Correspondence with Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea.
(Perhaps about a.d. 357 or 358; in answer to a letter which is not now extant.)
I have failed, I confess, to keep my promise. I had engaged even at Athens, at the time of our friendship and intimate connection there (for I can find no better word for it), to join you in a life of philosophy. But I failed to keep my promise, not of my own will, but because one law prevailed against another; I mean the law which bids us honour our parents overpowered the law of our friendship and intercourse. Yet I will not fail you altogether, if you will accept this offer. I shall be with you half the time, and half of it you will be with me, that we may have the whole in common, and that our friendship may be on equal terms; and so it will be arranged in such a way that my parents will not be grieved, and yet I shall gain you.
(Written about the same time, in reply to another letter now lost.)
I do not like being joked about Tiberina and its mud and its winters, O my friend, who are so free from mud, and who walk on tiptoe, and trample on the plains. You who have wings and are borne aloft, and fly like the arrows of Abaris, in order that, Cappadocian though you are, you may flee from Cappadocia. Have we done you an injury, because while you are pale and breathing hard and measuring the sun, we are sleek and well fed and not pressed for room? Yet this is your condition. You are luxurious and rich, and go to market. I do not approve of this. Either then cease to reproach us with our mud (for you did not build your city, nor we make our winter), or else for our mud we will bring against you your hucksters, and the rest of the crop of nuisances which infest cities.
(In answer to Ep. XIV., of Basil, about 361.)
You may mock and pull to pieces my affairs, whether in jest or in earnest. This is a matter of no consequence; only laugh, and take your fill of culture, and enjoy my friendship. Everything that comes from you is pleasant to me, no matter what it may be, and how it may look. For I think you are chaffing about things here, not for the sake of chaffing, but that you may draw me to yourself, if I understand you at all; just like people who block up streams in order to draw them into another channel. That is how your sayings always seem to me.
For my part I will admire your Pontus and your Pontic darkness, and your dwelling place so worthy of exile, and the hills over your head, and the wild beasts which test your faith, and your sequestered spot that lies under them...or as I should say your mousehole with the stately names of Abode of Thought, Monastery, School; and your thickets of wild bushes, and crown of precipitous mountains, by which may you be, not crowned but, cloistered; and your limited air; and the sun, for which you long, and can only see as through a chimney, O sunless Cimmerians of Pontus, who are condemned not only to a six months' night, as some are said to be, but who have not even a part of your life out of the shadow, but all your life is one long night, and a real shadow of death, to use a Scripture phrase. And admire your strait and narrow road, leading...I know not if it be to the Kingdom, or to Hades, but for your sake I hope it is the Kingdom...And as for the intervening country, what is your wish? Am I falsely to call it Eden, and the fountain divided into four heads, by which the world is watered, or the dry and waterless wilderness (only what Moses will come to tame it, bringing water out of the rock with his staff)? For all of it which has escaped the rocks is full of gullies; and that which is not a gully is a thicket of thorns; and whatever is above the thorns is a precipice; and the road above that is precipitous, and slopes both ways, exercising the mind of travellers, and calling for gymnastic exercises for safety. And the river rushes roaring down, which to you is a Strymon of Amphipolis for quietness, and there are not so many fishes in it as stones, nor does it flow into a lake, but it dashes into abysses, O my grandiloquent friend and inventor of new names. For it is great and terrible, and overwhelms the psalmody of those who live above it; like the Cataracts and Catadoupa of the Nile, so does it roar you down day and night. It is rough and fordless; and it has only this morsel of kindness about it, that it does not sweep away your dwelling when the torrents and winter storms make it mad. This then is what I think of those Fortunate Islands and of you happy people. And you are not to admire the crescent-shaped curves which strangle rather than cut off the accessible parts of your Highlands, and the strip of mountain ridge that hangs over your heads, and makes your life like that of Tantalus; and the draughty breezes, and the vent-holes of the earth, which refresh your courage when it fails; and your musical birds that sing (but only of famine), and fly about (but only about the desert). No one visits it, you say, except for hunting; you might add, and except to look upon your dead bodies. This is perhaps too long for a letter, but it is too short for a comedy. If you can take my jokes kindly you will do well, but if not, I will send you some more.
(Circa a.d. 361.)
Since you do take my jokes kindly, I send you the rest. My prelude is from Homer.
Come now and change your theme,
And sing of the inner adornment.
— Od. viii. 492.
Your roofless and doorless hut, your fireless and smokeless hearth, your walls dried by fire, that we may not be hit by the drops of the mud, condemned like Tantalus thirsting in the midst of waters, and that pitiable feast with nothing to eat, to which we were invited from Cappadocia, not as to a Lotus-eater's poverty, but to a table of Alcinous— we young and miserable survivors of a wreck. For I remember those loaves and the broth (so it was called), yes, and I shall remember them too, and my poor teeth that slipped on your hunks of bread, and then braced themselves up, and pulled themselves as it were out of mud. You yourself will raise these things to a higher strain of tragedy, having learned to talk big through your own sufferings...for if we had not been quickly delivered by that great supporter of the poor— I mean your mother— who appeared opportunely like a harbour to men tossed by a storm, we should long ago have been dead, rather pitied than admired for our faith in Pontus. How shall I pass over that garden which was no garden and had no vegetables, and the Augean dunghill which we cleared out of the house, and with which we filled it up (sc. the garden), when we drew that mountainous wagon, I the vintager, and you the valiant, with our necks and hands, which still bear the traces of our labours.
O earth and sun, O air and virtue (for I will indulge a little in tragic tones), not that we might bridge the Hellespont, but that we might level a precipice. If you are not put out by the mention of the circumstances, no more am I; but if you are, how much more was I by the reality. I pass by the rest, through respect for the others from whom I received much enjoyment.
(Written about the same time, in a more serious vein.)
What I wrote before about our stay in Pontus was in joke, not in earnest; what I write now is very much in earnest. O that one would place me as in the month of those former days, Job 29:2 in which I luxuriated with you in hard living; since voluntary pain is more valuable than involuntary delight. O that one would give me back those psalmodies and vigils and those sojournings with God in prayer, and that immaterial, so to speak, and unbodied life. O for the intimacy and one-souledness of the brethren who were by you divinized and exalted: O for the contest and incitement of virtue which we secured by written Rules and Canons; O for the loving labour in the Divine Oracles, and the light we found in them by the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Or, if I may speak of lesser and slighter matters, O for the daily courses and experiences; O for the gatherings of wood, and the cutting of stone; O for the golden plane-tree, more precious than that of Xerxes, under which sat, not a King enfeebled by luxury, but a Monk worn out by hard life, which I planted and Apollos (I mean your honourable self) watered; 1 Corinthians 3:6 but God gave the increase to our honour, that a memorial might remain among you of my diligence, as in the Ark we read and believe, did Aaron's rod that budded. Numbers 17:8, 10 To long for all this is very easy, but it is not easy to attain it. But do you come to me, and conspire with me in virtue, and co-operate with me, and aid me by your prayers to keep the profit which we used to get together, that I may not perish little by little, like a shadow as the day draws to its close. I would rather breathe you than the air, and only live while I am with you, either actually in your presence, or virtually by your likeness in your absence.
(Written to S. Basil shortly after his Ordination as Priest, probably toward the end of a.d. 362.)
I approve the beginning of your letter; but what is there of yours that I do not approve? And you are convicted of having written just like me; for I, too, was forced into the rank of the Priesthood, for indeed I never was eager for it. We are to one another, if ever any men were, trustworthy witnesses of our love for a humble and lowly philosophy. But perhaps it would have been better that this had not happened, or I know not what to say, as long as I am in ignorance of the purpose of the Holy Ghost. But since it has come about, we must bear it, at least so it seems clear to me; and especially when we take the times into consideration, which are bringing in upon us so many heretical tongues, and must not put to shame either the hopes of those who have trusted us thus, or our own lives.
(This Epistle should be read in connection with the three addressed to Eusebius of Cæsarea, to which it refers. For the circumstances see General Prolegomena, § 1, p. 194.)
It is a time for prudence and endurance, and that we should not let anyone appear to be of higher courage than ourselves, or let all our labours and toils be in an instant brought to nothing. Why do I write this, and wherefore? Our Bishop Eusebius, very dear to God (for so we must for the future both think and write of him), is very much disposed to agreement and friendship with us; and as fire softens iron, so has time softened him; and I think a letter of appeal and invitation will come to you from him, as he intimated to me, and as many persons who are well acquainted with his affairs assure me. Let us be beforehand with him then, either by going to him, or by writing to him; or rather by first writing and then going; in order that we may not by and by be put to shame by being defeated when it was in our power to secure a victory by being honourably and philosophically beaten, which so many are asking from us. Be persuaded by me then, and come; both on this account and on account of the bad times; for a conspiracy of heretics is assailing the Church; some of them are here now, and are troubling us; and others, rumour says, are coming; and there is reason to fear lest the Word of Truth should be swept away, unless there be stirred up very soon the spirit of a Bezaleel, the wise Master builder of such arguments and dogmas. If you think I ought to go too, to stay with you and travel with you, I will not refuse to do even this.
(We insert here the three letters to Eusebius, which are so closely connected with the above as not to seem out of place.)
Since I am addressing a man who does not love falsehood, and who is the keenest man I know at detecting it in another, however it may be twined in skilful and varied labyrinths; and, moreover, on my own part I will say it, though against the grain I do not like artifice, either, both from my natural constitution, and because God's Word has formed me so. Therefore I write what presents itself to my mind; and I beg you to excuse my plain speaking, or you will wrong the truth by depriving me of my liberty, and forcing me to restrain within myself the pain of my grief, like some secret and malignant disease. I rejoice that I have your respect (for I am a man, as some one has said before), and that I am summoned to Synods and spiritual conferences. But I am troubled at the slight which has been inflicted on my most Reverend brother Basil, and is still inflicted on him by Your Reverence; for I chose him as the companion of my life and words and highest philosophy, and he is so still; and I never had reason to regret my judgment of him. It is more temperate to speak thus of him, that I may not seem to be praising myself in admiring him. You, however, I think, by honouring me and dishonouring him, seem to be acting like a man who should with one hand stroke a man's head, and with the other hand strike him on the face; or while tearing up the foundations of a house should paint the walls and decorate the exterior. If then you will listen to me, this is what you will do, and I claim to be listened to, for this is justice. If you will pay due attention to him, he will do the like by you. And I will follow him as a shadow does the body, being of little worth and inclined to peace. For I am not so mean as to be willing in other respects to philosophize, and to be of the better part, but to overlook a matter which is the end of all our teaching, namely love; especially in regard to a Priest, and one of so high a character, and one whom I know of all my acquaintances to be the best both in life and doctrine and conduct. For my pain shall not obscure the truth.
I did not write in an insolent spirit, as you complain of my letter, but rather in a spiritual and philosophical one, and as was fitting, unless this too wrongs
your most eloquent Gregory. For though you are my Superior in rank, yet you will grant me something of liberty and just freedom of speech. Therefore be kinder to me. But if you regard my letter as coming from a servant, and from one who has not the right even to look you in the face, I will in this instance accept your stripes and not even shed a tear. Will you blame me for this also? That would befit anyone rather than your Reverence. For it is the part of a high-souled man to accept more readily the freedom of a friend than the flattery of an enemy.
I was never meanly disposed towards your Reverence; do not find me guilty. But after allowing myself a little liberty and boldness, just to relieve and heal my grief, I at once bowed and submitted, and willingly subjected myself to the Canon. What else could I have done, knowing both you and the Law of the Spirit? But if I had been ever so mean and ignoble in my sentiments, yet the present time would not allow such feelings, nor the wild beasts which are rushing on the Church, nor your own courage and manliness, so purely and genuinely fighting for the Church. I will come then, if you wish it, and take part with you in prayers and in conflict, and will serve you, and like cheering boys will stir up the noble athlete by my exhortations.
(About the middle of the year 370. On the death of Eusebius Basil seems to have formed a desire that his friend Gregory should succeed to the vacant Metropolitanate; and so he wrote to him, without mentioning the death of the Archbishop, to come to him at Cæsarea, representing himself as dangerously ill. Gregory, deeply grieved at the news, set off at once, but had not proceeded far on his way when he learned that Basil was in his usual health, and that the Bishops of the Province were assembling at Cæsarea for the Election of a Metropolitan. He saw through the artifice at once; and thinking that Basil had wished to secure his presence at the Metropolis in order that his influence might bring about his own (Basil's) Election, he wrote him the following indignant letter. Nevertheless both he and his father felt that no one was so well fitted to succeed to the vacant throne; and so Gregory wrote in his father's name the three letters which we have placed next, addressed respectively to the people of Cæsarea, to the Bishops attending the Synod, and to Eusebius Bishop of Samosata.)
Do not be surprized if I say something strange, which has not been said before by anyone. I think you have the reputation of being a steady safe and strong-minded man, but also of being more simple than safe in much that you plan and do. For that which is free from evil is also in proportion slow to suspect evil, as is shown by what has just occurred. You have summoned me to the Metropolis at the moment when a council has been called for the election of a Bishop, and your pretext is very seemly and plausible. You pretend to be very ill, indeed at your last breath, and to long to see me and to bid me a last farewell; I do not know with what object, even what my presence can effect in the matter. I started in great grief at what had happened; for what could be of higher value to me than your life, or more distressing than your departure? And I shed a fountain of tears; and I wailed aloud; and I felt myself now for the first time unphilosophically disposed. What did I leave unperformed of all that befits a funeral? But as soon as I found that the Bishops were assembling at the City, at once I stopped short in my course; and I wondered first that you had not perceived what was proper, or guarded against people's tongues, which are so given to slander the guileless; and secondly that you did not think the same course to be fitting for me as for yourself, though our life and our rule and everything is common to us both, who have been so closely associated by God from the first. Thirdly, for I must say this also, I wondered whether you remembered that such nominations are worthy of the more religious, not of the more powerful, nor of those most in favour with the multitude. For these reasons then I backed water, and held back. Now, if you think as I do, come to this determination, to avoid these public turmoils and evil suspicions. I shall see your Reverence when the matters are settled and time allows, and I shall have more and graver reproaches to address to you.
I am a little shepherd, and preside over a tiny flock, and I am among the least of the servants of the Spirit. But Grace is not narrow, or circumscribed by place. Wherefore let freedom of speech be given even to the small—especially when the subject matter is of such great importance, and one in which all are interested— even to deliberate with men of hoary hairs, who speak with perhaps greater wisdom than the ordinary run of men. You are deliberating on no ordinary or unimportant matter, but on one by which the common interest must necessarily be promoted or injured according to the decision at which you arrive. For our subject matter is the Church, for which Christ died, and the guide who is to present it and lead it to God. For the light of the body is the eye, Matthew 6:22 as we have heard; not only the bodily eye which sees and is seen, but that which contemplates and is contemplated spiritually. But the light of the Church is the Bishop, as is evident to you even without our writing it. As then the straightness or crookedness of the course of the body depends upon the clearness or dulness of the eye, so must the Church necessarily share the peril or safety incurred by the conduct of its Chief. You must then take thought for the whole Church as the Body of Christ, but more especially for your own, which was from the beginning and is now the Mother of almost all the Churches, to which all the Commonwealth looks, like a circle described round a centre, not only because of its orthodoxy proclaimed of old to all, but also because of the grace of unanimity so evidently bestowed upon it by God. You then have summoned us also to your discussion of this matter, and so are acting rightly and canonically. But we are oppressed by age and infirmity, and if we by the strength given us by the Holy Ghost could be present (nothing is incredible to them that believe), this would be best for the common welfare and most pleasant to ourselves, that we might confer something on you, and ourselves have a part of the blessing; but if I should be kept away through weakness, I will give at any rate whatever can be given by one who is absent.
I believe that there are others among you worthy of the Primacy, both because of the greatness of your city, and because it has been governed in times past so excellently and by such great men; but there is one man among you to whom I cannot prefer any, our son well beloved of God, Basil the Priest (I speak before God as my witness); a man of pure life and word, and alone, or almost alone, of all qualified in both respects to stand against the present times, and the prevailing wordiness of the heretics. I write this to men of the priestly and monastic Orders, and also to the dignitaries and councillors, and to the whole people. If you should approve it, and my vote should prevail, being so just and right, and given with God's aid, I am and will be with you in spirit; or rather I have already set my hand to the work and am bold in the Spirit. But if you should not agree with me, but determine something else, and if the matter is to be settled by cliques and relationships, and if the hand of the mob is again to disturb the sincerity of your vote, do what pleases you— I shall stay at home.
(The comprovincial Bishops had notified the elder Gregory of their Synod, but without mentioning its date or purpose or inviting him to take part in it— probably because they knew how strongly he would support the election of Basil, to which they were unfavourable. S. Gregory therefore wrote the following letter in his father's name.)
How sweet and kind you are, and how full of love. You have invited me to the Metropolis, because, as I imagine, you are going to take some counsel about a Bishop. So much I learn from you, though you have not told me either that I am to be present, or why, or when, but have merely announced to me suddenly that you were setting out, as though resolved not to respect me, and as not desirous that I should share your counsels, but rather putting a hindrance in the way of my coming, that you may not meet me even against my will. This is your way of action, and I will put up with the insult, but I will set before you my view and how I feel. Various people will put forward various candidates, each according to his own inclinations and interests, as is usually the case at such times. But I cannot prefer anyone, for my conscience would not allow it, to my dear son and fellow priest Basil. For whom of all my acquaintance do I find more approved in his life, or more powerful in his word, or more furnished altogether with the beauty of virtue? But if you allege weak health against him, I reply that we are choosing not an athlete but a teacher. And at the same time is seen in this case the power of Him that strengthens and supports the weak, if such they be. If you accept this vote I will come and take part, either in spirit or in body. But if you are marching to a foregone conclusion, and faction is to overrule justice, I shall rejoice to have been overlooked. The work must be yours; but pray for me.
(There still seemed a probability that intrigues and party spirit would carry the day, and so the two Gregories determined to call in the aid of Eusebius of Samosata, though he did not belong to the Province. He had been a conspicuous champion of orthodoxy against the Arian Emperor Valens, and the Gregories hoped much from his presence at the Synod. He responded to their appeal, and undertook the three hundred miles of very difficult travelling to throw in his influence with the cause which they had at heart. He saw, however, that it was necessary that the aged Bishop of Nazianzus, notwithstanding his years and infirmities, should make the effort, and he persuaded him to go. The result was all that could be desired; for Basil was elected by a unanimous vote. The letter, which S. Gregory wrote in his own name to thank him, will be found later on.)
O that I had the wings of a dove, or that my old age could be renewed, that I might be able to go to your charity, and to satisfy the longings that I have to see you, and to tell you the troubles of my soul, and in you to find some comfort for my afflictions. For since the death of the blessed Bishop Eusebius I am not a little afraid lest they who on a former occasion set traps for our Metropolis, and wanted to fill it with heretical tares, should now seize the opportunity, and uproot by their evil teaching the piety which has with so much labour been sown in the hearts of men, and should tear asunder its unity, as they have done in many Churches. As soon as I received letters from the Clergy asking me not to forget them in their present circumstances, I looked round about me, and remembered your love and your right faith and the zeal with which you are ever possessed for the Churches of God; and therefore I sent my beloved Eustathius, my Deacon and helper, to warn your Reverence, and to entreat you, in addition to all your toils for the Churches, to meet me, and both to refresh my old age by your coming, and to establish in the Orthodox Church that piety which is so famous, by giving her with us (if we may be deemed worthy to have a share with you in the good work) a Shepherd according to the will of the Lord, who shall be able to rule His people. For we have a man before our eyes, and you are not unacquainted with him; and if we are permitted to obtain him I know that we shall acquire great boldness towards God, and shall confer a very great benefit upon the people who have called upon our aid. I beg you again and again to put away all delay, and to come to us before the bad weather of the winter sets in.
(After the Consecration every one thought that Gregory would at once join his friend; and Basil himself much wished for his assistance. But Gregory thought it better to restrain his desire to see his friend until jealousies had time to calm down. So he wrote the following letter to explain the reasons for his staying away at this juncture.)
When I learned that you had been placed on the lofty throne, and that the Spirit had prevailed to publish the candle upon the candlestick, which even before shone with no dim light, I was glad, I confess. Why should I not be, seeing as I did that the commonwealth of the Church was in sorry plight, and needed such a guiding hand? Yet I did not run to you off hand, nor shall I run to you, not even if you ask me yourself. First, in order that I may be careful of your dignity, and that you may not seem to be collecting partisans under the influence of bad taste and hot temper, as your calumniators would say; and secondly that I may make for myself a reputation for stability, and above illwill. When then will you come, perhaps you will ask, and how long will you put it off? As long as God shall bid me, and until the shadow of the present enmity and slander shall have passed away. For the lepers, I well know, will not hold out very long to keep our David out of Jerusalem.
(The new Archbishop seems not to have been satisfied with the reasons given in Gregory's last letter; so the latter writes again.)
How can any affairs of yours be mere grape-gleanings to me, O dear and sacred friend?
What a word has escaped the fence of your teeth, or how could you dare to say such a thing, if I too may be somewhat daring? How could your mind set it going, or your ink write it, or your paper receive it, O lectures and Athens and virtues and literary labours! You almost make me write a tragedy by what you have written. Do you not know me or yourself, you eye of the world, and great voice and trumpet and palace of learning? Your affairs trifles to Gregory? What then on earth could any one admire, if Gregory admire not you? There is one spring among the seasons, one sun among the stars, and one heaven that embraces all things; and so your voice is unique among all things, if I am capable of judging such things, and not deceived by my affection— and this I do not think to be the case. But if it is because I do not value you according to your worth that you blame me, you must also blame all mankind; for no one else has or will sufficiently admire you, unless it be yourself, and your own eloquence, at least if it were possible to praise oneself, and if such were the custom of our speech. But if you are accusing me of despising you, why not rather of being mad? Or are you vexed because I am acting like a philosopher? Give me leave to say that this and this alone is higher than even your conversation.
(The division of the civil Province of Cappadocia into two Provinces in the year 372 was followed by ecclesiastical troubles. Anthimus, the Bishop of Tyana, the civil metropolis of the new division of Cappadocia Secunda, maintained that the Ecclesiastical divisions must necessarily follow the civil, and by consequence claimed for himself that the purely civil action of the State had ipso facto elevated him to the dignity of Metropolitan of the new Province; and this pretension was supported by the Bishops of that district, who were as a rule not well disposed towards the great Archbishop. The next three letters are connected with this dispute.)
I hear that you are being troubled by this fresh innovation, and are being worried by some sophistical and not unusual officiousness on the part of those in power; and it is not to be wondered at. For I was not ignorant of their envy, or of the fact that many of those around you are making use of you to further their own interests, and are kindling the spark of meanness. I have no fear of seeing you unphilosophically affected by your troubles, or in any way unworthy of yourself and me. Nay, I think that it is now above all that my Basil will be known, and that the philosophy which all your life you have been collecting will show itself, and will overcome the abuse as with a high wave; and that you will remain unshaken while others are being troubled. If you think it well, I will come myself and perhaps shall be able to give you some assistance by my counsel (if the sea needs water, you do counsel!); but in any case I shall derive benefit, and shall learn philosophy by bearing my part of the abuse.
(Shortly after the events described above, Basil determined to strengthen his own hands by creating a number of new Bishoprics in the disputed Province, to one of which, Sasima, he consecrated Gregory, very much against the will of the latter, who felt that he had been hardly used, and did not attempt to disguise his reluctance. See Gen. Prolegg. p. 195.)
Do leave off speaking of me as an ill-educated and uncouth and unfriendly man, not even worthy to live, because I have ventured to be conscious of the way in which I have been treated. You yourself would admit that I have not done wrong in any other respect, and my own conscience does not reproach me with having been unkind to you in either great or small matters; and I hope it never may. I only know that I saw that I had been deceived— too late indeed, but I saw it— and I throw the blame on your throne, as having on a sudden lifted you above yourself; and I am weary of being blamed for faults of yours, and of having to make excuses for them to people who know both our former and our present relations. For of all that I have to endure this is the most ridiculous or most pitiable thing, that the same person should have both to suffer the wrong and to bear the blame, and this is my present case. Different people blame me for different things according to the tastes of each, or each man's disposition, or the measure of their ill feeling on my account; but the kindest reproach me with contempt and disdain, and they throw me on one side after making use of me, like the most valueless vessels, or those frames upon which arches are built, which after the building is complete are taken down and cast aside. We will let them be and say what they please; no one shall curb their freedom of speech. And do you, as my reward, pay off those blessed and empty hopes, which you devised against the evil speakers, who accused you of insulting me on pretence of honouring me, as though I were lightminded and easily taken in by such treatment. Now I will plainly speak out the state of my mind, and you must not be angry with me. For I will tell you just what I said at the moment of the suffering, not in a fit of anger or so much in the sense of astonishment at what had happened as to lose my reason or not to know what I said. I will not take up arms, nor will I learn tactics which I did not learn in former times, when the occasion seemed more suitable, as every one was arming and in frenzy (you know the illness of the weak), nor will I face the martial Anthimus, though he be an untimely warrior, being myself unarmed and unwarlike, and thus the more exposed to wounds. Fight with him yourself if you wish (for necessity often makes warriors even of the weak), or look out for some one to fight when he seizes your mules, keeping guard over a defile, and like Amalek of old, barring the way against Israel. Give me before all things quiet. Why should I fight for sucking pigs and fowls, and those not my own, as though for souls and canons? Why should I deprive the Metropolis of the celebrated Sasima, or lay bare and unveil the secret of your mind, when I ought to join in concealing it? Do you then play the man and be strong and draw all parties to your own conclusion, as the rivers do the winter torrents, without regard for friendship or intimacy in good, or for the reputation which such a course will bring you. Give yourself up to the Spirit alone. I shall gain this only from your friendship, that I shall learn not to trust in friends, or to esteem anything more valuable than God.
You accuse me of laziness and idleness, because I did not accept your Sasima, and because I have not bestirred myself like a Bishop, and do not arm you against each other like a bone thrown into the midst of dogs. My greatest business always is to keep free from business. And to give you an idea of one of my good points, so much do I value freedom from business, that I think I might even be a standard to all men of this kind of magnanimity, and if only all men would imitate me the Churches would have no troubles; nor would the faith, which every one uses as a weapon in his private quarrels, be pulled in pieces.
(At the request of Anthimus it would appear that S. Gregory wrote to S. Basil a letter, not now extant, proposing a conference between the rival Metropolitans. Basil took umbrage at the well-meant proposal, and wrote a stiff letter to S. Gregory, to which the following is the reply.)
How hotly and like a colt you skip in your letters. Nor do I wonder that when you have just become the property of glory you should wish to show me what you find glory to be, so that you may make yourself more majestic, like those painters who picture the seasons. But, to explain the whole matter about the Bishops, and the letter by which you were annoyed; what was my starting point, and how far I went, and where I stopped, appears to me to be too long a matter for a letter, and to be a subject not so much for an apology as for a history. To explain it to you concisely:— the most noble Anthimus came to us with certain Bishops, whether to visit my Father (this at least was the pretext), or to act as he did act. He sounded me in many ways and on many subjects; dioceses, the marshes of Sasima, my ordination,...flattering, questioning, threatening, pleading, blaming, praising, drawing circles round himself, as though I ought only to look at him and his new Metropolis, as being the greater. Why, I said, do you draw your line to include our city, for we too deem our Church to be really a Mother of Churches, and that too from ancient times? In the end he went away without having gained his object, much out of breath, and reproaching me with Basilism, as if it were a kind of Philipism. Do you think I did you wrong in this? And now look at the letter from me, who, you say, insulted you. They fashioned a Synodal summons to me; and when I declined it and said that the thing was an insult, they then asked as an alternative that through me you should be invited to deliberate upon these matters. This I promised, in order to prevent their first plan being carried out; placing the whole matter in your hands, if you choose to call them together, and where and when. And if I have not injured you in this, tell me where there is room for injury. If you have to learn this from me, I will read you the letter which Anthimus sent me, after invading the marshes, notwithstanding my prohibitions and threats, insulting and reviling me, and as it were singing a song of triumph over my defeat. And what reason is there that I should offend him for your sake and at the same time displease you, as though I were currying favour with him? You ought to have learned this first, my dear friend; and even if it had been so, you should not have insulted me—if only because I am a Priest. But if you are very much disposed to ostentation and quarrelsomeness, and speak as my Superior— as the Metropolitan to an insignificant Suffragan, or even as to a Bishop without a See— I too have a little pride to set against yours. That is very easy to anybody, and is perhaps the most suitable course.
(An attack had been made in Gregory's presence on the orthodoxy of Basil in respect of the Deity of God the Holy Ghost; and in this letter he gives his friend an account of the way in which he had defended him. Unfortunately Basil was not pleased with the letter, taking it as intended to convey reproach under the guise of friendly sympathy.)
From the first I have taken you, and I take you still, for my guide of life and my teacher of the faith, and for every thing honourable that can be said; and if any one else praises your merits, he is altogether with me, or even behind me, so far am I surpassed by your piety, and so thoroughly am I yours. And no wonder; for the longer the intimacy the greater the experience; and where the experience is more abundant the testimony is more perfect. And if I get any profit in life it is from your friendship and company. This is my disposition in regard to these matters, and I hope always will be. What I now write I write unwillingly, but still I write it. Do not be angry with me, or I shall be very angry myself, if you do not give me credit for both saying and writing it out of goodwill to you.
Many people have condemned us as not firm in our faith; those, I mean, who think and think rightly that we thoroughly agree. Some openly charge us with heresy, others with cowardice; with heresy, those who believe that our language is not sound; with cowardice, they who blame our reserve. I need not report what other people say; I will tell you what has recently happened.
There was a party here at which a great many distinguished friends of ours were present, and among them was a man who wore the name and dress which betoken piety (i.e. a Monk). They had not yet begun to drink, but were talking about us, as often happens at such parties, and made us rather than anything else the subject of their conversation. They admired everything connected with you, and they brought me in as professing the same philosophy; and they spoke of our friendship, and of Athens, and of our conformity of views and feelings on all points. Our Philosopher was annoyed by this.
What is this, gentlemen? he said, with a very mighty shout,
what liars and flatterers you are. You may praise these men for other reasons if you like, and I will not contradict you; but I cannot concede to you the most important point, their orthodoxy. Basil and Gregory are falsely praised; the former, because his words are a betrayal of the faith, the latter, because his toleration aids the treason.
What is this, said I, O vain man and new Dathan and Abiram in folly? Where do you come from to lay down the law for us? How do you set yourself up as a judge of such great matters?
I have just come, he replied,
from the festival of the Martyr Eupsychius , (and so it really was), and there I heard the great Basil speak most beautifully and perfectly upon the Godhead of the Father and the Son, as hardly anyone else could speak; but he slurred over the Spirit. And he added a sort of illustration from rivers, which pass by rocks and hollow out sand.
As for you my good sir, he said, looking at me,
you do now express yourself openly on the Godhead of the Spirit, and he referred to some remarks of mine in speaking of God at a largely attended Synod, as having added in respect of the Spirit that expression which has made a noise, (how long shall we hide the candle under the bushel?)
It is, I said,
because I (living as I do in a corner, and unknown to most men who do not know what I say, and hardly that I speak at all) can philosophize without danger; but his word is of greater weight, because he is better known, both on his own account and on that of his Church. And everything that he says is public, and the war around him is great, as the heretics try to snatch every naked word from Basil's lips, to get him expelled from the Church; because he is almost the only spark of truth left and the vital force, all else around having been destroyed; so that evil may be rooted in the city, and may spread over the whole world as from a centre in that Church. Surely then it is better to use some reserve in the truth, and ourselves to give way a little to circumstances as to a cloud, rather than by the openness of the proclamation to risk its destruction. For no harm will come to us if we recognize the Spirit as God from other phrases which lead to this conclusion (for the truth consists not so much in sound as in sense), but a very great injury would be done to the Church if the truth were driven away in the person of one man. The company present would not receive my economy, as out of date and mocking them; but they shouted me down as practising it rather from cowardice than for reason. It would be much better, they said, to protect our own people by the truth, than by your so-called Economy to weaken them while failing to win over the others. It would be a long business and perhaps unnecessary to tell you all the details of what I said, and of what I heard, and how vexed I was with the opponents, perhaps immoderately and contrary to my own usual temper. But, in fine, I sent them away in the same fashion. But do you O divine and sacred head, instruct me how far I ought to go in setting forth the Deity of the Spirit; and what words I ought to use, and how far to use reserve; that I may be furnished against opponents. For if I, who more than any one else know both you and your opinions, and have often both given and received assurance on this point, still need to be taught the truth of this matter, I shall be of all men the most ignorant and miserable.
(The reply to Basil's somewhat angry answer to the last.)
This was a case which any wiser man would have foreseen; but I who am very simple and foolish did not fear it in writing to you. My letter grieved you; but in my opinion neither rightly nor justly, but quite unreasonably. And while you did not acknowledge that you were hurt, neither did you conceal it, or if you did it was with great skill, as with a mask, hiding your vexation under an appearance of respect. But as to myself if I acted in this deceitfully or maliciously, I shall be punished not more by your vexation than by the truth itself; but if in simplicity and with my accustomed goodwill, I will lay the blame on my own sins rather than on your temper. But it would have been better to have set this matter straight, rather than to be angry with those who offer you counsel. But you must see to your own affairs, inasmuch as you are quite capable of giving the same advice to others. You may look upon me as very ready, if God will, both to come to you, and to join you in the conflict, and to contribute all that I can. For who would flinch, who would not rather take courage in speaking and contending for the truth under you and by your side?
(Gregory was not able, owing to the serious illness of his Mother, to carry out the promise at the end of Ep. LIX.; so he writes to explain and excuse himself.)
The Carrying Out of your bidding depends partly on me; but partly, and I venture to think principally, on your Reverence. What depends on me is the good will and eagerness, for I never yet avoided meeting you, but have always sought opportunities, and at the present moment am even more desirous of doing so. What depends on your Holiness is that my affairs be set straight. For I am sitting by my lady Mother, who has for a long time been suffering from illness. And if I could leave her out of danger you might be well assured that I would not deprive myself of the pleasure of going to you. So give me the help of your prayers for her restoration to health, and for my journey to you.
Source. Translated by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3103b.htm>.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.