(NOTE: The electronic text obtained from The Electronic Bible Society was
not completely corrected. EWTN has corrected all discovered errors.)
Transliteration of Greek words: All phonetical except: w = omega; h serves
three puposes: 1. = Eta; 2. = rough breathing, when appearing initially
before a vowel; 3. = in the aspirated letters theta = th, phi = ph, chi =
ch. Accents are given immediately after their corresponding vowels: acute =
' , grave = `, circumflex = ^. The character ' doubles as an apostrophe,
LETTERS OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT, 292-365
[Translated by the Rev. Blomfield Jackson, M.A., Vicar of Saint
Bartholomew's, Moor Lane, and Fellow of King's college, London.]
[***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.***]
LETTER CCXCII: To Palladius.
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.
LETTER CCXCIII: To Julianus.
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
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
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
Now writing is a proof of recollection; and the oftener you write, the
better pleased I am.
LETTER CCXCIV: 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
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
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.
LETTER CCXCV: To monks.
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.
LETTER CCXCVI: To a widow.
[A short letter in which Basil excuses himself for making use of the
LETTER CCXCVII: To a widow.
[A short letter of introduction.]
LETTER CCXCVIII: Without address.
[A short letter of commendation.]
LETTER CCXCIX: 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 Ibora(2) 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.
LETTER CCC: Without address.
[A consolatory letter to a father.]
LETTER CCCI: To Maximus.
[Consolatory on the death of his wife.]
LETTER CCCII: 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
LETTER CCCIII: To the Comes Privatarum.
YOU have, I think, been led to impose a contribution of mares(1) 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
LETTER CCCIV: To Aburgius.
[A few unimportant words of introduction.]
LETTER CCCV: Without address.
[An unimportant letter of recommendation.]
LETTER CCCVI: To the Governor of Sebasteia.(2)
I AM aware that your excellency is favourably receiving my letters, and
I understand why. You love all that is good; you are ready in doing
kindnesses. So whenever I give you the opportunity of shewing your
magnanimity, you are eager for my letters, because you know that they
furnish an occasion for good deeds. Now, once more, behold an occasion for
your shewing all the signs of rectitude, and at the same time for the
public exhibition of your virtues !Certain persons have come from
Alexandria for the discharge of a necessary duty which is due from all men
to the dead. They ask your excellency to give orders that it may be
permitted them to have conveyed away, under official sanction, the corpse
of a relative who departed this life at Sebasteia, while the troops were
quartered there. They further beg that, as far as possible, aid may be
given them for travelling at the public expense, so that, of your bounty,
they may find some help and solace in their long journey. The tidings of
this will travel as far as to great Alexandria. and will convey thither the
report of your excellency's astonishing kindness. This you well understand
without my mentioning it. I shall add gratitude for this one more favour to
that which I feel for all which you have done me.
LETTER CCCVII: Without address.
[A request to mediate between two litigants.]
LETTER CCCVIII: Without address.
[Commendatory, with the mention of a place called Capralis.]
LETTER CCCIX: Without address.
[Commendatory on behalf of a man reduced from wealth to poverty, with three
children, and anxious about his rating.]
LETTER CCCX: Without address.
[Commendatory on behalf of some kinsfolk, and of the people of Ariarathia,
a place in the Sargaransene, about 60 m. E. of Caesarea.(1)]
[Commendatory: short and of no importance.]
[Commendatory: short and unimportant.]
[Commendatory of the interests of Sulpicius.]
LETTER CCCXIV: Without address.
LETTER CCCXV: Without address.
[Commendatory of a widow.]
LETTERS CCCXVI., CCCXVII., CCCXVIII., CCCXIX: Without address.
LETTER CCCXX: Without address.
LETTER CCCXXI: To Thecla.
[Included among the Letters of Gregory of Nazianzus, who is assumed by the
Ben. Ed. to be indubitably the writer.(1)]
LETTER CCCXXII: Without address.
[Asking a friend to come with his wife and spend Easter with him.]
LETTER CCCXXIII: To Philagrius Arcenus.
LETTER CCCXXIV: To Pasinicus, the Physician.
LETTER CCCXXV: To Magninianus.
LETTER CCCXXVI: Without address.
LETTER CCCXXVII: Without address.
LETTER CCCXXVII: To Hyperectius.
[On Basil's health.]
LETTER CCCXXIX: To Phalirius.
[WITH thanks for a present of fish.]
LETTERS CCCXXX., CCCXXXI., CCCXXXII., CCCXXXIII.
[All short and without address. Letters from CCCXXIII to CCCXXXIII. have no
LETTER CCCXXXIV: To a writer.
WRITE straight, and make the lines straight. Do not let your hand go
too high or too low. Avoid forcing the pen to travel slantwise, like
Aasop's crab. Advance straight on, as if following the line of the
carpenter's rule, which always preserves exactitude and prevents any
irregularity. The oblique is ungraceful. It is the straight which pleases
the eye, and does not allow the reader's eyes to go nodding up and down
like a swing-beam. This has been my fate in reading your writing. As the
lines lie ladderwise, I was obliged, when I had to go from one to another,
to mount up to the end of the last: then, when no connexion was to be
found, I bad to go back, and seek for the right order again, retreating and
following the furrow,(1) like Theseus in the story following Ariadne's
thread.(3) Write straight, and do not confuse our mind by your slanting and
[The correspondence with the pagan sophist and rhetorician Libanius is at
least partly (e.g. 335-346, 358) genuine.]
LETTER CCCXXXV: Basil to Libanius.(3)
I AM really ashamed of sending you the Cappadocians out by one. I
should prefer to induce all our youths to devote themselves to letters and
learning, and to avail themselves of your instruction in their training.
But it is impracticable to get hold of them all at once, while they choose
what suits themselves. I therefore send you those who from time to time are
won over; and this I do with the assurance that I am conferring on them a
boon as great as that which is given by those who bring thirsty men to the
fountain. The lad, whom I am now sending, will be highly valued for his own
sake when he has been in your society. He is already well known on account
of his father, who has won a name among us both for rectitude of life and
for authority in our community. He is, moreover, a close friend of my own.
To requite him for his friendship to me, I am conferring on his son the
benefit of an introduction to you--a boon well worthy of being earnestly
prayed for by all who are competent to judge of a man's high character.
LETTER CCCXXXVI: Libanius to Basilius.
1. After some little time a young Cappadocian has reached me. One gain
to me is that he is a Cappadocian. But this Cappadocian is one of the first
rank. This is another gain. Further, he brings me a letter from the
admirable Basil. This is the greatest gain of all. You think that I have
forgotten you. I had great respect for you in your youth. I saw you vying
with old men in self-restraint, and this in a city teeming with pleasures.
I saw you already in possession of considerable learning. Then you thought
that you ought also to see Athens, and you persuaded Celsus to accompany
you. Happy Celsus, to be dear to you! Then you returned, and lived at home,
and I said to myself, What, I wonder, is Basil about now? To what
occupation has he betaken himself? Is he following the ancient orators, and
practising in the courts? Or is he turning the sons of fortunate fathers
into orators? Then there came those who reported to me that you were
adopting a course of life better than any of these, and were, rather,
bethinking you how you might win the friendship of God than heaps of gold,
I blessed both you and the Cappadocians; you, for making this your aim;
them, for being able to point to so noble a fellow-countryman.
2. I am aware that the Firmus, whom you mention, has continually won
everywhere; hence his great power as a speaker. But with all the eulogies
that have been bestowed on him, I am not aware that he has ever received
such praise as I have heard of in your letter. For what a credit it is to
him, that it should be you who declare that his reputation is inferior to
Apparently, you have despatched this young man to me before seeing
Firminus; had you done so, your letters would not have failed to mention
him. What is Firminus now doing or intending to do? Is he still anxious to
be married? Or is all that over now? Are the claims of the senate heavy on
him? Is he obliged to stay where he is? Is there any hope of his taking to
study again? Let him send me an answer, and I trust it may be satisfactory.
If it be a distressing one, at least it will relieve him from seeing me at
his door. And if Firminus had been now at Athens, what would your senators
have done? Would they have sent the Salaminia(2) after him? You see that it
is only by your fellow- countrymen that I am wronged. Yet I shall never
cease to love and praise the Cappadocians. I should like them to be better
disposed to me, but, if they continue to act as they do, I shall bear it.
Firminus was four months with me, and was not a day idle. You will know how
much he has acquired, and perhaps will not complain. As to his being able
to come here again, what ally can I call in? If your senators are right-
mided, as men of education ought to be, they will honour me in the second
case, since they grieved me in the first.
LETTER CCCXXXVII: Basil to Libanius.
Lo and behold, yet another Cappadocian has come to you; a son of my
own! Yet my present position makes all men my sons. On this ground he may
be regarded as a brother of the former one, and worthy of the same
attention alike from me his father, and from you his instructor--if really
it is possible for these young men, who come from me, to obtain any further
favours. I do not mean that it is not possible for your excellency to give
anything more to your old comrades, but because your services are so
lavishly bestowed upon all. It will be sufficient for the lad before he
gets experience if he be numbered among those who are intimately known to
you. I trust you may send him back to me worthy of my prayers and of your
great reputation in learning and eloquence. He is accompanied by a young
man of his own age, and of like zeal for instruction; a youth of good
family, and closely associated with myself. I am sure be will be in every
way as well treated, though his means are smaller than is the case with the
LETTER CCCXXXVIII: Libanius to Basil.
I KNOW you will often write, "Here is another Cappadocian for you !" I
expect that you will send me many. I am sure that you are everywhere
putting pressure on both fathers and sons by all your complimentary
expressions about me. But it would not be kind on my part not to mention
what happened about your good letter. There were sitting with me not a few
of our people of distinction, and among them the very excellent Alypius,
Hierocles' cousin. The messengers gave in the letter. I read it right
through without a word; then with a smile, and evidently gratified, I
exclaimed, "I am vanquished!" "How? When? Where ?" they asked. "How is it
that you are not distressed at being vanquished ?" " I am beaten," I
replied, "in beautiful letter writing. Basil has won. But I love him; and
so I am delighted." On hearing this, they all wanted to hear of the victory
from the letter itself. It was read by Alypius, while all listened. It was
voted that what I had said was quite true. Then the reader went out, with
the letter still in his hand, to shew it, I suppose, to others. I had some
difficulty in getting it back. Go on writing others like it; go on winning.
This is for me to win. You are quite right in thinking that my services are
not measured by money. Enough for him who has nothing to give, that he is
as wishful to receive. If I perceive any one who is poor to be a lover of
learning, he takes precedence of the rich. True, I never found such
instructors; but nothing shall stand in the way of my being, at least in
that respect, an improvement on mine. Let no one, then, hesitate to come
hither because he is poor, if only he possesses the one qualification of
knowing how to work.
LETTER CCCXXXIX: Basil to Libanius.
WHAT could not a sophist say? And such a sophist! One whose peculiar
art is, whenever he likes, to make great things small, and to give
greatness to small things! This is what you have shewn in my case. That
dirty little letter of mine, as, perhaps, you who live in all luxury of
eloquence would call it, a letter in no way more tolerable than the one you
hold in your hands now you have so extolled as, forsooth, 'to be eaten by
it, and to be yielding me the prize for composition! You are acting much as
fathers do, when they join in their boys' games, and let the little fellows
be proud of the victories which they have let them win without any loss to
themselves, and with much gain to the children's emulation. Really and
truly the delight your speech must have given, when you were joking about
me, must have been indescribable !It is as though some Polydamas(1) or
Milo(2) were to decline the pancratium or a wrestling bout with me !(3)
After carefully examining, I have found no sign of weakness. So those who
look for exaggeration are the more astonished at your being able to descend
in sport to my level, than if you had led the barbarian in full sail over
Athos.(4) I, however, my dear sir, am now spending my time with Moses and
Elias, and saints like them, who tell me their stories in a barbarous
tongue,(5) and I utter what I learnt from them, true, indeed, in sense,
though rude in phrase, as what I am writing testifies. If ever I learned
anything from you, I have forgotten it in the course of time. But do you
continue to write to me, and so suggest other topics for correspondence.
Your letter will exhibit you, and will not convict me. I have already
introduced to you the son of Anysius, st as a son of my own. If he is my
son, he is e the child of his father, poor, and a poor man's e son. What I
am saying is well known to who is wise as well as a sophist.(1)
LETTER CCCXL: Libanius to Basil.
HAD you been for a long time considering how best you could reply to my
letter about yours, you could not in my judgment have acquitted yourself
better than by writing as you have written now. You call me a sophist, and
you allege that it is a sophist's business to make small things great and
great things small. And you maintain that the object of my letter was to
prove yours a good one, when it was not a good one, and that it was no
better than the one which you have sent last, and, in a word that you have
no power of expression, the books which you have now in hand producing no
such effect, and the eloquence which you once possessed having all
disappeared. Now, in the endeavour to prove this, you have made this
epistle too, which you are reviling, so admirable, that my visitors could
not refrain from leaping with admiration as it was being read. I was
astonished that after your trying to run down the former one by this, by
saying that the former one was like it, you have really complimented the
former by it. To carry out your object, you ought to have made this one
worse, that you might slander the former. But it is not like you, I think,
to do despite to the truth. It would have been done despite to, if you had
purposely written badly, and not put out the powers you have. It would be
characteristic of you not to find fault with what is worthy of praise, lest
in your attempt to make great things insignificant, your proceedings reduce
you to the rank of the sophists. Keep to the books which you say are
inferior in style, though better in sense. No one hinders you. But of the
principles which are ever mine, and once were yours, the roots both remain
and will remain, as long as you exist. Though you water them ever so
little, no length of time will ever completely destroy them.
LETTER CCCXLI: Libanius to Basil.
You have not yet ceased to be offended with me, and so I tremble as I
write. If you have cared, why, my dear sir, do you not write? If you are
still offended, a thing alien from any reasonable soul and from your own,
why, while you are preaching to others, that they must not keep their anger
till sundown,(1) have you kept yours during many suns? Peradventure you
have meant to punish me by depriving me of the sound of your sweet voice?
Nay; excellent sir, be gentle, and let me enjoy your golden tongue.
LETTER CCCXLII: Basil to Libanius.
ALL who are attached to the rose, as might be expected in the case of
lovers of the beautiful, are not displeased even at the thorns from out of
which the flower blows. I have even heard it said about roses by some one,
perhaps in jest, or, it may be, even in earnest, that nature has furnished
the bloom with those delicate thorns, like stings of love to lovers, to
excite those who pluck them to intenser longing by these ingeniously
adapted pricks.(2) But what do I mean by this introduction of the rose into
my letter? You do not need telling, when you remember your own letter. It
had indeed the bloom of the rose, and, by its fair speech, opened out all
spring to me; but it was bethorned with certain fault findings and charges
against me. But even the thorn of your words is delightful to me, for it
enkindles in me a greater longing for your friendship.
LETTERCCCXLIII: Libanius to Basil.
IF these are the words of an untrained tongue, what would you be if you
would polish them? On your lips live fountains of words better than the
flowing of springs. I, on the contrary, if I am not daily watered, am
LETTER CCCXLIV: Basil to Libanius.
I AM dissuaded from writing often to you, learned as you are, by my
timidity and my ignorance. But your persistent silence is different. What
excuse can be offered for it? If any one takes into account that you are
slow to write to me, living as you do in the midst of letters, he will
condemn you for forgetfulness of me. He who is ready at speaking is not
unprepared to write. And if a man so endowed is silent, it is plain that he
acts either from forgetfulness or from contempt. I will, however, requite
your silence with a greeting. Farewell, most honoured sir. Write if you
like. If you prefer it, do not write.
LETTER CCCXLV: Libanius to Basil.
IT is, I think, more needful for me to defend myself for not having
begun to write to you long ago, than to offer any excuse for beginning now.
I am that same man who always used to run up whenever you put in an
appearance, and who listened with the greatest delight to the stream of
your eloquence; rejoicing to hear you; with difficulty tearing myself away;
saying to my friends, This man is thus far superior to the daughters of
Achelous, in that, like them, he soothes, but he does not hurt as they do.
Truly it is no great thing not to hurt; but this man's songs are a
positive gain to the hearer. That I should be in this state of mind, should
think that I am regarded with affection, and should seem able to speak, and
yet should not venture to write, is the mark of a man guilty of extreme
idleness, and, at the same time, inflicting punishment on himself. For it
is clear that you will requite my poor little letter with a fine large one,
and will take care not to wrong me again. At this word, I fancy, many will
cry out, and will crowd round with the shout, What! has Basil done any
wrong--even a small wrong? Then so have Oeacus, and Minos and his
brother.(1) In other points I admit that you have won. Who ever saw you
that does not envy you? But in one thing yon have sinned against me; and,
if I remind you of it, induce those who are indignant thereat not to make a
public outcry. No one has ever come to yon and asked a favour which it was
easy to give, and gone away unsuccessful. But I am one of those who have
craved a boon without receiving it. What then did I ask? Often when I was
with you in camp. I was desirous of entering, with the aid of your wisdom,
into the depth of Homer's frenzy. If the whole is impossible, I said, do
you bring me to a portion of what I want. I was anxious for a part,
wherein, when things have gone ill with the Greeks. Agamemnon courts with
gifts the man whom he has insulted. When I so spoke, you laughed, because
you could not deny that you could if you liked, but were unwilling to give.
Do I really seem to be wronged to you and to your friends, who were
indignant at my saying that you were doing a wrong?
LETTER CCCXLVI: Libanius to Basil.
You yourself will judge whether I have added anything in the way of
learning to the young men whom you have sent. I hope that this addition,
however little it be, will get the credit of being great, for the sake of
your friendship towards me. But inasmuch as you give less praise to
learning than to temperance and to a refusal to abandon our souls to
dishonourable pleasures, they have devoted their main attention to this,
and have lived, as indeed they ought, with due recollection of the friend
who sent them hither.
So welcome what is your own, and give praise to men who by their mode
of life have done credit both to you and to me. But to ask you to be
serviceable to them is like asking a father to be serviceable to his
LETTER CCCXLVII: Libanius to Basil.
EVERY bishop is a thing out of which it is very hard to get
anything.(1) The further you have advanced beyond other people in learning,
the more you make me afraid that you will refuse what I ask. I want some
rafters.(2) Any other sophist would have called them stakes, or poles, not
because he wanted stakes or poles, but rather for shewing off his wordlets
than out of any real need. If you do not supply them, I shall have to
winter in the open air.
LETTER CCCXLVIII: Basil to Libanius.
If gripi'zein is the same thing as to gain, and this is the meaning of
the phrase which your sophistic ingenuity has got from the depths of Plato,
consider, my dear sir, who is the more hard to be got from, I who am thus
impaled(1) by your epistolary skill, or the tribe of Sophists, whose craft
is to make money out of their words. What bishop ever imposed tribute by
Iris words? What bishop ever made his disciples pay taxes? It is you who
make your words marketable, as confectioners make honey-cakes. See how you
have made the old man leap and bound! However, to who make such a fuss
about your declamations, I have ordered as many rafters to be supplied as
there were fighters at Thermopylae,(2) all of goodly length, and, as Homer
has it, "long-shadowing,"(3) which the sacred Alphaeus has promised to
LETTER CCCXLIX: Libanius to Basil.
WILL you not give over, Basil, packing this sacred haunt of the Muses
with Cappadocians, and these redolent of the frost(5) and snow and all
Cappadocia's good things? They have almost made me a Cappadocian too,
always chanting their "I salute you."
I must endure, since it is Basil who commands. Know, however, that I am
making a careful study of the manners and customs of the country, and that
I mean to metamorphose the men into the nobility and the harmony of my
Calliope, that they may seem to you to be turned from pigeons into doves.
LETTER CCCL: Basil to Libanius.
YOUR annoyance is over. Let this be the beginning of my letter. Go on
mocking and abusing me and mine, whether laughing or in earnest. Why say
anything about frost(5) or snow, when you might be luxuriating in mockery?
For my part, Libanius, that I may rouse you to a hearty laugh, I have
written my letter enveloped in a snow-white veil. When you take the letter
in your hand, you will feel how cold it is, and how it symbolizes the
condition of the sender--kept at home and not able to put head out of
doors. For my house is a rave till spring comes and brings us back from
death to life, and once more gives to us, as to plants, the boon of
LETTER CCCLI: Basil to Libanius.
MANY, who have come to me from where you are, have admired your
oratorical power. They were remarking that there has been a very brilliant
specimen of this, and a very great contest, as they alleged, with the
result that all crowded together, and no one appeared in the whole city but
Libanius alone in the lists, and everybody, young and old, listening. For
no one was willing to be absent--not a man of rank--not a distinguished
soldier--not an artisan. Even women hurried to be present at the struggle.
And what was it? What was the speech which brought together this vast
assembly? I have been told that it contained a description of a man of
peevish temper. Pray lose no time in sending me this much admired speech,
in order that I too may join in praising your eloquence. If I am a praiser
of Libanius without his works, what am I likely to become after receiving
the grounds on which to praise him?
LETTER CCCLII: Libanius to Basil.
BEHOLD! I have sent you my speech, all streaming with sweat as I am!
How should I be otherwise, when sending my speech to one who by his skill
in oratory is able to shew that the wisdom of Plato and the ability of
Demosthenes were belauded in vain? I feel like a gnat compared with an
elephant. How I shiver and shake, as I reckon up the day when you will
inspect my performance I am almost out of my wits!
LETTER CCCLIII: Basil to Libanius.
I HAVE read your speech, and have immensely admired it. O muses; O
learning; O Athens; what do you not give to those who love you! What fruits
do not they gather who spend even a short time with you! Oh for your
copiously flowing fountain! What men all who drink of it are shewn to be! I
seemed to see the man himself in your speech, in the company of his
chattering little woman. A living story has been written on the ground by
Libanius, who alone has bestowed the gift of life upon his words.
LETTER CCCLIV: Libanius to Basil.
Now I recognise men's description of me! Basil has praised me, and I am
hailed victor over all! Now that I have received your vote, I am entitled
to walk with the proud gait of a man who haughtily looks down on all the
world. You have composed an oration against drunkenness. I should like to
read it. But I am unwilling to try to say anything clever. When I have seen
your speech it will teach me the art of expressing myself.
LETTER CCCLV: Libanius to Basil.
ARE you living at Athens, Basil? Have you forgotten yourself? The sons
of the Caesareans could not endure to hear these things. My tongue was not
accustomed to them. Just as though I were treading some dangerous ground,
and were struck at the novelty of the sounds, it said to me its father, "My
father, you never taught this! This man is Homer, or Plato, or Aristotle,
or Susarion. He knows everything." So far my tongue. I only wish, Basil,
that you could praise me in the same manner!
LETTER CCCLVI: Basil to Libanius.
I AM delighted at receiving what you write, but when you ask me to
reply, I am in a difficulty. What could I say in answer to so Attic a
tongue, except that I confess, and confess with joy, that I am a pupil of
LETTER CCCLVII: Libanius to Basil.
WHAT has made Basil object to the letter, the proof of philosophy? I
have learned to make fun from you, but nevertheless your fun is venerable
and, so to say, hoary with age. But, by our very friendship, by our common
pastimes, do away, I charge you, with the distress caused by your letter
... in nothing differing.(1)
LETTER CCCLVIII: Libanius to Basil.
OH, for the old days in which we were all in all to one another! Now we
are sadly separated! Ye have one another, I have no one like you to replace
you. I hear that Alcimus in his old age is venturing on a young man's
exploits, and is hurrying to Rome, after imposing on you the labour of
remaining with the lads. You, who are always so kind, will not take this
ill. You were not even angry with me for having to write first.
LETTER CCCLIX: Basil to Libanius.
YOU, who have included all the art of the ancients in your own mind,
are so silent, that you do not even let me get any gain in a letter. I, if
the art of Daedalus had only been safe, would have made me Icarus' wings
and come to you. But wax cannot be entrusted to the sun, anti so, instead
of Icarus' wings, I send you words to prove my affection. It is the nature
of words to indicate the love of the heart. So far, words.(1) You do with
them what you will, and, possessing all the power you do, are silent. But
pray transfer to me the fountains of words that spring from your mouth.
LETTER CCCLX.(2): Of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the invocation of
Saints, and their Images.
ACCORDING to the blameless faith of the Christians which we have
obtained from God, I confess and agree that I believe in one God the Father
Almighty; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; I adore and
worship one God, the Three.(3) I confess to the oeconomy of the Son in the
flesh,(4) and that the holy Mary, who gave birth to Him according to the
flesh, was Mother of God.(5) I acknowledge also the holy apostles,
prophets, and martyrs; and I invoke them to supplication to God, that
through them, that is, through their mediation, the merciful God may be
propitious to me, and that a ransom may be made and given me for my sins.
Wherefore also I honour and kiss the features of their images, inasmuch as
they have been handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden,
but are in all our churches.
LETTERS CCCLXI. and CCCLXIII., to Apollinarius, and Letters CCCLXII.
and CCCLXIV., from Apollinarius to Basil, are condemned as indubitably
spurious, not only on internal evidence, but also on the ground of Basil's
asseveration that he had never written but once to Apollinarius, and that
"as layman to layman."(1) [The authenticity of these letters, unfortunately
omitted by the editor, has since been persuasively defended by G. L.
Prestige.] Letter CCCLXV., "to the great emperor Theodosius," on an
inundation in Cappadocia, is also condemned by the Ben. Ed. as spurious,
and contains nothing of ecclesiastical or theological interest. Tillemont
however (vol. v., p. 739) thought its style not unworthy of a young man and
a rhetorician, and conjectures the Theodosius to whom it is addressed to be
not the great emperor, but some magistrate of Cappadocia.
LETTER CCCLXVI.(2): Basil to Urbicius the monk, concerning continency.
You do well in making exact definitions for us, so that we may
recognise not only continency, but its fruit. Now its fruit is the
companionship of God. For not to be corrupted, is to have part with God;
just as to be corrupted is the companionship of the world. Continency is
denial of the body, and confession to God. It withdraws from anything
mortal, like a body which has the Spirit of God. It is without rivalry and
envy, and causes us to be united to God. He who loves a body envies
another. He who has not admitted the disease of corruption into his heart,
is for the future strong enough to endure any labour, and though he have
died in the body, he lives in incorruption. Verily, if I rightly apprehend
the matter, God seems to me to be continency. because tie desires nothing,
but has all things in Himself. He reaches after nothing, nor has any sense
in eyes or ears; wanting nothing, He is in all respects complete and full.
Concupiscence is a disease of the soul; but continency is its health. And
continency must not be regarded only in one species, as, for instance, in
matters of sensual love. It must be regarded in everything which the soul
lusts after in an evil manner, not being content with what is needful for
it. Envy is caused for the sake of gold, and innumerable wrongs for the
sake of other lusts. Not to be drunken is continency. Not to overeat one's
self is continency. To subdue the body is continency, and to keep evil
thoughts in subjection, whenever the soul is disturbed by any fancy false
and bad, and the heart is distracted by vain cares. Continency makes men
free, being at once a medicine and a power, for it does not teach
temperance; it gives it. Continency is a grace of God. Jesus seemed to be
continency, when He was made light to land and sea; for He was carried
neither by earth nor ocean, and just as He walked on the sea, so He did not
weigh down the earth. For if death comes of corruption, and not dying comes
of not having corruption, then Jesus wrought not mortality but divinity.(1)
He ate and drank in a peculiar manner, without rendering his food., So
mighty a power in Him was continency, that His food was not corrupted in
Him, since He had no corruption. If only there be a little continency in
us, we are higher than all. We have been told that angels were ejected from
heaven because of concupiscence and became incontinent. They were
vanquished; they did not come down. What could that plague have effected
there, if an eye such as I am thinking of had been there? Wherefore I said,
If we have a little patience, and do not love the world, but the life
above, we shall be found there where we direct our mind. For it is the
mind, apparently, which is the eye that seeth unseen things. For we say
"the mind sees;" "the mind hears." I have written at length, though it may
seem little to you. But there is meaning in all that I have said, and, when
you have read it, you will see it.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published
by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in
1867. (LNPF II/VIII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The
Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.