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NPNF2-08. Basil: Letters and Select Works
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Letter LXXXII.22812281    Placed at the end of 371 or the beginning of 372.

To Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria.

When I turn my gaze upon the world, and perceive the difficulties by which every effort after good is obstructed, like those of a man walking in fetters, I am brought to despair of myself.  But then I direct my gaze in the direction of your reverence; I remember that our Lord has appointed you to be physician of the diseases in the Churches; and I recover my spirits, and rise from the depression of despair to the hope of better things.  As your wisdom well knows, the whole Church is undone.  And you see everything in all directions in your mind’s eye like a man looking from some tall watch tower,22822282    The fitness of this figure in a letter to the bishop of Alexandria will not escape notice.  At the eastern extremity of the island of Pharos still stood the marble lighthouse erected more than 600 years before by Ptolemy II., and not destroyed till after the thirteenth century. as when at sea many ships sailing together are all dashed one against the other by the violence of the waves, and shipwreck arises in some cases from the sea being furiously agitated from without, in others from the disorder of the sailors hindering and crowding one another.  It is enough to present this picture, and to say no more.22832283    On Basil’s use of this nautical metaphor, cf. De Spirtu Sancto, chap. xxx.  It is of course a literary commonplace, but Basil’s associations all lay inland.  Your wisdom requires nothing farther, and the present state of affairs does not allow me freedom of speech.  What capable pilot can be found in such a storm?  Who is worthy to rouse the Lord to rebuke the wind and the sea?  Who but he who from his boyhood22842284    The story of “the boy bishop” will be remembered, whose serious game of baptism attracted the notice of Alexander and led to the education of Athanasius in the Episcopal palace.  Soc., Ecc. Hist. i. 15.  Rufinus i. 14.  cf. Keble, Lyra Innocentium, “Enacting holy rites.” fought a good fight on behalf of true religion?  Since now truly all that is sound among us is moving in the direction of fellowship and unity with those who are of the same opinion, we have come confidently to implore you to send us a single letter, advising us what is to be done.  In this way they wish that they may have a beginning of communication which may promote unity.  They may, peradventure, be suspected by you, when you remember the past, and therefore, most God-beloved Father, do as follows; send me the letters to the bishops, either by the hand of some one in whom you place trust in Alexandria, or by the hand of our brother Dorotheus the deacon:  when I have received these letters I will not deliver them till I have got the bishops’ answers; if not, let me “bear the blame for ever.”22852285    Gen. xliii. 9.  Truly this ought not to have struck more awe into him who first uttered it to his father, than into me who now say it to my spiritual father.  If however you altogether renounce this hope, at least free me from all blame in acting as I have, for I have undertaken this message and mediation in all sincerity and simplicity, from desire for peace and the mutual intercourse of all who think alike about the Lord.


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