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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters (St. Basil of Caesarea) > Letter 69

Letter 69

ST. BASIL OF CAESAREA

To Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria.

1. As time moves on, it continually confirms the opinion which I have long held of your holiness; or rather that opinion is strengthened by the daily course of events. Most men are indeed satisfied with observing, each one, what lies especially within his own province; not thus is it with you, but your anxiety for all the Churches is no less than that which you feel for the Church that has been especially entrusted to you by our common Lord; inasmuch as you leave no interval in speaking, exhorting, writing, and dispatching emissaries, who from time to time give the best advice in each emergency as it arises. Now, from the sacred ranks of your clergy, you have sent forth the venerable brother Peter, whom I have welcomed with great joy. I have also approved of the good object of his journey, which he manifests in accordance with the commands of your excellency, in effecting reconciliation where he finds opposition, and bringing about union instead of division. With the object of offering some contribution to the action which is being taken in this matter, I have thought that I could not make a more fitting beginning than by having recourse to your excellency, as to the head and chief of all, and treating you as alike adviser and commander in the enterprise. I have therefore determined to send to your reverence our brother Dorotheus the deacon, of the Church under the right honourable bishop Meletius, being one who at once is an energetic supporter of the orthodox faith, and is earnestly desirous of seeing the peace of the Churches. The results, I hope, will be, that, following your suggestions (which you are able to make with the less likelihood of failure, both from your age and your experience in affairs, and because you have a greater measure than all others of the aid of the Spirit), he may thus attempt the achievement of our objects. You will welcome him, I am sure, and will look upon him with friendly eyes. You will strengthen him by the help of your prayers; you will give him a letter as provision by the way; you will grant him, as companions, some of the good men and true that you have about you; so you will speed him on the road to what is before him. It has seemed to me to be desirable to send a letter to the bishop of Rome, begging him to examine our condition, and since there are difficulties in the way of representatives being sent from the West by a general synodical decree, to advise him to exercise his own personal authority in the matter by choosing suitable persons to sustain the labours of a journey—suitable, too, by gentleness and firmness of character, to correct the unruly among us here; able to speak with proper reserve and appropriateness, and thoroughly well acquainted with all that has been effected after Ariminum to undo the violent measures adopted there. I should advise that, without any one knowing anything about it, they should travel hither, attracting as little attention as possible, by the sea, with the object of escaping the notice of the enemies of peace.

2. A point also that is insisted upon by some of those in these parts, very necessarily, as is plain even to myself, is that they should drive away the heresy of Marcellus, as grievous and injurious and opposed to the sound faith. For up to this time, in all the letters which they write, they are constant in thoroughly anathematizing the ill-famed Arius and in repudiating him from the Churches. But they attach no blame to Marcellus, who propounded a heresy diametrically opposite to that of Arius, and impiously attacked the very existence of the Only begotten Godhead, and erroneously understood the term Word. He grants indeed that the Only begotten was called Word, on coming forth at need and in season, but states that He returned again to Him whence He had come forth, and had no existence before His coming forth, nor hypostasis after His return. The books in my possession which contain his unrighteous writings exist as a proof of what I say. Nevertheless they nowhere openly condemned him, and are to this extent culpable that, being from the first in ignorance of the truth, they received him into the communion of the Church. The present state of affairs makes it specially necessary that attention should be called to him, so that those who seek for their opportunity, may be prevented from getting it, from the fact of sound men being united to your holiness, and all who are lame in the true faith may be openly known; that so we may know who are on our side, and may not struggle, as in a night battle, without being able to distinguish between friends and foes. Only I do beseech you that the deacon, whom I have mentioned, be dispatched by the earliest possible packet, that at least some of the ends which we pray for may be accomplished during the ensuing year. One thing, however, even before I mention it, you quite understand and I am sure will give heed to, that, when they come, if God will, they must not let loose schisms among the Churches; and, even though they find some who have personal reasons for mutual differences, they must leave no means untried to unite all who are of the same way of thinking. For we are bound to regard the interests of peace as paramount, and that first of all attention be paid to the Church at Antioch, lest the sound portion of it grow diseased through division on personal grounds. But you will yourself give more complete attention to all these matters, so soon as, by the blessing of God, you find every one entrusting to you the responsibility of securing the peace of the Church.

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Source. Translated by Blomfield Jackson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202069.htm>.

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