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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters (St. Basil of Caesarea) > Letter 210

Letter 210

ST. BASIL OF CAESAREA

To the notables of Neocæsarea.

I am really under no obligation to publish my own mind to you, or to state the reasons for my present sojourn where I am; it is not my custom to indulge in self advertisement, nor is the matter worth publicity. I am not, I think, following my own inclinations; I am answering the challenge of your leaders. I have always striven to be ignored more earnestly than popularity hunters strive after notoriety. But, I am told, the ears of everybody in your town are set a thrilling, while certain tale-mongers, creators of lies, hired for this very work, are giving you a history of me and my doings. I therefore do not think that I ought to overlook your being exposed to the teaching of vile intention and foul tongue; I think that I am bound to tell you myself in what position I am placed. From my childhood I have been familiar with this spot, for here I was brought up by my grandmother; hither I have often retreated, and here I have spent many years, when endeavouring to escape from the hubbub of public affairs, for experience has taught me that the quiet and solitude of the spot are favourable to serious thought. Moreover as my brothers are now living here, I have gladly retired to this retreat, and have taken a brief breathing time from the press of the labours that beset me, not as a centre from which I might give trouble to others, but to indulge my own longing.

2. Where then is the need of having recourse to dreams and of hiring their interpreters, and making me matter for talk over the cups at public entertainments? Had slander been launched against me in any other quarter, I should have called you to witness to prove what I think, and now I ask every one of you to remember those old days when I was invited by your city to take charge of the education of the young, and a deputation of the first men among you came to see me. Afterwards, when you all crowded round me, what were you not ready to give? What not to promise? Nevertheless you were not able to keep me. How then could I, who at that time would not listen when you invited me, now attempt to thrust myself on you uninvited? How could I, who when you complimented and admired me, avoided you, have been intending to court you now that you calumniate me? Nothing of the kind, sirs; I am not quite so cheap. No man in his senses would go on board a boat without a steersman, or get alongside a Church where the men sitting at the helm are themselves stirring up tempest and storm. Whose fault was it that the town was all full of tumult, when some were running away with no one after them, and others stealing off when no invader was near, and all the wizards and dream-tellers were flourishing their bogeys? Whose fault was it else? Does not every child know that it was the mob-leaders'? The reasons of their hatred to me it would be bad taste on my part to recount; but they are quite easy for you to apprehend. When bitterness and division have come to the last pitch of savagery, and the explanation of the cause is altogether groundless and ridiculous, then the mental disease is plain, dangerous indeed to other people's comfort, but greatly and personally calamitous to the patient. And there is one charming point about them. Torn and racked with inward agony as they are, they cannot yet for very shame speak out about it. The state they are in may be known not only from their behaviour to me, but from the rest of their conduct. If it were unknown, it would not much matter. But the veritable cause of their shunning communication with me may be unperceived by the majority among you. Listen; and I will tell you.

3. There is going on among you a movement ruinous to the faith, disloyal to the and evangelical dogmas, disloyal too to the tradition of Gregory the truly great, and of his successors up to the blessed Musonius, whose teaching is still ringing in your ears. For those men, who, from fear of confutation, are forging figments against me, are endeavouring to renew the old mischief of Sabellius, started long ago, and extinguished by the tradition of the great Gregory. But do you bid goodbye to those wine-laden heads, bemuddled by the swelling fumes that mount from their debauch, and from me who am wide awake and from fear of God cannot keep silence, hear what plague is rife among you. Sabellianism is Judaism imported into the preaching of the Gospel under the guise of Christianity. For if a man calls Father Son and Holy Ghost one thing of many faces, and makes the hypostasis of the three one, what is this but to deny the everlasting pre-existence of the Only begotten? He denies too the Lord's sojourn among men in the incarnation, the going down into hell, the resurrection, the judgment; he denies also the proper operations of the Spirit. And I hear that even rasher innovations than those of the foolish Sabellius are now ventured on among you. It is said, and that on the evidence of ear witnesses, that your clever men go to such an extreme as to say that there is no tradition of the name of the Only-begotten, while of the name of the adversary there is; and at this they are highly delighted and elated, as though it were a discovery of their own. For it is said, I came in my Father's name and you received me not; if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. And because it is said, Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Matthew 28:19 it is obvious, they urge, that the name is one, for it is not in the names, but in the name.

4. I blush so to write to you, for the men thus guilty are of my own blood; and I groan for my own soul, in that, like boxers fighting two men at once, I can only give the truth its proper force by hitting with my proofs, and knocking down, the errors of doctrine on the right and on the left. On one side I am attacked by the Anomœan: on the other by the Sabellian. Do not, I implore you, pay any attention to these abominable and impotent sophisms. Know that the name of Christ which is above every name is His being called Son of God, as Peter says, There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12 And as to the words I came in my Father's name, it is to be understood that He so says describing His Father as origin and cause of Himself. And if it is said Go and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, we must not suppose that here one name is delivered to us. For just as he who said Paul and Silvanus and Timothy mentioned three names, and coupled them one to the other by the word and, so He who spoke of the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, mentioned three, and united them by the conjunction, teaching that with each name must be understood its own proper meaning; for the names mean things. And no one gifted with even the smallest particle of intelligence doubts that the existence belonging to the things is peculiar and complete in itself. For of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost there is the same nature and one Godhead; but these are different names, setting forth to a us the circumscription and exactitude of the meanings. For unless the meaning of the distinctive qualities of each be unconfounded, it is impossible for the doxology to be adequately offered to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

If, however, they deny that they so say, and so teach, my object is attained. Yet I see that this denial is no easy matter, because of our having many witnesses who heard these things said. But let bygones be bygones; let them only be sound now. If they persist in the same old error I must proclaim your calamity even to other Churches, and get letters written to you from more bishops. In my efforts to break down this huge mass of impiety now gradually and secretly growing, I shall either effect something towards the object I have in view; or at least my present testimony will clear me of guilt in the judgment day.

5. They have already inserted these expressions in their own writings. They sent them first to the man of God, Meletius, bishop, and after receiving from him a suitable reply, like mothers of monsters, ashamed of their natural deformities, these men themselves brought forth and bring up their disgusting offspring in appropriate darkness. They made an attempt too by letter on my dear friend Anthimus, bishop of Tyana, on the ground that Gregory had said in his exposition of the faith that Father and Son are in thought two, but in hypostasis one. The men who congratulate themselves on the subtlety of their intelligence could not perceive that this is said not in reference to dogmatic opinion, but in controversy with Ælian. And in this dispute there are not a few copyists' blunders, as, please God, I shall show in the case of the actual expressions used. But in his endeavour to convince the heathen, he deemed it needless to be nice about the words he employed; he judged it wiser sometimes to make concessions to the character of the subject who was being persuaded, so as not to run counter to the opportunity given him. This explains how it is that you may find there many expressions which now give great support to the heretics, as for instance creature and thing made and the like. But those who ignorantly criticise these writings refer to the question of the Godhead much that is said in reference to the conjunction with man; as is the case with this passage which they are hawking about. For it is indispensable to have clear understanding that, as he who fails to confess the community of the essence or substance falls into polytheism, so he who refuses to grant the distinction of the hypostases is carried away into Judaism. For we must keep our mind stayed, so to say, on certain underlying subject matter, and, by forming a clear impression of its distinguishing lines, so arrive at the end desired. For suppose we do not bethink us of the Fatherhood, nor bear in mind Him of whom this distinctive quality is marked off, how can we take in the idea of God the Father? For merely to enumerate the differences of Persons is insufficient; we must confess each Person to have a natural existence in real hypostasis. Now Sabellius did not even deprecate the formation of the persons without hypostasis, saying as he did that the same God, being one in matter, was metamorphosed as the need of the moment required, and spoken of now as Father, now as Son, and now as Holy Ghost. The inventors of this unnamed heresy are renewing the old long extinguished error; those, I mean, who are repudiating the hypostases, and denying the name of the Son of God. They must give over uttering iniquity against God, or they will have to wail with them that deny the Christ.

6. I have felt compelled to write to you in these terms, that you may be on your guard against the mischief arising from bad teaching. If we may indeed liken pernicious teachings to poisonous drugs, as your dream-tellers have it, these doctrines are hemlock and monkshood, or any other deadly to man. It is these that destroy souls; not my words, as this shrieking drunken scum, full of the fancies of their condition, make out. If they had any sense they ought to know that in souls, pure and cleansed from all defilement, the prophetic gift shines clear. In a foul mirror you cannot see what the reflexion is, neither can a soul preoccupied with cares of this life, and darkened with the passions of the lust of the flesh, receive the rays of the Holy Ghost. Every dream is not a prophecy, as says Zechariah, The Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain,...for the idols have spoken vanity and the diviners have told false dreams. Zechariah 10:1-2 Those who, as Isaiah says, dream and love to sleep in their bed forget that an operation of error is sent to the children of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2 And there is a lying spirit, which arose in false prophecies, and deceived Ahab. 1 Kings 22:22 Knowing this they ought not to have been so lifted up as to ascribe the gift of prophecy to themselves. They are shown to fall far short even of the case of the seer Balaam; for Balaam when invited by the king of Moab with mighty bribes brooked not to utter a word beyond the will of God, nor to curse Israel whom the Lord cursed not. Numbers 22:11 If then their sleep-fancies do not tally with the commandments of the Lord, let them be content with the Gospels. The Gospels need no dreams to add to their credit. The Lord has sent His peace to us, and left us a new commandment, to love one another, but dreams bring strife and division and destruction of love. Let them therefore not give occasion to the devil to attack their souls in sleep; nor make their imaginations of more authority than the instruction of salvation.

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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/3202210.htm>.

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