrying about to calumniate me. I sent nothing but a mere greeting to return a friendly communication, for I shun and anathematize as impious alike all who are affected with the unsoundness of Sabellius, and all who maintain the opinions of Arius. If any one says that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are the same, and supposes one thing under several names, and one hypostasis described by three persons, I rank such an one as belonging to the faction of the Jews.14 Similarly, if any one says that the Son is in essence unlike the Father, or degrades the Holy Ghost into a creature, I anathematize him, and say that he is coming near to the heathen error. But it is impossible for the mouths of my accusers to be restrained by my letter; rather is it likely that they are being irritated at my defence, and are getting up new and more violent attacks against me. But it is not difficult for your ears to be guarded. Wherefore, as far as in you lies, do as I bid you. Keep your heart clear and unprejudiced by their calumnies; and insist on my rendering an account to meet the charges laid against me. If you find that truth is on my side do not yield to lies; if on the other hand you feel that I am feeble in defending myself, then believe my accusers as being worthy of credit. They pass sleepless nights to do me mischief. I do not ask this of you. They are taking to a commercial career, and turning their slanders against me into a means of profit. I implore you on the other hand to stop at home, and to lead a decorous life, quietly doing Christ’s work.15 I advise you to avoid communication with them, for it always tends to the perversion of their hearers. I say this that you may keep your affection for the uncontaminated, may preserve the faith of the Fathers in its integrity. and may appear approved before the Lord as friends of the truth).
Consolatory, to the clergy of Colonia.2
What is so goodly and honourable before God and men as perfect love, which, as we are told by the wise teacher, is the fulfilling of the law ?3 I therefore approve of your warm affection for your bishop, for, as to an affectionate son the loss of a good father is unendurable, so Christ’s Church cannot bear the departure of a pastor and teacher. Thus, in your exceeding affection for your bishop, you are giving proof of a good and noble disposition. But this your good will towards your spiritual father is to be approved so long as it is shewn in reason and moderation; once let it begin to overstep this line, and it is no longer descrying of the same commendation. In time case of your very God-beloved brother, our fellow-minister Euphronius, good government has been shewn by those to whom has been committed the administration of the Church; they have acted as the occasion compelled them, to the gain alike of the Church to which be has been removed and of yourselves from whom he has been taken. Do not look at this as merely of man’s ordaining, nor as having been originated by the calculations of men who regard earthly things. Believe that those to whom the anxious care of the Churches belongs bare acted, as they have, with the aid of the Holy Spirit; impress this inception of the proceedings on your hearts and do your best to perfect it. Accept quietly and thankfully what has happened, with the conviction that all, who refuse to accept what is ordered in God’s Churches by tim Churches, are resisting the ordinance of God.4 Do not enter into a dispute with your Mother Church at Nicopolis. Do not exasperate yourselves against those who have taken the anxious responsibility of your souls. In the firm establishment of things at Nicopolis your part in them may also be preserved; but if some disturbance affects them, though you have protectors beyond number, with the head the heart will be destroyed. It is like men who live on the riverside; when they see some one far up the stream making a strong dam against the current, they know that, in stopping the inrush of the current, he is providing for their safety. Just so those who have now undertaken the weight of the care of the Churches, by protecting the rest, are proving for your own security. You will be sheltered from every storm, while others have to bear the brunt of the attack. But you ought also to consider this; he has not cast you Off; he has taken others into his charge. I am not so invidious as to compel the man, who is able to give a share of his good gifts to others, also to confine his favour to you, and to limit it to your own city. A man who puts a fence round a spring, and spoils the outpour of the waters, is not free from the disease of envy, and it is just the same with him who tries to prevent the further flow of abundant teaching. Let him have some care for Nicopolis too, and let your interests be added to his anxieties there. He has received an addition of labour, but there is no diminution in his diligence on your behalf. I am really distressed at out thing that you have said, which seems to me quite extravagant, namely, that if you cannot obtain your object, you will betake yourselves to the tribunals, and put the matter into the hands of men, the great object of whose prayers is the overthrow of the Churches. Take heed lest men, carried away by unwise passions, persuade you. to your hurt, to put in any plea before the courts, and so some catastrophe may ensue, and the weight of the result fall upon the heads of those who have occasioned it. Take my advice. It is offered you in a fatherly spirit. Consent to the arrangement with the very God-beloved bishops, which has been made in accordance with God’s will. Wait for my arrival. When I am with you, with God’s help, I will give you in person all the exhortations which it has been impossible for me to express in my letter, and will do my utmost to give you all possible consolation, not by word but in deed.
To the magistrates of Colonia.
I Have received your lordships’ letter, and offered thanks to God most holy, that you, occupied as you are with affairs of state, should not put those of the Church in the second place. I am grateful to think that every one of you has shewn anxiety as though he were acting in his own private interest, nay, in defence of his own life, and that you have written to me in your distress at the removal of your very God-beloved bishop Euphronius. Nicopolis has not really stolen him from you; were she pleading her cause before a judge she might say that she was recovering what is her own. If honourably treated she will tell you, as becomes an affectionate mother, that she will share with you the Father who will give a portion of his grace to each of you: he will not suffer the one to be in any way harmed by the invasion of their adversaries, and at the same time will not deprive you, the other, of the care to which you have been accustomed. Bethink you then of the emergency of the time; apply your best intelligence to understand how good government necessitates a certain course of action; and then pardon the bishops who have adopted this course for the establishment of the Churches of our Lord Jesus Christ. Suggest to yourselves what is becoming you. Your own intelligence needs no instruction, You know how to adopt the counsels of those who love you. It is only natural that you should be unaware of many of the questions that are being agitated, because of our being situated far away in Armenia; but we who are in the midst of affairs and have our ears dinned every day on all sides with news of Churches that are being overthrown, are in deep anxiety lest the common enemy, in envy at the protracted peace of our life, should be able to sow his tares in your ground too, and Armenia, as well as other places, be given over to our adversaries to devour. For the present be still, as not refusing to allow your neighbours too share with you the use of a goodly vessel. Ere long, ’if the Lord allow me to come to you, you shall, if it seem necessary to you, receive yet greater consolation for what has come to pass.
To the clergy of Nicopolis.
I AM sure that a work done by one or two pious men is not done without the cooperation of the Holy Spirit. For when nothing merely human is put before us, when holy men ire moved to action with no thought of their own personal gratification, and with the sole object of pleasing God. it is plain that it is the Lord Who is directing their hearts. When spiritually-minded men take the lead in counsel, and the Lord’s people follow them with consentient hearts, there can be no doubt that their decisions are arrived at with the participation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who poured out His blood for the Churches’ sake. You are therefore right in snpposing that our very God-beloved brother and fellow minister Poemenius,2 who arrived among you at an opportune moment, and discovered this means of consoling you, has been divinely moved. I not only praise his discovery of the right course to take; I much admire the firmness with which, without allowing any delay to intervene, so as to slacken the energy of the petitioners, or to give the opposite party an opportunity of taking precautions, and to set in motion the counterplots of secret foes, he at once crowned his happy course with a successful conclusion. The Lord of His especial grace keep him and his, so that the Church, as becomes her, may remain in a succession in no way degenerate, and not give place to the evil one, who now, if ever, is vexed at the firm establishment of the Churches.
2. I have also written at length to exhort our brethren at Colonia. You, moreover, are bound rather to put up with their frame of mind than to increase their irritation, as though you despised them for their insignificance, or provoked them to a quarrel by ) your contempt. It is only natural for disputants to act without due counsel, and to manage their own affairs ill with the object of vexing their opponents. And no one is so small as not to be now able to give an occasion, to those who want an occasion, for great troubles. I do not speak at random. I speak from my own experience of my own troubles. From these may God keep yon in answer to your prayers. Pray also for me, that I may have a successful journey, and, on my arrival, may share your joy in your present pastor, and with you may find consolation at the departure of our common father.3
To the magistrates of Nicopolis.
The government of the Churches is carried on by those to whom the chief offices in them have been entrusted, but their hands are strengthened by the laity. The measures which lay with the God-beloved bishops have been taken. The rest concerns you, if you deign to accord a hearty reception; to the bishop who has been given you. and to make a vigorous resistance to attacks from outside. For nothing is so likely to cause discouragement to all, whether rulers or the rest who envy your peaceful position, as agreement in affection to the appointed bishop, and firmness in maintaining your ground. They are likely to despair of every evil attempt, if they see that their counsels are accepted neither by clergy nor by laity. Bring it about then that your own sentiments as to the right2 may be shared by all the city, and so speak to the citizens, and to all the inhabitants of the district, in confirmation of their good sentiments, that the genuineness of your love to God may be everywhere known. I trust that it may be permitted me one day to visit and inspect a Church which is the nursing mother of true religion, honoured by me as a metropolis of orthodoxy, because it has from of old been under the government of men right honourable and the elect of God, who have held fast to “the faithful word as we have been taught.”3 You have approved him who has just been appointed as worthy of these predecessors, and I have agreed. May you be preserved by God’s grace. May He scatter the evil counsels of 3 our enemies, and fix in your souls strength and constancy to preserve what has been rightly determined on.
To Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium.
I Find few opportunities of writing to your reverence, and this causes me no little trouble. It is just the same as if, when it was in my power to see you and enjoy your society very often. I did so but seldom. But it is impossible for me to write to you because so few travel hence to you, otherwise there is no reason why my letter should not be a kind of journal of my life, to tell you, my dear friend, everything that happens to me day by day. It is a comfort to me to tell you my affairs, and I know that you care for nothing more than for what concerns me. Now, however, Elpidius2 is going home to his own master, to refute the calumnies falsely got up against him by certain enemies, and he has asked me for a letter. I therefore salute your reverence by him and corn mend to you a man who deserves your protection, at once for the sake of justice and for my own sake. Although I could say nothing else in his favour, yet, because he has made it of very great importance to be the bearer of my letter, reckon him among our friends, and remember me and pray for the Church.
You must know that my yew God-beloved brother is in exile, for he could not endure the annoyance caused him by shameless persons.3 Doara4 is in a state of agitation. for the fat sea monster is throwing everything into confusion. My enemies, as I am informed by those who know, are plotting against me at court. But hitherto the hand of the Lord has been over me. Only pray that I be not abandoned in the end. My brother is taking things quietly Doara has received the old muleteer.5 She can do no more. The Lord will scatter the counsels of my enemies. The out cure for all my troubles present and to come is to set eyes on you. If you possibly can, while I am still alive, do come to see me. The book on the Spirit has been written by me, and is finished, as you know, My brethren here have prevented me from sending it to you written on paper, and have told me that they had your excellency’s orders to engross it on parchment.’ Not, then, to appear to do anything against your injunctions, I have delayed now, but I will send it a little later, if only I find any suitable person to convey it. May you be granted to me and to God’s Church by the kindness of the Holy One, in all health and happiness, and praying for me to the Lord.
To Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium.
Every day that brings me a letter from you is a feast day, the very greatest of feast days. And when symbols of the feast are brought, what can I call it but a feast of feasts, as the old law used to speak of Sabbath of Sabbaths? I thank the Lord that you are quite well, and that you have celebrated the commemoration of the economy of salvation2 in a Church at peace. I have been disturbed by some troubles; and have not been without distress from the fact of my God-beloved brother being in exile. Pray for him that God may one day grant him to see his Church healed from the woulds of heretical bites. Do come to see me while I am yet upon this earth. Act in accordance with your own wishes and with my most earnest prayers. I may be allowed to be astonished at the meaning of your blessings, inasmuch as you have mysteriously wished me a vigorous old age. By your lamps3 you rouse me to nightly toil; and by your sweet meats you seem to pledge yourself securely that all my body is in good case. But there is no munching for me at my time of life, for my teeth have long ago been worn away by time and bad health. As to what you have asked me there are some replies in the document I send you, written to the best of my ability, and as opportunity has allowed.
To Amphilochius, in reply to certain questions.
I. I Know that I have myself heard of this, and I am aware of the constitution of mankind. What shall I say? The mind is a wonderful thing, and therein we possess that which is after the image of the Creator. And the operation of the mind is wonderful; in that, in its perpetual motion, it frequently forms imaginations about things non-existent as though they were existent, and is frequently carried straight to the truth. But there are in it two faculties; in accordance with the view of us who believe in God, the one evil, that of the daemons which draws us on to their own apostasy; and the divine and the good, which brings us to the likeness of God. When, therefor, the mind remains alone and unaided, it contemplates small things, commensurate with itself. When it yields to those who deceive it, it nullifies its proper judgment, and is concerned with monstrous fancies. Then it considers wood to be no longer wood, but a god; then it looks on gold no longer as money, but as an object of worship.2 If on the other hand it assents to its diviner part, and accepts the boons of the Spirit, then, so fir as its nature admits, it becomes perceptive of the divine. There are, as it were, three conditions of life, and three operations of the mind. Our ways may be wicked, and the movements of our mind wicked; such as adulteries, thefts, idolatries, slanders, strife, passion, sedition, vain-glory, and all that the apostle Paul enumerates among the works of the flesh.3 Or the soul’s operation is, as it were, in a mean, and has nothing about it either damnable or laudable, as the perception of such mechanical crafts as we commonly speak of as indifferent, and, of their own character, inclining neither towards virtue nor towards vice. For what vice is there in the craft of the helmsman or the physician ? Neither are these operations in themselves virtues, but they incline in one direction or the other in accordance with the will of those who use them. But the mind which is impregnated with the Godhead of the Spirit is at once capable of viewing great objects; it beholds the divine beauty, though only so far as grace imparts and its nature receives.
2. Let them dismiss, therefore, these questions of dialectics and examine the truth, not with mischievous exactness but with reverence. The judgment of our mind is given us for the understanding of the truth. Now our God is the very truth.4 So the primary function of our mind is to know one God, but to know Him so far as the infinitely great can be known by the very small. When our eyes are first brought to the perception of visible objects, all visible objects are not at once brought into sight. The hemisphere of heaven is not beheld with one glance, but we are surrounded by a certain appearance, though in reality many things, not to say all things, in it are unperceived;—the nature of the stars, their greatness, their distances, their movements, their conjunctions, their intervals, their other conditions, the actual essence of the firmament, the distance of depth from the concave circumference to the convex surface. Nevertheless, no one would allege the heaven to be invisible because of what is unknown; it would be said to be visible on account of our limited perception of it. It is just the same in the case of God. If the mind has been injured by devils it will be guilty of idolatry, or will be perverted to some other form of impiety. But if it has yielded to the aid of the Spirit, it will have understanding of the truth, and will know God. But it will know Him, as the Apostle says, in part; and in the life to come more perfectly. For “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”5 The judgment of the mind is, therefore, good and given us for a good end—the perception of God; but it operates only so far as it can).
To the same, in answer to another question.
Do you worship what you know or what you do not know ? If I answer, I worship what I know, they immediately reply, What is the essence of the object of worship? Then, if I confess that I am ignorant of the essence, they turn on me again and say, So you worship you know not what. I answer that the word to know has many meanings. We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justness of His judgment; but not His very essence. The question is, therefore, only put for the sake of dispute. For he who denies that he knows the essence does not confess himself to be ignorant of God. because our idea of God is gathered from all tire attributes which I have enumerated. But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But tile absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? And is there the same mutual force in His awfulness and His loving-kindness, His justice and His creative power, His providence and His foreknowledge, and His bestowal of rewards and punishments, His majesty and His providence ? In mentioning any one of these do we declare His essence ? If they say, yes, let them not ask if we know the essence of God, but let them enquire of us whether we know God to be awful, or just, or merciful. These we confess that we know. if they say that essence is something distinct, let them not put us in the wrong on the score of simplicity. For they confess themselves that there is a distinction between the essence and each one of the attributes enumerated. The operations are various, and tile essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.
2. But, it is replied, if you are ignorant of the essence, you are ignorant of Himself. Retort, If you say that you know His essence, you are ignorant of Himself. A man who has been bitten by a mad dog, and sees a dog in a dish, does not really see any more than is seen by people in good health; he is to be pitied because he thinks he sees what he does not see. Do not then admire him for his announcement, but pity him for his insanity. Recognise that the voice is the voice of mockers, when they say, if you are ignorant of the essence of God, you worship what you do not know. I do know that He exists; what His essence is, I look at as beyond intelligence. How then am I saved ? Through faith. It is faith sufficient to know that God exists, without knowing what He is; and “He is a rewarder of them that seek Him .”2 So knowledge of the divine essence involves perception of His incomprehensibility, and the object of our worship is not that of which we comprehend the essence, but of which we comprehend that the essence exists.
3. And the following counter question may also be put to them. “No man hath seen God at any time, the Only-begotten which is in the bosom hath declared him.’’3 What of the Father did the Only-begotten Son declare? His essence or His power? If His power, we know so much as He declared to us. If His essence, tell me where He said that His essence was the being unbegotten ?4 When did Abraham worship ? Was it not when he believed ? And when did he believe? Was it not when he was called ? Where in this place is there any testimony in Scripture to Abraham’s comprehending? When did the disciples worship Him ? Was it not when they saw creation subject to Him ? It was from the obedience of sea and winds to Him that they recognised His Godhead. Therefore the knowledge came from the operations, and the worship from the knowledge. “Believest thou that I am able to do this ?” “I believe, Lord;”5 and he worshipped Him. So worship follows faith, and faith is confirmed by power. But if you say that the believer [also knows, he knows from what he believes; and vice versa he believes from what he knows. We know God from His power. We, therefore, believe in Him who is known, and we worship Him who is believed in.
To the same, in answer to another question.
I). Which is first in order, knowledge or faith ? I reply that generally, in the case of disciples, faith precedes knowledge. But, in our teaching, if any one asserts knowledge to come before faith, I make no objection; understanding knowledge so far as is within the bounds of human comprehension. In our lessons we must first believe that the letter a is said to us; then we learn the characters and their pronunciation, and last of all we get the distinct idea of the force of the letter. But in our belief about God, first comes the idea that God is. This we gather from His works. For, as we perceive His wisdom, His goodness, and all His invisible things from the creation of the world,2 so we know Him. So, too, we accept Him as our Lord. For since God is the Creator of the whole world, and we are a part of the world, God is our Creator. This knowledge is followed by faith, and this faith by worship.
2. But the word knowledge has many meanings, and so those who make sport of simpler minds, and like to make themselves remarkable by astounding statements (just like jugglers who get the balls out of sight before men’s very eyes), hastily included everything in their general enquiry. Knowledge, I say, has a very wide application, and knowledge may be got of what a tiring is, by number, by bulk, by force, by its mode of existence, by the period of its generation, by its essence. When then our opponents include the whole in their question, if they catch us in the confession that we know, they straightway demand from us knowledge of the essence; if, on the contrary, they see us cautious as to making any assertion on the subject, they affix on us the stigma of impiety. I, however, confess that I know what is knowable of God, and that I know what it is which is beyond my comprehension.3 So if you ask me if I know what sand is, and I reply that I do, you will obviously be slandering me, if you straightway ask me the number of the sand; inasmuch as your first enquiry bore only on the form of sand, while your second unfair objection bore upon its number. The quibble is just as though any one were to say, Do yon know Timothy? Oh, if you know Timothy you know his nature. Since you have acknowledged that you know Timothy, give me an account of Timothy’s nature. Yes; but I at the same time both know and do not know Timothy, though not in the same way and in the same degree. It is not that I do not know in the same way in which I do know; but I know in one way and am ignorant in one way. I know him according to his forth and other properties; but I am ignorant of his essence. Indeed, in this way too, I both know, and am ignorant of, myself. I know indeed who I am, but, so far as I am ignorant of my essence I do not know myself
3. Let them tell me in what sense Paul says, “Now we know in part”;4 do we know His essence in part, as knowing parts of His essence? No. This is absurd; for God is without parts. But do we know the whole essence? How then “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”5 Why are idolaters found fault with? Is it not because they knew God and did not honour Him as God? Why are the “foolish Galatians”6 reproached by Paul in the words, “After that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements?”7 How was God known in Jewry? Was it because in Jewry it was known what His essence is? “The ox,” it is said, “knoweth his owner.”8 According to your argument the ox knows his lord’s essence. “And the ass his master’s crib.”9 So the ass knows the essence of the crib, but “Israel doth not know me.” So, according to you, Israel is found fault with for not knowing what the essence of God is. “Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee,”10 that is, who have not comprehended thy essence. But, I repeat, knowledge is manifold—it involves perception of our Creator, recognition of His wonderful works, observance of His commandments and intimate communion with Him. All this they thrust on one side and force knowledge into one single meaning, the contemplation of God’s essence. Thou shall put them, it is said, before the testimony and I shall be known of thee thence.11 Is the term, “I shall be known of thee,” instead of, “I will reveal my essence”? “The Lord knoweth them that are his.”12 Does He know the essence of them that are His, but is ignorant of the essence of those who disobey Him ? “Adam knew his wife.”13 Did he know her essence? It is said of Rebekah “She was a virgin, neither had any man known her,”14 and “How shall this be seeing I know not a man?”15 Did no man know Rebekah’s essence ? Does Mary mean “I do not know the essence of any man” ? Is it not the custom of Scripture to use the word “know” of nuptial embraces? The statement that God shall he known from the mercy seat means that He will be known to His worshippers. And the Lord knoweth them that are His, means that on account of their good works He receives them into intimate communion with Him.
Basil: letters, hexaemeron - II. WORKS