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Fathers Of The Church, Catholic Edition


Parentage and Birth

Under the persecution of the second Maximinus, a Christian gentleman of good position and fair estate in Pontus and Macrina his wife, suffered severe hardships. They escaped with their lives, and appear to have retained, or recovered, some of their property. Of their children the names of two only have survived: Gregory and Basil. The former became bishop of one of the sees of Cappadocia. The latter acquired a high reputation in Pontus and the neighboring districts as an advocate of eminence, and as a teacher of rhetoric. His character in the Church for probity and piety stood very high. He married an orphaned gentlewoman named Emmelia, whose father had suffered impoverishment and death for Christ’s sake, and who was herself a conspicuous example of high-minded and gentle Christian womanhood. Of this happy union were born ten children, five boys and five girls. One of the boys appears to have died in infancy, for on the death of the elder Basil four sons and five daughters were left to share the considerable wealth which he left behind him. Of the nine survivors the eldest was a daughter, named, after her grandmother, Macrina. The eldest of the sons was Basil, the second Naucratius, and the third Gregory. Peter, the youngest of the whole family, was born shortly before his father’s death. Of this remarkable group the eldest is commemorated as Saint Macrina in the biography written by her brother Gregory. Naucratius died in early manhood, about the time of the ordination of Basil as reader. The three remaining brothers occupied respectively the sees of Caesarea, Nyssa, and Sebasteia.

As to the date of St. Basil’s birth opinions have varied between 316 and 330. The later, which is supported by Garnier, Tillemont, Maran, Fessler, and Boehringer, may probably be accepted as approximately correct. It is true that Basil calls himself an old man in 374, but he was prematurely worn out with work and bad health, and to his friends wrote freely and without concealment of his infirmities. There appears no reason to question the date 329 or 330.

Two cities, Caesarea in Cappadocia and Neocaesarea in Pontus, have both been named as his birthplace. There must be some amount of uncertainty on this point, from the fact that no direct statement exists to clear it up, and that the word patris was loosely employed to mean not only place of birth, but place of residence and occupation. Basil’s parents had property and interests both in Pontus and Cappadocia and were as likely to be in the one as in the other. The early statement of Gregory of Nazianzus has been held to have weight, inasmuch as he speaks of Basil as a Cappadocian like himself before there was any other reason but that of birth for associating him with this province. Assenting, then, to the considerations which have been held to afford reasonable ground for assigning Caesarea as the birthplace, we may adopt the popular estimation of Basil as one of “The Three Cappadocians,” and congratulate Cappadocia on the Christian associations which have rescued her fair fame from the slur of the epigram which described her as constituting with Crete and Cilicia a trinity of unsatisfactoriness. Basil’s birth nearly synchronizes with the transference of the chief seat of empire from Rome to Byzantium. He is born into a world where the victory already achieved by the Church has been now for sixteen years officially recognized. He is born into a Church in which the first great Council has already given official expression to those cardinal doctrines of the faith, of which the final and formal vindication is not to be assured till after the struggles of the next six score of years. Rome, reduced, civilly, to the subordinate rank of a provincial city, is pausing before she realises all her loss, and waits for the crowning outrage of the barbarian invasions, ere she begins to make serious efforts to grasp ecclesiastically, something of her lost imperial prestige. For a time the centre of ecclesiastical and theological interest is to be rather in the East than in the West.



The place most closely connected with St. Basil’s early years is neither Caesarea nor Neocaesarea, but an insignificant village not far from the latter place, where he was brought up by his admirable grandmother Macrina. In this neighbourhood his family had considerable property, and here he afterwards resided. The estate was at Annesi on the river Iris (Jekil-Irmak), and lay in the neighbourhood of scenery of romantic beauty. Basil’s own description of his retreat on the opposite side of the Iris matches the reference of Gregory of Nazianzus to the narrow glen among lofty mountains, which keep it always in shadow and darkness, while far below the river foams and roars in its narrow precipitous bed.

There is some little difficulty in understanding the statement of Basil in Letter CCXVI., that the house of his brother Peter, which he visited in 375, and which we may assume to have been on the family property (cf. Letter CX. S: 1) was “not far from Neocaesarea.” As a matter of fact, the Iris nowhere winds nearer to Neocaesarea than at a distance of about twenty miles, and Turkhal is not at the nearest point. But it is all a question of degree. Relatively to Caesarea, Basil’s usual place of residence, Annesi is near Neocaesarea. An analogy would be found in the statement of a writer usually residing in London, that if he came to Sheffield he would be not far from Doncaster.

At Annesi his mother Emmelia erected a chapel in honour of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste to which their relics were translated. It is possible that Basil was present at the dedication services, lasting all night long, which are related to have sent his brother Gregory to sleep. Here, then, Basil was taught the rudiments of religion by his grandmother, and by his father, in accordance with the teaching of the great Gregory the Wonder-worker. Here he learned the Catholic faith.

At an early age he seems to have been sent to school at Caesarea, and there to have formed the acquaintance of an Eusebius, otherwise unknown, Hesychius, and Gregory of Nazianzus, and to have conceived a boyish admiration for Dianius the archbishop.

From Caesarea Basil went to Constantinople, and there studied rhetoric and philosophy with success. Socrates and Sozomen say that he worked at Antioch under Libanius. It may be that both these writers have confounded Basil of Caesarea with the Basil to whom Chrysostom dedicated his De Sacerdotio, and who was perhaps the bishop of Raphanea, who signed the creed of Constantinople.

There is no corroboration of a sojourn of Basil of Caesarea at Antioch. Libanius was at Constantinople in 347, and there Basil may have attended his lectures.

From Constantinople the young Cappadocian student proceeded in 351 to Athens. Of an university town of the 4th century we have a lively picture in the writings of his friend, and are reminded that the rough horse-play of the modern undergraduate is a survival of a very ancient barbarism. The lads were affiliated to certain fraternities, and looked out for the arrival of every new student at the city, with the object of attaching him to the classes of this or that teacher. Kinsmen were on the watch for kinsmen and acquaintances for acquaintances; sometimes it was mere good-humoured violence which secured the person of the freshman. The first step in this grotesque matriculation was an entertainment; then the guest of the day was conducted with ceremonial procession through the agora to the entrance of the baths. There they leaped round him with wild cries, and refused him admission. At last an entry was forced with mock fury, and the neophyte was made free of the mysteries of the baths and of the lecture halls. Gregory of Nazianzus, a student a little senior to Basil, succeeded in sparing him the ordeal of this initiation, and his dignity and sweetness of character seem to have secured him immunity from rough usage without loss of popularity. At Athens the two young Cappadocians were noted among their contemporaries for three things: their diligence and success in work; their stainless and devout life; and their close mutual affection. Everything was common to them. They were as one soul. What formed the closest bond of union was their faith. God and their love of what is best made them one. Himerius, a pagan, and Prohaeresius, an Armenian Christian, are mentioned among the well-known professors whose classes Basil attended. Among early friendships, formed possibly during his university career, Basil’s own letters name those with Terentius and Sophronius.

If the Libanian correspondence be accepted as genuine, we may add Celsus, a pupil of Libanius, to the group. But if we except Basil’s affection for Gregory of Nazianzus, of none of these intimacies is the interest so great as of that which is recorded to have been formed between Basil and the young prince Julian. One incident of the Athenian sojourn, which led to bitter consequences in after days, was the brief communication with Apollinarius, and the letter written “from layman to layman,” which his opponents made a handle for much malevolence, and perhaps for forgery. Julian arrived at Athens after the middle of the year 355. Basil’s departure thence and return to Caesarea may therefore be approximately fixed early in 356. Basil starts for his life’s work with the equipment of the most liberal education which the age could supply. He has studied Greek literature, rhetoric, and philosophy under the most famous teachers. He has been brought into contact with every class of mind. His training has been no narrow hothouse forcing of theological opinion and ecclesiastical sentiment. The world which he is to renounce, to confront, to influence is not a world unknown to him. He has seen heathenism in all the autumn grace of its decline, and comes away victorious from seductions which were fatal to some young men of early Christian associations. Athens no doubt contributed its share of influence to the apostasy of Julian. Basil, happily, was found to be rooted more firmly in the faith.


Life at Caesarea; Baptism; and Adoption of Monastic Life

When Basil overcame the efforts of his companions to detain him at Athens, Gregory was prevailed on to remain for a while longer. Basil therefore made his rapid journey homeward alone. His Letter to Eustathius alleges as the chief reason for his hurried departure the desire to profit by the instruction of that teacher. This may be the language of compliment. In the same letter he speaks of his fortitude in resisting all temptation to stop at the city on the Hellespont. This city I hesitate to recognise, with Maran, as Constantinople. There may have been inducements to Basil to stop at Lampsacus and it is more probably Lampsacus that he avoided. At Caesarea he was welcomed as one of the most distinguished of her sons, and there for a time taught rhetoric with conspicuous success. A deputation came from Neocaesarea to request him to undertake educational work at that city, and in vain endeavoured to detain him by lavish promises. According to his friend Gregory, Basil had already determined to renounce the world, in the sense of devoting himself to an ascetic and philosophic life. His brother Gregory, however, represents him as at this period still under more mundane influences, and as shewing something of the self-confidence and conceit which are occasionally to be observed in young men who have just successfully completed an university career, and as being largely indebted to the persuasion and example of his sister Macrina for the resolution, with which he now carried out the determination to devote himself to a life of self-denial. To the same period may probably be referred Basil’s baptism. The sacrament was administered by Dianius. It would be quite consonant with the feelings of the times that pious parents like the elder Basil and Emmelia should shrink from admitting their boy to holy baptism before his encountering the temptations of school and university life. The assigned date, 357, may be reasonably accepted, and shortly after his baptism he was ordained Reader. It was about this that he visited monastic settlements in Palestine, Mesopotamia, Coele Syria, and Egypt, though he was not so fortunate as to encounter the great pope Athanasius. Probably during this tour he began the friendship with Eusebius of Samosata which lasted so long.

To the same period we may also refer his renunciation of his share of the family property. Maran would appear to date this before the Syrian and Egyptian tour, a journey which can hardly have been accomplished without considerable expense. But, in truth, with every desire to do justice to the self-denial and unworldliness of St. Basil and of other like-minded and like-lived champions of the Faith, it cannot but be observed that, at all events in Basil’s case, the renunciation must be understood with some reasonable reservation. The great archbishop has been claimed as a “socialist,” whatever may be meant in these days by the term. But St. Basil did not renounce all property himself, and had a keen sense of its rights in the case of his friends. From his letter on behalf of his foster-brother, placed by Maran during his presbyterate, it would appear that this foster-brother, Dorotheus, was allowed a life tenancy of a house and farm on the family estate, with a certain number of slaves, on condition that Basil should be supported out of the profits. Here we have landlord, tenant, rent, and unearned increment. St. Basil can scarcely be fairly cited as a practical apostle of some of the chapters of the socialist evangel of the end of the nineteenth century. But ancient eulogists of the great archbishop, anxious to represent him as a good monk, have not failed to foresee that this might be urged in objection to the completeness of his renunciation of the world, in their sense, and to counterbalance it, have cited an anecdote related by Cassian. One day a senator named Syncletius came to Basil to be admitted to his monastery, with the statement that he had renounced his property, excepting only a pittance to save him from manual labour. “You have spoilt a senator,” said Basil, “without making a monk.” Basil’s own letter represents him as practically following the example of, or setting an example to, Syncletius.

Stimulated to carry out his purpose of embracing the ascetic life by what he saw of the monks and solitaries during his travels, Basil first of all thought of establishing a monastery in the district of Tiberina. Here he would have been in the near neighbourhood of Arianzus, the home of his friend Gregory. But the attractions of Tiberina were ultimately postponed to those of Ibora, and Basil’s place of retreat was fixed in the glen not far from the old home, and only separated from Annesi by the Iris, of which we have Basil’s own picturesque description. Gregory declined to do more than pay a visit to Pontus, and so is said to have caused Basil much disappointment. It is a little characteristic of the imperious nature of the man of stronger will, that while he would not give up the society of his own mother and sister in order to be near his friend, he complained of his friend’s not making a similar sacrifice in order to be near him. Gregory good-humouredly replies to Basil’s depreciation of Tiberina by a counter attack on Caesarea and Annesi.

At the Pontic retreat Basil now began that system of hard ascetic discipline which eventually contributed to the enfeeblement of his health and the shortening of his life. He complains again and again in his letters of the deplorable physical condition to which he is reduced, and he died at the age of fifty. It is a question whether a constitution better capable of sustaining the fatigue of long journeys, and a life prolonged beyond the Council of Constantinople, would or would not have left a larger mark upon the history of the Church. There can be no doubt, that in Basil’s personal conflict with the decadent empire represented by Valens, his own cause was strengthened by his obvious superiority to the hopes and fears of vulgar ambitions. He ate no more than was actually necessary for daily sustenance, and his fare was of the poorest. Even when he was archbishop, no flesh meat was dressed in his kitchens. His wardrobe consisted of one under and one over garment. By night he wore haircloth; not by day, lest he should seem ostentatious. He treated his body, says his brother, with a possible reference to St. Paul, as an angry owner treats a runaway slave. A consistent celibate, he was yet almost morbidly conscious of his unchastity, mindful of the Lord’s words as to the adultery of the impure thought. St. Basil relates in strong terms his admiration for the ascetic character of Eustathius of Sebaste, and at this time was closely associated with him. Indeed, Eustathius was probably the first to introduce the monastic system into Pontus, his part in the work being comparatively ignored in later days when his tergiversation had brought him into disrepute. Thus the credit of introducing monasticism into Asia Minor was given to Basil alone. A novel feature of this monasticism was the Coenobium, for hitherto ascetics had lived in absolute solitude, or in groups of only two or three. Thus it was partly relieved from the discredit of selfish isolation and unprofitable idleness.

The example set by Basil and his companions spread. Companies of hard-working ascetics of both sexes were established in every part of Pontus, every one of them an active centre for the preaching of the Nicene doctrines, and their defence against Arian opposition and misconstruction. Probably about this time, in conjunction with his friend Gregory, Basil compiled the collection of the beauties of Origen which was entitled Philocalia. Origen’s authority stood high, and both of the main divisions of Christian thought, the Nicene and the Arian, endeavoured to support their respective views from his writings. Basil and Gregory were successful in vindicating his orthodoxy and using his aid in strengthening the Catholic position.


Basil and the Councils, to the Accession of Valens

Up to this time St. Basil is not seen to have publicly taken an active part in the personal theological discussions of the age; but the ecclesiastical world was eagerly disputing while he was working in Pontus. Aetius, the uncompromising Arian, was openly favoured by Eudoxius of Germanicia, who had appropriated the see of Antioch in 357. This provoked the Semiarians to hold their council at Ancyra in 358, when the Sirmian “Blasphemy” of 357 was condemned. The Acacians were alarmed, and manoeuvred for the division of the general council which Constantius was desirous of summoning. Then came Ariminum, Nike, and Seleucia, in 359, and “the world groaned to find itself Arian.” Deputations from each of the great parties were sent to a council held under the personal presidency of Constantius at Constantinople, and to one of these the young deacon was attached. The date of the ordination to this grade is unknown. On the authority of Gregory of Nyssa and Philostorgius, it appears that Basil accompanied his namesake of Ancyra and Eustathius of Sebaste to the court, and supported Basil the bishop. Philostorgius would indeed represent the younger Basil as championing the Semiarian cause, though with some cowardice. It may be concluded, with Maran, that he probably stood forward stoutly for the truth, not only at the capital itself, but also in the neighbouring cities of Chalcedon and Heraclea. But his official position was a humble one, and his part in the discussions and amid the intrigues of the council was only too likely to be misrepresented by those with whom he did not agree, and even misunderstood by his own friends. In 360 Dianius signed the creed of Ariminum, brought to Caesarea by George of Laodicea; and thereby Basil was so much distressed as henceforward to shun communion with his bishop. He left Caesarea and betook himself to Nazianzus to seek consolation in the society of his friend. But his feelings towards Dianius were always affectionate, and he indignantly repudiated a calumnious assertion that he had gone so far as to anathematize him. Two years later Dianius fell sick unto death and sent for Basil, protesting that at heart he had always been true to the Catholic creed. Basil acceded to the appeal, and in 362 once again communicated with his bishop and old friend. In the interval between the visit to Constantinople and this death-bed reconciliation, that form of error arose which was long known by the name of Macedonianism, and which St. Basil was in later years to combat with such signal success in the treatise Of the Spirit. It combined disloyalty to the Spirit and to the Son. But countervailing events were the acceptance of the Homoousion by the Council of Paris, and the publication of Athanasius’ letters to Serapion on the divinity of the two Persons assailed. To this period is referred the compilation by Basil of the Moralia.

The brief reign of Julian would affect Basil, in common with the whole Church, in two ways: in the relief he would feel at the comparative toleration shewn to Catholics, and the consequent return of orthodox bishops to their sees; in the distress with which he would witness his old friend’s attempts to ridicule and undermine the Faith. Sorrow more personal and immediate must have been caused by the harsh treatment of Caesarea and the cruel imposts laid on Cappadocia. What conduct on the part of the Caesareans may have led Gregory of Nazianzus to speak of Julian as justly offended, we can only conjecture. It may have been the somewhat disorderly proceedings in connexion with the appointment of Eusebius to succeed Dianius. But there can be no doubt about the sufferings of Caesarea nor of the martyrdom of Eupsychius and Damas for their part in the destruction of the Temple of Fortune.

The precise part taken by Basil in the election of Eusebius can only be conjectured. Eusebius, like Ambrose of Milan, a layman of rank and influence, was elevated per saltum to the episcopate. Efforts were made by Julian and by some Christian objectors to get the appointment annulled by means of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus, on the ground of its having been brought about by violence. Bishop Gregory refused to take any retrogressive steps, and thought the scandal of accepting the tumultuary appointment would be less than that of cancelling the consecration. Gregory the younger presumably supported his father, and he associates Basil with him as probable sufferers from the imperial vengeance. But he was at Nazianzus at the time of the election, and Basil is more likely to have been an active agent.

To this period may be referred Basil’s receipt of the letter from Athanasius, mentioned in Letter CCIV., S: 6. On the accession of Jovian, in June, 363, Athanasius wrote to him asserting the Nicene Faith, but he was greeted also by a Semiarian manifesto from Antioch, of which the first signatory was Meletius.


The Presbyterate

Not long after the accession of Valens, Basil was ordained presbyter by Eusebius. An earlier date has been suggested, but the year 364 is accepted as fitting in better with the words of Gregory on the free speech conceded to heretics. And from the same Letter it may be concluded that the ordination of Basil, like that of Gregory himself, was not wholly voluntary, and that he was forced against his inclinations to accept duties when he hesitated as to his liking and fitness for them. It was about this time that he wrote his Books against Eunomius; and it may possibly have been this work which specially commended him to Eusebius. However this may be, there is no doubt that he was soon actively engaged in the practical work of the diocese, and made himself very useful to Eusebius. But Basil’s very vigour and value seem to have been the cause of some alienation between him and his bishop. His friend Gregory gives us no details, but it may be inferred from what he says that he thought Basil ill-used. And allusions of Basil have been supposed to imply his own sense of discourtesy and neglect. The position became serious. Bishops who had objected to the tumultuary nomination of Eusebius, and had with difficulty been induced to maintain the lawfulness of his consecration, were ready to consecrate Basil in his place. But Basil shewed at once his wisdom and his magnanimity. A division of the orthodox clergy of Cappadocia would be full of danger to the cause. He would accept no personal advancement to the damage of the Church. He retired with his friend Gregory to his Pontic monasteries, and won the battle by flying from the field. Eusebius was left unmolested, and the character of Basil was higher than ever.

The seclusion of Basil in Pontus seemed to afford an opportunity to his opponents in Cappadocia, and according to Sozomen, Valens himself, in 365, was moved to threaten Caesarea with a visit by the thought that the Catholics of Cappadocia were now deprived of the aid of their strongest champion. Eusebius would have invoked Gregory, and left Basil alone. Gregory, however, refused to act without his friend, and, with much tact and good feeling, succeeded in atoning the two offended parties. Eusebius at first resented Gregory’s earnest advocacy of his absent friend, and was inclined to resent what seemed the somewhat impertinent interference of a junior. But Gregory happily appealed to the archbishop’s sense of justice and superiority to the common unwillingness of high dignitaries to accept counsel, and assured him that in all that he had written on the subject he had meant to avoid all possible offence, and to keep within the bounds of spiritual and philosophic discipline. Basil returned to the metropolitan city, ready to cooperate loyally with Eusebius, and to employ all his eloquence and learning against the proposed Arian aggression. To the grateful Catholics it seemed as though the mere knowledge that Basil was in Caesarea was enough to turn Valens with his bishops to flight, and the tidings, brought by a furious rider, of the revolt of Procopius, seemed a comparatively insignificant motive for the emperor’s departure.

There was now a lull in the storm. Basil, completely reconciled to Eusebius, began to consolidate the archiepiscopal power which he afterward wielded as his own, over the various provinces in which the metropolitan of Caesarea exercised exarchic authority. In the meantime the Semiarians were beginning to share with the Catholics the hardships inflicted by the imperial power. At Lampsacus in 364 they had condemned the results of Ariminum and Constantinople, and had reasserted the Antiochene Dedication Creed of 341. In 366 they sent deputies to Liberius at Rome, who proved their orthodoxy by subscribing the Nicene Creed. Basil had not been present at Lampsacus, but he had met Eustathius and other bishops on their way thither, and had no doubt influenced the decisions of the synod. Now the deputation to the West consisted of three of those bishops with whom he was in communication, Eustathius of Sebasteia, Silvanus of Tarsus, and Theophilus of Castabala. To the first it was an opportunity for regaining a position among the orthodox prelates. It can hardly have been without the persuasion of Basil that the deputation went so far as they did in accepting the homoousion, but it is a little singular, and indicative of the comparatively slow awakening of the Church in general to the perils of the degradation of the Holy Ghost, that no profession of faith was demanded from the Lampsacene delegates on this subject. In 367 the council of Tyana accepted the restitution of the Semiarian bishops, and so far peace had been promoted. To this period may very probably be referred the compilation of the Liturgy which formed the basis of that which bears Basil’s name. The claims of theology and of ecclesiastical administration in Basil’s time did not, however, prevent him from devoting much of his vast energy to works of charity. Probably the great hospital for the housing and relief of travellers and the poor, which he established in the suburbs of Caesarea, was planned, if not begun, in the latter years of his presbyterate, for its size and importance were made pretexts for denouncing him to Elias, the governor of Cappadocia, in 372, and at the same period Valens contributed to its endowment. It was so extensive as to go by the name of Newtown, and was in later years known as the “Basileiad.” It was the mother of other similar institutions in the country-districts of the province, each under a Chorepiscopus. But whether the Ptochotrophium was or was not actually begun before Basil’s episcopate, great demands were made on his sympathy and energy by the great drought and consequent famine which befell Caesarea in 368. He describes it with eloquence in his Homily On the Famine and Drought. The distress was cruel and widespread. The distance of Caesarea from the coast increased the difficulty of supplying provisions. Speculators, scratching, as it were, in their country’s wounds, hoarded grain in the hope of selling at famine prices. These Basil moved to open their stores. He distributed lavishly at his own expense, and ministered in person to the wants of the sufferers. Gregory of Nazianzus gives us a picture of his illustrious friend standing in the midst of a great crowd of men and women and children, some scarcely able to breathe; of servants bringing in piles of such food as is best suited to the weak state of the famishing sufferers; of Basil with his own hands distributing nourishment, and with his own voice cheering and encouraging the sufferers.

About this time Basil suffered a great loss in the death of his mother, and sought solace in a visit to his friend Eusebius at Samosata. But the cheering effect of his journey was lessened by the news, which greeted him on his return, that the Arians had succeeded in placing one of their number in the see of Tarsus. The loss of Silvanus was ere long followed by a death of yet graver moment to the Church. In the middle of 370 died Eusebius, breathing his last in the arms of Basil.


Basil as Archbishop

The archiepiscopal throne was now technically vacant. But the man who had practically filled it, “the keeper and tamer of the lion,” was still alive in the plenitude of his power. What course was he to follow ? Was he meekly to withdraw, and perhaps be compelled to support the candidature of another and an inferior? The indirect evidence has seemed to some strong enough to compel the conclusion that he determined, if possible, to secure his election to the see. Others, on the contrary, have thought him incapable of scheming for the nomination. The truth probably lies between the two extreme views. No intelligent onlooker of the position at Caesarea on the death of Eusebius, least of all the highly capable administrator of the province, could be blind to the fact that of all possible competitors for the vacant throne Basil himself was the ablest and most distinguished, and the likeliest to be capable of directing the course of events in the interests of orthodoxy. But it does not follow that Basil’s appeal to Gregory to come to him was a deliberate step to secure this end. He craved for the support and counsel of his friend; but no one could have known better that Gregory the younger was not the man to take prompt action or rule events. His invention of a fatal sickness, or exaggeration of a slight one, failed to secure even Gregory’s presence at Caesarea. Gregory burst into tears on receipt of the news of his friend’s grave illness, and hastened to obey the summons to his side. But on the road he fell in with bishops hurrying to Caesarea for the election of a successor to Eusebius, and detected the unreality of Basil’s plea. He at once returned to Nazianzus and wrote the oft-quoted letter, on the interpretation given to which depends the estimate formed of Basil’s action at the important crisis.

Basil may or may not have taken Gregory’s advice not to put himself forward. But Gregory and his father, the bishop, from this time strained every nerve to secure the election of Basil. It was felt that the cause of true religion was at stake. “The Holy Ghost must win.” Opposition had to be encountered from bishops who were in open or secret sympathy with Basil’s theological opponents, from men of wealth and position with whom Basil was unpopular on account of his practice and preaching of stern self-denial, and from all the lewd fellows of the baser sort in Caesarea. Letters were written in the name of Gregory the bishop with an eloquence and literary skill which have led them to be generally regarded as the composition of Gregory the younger. To the people of Caesarea Basil was represented as a man of saintly life and of unique capacity to stem the surging tide of heresy. To the bishops of the province who had asked him to come to Caesarea without saying why, in the hope perhaps that so strong a friend of Basil’s might be kept away from the election without being afterwards able to contest it on the ground that he had had no summons to attend, he expresses an earnest hope that their choice is not a factious and foregone conclusion, and, anticipating possible objections on the score of Basil’s weak health, reminds them that they have to elect not a gladiator, but a primate. To Eusebius of Samosata he sends the letter included among those of Basil in which he urges him to cooperate in securing the appointment of a worthy man. Despite his age and physical infirmity, he was laid in his litter, as his son says like a corpse in a grave, and borne to Caesarea to rise there with fresh vigour and carry the election by his vote. All resistance was overborne, and Basil was seated on the throne of the great exarchate.

The success of the Catholics roused, as was inevitable, various feelings. Athanasius wrote from Alexandria to congratulate Cappadocia on her privilege in being ruled by so illustrious a primate. Valens prepared to carry out the measures against the Catholic province, which had been interrupted by the revolt of Procopius. The bishops of the province who had been narrowly out-voted, and who had refused to take part in the consecration, abandoned communion with the new primate. But even more distressing to the new archbishop than the disaffection of his suffragans was the refusal of his friend Gregory to come in person to support him on his throne. Gregory pleaded that it was better for Basil’s own sake that there should be no suspicion of favour to personal friends, and begged to be excused for staying at Nazianzus. Basil complained that his wishes and interests were disregarded, and was hurt at Gregory’s refusing to accept high responsibilities, possibly the coadjutor-bishopric, at Caesarea. A yet further cause of sorrow and annoyance was the blundering attempt of Gregory of Nyssa to effect a reconciliation between his uncle Gregory, who was in sympathy with the disaffected bishops, and his brother. He even went so far as to send more than one forged letter in their uncle’s name. The clumsy counterfeit was naturally found out, and the widened breach not bridged without difficulty. The episcopate thus began with troubles, both public and personal. Basil confidently confronted them. His magnanimity and capacity secured the adhesion of his immediate neighbours and subordinates, and soon his energies took a wider range. He directed the theological campaign all over the East, and was ready alike to meet opponents in hand to hand encounter, and to aim the arrows of his epistolary eloquence far and wide. He invokes the illustrious pope of Alexandria to join him in winning the support of the West for the orthodox cause. He is keenly interested in the unfortunate controversy which distracted the Church of Antioch. He makes an earnest appeal to Damasus for the wonted sympathy of the Church at Rome. At the same time his industry in his see was indefatigable. He is keen to secure the purity of ordination and the fitness of candidates. Crowds of working people come to hear him preach before they go to their work for the day. He travels distances which would be thought noticeable even in our modern days of idolatry of the great goddess Locomotion. He manages vast institutions eleemosynary and collegiate. His correspondence is constant and complicated. He seems the personification of the active, rather than of the literary and scholarly, bishop. Yet all the while he is writing tracts and treatises which are monuments of industrious composition, and indicative of a memory stored with various learning, and of the daily and effective study of Holy Scripture.

Nevertheless, while thus actively engaged in fighting the battle of the faith, and in the conscientious discharge of his high duties, he was not to escape an unjust charge of pusillanimity, if not of questionable orthodoxy, from men who might have known him better. On September 7th, probably in 371, was held the festival of St. Eupsychius. Basil preached the sermon. Among the hearers were many detractors. A few days after the festival there was a dinner-party at Nazianzus, at which Gregory was present, with several persons of distinction, friends of Basil. Of the party was a certain unnamed guest, of religious dress and reputation, who claimed a character for philosophy, and said some very hard things against Basil. He had heard the archbishop at the festival preach admirably on the Father and the Son, but the Spirit, he alleged, Basil defamed. While Gregory boldly called the Spirit God, Basil, from poor motives, refrained from any clear and distinct enunciation of the divinity of the Third Person. The unfavourable view of Basil was the popular one at the dinner-table, and Gregory was annoyed at not being able to convince the party that, while his own utterances were of comparatively little importance, Basil had to weigh every word, and to avoid, if possible, the banishment which was hanging over his head. It was better to use a wise “economy” in preaching the truth than so to proclaim it as to ensure the extinction of the light of true religion. Basil shewed some natural distress and astonishment on hearing that attacks against him were readily received.

It was at the close of this same year 371 that Basil and his diocese suffered most severely from the hostility of the imperial government. Valens had never lost his antipathy to Cappadocia. In 370 he determined on dividing it into two provinces. Podandus, a poor little town at the foot of Mt. Taurus, was to be the chief seat of the new province, and thither half the executive was to be transferred. Basil depicts in lively terms the dismay and dejection of Caesarea. He even thought of proceeding in person to the court to plead the cause of his people, and his conduct is in itself a censure of those who would confine the sympathies of ecclesiastics within rigidly clerical limits. The division was insisted on. But, eventually, Tyana was substituted for Podandus as the new capital; and it has been conjectured that possibly the act of kindness of the prefect mentioned in Ep. LXXVIII. may have been this transfer, due to the intervention of Basil and his influential friends.

But the imperial Arian was not content with this administrative mutilation. At the close of the year 371, flushed with successes against the barbarians, fresh from the baptism of Endoxius, and eager to impose his creed on his subjects, Valens was travelling leisurely towards Syria. He is said to have shrunk from an encounter with the famous primate of Caesarea, for he feared lest one strong man’s firmness might lead others to resist. Before him went Modestus, Prefect of the Praetorium, the minister of his severities, and before Modestus, like the skirmishers in front of an advancing army, had come a troop of Arian bishops with Euippius, in all probability, at their head. Modestus found on his arrival that Basil was making a firm stand, and summoned the archbishop to his presence with the hope of overawing him. He met with a dignity, if not with a pride, which was more than a match for his own. Modestus claimed submission in the name of the emperor. Basil refused it in the name of God. Modestus threatened impoverishment, exile, torture, death. Basil retorted that none of these threats frightened him: he had nothing to be confiscated except a few rags and a few books; banishment could not send him beyond the lands of God; torture had no terrors for a body already dead; death could only come as a friend to hasten his last journey home. Modestus exclaimed in amazement that he had never been so spoken to before. “Perhaps,” replied Basil, “you never met a bishop before.” The prefect hastened to his master and reported that ordinary means of intimidation appeared unlikely to move this undaunted prelate. The archbishop must be owned victorious, or crushed by more brutal violence. But Valens, like all weak natures, oscillated between compulsion and compliance. He so far abated his pretensions to force heresy on Cappadocia, as to consent to attend the services at the Church on the Festival of the Epiphany. The Church was crowded. A mighty chant thundered over the sea of heads. At the end of the basilica, facing the multitude, stood Basil, statue-like, erect as Samuel among the prophets at Naioth, and quite indifferent to the interruption of the imperial approach. The whole scene seemed rather of heaven than of earth, and the orderly enthusiasm of the worship to be rather of angels than of men. Valens half fainted, and staggered as he advanced to make his offering at God’s Table. On the following day Basil admitted him within the curtain of the sanctuary, and conversed with him at length on sacred subjects.

The surroundings and the personal appearance of the interlocutors were significant. The apse of the basilica was as a holy of holies secluded from the hum and turmoil of the vast city. It was typical of what the Church was to the world. The health and strength of the Church were personified in Basil. He was now in the ripe prime of life but bore marks of premature age. Upright in carriage, of commanding stature, thin, with brown hair and eyes, and long beard, slightly bald, with bent brow, high cheek bones, and smooth skin, he would shew in every tone and gesture at once his high birth and breeding, the supreme culture that comes of intercourse with the noblest of books and of men, and the dignity of a mind made up and of a heart of single purpose. The sovereign presented a marked contrast to the prelate. Valens was of swarthy complexion, and by those who approached him nearly it was seen that one eye was defective. He was strongly built, and of middle height, but his person was obese, and his legs were crooked. He was hesitating and unready in speech and action. It is on the occasion of this interview that Theodoret places the incident of Basil’s humorous retort to Demosthenes, the chief of the imperial kitchen, the Nebuzaradan, as the Gregories style him, of the petty fourth century Nebuchadnezzar. This Demosthenes had already threatened the archbishop with the knife, and been bidden to go back to his fire. Now he ventured to join in the imperial conversation, and made some blunder in Greek. “An illiterate Demosthenes!” exclaimed Basil; “better leave theology alone, and go back to your soups.” The emperor was amused at the discomfiture of his satellite, and for a while seemed inclined to be friendly. He gave Basil lands, possibly part of the neighbouring estate of Macellum, to endow his hospital.

But the reconciliation between the sovereign and the primate was only on the surface. Basil would not admit the Arians to communion, and Valens could not brook the refusal. The decree of exile was to be enforced, though the pens had refused to form the letters of the imperial signature. Valens, however, was in distress at the dangerous illness of Galates, his infant son. and, on the very night of the threatened expatriation, summoned Basil to pray over him. A brief rally was followed by relapse and death, which were afterwards thought to have been caused by the young prince’s Arian baptism. Rudeness was from time to time shewn to the archbishop by discourteous and unsympathetic magistrates, as in the case of the Pontic Vicar, who tried to force an unwelcome marriage on a noble widow. The lady took refuge at the altar, and appealed to Basil for protection. The magistrate descended to contemptible insinuation, and subjected the archbishop to gross rudeness. His ragged upper garment was dragged from his shoulder, and his emaciated frame was threatened with torture. He remarked that to remove his liver would relieve him of a great inconvenience.

Nevertheless, so far as the civil power was concerned, Basil, after the famous visit of Valens, was left at peace. He had triumphed. Was it a triumph for the nobler principles of the Gospel? Had he exhibited a pride and an irritation unworthy of the Christian name? Jerome, in a passage of doubtful genuineness and application, is reported to have regarded his good qualities as marred by the one bane of pride, a “leaven” of which sin is admitted by Milman to have been exhibited by Basil, as well as uncompromising firmness. The temper of Basil in the encounter with Valens would probably have been somewhat differently regarded had it not been for the reputation of a hard and overbearing spirit which he has won from his part in transactions to be shortly touched on. His attitude before Valens seems to have been dignified without personal haughtiness, and to have shewn sparks of that quiet humour which is rarely exhibited in great emergencies except by men who are conscious of right and careless of consequences to self.


The Breach with Gregory of Nazianzus

Cappadocia, it has been seen, had been divided into two provinces, and of one of these Tyana had been constituted the chief town. Anthimus, bishop of Tyana, now contended that an ecclesiastical partition should follow the civil, and that Tyana should enjoy parallel metropolitan privileges to those of Caesarea. To this claim Basil determined to offer an uncompromising resistance, and summoned Gregory of Nazianzus to his side. Gregory replied in friendly and complimentary terms, and pointed out that Basil’s friendship for Eustathius of Sebaste was a cause of suspicion in the Church. At the same time he placed himself at the archbishop’s disposal. The friends started together with a train of slaves and mules to collect the produce of the monastery of St. Orestes, in Cappadocia Secunda, which was the property of the see of Caesarea. Anthimus blocked the defiles with his retainers and in the vicinity of Sasima there was an unseemly struggle between the domestics of the two prelates. The friends proceeded to Nazianzus, and there, with imperious inconsiderateness, Basil insisted upon nominating Gregory to one of the bishoprics which he was founding in order to strengthen his position against Anthimus. For Gregory, the brother, Nyssa was selected, a town on the Halys, about a hundred miles distant from Caesarea, so obscure that Eusebius of Samosata remonstrated with Basil on the unreasonableness of forcing such a man to undertake the episcopate of such a place. For Gregory, the friend, a similar fate was ordered. The spot chosen was Sasima, a townlet commanding the scene of the recent fray. It was an insignificant place at the bifurcation of the road leading northwards from Tyana to Doara and diverging westward to Nazianzus. Gregory speaks of it with contempt, and almost with disgust, and never seems to have forgiven his old friend for forcing him to accept the responsibility of the episcopate, and in such a place. Gregory resigned the distasteful post, and with very bitter feelings. The utmost that can be said for Basil is that just possibly he was consulting for the interest of the Church, and meaning to honour his friend, by placing Gregory in an outpost of peril and difficulty. In the kingdom of heaven the place of trial is the place of trust. But, unfortunately for the reputation of the archbishop, the war in this case was hardly the Holy War of truth against error and of right against wrong. It was a rivalry between official and official, and it seemed hard to sacrifice Gregory to a dispute between the claims of the metropolitans of Tyana and Caesarea.

Gregory the elder joined in persuading his son. Basil had his way. He won a convenient suffragan for the moment. But he lost his friend. The sore was never healed, and even in the great funeral oration in which Basil’s virtues and abilities are extolled, Gregory traces the main trouble of his chequered career to Basil’s unkindness, and owns to feeling the smart still, though the hand that inflicted the wound was cold.

With Anthimus peace was ultimately established. Basil vehemently desired it. Eusebius of Samosata again intervened. Nazianzus remained for a time subject to Caesarea, but was eventually recognized as subject to the Metropolitan of Tyana.

The relations, however, between the two metropolitans remained for some time strained. When in Armenia in 372, Basil arranged some differences between the bishops of that district, and dissipated a cloud of calumny hanging over Cyril, an Armenian bishop. He also acceded to a request on the part of the Church of Satala that he would nominate a bishop for that see, and accordingly appointed Poemenius, a relation of his own. Later on a certain Faustus, on the strength of a recommendation from a pope with whom he was residing, applied to Basil for consecration to the see, hitherto occupied by Cyril. With this request Basil declined to comply, and required as a necessary preliminary the authorisation of the Armenian bishops, specially of Theodotus of Nicopolis. Faustus then betook himself to Anthimus, and succeeded in obtaining uncanonical consecration from him. This was naturally a serious cause of disagreement. However, by 375, a better feeling seems to have existed between the rivals. Basil is able at that date to speak of Anthimus as in complete agreement with him.


St. Basil and Eustathius

It was Basil’s doom to suffer through his friendships. If the fault lay with himself in the case of Gregory, the same cannot be said of his rupture with Eustathius of Sebaste. If in this connexion fault can be laid to his charge at all, it was the fault of entering into intimacy with an unworthy man. In the earlier days of the retirement in Pontus the austerities of Eustathius outweighed in Basil’s mind any suspicions of his unorthodoxy. Basil delighted in his society, spent days and nights in sweet converse with him, and introduced him to his mother and the happy family circle at Annesi. And no doubt under the ascendency of Basil, Eustathius, always ready to be all things to all men who might be for the time in power and authority, would appear as a very orthodox ascetic. Basil likens him to the Ethiopian of immutable blackness, and the leopard who cannot change his spots. But in truth his skin at various periods shewed every shade which could serve his purpose, and his spots shifted and changed colour with every change in his surroundings. He is the patristic Proteus. There must have been something singularly winning in his more than human attractiveness. But he signed almost every creed that went about for signature in his lifetime. He was consistent only in inconsistency. It was long ere Basil was driven to withdraw his confidence and regard, although his constancy to Eustathius raised in not a few, and notably in Theodotus of Nicopolis, the metropolitan of Armenia, doubts as to Basil’s soundness in the faith. When Basil was in Armenia in 373, a creed was drawn up, in consultation with Theodotus, to be offered to Eustathius for signature. It consisted of the Nicene confession, with certain additions relating to the Macedonian controversy. Eustathius signed, together with Fronto and Severus. But, when another meeting with other bishops was arranged, he violated his pledge to attend. He wrote on the subject as though it were one of only small importance. Eusebius endeavoured, but endeavoured in vain, to make peace. Eustathius renounced communion with Basil, and at last, when an open attack on the archbishop seemed the paying game, he published an old letter of Basil’s to Apollinarius, written by “layman to layman,” many years before, and either introduced, or appended, heretical expressions of Apollinarius, which were made to pass as Basil’s. In his virulent hostility he was aided, if not instigated, by Demosthenes the prefect’s vicar, probably Basil’s old opponent at Caesarea in 372. His duplicity and slanders roused Basil’s indignant denunciation. Unhappily they were not everywhere recognized as calumnies. Among the bitterest of Basil’s trials was the failure to credit him with honour and orthodoxy on the part of those from whom he might have expected sympathy and support. An earlier instance of this is the feeling shewn at the banquet at Nazianzus already referred to. In later days he was cruelly troubled by the unfriendliness of his old neighbours at Neocaesarea, and this alienation would be the more distressing inasmuch as Atarbius, the bishop of that see, appears to have been Basil’s kinsman. He was under the suspicion of Sabellian unsoundness. He slighted and slandered Basil on several apparently trivial pretexts, and on one occasion hastened from Nicopolis for fear of meeting him. He expressed objection to supposed novelties introduced into the Church of Caesarea, to the mode of psalmody practiced there, and to the encouragement of ascetic life. Basil did his utmost to win back the Neocaesareans from their heretical tendencies and to their old kindly sentiments towards himself.

The clergy of Pisidia and Pontus, where Eustathius had been specially successful in alienating the district of Dazimon, were personally visited and won back to communion. But Atarbius and the Neocaesareans were deaf to all appeal, and remained persistently irreconcilable. On his visiting the old home at Annesi, where his youngest brother Petrus was now residing, in 375, the Neocaesareans were thrown into a state of almost ludicrous panic. They fled as from a pursuing enemy. They accused Basil of seeking to win their regard and support from motives of the pettiest ambition, and twitted him with travelling into their neighbourhood uninvited.


Unbroken Friendships

Brighter and happier intimacies were those formed with the older bishop of Samosata, the Eusebius who, of all the many bearers of the name, most nearly realised its meaning, and with Basil’s junior, Amphilochius of Iconium. With the former, Basil’s relations were those of an affectionate son and of an enthusiastic admirer. The many miles that stretched between Caesarea and Samosata did not prevent these personal as well as epistolary communications. In 372 they were closely associated in the eager efforts of the orthodox bishops of the East to win the sympathy and active support of the West. In 374 Eusebius was exiled, with all the picturesque incidents so vividly described by Theodoret. He travelled slowly from Samosata into Thrace, but does not seem to have met either Gregory or Basil on his way. Basil contrived to continue a correspondence with him in his banishment. It was more like that of young lovers than of elderly bishops. The friends deplore the hindrances to conveyance, and are eager to assure one another that neither is guilty of forgetfulness.

The friendship with Amphilochius seems to have begun at the time when the young advocate accepted the invitation conveyed in the name of Heracleidas, his friend, and repaired from Ozizala to Caesarea. The consequences were prompt and remarkable. Amphilochius, at this time between thirty and forty years of age, was soon ordained and consecrated, perhaps, like Ambrose of Milan and Eusebius of Caesarea per saltum, to the important see of Iconium, recently vacated by the death of Faustinus. Henceforward the intercourse between the spiritual father and the spiritual son, both by letters and by visits, was constant. The first visit of Amphilochius to Basil, as bishop, probably at Easter 374, not only gratified the older prelate, but made a deep impression on the Church of Caesarea. But his visits were usually paid in September, at the time of the services in commemoration of the martyr Eupsychius. On the occasion of the first of them, in 374, the friends conversed together on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, now impugned by the Macedonians, and the result was the composition of the treatise De Spiritu Sancto. This was closely followed by the three famous canonical epistles, also addressed to Amphilochius. Indeed, so great was the affectionate confidence of the great administrator and theologian in his younger brother, that, when infirmities were closing round him, he asked Amphilochius to aid him in the administration of the archdiocese.

If we accept the explanation given of Letter CLXIX. in a note on a previous page, Gregory the elder, bishop of Nazianzus, must be numbered among those of Basil’s correspondents letters to whom have been preserved. The whole episode referred to in that and in the two following letters is curiously illustrative of outbursts of fanaticism and folly which might have been expected to occur in Cappadocia in the fourth century, as well as in soberer regions in several other centuries when they have occurred. It has been clothed with fresh interest by the very vivid narrative of Professor Ramsay, and by the skill with which he uses the scanty morsels of evidence available to construct the theory which he holds about it. This theory is that the correspondence indicates a determined attempt on the part of the rigidly orthodox archbishop to crush proceedings which were really “only keeping up the customary ceremonial of a great religious meeting,” and, as such, were winked at, if not approved of, by the bishop to whom the letter of remonstrance is addressed, and the presbyter who was Glycerius’ superior. Valuable information is furnished by Professor Ramsay concerning the great annual festival in honour of Zeus of Venasa (or Venese), whose shrine was richly endowed, and the inscription discovered on a Cappadocian hill-top, “Great Zeus in heaven, be propitious to me.” But the “evident sympathy” of the bishop and the presbyter is rather a strained inference from the extant letters; and the fact that in the days when paganism prevailed in Cappadocia Venasa was a great religious centre, and the scene of rites in which women played an important part, is no conclusive proof that wild dances performed by an insubordinate deacon were tolerated, perhaps encouraged, because they represented a popular old pagan observance. Glycerius may have played the patriarch, without meaning to adopt, or travesty, the style of the former high priest of Zeus. Cappadocia was one of the most Christian districts of the empire long before Basil was appointed to the exarchate of Caesarea, and Basil is not likely to have been the first occupant of the see who would strongly disapprove of and endeavour to repress, any such manifestations as those which are described. That the bishop whom Basil addresses and the presbyter served by Glycerius should have desired to deal leniently with the offender individually does not convict them of accepting the unseemly proceedings of Glycerius and his troupe as a pardonable, if not desirable, survival of a picturesque national custom.

Among other bishops of the period with whom Basil communicated by letter are Abramius, or Abraham, of Batnae in Oshoene, the illustrious Athanasius, and Ambrose, Athanasius of Ancyra; Barses of Edessa, who died in exile in Egypt; Elpidius, of some unknown see on the Levantine seaboard, who supported Basil in the controversy with Eustathius; the learned Epiphanius of Salamis; Meletius, the exiled bishop of Antioch; Patrophilus of AEgae; Petrus of Alexandria; Theodotus of Nicopolis, and Ascholius of Thessalonica.

Basil’s correspondence was not, however, confined within the limits of clerical clanship. His extant letters to laymen, both distinguished and undistinguished, shew that he was in touch with the men of mark of his time and neighbourhood, and that he found time to express an affectionate interest in the fortunes of his intimate friends.

Towards the later years of his life the archbishop’s days were darkened not only by ill-health and anxiety, but by the death of some of his chief friends and allies. Athanasius died in 373, and so far as personal living influence went, there was an extinction of the Pharos not of Alexandria only, but of the world. It was no longer “Athanasius contra mundum,” but “Mundus sine Athanasio.” In 374 Gregory the elder died at Nazianzus, and the same year saw the banishment of Eusebius of Samosata to Thrace. In 375 died Theodotus of Nicopolis, and the succession of Fronto was a cause of deep sorrow.

At this time some short solace would come to the Catholics in the East in the synodical letter addressed to the Orientals of the important synod held in Illyria, under the authority of Valentinian. The letter which is extant is directed against the Macedonian heresy. The charge of conveying it to the East was given to the presbyter Elpidius. Valentinian sent with it a letter to the bishops of Asia in which persecution is forbidden, and the excuse of submission to the reigning sovereign anticipated and condemned. Although the letter runs in the names of Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian, the western brother appears to condemn the eastern.


Troubles of the Closing Years

The relief to the Catholic East was brief. The paroxysm of passion which caused Valentinian to break a blood-vessel and ended his life, ended also the force of the imperial rescript. The Arians lifted their heads again. A council was held at Ancyra, in which the homoousion was condemned, and frivolous and vexatious charges were brought against Gregory of Nyssa. At Cyzicus a Semiarian synod blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Similar proceedings characterized a synod of Antioch at about the same time. Gregory of Nyssa having been prevented by illness from appearing before the synod of Ancyra, Eustathius and Demosthenes persisted in their efforts to wound Basil through his brother, and summoned a synod at Nyssa itself, where Gregory was condemned in his absence and deposed. He was not long afterwards banished. On the other hand the Catholic bishops were not inactive. Synods were held on their part, and at Iconium Amphilochius presided over a gathering at which Basil was perhaps present himself, and where his treatise on the Holy Spirit was read and approved.

It is of a piece with Basil’s habitual silence on the general affairs of the empire that he should seem to be insensible of the shock caused by the approach of the Goths in 378. A letter to Eusebius in exile in Thrace does shew at least a consciousness of a disturbed state of the country, and he is afraid of exposing his courier to needless danger by entrusting him with a present for his friend. But this is all. He may have written letters shewing an interest in the fortunes of the empire which have not been preserved. But his whole soul was absorbed in the cause of Catholic truth, and in the fate of the Church. His youth had been steeped in culture, but the work of his ripe manhood left no time for the literary amusement of the dilettante. So it may be that the intense earnestness with which he said to himself, “This one thing I do,” of his work as a shepherd of souls, and a fighter for the truth, and his knowledge that for the doing of this work his time was short, accounts for the absence from his correspondence of many a topic of more than contemporary interest. At all events, it is not difficult to descry that the turn in the stream of civil history was of vital moment to the cause which Basil held dear. The approach of the enemy was fraught with important consequences to the Church. The imperial attention was diverted from persecution of the Catholics to defence of the realm. Then came the disaster of Adrianople, and the terrible end of the unfortunate Valens. Gratian, a sensible lad, of Catholic sympathies, restored the exiled bishops, and Basil, in the few months of life yet left him, may have once more embraced his faithful friend Eusebius. The end drew rapidly near. Basil was only fifty, but he was an old man. Work, sickness, and trouble had worn him out. His health had never been good. A chronic liver complaint was a constant cause of distress and depression.

In 373 he had been at death’s door. Indeed, the news of his death was actually circulated, and bishops arrived at Caesarea with the probable object of arranging the succession. He had submitted to the treatment of a course of natural hot baths, but with small beneficial result. By 376, as he playfully reminds Amphilochius, he had lost all his teeth. At last the powerful mind and the fiery enthusiasm of duty were no longer able to stimulate the energies of the feeble frame.

The winter of 378–9 dealt the last blow, and with the first day of what, to us, is now the new year, the great spirit fled. Gregory, alas! was not at the bedside. But he has left us a narrative which bears the stamp of truth. For some time the bystanders thought that the dying bishop had ceased to breathe. Then the old strength blazed out at the last. He spoke with vigour, and even ordained some of the faithful who were with him. Then he lay once more feeble and evidently passing away. Crowds surrounded his residence, praying eagerly for his restoration to them, and willing to give their lives for his. With a few final words of advice and exhortation, he said: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and so ended.

The funeral was a scene of intense excitement and rapturous reverence. Crowds filled every open space, and every gallery and window; Jews and Pagans joined with Christians in lamentation, and the cries and groans of the agitated oriental multitude drowned the music of the hymns which were sung. The press was so great that several fatal accidents added to the universal gloom. Basil was buried in the “sepulchre of his fathers”—a phrase which may possibly mean in the ancestral tomb of his family at Caesarea.

So passed away a leader of men in whose case the epithet great’ is no conventional compliment. He shared with his illustrious brother primate of Alexandria the honour of rallying the Catholic forces in the darkest days of the Arian depression. He was great as foremost champion of a great cause, great in contemporary and posthumous influence, great in industry and self-denial, great as a literary controversialist. The estimate formed of him by his contemporaries is expressed in the generous, if somewhat turgid, eloquence of the laudatory oration of the slighted Gregory of Nazianzus. Yet nothing in Gregory’s eulogy goes beyond the expressions of the prelate who has seemed to some to be “the wisest and holiest man in the East in the succeeding century.” Basil is described by the saintly and learned Theodoret in terms that might seem exaggerated when applied to any but his master, as the light not of Cappadocia only, but of the world. To Sophronius he is the “glory of the Church.” To Isidore of Pelusium, he seems to speak as one inspired. To the Council of Chalcedon he is emphatically a minister of grace; to the second council of Nicaea a layer of the foundations of orthodoxy. His death lacks the splendid triumph of the martyrdoms of Polycarp and Cyprian. His life lacks the vivid incidents which make the adventures of Athanasius an enthralling romance. He does not attract the sympathy evoked by the unsophisticated simplicity of Gregory his friend or of Gregory his brother. There does not linger about his memory the close personal interest that binds humanity to Augustine, or the winning loyalty and tenderness that charm far off centuries into affection for Theodoret. Sometimes he seems a hard, almost a sour man. Sometimes there is a jarring reminder of his jealousy for his own dignity. Evidently he was not a man who could be thwarted without a rupture of pleasant relations, or slighted with impunity. In any subordinate position he was not easy to get on with. But a man of strong will, convicted that he is championing a righteous cause, will not hesitate to sacrifice, among other things, the amenities that come of amiable absence of self-assertion. To Basil, to assert himself was to assert the truth of Christ and of His Church. And in the main the identification was a true one. Basil was human, and occasionally, as in the famous dispute with Anthimus, so disastrously fatal to the typical friendship of the earlier manhood, he may have failed to perceive that the Catholic cause would not suffer from the existence of two metropolitans in Cappadocia. But the great archbishop could be an affectionate friend, thirsty for sympathy. And he was right in his estimate of his position. Broadly speaking, Basil, more powerfully than any contemporary official, worker, or writer in the Church, did represent and defend through all the populous provinces of the empire which stretched from the Balkans to the Mediterranean, from the AEgean to the Euphrates, the cause whose failure or success has been discerned, even by thinkers of no favourable predisposition, to have meant death or life to the Church. St. Basil is duly canonized in the grateful memory, no less than in the official bead-roll, of Christendom, and we may be permitted to regret that the existing Kalendar of the Anglican liturgy has not found room for so illustrious a Doctor in its somewhat niggard list. For the omission some amends have lately been made in the erection of a statue of the great archbishop of Caesarea under the dome of the Cathedral St. Paul in London.

The extant works of St. Basil may be conveniently classified as follows:

I. Dogmatic.

(i) Adversus Eunomium. Pros Eunomion.

(ii) De Spiritu Sancto. Peri tou Pneumatos.

II. Exegetic.

(i) In Hexaemeron. Eis ten Exaemeron.

(ii) Homiliae on Pss. i., vii., xiv., xxviii., xxix., xxxii., xxxiii., xliv., xlv., xlviii., lix., lxi., cxiv.

(iii) Commentary on Isaiah i.-xvi.

III. Ascetic.

(i) Tractatus praevii.

(ii.) Prooemium de Judicio Dei and De Fide.

(iii) Moralia. Ta ‘Ethika.

(iv) Regulae fusius tractatae. Oroi kata platos.

(v) Regulae brevius tractatae. Oroi kat’ epitomen.

IV. Homiletic. XXIV. Homilies.

(i) Dogmatic.

(ii) Moral.

(iii) Panegyric.

V. Letters.

(i) Historic.

(ii) Dogmatic.

(iii) Moral.

(iv) Disciplinary.

(v) Consolatory.

(vi) Commendatory.

(vii) Familiar.

VI. Liturgic.



I. (i) Against Eunomius. The work under this title comprises five books, the first three generally accepted as genuine, the last two sometimes regarded as doubtful.

(ii) De Spiritu Sancto.



(i)The Hexaemeron.

(ii) The Homilies on the Psalms as published are seventeen in number

(iii.) The Commentary on Isaiah.



(i) Tractatus Praevii.

(ii)Prooemium de Judicio Dei (prooimion peri krimatos Theou) and the De Fide (peri pisteos).

(iii) The Moralia (ta ethika) is placed in 361.

(iv) The Regulae fusius tractatae (horoi kata platos), 55 in number, and the Regulae brevius tractatae (horoi kat’ epitomen), in number 313, are a series of precepts for the guidance of religious life put in the form of question and answer.



Twenty-four homilies on miscellaneous subjects, published under St. Basil’s name, are generally accepted as genuine. They are conveniently classified as (i) Dogmatic and Exegetic, (ii) Moral, and (iii) Panegyric. To Class (i) will be referred

III. In Illud, Attende tibi ipsi.

VI. In Illud, Destruam horrea, etc.

IX. In Illud, Quod Deus non est auctor malorum.

XII. In principium Proverbiorum.

XV. De Fide.

XVI. In Illud, In principio erat Verbum.

XXIV. Contra Sabellianos et Arium et Anomoeos.

Class (ii) will include

I. and II. De Jejunio.

IV. De gratiarum actione.

VII. In Divites.

VIII. In famem et siccitatem.

X. Adversus beatos.

XI. De invidia.

XIII. In Sanctum Baptismum.

XIV. In Ebriosos.

XX. De humilitate.

XXI. Quod rebus mundanis adhaerendum non sit, et de incendio extra ecclesiam facto.

XXII. Ad adolescentes, de legendis libris Gentilium.

The Panegyric (iii) are

V. In martyrem Julittam.

XVII. In Barlaam martyrem.

XVIII. In Gordium martyrem.

XIX. In sanctos quadraginta martyres.

XXIII. In Mamantem martyrem.



Under this head I will add nothing to the notes, however inadequate, appended to the text.



It is beyond the scope of the present work to discuss at length the history and relation of the extant Liturgies, which go by the name of St. Basil. St. Basil’s precise share in their composition, as we possess them, must be conjectural.

(i) The Liturgy, which St. Basil himself used and gave to his clergy and monks, preserved the traditional form in use in the archdiocese of Caesarea. It is mentioned in the xxxii^nd canon of the council “in Trullo” of 692. This is no doubt the basis of the Greek Liturgy known as St. Basil’s, and used in the East as well as the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom. The form in use is contained in Neale’s Primitive Liturgies (1875). Dr. Swainson (Greek Liturgies chiefly from Oriental Sources, p. 75) printed an edition of it from the Barberini ms. in 1884.

(ii) There is an Alexandrine Liturgy in Coptic, Arabic, and Greek form, called St. Basil’s, and used on fast days by the Monophysites (Renaudot, Lit. Orient. Collectio, i. 154). This differs entirely from the first named.

(iii) Yet again there is a Syriac Liturgy called St. Basil’s, translated by Masius, and given by Renaudot in his second volume.


Writings Spurious and Dubious

Under this head will be ranked besides writings objections against which have been already noticed:

1. Constitutiones monasticae (‘Asketikai diataxeis), in number thirty-four.

2. Poenae in monachos delinquentes, and Poenae in Canonicas (epitimia).

3. Libri duo de Baptismo.

4. Sermones duo ascetici.

5. Various Homilies:

a. Adversus Calumniatores SS. Trinitatis,

b. Altera de Sp. Scto.,

c. In Sanctam Christi Generationem,

d. De Libero Arbitrio,

e. In aliquot Scripturae locis, dicta in Lacizis.

f. III. De Jejunio.

g. De Poenitentia.

6. A book On True Virginity.

7. A treatise On consolation in adversity.

8. A treatise De laude solitariae vitae.

9. Admonitio ad filum spiritualem (extant only in Latin).

10. Sermones de moribus XXIV. (ethikoi logoi), a cento of extracts made by Simeon Metaphrastes.


Writings Mentioned, But Lost

A book against the Manichaeans (Augustine, c. Julian. i. 16–17). Tillemont (Art. cxlv. p. 303) mentions authors in which lost fragments of St. Basil are to be found, and (Art. cxxxvii. p. 290) refers to the lost Commentary on the Book of Job.

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