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Chapter XVI.—Of the holy Basilius, Bishop of Cæsarea, and the measures taken against him by Valens and the prefect Modestus.
Valens, one might almost say, deprived every church of its shepherd, and set out for the Cappadocian Cæsarea,723723 Cæsarea Ad Argæum (now Kasaria) at the foot of Mount Argæus, was made a Roman province by Tiberius a.d. 18. The progress of Valens had hitherto been successful, and the Catholic cause was endangered. Bithynia had been coerced, and the mobile Galatians had given in. “The fate of Cappadocia depended on Basil.” cf. Dict. Ch. Biog. i. 289. at that time the see of the great Basil, a light of the world. Now he had sent the prefect before him with orders either to persuade Basil to embrace the communion of Eudoxius, or, in the event of his refusal, to punish him by exile. Previously acquainted as he was with the bishop’s high reputation, he was at first unwilling to attack him, for he was apprehensive lest the bishop, by boldly meeting and withstanding his assault, should furnish an example of bravery to the rest. This artful stratagem was as ineffective as a spider’s web. For the stories told of old were quite enough for the rest of the episcopate, and they kept the wall of the faith unmoved like bastions in the circle of its walls.
The prefect, however, on his arrival at Cæsarea, sent for the great Basil. He treated him with respect, and, addressing him with moderate and courteous language, urged him to yield to the exigencies of the time, and not to forsake so many churches on account of a petty nicety of doctrine. He moreover promised him the friendship of the emperor, and pointed out that through it he might be the means of conferring great advantages upon many. “This sort of talk,” said the divine man, “is fitted for little boys, for they and their like easily swallow such inducements. But they who are nurtured by divine words will not suffer so much as a syllable of the divine creeds to be let go, and for their sake are ready, should need require, to embrace every kind of death. The emperor’s friendship I hold to be of great value if conjoined with true religion; otherwise I doom it for a deadly thing.”
Then the prefect was moved to wrath, and declared that Basil was out of his senses. “But,” said the divine man, “this madness I pray be ever mine.” The bishop was then ordered to retire, to deliberate on the course to be pursued, and on the morrow to declare to what conclusion he had come. Intimidation was moreover joined with argument. The reply of the illustrious bishop is related to have been “I for my part shall come to you tomorrow the same man that I am today; do not yourself change, but carry out your threats.” After these discussions the prefect met the emperor and reported the conversation, pointing out the bishop’s virtue, and the undaunted manliness of his character. The emperor said nothing and passed in. In his palace he saw that plagues from heaven had fallen, for his son724724 Galates. cf. Soc. iv. 26. lay sick at the very gates of death and his wife725725 Dominica. cf. Soc. iv. 26. was beset by many ailments. Then he recognised the cause of these sorrows, and entreated the divine man, whom he had threatened with chastisement, to come to his house. His officers performed the imperial behests and then the great Basil came to the palace.
After seeing the emperor’s son on the point of death he promised him restoration to life if he should receive holy baptism at the hands of the pious, and with this pledge went his way. But the emperor, like the foolish Herod, remembered his oath, and 120ordered some of the Arian faction who were present to baptize the boy, who immediately died. Then Valens repented; he saw how fraught with danger the keeping of his oath had been, and came to the divine temple and received the teaching of the great Basil, and offered the customary gifts at the altar. The bishop moreover ordered him to come within the divine curtains where he sat and talked much with him about the divine decrees and in turn listened to him.
Now there was present a certain man of the name of Demosthenes,726726 If this Demosthenes “is the same person with the Demosthenes who four years later held the office of vicar of Pontus we have in him one of the many examples presented by the history of the Eastern empire of the manner in which base arts raised the meanest persons to the highest dignities.” Dict. Chris. Biog. s.v. But the chief cook may have been a high functionary like the chief baker at the court of the Pharaohs or the Lord High Steward at that of St. James’s. Of the elevation of a menial to power many parallels may be found. Demosthenes of Pontus afterwards became a partisan of the Semi-arians and accused Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, of dishonesty. Basil. Epist. 264, 385, 405. superintendent of the imperial kitchen, who in rudely chiding the man who instructed the world was guilty of a solecism of speech. Basil smiled and said “we see here an illiterate Demosthenes;” and on Demosthenes losing his temper and uttering threats, he continued “your business is to attend to the seasoning of soups; you cannot understand theology because your ears are stopped up.” So he said, and the emperor was so delighted that he gave him some fine lands which he had there for the poor under his care, for they being in grievous bodily affliction were specially in need of care and cure.
In this manner then the great Basil avoided the emperor’s first attack, but when he came a second time his better judgement was obstructed by counsellors who deceived him; he forgot what had happened on the former occasion and ordered Basil to go over to the hostile faction, and, failing to persuade him, commanded the decree of exile to be enforced. But when he tried to affix his signature to it he could not even form one tittle of a word,727727 στοιχεῖον is a simple sound of the voice as distinguished from γραμμα, a letter. for the pen broke, and when the same thing happened to the second and to the third pen, and he still strove to sign that wicked edict, his hand shook; he quaked, his soul was filled with fright; he tore the paper with both his hands, and so proof was given by the Ruler of the world that it was He Himself who had permitted these sufferings to be undergone by the rest, but had made Basil stronger than the snares laid against him, and, by all the incidents of Basil’s case, had declared His own almighty power, while on the other hand He had proclaimed abroad the courage of good men. Thus Valens was disappointed in his attack.
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