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Funeral Oration on the Great S. Basil, Bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia.
S. Basil died January 1, a.d. 379. A serious illness, in addition to other causes, prevented S. Gregory from being present at his funeral (Epist. 79). Benoît holds that an expression (Epitaph, cxix. 38) in which S. Gregory says that his “lips are fettered” proves that he was still in retirement at Seleucia. This is an unwarranted deduction. In this Oration, § 2, the Saint, alluding to his illness in disparaging terms, alleges his labours at Constantinople as a more pressing reason for his absence: and says that he undertook the task according to the judgment of S. Basil. This implies that S. Gregory went to Constantinople before the death of S. Basil, or that he had then been influenced by his friend’s advice and was on the point of setting out—more probably the former, as we may be sure that, if S. Gregory had been still at Seleucia, no reason but physical incapacity would have kept him from his friend’s side. His pressing duties at Constantinople and the difficulties of the long journey were the “other causes” of his letter to S. Gregory of Nyssa: and we know that he suffered from serious illness at Constantinople (Carm. xi. 887. Orat. xxiii. 1). S. Gregory left Constantinople in June, a.d. 381, and Tillemont places the date of this Oration soon after his return to Nazianzus. Benoît thinks that it was probably delivered on the anniversary of S. Basil’s death. The Oration, as all critics are agreed, is one of great power and beauty. Its length (62 pages folio), the physical weakness of the speaker, and the limits of the endurance of even an interested audience, incline us to suppose that it was not spoken in its present form. We cannot well set aside expressions which clearly point to actual delivery, but it may have been amplified later.
1. It has then been ordained that the great Basil, who used so constantly to furnish me with subjects for my discourses, of which he was quite as proud as any other man of his own, should himself now furnish me with the grandest subject which has ever fallen to the lot of an orator. For I think that if anyone desired, in making trial of his powers of eloquence, to test them by the standard of that one of all his subjects which he preferred (as painters do with epoch-making pictures), he would choose that which stood first of all others, but would set aside this as beyond the powers of human eloquence. So great a task is the praise of such a man, not only to me, who have long ago laid aside all thought of emulation, but even to those who live for eloquence, and whose sole object is the gaining of glory by subjects like this. Such is my opinion, and, as I persuade myself, with perfect justice. But I know not what subject I can treat with eloquence, if not this; or what greater favour I can do to myself, to the admirers of virtue, or to eloquence itself, than express our admiration for this man. To me it is the discharge of a most sacred debt. And our speech is a debt beyond all others due to those who have been gifted, in particular, with powers of speech. To the admirers of virtue a discourse is at once a pleasure and an incentive to virtue. For when43974397 For when, etc. This seems to be the sense of an admittedly difficult sentence. I have learned the praises of men, I have a distinct idea of their progress: now, there is none of us all, within whose power it is not to attain to any point whatsoever in that progress. As for eloquence itself, in either case, all must go well with it. For, if the discourse be almost worthy of its subject—eloquence will have given an exhibition of its power: if it fall far short of it, as must be the case when the praises of Basil are being set forth, by an actual demonstration of its incapacity, it will have declared the superiority of the excellences of its subject to all expression in words.
2. These are the reasons which have urged me to speak, and to address myself to this contest. And at my late appearance, long after his praises have been set forth by so many, who have publicly and privately done him honour, let no one be surprised. Yea, may I be pardoned by that divine soul, the object of my constant reverence! And as, when he was amongst us, he constantly corrected me in many points, according to the rights of a friend and the still higher law; for I am not ashamed to say this, for he was a standard of virtue to us all; so now, looking down upon me from above, he will treat me with indulgence. I ask pardon too of any here who are among his warmest admirers, if indeed anyone can be warmer than another, and we are not all abreast in our zeal for his good fame. For it is not contempt which has caused me to fall short of what might have been expected of me: nor have I been so regardless of the claims of virtue or of friendship; nor have I thought that to praise him befitted any other more than me. No! my first reason was, that I shrunk from this task, for I will say the truth, as priests43984398 As priests, or, more generally, “as those who approach our temples.” In the E. there were lavers at the entrance to the churches for the ablutions of intending worshippers. do, who approach their sacred duties before being cleansed both in voice and mind. In the second place, I remind you, though you know it well, of the task43994399 Of the task, i.e., of restoring the orthodox faith in Constantinople. in which I was engaged on behalf of the true doctrine, which had been properly forced upon me, and had carried me from home, according, as I suppose, to the will of God, and certainly according to the judgment of our noble champion of the truth, the breath of whose life was pious doctrine alone, such as promotes the salvation of the whole world. As for my bodily health, I ought not, perhaps, to dare to mention it, when my subject is a man so doughty in his conquest of the body, even before his removal hence, and who maintained that no powers of the soul should suffer hindrance from this our fetter.44004400 Fetter, i.e., the body. So much for my defence. I do not think I need labour it further, in speaking of him to you who know so clearly my affairs. I must now proceed with my eulogy, commending myself to his God, in order that my commendations may not prove an insult to the man, and that I may not lag far behind all others; even though we all equally fall as far short of his due, as those who look upon the heavens or the rays of the Sun.
3. Had I seen him to be proud of his birth, and the rights of birth, or any of those infinitely little objects of those whose eyes are on the ground, we should have had to inspect a new catalogue of the Heroes. What details as to his ancestors might I not have laid under contribution! Nor would even history have had any advantage over me, since I claim this advantage, that his celebrity depends, not upon fiction or legend, but upon actual facts attested by many witnesses. On his father’s side Pontus offers to me many details, in no wise inferior to its wonders of old time, of which all history and poesy are full;44014401 History and poesy, e.g., Xenophon, Polybius, and Apollonius. there are many others concerned with this my native land, of illustrious men of Cappadocia, renowned for its youthful progeny,44024402 Renowned, etc. Cf. Homer, Od. ix. 27. no less than for its horses. Accordingly we match with his father’s family that of his mother. What family owns more numerous, or more illustrious generals and governors, or court officials, or again, men of wealth, and lofty thrones, and public honours, and oratorical renown? If it were permitted me to wish to mention them, I would make nothing of the Pelopidæ and Cecropidæ, the Alcmæonids, the Æacidæ, and Heracleidæ, and other most noble families: inasmuch as they, in default of public merit in their house, betake themselves to the region of uncertainty, claiming demigods and divinities, merely mythical personages, as the glory of their ancestors, whose most vaunted details are incredible, and those which we can believe are an infamy.
4. But since our subject is a man who has maintained that each man’s nobility is to be judged of according to his own worth, and that, as forms and colours, and likewise our most celebrated and most infamous horses, are tested by their own properties, so we too ought not to be depicted in borrowed plumes; after mentioning one or two traits, which, though inherited from his ancestors, he made his own by his life, and which are specially likely to give pleasure to my hearers, I will then proceed to deal with the man himself. Different families and individuals have different points of distinction and interest, great or small, which, like a patrimony of longer or shorter descent, come down to posterity: the distinction of his family on either side was piety, which I now proceed to display.
5. There was a persecution, the most frightful and severe of all; I mean, as you know, the persecution of Maximinus, which, following closely upon those which immediately preceded it, made them all seem gentle, by its excessive audacity, and by its eagerness to win the crown of violence in impiety. It was overcome by many of our champions, who wrestled with it to the death, or well-nigh to the death, with only life enough left in them to survive their victory, and not pass away in the midst of the struggle; remaining to be trainers44034403 Trainers, lit. “anointers”—those who physically and by their advice prepared athletes for their exercises. in virtue, living witnesses, breathing trophies, silent exhortations, among whose numerous ranks were found Basil’s paternal ancestors, upon whom, in their practice of every form of piety, that period bestowed many a fair garland. So prepared and determined were they to bear readily all those things on account of which Christ crowns those who have imitated His struggle on our behalf.
6. But since their strife must needs be lawful, and the law of martyrdom alike forbids us voluntarily to go to meet it (in consideration for the persecutors, and for the weak) or to shrink from it if it comes upon us; for the former shows foolhardiness, the latter cowardice; in this respect they paid due honour to the Lawgiver; but what was their device, or rather, to what were they led by the Providence which guided them in all things? They betook themselves to a thicket on the mountains of Pontus, of which there are many deep ones of considerable extent, with very few comrades of their flight, or attendants upon their needs. Let others marvel at the length of time, for their flight was exceedingly prolonged, to about seven years, or a little more, and their mode of life, delicately nurtured as they were, was straitened and unusual, as may be imagined, with the discomfort of its exposure to frost and heat and rain: and the wilderness allowed no fellowship or converse with friends: a great trial to men accustomed to the attendance and honour of a numerous retinue. But I will proceed to speak of what is still greater and more extraordinary: nor will anyone fail to credit it, save those who, in their feeble and dangerous judgment, think little of persecutions and dangers for Christ’s sake.
7. These noble men, suffering from the lapse of time, and feeling a distaste for ordinary food, felt a longing for something more appetising. They did not indeed speak as Israel did,44044404 Exod. xvi. 2 et seq. for they were not murmurers44054405 1 Cor. x. 10. like them, in their afflictions in the desert, after the escape from Egypt—that Egypt would have been better for them than the wilderness, in the bountiful supply of its flesh-pots, and other dainties which they had left behind them there, for the brickmaking and the clay seemed nothing to them then in their folly—but in a more pious and faithful manner. For why, said they, is it incredible that the God of wonders, who bountifully fed44064406 Exod. xvi. 13. in the wilderness his homeless and fugitive people, raining bread upon them, and abounding in quails, nourishing them not only with necessaries, but even with luxuries: that He, Who divided the sea,44074407 Ib. xiv. 21. and stayed the sun,44084408 Josh. iii. 16; x. 12. and parted the river, with all the other things that He has done; for under such circumstances the mind is wont to recur to history, and sing the praises of God’s many wonders: that He, they went on, should feed us champions of piety with dainties to-day? Many animals which have escaped the tables of the rich, have their lairs in these mountains, and many eatable birds fly over our longing heads, any of which can surely be caught at the mere fiat of Thy will! At these words, their quarry lay before them, with food come of its own accord, a complete banquet prepared without effort, stags appearing all at once from some place in the hills. How splendid they were! how fat! how ready for the slaughter! It might almost be imagined that they were annoyed at not having been summoned earlier. Some of them made signs to draw others after them, the rest followed their lead. Who pursued and drove them? No one. What riders? What kind of dogs, what barking, or cry, or young men who had occupied the exits according to the rules of the chase? They were the prisoners of prayer and righteous petition. Who has known such a hunt among men of this, or any day?
8. O what a wonder! They were themselves stewards of the chase; what they would, was caught by the mere will to do so; what was left, they sent away to the thickets, for another meal. The cooks were extemporised, the dinner exquisite, the guests were grateful for this wonderful foretaste of their hopes. And hence they grew more earnest in their struggle, in return for which they had received this blessing. Such is my history. And do thou, my persecutor, in thy admiration for legends, tell of thy huntresses,44094409 Huntresses, esp. Artemis, a passion for whom was fatal to Orion and Actæon. and Orions, and Actæons, those ill-fated hunters, and the hind substituted for the maiden,44104410 The maiden, Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon. if any such thing rouses thee to emulation, and if we grant that this story is no legend. The sequel of the tale is too disgraceful. For what is the benefit of the exchange, if a maiden is saved to be taught to murder her guests, and learn to requite humanity with inhumanity? Let this one instance, such as it is, chosen out of many, represent the rest, as far as I am concerned. I have not related it to contribute to his reputation: for neither does the sea stand in need of the rivers which flow into it, many and great though they be, nor does the present subject of my praises need any contributions to his fair fame. No! my object is to exhibit the character of his ancestors, and the example before his eyes, which he so far excelled. For if other men find it a great additional advantage to receive somewhat of their honour from their forefathers, it is a greater thing for him to have made such an addition to the original stock that the stream seems to have run uphill.
9. The union of his parents, cemented as it was by a community of virtue, no less than by cohabitation, was notable for many reasons, especially for generosity to the poor, for hospitality, for purity of soul as the result of self-discipline, for the dedication to God of a portion of their property, a matter not as yet so much cared for by most men, as it now has grown to be, in consequence of such previous examples, as have given distinction to it, and for all those other points, which have been published throughout Pontus and Cappadocia, to the satisfaction of many: in my opinion, however, their greatest claim to distinction is the excellence of their children. Legend indeed has its instances of men whose children were many and beautiful, but it is practical experience which has presented to us these parents, whose own character, apart from that of their children, was sufficient for their fair fame, while the character of their children would have made them, even without their own eminence in virtue, to surpass all men by the excellence of their children. For the attainment of distinction by one or two of their offspring might be ascribed to their nature; but when all are eminent, the honour is clearly due to those who brought them up. This is proved by the blessed roll of priests and virgins, and of those who, when married, have allowed nothing in their union to hinder them from attaining an equal repute, and so have made the distinction between them to consist in the condition, rather than in the mode of their life.
10. Who has not known Basil, our archbishop’s father, a great name to everyone, who attained a father’s prayer, if anyone, I will not say as no one, ever did? For he surpassed all in virtue, and was only prevented by his son from gaining the first prize. Who has not known Emmelia, whose name was a forecast of what she became, or else whose life was an exemplification of her name? For she had a right to the name which implies gracefulness, and occupied, to speak concisely, the same place among women, as her husband among men. So that, when it was decided that he, in whose honour we are met, should be given to men to submit to the bondage of nature, as anyone of old has been given by God for the common advantage, it was neither fitting that he should be born of other parents, nor that they should possess another son: and so the two things suitably concurred. I have now, in obedience to the Divine law which bids us to pay all honour to parents, bestowed the firstfruits of my praises upon those whom I have commemorated, and proceed to treat of Basil himself, premising this, which I think will seem true to all who knew him, that we only need his own voice to pronounce his eulogium. For he is at once a brilliant subject for praise, and the only one whose powers of speech make him worthy of treating it. Beauty indeed and strength and size, in which I see that most men rejoice, I concede to anyone who will—not that even in these points he was inferior to any of those men of small minds who busy themselves about the body, while he was still young, and had not yet reduced the flesh by austerity—but that I may avoid the fate of unskilful athletes, who waste their strength in vain efforts after minor objects, and so are worsted in the crucial struggle, whose results are victory and the distinction of the crown. The praise, then, which I shall claim for him is based upon grounds which no one, I think, will consider superfluous, or beyond the scope of my oration.
11. I take it as admitted by men of sense, that the first of our advantages is education; and not only this our more noble form of it, which disregards rhetorical ornaments and glory, and holds to salvation, and beauty in the objects of our contemplation: but even that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor, as treacherous and dangerous, and keeping us afar from God. For as we ought not to neglect the heavens, and earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them, and honour God’s works instead of God: but to reap what advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers; not raising creation, as foolish men do, in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker,44114411 Rom. i. 20, 25. and, as the divine apostle says, bringing into captivity every thought to Christ:44124412 2 Cor. x. 5. and again, as we know that neither fire, nor food, nor iron, nor any other of the elements, is of itself most useful, or most harmful, except according to the will of those who use it; and as we have compounded healthful drugs from certain of the reptiles; so from secular literature we have received principles of enquiry and speculation, while we have rejected their idolatry, terror, and pit of destruction. Nay, even these have aided us in our religion, by our perception of the contrast between what is worse and what is better, and by gaining strength for our doctrine from the weakness of theirs. We must not then dishonour education, because some men are pleased to do so, but rather suppose such men to be boorish and uneducated, desiring all men to be as they themselves are, in order to hide themselves in the general, and escape the detection of their want of culture. But come now, and, after this sketch of our subject and these admissions, let us contemplate the life of Basil.
12. In his earliest years he was swathed and fashioned, in that best and purest fashioning which the Divine David speaks of as proceeding day by day,44134413 Ps. cxxxix. 16. in contrast with that of the night, under his great father, acknowledged in those days by Pontus, as its common teacher of virtue. Under him then, as life and reason grew and rose together, our illustrious friend was educated: not boasting of a Thessalian mountain cave, as the workshop of his virtue, nor of some braggart Centaur,44144414 Centaur. Alluding to Chiron, the tutor of Achilles. the tutor of the heroes of his day: nor was he taught under such tuition to shoot hares, and run down fawns, or hunt stags, or excel in war, or in breaking colts, using the same person as teacher and horse at once; nor nourished on the fabulous marrows of stags and lions, but he was trained in general education, and practised in the worship of God, and, to speak concisely, led on by elementary instructions to his future perfection. For those who are successful in life or in letters only, while deficient in the other, seem to me to differ in nothing from one-eyed men, whose loss is great, but their deformity greater, both in their own eyes, and in those of others. While those who attain eminence in both alike, and are ambidextrous, both possess perfection, and pass their life with the blessedness of heaven. This is what befell him, who had at home a model of virtue in well-doing, the very sight of which made him excellent from the first. As we see foals and calves skipping beside their mothers from their birth, so he too, running close beside his father in foal-like wantonness, without being left far behind in his lofty impulses toward virtue, or, if you will, sketching out and showing traces of the future beauty of his virtue, and drawing the outlines of perfection before the time of perfection arrived.
13. When sufficiently trained at home, as he ought to fall short in no form of excellence, and not be surpassed by the busy bee, which gathers what is most useful from every flower, he set out for the city of Cæsarea,44154415 Cæsarea, the Cappadocian city, as seems plain from the context. Yet Tillemont and Billius incline to think Cæsarea in Palestine is meant. to take his place in the schools there, I mean this illustrious city of ours, for it was the guide and mistress of my studies, the metropolis of letters, no less than of the cities which she excels and reigns over: and if any one were to deprive her of her literary power, he would rob her of her fairest and special distinction. Other cities take pride in other ornaments, of ancient or of recent date, that they may have something to be described or to be seen. Letters form our distinction here, and are our badge, as if upon the field of arms or on the stage. His subsequent life let those detail who trained him, or enjoyed his training, as to what he was to his masters, what he was to his classmates, equalling the former, surpassing the latter in every form of culture, what renown he won in a short time from all, both of the common people, and of the leaders of the state; by showing both a culture beyond his years, and a steadfastness of character beyond his culture. An orator among orators, even before the chair of the rhetoricians,44164416 Chair, etc., Before he had studied rhetoric and philosophy. a philosopher among philosophers, even before the doctrines of philosophers: highest of all a priest among Christians even before the priesthood. So much deference was paid to him in every respect by all. Eloquence was his by-work, from which he culled enough to make it an assistance to him in Christian philosophy, since power of this kind is needed to set forth the objects of our contemplation. For a mind which cannot express itself is like the motion of a man in a lethargy. His pursuit was philosophy, and breaking from the world, and fellowship with God, by concerning himself, amid things below, with things above, and winning, where all is unstable and fluctuating, the things which are stable and remain.
14. Thence to Byzantium, the imperial city of the East, for it was distinguished by the eminence of its rhetorical and philosophic teachers, whose most valuable lessons he soon assimilated by the quickness and force of his powers: thence he was sent by God, and by his generous craving for culture, to Athens the home of letters. Athens, which has been to me, if to any one, a city truly of gold, and the patroness of all that is good. For it brought me to know Basil more perfectly, though he had not been unknown to me before; and in my pursuit of letters, I attained to happiness; and in another fashion had the same experience as Saul,44174417 1 Sam. ix. 3. who, seeking his father’s asses, found a kingdom, and gained incidentally what was of more importance than the object which he had in view. Hitherto my course has been clear, leading me in my encomiums along a level and easy, in fact, a king’s highway: henceforth I know not how to speak or whither to turn: for my task is becoming arduous. For here I am anxious, and seize this opportunity to add from my own experience somewhat to my speech, and to dwell a little upon the recital of the causes and circumstances which originated our friendship, or to speak more strictly, our unity of life and nature. For as our eyes are not ready to turn from attractive objects, and, if we violently tear them away, are wont to return to them again; so do we linger in our description of what is most sweet to us. I am afraid of the difficulty of the undertaking. I will try, however, to use all possible moderation. And if I am at all overpowered by my regret, pardon this most righteous of all feelings, the absence of which would be a great loss, in the eyes of men of feeling.
15. We were contained by Athens, like two branches of some river-stream, for after leaving the common fountain of our fatherland, we had been separated in our varying pursuit of culture, and were now again united by the impulsion of God no less than by our own agreement. I preceded him by a little, but he soon followed me, to be welcomed with great and brilliant hope. For he was versed in many languages, before his arrival, and it was a great thing for either of us to outstrip the other in the attainment of some object of our study. And I may well add, as a seasoning to any speech, a short narrative, which will be a reminder to those who know it, a source of information to those who do not. Most of the young men at Athens in their folly are mad after rhetorical skill—not only those who are ignobly born and unknown, but even the noble and illustrious, in the general mass of young men difficult to keep under control. They are just like men devoted to horses and exhibitions, as we see, at the horse-races; they leap,44184418 They leap, etc. This passage refers to the spectators who unite in sympathy with, and imitate as far as possible, in their excitement, the actions of, those who drive the chariots in the races. they shout, raise clouds of dust, they drive in their seats, they beat the air, (instead of the horses) with their fingers as whips, they yoke and unyoke the horses, though they are none of theirs: they readily exchange with one another drivers, horses, positions, leaders: and who are they who do this? Often poor and needy fellows, without the means of support for a single day. This is just how the students feel in regard to their own tutors, and their rivals, in their eagerness to increase their own numbers and thereby enrich them. The matter is absolutely absurd and silly. Cities, roads, harbours, mountain tops, coastlines, are seized upon—in short, every part of Attica, or of the rest of Greece, with most of the inhabitants; for even these they have divided between the rival parties.
16. Whenever any newcomer arrives, and falls into the hands of those who seize upon him, either by force or willingly, they observe this Attic law, of combined jest and earnest. He is first conducted to the house of one of those who were the first to receive him, or of his friends, or kinsmen, or countrymen, or of those who are eminent in debating power, and purveyors of arguments, and therefore especially honoured among them; and their reward consists in the gain of adherents. He is next subjected to the raillery of any one who will, with the intention I suppose, of checking the conceit of the newcomers, and reducing them to subjection at once. The raillery is of a more insolent or argumentative kind, according to the boorishness or refinement of the railer: and the performance, which seems very fearful and brutal to those who do not know it, is to those who have experienced it very pleasant and humane: for its threats are feigned rather than real. Next, he is conducted in procession through the market place to the bath. The procession is formed by those who are charged with it in the young man’s honour, who arrange themselves in two ranks separated by an interval, and precede him to the bath. But when they have approached it, they shout and leap wildly, as if possessed, shouting that they must not advance, but stay, since the bath will not admit them; and at the same time frighten the youth by furiously knocking at the doors: then allowing him to enter, they now present him with his freedom, and receive him after the bath as an equal, and one of themselves. This they consider the most pleasant part of the ceremony, as being a speedy exchange and relief from annoyances. On this occasion I not only refused to put to shame my friend the great Basil, out of respect for the gravity of his character, and the ripeness of his reasoning powers, but also persuaded all the rest of the students to treat him likewise, who happened not to know him. For he was from the first respected by most of them, his reputation having preceded him. The result was that he was the only one to escape the general rule, and be accorded a greater honour than belongs to a freshman’s position.
17. This was the prelude of our friendship. This was the kindling spark of our union: thus we felt the wound of mutual love. Then something of this kind happened, for I think it right not to omit even this. I find the Armenians to be not a simple race, but very crafty and cunning. At this time some of his special comrades and friends, who had been intimate with him even in the early days of his father’s instruction, for they were members of his school, came up to him under the guise of friendship, but with envious, and not kindly intent, and put to him questions of a disputations rather than rational kind, trying to overwhelm him at the first onset, having known his original natural endowments, and unable to brook the honour he had then received. For they thought it a strange thing that they who had put on their gowns, and been exercised in shouting, should not get the better of one who was a stranger and a novice. I also, in my vain love for Athens, and trusting to their professions without perceiving their envy, when they were giving way, and turning their backs, since I was indignant that in their persons the reputation of Athens should be destroyed, and so speedily put to shame, supported the young men, and restored the argument; and by the aid of my additional weight, for in such cases a small addition makes all the difference, and, as the poet says, “made equal their heads in the fray.”44194419 Homer Il. xi. 72. But, when I perceived the secret motive of the dispute, which could no longer be kept under, and was at last clearly exposed, I at once drew back, and retired from their ranks, to range myself on his side, and made the victory decisive. He was at once delighted at what had happened, for his sagacity was remarkable, and being filled with zeal, to describe him fully in Homer’s language, he pursued in confusion44204420 Ib. xi. 496. with argument those valiant youths, and, smiting them with syllogisms, only ceased when they were utterly routed, and he had distinctly won the honours due to his power. Thus was kindled again, no longer a spark, but a manifest and conspicuous blaze of friendship.
18. Their efforts having thus proved fruitless, while they severely blamed their own rashness, they cherished such annoyance against me that it broke out into open hostility, and a charge of treachery, not only to them, but to Athens herself: inasmuch as they had been confuted and put to shame at the first onset, by a single student, who had not even had time to gain confidence. He moreover, according to that human feeling, which makes us, when we have all at once attained to the high hopes which we have cherished, look upon their results as inferior to our expectation, he, I say, was displeased and annoyed, and could take no delight in his arrival. He was seeking for what he had expected, and called Athens an empty happiness. I however tried to remove his annoyance, both by argumentative encounter, and by the enchantments of reasoning; alleging, as is true, that the disposition of a man cannot at once be detected, without a long time and more constant association, and that culture likewise is not made known to those who make trial of her, after a few efforts and in a short time. In this way I restored his cheerfulness, and by this mutual experience, he was the more closely united to me.
19. And when, as time went on, we acknowledged our mutual affection, and that philosophy44214421 Philosophy, here, a truly Christian life. was our aim, we were all in all to one another, housemates, messmates, intimates, with one object in life, or an affection for each other ever growing warmer and stronger. Love for bodily attractions, since its objects are fleeting, is as fleeting as the flowers of spring. For the flame cannot survive, when the fuel is exhausted, and departs along with that which kindles it, nor does desire abide, when its incentive wastes away. But love which is godly and under restraint, since its object is stable, not only is more lasting, but, the fuller its vision of beauty grows, the more closely does it bind to itself and to one another the hearts of those whose love has one and the same object. This is the law of our superhuman love. I feel that I am being unduly borne away, and I know not how to enter upon this point, yet I cannot restrain myself from describing it. For if I have omitted anything, it seems, immediately afterwards, of pressing importance, and of more consequence than what I had preferred to mention. And if any one would carry me tyrannically forward, I become like the polyps, which when they are being dragged from their holes, cling with their suckers to the rocks, and cannot be detached, until the last of these has had exerted upon it its necessary share of force. If then you give me leave, I have my request, if not I must take it from myself.
20. Such were our feelings for each other, when we had thus supported, as Pindar44224422 Olymp. Od. vi. 1. has it, our “well-built chamber with pillars of gold,” as we advanced under the united influences of God’s grace and our own affection. Oh! how can I mention these things without tears.
We were impelled by equal hopes, in a pursuit especially obnoxious to envy, that of letters. Yet envy we knew not, and emulation was of service to us. We struggled, not each to gain the first place for himself, but to yield it to the other; for we made each other’s reputation to be our own. We seemed to have one soul, inhabiting two bodies. And if we must not believe those whose doctrine is “All things44234423 All things, etc., i.e. Empedocles and Anaxagoras. are in all;” yet in our case it was worthy of belief, so did we live in and with each other. The sole business of both of us was virtue, and living for the hopes to come, having retired from this world, before our actual departure hence. With a view to this, were directed all our life and actions, under the guidance of the commandment, as we sharpened upon each other our weapons of virtue; and if this is not a great thing for me to say, being a rule and standard to each other, for the distinction between what was right and what was not. Our associates were not the most dissolute, but the most sober of our comrades; not the most pugnacious, but the most peaceable, whose intimacy was most profitable: knowing that it is more easy to be tainted with vice, than to impart virtue; just as we can more readily be infected with a disease, than bestow health. Our most cherished studies were not the most pleasant, but the most excellent; this being one means of forming young minds in a virtuous or vicious mould.
21. Two ways were known to us, the first of greater value, the second of smaller consequence: the one leading to our sacred buildings and the teachers there, the other to secular instructors. All others we left to those who would pursue them—to feasts, theatres, meetings, banquets. For nothing is in my opinion of value, save that which leads to virtue and to the improvement of its devotees. Different men have different names, derived from their fathers, their families, their pursuits, their exploits: we had but one great business and name—to be and to be called Christians of which we thought more than Gyges44244424 Gyges is said to have had a ring by means of which he could make himself invisible, and by thus using it was able to seize on the Kingdom of Lydia. of the turning of his ring, if this is not a legend, on which depended his Lydian sovereignty: or than Midas44254425 Midas, said to have had the power granted of turning everything he touched to gold. Accordingly, as this power took effect on his food, he died of hunger. did of the gold through which he perished, in answer to his prayer that all he had might turn to gold—another Phrygian legend. For why should I speak of the arrow of the Hyperborean Abaris,44264426 Abaris, a Hyperborean priest of Apollo, who was said to have given him an arrow, on which he rode through the air. or of the Argive Pegasus,44274427 Pegasus, called Argive, because caught near to Argos, the winged horse, by the aid of which Bellerophon was said to have destroyed the Chimæra. to whom flight through the air was not of such consequence as was to us our rising to God, through the help of, and with each other? Hurtful as Athens was to others in spiritual things, and this is of no slight consequence to the pious, for the city is richer in those evil riches—idols—than the rest of Greece, and it is hard to avoid being carried along with their devotees and adherents, yet we, our minds being closed up and fortified against this, suffered no injury. On the contrary, strange as it may seem, we were thus the more confirmed in the faith, from our perception of their trickery and unreality, which led us to despise these divinities in the very home of their worship. And if there is, or is believed to be, a river44284428 A river, etc. The Alpheus, a river of Arcadia. flowing with fresh water through the sea, or an animal44294429 Animal. The salamander, a lizard said to be impervious to the action of fire. Plin. N. H. x. 67. which can dance in fire, the consumer of all things, such were we among all our comrades.
22. And, best of all, we were surrounded by a far from ignoble band, under his instruction and guidance, and delighting in the same objects, as we ran on foot beside that Lydian car,44304430 Lydian car, proverbial expression for anything whose speed distances all competitors. his own course and disposition: and so we became famous, not only among our own teachers and comrades, but even throughout Greece, and especially in the eyes of its most distinguished men. We even passed beyond its boundaries, as was made clear by the evidence of many. For our instructors were known to all who knew Athens, and all who knew them, knew us, as the subject of conversation, being actually looked upon, or heard of by report, as an illustrious pair. Orestes and Pylades44314431 Orestes and Pylades, types of close comradeship in Greek tragedies. were in their eyes nothing to us, or the sons of Molione,44324432 Sons of Molione, Eurytus and Cteatus, Hom. Il. ii. 621. Their father was Actor. the wonders of the Homeric scroll, celebrated for their union in misfortune, and their splendid driving, as they shared in reins and whip alike. But I have been unawares betrayed into praising myself, in a manner I would not have allowed in another. And it is no wonder that I gained here in some advantage from his friendship, and that, as in life he aided me in virtue, so since his departure he has contributed to my renown. But I must return to my proper course.
23. Who possessed such a degree of the prudence of old age, even before his hair was gray? Since it is by this that Solomon defines old age.44334433 Wisd. iv. 8. Who was so respectful to both old and young, not only of our contemporaries, but even of those who long preceded him? Who, owing to his character, was less in need of education? Yet who, even with his character, was so imbued with learning? What branch of learning did he not traverse; and that with unexampled success, passing through all, as no one else passed through any one of them: and attaining such eminence in each, as if it had been his sole study? The two great sources of power in the arts and sciences, ability and application, were in him equally combined. For, because of the pains he took, he had but little need of natural quickness, and his natural quickness made it unnecessary for him to take pains; and such was the cooperation and unity of both, that it was hard to see for which of the two he was more remarkable. Who had such power in Rhetoric, which breathes44344434 Which breathes, a phrase used Hom. Il. vi. 182 of the Chimæra. with the might of fire, different as his disposition was from that of rhetoricians? Who in Grammar, which perfects our tongues in Greek and compiles history, and presides over metres and legislates for poems? Who in Philosophy, that really lofty and high reaching science, whether practical and speculative, or in that part of it whose oppositions and struggles are concerned with logical demonstrations; which is called Dialectic, and in which it was more difficult to elude his verbal toils, if need required, than to escape from the Labyrinths?44354435 Labyrinths, the mythical mazes of Crete, the home of the Minotaur. Of Astronomy, Geometry, and numerical proportion he had such a grasp, that he could not be baffled by those who are clever in such sciences: excessive application to them he despised, as useless to those whose desire is godliness: so that it is possible to admire what he chose more than what he neglected, or what he neglected more than what he chose. Medicine, the result of philosophy and laboriousness, was rendered necessary for him by his physical delicacy, and his care of the sick. From these beginnings he attained to a mastery of the art, not only in its empirical and practical branches, but also in its theory and principles. But what are these, illustrious though they be, compared with the moral discipline of the man? To those who have had experience of him, Minos and Rhadamanthus44364436 Minos and Rhadamanthus, Kings of Crete and Lycia, fabled to have been made judges in the lower world because of their justice when on earth. were mere trifles, whom the Greeks thought worthy of the meadows of Asphodel and the Elysian plains, which are their representations of our Paradise, derived from those books of Moses which are also ours, for though their terms are different, this is what they refer to under other names.
24. Such was the case, and his galleon was laden with all the learning attainable by the nature of man; for beyond Cadiz44374437 Beyond Cadiz. The Atlantic Ocean beyond Cadiz was reputed impassable by the ancients. there is no passage. There was left no other need but that of rising to a more perfect life, and grasping those hopes upon which we were agreed. The day of our departure was at hand, with its attendant speeches of farewell, and of escort, its invitations to return, its lamentations, embraces and tears. For there is nothing so painful to any one, as is separation from Athens and one another, to those who have been comrades there. On that occasion was seen a piteous spectacle, worthy of record. Around us were grouped our fellow students and classmates and some of our teachers, protesting amid entreaties, violence, and persuasion, that, whatever happened, they would not let us go; saying and doing everything that men in distress could do. And here I will bring an accusation against myself, and also, daring though it be, against that divine and irreproachable soul. For he, by detailing the reasons of his anxiety to return home, was able to prevail over their desire to retain him, and they were compelled, though with reluctance, to agree to his departure. But I was left behind at Athens, partly, to say the truth, because I had been prevailed on—partly because he had betrayed me, having been persuaded to forsake and hand over to his captors one who refused to forsake him. A thing incredible, before it happened. For it was like cutting one body into two, to the destruction of either part, or the severance of two bullocks who have shared the same manger and the same yoke, amid pitiable bellowings after one another in protest against the separation. However, my loss was not of long duration, for I could not long bear to be seen in piteous plight, nor to have to account to every one for our separation: so, after a brief stay at Athens, my longing desire made me, like the horse in Homer, to burst the bonds of those who restrained me, and prancing o’er the plains, rush to my mate.
25. Upon our return, after a slight indulgence to the world and the stage, sufficient to gratify the general desire, not from any inclination to theatrical display, we soon became independent, and, after being promoted from the rank of beardless boys to that of men, made bold advances along the road of philosophy, for though no longer together, since envy would not allow this, we were united by our eager desire. The city of Cæsarea took possession of him, as a second founder and patron, but in course of time he was occasionally absent, as a matter of necessity due to our separation, and with a view to our determined course of philosophy. Dutiful attendance on my aged parents, and a succession of misfortunes kept me apart from him, perhaps without right or justice, but so it was. And to this cause I am inclined to ascribe all the inconsistency and difficulty which have befallen my life, and the hindrances in the way of philosophy, which have been unworthy of my desire and purpose. But as for my fate, let it lead whither God pleases, only may its course be the better for his intercessions. As regards himself, the manifold love of God toward man,44384438 Tit. iii. 4. and His providential care for our race did, after shewing forth his merits under many intervening circumstances with ever greater brilliancy, set him up as a conspicuous and celebrated light for the Church, by advancing him to the holy thrones of the priesthood, to blaze forth, through the single city of Cæsarea, to the whole world. And in what manner? Not by precipitate advancement, nor by at once cleansing and making him wise, as is the wont of many present candidates for preferment: but bestowing upon him the honour in the due order of spiritual advancement.
26. For I do not praise the disorder and irregularity which sometimes exist among us, even in those who preside over the sanctuary. I do not venture, nor is it just, to accuse them all. I approve the nautical custom, which first gives the oar to the future steersman, and afterward leads him to the stern, and entrusts him with the command, and seats him at the helm, only after a long course of striking the sea and observing the winds. As is the case again in military affairs: private, captain, general. This order is the best and most advantageous for their subordinates. And if it were so in our case, it would be of great service. But, as it is, there is a danger of the holiest of all offices being the most ridiculous among us. For promotion depends not upon virtue, but upon villany; and the sacred thrones fall not to the most Worthy, but to the most powerful. Samuel, the seer into futurity, is among the prophets: but Saul, the rejected one, is also there. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, is among the kings, but so also is Jeroboam, the slave and apostate. And there is not a physician, or a painter who has not first studied the nature of diseases, or mixed many colours, or practised drawing: but a prelate is easily found, without laborious training, with a reputation of recent date, being sown and springing up in a moment, as the legend44394439 The legend, i.e., of Cadmus who sowed at Thebes the dragon’s teeth from which sprung giants. of the giants goes. We manufacture those who are holy in a day, and bid those to be wise, who have had no instruction, and have contributed nothing before to their dignity, except the will. So one man is content with an inferior position, and abides in his low estate, who is worthy of a lofty one, and has meditated much on the inspired words, and has reduced the flesh by many laws into subjection to the spirit: while the other haughtily takes precedence, and raises his eyebrow over his betters, and does not tremble at his position, nor is he appalled at the sight, seeing the disciplined man beneath him; and wrongly supposes himself to be his superior in wisdom as well as in rank, having lost his senses under the influence of his position.
27. Not so our great and illustrious Basil. In this grace, as in all others, he was a public example. For he first read to the people the sacred books, while already able to expound them, nor did he deem himself worthy of this rank44404440 This rank, i.e., the office of Lector, or Reader. in the sanctuary, and thus proceeded to praise the Lord in the seat of the Presbyters,44414441 Ps. cvii. 32. and next in that of the Bishops, attaining the office neither by stealth nor by violence, instead of seeking for the honour, being sought for by it, and receiving it not as a human favour, but as from God and divine. The account of his bishopric must be deferred: over his subordinate ministry let us linger a while, for indeed it had almost escaped me, in the midst of my discourse.
28. There arose a disagreement between him and his predecessor44424442 His predecessor, Eusebius, Archbishop of Cæsarea. in the rule over this Church: its source and character it is best to pass over in silence, yet it arose. He was a man in other respects far from ignoble, and admirable for his piety, as was proved by the persecution of that time, and the opposition to him, yet his feeling against Basil was one to which men are liable. For Momus seizes not only upon the common herd, but on the best of men, so that it belongs to God alone to be utterly uninfluenced by and proof against such feelings. All the more eminent and wise portion of the Church was roused against him, if those are wiser than the majority who have separated themselves from the world and consecrated their life to God. I mean the Nazarites44434443 Nazarites, i.e., the monks. of our day, and those who devote themselves to such pursuits. They were annoyed that their chief44444444 Their chief, i.e., Basil. should be neglected, insulted, and rejected, and they ventured upon a most dangerous proceeding. They determined to revolt and break off from the body of the Church, which admits of no faction, severing along with themselves no small fraction of the people, both of the lower ranks, and of those of position. This was most easy, owing to three very strong reasons. In the first place, the man was held in repute, beyond any other, I think, of the philosophers of our time, and able, if he wished, to inspire with courage the conspirators. Next, his opponent44454445 His opponent, lit. “the man who was vexing him,” i.e., Eusebius. was suspected by the city, in consequence of the tumult which accompanied his institution, of having obtained his preferment in an arbitrary manner, not according to the laws and canons. Also there were present some of the bishops44464446 Bishops. It is uncertain who these bishops were. Clémencet thinks they were Lucifer and Eusebius of Vercellæ. But a separation had ere this taken place between them in consequence of Lucifer’s rash action at Antioch. Nor is it certain that Eusebius had not already returned to Italy. of the West, drawing to themselves all the orthodox members of the Church.
29. What then did our noble friend, the disciple of the Peaceable One? It was not his habit to resist his traducers or partisans, nor was it his part to fight, or rend the body of the Church, which was from other reasons the subject of attack, and hardly bestead, from the great power of the heretics. With my advice and earnest encouragement on the point, he set out from the place with me into Pontus, and presided over the abodes of contemplation there. He himself too founded one44474447 One, a monastery. The rule of S. Basil is widely observed to this day in Eastern monasteries. Cf. § 34. worthy of mention, as he welcomed the desert together with Elijah and John,44484448 John, Saint John Baptist. those professors of austerity; thinking this to be more profitable for him than to form any design in reference to the present juncture unworthy of his philosophy, and to ruin in a time of storm the straight course which he was making, where the surges of disputation were lulled to a calm. Yet wonderfully philosophic though his retirement was, we shall find his return still more wonderful. For thus it was.
30. While we were thus engaged, there suddenly arose a cloud full of hail, with destructive roar, overwhelming every Church upon which it burst and seized: an Emperor,44494449 An Emperor, Valens. most fond of gold and most hostile to Christ, infected with these two most serious diseases, insatiate avarice and blasphemy; a persecutor in succession to the persecutor, and, in succession to the apostate, not indeed an apostate, though no better to Christians, or rather, to the more devout and pure party of Christians, who worship the Trinity, which I call the only true devotion and saving doctrine. For we do not measure out the Godhead into portions, nor banish from Itself by unnatural estrangements the one and unapproachable Nature; nor cure one evil by another, destroying the godless confusion of Sabellius by a more impious severance and division; which was the error of Arius, whose name declares his madness,44504450 Madness, cf. ii. 37, Note. the disturber and destroyer of a great part of the Church. For he did not honour the Father, by dishonouring His offspring with his unequal degrees of Godhead. But we recognize one glory44514451 Glory. The word δόξα means both “doctrine” and “glory.” of the Father, the equality of the Only-begotten; and one glory of the Son, that of the Spirit. And we hold that, to subordinate any of the Three, is to destroy the whole. For we worship and acknowledge Them as Three in their properties,44524452 Properties. ἰδιότητες. Petav. de Trin. iv. Proem. § 2 gives other Greek equivalent terms. The Latin terms are “notiones” (S. Thom. Aq. Summa. I. xxxii. qu. 2), “proprietates” or relationes. They denote those relative “attributes ad intra” which distinguish the Persons, if they do not actually constitute the Personality of each of the Three Divine Persons. They are five in number, Unbegottenness, Paternity, Filiation, active and passive Spiration. Perhaps the nearest English equivalent is “characteristic (or distinctive) relations.”—Cf. Orat. xlii. 15. but One in their Godhead. He however had no such idea, being unable to look up, but being debased by those who led him, he dared to debase along with himself even the Nature of the Godhead, and became a wicked creature reducing Majesty to bondage, and aligning with creation the uncreated and timeless Nature.
31. Such was his mind, and with such impiety he took the field against us. For we must consider it to be nothing else than a barbaric inroad which, instead of destroying walls, cities and houses, and other things of little worth, made with hands and capable of restoration, spent its ravages upon men’s souls. A worthy army joined in his assault, the evil rulers of the Churches, the bitter governors of his world-wide Empire. Some of the Churches they now held, some they were assaulting, others they hoped to gain by the already exercised influence of the Emperor, and the violence which he threatened. But in their purpose of perverting our own, their confidence was specially based on the smallness of mind of those whom I have mentioned, the inexperience of our prelate, and the infirmities which prevailed among us. The struggle would be fierce: the zeal of numerous troops was far from ignoble, but their array was weak, from the want of a leader and strategist to contend for them with the might of the Word and of the Spirit. What then did this noble and magnanimous and truly Christ-loving soul? No need of many words to urge his presence and aid. At once when he saw me on my mission, for the struggle on behalf of the faith was common to us both, he yielded to my entreaty; and decided by a most excellent distinction, based on spiritual reasons, that the time for punctiliousness (if indeed we may give way to such feelings at all) is a time of security, but that forbearance is required in the hour of necessity. He immediately returned with me from Pontus, and as a zealous volunteer took his place in the fight for the endangered truth, and devoted himself to the service of his mother, the Church.
32. Did then his actual efforts fall short of his preliminary zeal? Were they directed by courage, but not by prudence, or by skill, while he shrank from danger? Or, in spite of their unexampled perfection on all these points, was there left in him some trace of irritation? Far from it. He was at once completely reconciled, and took part in every plan and effort. He removed all the thorns and stumbling blocks which were in our way, upon which the enemy relied in their attack upon us. He took hold of one, grasped another, thrust away a third. He became to some a stout wall and rampart,44534453 Jer. i. 18. to others an axe breaking the rock in pieces,44544454 Ib. xxiii. 29. or a fire among the thorns,44554455 Ps. cxviii. 12. as the divine Scripture says, easily destroying those fagots who were insulting the Godhead. And if his Barnabas, who speaks and records these things, was of service to Paul in the struggle, it is to Paul that thanks are due, for choosing and making him his comrade in the strife.
33. Thus the enemy failed, and, base men as they were, for the first time were then basely put to shame and worsted, learning not to be ready to despise the Cappadocians, of all men in the world, whose special qualities are firmness in the faith, and loyal devotion to the Trinity; to Whom is due their unity and strength, and from Whom they receive an even greater and stronger assistance than they are able to give. Basil’s next business and purpose was to conciliate the prelate, to allay suspicion, to persuade all men that the irritation which had been felt was due to the temptation and effort of the Evil one, in his envy of virtuous concord: carefully complying with the laws of obedience and spiritual order. Accordingly he visited him, with instruction and advice. While obedient to his wishes, he was everything to him, a good counsellor, a skilful assistant, an expounder of the Divine Will, a guide of conduct, a staff for his old age, a support of the faith, most trusty of those within, most practical of those without, in a word, as much inclined to goodwill, as he had been thought to hostility. And so the power of the Church came into his hands almost, if not quite, to an equal degree with the occupant of the see. For in return for his good-will, he was requited with authority. And their harmony and combination of power was wonderful. The one was the leader of the people, the other of their leader, like a lion-keeper, skilfully soothing the possessor of power. For, having been recently installed in the see, and still somewhat under the influence of the world, and not yet furnished with the things of the Spirit, in the midst of the eddying tide of enemies assaulting the Church, he was in need of some one to take him by the hand and support him. Accordingly he accepted the alliance, and imagined himself the conqueror of one who had conquered him.
34. Of his care for and protection of the Church, there are many other tokens; his boldness towards the governors and other most powerful men in the city: the decisions of disputes, accepted without hesitation, and made effective by his simple word, his inclination being held to be decisive: his support of the needy, most of them in spiritual, not a few also in physical distress: for this also often influences the soul and reduces it to subjection by its kindness; the support of the poor, the entertainment of strangers, the care of maidens; legislation44564456 Legislation. Cf. § 30. written and unwritten for the monastic life: arrangements of prayers,44574457 Prayers. The liturgy of S. Basil together with that of S. Chrysostom are still the authorized liturgies of the Eastern Church. adornments of the sanctuary, and other ways in which the true man of God, working for God, would benefit the people: one being especially important and noteworthy. There was a famine, the most severe one ever recorded. The city was in distress, and there was no source of assistance, or relief for the calamity. For maritime cities are able to bear such times of need without difficulty, by an exchange of their own products for what is imported: but an inland city like ours can neither turn its superfluity to profit, nor supply its need, by either disposing of what we have, or importing what we have not: but the hardest part of all such distress is, the insensibility and insatiability of those who possess supplies. For they watch their opportunities, and turn the distress to profit, and thrive upon misfortune: heeding not that he who shows mercy to the poor, lendeth to the Lord,44584458 Prov. xix. 17. nor that he that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him:44594459 Ib. xi. 26. nor any other of the promises to the philanthropic, and threats against the inhuman. But they are too insatiate, in their ill-judged policy; for while they shut up their bowels against their fellows, they shut up those of God against themselves, forgetting that their need of Him is greater than others’ need of them. Such are the buyers and sellers of corn, who neither respect their fellows, nor are thankful to God, from Whom comes what they have, while others are straitened.
35. He indeed could neither rain bread from heaven by prayer,44604460 Exod. xvi. 15. to nourish an escaped people in the wilderness,44614461 Ps. lxxviii. 24. nor supply fountains of food without cost from the depth of vessels which are filled by being emptied,44624462 1 Kings xvii. 14. and so, by an amazing return for her hospitality, support one who supported him; nor feed thousands of men with five loaves whose very fragments were a further supply for many tables.44634463 S. Matt. xiv. 19. These were the works of Moses and Elijah, and my God, from Whom they too derived their power. Perhaps also they were characteristic of their time and its circumstances: since signs are for unbelievers not for those who believe.44644464 1 Cor. xiv. 22. But he did devise and execute with the same faith things which correspond to them, and tend in the same direction. For by his word and advice he opened the stores of those who possessed them, and so, according to the Scripture dealt food to the hungry,44654465 Isai. lviii. 7. and satisfied the poor with bread,44664466 Ps. cxxxii. 15. and fed them in the time of dearth,44674467 Ib. xxxiii. 19. and filled the hungry souls with good things.44684468 Ib. cvii. 9; S. Luke i. 53. And in what way? for this is no slight addition to his praise. He gathered together the victims of the famine with some who were but slightly recovering from it, men and women, infants, old men, every age which was in distress, and obtaining contributions of all sorts of food which can relieve famine, set before them basins of soup and such meat as was found preserved among us, on which the poor live. Then, imitating the ministry of Christ, Who, girded with a towel, did not disdain to wash the disciples’ feet, using for this purpose the aid of his own servants, and also of his fellow servants, he attended to the bodies and souls of those who needed it, combining personal respect with the supply of their necessity, and so giving them a double relief.
36. Such was our young furnisher of corn, and second Joseph: though of him we can say somewhat more. For the one made a gain from the famine, and bought up Egypt44694469 Gen. xli. 1 et seq. in his philanthropy, by managing the time of plenty with a view to the time of famine, turning to account the dreams of others for that purpose. But the other’s services were gratuitous, and his succour of the famine gained no profit, having only one object, to win kindly feelings by kindly treatment, and to gain by his rations of corn the heavenly blessings. Further he provided the nourishment of the Word, and that more perfect bounty and distribution, which is really heavenly and from on high—if the word be that bread of angels,44704470 Ps. lxxviii. 25. wherewith souls are fed and given to drink, who are a hungered for God,44714471 Ib. lxiii. 1; S. Matt. v. 6. and seek for a food which does not pass away or fail, but abides forever. This food he, who was the poorest and most needy man whom I have known, supplied in rich abundance to the relief not of a famine of bread, nor of a thirst for water, but a longing for that Word44724472 Amos viii. 11. which is really lifegiving and nourishing, and causes to grow to spiritual manhood him who is duly fed thereon.
37. After these and similar actions—why need I stay to mention them all?—when the prelate whose name44734473 Name, Eusebius, i.e., “pious,” “godly.” betokened his godliness had passed away, having sweetly breathed his last in Basil’s arms, he was raised to the lofty throne of a Bishop, not without difficulty or without the envious struggles of the prelates of his native land, on whose side were found the greatest scoundrels of the city. But the Holy Spirit must needs win the day—and indeed the victory was decisive. For He brought from a distance, to anoint him, men44744474 Men. Eusebius of Samosaba and S. Gregory the Elder. illustrious and zealous for godliness, and with them the new Abraham, our Patriarch, I mean my father, in regard to whom an extraordinary thing happened. For, failing as he was from the number of his years, and worn away almost to his last breath by disease, he ventured on the journey to give assistance by his vote, relying on the aid of the Spirit. In brief, he was placed in his litter, as a corpse is laid in its tomb, to return in the freshness and strength of youth, with head erect, having been strengthened by the imposition of hands and unction, and, it is not too much to say by the head of him who was anointed. This must be added to the instances of old time, which prove that labour bestows health, zealous purpose raises the dead, and old age leaps up when anointed by the Spirit.
38. Having thus been deemed worthy of the office of prelate, as it is seemly that men should who have lived such a life, and won such favour and consideration, he did not disgrace, by his subsequent conduct, either his own philosophy, or the hopes of those who had trusted him. But he ever so far surpassed himself as he has been shown hitherto to have surpassed others, his ideas on this point being most excellent and philosophic. For he held that, while it is virtuous in a private individual to avoid vice, and be to some extent good, it is a vice in a chief and ruler, especially in such an office, to fail to surpass by far the majority of men, and by constant progress to make his virtue correspond to his dignity and throne: for it is difficult for one in high position to attain the mean, and by his eminence in virtue raise up his people to the golden mean. Or rather to treat this question more satisfactorily, I think that the result is the same as I see in the case of our Saviour, and of every specially wise man, I fancy, when He was with us in that form which surpassed us and yet is ours. For He also, the gospel says, increased in wisdom and favour, as well as in stature,44754475 S. Luke ii. 52. not that these qualities in Him were capable of growth: for how could that which was perfect from the first become more perfect, but that they were gradually disclosed and displayed? So I think that the virtue of Basil, without being itself increased, obtained at this time a wider exercise, since his power provided him with more abundant material.
39. He first of all made it plain that his office had been bestowed upon him, not by human favour, but by the gift of God. This will also be shown by my conduct. For in what philosophic research did he not, about that time, join with me? So every one thought that I should run to meet him after what had happened, and show my delight at it (as would, perhaps, have been the case with any one else) and claim a share in his authority, rather than rule beside him, according to the inferences they drew from our friendship. But, in my exceeding anxiety to avoid the annoyance and jealousy of the time, and specially since his position was still a painful and troubled one, I remained at home, and forcibly restrained my eager desire, while, though he blamed me, Basil accepted my excuse. And when, on my subsequent arrival, I refused, for the same reason the honour of this chair, and a dignified position44764476 Dignified position, known later as that of Vicar General. Thomassin. Disc. Eccl. I. ii. 7. § 3. among the Presbyters, he kindly refrained from blaming, nay he praised me, preferring to be charged with pride by a small clique, in their ignorance of our policy, rather than do anything contrary to reason and his own resolutions. And indeed, how could a man have better shown his soul to be superior to all fawning and flattery, and his single object to be the law of right, than by thus treating me, whom he acknowledged as among the first of his friends and associates?
40. His next task was to appease, and allay by magnanimous treatment, the opposition to himself: and that without any trace of flattery or servility, but in a most chivalrous and magnanimous way; with a view, not merely to present exigencies, but also to the fostering of future obedience. For, seeing that, while tenderness leads to laxity and slackness, severity gives rise to stubbornness and self-will, he was able to avoid the dangers of each course by a combination of both, blending his correction with consideration, and gentleness with firmness, influencing men in most cases principally by his conduct rather than by argument: not enslaving them by art, but winning them by good nature, and attracting them by the sparing use, rather than by the constant exercise, of his power. And, most important of all, they were brought to recognize the superiority of his intellect and the inaccessibility of his virtue, to consider their only safety to consist in being on his side and under his command, their sole danger to be in opposition to him, and to think that to differ from him involved estrangement from God. Thus they willingly yielded and surrendered, submitting themselves, as if in a thunder-clap, and hastening to anticipate each other with their excuses, and exchange the intensity of their hostility for an equal intensity of goodwill, and advance in virtue, which they found to be the one really effective defence. The few exceptions to this conduct were passed by and neglected, because their ill-nature was incurable, and they expended their powers in wearing out themselves, as rust consumes itself together with the iron on which it feeds.
41. Affairs at home being now settled to his mind, in a way that faithless men who did not know him would have thought impossible, his designs became greater and took a loftier range. For, while all others had their eyes on the ground before them, and directed attention to their own immediate concerns, and, if these were safe, troubled themselves no further, being incapable of any great and chivalrous design or undertaking; he, moderate as he was in all other respects, could not be moderate in this, but with head erect, casting his mental eye about him, took in the whole world over which the word of salvation has made its way. And when he saw the great heritage of God, purchased by His own words and laws and sufferings, the holy nation, the royal priesthood,44774477 1 Pet. ii. 9. in such evil plight that it was torn asunder into ten thousand opinions and errors: and the vine brought out of Egypt and transplanted,44784478 Ps. lxxx. 9. the Egypt of impious and dark ignorance, which had grown to such beauty and boundless size that the whole earth was covered with the shadow of it, while it overtopped mountains and cedars, now being ravaged by that wicked wild boar, the devil, he could not content himself with quietly lamenting the misfortune, and merely lifting up his hands to God, and seeking from Him the dispersion of the pressing misfortunes, while he himself was asleep, but felt bound to come to her aid at some expense to himself.
42. For what could be more distressing than this calamity, or call more loudly on one whose eyes were raised aloft for exertions on behalf of the common weal? The good or ill success of an individual is of no consequence to the community, but that of the community involves of necessity the like condition of the individual. With this idea and purpose, he who was the guardian and patron of the community (and, as Solomon says with truth, a perceptive heart is a moth to the bones,44794479 Prov. xiv. 30 (LXX.). unsensitiveness is cheerily confident, while a sympathetic disposition is a source of pain, and constant consideration wastes away the heart), he, I say, was consequently in agony and distress from many wounds; like Jonah and David, he wished in himself to die44804480 Jonah iv. 8. and gave not sleep to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids,44814481 Ps. cxxxii. 4. he expended what was left of his flesh upon his reflections, until he discovered a remedy for the evil: and sought for aid from God and man, to stay the general conflagration, and dissipate the gloom which was lowering over us.
43. One of his devices was of the greatest service. After a period of such recollection as was possible, and private spiritual conference, in which, after considering all human arguments, and penetrating into all the deep things of the Scriptures, he drew up a sketch of pious doctrine, and by wrestling with and attacking their opposition he beat off the daring assaults of the heretics: overthrowing in hand to hand struggles by word of mouth those who came to close quarters, and striking those at a distance by arrows winged with ink, which is in no wise inferior to inscriptions on tablets; not giving directions for one small nation only like that of the Jews, concerning meats and drinks, temporary sacrifices, and purifications of the flesh;44824482 Heb. ix. 10. but for every nation and part of the world, concerning the Word of truth, the source of our salvation. Again, since unreasoning action and unpractical reasoning are alike ineffectual, he added to his reasoning the succour which comes from action; he paid visits, sent messages, gave interviews, instructed, reproved, rebuked,44834483 2 Tim. iv. 2. threatened, reproached, undertook the defence of nations, cities and individuals, devising every kind of succour, and procuring from every source specifics for disease: a second Bezaleel, an architect of the Divine tabernacle,44844484 Exod. xxxi. 2. applying every material and art to the work, and combining all in a harmonious and surpassing beauty.
44. Why need I enter into further detail? We were assailed again by the Anti-Christian Emperor,44854485 Emperor. Valens. that tyrant of the faith, with more abundant impiety and a hotter onset, inasmuch as the dispute must be with a stronger antagonist, like that unclean and evil spirit, who when sent forth upon his wanderings from man, returns to take up his abode in him again with a greater number of spirits, as we have heard in the Gospels.44864486 S. Luke xi. 24. This spirit he imitated, both in renewing the contest in which he had formerly been worsted, and in adding to his original efforts. He thought that it was a strange and insufferable thing that he, who ruled over so many nations and had won so much renown, and reduced under the power of impiety all those round about him, and overcome every adversary, should be publicly worsted by a single man, and a single city, and so incur the ridicule not only of those patrons of ungodliness by whom he was led, but also, as he supposed, of all men.
45. It is said that the King44874487 King. Xerxes. of Persia, on his expedition into Greece, was not only urged to immoderate threats, by elation at the numbers of every race of men which in his wrath and pride he was leading against them: but thought to terrify them the more, by making them afraid of him, in consequence of his novel treatment of the elements. A strange land and sea were heard of, the work of the new creator; and an army which sailed over the dry land, and marched over the ocean, while islands were carried off, and the sea was scourged, and all the other mad proceedings of that army and expedition, which, though they struck terror into the ignoble, were ridiculous in the eyes of men of brave and steadfast hearts. There was no need of anything of this kind in the expedition against us, but what was still worse and more harmful, this was what the Emperor was reported to say and do. He stretched forth his mouth unto heaven, speaking blasphemy against the most High, and his tongue went through the world.44884488 Ps. lxxiii. 9. Excellently did the inspired David before our days thus describe him who made heaven to stoop to earth, and reckoned with the creation that supermundane nature, which the creation cannot even contain, even though in kindness to man it did to some extent come among us, in order to draw to itself us who were lying upon the ground.
46. Furious indeed were his first acts of wantonness, more furious still his final efforts against us. What shall I speak of first? Exiles, banishments, confiscations, open and secret plots, persuasion, where time allowed, violence, where persuasion was impossible. Those who clung to the orthodox faith, as we did, were extruded from their churches; others were intruded, who agreed with the Imperial soul-destroying doctrines, and begged for testimonials of impiety, and subscribed to statements still harder than these. Burnings44894489 Burnings, a.d. 370. Eighty ecclesiastics, sent on a mission to Valens at Nicomedia, were by his orders sent to sea off the coast of Bithynia, and, the vessel being set on fire, were burnt to death. of Presbyters at sea, impious generals, not those who conquered the Persians, or subdued the Scythians, or reduced any other barbaric nation, but those who assailed churches, and danced in triumph upon altars, and defiled the unbloody sacrifices with the blood of man and victims, and offered insult to the modesty of virgins. With what object? The extrusion of the Patriarch Jacob,44904490 Jacob, i.e., Athanasius. Esau = George. and the intrusion in his place of Esau, who was hated,44914491 Rom. ix. 11. even before his birth. This is the description of his first acts of wantonness, the mere recollection and mention of which even now, rouses the tears of most of us.
47. Accordingly, when, after passing through all quarters, he made his attack in order to enslave this impregnable and formidable mother of the Churches, the only still remaining unquenched spark of the truth, he discovered that he had been for the first time ill advised. For he was driven back like a missile which strikes upon some stronger body, and recoiled like a broken hawser. Such was the prelate of the Church that he met with, such was the bulwark by which his efforts were broken and dissipated. Other particulars may be heard from those who tell and recount them, from their own experience—and none of those who recount them is destitute of this full experience. But all must be filled with admiration who are aware of the struggles of that time, the assaults, the promises, the threats, the commissioners sent before him to try to prevail upon us, men of judicial and military rank, men from the harem, who are men among women, women among men, whose only manliness consisted in their impiety, and being incapable of natural licentiousness, commit fornication in the only way they can, with their tongues; the chief cook Nebuzaradan,44924492 Nebuzaradan. Demosthenes, a creature of Valens, sent to persuade Basil to yield to the Emperor. who threatened us with the weapons of his art, and was despatched by his own fire. But what especially excites my wonder, and what I could not, even if I would, pass by, I will describe as concisely as possible.
48. Who has not heard of the prefect44934493 Prefect. Modestus. of those days, who, for his own part, treated us with such excessive arrogance, having himself been admitted, or perhaps committed, to baptism by the other party; and strove by exceeding the letter of his instructions, and gratifying his master in every particular, to guarantee and preserve his own possession of power. Though he raged against the Church, and assumed a lion-like aspect, and roared like a lion till most men dared not approach him, yet our noble prelate was brought into or rather entered his court, as if bidden to a feast, instead of to a trial. How can I fully describe, either the arrogance of the prefect or the prudence with which it was met by the Saint. “What is the meaning, Sir Basil,” he said, addressing him by name, and not as yet deigning to term him Bishop, “of your daring, as no other dares, to resist and oppose so great a potentate?” “In what respect?” said our noble champion, “and in what does my rashness consist? For this I have yet to learn.” “In refusing to respect the religion of your Sovereign, when all others have yielded and submitted themselves?” “Because,” said he, “this is not the will of my real Sovereign; nor can I, who am the creature of God, and bidden myself to be God, submit to worship any creature.” “And what do we,” said the prefect, “seem to you to be? Are we, who give you this injunction, nothing at all? What do you say to this? Is it not a great thing to be ranged with us as your associates?” “You are, I will not deny it,” said he, “a prefect, and an illustrious one, yet not of more honour than God. And to be associated with you is a great thing, certainly; for you are yourself the creature of God; but so it is to be associated with any other of my subjects. For faith, and not personal importance, is the distinctive mark of Christianity.”
49. Then indeed the prefect became excited, and rose from his seat, boiling with rage, and making use of harsher language. “What?” said he, “have you no fear of my authority? “Fear of what?” said Basil, “How could it affect me?” “Of what? Of any one of the resources of my power.” “What are these?” said Basil, “pray, inform me.” “Confiscation, banishment, torture, death.” “Have you no other threat?” said he, “for none of these can reach me.” “How indeed is that?” said the prefect. “Because,” he replied, “a man who has nothing, is beyond the reach of confiscation; unless you demand my tattered rags, and the few books, which are my only possessions. Banishment is impossible for me, who am confined by no limit of place, counting my own neither the land where I now dwell, nor all of that into which I may be hurled; or, rather, counting it all God’s, whose guest and dependent I am. As for tortures, what hold can they have upon one whose body has ceased to be? Unless you mean the first stroke, for this alone is in your power. Death is my benefactor, for it will send me the sooner to God, for Whom I live, and exist, and have all but died, and to Whom I have long been hastening.”
50. Amazed at this language, the prefect said, “No one has ever yet spoken thus, and with such boldness, to Modestus.” “Why, perhaps,” said Basil, “you have not met with a Bishop, or in his defence of such interests he would have used precisely the same language. For we are modest in general, and submissive to every one, according to the precept of our law. We may not treat with haughtiness even any ordinary person, to say nothing of so great a potentate. But where the interests of God are at stake, we care for nothing else, and make these our sole object. Fire and sword and wild beasts, and rakes which tear the flesh, we revel in, and fear them not. You may further insult and threaten us, and do whatever you will, to the full extent of your power. The Emperor himself may hear this—that neither by violence nor persuasion will you bring us to make common cause with impiety, not even though your threats become still more terrible.”
51. At the close of this colloquy, the prefect, having been convinced by the attitude of Basil, that he was absolutely impervious to threats and influence, dismissed him from the court, his former threatening manner being replaced by somewhat of respect and deference. He himself with all speed obtained an audience of the Emperor, and said: “We have been worsted, Sire, by the prelate of this Church. He is superior to threats, invincible in argument, uninfluenced by persuasion. We must make trial of some more feeble character; and in this case resort to open violence, or submit to the disregard of our threatenings.” Hereupon the Emperor, forced by the praises of Basil to condemn his own conduct (for even an enemy can admire a man’s excellence), would not allow violence to be used against him: and, like iron, which is softened by fire, yet still remains iron, though turned from threatening to admiration, would not enter into communion with him, being prevented by shame from changing his course, but sought to justify his conduct by the most plausible excuse he could, as the sequel will show.
52. For he entered the Church attended by the whole of his train; it was the festival of the Epiphany, and the Church was crowded, and, by taking his place among the people, he made a profession of unity. The occurrence is not to be lightly passed over. Upon his entrance he was struck by the thundering roll of the Psalms, by the sea of heads of the congregation, and by the angelic rather than human order which pervaded the sanctuary and its precincts: while Basil presided over his people, standing erect, as the Scripture says of Samuel,44944494 1 Sam. xix. 20. with body and eyes and mind undisturbed, as if nothing new had happened, but fixed upon God and the sanctuary, as if, so to say, he had been a statue, while his ministers stood around him in fear and reverence. At this sight, and it was indeed a sight unparalleled, overcome by human weakness, his eyes were affected with dimness and giddiness, his mind with dread. This was as yet unnoticed by most people. But when he had to offer the gifts at the Table of God, which he must needs do himself, since no one would, as usual, assist him, because it was uncertain whether Basil would admit him, his feelings were revealed. For he was staggering, and had not some one in the sanctuary reached out a hand to steady his tottering steps, he would have sunk to the ground in a lamentable fall. So much for this.
53. As for the wisdom of his conference with the Emperor, who, in his quasi-communion with us entered within the veil to see and speak to him, as he had long desired to do, what else can I say but that they were inspired words, which were heard by the courtiers and by us who had entered with them? This was the beginning and first establishment of the Emperor’s kindly feeling towards us; the impression produced by this reception put an end to the greater part of the persecution which assailed us like a river.
54. Another incident is not of less importance than those I have mentioned. The wicked were victorious, and the decree for his banishment was signed, to the full satisfaction of those who furthered it. The night had come, the chariot was ready, our haters were exultant, the pious in despair, we surrounded the zealous traveller, to whose honourable disgrace nothing was wanting. What next? It was undone by God. For He Who smote the first-born of Egypt,44954495 Exod. xii. 29. for its harshness towards Israel, also struck the son of the Emperor with disease. How great was the speed! There was the sentence of banishment, here the decree of sickness: the hand of the wicked scribe was restrained, and the saint was preserved, and the man of piety presented to us, by the fever which brought to reason the arrogance of the Emperor. What could be more just or more speedy than this? This was the series of events: the Emperor’s child was sick and in bodily pain. The father was pained for it, for what can the father do? On all sides he sought for aid in his distress, he summoned the best physicians, he betook himself to intercessions with the greatest fervour, and flung himself upon the ground. Affliction humbles even emperors, and no wonder, for the like sufferings of David in the case of his child are recorded for us.44964496 2 Sam. xii. 16. But as no cure for the evil could anywhere be found, he applied to the faith of Basil, not personally summoning him, in shame for his recent ill treatment, but entrusting the mission to others of his nearest and dearest friends. On his arrival, without the delay or reluctance which any one else might have shown, at once the disease relaxed, and the father cherished better hopes; and had he not blended salt water with the fresh, by trusting to the heterodox at the same time that he summoned Basil, the child would have recovered his health and been preserved for his father’s arms. This indeed was the conviction of those who were present at the time, and shared in the distress.
55. The same mischance is said to have befallen the prefect. He also was obliged by sickness to bow beneath the hands of the Saint, and, in reality, to men of sense a visitation brings instruction, and affliction is often better than prosperity. He fell sick, was in tears, and in pain, he sent for Basil, and entreated him, crying out, “I own that you were in the right; only save me!” His request was granted, as he himself acknowledged, and convinced many who had known nothing of it; for he never ceased to wonder at and describe the powers of the prelate. Such was his conduct in these cases, such its result. Did he then treat others in a different way, and engage in petty disputes about trifles, or fail to rise to the heights of philosophy in a course of action which merits no praise and is best passed over in silence? By no means. He who once stirred up the wicked Hadad against Israel,44974497 1 Kings xi. 14. stirred up against him the prefect44984498 The prefect. Eusebius. of the province of Pontus; nominally, from annoyance connected with some poor creature of a woman, but in reality as a part of the struggle of impiety against the truth. I pass by all his other insults against Basil, or, for it is the same thing, against God; for it is against Him and on His behalf that the contest was waged. One instance of it, however, which brought special disgrace upon the assailant, and exalted his adversary, if philosophy and eminence for it be a great and lofty thing, I will describe at length.
56. The assessor of a judge was attempting to force into a distasteful marriage a lady of high birth whose husband was but recently dead. At a loss to escape from this high-handed treatment, she resorted to a device no less prudent than daring. She fled to the holy table, and placed herself under the protection of God against outrage. What, in the Name of the Trinity Itself, if I may introduce into my panegyric somewhat of the forensic style, ought to have been done, I do not say, by the great Basil, who laid down the law for us all in such matters, but by any one who, though far inferior to him, was a priest? Ought he not to have allowed her claim, to have taken charge of, and cared for, her; to have raised his hand in defence of the kindness of God and the law which gives honour to the altar? Ought he not to have been willing to do and suffer anything, rather than take part in any inhuman design against her, and outrage at once the holy table, and the faith in which she had taken sanctuary? No! said the baffled judge, all ought to yield to my authority, and Christians should betray their own laws. The suppliant whom he demanded, was at all hazards retained. Accordingly, in his rage, he at last sent some of the magistrates to search the saint’s bedchamber, with the purpose of dishonouring him, rather than from any necessity. What! Search the house of a man so free from passion, whom the angels revere, at whom women do not venture even to look? And, not content with this, he summoned him, and put him on his defence; and that, in no gentle or kindly manner, but as if he were a convict. Upon Basil’s appearance, standing, like my Jesus, before the judgment seat of Pilate, he presided at the trial, full of wrath and pride. Yet the thunderbolts did not fall, and the sword of God still glittered, and waited, while His bow, though bent, was restrained. Such indeed is the custom of God.
57. Consider another struggle between our champion and his persecutor. His ragged pallium having been ordered to be torn away, “I will also, if you wish it, strip off my coat,” said he. His fleshless form was threatened with blows, and he offered to submit to be torn with combs, and he said, “By such laceration you will cure my liver, which, as you see, is wearing me away.” Such was their argument. But when the city perceived the outrage and the common danger of all—for each one considered this insolence a danger to himself, it became all on fire with rage; and, like a hive roused by smoke, one after another was stirred and arose, every race and every age, but especially the men from the small-arms factory and from the imperial weaving-sheds. For men at work in these trades are specially hot-tempered and daring, because of the liberty allowed them. Each man was armed with the tool he was using, or with whatever else came to hand at the moment. Torch in hand, amid showers of stones, with cudgel’s ready, all ran and shouted together in their united zeal. Anger makes a terrible soldier or general. Nor were the women weaponless, when roused by such an occasion. Their pins were their spears, and no longer remaining women, they were by the strength of their eagerness endowed with masculine courage. It is a short story. They thought that they would share among themselves the piety of destroying him, and held him to be most pious who first laid hands on one who had dared such deeds. What then was the conduct of this haughty and daring judge? He begged for mercy in a pitiable state of distress, cringing before them to an unparalleled extent, until the arrival of the martyr without bloodshed, who had won his crown without blows, and now restrained the people by the force of his personal influence, and delivered the man who had insulted him and now sought his protection. This was the doing of the God of Saints, Who worketh and changeth all things for the best, who resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.44994499 S. James iv. 6. And why should not He, Who divided the sea and stayed the river, and ruled the elements, and by stretching out set up a trophy, to save His exiled people, why should not He have also rescued this man from his perils?
58. This was the end and fortunate close, in the Providence of God, of the war with the world, a close worthy of his faith. But here at once is the beginning of the war with the Bishops, and their allies, which involved great disgrace, and still greater injury to their subjects. For who could persuade others to be temperate, when such was the conduct of their prelates? For a long time they had been unkindly disposed towards him, on three grounds. They neither agreed with him in the matter of the faith, except in so far as they were absolutely obliged to yield to the majority of the faithful. Nor had they altogether laid aside the grudge they owed him for his election. And, what was most grievous of all to them, though they would have been most ashamed to own it—he so far outshone them in reputation. There was also a further cause of dissension which stirred up again the others. When our country had been divided into two provinces and metropolitical sees, and a great part of the former was being added to the new one, this again roused their factious spirit. The one45004500 The one, i.e., Anthimus, Bishop of Tyana. thought it right that the ecclesiastical boundaries should be settled by the civil ones: and therefore claimed those newly added, as belonging to him, and severed from their former metropolitan. The other45014501 The other, i.e., Basil. clung to the ancient custom, and to the division which had come down from our fathers. Many painful results either actually followed, or were struggling in the womb of the future. Synods were wrongfully gathered by the new metropolitan, and revenues seized upon. Some of the presbyters of the churches refused obedience, others were won over. In consequence the affairs of the churches fell into a sad state of dissension and division. Novelty indeed has a certain charm for men, and they readily turn events to their own advantage, and it is easier to overthrow something which is already established, than to restore it when overthrown. What however enraged him most was, that the revenues45024502 Revenues. The dues and offerings of the people of the diocese. of the Taurus, which passed along before his eyes, accrued to his rival, as also the offerings at Saint Orestes’,45034503 Orestes. A chapel dedicated to S. Orestes at the foot of Mt. Taurus, where the offerings were collected. of which he was greatly desirous to reap the fruits. He even went so far as, on one occasion when Basil was riding along his own road, to seize his mules by the bridle and bar the passage with a robber band. And with how specious a pretext, the care of his spiritual children and of the souls entrusted to him, and the defence of the faith—pretexts which veiled that most common vice, insatiable avarice—and further, the wrongfulness of paying dues to heretics, a heretic being any one who had displeased him.
59. The holy man of God however, metropolitan as he was of the true Jerusalem above, was neither carried away with the failure of those who fell, nor allowed himself to overlook this conduct, nor did he desire any inadequate remedy for the evil. Let us see how great and wonderful it was, or, I would say, how worthy of his soul. He made of the dissension a cause of increase to the Church, and the disaster, under his most able management, resulted in the multiplication of the Bishops of the country. From this ensued three most desirable consequences; a greater care for souls, the management by each city of its own affairs, and the cessation of the war in this quarter. I am afraid that I myself was treated as an appendage to this scheme. By no other term can I readily describe the position. Greatly as I admire his whole conduct, to an extent indeed beyond my powers of expression, of this single particular I find it impossible to approve, for I will acknowledge my feelings in regard to it, though these are from other sources not unknown to most of you. I mean the change and faithlessness of his treatment of myself, a cause of pain which even time has not obliterated. For this is the source of all the inconsistency and tangle of my life; it has robbed me of the practice, or at least the reputation, of philosophy; of small moment though the latter be. The defence, which you will perhaps allow me to make for him, is this; his ideas were superhuman, and having, before his death, become superior to worldly influences, his only interests were those of the Spirit: while his regard for friendship was in no wise lessened by his readiness then, and then only, to disregard its claims, when they were in conflict with his paramount duty to God, and when the end he had in view was of greater importance than the interests he was compelled to set aside.
60. I am afraid that, in avoiding the imputation of indifference at the hands of those who desire to know all that can be said about him, I shall incur a charge of prolixity from those whose ideal is the golden mean. For the latter Basil himself had the greatest respect, being specially devoted to the adage “In all things the mean45044504 The mean, etc. A saying of Cleobulus, one of the seven Sages. is the best,” and acting upon it throughout his life. Nevertheless, disregarding alike those who desire undue conciseness or excessive prolixity, I proceed thus with my speech. Different men attain success in different ways, some applying themselves to one alone of the many forms of excellence, but no one, of those hitherto known to me, arriving at the highest eminence in all respects; he being in my opinion the best, who has won his laurels on the widest field, or gained the highest possible renown in some single particular. Such however was the height of Basil’s fame, that he became the pride of human kind. Let us consider the matter thus. Is any one devoted to poverty and a life devoid of property, and free from superfluity? What did he possess besides his body, and the necessary coverings of the flesh? His wealth was the having nothing, and he thought the cross, with which he lived, more precious than great riches. For no one, however much he may wish, can obtain possession of all things, but any one can learn to despise, and so prove himself superior to, all things. Such being his mind, and such his life, he had no need of an altar and of vainglory, nor of such a public announcement as “Crates45054505 Crates. He made this proclamation when he had stripped himself of all his possessions. sets Crates the Theban free.” For his aim was ever to be, not to seem, most excellent. Nor did he dwell in a tub,45064506 In a tub, like Diogenes, the Cynic. and in the midst of the market-place, and so by luxuriating in publicity turn his poverty into riches: but was poor and unkempt, yet without ostentation: and taking cheerfully the casting overboard of all that he ever had, sailed lightly across the sea of life.
61. A wondrous thing is temperance, and fewness of wants, and freedom from the dominion of pleasures, and from the bondage of that cruel and degrading mistress, the belly. Who was so independent of food, and, without exaggeration, more free from the flesh? For he flung away all satiety and surfeit to creatures destitute of reason, whose life is slavish and debasing. He paid little attention to such things as, next to the appetite, are of equal rank, but, as far as possible, lived on the merest necessaries, his only luxury being to prove himself not luxurious, and not, in consequence, to have greater needs: but he looked to the lilies and the birds,45074507 S. Matt. vi. 26. whose beauty is artless, and their food casual, according to the important advice of my Christ, who made Himself poor45084508 2 Cor. viii. 9. in the flesh for our sakes, that we might enjoy the riches of His Godhead. Hence came his single coat and well worn cloak, and his bed on the bare ground, his vigils, his unwashedness (such were his decorations) and his most sweet food and relish, bread, and salt, his new dainty, and the sober and plentiful drink, with which fountains supply those who are free from trouble. The result, or the accompaniment, of these things were the attendance on the sick and practice of medicine, our common intellectual pursuit. For, though inferior to him in all other respects, I must needs be his equal in distress.
62. A great thing is virginity, and celibacy, and being ranked with the angels, and with the single nature; for I shrink from calling it Christ’s, Who, though He willed to be born for our sakes who are born, by being born of a Virgin, enacted45094509 Enacted by his religious rule, or as some say by a treatise on Virginity. the law of virginity, to lead us away from this life, and cut short the power of the world, or rather, to transmit one world to another, the present to the future. Who then paid more honour to virginity, or had more control of the flesh, not only by his personal example, but in those under his care? Whose are the convents, and the written regulations, by which he subdued every sense, and regulated every member, and won to the real practice of virginity, turning inward the view of beauty, from the visible to the invisible; and by wasting away the external, and withdrawing fuel from the flame, and revealing the secrets of the heart to God, Who is the only bridegroom of pure souls, and takes in with himself the watchful souls, if they go to meet him with lamps burning and a plentiful supply of oil?45104510 S. Matt. xxv. 2. Moreover he reconciled most excellently and united the solitary and the community life. These had been in many respects at variance and dissension, while neither of them was in absolute and unalloyed possession of good or evil: the one being more calm and settled, tending to union with God, yet not free from pride, inasmuch as its virtue lies beyond the means of testing or comparison; the other, which is of more practical service, being not free from the tendency to turbulence. He founded cells45114511 Cells, etc. This passage strongly favours the view of Clemencet that S. Gregory uses μοναστήρια in the literal sense of “the abodes of solitaries,” and that there is no great distinction between κοινωνικοί and μιγάδες. Cf. ii. 29. xxi. 10–19. for ascetics and hermits, but at no great distance from his cenobitic communities, and, instead of distinguishing and separating the one from the other, as if by some intervening wall, he brought them together and united them, in order that the contemplative spirit might not be cut off from society, nor the active life be uninfluenced by the contemplative, but that, like sea and land, by an interchange of their several gifts, they might unite in promoting the one object, the glory of God.
63. What more? A noble thing is philanthropy, and the support of the poor, and the assistance of human weakness. Go forth a little way from the city, and behold the new city,45124512 New city—a hospital for the sick. the storehouse of piety, the common treasury of the wealthy, in which the superfluities of their wealth, aye, and even their necessaries, are stored, in consequence of his exhortations, freed from the power of the moth,45134513 S. Matt. vi. 19. no longer gladdening the eyes of the thief, and escaping both the emulation of envy, and the corruption of time: where disease is regarded in a religious light, and disaster is thought a blessing, and sympathy is put to the test. Why should I compare with this work Thebes45144514 Thebes, etc. The “seven wonders of the world.” of the seen portals, and the Egyptian Thebes, and the walls of Babylon, and the Carian tomb of Mausolus, and the Pyramids, and the bronze without weight of the Colossus, or the size and beauty of shrines that are no more, and all the other objects of men’s wonder, and historic record, from which their founders gained no advantage, except a slight meed of fame. My subject is the most wonderful of all, the short road to salvation, the easiest ascent to heaven. There is no longer before our eyes that terrible and piteous spectacle of men who are living corpses, the greater part of whose limbs have mortified, driven away from their cities and homes and public places and fountains, aye, and from their own dearest ones, recognizable by their names rather than by their features: they are no longer brought before us at our gatherings and meetings, in our common intercourse and union, no longer the objects of hatred, instead of pity on account of their disease; composers of piteous songs, if any of them have their voice still left to them. Why should I try to express in tragic style all our experiences, when no language can be adequate to their hard lot? He however it was, who took the lead in pressing upon those who were men, that they ought not to despise their fellowmen, nor to dishonour Christ, the one Head of all, by their inhuman treatment of them; but to use the misfortunes of others as an opportunity of firmly establishing their own lot, and to lend to God that mercy of which they stand in need at His hands. He did not therefore disdain to honour with his lips this disease, noble and of noble ancestry and brilliant reputation though he was, but saluted them as brethren, not, as some might suppose, from vainglory, (for who was so far removed from this feeling?) but taking the lead in approaching to tend them, as a consequence of his philosophy, and so giving not only a speaking, but also a silent, instruction. The effect produced is to be seen not only in the city, but in the country and beyond, and even the leaders of society have vied with one another in their philanthropy and magnanimity towards them. Others have had their cooks, and splendid tables, and the devices and dainties of confectioners, and exquisite carriages, and soft, flowing robes; Basil’s care was for the sick, and the relief of their wounds, and the imitation of Christ, by cleansing leprosy, not by a word, but in deed.
64. As to all this, what will be said by those who charge him with pride and haughtiness? Severe critics they are of such conduct, applying to him, whose life was a standard, those who were not standards at all. Is it possible that he who kissed the lepers, and humiliated himself to such a degree, could treat haughtily those who were in health: and, while wasting his flesh by abstinence, puff out his soul with empty arrogance? Is it possible to condemn the Pharisee, and expound the debasing effect of haughtiness, to know Christ, Who condescended to the form of a slave, and ate with publicans, and washed the disciples’ feet, and did not disdain the cross, in order to nail my sin to it: and, more incredible still, to see God crucified, aye, along with robbers also, and derided by the passers by, impassible, and beyond the reach of suffering as He is; and yet, as his slanderers imagine, soar himself above the clouds, and think that nothing can be on an equality with him. Nay, what they term pride is, I fancy, the firmness and steadfastness and stability of his character. Such persons would readily, it seems to me, call bravery rashness, and the circumspect a coward, and the temperate misanthropic, and the just illiberal. For indeed this philosophic axiom is excellent, which says that the vices45154515 The vices. This was the doctrine of Menander and Aristotle. are settled close to the virtues, and are, in some sense, their next-door neighbours: and it is most easy, for those whose training in such subjects has been defective, to mistake a man for what he is not. For who honoured virtue and castigated vice more than he, or showed himself more kind to the upright, more severe to the wrong doers? His very smile often amounted to praise, his silence to rebuke, racking the evil in the secret conscience. And if a man have not been a chatterer, and jester, and gossip, nor a general favourite, because of having pleased others by becoming all things to all men,45164516 1 Cor. ix. 22. what of that? Is he not in the eyes of sensible men worthy of praise rather than of blame? Unless it is a fault in the lion that he is terrible and royal, and does not look like an ape, and that his spring is noble, and is valued for its wonderfulness: while stage-players ought to win our admiration for their pleasant and philanthropic characters, because they please the vulgar, and raise a laugh by their sounding slaps in the face. And if this indeed be our object, who was so pleasant when you met him, as I know, who have had the longest experience? Who was more kindly in his stories, more refined in his wit, more tender in his rebukes? His reproofs gave rise to no arrogance, his relaxation to no dissipation, but avoiding excess in either, he made use of both in reason and season, according to the rules of Solomon, who assigns to every business a season.45174517 Eccles. iii. 1.
65. But what are these to his renown for eloquence, and his powers of instruction, which have won the favour of the ends of the world? As yet we have been compassing the foot of the mountain, to the neglect of its summit, as yet we have been crossing a strait, paying no heed to the mighty and deep ocean. For I think that if any one ever has become, or can become, a trumpet, in his far sounding resonance, or a voice of God, embracing the universe, or an earthquake of the world, by some unheard of miracle, it is his voice and intellect which deserve these titles, for surpassing and excelling all men as much as we surpass the irrational creatures. Who, more than he, cleansed himself by the Spirit, and made himself worthy to set forth divine things? Who was more enlightened by the light of knowledge, and had a closer insight into the depths of the Spirit, and by the aid of God beheld the things of God? Whose language could better express intellectual truth, without, as most men do, limping on one foot, by either failing to express his ideas, or allowing his eloquence to outstrip his reasoning powers? In both respects he won a like distinction, and showed himself to be his own equal, and absolutely perfect. To search all things, yea, the deep things of God45184518 1 Cor. ii. 10. is, according to the testimony of S. Paul, the office of the Spirit, not because He is ignorant of them, but because He takes delight in their contemplation. Now all the things of the Spirit Basil had fully investigated, and hence he drew his instructions for every kind of character, his lessons in the sublime, and his exhortations to quit things present, and adapt ourselves to things to come.
66. The sun is extolled by David for its beauty, its greatness, its swift course, and its power, splendid as a bridegroom, majestic as a giant;45194519 Ps. xix. 6. while, from the extent of its circuit, it has such power that it equally sheds its light from one end of heaven to the other, and the heat thereof is in no wise lessened by distance. Basil’s beauty was virtue, his greatness theology, his course the perpetual motion reaching even to God by its ascents, and his power the sowing and distribution of the Word. So that I will not hesitate to say even this, his utterance went out into all lands,45204520 Ps. xix. 5. and the power of his words to the ends of the world: as S. Paul says of the Apostles,45214521 Rom. x. 18. borrowing the words from David. What other charm is there in any gathering to-day? What pleasure in banquets, in the courts, in the churches? What delight in those in authority, and those beneath them? What in the hermits, or the cenobites? What in the leisured classes, or those busied in affairs? What in profane schools of philosophy or in our own? There is one, which runs through all, and is the greatest—his writings and labours. Nor do writers require any supply of matter besides his teaching or writings. All the laborious studies of old days in the Divine oracles are silent, while the new ones are in everybody’s mouth, and he is the best teacher among us who has the deepest acquaintance with his works, and speaks of them and explains them in our ears. For he alone more than supplies the place of all others to those who are specially eager for instruction.
67. I will only say this of him. Whenever I handle his Hexaemeron, and take its words on my lips, I am brought into the presence of the Creator, and understand the words of creation, and admire the Creator more than before, using my teacher as my only means of sight. Whenever I take up his polemical works, I see the fire of Sodom,45224522 Gen. xix. 24. by which the wicked and rebellious tongues are reduced to ashes, or the tower of Chalane,45234523 Chalane. LXX. for Babel. impiously built,45244524 Gen. xi. 4. and righteously destroyed. Whenever I read his writings on the Spirit, I find the God Whom I possess, and grow bold in my utterance of the truth, from the support of his theology and contemplation. His other treatises, in which he gives explanations for those who are shortsighted, by a threefold inscription on the solid tablets of his heart, lead me on from a mere literal or symbolical interpretation to a still wider view, as I proceed from one depth to another, calling upon deep45254525 Ps. xlii. 8. after deep, and finding light after light, until I attain the highest pinnacle. When I study his panegyrics on our athletes, I despise the body, and enjoy the society of those whom he is praising, and rouse myself to the struggle. His moral and practical discourses purify soul and body, making me a temple fit for God, and an instrument struck by the Spirit, to celebrate by its strains the glory and power of God. In fact, he reduces me to harmony and order, and changes me by a Divine transformation.
68. Since I have mentioned theology, and his most sublime treatises in this science, I will make this addition to what I have already said. For it is of great service to the community, to save them from being injured by an unjustifiably low opinion of him. My remarks are directed against those evil disposed persons who shelter their own vices under cover of their calumnies against others. In his defence of orthodox teaching, and of the union and coequal divinity of the Holy Trinity, to use terms which are, I think, as exact and clear as possible, he would have eagerly welcomed as a gain, and not a danger, not only expulsion from his see, in which he had originally no desire to be enthroned, but even exile, and death, and its preliminary tortures. This is manifest from his actual conduct and sufferings. For when he had been sentenced to banishment on behalf of the truth, the only notice which he took of it was, to bid one of his servants to take his writing tablet and follow him. He held it necessary, according to the divine David’s advice, to guide his words with discretion,45264526 Ib. cxii. 5. and to endure for a while the time of war, and the ascendency of the heretics, until it should be succeeded by a time of freedom and calm, which would admit of freedom of speech. The enemy were on the watch for the unqualified statement “the Spirit is God;” which, although it is true, they and the wicked patron of their impiety imagined to be impious; so that they might banish him and his power of theological instruction from the city, and themselves be able to seize upon the church, and make it the starting point and citadel, from which they could overrun with their evil doctrine the rest of the world. Accordingly, by the use of other terms, and by statements which unmistakably had the same meaning, and by arguments necessarily leading to this conclusion, he so overpowered his antagonists, that they were left without reply, and involved in their own admissions,—the greatest proof possible of dialectical power and skill. His treatise on this subject makes it further manifest, being evidently written by a pen borrowed from the Spirit’s store. He postponed for the time the use of the exact term, begging as a favour from the Spirit Himself and his earnest champions, that they would not be annoyed at his economy,45274527 Economy. In refraining from the express assertion “The Holy Ghost is God”—some have blamed S. Basil for this: but his conduct has the approval of S. Athanasius. Ep. ad Palladium. nor, by clinging to a single expression, ruin the whole cause, from an uncompromising temper, at a crisis when religion was in peril. He assured them that they would suffer no injury from a slight change in their expressions, and from teaching the same truth in other terms. For our salvation is not so much a matter of words as of actions; for we would not reject the Jews, if they desired to unite with us, and yet for a while sought to use the term “Anointed” instead of “Christ:” while the community would suffer a very serious injury, if the church were seized upon by the heretics.
69. That he, no less than any other, acknowledged that the Spirit is God, is plain from his often having publicly preached this truth, whenever opportunity offered, and eagerly confessed it when questioned in private. But he made it more clear in his conversations with me, from whom he concealed nothing during our conferences upon this subject. Not content with simply asserting it, he proceeded, as he had but very seldom done before, to imprecate upon himself that most terrible fate of separation from the Spirit, if he did not adore the Spirit as consubstantial and coequal with the Father and the Son. And if any one would accept me as having been his fellow labourer in this cause, I will set forth one point hitherto unknown to most men. Under the pressure of the difficulties of the period, he himself undertook the economy, while allowing freedom of speech to me, whom no one was likely to drag from obscurity to trial or banishment, in order that by our united efforts our Gospel might be firmly established. I mention this, not to defend his reputation, for the man is stronger than his assailants, if there are any such; but to prevent men from thinking that the terms found in his writings are the utmost limit of the truth, and so have their faith weakened, and consider that their own error is supported by his theology, which was the joint result of the influences of the time and of the Spirit, instead of considering the sense of his writings, and the object with which they were written, so as to be brought closer to the truth, and enabled to silence the partisans of impiety. At any rate let his theology be mine, and that of all dear to me! And so confident am I of his spotlessness in this respect, that I take him for my partner in this, as in all else: and may what is mine be attributed to him, what is his to me, both at the hands of God, and of the wisest of men! For we would not say that the Evangelists are at variance with one another, because some are more occupied with the human side of the Christ, and others pay attention to His Divinity; some having commenced their history with what is within our own experience, others with what is above us; and by thus sharing the substance of their message, they have procured the advantage of those who receive it, and followed the impressions of the Spirit Who was within them.
70. Come then, there have been many men of old days illustrious for piety, as lawgivers, generals, prophets, teachers, and men brave to the shedding of blood. Let us compare our prelate with them, and thus recognize his merit. Adam was honoured by the hand of God,45284528 Gen. i. 27. and the delights of Paradise,45294529 Ib. ii. 8. and the first legislation:45304530 Ib. ii. 16. but, unless I slander the reputation of our first parent, he kept not the command. Now Basil both received and observed it, and received no injury from the tree of knowledge, and escaped the flaming sword, and, as I am well assured, has attained to Paradise. Enos first ventured to call upon the Lord.45314531 Ib. iv. 26. Basil both called upon Him himself, and, what is far more excellent, preached Him to others. Enoch was translated,45324532 Ib. v. 21. attaining to his translation as the reward of a little piety (for the faith was still in shadow) and escaped the peril of the remainder of life, but Basil’s whole life was a translation, and he was completely tested in a complete life. Noah was entrusted with the ark,45334533 Gen. vi. 13. and the seeds of a new world committed to a small house of wood, in their preservation from the waters. Basil escaped the deluge of impiety and made of his own city an ark of safety, which sailed lightly over the heretics, and afterwards recovered the whole world.
71. Abraham was a great man, a patriarch, the offerer of the new sacrifice,45344534 Ib. xxii. i. by presenting to Him who had given it the promised seed, as a ready offering, eager for slaughter. But Basil’s offering was no slight one, when he offered himself to God, without any equivalent being given in his stead, (for how could that have been possible?) so that his sacrifice was consummated. Isaac was promised even before his birth,45354535 Ib. xviii. 10. Basil promised himself, and took for his spouse Rebekah, I mean the Church, not fetched from a distance by the mission of a servant,45364536 Ib. xxiv. 3. but bestowed upon and entrusted to him by God close at home: nor was he outwitted in the preference of his children, but bestowed upon each what was due to him, without any deception, according to the judgment of the Spirit. I extol the ladder of Jacob,45374537 Ib. xxviii. 12. and the pillar which he anointed to God, and his wrestling with Him, whatever it was; and, in my opinion, it was the contrast and opposition of the human stature to the height of God, resulting in the tokens of the defeat45384538 Defeat or “loss of generative power.” of his race. I extol also his clever devices and success in cattle-breeding, and his children, the twelve Patriarchs, and the distribution of his blessings, with their glorious prophecy of the future. But I still more extol Basil for the ladder which he did not merely see, but which he ascended by successive steps towards excellence, and the pillar which he did not anoint, but which he erected to God, by pillorying the teaching of the ungodly; and the wrestling with which he wrestled, not with God, but, on behalf of God, to the overthrow of the heretics; and his pastoral care, whereby he grew rich, through gaining for himself a number of marked sheep greater than that of the unmarked, and his illustrious fruitfulness in spiritual children, and the blessing with which he established many.
72. Joseph was a provider of corn,45394539 Gen. xli. 40. but in Egypt only, and not frequently, and of bodily food. Basil did so for all men, and at all times, and in spiritual food, and therefore, in my opinion, his was the more honourable function. Like Job, the man of Uz,45404540 Job i. 1. he was both tempted, and overcame, and at the close of his struggles gained splendid honour, having been shaken by none of his many assailants, and having gained a decisive victory over the efforts of the tempter, and put to silence the unreason of his friends, who knew not the mysterious character of his affliction. “Moses and Aaron among His priests.”45414541 Ps. xcix. 6. Truly was Moses great, who inflicted the plagues upon Egypt,45424542 Exod. vii. 8. et seq. and delivered the people among many signs and wonders, and entered within the cloud, and sanctioned the double law, outward in the letter, and inward in the Spirit. Aaron was Moses’ brother,45434543 Ib. xxix. 4. both naturally and spiritually, and offered sacrifices and prayers for the people, as the hierophant of the great and holy tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.45444544 Heb. viii. 2. Of both of them Basil was a rival, for he tortured, not with bodily but with spiritual and mental plagues, the Egyptian race of heretics, and led to the land of promise45454545 Ib. xi. 9. the people of possession, zealous of good works;45464546 Tit. ii. 14. he inscribed laws, which are no longer obscure, but entirely spiritual, on tables45474547 2 Cor. iii. 3. which are not broken but are preserved; he entered the Holy of holies,45484548 Exod. xxiv. 8; Heb. ix. 19. not once a year, but often, I may say every day, and thence he revealed to us the Holy Trinity; and cleansed the people, not with temporary sprinklings, but with eternal purifications: What is the special excellence of Joshua?45494549 Josh. i. 2. His generalship, and the distribution of the inheritance, and the taking possession of the Holy Land. And was not Basil an Exarch?45504550 Exarch or Metropolitan. Was he not a general of those who are saved by faith?45514551 Eph. ii. 8. Did he not assign the different inheritances and abodes, according to the will of God, among his followers? So that he too could use the words, “The lot is fallen unto me in pleasant places;45524552 Ps. xvi. 6. and “my fortunes are in Thy hands,”45534553 Ib. xxxi. 16. fortunes more precious than those which come to us on earth, and can be snatched away.
73. Further, to run over the Judges, or the most illustrious of the Judges, there is “Samuel among those that call upon His Name,”45544554 Ib. cxix. 6. who was given to God before his birth,45554555 1 Sam. i. 20. and sanctified immediately after his birth, and the anointer with his horn of kings and priests.45564556 Ib. xvi. 13. But was not Basil as an infant consecrated to God from the womb, and offered with a coat45574557 Cf. 1 Sam. ii. 19. at the altar, and was he not a seer of heavenly things, and anointed of the Lord, and the anointer of those who are perfected by the Spirit? Among the kings, David is celebrated, whose victories and trophies45584558 2 Sam. v. 1. gained from the enemy are on record, but his most characteristic trait was his gentleness,45594559 Ps. cxxxii. 1 (LXX.). and, before his kingly office, his power with the harp, able to soothe even the evil spirit. Solomon asked of God and obtained breadth of heart,45604560 1 Kings iv. 29. making the furthest possible progress in wisdom and contemplation, so that he became the most famous man of his time. Basil, in my opinion, was in no wise, or but little inferior, to the one in gentleness, to the other in wisdom, so that he soothed the arrogance of infuriated sovereigns; and did not merely bring the queen of the south from the ends of the earth, or any other individual, to visit him because of his renown for wisdom, but made his wisdom known in all the ends of the world. I pass over the rest of Solomon’s life. Even if we spare it, it is evident to all.
74. Do you praise the courage of Elijah45614561 2 Kings i. 1. in the presence of tyrants, and his fiery translation?45624562 Ib. ii. 11. Or the fair inheritance of Elisha, the sheepskin mantle, accompanied by the spirit of Elijah?45634563 Ib. ii. 13, 15. You must also praise the life of Basil, spent in the fire. I mean in the multitude of temptations, and his escape through fire, which burnt, but did not consume, the mystery of “the bush,”45644564 Exod. iii. 1. and the fair cloak of skin from on high, his indifference to the flesh. I pass by the rest, the three young men bedewed in the fire,45654565 Dan. iii. 5. the fugitive prophet praying in the whale’s belly,45664566 Jonah ii. 1. and coming forth from the creature, as from a chamber; the just man in the den, restraining the lions’ rage,45674567 Dan. vi. 22. and the struggle of the seven Maccabees,45684568 2 Macc. vii. 1. who were perfected with their father and mother in blood, and in all kinds of tortures. Their endurance he rivalled, and won their glory.
75. I now turn to the New Testament, and comparing his life with those who are here illustrious, I shall find in the teachers a source of honour for their disciple. Who was the forerunner of Jesus?45694569 S. Luke i. 76. John, the voice of the Word,45704570 Ib. iii. 4. the lamp of the Light,45714571 S. John v. 35; i. 8. before Whom he even leaped in the womb,45724572 S. Luke ii. 41. and Whom he preceded to Hades, whither he was despatched by the rage of Herod,45734573 S. Matt. xiv. 10. to herald even there Him who was coming. And, if my language seems audacious to anyone, let me assure him beforehand, that in making this comparison, I neither prefer Basil, nor imply that he is equal to him who surpasses all who are born of women,45744574 S. Matt. xi. 11. but only show that he was stirred to emulation, and possessed to some extent his striking features. For it is no slight thing for the earnest to imitate the greatest of men, even in a slight degree. Is it not indeed manifest that Basil was a copy of John’s asceticism? He also lived in the wilderness, and wore in nightly watchings a ragged garb, during his shrinking retirement; he also loved a similar food, purifying himself for God by abstinence; he also was thought worthy to be a herald, if not a forerunner, of Christ, and there went out to him not only all the region round about,45754575 Ib. iii. 5. but also that which was beyond its borders; he also stood between the two covenants, abolishing the letter of the one by administering the spirit of the other, and bringing about the fulfilment of the hidden law through the dissolution of that which was apparent.
76. He emulated the zeal of Peter,45764576 Acts iv. 8. the intensity of Paul, the faith of both these men of name and of surname, the lofty utterance of the sons of Zebedee, the frugality and simplicity of all the disciples. Therefore he was also entrusted with the keys of the heavens,45774577 S. Matt. xvi. 1. and not only from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum,45784578 Rom. xv. 1. but he embraces a wider circle in the Gospel; he is not named, but becomes, a Son of thunder; and lying upon the breast of Jesus, he draws thence the power of his word, and the depth of his thoughts. He was prevented from becoming a Stephen,45794579 Acts vii. 58. eager though he was, since reverence stayed the hands of those who would have stoned him. I am able to sum up still more concisely, to avoid treating in detail on these points of each individual. In some respects he discovered, in some he emulated, in others he surpassed the good. In his many-sided virtues he excelled all men of this day. I have but one thing left to say, and in few words.
77. So great was his virtue, and the eminence of his fame, that many of his minor characteristics, nay, even his physical defects, have been assumed by others with a view to notoriety. For instance his paleness, his beard, his gait, his thoughtful, and generally meditative, hesitation in speaking, which, in the ill-judged, inconsiderate imitation of many, took the form of melancholy. And besides, the style of his dress, the shape of his bed, and his manner of eating, none of which was to him a matter of consequence, but simply the result of accident and chance. So you might see many Basils in outward semblance, among these statues in outline, for it would be too much to call them his distant echo. For an echo, though it is the dying away of a sound, at any rate represents it with great clearness, while these men fall too far short of him to satisfy even their desire to approach him. Nor was it a slight thing, but a matter with good reason held in the highest estimation, to chance to have met him or done him some service, or to carry away the souvenir of something which he had said or done in jest or in earnest: as I know that I have myself often taken pride in doing; for his improvisations were much more precious and brilliant than the laboured efforts of other men.
78. But when, after he had finished his course, and kept the faith,45804580 2 Tim. iv. 7. he longed to depart, and the time for his crown was approaching,45814581 Phil. i. 23. he did not hear the summons: “Get thee up into the mountain and die,”45824582 Deut. xxxii. 49. but “Die and come up to us.” And here again he wrought a wonder in no wise inferior to those mentioned before. For when he was almost dead, and breathless, and had lost the greater part of his powers; he grew stronger in his last words, so as to depart with the utterances of religion, and, by ordaining the most excellent of his attendants, bestowed upon them both his hand and the Spirit: so that his disciples, who had aided him in his priestly office, might not be defrauded of the priesthood. The remainder of my task I approach, but with reluctance, as it would fall more fully from the mouths of others than from my own. For I cannot philosophise over my misfortune, even if I greatly longed to do so, when I recollect that the loss is common to us all, and that the misfortune has befallen the whole world.
79. He lay, drawing his last breath, and awaited by the choir on high, towards which he had long directed his gaze. Around him poured the whole city, unable to bear his loss, inveighing against his departure, as if it had been an oppression, and clinging to his soul, as though it had been capable of restraint or compulsion at their hands or their prayers. Their suffering had driven them distracted, all were eager, were it possible, to add to his life a portion of their own. And when they failed, for it must needs be proved that he was a man, and, with his last words “Into thy Hands I commend my spirit,”45834583 Ps. xxxi. 6. he had joyfully resigned his soul to the care of the angels who carried him away; not without having some religious instructions and injunctions for the benefit of those who were present—then occurred a wonder more remarkable than any which had happened before.
80. The saint was being carried out, lifted high by the hands of holy men, and everyone was eager, some to seize the hem of his garment,45844584 S. Luke viii. 44. others only just to touch the shadow,45854585 Acts v. 15. or the bier which bore his holy remains (for what could be more holy or pure than that body), others to draw near to those who were carrying it, others only to enjoy the sight, as if even this were beneficial. Market places, porticos, houses of two or three stories were filled with people escorting, preceding, following, accompanying him, and trampling upon each other; tens of thousands of every race and age, beyond all previous experience. The psalmody was overborne by the lamentations, philosophic resignation sank beneath the misfortune. Our own people vied with strangers, Jews, Greeks, and foreigners, and they with us, for a greater share in the benefit, by means of a more abundant lamentation. To close my story, the calamity ended in danger; many souls departed along with him, from the violence of the pushing and confusion, who have been thought happy in their end, departing together with him, “funeral victims,” perhaps some fervid orator might call them. The body having at last escaped from those who would seize it, and made its way through those who went before it, was consigned to the tomb of his fathers, the high priest being added to the priests, the mighty voice which rings in my ears to the heralds, the martyr to the martyrs. And now he is in heaven, where, if I mistake not, he is offering sacrifices for us, and praying for the people, for though, he has left us, he has not entirely left us. While I, Gregory, who am half dead, and, cleft in twain, torn away from our great union, and dragging along a life of pain which runs not easily, as may be supposed, after separation from him, know not what is to be my end now that I have lost my guidance. And even now I am admonished and instructed in nightly visions, if ever I fall short of my duty. And my present object is not so much to mingle lamentations with my praises, or to portray the public life of the man, or publish a picture of virtue common to all time, and an example salutary to all churches, and to all souls, which we may keep in view, as a living law, and so rightly direct our lives as to counsel you, who have been completely initiated into his doctrine, to fix your eyes upon him, as one who sees you and is seen by you, and thus to be perfected by the Spirit.
81. Come hither then, and surround me, all ye members of his choir, both of the clergy and the laity, both of our own country and from abroad; aid me in my eulogy, by each supplying or demanding the account of some of his excellences. Regard, ye occupants of the bench, the lawgiver; ye politicians, the statesman; ye men of the people, his orderliness; ye men of letters, the instructor; ye virgins, the leader of the bride; ye who are yoked in marriage, the restrainer; ye hermits, him who gave you wings; ye cenobites, the judge; ye simple men, the guide; ye contemplatives, the divine; ye cheerful ones, the bridle; ye unfortunate men, the consoler, the staff of hoar hairs, the guide of youth, the relief of poverty, the steward of abundance. Widows also will, I imagine, praise their protector, orphans their father, poor men their friend, strangers their entertainer, brothers the man of brotherly love, the sick their physician, whatever be their sickness and the healing they need, the healthy the preserver of health, and all men him who made himself all things to all that he might gain the majority, if not all.
82. This is my offering to thee, Basil, uttered by the tongue which once was the sweetest of all to thee, of him who was thy fellow in age and rank. If it have approached thy deserts, thanks are due to thee, for it was from confidence in thee that I undertook to speak of thee. But if it fall far short of thy expectations, what must be our feelings, who are worn out with age and disease and regret for thee? Yet God is pleased, when we do what we can. Yet mayest thou gaze upon us from above, thou divine and sacred person; either stay by thy entreaties our thorn in the flesh,45864586 2 Cor. xii. 7. given to us by God for our discipline, or prevail upon us to bear it boldly, and guide all our life towards that which is most for our profit. And if we be translated, do thou receive us there also in thine own tabernacle, that, as we dwell together, and gaze together more clearly and more perfectly upon the holy and blessed Trinity, of Which we have now in some degree received the image, our longing may at last be satisfied, by gaining this recompense for all the battles we have fought and the assaults we have endured. Such are our words on thy behalf: who will there be to praise us, since we leave this life after thee, even if we offer any topic worthy of words or praise in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory forever? Amen.
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