|« Basilius of Ancyra, a presbyter||Basilius, bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia||Basilius, friend of Chrysostom »|
Basilius, bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia
Basilius, bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia, commonly called Basil the Great, the strenuous champion of orthodoxy in the East, the restorer of union to the divided Oriental church, and the promoter of unity between the East and the West, was born at Caesarea (originally called Mazaca), the capital of Cappadocia, towards the end of 329. His parents were members of noble and wealthy families, and Christians by descent. His grandparents on both sides had suffered during the Maximinian persecution, his maternal grandfather losing both property and life. Macrina, his paternal grandmother, and her husband, were compelled to leave their home in Pontus, of which country they were natives, and to take refuge among the woods and mountains of that province, where they are reported to have passed seven years (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. p. 319). [Macrina.] His father, whose name was also Basil, was an advocate and teacher of rhetoric whose learning and eloquence had brought him a very large practice. Gregory Nazianzen speaks of this elder Basil in terms of the highest commendation as one who was regarded by the whole of Pontus as "the common instructor of virtue" (Or. xx. p. 324). The elder Basil and Emmelia had ten children, five of each sex, of whom a daughter, Macrina, was the eldest. Basil the Great was the eldest son; two others, Gregory Nyssen and Peter, attained the episcopate. Naucratius the second son died a layman. Four of the daughters were well and honourably married. Macrina, the eldest, embraced a life of devotion, and exercised a very powerful influence over Basil and the other members of the family. [Macrina, (2).] Basil was indebted for the care of his earliest years to his grandmother Macrina, who brought him up at her country house, not far from Neocaesarea in the province of Pontus (Bas. Ep. 210, § 1). The date of Basil's baptism is uncertain, but, according to the prevalent custom, it was almost certainly deferred until he reached man's estate. For the completion of his education, Basil was sent by his father first to his native city of Caesarea (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. p. 325). >From Caesarea he passed to Constantinople (Bas. Epp. 335-359; Liban. Vita, p. 15), and thence to Athens, where he studied during the years 351-355, chiefly under the Sophists Himerius and Prohaeresius. His acquaintance with his fellow-student and inseparable companion Gregory Nazianzen, previously begun at Caesarea, speedily ripened at Athens into an ardent friendship, which subsisted with hardly any interruption through the greater part of their lives. Athens also afforded Basil the opportunity of familiar intercourse with a fellow-student whose name was destined to become unhappily famous, the nephew of the emperor Constantius, Julian. The future emperor conceived a warm attachment for the young Cappadocian, with whom—as the latter reminds him when the relations between them had so sadly changed—he not only studied the best models of literature, but also carefully read the sacred Scriptures (Epp. 40, 41; Greg. Naz. Orat. iv. adv. Julian, pp. 121 seq.). Basil remained at Athens till the middle or end of 355, when with extreme reluctance he left for his native city. By this time his father was dead. His mother, Emmelia, was residing at the village of Annesi, near Neocaesarea. Basil's Athenian reputation had preceded him, and he was received with much honour by the people of Caesarea, where he consented to settle as a teacher of rhetoric (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. p. 334). He practised the profession of a rhetorician with great celebrity for a considerable period (Rufin. ii. 9), but the warnings and counsels of Macrina guarded him from the seductions of the world, and eventually induced him to abandon it altogether and devote himself to a religious life (Greg. Nys. u.s.). Basil, in a letter to Eustathius of Sebaste, describes himself at this period as one awaked out of a deep sleep, and in the marvellous light of Gospel truth discerning the folly of that wisdom of this world in the study of which nearly all his youth had vanished. His first care was to reform his life. Finding, by reading the Gospels, that nothing tended so much toward perfection as to sell all that he had and free himself from worldly cares, and feeling himself too weak to stand alone in such an enterprise, he desired earnestly to find some brother who might give him his aid (Ep. 223). No sooner did his determination become known that he was beset by the remonstrances of his friends entreating him, some to continue the profession of rhetoric, some to become an advocate. But his choice was made, and his resolution was inflexible. Basil's baptism may be placed at this epoch. He was probably baptized by Dianius, bp. of Caesarea, by whom not long afterwards he was admitted to the order of reader (de Spir. Sancto, c. xxix. 71). Basil's determination in favour of a life of devotion would be strengthened by the death of his next brother, Naucratius, who had embraced the life of a solitary, and about this period was drowned while engaged in works of mercy (Greg. Nys. de Vit. S. Macr. p. 182). About a.d.357, when still under thirty, Basil left Caesarea to seek the most celebrated ascetics upon whose life he might model his own; visiting Alexandria and Upper Egypt, Palestine, Coelesyria, and Mesopotamia. He records his admiration of the abstinence and endurance of the ascetics whom he met, their mastery over hunger and sleep, their indifference to cold and nakedness, as well as his desire to imitate them (Ep. 223, § 2). The year 358 saw Basil again at Caesarea resolved on the immediate carrying out of his purpose of retiring from the world, finally selecting for his retreat a spot near Neocaesarea, close to 117the village of Annesi, where his father's estates lay, and where he had passed his childhood under the care of his grandmother Macrina. To Annesi his mother Emmelia and his sister Macrina had retired after the death of the elder Basil, and were living a semi-monastic life. Basil's future home was only divided from Annesi by the river Iris, by which and the gorges of the mountain torrents a tract of level ground was completely insulated. A wooded mountain rose behind. There was only one approach to it, and of that he was master. The natural beauties of the spot, with its ravines, precipices, dashing torrents, and waterfalls, the purity of the air and the coolness of the breezes, the abundance of flowers and multitude of singing birds ravished him, and he declared it to be more beautiful than Calypso's island (Ep. 14). His glowing description attracted Gregory for a lengthy visit to study the Scriptures with him (Ep. 9), together with the commentaries of Origen and other early expositors. At this time they also compiled their collection of the "Beauties of Origen," or "Philocalia" (Socr. iv. 26; Soz. vi. 17; Greg. Naz. Ep. 87). In this secluded spot Basil passed five years, an epoch of no small importance in the history of the church, inasmuch as it saw the origin under Basil's influence of the monastic system in the coenobitic form. Eustathius of Sebaste had already introduced monachism into Asia Minor, but monastic communities were a novelty in the Christian world, and of these Basil is justly considered the founder. His rule, like that of St. Benedict in later times, united active industry with regular devotional exercises, and by the labour of his monks over wide desert tracts, hopeless sterility gave place to golden harvests and abundant vintages. Not the day only but the night also was divided into definite portions, the intervals being filled with prayers, hymns, and alternate psalmody. The day began and closed with a psalm of confession. The food of his monks was limited to one meal a day of bread, water, and herbs, and he allowed sleep only till midnight, when all rose for prayer (Ep. 2, 207). On his retirement to Pontus, Basil devoted all his worldly possessions to the service of the poor, retaining them, however, in his own hands, and by degrees divesting himself of them as occasion required. His life was one of the most rigid asceticism. He had but one outer and one inner garment; he slept in a hair shirt, his bed was the ground; he took little sleep, no bath; the sun was his fire, his food bread and water, his drink the running stream (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. p. 358; Greg. Nys. de Basil. p. 490). The severe bodily austerities he practised emaciated his frame and ruined his already feeble health, sowing the seeds of the maladies to which in later years he was a martyr. His friend describes him as "without a wife, without property, without flesh, and almost without blood" (Greg. Naz. Or. xix. p. 311). Basil's reputation for sanctity collected large numbers about him. He repeatedly made missionary journeys through Pontus; his preaching resulting in the founding of many coenobitic industrial communities and monasteries for both sexes, and in the restoration of the purity of the orthodox faith (Rufin. ix. 9; Soz. vi. 17; Greg. Nys. de Basil. p. 488). Throughout Pontus and Cappadocia Basil was the means of the erection of numerous hospitals for the poor, houses of refuge for virgins, orphanages, and other homes of beneficence. His monasteries had as their inmates children he had taken charge of, married persons who had mutually agreed to live asunder, slaves with the consent of their masters, and solitaries convinced of the danger of living alone (Basil, Regulae, 10, 12, 15).
After two years thus spent Basil was summoned from his solitude in 359 to accompany Basil of Ancyra and Eustathius of Sebaste, who had been delegated by the council of Seleucia to communicate the conclusions of that assembly to Constantius at Constantinople. Basil seems from his youth and natural timidity to have avoided taking any part in the discussions of the council that followed, 360, in which the Anomoeans were condemned, the more orthodox semi-Arians deposed, and the Acacians triumphed. But when Constantius endeavoured to force those present to sign the creed of Ariminum, Basil left the city and returned to Cappadocia (Greg. Nys. in Eunom. pp. 310, 312; Philost. iv. 12). Not long after his return George of Laodicea arrived at Caesarea as an emissary of Constantius, bringing with him that creed for signature. To Basil's intense grief, bp. Dianius, a gentle, undecided man, who valued peace above orthodoxy, was persuaded to sign. Basil felt it impossible any longer to hold communion with his bishop, and fled to Nazianzus to find consolation in the society of his dear friend Gregory (Ep. 8, 51). He denied with indignation the report that he had anathematized his bishop, and when two years afterwards (362) Dianius was stricken for death and entreated Basil to return and comfort his last hours, he at once went to him, and the aged bishop died in his arms.
The choice of Dianius's successor gave rise to violent dissensions at Caesarea. At last the populace, wearied with the indecision, chose Eusebius, a man of high position and eminent piety, but as yet unbaptized. They forcibly conveyed him to the church where the provincial bishops were assembled, and compelled the unwilling prelates first to baptize and then to consecrate him. Eusebius was bp. at Caesarea for 8 years (Greg. Naz. Or. xix. 308, 309).
Shortly before the death of Dianius, Julian had ascended the throne (Dec. 11, 361), and desired to surround himself with the associates of his early days (Greg. Naz. Or. iv. 120). Among the first whom he invited was his fellow-student at Athens, Basil. Basil at first held out hopes of accepting his old friend's invitation; but he delayed his journey, and Julian's declared apostasy soon gave him sufficient cause to relinquish it altogether. The next year Julian displayed his irritation. Receiving intelligence that the people of Caesarea, so far from apostatizing with him and building new pagan temples, had pulled down the only one still standing (Greg. Naz. Or. iii. 91, xix. 309; Socr. v. 4), he expunged Caesarea from the catalogue of cities, made it take its old name of Mazaca, imposed heavy payments, compelled the clergy to serve in the 118police force, and put to death two young men of high rank who had taken part in the demolition of the temple. Approaching Caesarea, he dispatched a minatory letter to Basil demanding a thousand pounds of gold for the expenses of his Persian expedition, or threatening to rase the city to the ground. Basil, in his dauntless reply, upbraids the emperor for apostasy against God and the church, the nurse and mother of all, and for his folly in demanding so vast a sum from him, the poorest of the poor. The death of Julian (June 26, 363) delivered Basil from this imminent peril.
One of the first acts of bp. Eusebius was to compel the reluctant Basil to be ordained priest, that the bishop might avail himself of Basil's theological knowledge and intellectual powers to compensate for his own deficiencies. At first he employed him very largely. But when he found himself completely eclipsed he became jealous of Basil's popularity and treated him with a marked coldness, amounting almost to insolence, which awoke the hostility of the Christians of Caesarea, whose idol Basil was. A schism was imminent, but Basil, refusing to strengthen the heretical party by creating divisions among the orthodox, retired with his friend Gregory to Pontus, where he devoted himself to the care of the monasteries he had founded (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. pp. 336, 337; Soz. vi. 15).
Basil had passed about three years in his Pontic seclusion when, in 365, the blind zeal of the emperor Valens for the spread of Arianism brought him back to Caesarea. As soon as it was known that Valens was approaching that city, the popular voice demanded the recall of Basil as the only bulwark against the attack on the true faith and its adherents meditated by the emperor. Gregory acted the part of a wise mediator, and Basil's return to the bishop was effected (Greg. Naz. Ep. 19, 20, 169; Or. xx. p. 339). Treating Eusebius with the honour due to his position and his age, Basil now proved himself, in the words of Gregory, the staff of his age, the support of his faith; at home the most faithful of his friends; abroad the most efficient of his ministers (ib. 340).
The first designs of Valens against Caesarea were interrupted by the news of the revolt of Procopius (Amm. Marc. 26, 27). He left Asia to quell the insurrection which threatened his throne. Basil availed himself of the breathing-time thus granted in organizing the resistance of the orthodox against the Eunomians or Anomoeans, who were actively propagating their pernicious doctrines through Asia Minor; and in uniting the Cappadocians in loyal devotion to the truth. The year 368 afforded Basil occasion of displaying his large and universal charity. The whole of Cappadocia was desolated by drought and famine, the visitation pressing specially on Caesarea. Basil devoted his whole energies to helping the poor sufferers. He sold the property he had inherited at the recent death of his mother, and raised a large subscription in the city. He gave his own personal ministrations to the wretched, and while he fed their bodies he was careful to nourish their souls with the bread of life (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 340-342; Greg. Nys. in Eunom. i. 306).
Eusebius died towards the middle of 370 in Basil's arms (Greg. Naz. Or. xix. 310, xx. 342). Basil persuaded himself, not altogether unwarrantably, that the cause of orthodoxy in Asia Minor was involved in his succeeding Eusebius. Disappointed of the assistance anticipated from the younger Gregory, Basil betook himself to his father, the aged bp. of Nazianzus of the same name. The momentous importance of the juncture was more evident to the elder man. Orthodoxy was at stake in Basil's election. "The Holy Spirit must triumph" (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 342). Using his son as his scribe, he dictated a letter to the clergy, monks, magistrates, and people of Caesarea, calling on them to choose Basil; another to the electing prelates, exhorting them not to allow Basil's weakness of health to counterbalance his marked pre-eminence in spiritual gifts and in learning (Greg. Naz. Ep. 22, 23). No orthodox prelate had at that time a deservedly greater influence than Eusebius of Samosata. Gregory wrote to him and persuaded him to visit Caesarea and undertake the direction of this difficult business (Bas. Ep. 47). On his arrival, Eusebius found the city divided into two opposite factions. All the best of the people, together with the clergy and the monks, warmly advocated Basil's election, which was vigorously opposed by other classes. The influence and tact of Eusebius overcame all obstacles. The people warmly espoused Basil's cause; the bishops were compelled to give way, and the triumph of the orthodox cause was consummated by the arrival of the venerable Gregory, who, on learning that one vote was wanting for the canonical election of Basil, while his son was still hesitating full of scruples and refused to quit Nazianzus, left his bed for a litter, had himself carried to Caesarea at the risk of expiring on the way, and with his own hands consecrated the newly elected prelate, and placed him on his episcopal throne (Greg. Naz. Ep. 29, p. 793, Or. xix. 311, xx. 343) Basil's election filled the orthodox everywhere with joy. Athanasius, the veteran champion of the faith, congratulated Cappadocia on possessing a bishop whom every province might envy (Ath. ad. Pallad. p. 953, ad Joann. et Ant. p. 951). At Constantinople it was received with far different feelings. Valens regarded it as a serious check to his designs for the triumph of Arianism. Basil was not an opponent to be despised. He must be bent to the emperor's will or got rid of. As bp. of Caesarea his power extended far beyond the limits of the city itself. He was metropolitan of Cappadocia, and exarch of Pontus. In the latter capacity his authority, more or less defied, extended over more than half Asia Minor, and embraced as many as eleven provinces. Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Tyana, with other metropolitan sees, acknowledged him as their ecclesiastical superior.
Basil's first disappointment in his episcopate arose from his inability to induce his dear friend Gregory to join him as his coadjutor in the government of his province and exarchate. He consented at last for a while, but soon withdrew. Difficulties soon thickened round the new exarch. The bishops who had opposed his election and refused to take part in his consecration, 119now exchanged their open hostility for secret opposition. While professing outward union, they withheld their support in everything. They treated Basil with marked slight and shewed a complete want of sympathy in all his plans (Ep. 98). He complains of this to Eusebius of Samosata (Epp. 48, 141, 282). This disloyal behaviour caused him despondency and repeated attacks of illness. He overcame all his opponents in a few years by firmness and kindness, but their action had greatly increased the difficulties of the commencement of his episcopate.
Basil had been bishop little more than twelve months when he was brought into open collision with the emperor Valens, who was traversing Asia Minor with the fixed resolve of exterminating the orthodox faith and establishing Arianism. No part of Basil's history is better known, and in none do we more clearly discern the strength and weakness of his character. "The memorable interview with St. Basil," writes Dean Milman, "as it is related by the Catholic party, displays, if the weakness, certainly the patience and toleration of the sovereign—if the uncompromising firmness of the prelate, some of that leaven of pride with which he is taunted by St. Jerome " (Hist. of Christianity, iii. 45). Valens had never relinquished the designs which had been interrupted by the revolt of Procopius, and he was now approaching Caesarea determined to reduce to submission the chief champion of orthodoxy in the East. His progress hitherto had been one of uniform victory. The Catholics had everywhere fallen before him. Bithynia had resisted and had become the scene of horrible tragedies. The fickle Galatia had yielded without a struggle. The fate of Cappadocia depended on Basil. His house, as the emperor drew near, was besieged by ladies of rank, high personages of state, even by bishops, who entreated him to bow before the storm and appease the emperor by a temporary submission. Their expostulations were rejected with indignant disdain. A band of Arian bishops headed by Euippius, an aged bishop of Galatia and an old friend of Basil's, preceded Valens's arrival with the hope of overawing their opponents by their numbers and unanimity. Basil took the initiative, and with prompt decision separated himself from their communion (Bas. Epp. 68, 128, 244, 251). Members of the emperor's household indulged in the most violent menaces against the archbishop. One of the most insolent of these was the eunuch Demosthenes, the superintendent of the kitchen. Basil met his threats with quiet irony, and was next confronted by Modestus, the prefect of the Praetorium, commissioned by the emperor to offer Basil the choice between deposition or communion with the Arians. This violent and unscrupulous imperial favourite accosted Basil with the grossest insolence. He refused him the title of bishop; he threatened confiscation, exile, tortures, death. But such menaces, Basil replied, were powerless on one whose sole wealth was a ragged cloak and a few books, to whom the whole earth was a home, or rather a place of pilgrimage, whose feeble body could endure no tortures beyond the first stroke, and to whom death would be a mercy, as it would the sooner transport him to the God to Whom he lived. Modestus expressed his astonishment at hearing such unusual language (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 351; Soz. vi. 16). "That is," replied Basil, "because you have never before fallen in with a true bishop." Modestus, finding his menaces useless, changed his tone. He counselled prudence. Basil should avoid irritating the emperor, and submit to his requirements, as all the other prelates of Asia had done. If he would only yield he promised him the friendship of Valens, and whatever favours he might desire for his friends. Why should he sacrifice all his power for the sake of a few doctrines? (Theod. iv. 19). But flattery had as little power as threats over Basil's iron will. The prefect was at his wit's end. Valens was expected on the morrow. Modestus was unwilling to meet the emperor with a report of failure. The aspect of a court of justice with its official state and band of ministers prepared to execute its sentence might inspire awe. But judicial terrors were equally futile (Greg. Nys. in Eunom. p. 315). Modestus, utterly foiled, had to announce to his master that all his attempts to obtain submission had been fruitless. "Violence would be the only course to adopt with one over whom threats and blandishments were equally powerless" (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. p. 350). Such Christian intrepidity was not without effect on the feeble, impressionable mind of Valens. He refused to sanction any harsh measures against the archbishop, and moderated his demands to the admission of Arians to Basil's communion. But here too Basil was equally inflexible. To bring matters to a decided issue, the emperor presented himself in the chief church of Caesarea on the Epiphany, a.d.372, after the service had commenced. He found the church flooded with "a sea" of worshippers whose chanted psalms pealed forth like thunder, uninterrupted by the entrance of the emperor and his train. Basil was at the altar celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice, standing, according to the primitive custom, behind the altar with his face to the assembled people, supported on either hand by the semicircle of his attendant clergy. "The unearthly majesty of the scene," the rapt devotion of the archbishop, erect like a column before the holy table, the reverent order of the immense throng, "more like that of angels than of men," overpowered the weak and excitable Valens, and he almost fainted away. When the time came for making his offering, and the ministers were hesitating whether they should receive an oblation from the hand of a heretic, his limbs failed him, and but for the aid of one of the clergy he would have fallen. Basil, it would seem, pitying his enemy's weakness, accepted the gift from his trembling hand (ib. p. 351) The next day Valens again visited the church, and listened with reverence to Basil's preaching, and made his offerings, which were not now rejected. The sermon over, Basil admitted the emperor within the sacred veil, and discoursed on the orthodox faith. He was rudely interrupted by the cook Demosthenes, who was guilty of a gross solecism. Basil smiled and said, "We have, it seems, a Demosthenes who cannot speak 120Greek; he had better attend to his sauces than meddle with theology." The retort amused the emperor, who retired so well pleased with his theological opponent that he made him a grant of lands for the poor-house Basil was erecting (Theod. iv. 19; Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 351; Bas. Ep. 94). The vacillating mind of Valens was always influenced by the latest and most imperious advisers, and when Basil remained firm in his refusal to admit them to his communion, the Arians about the emperor had little difficulty in persuading him that he was compromising the faith by permitting Basil to remain, and that his banishment was necessary for the peace of the East. The emperor, yielding to their importunity, ordered Basil to leave the city. Basil at once made his simple preparations for departure, ordering one of his attendants to take his tablets and follow him. He was to start at night to avoid the risk of popular disturbance. The chariot was at his door, and his friends, Gregory among them, were bewailing so great a calamity, when his journey was arrested by the sudden and alarming illness of Galates, the only son of Valen and Dominica. The empress attributed her child's danger to the Divine displeasure at the treatment of Basil. The emperor, in abject alarm, sent the chief military officials of the court, Terentius and Arinthaeus, who were known to be his friends, to entreat Basil to come and pray over the sick child. Galates was as yet unbaptized. On receiving a promise that the child should receive that sacrament at the hands of a Catholic bishop and be instructed in the orthodox faith, Basil consented. He prayed over the boy, and the malady was alleviated. On his retiring, the Arians again got round the feeble prince, reminded him of a promise he had made to Eudoxius, by whom he himself had been baptized, and the child received baptism from the hands of an Arian prelate. He grew immediately worse, and died the same night (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 352, 364; Theod. iv. 19; Socr. iv. 26; Soz. iv. 16; Eph. Syr. apud Coteler. Monum. Eccl. Graec. iii. 63; Rufin. xi. 9). Once more Valens yielded to pressure from the unwearied enemies of Basil. Again Basil's exile was determined on, but the pens with which Valens was preparing to sign the decree refused to write, and split in his agitated hand, and the supposed miracle arrested the execution of the sentence. Valens left Caesarea, and Basil remained master of the situation (Theod. iv. 19; Ephr. Syr. u.s. p. 65). Before long his old enemy Modestus, attacked by a severe malady, presented himself as a suppliant to Basil, and attributing his cure to the intercessions of the saint, became his fast friend. So great was Basil's influence with the prefect that persons came from a distance to secure his intercession with him. We have as many as six letters from Basil to Modestus in favour of different individuals (Bas. Epp. 104, 110, 111, 279, 280, 281; Greg. Naz. Or. xx. pp. 352, 353).
The issue of these unsuccessful assaults was to place Basil in a position of inviolability, and to leave him leisure for administering his diocese and exarchate, which much needed his firm and unflinching hand. His visitation disclosed many irregularities which he sternly repressed. The chorepiscopi had admitted men to the lower orders who had no intention of proceeding to the priesthood, or even to the diaconate, but merely to gain immunity from military service (Ep. 54). Many of his suffragans were guilty of simony in receiving a fee for ordination (Ep. 55). Men were raised to the episcopate from motives of personal interest and to gratify private friends (Ep. 290). The perilous custom of unmarried priests having females (συνείσακται, subintroductae) residing with them as "spiritual sisters" called for reproof (Ep. 55). A fanatic deacon, Glycerius, who had collected a band of professed virgins, whom he forcibly carried off by night and who wandered about the country dancing and singing to the scandal of the faithful, caused him much trouble (Epp. 169, 170, 171). To heal the fountain-head, Basil made himself as far as possible master of episcopal elections, and steadily refused to admit any he deemed unworthy of the office. So high became the reputation of his clergy that other bishops sent to him for presbyters to become their coadjutors and successors (Ep. 81). Marriage with a deceased wife's sister he denounced as prohibited by the laws both of Scripture and nature (Ep. 160). Feeble as was his health, his activity was unceasing. He visited every part of his exarchate, and maintained a constant intercourse by letter with confidential friends, who kept him informed of all that passed and were ready to carry out his instructions. He pushed his episcopal activity to the very frontiers of Armenia. In 372 he made an expedition by the express command of Valens, obtained by the urgency of his fast friend count Terentius, to strengthen the episcopate in that country by appointing fresh bishops and infusing fresh life into existing ones (Ep. 99). He was very diligent in preaching, not only at Caesarea and other cities, but in country villages. The details of public worship occupied his attention. Even while a presbyter he arranged forms of prayer (εὺχῶν διατάξεις), probably a liturgy, for the church of Caesarea (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 340). He established nocturnal services, in which the psalms were chanted by alternate choirs, which, as a novelty, gave great offence to the clergy of Neocaesarea (Ep. 207). These incessant labours were carried out by one who, naturally of a weak constitution, had so enfeebled himself by austerities that "when called well, he was weaker than persons who are given over" (Ep. 136). His chief malady, a disease of the liver, caused him repeated and protracted sufferings, often hindering him travelling, the least motion bringing on a relapse (Ep. 202). The severity of winter often kept him a prisoner to his house and often even to his room (Ep. 27). A letter from Eusebius of Samosata arrived when he had been 50 days ill of a fever. "He was eager to fly straight to Syria, but he was unequal to turning in his bed. He hoped for relief from the hot springs" (Ep. 138). He suffered "sickness upon sickness, so that his shell must certainly fail unless God's mercy extricate him from evils beyond man's cure" (Ep. 136). At 45 he calls himself an old man. The next year he had lost all his teeth. Three years before his death all remaining hope of 121life had left him (Ep. 198). He died, prematurely aged, at 50. Seldom did a spirit of so indomitable activity reside in so feeble a frame, and, triumphing over weakness, make it the instrument of such vigorous work for Christ and His church.
In 372 a harassing dispute with Anthimus, bp. of Tyana, touching ecclesiastical jurisdiction, led to the chief personal sorrow of Basil's life, the estrangement of the friend of his youth, Gregory of Nazianzus. The circumstances were these. Towards the close of 371 Valens determined to divide Cappadocia into two provinces. Podandus, a miserable little town at the foot of mount Taurus, was at first named as the chief city of the new province, to which a portion of the executive was to be removed. The inhabitants of Caesarea entreated Basil to go to Constantinople and petition for the rescinding of the edict. His weak health prevented this, but he wrote to Sophronius, a native of Caesarea in a high position at court, and to Aburgius, a man of influence there, begging them to use all their power to alter the emperor's decision. They could not prevent the division of the province, but did obtain the substitution of Tyana for Podandus (Epp. 74-76). Anthimus thereupon insisted that the ecclesiastical division should follow the civil, and claimed metropolitan rights over several of Basil's suffragans. Basil appealed to ancient usage in vain. Anthimus called a council of the bishops who had opposed Basil's election and were ready to exalt his rival. By flattery, intimidation, and even the removal of opponents, Anthimus strengthened his faction. Basil's authority was reduced to a nullity in one-half of his province (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 355; Epp. 31, 33; Bas. Ep. 259). Basil appealed to his friend Gregory, who replied that he would come to his assistance, though Basil wanted him no more than the sea wanted water. He warned Basil that his difficulties were increased by the suspicions created by his intimacy with Eustathius of Sebaste and his friends, whose reputation for orthodoxy was more than doubtful (Greg. Naz. Ep. 25). On Gregory's arrival the two friends started together for the monastery of St. Orestes on mount Taurus, in the second Cappadocia, the property of the see of Caesarea, to collect the produce of the estate. This roused Anthimus's indignation, and despite his advanced age, he occupied the defile, through which the pack-mules had to pass, with his armed retainers. A serious affray resulted, Gregory fighting bravely in his friend's defence (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 356; Ep. 31, Carm. i. 8). Basil erected several new bishoprics as defensive outposts against his rival. One of these was near St. Orestes at Sasima, a wretched little posting-station and frontier custom-house at the junction of three great roads, hot, dry, and dusty, vociferous with the brawls of muleteers, travellers, and excisemen. Here Basil, disregarding Gregory's delicate temperament, determined to place him as bishop. Gregory's weaker character bowed to Basil's iron will, and he was most reluctantly consecrated. But Anthimus appointed a rival bishop, and Gregory took the earliest opportunity of escaping from the unwelcome position which he could only have maintained at the risk of continual conflict, and even bloodshed. [Gregory Nazianzen; Anthimus.] A peace was ultimately patched up, apparently through the intercession of Gregory and the mediation of Eusebius of Samosata and the senate of Tyana. Anthimus was recognised as metropolitan of the new province, each province preserving its own revenues (Bas. Epp. 97, 98, 122). Gregory attributed Basil's action to a high sense of duty, but could never forget that he had sacrificed his friend to that, and the wound inflicted on their mutual attachment was never healed, and even after Basil's death Gregory reproaches him with his unfaithfulness to the laws of friendship. "This lamentable occurrence took place seven years before Basil's death. He had before and after it many trials, many sorrows; but this probably was the greatest of all" (Newman, Church of the Fathers, p. 144).
The Ptochotropheion, or hospital for the reception and relief of the poor, which Basil had erected in the suburbs of Caesarea, afforded his untiring enemies a pretext for denouncing him to Helias, the new president of the province. This establishment, which was so extensive as to go by the name of the "New Town," ἡ καινὴ πόλις (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. p. 359), and subsequently the "Basileiad" after its founder (Soz. vi. 34), included a church, a palace for the bishop, and residences for his clergy and their attendant ministers; hospices for the poor, sick, and wayfarers; and workshops for the artisans and labourers whose services were needed, in which the inmates also might learn and practise various trades. There was a special department for lepers, with arrangements for their proper medical treatment, and on these loathsome objects Basil lavished his chief personal ministrations. By such an enormous establishment Basil, it was hinted, was aiming at undue power and infringing on the rights of the civil authorities. But Basil adroitly parried the blow by reminding the governor that apartments were provided in the building for him and his attendants, and suggesting that the glory of so magnificent an architectural work would redound to him (Ep. 84).
Far more harassing and more lasting troubles arose to Basil from the double dealing of Eustathius, the unprincipled and timeserving bp. of Sebaste. [Eustathius of Sebaste.] Towards the middle of June 372, the venerable Theodotus, bp. of Nicopolis, a metropolitan of Lesser Armenia, a prelate of high character and unblemished orthodoxy, deservedly respected by Basil, had invited him to a festival at Phargamon near his episcopal see. Meletius of Antioch, then in exile in Armenia, was also to be there. Sebaste was almost on the road between Caesarea and Nicopolis, and Basil, aware of the suspicion entertained by Theodotus of the orthodoxy of Eustathius, determined to stop there on his way, and demand a definite statement of his faith. Many hours were spent on fruitless discussion until, at three in the afternoon of the second day, a substantial agreement appeared to have been attained. To remove all doubt of his orthodoxy, 122Basil requested Theodotus to draw up a formulary of faith for Eustathius to sign. To his mortification not only was his request refused, but Theodotus plainly intimated that he had now no wish for Basil's visit. While hesitating whether he should still pursue his journey, Basil received letters from his friend Eusebius of Samosata, stating his inability to come and join him. This at once decided him. Without Eusebius's help he felt himself unequal to face the controversies his presence at Nicopolis would evoke, and he returned home sorrowing that his labours for the peace of the church were unavailing (Epp. 98, 99). A few months later the sensitive orthodoxy of Theodotus prepared another mortification for Basil. In carrying out the commands of Valens, mentioned above, to supply Armenia with bishops, the counsel and assistance of Theodotus as metropolitan was essential. As a first step towards cordial co-operation, Basil sought a conference with Theodotus at Getasa, the estate of Meletius of Antioch, in whose presence he made him acquainted with what had passed between him and Eustathius at Sebaste, and his acceptance of the orthodox faith. Theodotus replied that Eustathius had denied that he had come to any agreement with Basil. To bring the matter to an issue, Basil again proposed that a confession of faith should be prepared, on his signing which his future communion with Eustathius would depend. This apparently satisfied Theodotus, who invited Basil to visit him and inspect his church, and promised to accompany him on his journey into Armenia. But on Basil's arrival at Nicopolis he spurned him with horror (ἐβδελύξατο) as an excommunicated person, and refused to join him at either morning or evening prayer. Thus deserted by one on whose co-operation he relied, Basil had little heart to prosecute his mission, but he continued his journey to Satala, where he consecrated a bishop, established discipline, and promoted peace among the prelates of the province. Basil well knew how to distinguish between his busy detractors and one like Theodotus animated with zeal for the orthodox faith. Generously overlooking his former rudenesses, he reopened communications with him the following year, and visiting Nicopolis employed his assistance in once more drawing up an elaborate confession of faith embodying the Nicene Creed, for Eustathius to sign (Bas. Ep. 125). Eustathius did so in the most formal manner in the presence of witnesses, whose names are appended to the document. But no sooner had this slippery theologian satisfied the requirements of Basil than he threw off the mask, broke his promise to appear at a synodical meeting called by Basil to seal the union between them and their respective adherents, and openly assailed him with the most unscrupulous invectives (Epp. 130, 244). He went so far as to hold assemblies in which Basil was charged with heterodox views, especially on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, and with haughty and overbearing behaviour towards his chorepiscopi and other suffragans. At last Eustathius pushed matters so far as to publish a letter written by Basil twenty-five years before to the heresiarch Apollinaris. It was true that at that time both were laymen, and that it was merely a friendly letter not dealing with theological points, and that Apollinaris had not then developed his heretical views and stood high in the esteem of Athanasius. But its circulation served Eustathius's ends in strengthening the suspicion already existing against Basil as a favourer of false doctrine. The letter as published by Eustathius had been disgracefully garbled, and was indignantly repudiated by Basil. By a most shameful artifice some heretical expressions of Apollinaris, without the author's name, had been appended to Eustathius's own letter accompanying that attributed to Basil, leading to the supposition that they were Basil's own. Basil was overwhelmed with distress at being represented in such false colours to the church, while the ingratitude and treachery of his former friend stung him deeply. He restrained himself, however, from any public expression of his feelings, maintaining a dignified silence for three years (Bas. Epp. 128, 130, 224, 225, 226, 244). During this period of intense trial Basil was much comforted in 374 by the appointment of his youthful friend Amphilochius to the see of Iconium. But the same year brought a severe blow in the banishment of his intimate and confidential counsellor Eusebius of Samosata. At the end of this period (375) Basil, impelled by the calumnies heaped upon him on every side, broke a silence which he considered no longer safe, as tending to compromise the interests of truth, and published a long letter nominally addressed to Eustathius, but really a document intended for the faithful, in which he briefly reviews the history of his life, describes his former intimacy with Eustathius, and the causes which led to the rupture between them, and defends himself from the charges of impiety and blasphemy so industriously circulated (Bas. Epp. 223, 226, 244). It was time indeed that Basil should take some public steps to clear his reputation from the reckless accusations which were showered upon him. He was called a Sabellian, an Apollinarian, a Tritheist, a Macedonian, and his efforts in behalf of orthodoxy in the East were continually thwarted in every direction by the suspicion with which he was regarded. Athanasius, bp. of Ancyra, misled by the heretical writings that had been fathered upon him, spoke in the harshest terms of him (Ep. 25). The bishops of the district of Dazimon in Pontus, giving ear to Eustathius's calumnies, separated themselves from his communion, and suspended all intercourse, and were only brought back to their allegiance by a letter of Basil's, written at the instance of all the bishops of Cappadocia, characterized by the most touching humility and affectionateness (Ep. 203). The alienation of his relative Atarbius and the church of Neocaesarea, of which he was bishop, was more difficult to redress. To be regarded with suspicion by the church of a place so dear to himself, his residence in youth, and the home of many members of his family, especially his sainted grandmother, Macrina, was peculiarly painful. But the tendency of the leading Neocaesareans was Sabellian, and the emphasis with which he was wont to assert the distinctness of the Three Persons was offensive to them. They 123took umbrage also at the favour he shewed to monasticism, and the nocturnal services he had established. Basil wrote in terms of affectionate expostulation to them, and took advantage of the existence of his brother Peter's monastic community at Annesi to pay the locality a visit. But as soon as he was known to be in the neighbourhood a strange panic seized the whole city; some fled, some hid themselves; Basil was everywhere denounced as a public enemy. Atarbius abruptly left the synod at Nicopolis on hearing of Basil's approach. Basil returned, mortified and distressed (Epp. 126, 204, 207, 210). Besides other charges Basil was widely accused of denying the proper divinity of the Holy Spirit. This charge, which, when made by some Cappadocian monks, had been already sternly reproved by Athanasius (Ath. ad. Pall. ii. 763, 764), was revived at a later time on the plea that he had used a form of the doxology open to suspicion, "Glory be to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit"2222Cf. Hooker, Eccl. Pol. V. xlii. 12, "Till Arianism had made it a matter of great sharpness and subtilty of wit to be a sound believing Christian, men were not curious what syllables or particles of speech they used. Upon which when St. Basil began to practise the like indifferency, and to conclude public prayers, glorifying sometime the Father with the Son and the Holy Ghost, sometime the Father by the Son in the Spirit, whereas long custom had inured them to the former kind alone, by means whereof the latter was new and strange in their ears; his needless experiment brought afterwards upon him a necessary labour of excusing himself to his friends and maintaining his own act against them, who because the light of his candle too much drowned theirs, were glad to lay hold on so colourable a matter, and exceedingly forward to traduce him as an author of suspicious innovation." (de Spir. Sanct. c. 1, vol. iii. p. 3). Self-defence was again reluctantly forced on the victim of calumny. He prayed that he might be deserted by the Holy Ghost for ever if he did not adore Him as equal in substance and in honour (ὁμοούσιον καὶ ὁμότιμον) with the Father and the Son (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 365). Similar charges made at the festival of St. Eupsychius in 374 led Amphilochius to request him to declare his views, which he did in his treatise de Spiritu Sancto (§ 1; Ep. 231). Maligned, misrepresented, regarded with suspicion, thwarted, opposed on all hands, few champions of the faith have had a heavier burden to bear than Basil. The history of the Eastern church at this period is indeed little more than a history of his trials and sufferings. But his was not a nature to give way before difficulties the most tremendous and failures the most disheartening. The great object he had set before himself was the restoration of orthodoxy to the Eastern church, and the cementing of its disorganized fragments into one compact body capable of withstanding the attacks of hostile powers. This object he pursued with undaunted perseverance, notwithstanding his feeble health, "which might rather be called the languor of a dying man." Cut to the heart by the miserable spectacle which surrounded him, the persecution of the orthodox, the triumphs of false doctrine, the decay of piety, the worldliness of the clergy, the desecration of the episcopate by ambition and covetousness, rival bishops rending asunder the venerable church of Antioch, Christians wasting in mutual strife the strength that should have been spent in combating the common foe, feeling himself utterly insufficient in his isolation to work the reformation he desired, Basil had looked round eagerly for effectual aid and sympathy. He naturally turned first to that "great and apostolic soul who from boyhood had been an athlete in the cause of religion," the great Athanasius (Epp. 69, 80, 83). In the year 371 he begged his assistance in healing the unhappy schism of Antioch by inducing the Western Church to recognize Meletius, and persuading Paulinus to withdraw. He called on him to stir up the orthodox of the East by his letters, and cry aloud like Samuel for the churches (Epp. 66, 69). In his request about Antioch, Basil "was inviting Athanasius to what was in fact impossible even to the influence and talents of the primate of Egypt; for being committed to one side in the dispute he could not mediate between them. Nothing then came of the application" (J. H. Newman, Church of the Fathers, p. 105). Basil had other requests to urge on Athanasius. He was very desirous that a deputation of Western prelates should be sent to help him in combating the Eastern heretics and reuniting the orthodox, whose authority should overawe Valens and secure the recognition of their decrees. He asked also for the summoning of a council of all the West to confirm the decrees of Nicaea, and annul those of Ariminum (Epp. 66, 69).
Basil next addressed himself to the Western churches. His first letter in 372 was written to Damasus, bp. of Rome, lamenting the heavy storm under which almost the whole Eastern church was labouring, and entreating of his tender compassion, as the one remedy of its evils, that either he, or persons like-minded with him, would personally visit the East with the view of bringing the churches of God to unity, or at least determining with whom the church of Rome should hold communion (Ep. 70). Basil's letters were conveyed to Athanasius and Damasus by Dorotheus, a deacon of Antioch, in communion with Meletius. He returned by way of Alexandria in company with a deacon named Sabinus (afterwards bp. of Piacenza) as bearer of the replies of the Western prelates. These replies were full of expressions of sympathy, but held out no definite prospect of practical help. Something, however, was hoped from the effect of Sabinus's report on his return to the West, as an eye-witness of the lamentable condition of the Eastern church. Sabinus was charged with several letters on his return to Italy. One, bearing the signatures of thirty-two Eastern bishops, including besides Basil, Meletius of Antioch, Eusebius of Samosata, Gregory Nyssen, etc., was addressed to the bishops of Italy and Gaul; another was written in Basil's own name to the bishops of the West generally. There were also private letters to Valerian of Aquileia and others. These letters have a most distressing picture of the state of the East. "Men had learnt to be theorists instead of theologians. The true shepherds were driven away. Grievous 124wolves, spoiling the flock, were brought in instead. The houses of prayer were destitute of preachers, the deserts full of mourners. The faithful laity avoided the churches as schools of impiety. Priestly gravity had perished. There was no restraint on sin. Unbelievers laughed, the weak were unsettled. . . . Let them hasten to the succour of their brethren, nor allow the faith to be extinguished in the lands whence it first shone forth" (Ep. 93). A Western priest, Sanctissimus, who visited the East towards the end of 372—whether travelling as a private individual or deputed by Damasus is uncertain—again brought assurances of the warm attachment and sincere sympathy of the Italian church; but words, however kind, were ineffectual to heal their wounds, and Basil and his friends again sent a vehement remonstrance, beseeching their Western brethren to make the emperor Valentinian acquainted with their wretched condition, and to depute some of their number to console them in their misery, and sustain the flagging faith of the orthodox (Epp. 242, 243). These letters, transmitted by Dorotheus—probably a different person from the former—were no more effectual. The only point gained was that a council—confined, however, to the bishops of Illyria—was summoned in 375 through the instrumentality of Ambrose, by which the consubstantiality of the Three Persons of the Trinity was declared, and a priest named Elpidius dispatched to publish the decrees in Asia and Phrygia. Elpidius was supported by the authority of the emperor Valentinian, who at the same time promulgated a rescript in his own name and that of his brother Valens, who dared not manifest his dissent, forbidding the persecution of the Catholics, and expressing his desire that their doctrines should be everywhere preached (Theod. iv. 8, 9). But the death of Valentinian on Nov. 17, 375, frustrated his good intentions, and the persecution revived with greater vehemence.
The secret of the coldness with which the requests for assistance addressed by the Eastern church were received by the West was partly the suspicion that was entertained of Basil's orthodoxy in consequence of his friendship with Eustathius of Sebaste and other doubtful characters, and the large-heartedness which led him to recognize a real oneness of belief under varying technical formulas, but was principally due to his refusal to recognize the supremacy of the bp. of Rome. His letters were usually addressed to the bishops of the West, and not to the bp. of Rome individually. In all his dealings Basil treats with Damasus as an equal, and asserts the independence of the East. In his eyes the Eastern and Western churches were two sisters with equal prerogatives; one more powerful than the other, and able to render the assistance she needed, but not in any way her superior. This want of deference in his language and behaviour offended not Damasus only, but all who maintained the supremacy of Rome. Jerome accused Basil of pride, and went so far as to assert that there were but three orthodox bishops in the East—Athanasius, Epiphanius, and Paulinus (ad Pammach. 38). His appeals proving ineffectual, Basil's tone respecting Damasus and the Western prelates changed. He began to suspect the real cause of the apathy with which his entreaties for aid had been received, and to feel that no relief could be hoped from their "Western superciliousness" (τῆς δυτικῆς ὀφρύος), and that it was in vain to send emissaries to "one who was high and haughty and sat aloft and would not stoop to listen to the truth from men who stood below; since an elated mind, if courted, is sure to become only more contemptuous" (Epp. 215, 239). But while his hope of assistance from the West lessened, the need for it increased. The persecution of the orthodox by the Arians grew fiercer. "Polytheism had got possession. A greater and a lesser God were worshipped. All ecclesiastical power, all church ordinances, were in Arian hands. Arians baptized; Arians visited the sick; Arians administered the sacred mysteries. Only one offence was severely punished, a strict observance of the traditions of the Fathers. For that the pious were banished, and driven to deserts. No pity was shewn to the aged. Lamentations filled the city, the country, the roads, the deserts. The houses of prayer were closed; the altars forbidden. The orthodox met for worship in the deserts exposed to wind and rain and snow, or to the scorching sun " (Epp. 242, 243). In his dire extremity he once more appealed to the West, now in the language of indignant expostulation. "Why," he asks, "has no writing of consolation come to us, no visitation of the brethren, no other of such attentions as are due to us from the law of love? This is the thirteenth year since the war with the heretics burst upon us. Will you not now at last stretch out a helping hand to the tottering Eastern church, and send some who will raise our minds to the rewards promised by Christ to those who suffer for Him?" (Ep. 242). These letters were dispatched in 376. But still no help came. His reproaches were as ineffectual as his entreaties. A letter addressed to the Western bishops the next year (377) proves that matters had not really advanced a single step beyond the first day. We find him still entreating his Western brethren in the most moving terms to grant him the consolation of a visit. "The visitation of the sick is the greatest commandment. But if the Wise and Good Disposer of human affairs forbids that, let them at least write something that may comfort those who are so grievously cast down." He demands of them "an authoritative condemnation of the Arians, of his enemy Eustathius, of Apollinaris, and of Paulinus of Antioch. If they would only condescend to write and inform the Eastern churches who were to be admitted to communion and who not, all might yet be well" (Ep. 263). The reply brought back by the faithful Dorotheus overwhelmed him with sorrow. Not a finger was raised by the cold and haughty West to help her afflicted sister. Dorotheus had even heard Basil's beloved friends Meletius and Eusebius of Samosata spoken of by Damasus and Peter of Alexandria as heretics, and ranked among the Arians. What wonder if Dorotheus had waxed warm and used some intemperate language 125to the prelates? If he had done so, wrote Basil, let it not be reckoned against him, but put down to Basil's account and the untowardness of the times. The deep despondency which had seized Basil is evidenced by his touching words to Peter of Alexandria: "I seem for my sins to prosper in nothing, since the worthiest brethren are found deficient in gentleness and fitness for their office from not acting in accordance with my wishes " (Ep. 266).
Foiled in all his repeated demands, a deaf ear turned to his most earnest entreaties, the council he had begged for not summoned, the deputation he had repeatedly solicited unsent, Basil's span of life drew to its end amid blasted hopes and apparently fruitless labours for the unity of the faith. It was not permitted him to live to see the Eastern churches, for the purity of whose faith he had devoted all his power, restored to peace and unanimity. "He had to fare on as he best might—admiring, courting, but coldly treated by the Latin world, desiring the friendship of Rome, yet wounded by her superciliousness—suspected of heresy by Damasus, and accused by Jerome of pride" (Newman, Church of the Fathers, p. 115).
Some gleams of brightness were granted to cheer the last days of this dauntless champion of the faith. The invasion of the Goths in 378 gave Valens weightier cares than the support of a tottering heresy, and brought his persecution of the orthodox to an end on the eve of his last campaign, in which he perished after the fatal rout of Hadrianople (Aug. 9, 378). One of the first acts of the youthful Gratian was to recall the banished orthodox prelates, and Basil had the joy of witnessing the event so earnestly desired in perhaps his latest extant letter, the restoration of his beloved friend Eusebius of Samosata (Ep. 268). Basil died in Caesarea, an old man before his time, Jan. 1, 378, in the 50th year of his age. He rallied before his death, and was enabled to ordain with his dying hand some of the most faithful of his disciples. "His death-bed was surrounded by crowds of the citizens, ready," writes his friend Gregory, "to give part of their own life to lengthen that of their bishop." He breathed his last with the words "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." His funeral was attended by enormous crowds, who thronged to touch the bier or the hem of his funeral garments, or even to catch a distant glimpse of his face. The press was so great that several persons were crushed to death, almost the object of envy because they died with Basil. Even Jews and pagans joined in the general lamentations, and it was with some difficulty that the bearers preserved their sacred burden from being torn to pieces by those who were eager to secure a relic of the departed saint. He was buried in his father's sepulchre, "the chief priest being laid to the priests; the mighty voice to the preachers; the martyr to the martyrs" (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 371, 372). In person he was tall and thin, holding himself very erect. His complexion was dark, his face pale and emaciated with close study and austerities; his forehead projecting, with retiring temples. A quick eye, flashing from under finely arched eyebrows, gave light and animation to his countenance. His speech was slow and deliberate. His manner manifested a reserve and sedateness which some of his contemporaries attributed to pride, others to timidity. Gregory says, "It was the self-possession of his character, and composure and polish, which they called pride," and refers not very convincingly to his habit of embracing lepers as a proof of the absence of superciliousness (Or. xx. 360). Basil's pride, indeed, was not the empty arrogance of a weak mind; but a well-grounded confidence in his own powers. His reserve arose partly from natural shyness—he jestingly charges himself with "the want of spirit and sluggishness of the Cappadocians" (Ep. 48)—partly from an unwillingness to commit himself with those of whom he was not sure. It is curious to see the dauntless opponent of Modestus and Valens charged with timidity. The heretic Eunomius after his death accused him of being "a coward and a craven skulking from all severer labours," and spoke contemptuously of his "solitary cottage and close-shut doors, and his flustered look and manner when persons entered unexpectedly" (Greg. Nys. adv. Eunom. i. p. 318). Philostorgius also speaks of Basil as "from timidity of mind withdrawing from public discussions " (H. E. iv. 12). The fact seems to be that Basil was like many who, while shewing intrepid courage when once forced into action, are naturally averse from publicity. He was a great lover of natural beauty, as shewn by his letters. The playful turn of his mind is also seen in many passages of his familiar letters, which sufficiently vindicate him from the charge of austerity of character. In manner he united Oriental gravity with the finished politeness of the Greeks, and sedateness with sweetness; his slightest smile was commendation, and silence was his only rebuke (Greg. Naz. Or. xx. 260, 261).
The voice of antiquity is unanimous in its praise of Basil's literary works (Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 239). Nor has the estimate of modern critics been less favourable. "The style of Basil," writes Dean Milman, "did no discredit to his Athenian education. In purity and perspicuity he surpasses most of the heathen as well as Christian writers of his age" (Hist. of Christianity, iii. 110).
The works of Basil which remain may be classed as: I. Expository, II. Dogmatic, III. Moral, IV. Epistolary, V. Liturgical.
I. Expository.—Cassiodorus records that Basil wrote commentaries on almost all the books of Holy Scripture. The greater part of these are lost. Those that remain are—
1. Hexaemeron.—Nine Homilies on the Six Days' Work of Creation. This is the most celebrated of all his works.
2. Seventeen Homilies on the Psalms.—These were preached ad populum. The first, on the Psalms generally, was translated by Rufinus, and is found prefixed to St. Augustine's Commentaries. The only other homilies that have reached us are those on Ps. 7, 14 (two), 28 (two), 29, 32, 33, 37, 44, 45, 48, 59, 61, and 114 (two).
3. Commentaries on the first Sixteen Chapters of Isaiah, a continuous work.126
1. Five books against Eunomius.—Commended by Jerome (egregii libri), Gregory Nazianzen, and Photius (ἐξαὶρετοι λόγοι).
2. On the Holy Spirit, addressed to Amphilochius and written at his request.
3. On Baptism, two books.
III. Moral and Ascetic.
1. Homilies, against envy, drunkenness, anger, on fasting, etc. A very sensible admonition to a young man how to read the books of heathen writers with profit (Homil. 24), included among these homilies, has been frequently translated and separately published, among others by abp. Potter, 1694. Several homilies are in honour of local martyrs, St. Julitta, St. Barlaam, St. Mammas, etc.
2. On true Virginity, a treatise addressed to Letoius, bp. of Melitene, rejected by Garnier on internal evidence, but generally accepted.
3. Ascetic Writings.2323Sozomen informs us that in his day the ascetic writings commonly attributed to Basil were ascribed by some to his, at one time, friend and companion Eustathius of Sebaste. including—(a) Prefatory Discourse; (b) Discourse on the Renunciation of Worldly Goods; (c) On the Ascetical Life; (d) On Faith; (e) On the Judgment of God, a prologue to the Ethics; (f) Ethics or Morals, under 80 heads, compiled from N.T. ; (g) On the Monastic Institutions, including λόγος ἀσκητικός, and ὑποτύπωσις ἀσκήσεως; (h) The Greater Monastic Rules, ὅροι κατὰ πλάτον, 55 in number (in the form of Basil's answers to questions of his monks), with a proem; (i) The Lesser Rules, ὅροι κατὰ ἐπιτομήν, 313 in number, in the same form of question and answer; (k) Animadversions on Delinquent Monks and Nuns, a very early example of a Poenitentiale; (1) Monastic Constitutions, ἀσκητικαὶ διατάξεις, in 34 chapters.
IV. Epistolary.—In addition to those just mentioned we have a collection of no fewer than 365 letters addressed by Basil to his private and official correspondents, including two attributed to the emperor Julian and twelve to Libanius (cf. F. Loofs, Eustathius von Sebaste und die Chronologie der Basilianischen Briefe, Halle, 1897). Excerpts from some Letters of Basil from papyrus MSS. were published by H. Landwehr: Greek MS. from Fayoum, 1884.
V. Liturgical.—There is no reason to call in question the universal tradition of the East, that Basil was the composer of a liturgy. Those offices, however, which have come down to us under his name have been so largely interpolated at many different periods, that it is impossible to ascertain the correct text of the liturgy as drawn up by him. There are three chief editions of the Liturgy bearing Basil's name: (1) the Greek or Constantinopolitan, (2) the Syriac, translated into Latin by Masius, (3) the Alexandrian, found in Coptic, Greek, and Arabic, which versions concur in establishing one text. Of these, the Constantinopolitan furnishes the surest materials for ascertaining the genuine form.
The standard edition is the Benedictine, pub. at Paris, 1721-1730, by Julian Garnier, in 3 vols. fol., reprinted by Migne, Patr. Gk. vol. 29-32. In Pitra's Analecta (Paris, 1888) some Fragmenta Ascetica and Epitimia, and in Psalmos were ascribed to Basil. An English translation of some selected works and letters and useful Prolegomena are given in Post-Nicene Fathers (Wace and Schaff) by W. Blomfield Jackson, 1895. A revised text of the treatise On the Holy Spirit with notes and intro. is pub. by the Clarendon Press. A cheap popular Life by R. T. Smith is pub. by S.P.C.K. in their Fathers for Eng. Readers.
|« Basilius of Ancyra, a presbyter||Basilius, bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia||Basilius, friend of Chrysostom »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version