BASIL THE GREAT.
"Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shah speak my words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious."
As Athanasius was the great champion of catholic truth, during the incursions of Arianism upon it, so were Basil and Ambrose, in the East and in the West, the chief instruments in the hands of Providence for repairing and strengthening the bulwarks of the Church, when the fury of the inroad was over. Both had to contend with an Arian sovereign; and both gained their victory by the same means, their popularity with the laity and the vigour of their discipline. From Milan, which had been in heretical possession for twenty years, "round about unto Illyricum," Ambrose preached in the west the gospel of Christ. Basil, whose cares extended from Illyricum down to Egypt \ was called to a still more arduous post. 'These countries had from the first been over-run by the Arians, and were, by the middle of the fourth century, in a deplorable state of religious ignorance. Asia Minor was the especial scene of Basil's labours,
1 Vide Ep. 70.
first as priest, then as bishop of the church of Ca^sarea and Exarch of Cappadocia, from A.d. 358 to A.d. 379.
At the former of these dates, Dianius was in possession of the see. He seems to have baptized Basil, who speaks warmly in his praise, expressing the affection and respect he felt for him, and the pleasure he took in his society; and describing him as a man remarkable for his virtue, as frank, generous, and venerable, while he was amiable and agreeable in his manners. However, he fell in with the fashion of the age, and had for nearly twenty years sided with the court faction against Athanasius and his holy cause. Accordingly he signed without scruple the formulary of the council of Ariminum, which was presented to him A.d. 360, and in which the orthodox test of the Homoiision being given up, the catholic doctrine was evaded under the pretence of expressing it only in terms of Scripture. Basil felt bitterly this weakness, to give it its mildest name, on the part of one he so much loved; and though he did not consider that there was a call on him for any public protest, he ceased to hold intercourse with him, nor did he come near him till two years afterwards, when Dianius sent for him to attend his death-bed, and professed solemnly his adherence to the faith of Nicsa.
Eusebius, the successor of Dianius, was a bishop of orthodox views, but had little of the theological knowledge or force of character necessary for coping with the formidable heresy with which the Church was assailed. For some reason or other, perhaps from a feeling of jealousy, he manifested a coldness towards the rising theologian, who is to be the subject of this chapter; and Basil, who was now a priest, unwilling to excite the people, or create parties in the Church, retired from the metropolitan city.
His retreat, both now and in the lifetime of Dianius, was in Pontus, where he had founded a number of monasteries, over one of which he presided. He had retired thither first about A. D. 356, the year in which St. Antony died, for the purposes of study and self-discipline; and to a mind ardent, and sensitive, such as his, nothing was more suitable than such a temporary retreat from the turbulence of ecclesiastical politics. Nor was his life at this time one of inaction or solitude. On occasion of a famine in the neighbouring town and country, he converted his lands into money, to supply the wants of the people; taking upon himself particularly the charge of their children, besides relieving all who applied to him, among whom the Jews are mentioned as receiving a share in his liberality. His monasteries became, in a short time, schools of that holy teaching which had been almost banished from the sees of Asia; and it is said that he was in the practice of making a circuit of the neighbouring towns, from time to time, to preach to them the Nicene doctrine. This indeed was a benefit which was not unfrequently rendered to the Church, in that hour of apostasy, by these ascetics, and for which we who now live have reason to be grateful to them.
"The reason," says Sozomen, who, however, is somewhat too fond of them, "why the doctrines" of Eunomius and Apollinaris "had not any extensive success, in addition to the causes above mentioned, is, that the Solitaries of the day took part against them. For those of Syria and Cappadocia, and the neighbouring districts, firmly adhered to the creed of Nicsea. At one time, the oriental provinces, from Cilicia to Phoenicia, were near becoming Apollinarian, while those from Cilicia and the Taurus to the Hellespont and Constantinople were exposed to the heresy of Eunomius; each heresiarch having success in his own neighbourhood. And then the history of Arianism was acted over again; for the populace in those parts had that reverence for the characters and the works of the Solitaries, as to trust their doctrine as orthodox; and they shrank from those who held otherwise, as impure, for their adulterate doctrine; just as the Egyptians followed the Solitaries of Egypt and opposed the Arians."—Hist. vi. 27.
Basil had lived in his second retirement about three years, when the attack of the Arians upon the Church of Cassarea, under the emperor Valens, made his loss felt, and his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus, successfully interposed his mediation between him and Eusebius. Gregory's letters are extant, and I here present them to the reader.
GREGORY TO BASIL.
"This is a time for good counsel and fortitude. We must surpass others in courage, nor suffer that all our past toil and labour should be undone in a moment. Why do I write thus? Because our most gracious bishop (for such we ought to think and call Eusebius henceforth) has most amicable and kind feelings towards us, and, like steel in the fire, is softened by time. I even expect that you will receive a communication from him, with pleasant words, and a summons, as he himself hinted to me, and many of his confidential friends assure me. Let us then anticipate his advances, either by our presence or by writing, or, what would be better still, by first writing and then making our appearance, lest we suffer hereafter a defeat with disgrace, when we might have conquered by a defeat which was honourable and dignified; which, indeed, most men expect of us. Come, then, according to my entreaty, both on this account, and for the times' sake. In truth, the heretical faction is trampling the Church under-foot; some of them are already among us and are at work; others, it is said, will follow soon. Surely there is danger of their sweeping away the word of truth, unless the spirit of our Bezeleel speedily awake, that cunning master-builder of argument and doctrine. If you wish me to be present and to assist in this business, or to be the companion of your journey, I am at your service." Ep. 19.
It is impossible not to be struck with Gregory's delicacy in this letter, in which he speaks as if he himself were estranged from Eusebius, as well as Basil, though he stood at the time high in his favour. His next letter is to the bishop himself, whose intentions he anticipates with equal delicacy.
GREGORY TO EUSBBIUS, BISHOP OF OESAREA.
"I know I am addressing one who hates insincerity himself, and is especially keen in detecting it in another, though cloked in ever so artful and subtle a disguise; and indeed, I may say, if you will pardon the impertinence, I am myself averse to it, both by natural disposition and from Christian education. So I write what is uppermost on my mind, and beg you to excuse my freedom. Indeed it would be an injury to me to restrain me and bid me keep my pain to myself, as a sore festering in my heart. Proud as I am of your notice, (for I am a man, as some one says before me,) and of your invitations to religious consultations and meetings, yet I cannot bear your holiness's past and present slight of my most honoured brother Basil, whom I selected from the first, and still possess as my friend, to live with me and study with me, and search with me into the deepest wisdom. I have no need to be dissatisfied with the opinion I have formed of him, and if I do not say more in his praise, it is lest, in enlarging on his admirable qualities, I should seem to be praising myself. Now, your favour towards me, and discountenance of him, is as if a man should stroke one's head with one hand, and with the other strike one's cheek; or decorate a house with paintings and beautify the outside, while he was undermining its foundations. If there is any thing you will grant me, let it be this; and I trust you will, for really it is equitable. He will certainly defer to you, if you do but pay a reasonable deference to him. For myself, I shall come after him as shadows follow bodies, being small, and a lover of quiet. Miserable indeed should we be, if while we were desirous of wisdom in other matters, and to choose the better part, we yet thought little of that grace, which is the end of all our doctrine—charity; especially in the case of one who is our bishop, and so eminent, >
as we well know, in life, in doctrine, and in the government of his diocese; for the truth must be spoken, whatever be our private feelings." JEp. 20.
Great men love to be courted, and little men must not mind rebuffs. Gregory did not succeed in this first attempt with Eusebius, who seems to have been offended at his freedom; and he himself was disgusted, in turn, at the bishop's stiffness. However, the danger of the Church was too great to allow of the continuance of such feelings on either side, and Gregory had, in a little while, the satisfaction of seeing Basil at Ca?sarea.
The vigorous talents of Basil soon put to rights the disorders and variances which had been the scandal of the Church of Csesarea; and, with the assistance of Gregory, he completely vanquished the Eunomian disputants, from whose subtlety the peace of the Church had principally suffered. What was of more consequence to its permanent welfare, he was successful in obliterating all the suspicions his bishop had entertained of him, and at length gained such influence over him, that he had really the government of the see in his own hands. This was the more desirable as Eusebius had not been regularly educated for the ministerial office, but called by the caprice of the people to fill the episcopal chair. At length (a.d. 370) Eusebius died; and Basil, as might be expected, though not without a strong opposition, was elected to supply his place. This opposition was excited by the governing powers of the country, who might naturally be supposed to fear a prelate of Basil's commanding character, and who were joined by some of the bishops of the exarchate, and by an irreligious party in the city itself.
He had not been long in his see when he was brought into open collision with the civil power. Valens made a progress through the east, from Constantinople to Antioch, in A. D. 371, 372, with the determination of deposing the catholic bishops in the countries which he traversed; and about the end of the former year he came to Csesarea. There he called before him the prefect Modestus, as he had done in the other cities, and bade him propose to Basil the alternative of communicating with the Arians, or losing his see. Modestus conveyed his pleasure to the bishop, and set before him the arguments which had been already found successful with the inferior sort of men, that it was foolish to resist the times, and to trouble the Church about questions of inconsiderable importance; and he promised him the prince's favour for him and his friends, if he complied. Failing by soft language, he adopted a higher tone. Gregory has preserved the dialogue which passed between them.
"What is the meaning of this, you Basil, (said the prefect, not deigning to style him bishop,) that you stand out against so great a prince, and are selfwilled when others yield?
"Basil. What would you? and what is my extravagance? I have not yet learned it.
'" MonssTUS. Your not worshipping after the emperor's manner, when the rest of your party have given way and been overcome.
"Basil. I have a Sovereign whose will is otherwise, nor can I hring myself to worship any creature,— I a creature of God, and commanded to be a god.
"Modestus. For whom do you take me?
"Basil. For a thing of nought, while such are your commands.
"Modestus. Is it, then, a mere nothing for one like you to have rank like myself, and to have my fellowship.
"Basil. You are prefect, and in noble place; I own it. Yet God's majesty is greater; and it is much which I am to have your fellowship, for we are both God's creatures. But it is as great to be fellow to any other of my flock, for Christianity lies not in distinction of persons, but in faith.
"The prefect was angered at this, and rose from his chair, and abruptly asked Basil if he did not fear his power.
"Basil. Fear what consequences? what sufferings?
"Modestus. One of those many pains a prefect can inflict.
"Basil. Let me know them.
"Modestus. Confiscation, exile, tortures, death.
"Basil. Think of some other threat. These have no influence upon me. He runs no risk of confiscation who has nothing to lose, except these mean garments and a few books. Nor does he care for exile, who is not circumscribed by place, who makes it not a home where he now dwells, but everywhere a home whithersoever he be cast, or rather everywhere God's home, whose pilgrim he is and wanderer. Nor can' tortures harm a frame so frail as to break under the
first blow. You could but strike once, and death would be gain. It would but send me the sooner to Him for whom I live and labour, nay, am dead rather than live, to whom I have long been journeying.
"Modestus. No one yet ever spoke to Modestus with such freedom.
"basil. Peradventure Modestus never yet fell in with a bishop; or surely in a like trial you would have heard like language. O Prefect, in other things we are gentle, and more humble than all men living, for such is the commandment; so as not to raise our brow, I say not against ' so great a prince,' but even against one of least account. But when God's honour is at stake, we think of nothing else, looking simply to Him. Fire and the sword, beasts of prey, irons .to rend the flesh, are an indulgence rather than a terror to a Christian. Therefore insult, threaten, do your worst, make the most of your power. Let the emperor be informed of my purpose. Me you gain not, you persuade not, to an impious creed, by menaces even more frightful."—Grey. N. Orat. 20, p. 349.
Modestus parted with him with the respect which firmness necessarily inspires in those who witness it; and, going to the emperor, repeated the failure of his attempt. A second conversation between the bishop and the ministers of the court took place in the presence, as some suppose, of Valens himself, who had generosity enough to admire his high spirit, and to dismiss him without punishment. Indeed, his admiration of Basil occasioned a fresh trial of the archbishop's constancy, more distressing, perhaps, than any which he had hitherto undergone. On
the feast of the Epiphany, he attended the church where Basil officiated, with all his court, and heard his sermon. Afterwards followed the ceremony of bringing oblations to the altar, in commemoration of the offerings of the Magi. Valens is said to have been much affected by the chants which accompanied the service, and the order which reigned through the congregation, and almost to have fainted away. At length he made an effort to approach the holy table to offer the oblation; but none of the ministers of the church presenting himself to receive it from him, his limbs again gave way, and it was only by the assistance of one of them that he was kept from falling.
It cannot be too much insisted on that the Church gains the respect of the great, not by courting them,, but by treating them as her children. It would be a satisfaction, however, to be able to indulge a hope that the good feelings of the emperor were more than the excitement of the moment, but his persevering persecution of the Catholics for years afterwards forbids the favourable supposition. Yet it was not once only that he trembled before the majestic presence of the exarch of Csesarea, who ensured for his own provinces an immunity, in great measure, of the sufferings with which the Catholics elsewhere were visited, and so far exerted an influence over him, as to gain some of the best of the imperial lands in the neighbourhood, for the endowment of an hospital which he had founded for lepers.