Writings of Basil - The Letters g

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The Letters

Of Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsaria,

Translated with Notes by

The Rev. Blomfield Jackson, M.A.
Vicar of Saint Bartholomew's, Moor Lane, and Fellow of King's College, London.

Under the editorial supervision of Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Semimary, New York, and Henry Wace, D.D., Principal of King's College, London

Published in 1895 by T&T Clark, Edinburgh

Letter CCC.

Without address.

[A consolatory letter to a father.]

Letter CCCI.

To Maximus.

[Consolatory on the death of his wife.]

Letter CCCII

To the wife of Briso. [Consolatory on the death of her husband. These three consolatory letters present no features different from those contained in previous letters of a similar character.]


To the Comes Privatarum. You have, I think, been led to impose a contribution of mares [3261] on these people by false information on the part of the inhabitants. What is going on is quite unfair. It cannot but be displeasing to your excellency, and is distressing to me on account of my intimate connexion with the victims of the wrong. I have therefore lost no time in begging your Lordship not to allow these promoters of iniquity to succeed in their malevolence.
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[3261] phoradon telesua. "Recte Scultetum castigat Combefisius quod raptim vectigal reddiderit. At idem immerito putat ob equarum possessionem tributum aliquod ejusmodi hominibus impositum fuisse. Perspicuum est equas ipsas iis, quibus patrocinatur Basilius, imperatas fuisse, idque in multæ magis quam in tributi loco; si quidem eos comes rei privatæ falsis criminationibus deceptus damnaverat. Sic etiam Greg. Naz., Ep. clxxxiv. Nemesium flectere conatur qui Valentiniano equarum multam ob aliquod delictum inflexerat. Nec mirum est in Cappadocia, quæ optimos equos alebat, ejusmodi multas impossitas fuisse." Ben. note.

Letter CCCIV.

To Aburgius. [A few unimportant words of introduction.]

Letter CCCV.

Without address. [An unimportant letter of recommendation.]

Letter CCCVI.

To the Governor of Sebasteia. [3262] I am aware that your excellency is favourably receiving my letters, and I understand why. You love all that is good; you are ready in doing kindnesses. So whenever I give you the opportunity of shewing your magnanimity, you are eager for my letters, because you know that they furnish an occasion for good deeds. Now, once more, behold an occasion for your shewing all the signs of rectitude, and at the same time for the public exhibition of your virtues! Certain persons have come from Alexandria for the discharge of a necessary duty which is due from all men to the dead. They ask your excellency to give orders that it may be permitted them to have conveyed away, under official sanction, the corpse of a relative who departed this life at Sebasteia, while the troops were quartered there. They further beg that, as far as possible, aid may be given them for travelling at the public expense, so that, of your bounty, they may find some help and solace in their long journey. The tidings of this will travel as far as to great Alexandria, and will convey thither the report of your excellency's astonishing kindness. This you well understand without my mentioning it. I shall add gratitude for this one more favour to that which I feel for all which you have done me.


[3262] ;;Egemoni Sebasteias. The Ben. Ed. think that here and in Letter lxiii. hegeuon means not governor but Head of the Senate. cf. Cod. Theod. xii., i. 127, 171, 189. So in Letter lxxxvi. The "præpositus pagorum" is styled hegemon.

Letter CCCVII.

Without address. [A request to mediate between two litigants.]


Without address. [Commendatory, with the mention of a place called Capralis.]

Letter CCCIX.

Without address. [Commendatory on behalf of a man reduced from wealth to poverty, with three children, and anxious about his rating.]

Letter CCCX.

Without address. [Commendatory on behalf of some kinsfolk, and of the people of Ariarathia, a place in the Sargaransene, about 60 m. E. of Cæsarea. [3263] ]


[3263] Ramsay, Hist. Geog. A. M. p. 55.

Letter CCCXI.

[Commendatory: short and of no importance.]

Letter CCCXII.

[Commendatory: short and unimportant.]


[Commendatory of the interests of Sulpicius.]

Letter CCCXIV.

Without address. [Commendatory.]

Letter CCCXV.

Without address. [Commendatory of a widow.]


Without address. [Commendatory; short.]

Letter CCCXX.

Without address. [A salutation.]

Letter CCCXXI.

To Thecla. [Included among the Letters of Gregory of Nazianzus, who is assumed by the Ben. Ed. to be indubitably the writer. [3264] ]


[3264] Vide Greg. Naz., Ep. lvii.


Without address.

[Asking a friend to come with his wife and spend Easter with him.]


To Philagrius Arcenus.


To Pasinicus, the Physician.

Letter CCCXXV.

To Magninianus.


Without address. [Monitory.]


Without address. [Hortatory.]


To Hyperectius.

[On Basil's health.]


To Phalirius.

With thanks for a present of fish.]


[All short and without address. Letters from CCCXXIII. to CCCXXXIII. have no importance.]


To a writer.

Write straight, and make the lines straight. Do not let your hand go too high or too low. Avoid forcing the pen to travel slantwise, like Æsop's crab. Advance straight on, as if following the line of the carpenter's rule, which always preserves exactitude and prevents any irregularity. The oblique is ungraceful. It is the straight which pleases the eye, and does not allow the reader's eyes to go nodding up and down like a swing-beam. This has been my fate in reading your writing. As the lines lie ladderwise, I was obliged, when I had to go from one to another, to mount up to the end of the last: then, when no connexion was to be found, I had to go back, and seek for the right order again, retreating and following the furrow, [3265] like Theseus in the story following Ariadne's thread. [3266]Write straight, and do not confuse our mind by your slanting and irregular writing.


[3265] Of the use of this word to indicate the lines in mss., cf. Aristoph., Thesm. 782, and Anth., Pal. vi. 82. [3266] i.e. in the Labyrinth of Crete. Ope virginea, nullis iterata priorum, Janua difficilis filo est inventa relecto. Ov., Metam. viii. 172.


Basil to Libanius. [3267]

I am really ashamed of sending you the Cappadocians one by one. I should prefer to induce all our youths to devote themselves to letters and learning, and to avail themselves of your instruction in their training. But it is impracticable to get hold of them all at once, while they choose what suits themselves. I therefore send you those who from time to time are won over; and this I do with the assurance that I am conferring on them a boon as great as that which is given by those who bring thirsty men to the fountain. The lad, whom I am now sending, will be highly valued for his own sake when he has been in your society. He is already well known on account of his father, who has won a name among us both for rectitude of life and for authority in our community. He is, moreover, a close friend of my own. To requite him for his friendship to me, I am conferring on his son the benefit of an introduction to you--a boon well worthy of being earnestly prayed for by all who are competent to judge of a man's high character.


[3267] "Basilii et Libanii epistolæ mutuæ, quas magni facit Tillemontius, probatque ut genuinas, maxime dubiæ videntur Garnier, in Vit. Bas. cap. 39, p. 172, seqq., is tamen illas spartim edidit....Schroeckh Garn. dubitationi deomnium illarum epist. mutuarum nothei& 139; quædam opponit." Fabricius. Harles., Tom. ix. Maran (Vit. Bas. xxxix. 2) thinks that the Libanian correspondence, assuming it to be genuine, is to be assigned partly to the period of the retreat, partly to that of the presbyterate, while two only, the one a complaint on the part of Libanius that bishops are avaricious, and Basil's retort, may perhaps have been written during the episcopate. He would see no reason for rejecting them on the ground merely of the unlikelihood of Basil's corresponding with a heathen philosopher, but he is of opinion that the style of most of them is unworthy both of the sophist and of the archbishop. Yet there seems no reason why they should have been invented. It is intelligible enough that they should have been preserved, considering the reputation of the writers; but they suggest no motive for forgery. The life of Libanius extended from 314 to nearly the end of the fourth century. J. R. Mozley, in D.C.B. (iv. 712) refers to G. R. Siever (Das Leben des Libanius, Berlin, 1868) as the fullest biographer.


Libanius to Basilius.

1. After some little time a young Cappadocian has reached me. One gain to me is that he is a Cappadocian. But this Cappadocian is one of the first rank. This is another gain. Further, he brings me a letter from the admirable Basil. This is the greatest gain of all. You think that I have forgotten you. I had great respect for you in your youth. I saw you vying with old men in self-restraint, and this in a city teeming with pleasures. I saw you already in possession of considerable learning. Then you thought that you ought also to see Athens, and you persuaded Celsus to accompany you. Happy Celsus, to be dear to you! Then you returned, and lived at home, and I said to myself, What, I wonder, is Basil about now? To what occupation has he betaken himself? Is he following the ancient orators, and practising in the courts? Or is he turning the sons of fortunate fathers into orators? Then there came those who reported to me that you were adopting a course of life better than any of these, and were, rather, bethinking you how you might win the friendship of God than heaps of gold, I blessed both you and the Cappadocians; you, for making this your aim; them, for being able to point to so noble a fellow-countryman. 2. I am aware that the Firmus, whom you mention, has continually won everywhere; [3268] hence his great power as a speaker. But with all the eulogies that have been bestowed on him, I am not aware that he has ever received such praise as I have heard of in your letter. For what a credit it is to him, that it should be you who declare that his reputation is inferior to none! Apparently, you have despatched this young man to me before seeing Firminus; had you done so, your letters would not have failed to mention him. What is Firminus now doing or intending to do? Is he still anxious to be married? Or is all that over now? Are the claims of the senate heavy on him? Is he obliged to stay where he is? Is there any hope of his taking to study again ? Let him send me an answer, and I trust it may be satisfactory. If it be a distressing one, at least it will relieve him from seeing me at his door. And if Firminus had been now at Athens, what would your senators have done? Would they have sent the Salaminia [3269] after him? You see that it is only by your fellow-countrymen that I am wronged. Yet I shall never cease to love and praise the Cappadocians. I should like them to be better disposed to me, but, if they continue to act as they do, I shall bear it. Firminus was four months with me, and was not a day idle. You will know how much he has acquired, and perhaps will not complain. As to his being able to come here again, what ally can I call in? If your senators are right-minded, as men of education ought to be, they will honour me in the second case, since they grieved me in the first.


[3268] pantachou dietelese kraton. "Ubique constantem perdurasse." Ben. Ed. "Ubique firma memoria fuerit." Combefis. Firmus may possibly be the father of the young student. [3269] The allusion is to the "Salaminia," one of the two sacred or state vessels of the Athenian government. The "Paralus" and the "Salaminia" were both Triremes, the latter being called also "Delia" and "Theoris," because it was used to convey the theoroi to Delos. State criminals were conveyed by them.


Basil to Libanius.

Lo and behold, yet another Cappadocian has come to you; a son of my own! Yet my present position makes all men my sons. On this ground he may be regarded as a brother of the former one, and worthy of the same attention alike from me his father, and from you his instructor--if really it is possible for these young men, who come from me, to obtain any further favours. I do not mean that it is not possible for your excellency to give anything more to your old comrades, but because your services are so lavishly bestowed upon all. It will be sufficient for the lad before he gets experience if he be numbered among those who are intimately known to you. I trust you may send him back to me worthy of my prayers and of your great reputation in learning and eloquence. He is accompanied by a young man of his own age, and of like zeal for instruction; a youth of good family, and closely associated with myself. I am sure he will be in every way as well treated, though his means are smaller than is the case with the rest.


Libanius to Basil.

I know you will often write, "Here is another Cappadocian for you!" I expect that you will send me many. I am sure that you are everywhere putting pressure on both fathers and sons by all your complimentary expressions about me. But it would not be kind on my part not to mention what happened about your good letter. There were sitting with me not a few of our people of distinction, and among them the very excellent Alypius, Hierocles' cousin. The messengers gave in the letter. I read it right through without a word; then with a smile, and evidently gratified, I exclaimed, "I am vanquished!" "How? When? Where?" they asked. "How is it that you are not distressed at being vanquished?" "I am beaten," I replied, "in beautiful letter writing. Basil has won. But I love him; and so I am delighted." On hearing this, they all wanted to hear of the victory from the letter itself. It was read by Alypius, while all listened. It was voted that what I had said was quite true. Then the reader went out, with the letter still in his hand, to shew it, I suppose, to others. I had some difficulty in getting it back. Go on writing others like it; go on winning. This is for me to win. You are quite right in thinking that my services are not measured by money. Enough for him who has nothing to give, that he is as wishful to receive. If I perceive any one who is poor to be a lover of learning, he takes precedence of the rich. True, I never found such instructors; but nothing shall stand in the way of my being, at least in that respect, an improvement on mine. Let no one, then, hesitate to come hither because he is poor, if only he possesses the one qualification of knowing how to work.


Basil to Libanius.

What could not a sophist say? And such a sophist! One whose peculiar art is, whenever he likes, to make great things small, and to give greatness to small things! This is what you have shewn in my case. That dirty little letter of mine, as, perhaps, you who live in all luxury of eloquence would call it, a letter in no way more tolerable than the one you hold in your hands now, you have so extolled as, forsooth, to be eaten by it, and to be yielding me the prize for composition! You are acting much as fathers do, when they join in their boys' games, and let the little fellows be proud of the victories which they have let them win without any loss to themselves, and with much gain to the children's emulation. Really and truly the delight your speech must have given, when you were joking about me, must have been indescribable! It is as though some Polydamas [3270] or Milo [3271] were to decline the pancratium or a wrestling bout with me! [3272]After carefully examining, I have found no sign of weakness. So those who look for exaggeration are the more astonished at your being able to descend in sport to my level, than if you had led the barbarian in full sail over Athos. [3273]I, however, my dear sir, am now spending my time with Moses and Elias, and saints like them, who tell me their stories in a barbarous tongue, [3274] and I utter what I learnt from them, true, indeed, in sense, though rude in phrase, as what I am writing testifies. If ever I learned anything from you, I have forgotten it in the course of time. But do you continue to write to me, and so suggest other topics for correspondence. Your letter will exhibit you, and will not convict me. I have already introduced to you the son of Anysius, as a son of my own. If he is my son, he is the child of his father, poor, and a poor man's son. What I am saying is well known to one who is wise as well as a sophist. [3275]


[3270] A famous athlete of Scotussa. Paus. vi. 5. [3271] The athlete of Crotona, who was crowned again and again at the Pythian and Olympian games. [3272] ho thlibein kai katechein dunamenos, palaistikos; ho de osai te plege, pustikos; ho de amphoterois toutois, pankratiastikos. Arist., Rhet. i. v. 14. [3273] The story that Xerxes had made a canal through the isthmus of Athos was supposed to be an instance of gross exaggeration. cf. Juv. x. 174: Creditur olim Velificatus Athos et quidquid Græcia mendax Audet in historia," and Claudian iii. 336: "Remige Medo solicitatus Athos." But traces of the canal are said to be still visible. [3274] This might lead to the idea that Basil knew some Hebrew, but the close of the sentence indicates that he means the Greek of the LXX., in which he always quotes Scripture. [3275] sopho te kai sophiste.

Letter CCCXL.

Libanius to Basil.

Had you been for a long time considering how best you could reply to my letter about yours, you could not in my judgment have acquitted yourself better than by writing as you have written now. You call me a sophist, and you allege that it is a sophist's business to make small things great and great things small. And you maintain that the object of my letter was to prove yours a good one, when it was not a good one, and that it was no better than the one which you have sent last, and, in a word that you have no power of expression, the books which you have now in hand producing no such effect, and the eloquence which you once possessed having all disappeared. Now, in the endeavour to prove this, you have made this epistle too, which you are reviling, so admirable, that my visitors could not refrain from leaping with admiration as it was being read. I was astonished that after your trying to run down the former one by this, by saying that the former one was like it, you have really complimented the former by it. To carry out your object, you ought to have made this one worse, that you might slander the former. But it is not like you, I think, to do despite to the truth. It would have been done despite to, if you had purposely written badly, and not put out the powers you have. It would be characteristic of you not to find fault with what is worthy of praise, lest in your attempt to make great things insignificant, your proceedings reduce you to the rank of the sophists. Keep to the books which you say are inferior in style, though better in sense. No one hinders you. But of the principles which are ever mine, and once were yours, the roots both remain and will remain, as long as you exist. Though you water them ever so little, no length of time will ever completely destroy them.

Letter CCCXLI.

Libanius to Basil.

You have not yet ceased to be offended with me, and so I tremble as I write. If you have cared, why, my dear sir, do you not write? If you are still offended, a thing alien from any reasonable soul and from your own, why, while you are preaching to others, that they must not keep their anger till sundown, [3276] have you kept yours during many suns? Peradventure you have meant to punish me by depriving me of the sound of your sweet voice? Nay; excellent sir, be gentle, and let me enjoy your golden tongue.


[3276] cf. Eph. iv. 27, and the passage quoted by Alford from Plut., De Am. Frat. 488 B., to the effect that the Pythagoreans, whenever anger had caused unkindly words, shook hands before sundown, and were reconciled.


Basil to Libanius.

All who are attached to the rose, as might be expected in the case of lovers of the beautiful, are not displeased even at the thorns from out of which the flower blows. I have even heard it said about roses by some one, perhaps in jest, or, it may be, even in earnest, that nature has furnished the bloom with those delicate thorns, like stings of love to lovers, to excite those who pluck them to intenser longing by these ingeniously adapted pricks. [3277] But what do I mean by this introduction of the rose into my letter? You do not need telling, when you remember your own letter. It had indeed the bloom of the rose, and, by its fair speech, opened out all spring to me; but it was bethorned with certain fault findings and charges against me. But even the thorn of your words is delightful to me, for it enkindles in me a greater longing for your friendship.


[3277] ms. vary between enplektois, enplektois, aplektois, apraktois.


Libanius to Basil.

IF these are the words of an untrained tongue, what would you be if you would polish them? On your lips live fountains of words better than the flowing of springs. I, on the contrary, if I am not daily watered, am silent.


Basil to Libanius.

I am dissuaded from writing often to you, learned as you are, by my timidity and my ignorance. But your persistent silence is different. What excuse can be offered for it? If any one takes into account that you are slow to write to me, living as you do in the midst of letters, he will condemn you for forgetfulness of me. He who is ready at speaking is not unprepared to write. And if a man so endowed is silent, it is plain that he acts either from forgetfulness or from contempt. I will, however, requite your silence with a greeting. Farewell, most honoured sir. Write if you like. If you prefer it, do not write.

Letter CCCXLV.

Libanius to Basil.

It is, I think, more needful for me to defend myself for not having begun to write to you long ago, than to offer any excuse for beginning now. I am that same man who always used to run up whenever you put in an appearance, and who listened with the greatest delight to the stream of your eloquence; rejoicing to hear you; with difficulty tearing myself away; saying to my friends, This man is thus far superior to the daughters of Achelous, in that, like them, he soothes, but he does not hurt as they do. Truly it is no great thing not to hurt; but this man's songs are a positive gain to the hearer. That I should be in this state of mind, should think that I am regarded with affection, and should seem able to speak, and yet should not venture to write, is the mark of a man guilty of extreme idleness, and, at the same time, inflicting punishment on himself. For it is clear that you will requite my poor little letter with a fine large one, and will take care not to wrong me again. At this word, I fancy, many will cry out, and will crowd round with the shout, What! has Basil done any wrong--even a small wrong? Then so have OEacus, and Minos and his brother. [3278]In other points I admit that you have won. Who ever saw you that does not envy you? But in one thing you have sinned against me; and, if I remind you of it, induce those who are indignant thereat not to make a public outcry. No one has ever come to you and asked a favour which it was easy to give, and gone away unsuccessful. But I am one of those who have craved a boon without receiving it. What then did I ask? Often when I was with you in camp, I was desirous of entering, with the aid of your wisdom, into the depth of Homer's frenzy. If the whole is impossible, I said, do you bring me to a portion of what I want. I was anxious for a part, wherein, when things have gone ill with the Greeks, Agamemnon courts with gifts the man whom he has insulted. When I so spoke, you laughed, because you could not deny that you could if you liked, but were unwilling to give. Do I really seem to be wronged to you and to your friends, who were indignant at my saying that you were doing a wrong?


[3278] Rhadamanthus and Minos were both said to be sons of Zeus and Europa. cf. Verg., Æn. vi. 566 and Pind., Ol. ii. 75.


Libanius to Basil.

You yourself will judge whether I have added anything in the way of learning to the young men whom you have sent. I hope that this addition, however little it be, will get the credit of being great, for the sake of your friendship towards me. But inasmuch as you give less praise to learning than to temperance and to a refusal to abandon our souls to dishonourable pleasures, they have devoted their main attention to this, and have lived, as indeed they ought, with due recollection of the friend who sent them hither. So welcome what is your own, and give praise to men who by their mode of life have done credit both to you and to me. But to ask you to be serviceable to them is like asking a father to be serviceable to his children.


Libanius to Basil.

Every bishop is a thing out of which it is very hard to get anything. [3279]The further you have advanced beyond other people in learning, the more you make me afraid that you will refuse what I ask. I want some rafters. [3280]Any other sophist would have called them stakes, or poles, not because he wanted stakes or poles, but rather for shewing off his wordlets than out of any real need. If you do not supply them, I shall have to winter in the open air.


[3279] pragma dusgripiston. gripizo=I catch fish, from griphos, a creel. [3280] stroter.


Basil to Libanius.

If gripizein is the same thing as to gain, and this is the meaning of the phrase which your sophistic ingenuity has got from the depths of Plato, consider, my dear sir, who is the more hard to be got from, I who am thus impaled [3281] by your epistolary skill, or the tribe of Sophists, whose craft is to make money out of their words. What bishop ever imposed tribute by his words? What bishop ever made his disciples pay taxes? It is you who make your words marketable, as confectioners make honey-cakes. See how you have made the old man leap and bound! However, to you who make such a fuss about your declamations, I have ordered as many rafters to be supplied as there were fighters at Thermopylæ, [3282] all of goodly length, and, as Homer has it, "long-shadowing," [3283] which the sacred Alphæus has promised to restore. [3284]


[3281] With a play on charax, the word used for stakes. [3282] i.e. three hundred. [3283] Hom. iii. 346. [3284] Non illepide auctor epistolæ fluvium obstringit restituendi promisso, ut gratuito a se dari ostendat." Ben. note.


Libanius to Basil.

Will you not give over, Basil, packing this sacred haunt of the Muses with Cappadocians, and these redolent of the frost [3285] and snow and all Cappadocia's good things? They have almost made me a Cappadocian too, always chanting their "I salute you." I must endure, since it is Basil who commands. Know, however, that I am making a careful study of the manners and customs of the country, and that I mean to metamorphose the men into the nobility and the harmony of my Calliope, that they may seem to you to be turned from pigeons into doves.


[3285] grite, an unknown word. Perhaps akin to kriote. cf. Duncange s.v.

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