Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. VIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Prolegomena.: Basil as Archbishop.
VI.—Basil as Archbishop.
The archiepiscopal throne was now technically vacant. But the man who had practically filled it, “the keeper and tamer of the lion,” 135 was still alive in the plenitude of his power. What course was he to follow ? Was he meekly to withdraw, and perhaps be compelled to support the candidature of another and an inferior? The indirect evidence 136 has seemed to some strong enough to compel the conclusion that he determined, if possible, to secure his election to the see. 137 Others, on the contrary, have thought him incapable of scheming for the nomination. 138 The truth probably lies between the two extreme views. No intelligent onlooker of the position at Cæsarea on the death of Eusebius, least of all the highly capable administrator of the province, could be blind to the fact that of all possible competitors for the vacant throne Basil himself was the ablest and most distinguished, and the likeliest to be capable of directing the course of events in the interests of orthodoxy. But it does not follow that Basils appeal to Gregory to come to him was a deliberate step to secure this end. He craved for the support and counsel of his friend; but no one could p. xxii have known better that Gregory the younger was not the man to take prompt action or rule events. His invention of a fatal sickness, or exaggeration of a slight one, failed to secure even Gregorys presence at Cæsarea. Gregory burst into tears on receipt of the news of his friends grave illness, and hastened to obey the summons to his side. But on the road he fell in with bishops hurrying to Cæsarea for the election of a successor to Eusebius, and detected the unreality of Basils plea. He at once returned to Nazianzus and wrote the oft-quoted letter, 139 on the interpretation given to which depends the estimate formed of Basils action at the important crisis.
Basil may or may not have taken Gregorys advice not to put himself forward. But Gregory and his father, the bishop, from this time strained every nerve to secure the election of Basil. It was felt that the cause of true religion was at stake. “The Holy Ghost must win.” 140 Opposition had to be encountered from bishops who were in open or secret sympathy with Basils theological opponents, from men of wealth and position with whom Basil was unpopular on account of his practice and preaching of stern self-denial, and from all the lewd fellows of the baser sort in Cæsarea. 141 Letters were written in the name of Gregory the bishop with an eloquence and literary skill which have led them to be generally regarded as the composition of Gregory the younger. To the people of Cæsarea Basil was represented as a man of saintly life and of unique capacity to stem the surging tide of heresy. 142 To the bishops of the province who had asked him to come to Cæsarea without saying why, in the hope perhaps that so strong a friend of Basils might be kept away from the election without being afterwards able to contest it on the ground that he had had no summons to attend, he expresses an earnest hope that their choice is not a factious and foregone conclusion, and, anticipating possible objections on the score of Basils weak health, reminds them that they have to elect not a gladiator, but a primate. 143 To Eusebius of Samosata he sends the letter included among those of Basil 144 in which he urges him to cooperate in securing the appointment of a worthy man. Despite his age and physical infirmity, he was laid in his litter, as his son says 145 like a corpse in a grave, and borne to Cæsarea to rise there with fresh vigour and carry the election by his vote. 146 All resistance was overborne, and Basil was seated on the throne of the great exarchate.
The success of the Catholics roused, as was inevitable, various feelings. Athanasius wrote from Alexandria 147 to congratulate Cappadocia on her privilege in being ruled by so illustrious a primate. Valens prepared to carry out the measures against the Catholic province, which had been interrupted by the revolt of Procopius. The bishops of the province who had been narrowly out-voted, and who had refused to take part in the consecration, abandoned communion with the new primate. 148 But even more distressing to the new archbishop than the disaffection of his suffragans was the refusal of his friend Gregory to come in person to support him on his throne. Gregory pleaded that it was better for Basils own sake that there should be no suspicion of favour to personal friends, and begged to be excused for staying at Nazianzus. 149 Basil complained that his wishes and interests were disregarded, 150 and was hurt at Gregorys refusing to accept high responsibilities, possibly the coadjutor-bishopric, at Cæsarea. 151 A yet further cause of sorrow and annoyance was the blundering attempt of Gregory of Nyssa to effect a reconciliation between his uncle Gregory, who was in sympathy with the disaffected bishops, and his brother. He even went so far as to send more than one forged letter in their uncles name. The clumsy counterfeit was naturally found out, and the widened breach not bridged without difficulty. 152 The episcopate thus began with troubles, both public and personal. Basil confidently confronted them. His magnanimity and capacity secured the adhesion of his immediate neighbours and subordinates, 153 and soon his energies took a wider range. He directed the theological campaign all over the East, and was ready alike to meet opponents in hand to hand encounter, and to aim the arrows of his epistolary eloquence far and wide. 154 He invokes the illustrious pope of Alexandria to join him in winning the support of the West for the orthodox cause. 155 He is keenly interested in the unfortunate controversy which distracted the Church of Antioch. 156 He makes an earnest appeal to Damasus for the wonted sympathy of the Church at Rome. 157 At the same time his industry in his see was indefatigable. He is keen to secure the p. xxiii purity of ordination and the fitness of candidates. 158 Crowds of working people come to hear him preach before they go to their work for the day. 159 He travels distances which would be thought noticeable even in our modern days of idolatry of the great goddess Locomotion. He manages vast institutions eleemosynary and collegiate. His correspondence is constant and complicated. He seems the personification of the active, rather than of the literary and scholarly, bishop. Yet all the while he is writing tracts and treatises which are monuments of industrious composition, and indicative of a memory stored with various learning, and of the daily and effective study of Holy Scripture.
Nevertheless, while thus actively engaged in fighting the battle of the faith, and in the conscientious discharge of his high duties, he was not to escape an unjust charge of pusillanimity, if not of questionable orthodoxy, from men who might have known him better. On September 7th, probably in 371, 160 was held the festival of St. Eupsychius. Basil preached the sermon. Among the hearers were many detractors. 161 A few days after the festival there was a dinner-party at Nazianzus, at which Gregory was present, with several persons of distinction, friends of Basil. Of the party was a certain unnamed guest, of religious dress and reputation, who claimed a character for philosophy, and said some very hard things against Basil. He had heard the archbishop at the festival preach admirably on the Father and the Son, but the Spirit, he alleged, Basil defamed. 162 While Gregory boldly called the Spirit God, Basil, from poor motives, refrained from any clear and distinct enunciation of the divinity of the Third Person. The unfavourable view of Basil was the popular one at the dinner-table, and Gregory was annoyed at not being able to convince the party that, while his own utterances were of comparatively little importance, Basil had to weigh every word, and to avoid, if possible, the banishment which was hanging over his head. It was better to use a wise “economy” 163 in preaching the truth than so to proclaim it as to ensure the extinction of the light of true religion. Basil 164 shewed some natural distress and astonishment on hearing that attacks against him were readily received. 165
It was at the close of this same year 371 166 that Basil and his diocese suffered most severely from the hostility of the imperial government. Valens had never lost his antipathy to Cappadocia. In 370 he determined on dividing it into two provinces. Podandus, a poor little town at the foot of Mt. Taurus, was to be the chief seat of the new province, and thither half the executive was to be transferred. Basil depicts in lively terms the dismay and dejection of Cæsarea. 167 He even thought of proceeding in person to the court to plead the cause of his people, and his conduct is in itself a censure of those who would confine the sympathies of ecclesiastics within rigidly clerical limits. The division was insisted on. But, eventually, Tyana was substituted for Podandus as the new capital; and it has been conjectured 168 that possibly the act of kindness of the prefect mentioned in Ep. LXXVIII. may have been this transfer, due to the intervention of Basil and his influential friends.
But the imperial Arian was not content with this administrative mutilation. At the close of the year 371, flushed with successes against the barbarians, 169 fresh from the baptism of Endoxius, and eager to impose his creed on his subjects, Valens was travelling leisurely towards Syria. He is said to have shrunk from an encounter with the famous primate of Cæsarea, for he feared lest one strong mans firmness might lead others to resist. 170 Before him went Modestus, Prefect of the Prætorium, the minister of his severities, 171 and before Modestus, like the skirmishers in front of an advancing army, had come a troop of Arian p. xxiv bishops with Euippius, in all probability, at their head. 172 Modestus found on his arrival that Basil was making a firm stand, and summoned the archbishop to his presence with the hope of overawing him. He met with a dignity, if not with a pride, which was more than a match for his own. Modestus claimed submission in the name of the emperor. Basil refused it in the name of God. Modestus threatened impoverishment, exile, torture, death. Basil retorted that none of these threats frightened him: he had nothing to be confiscated except a few rags and a few books; banishment could not send him beyond the lands of God; torture had no terrors for a body already dead; death could only come as a friend to hasten his last journey home. Modestus exclaimed in amazement that he had never been so spoken to before. “Perhaps,” replied Basil, “you never met a bishop before.” The prefect hastened to his master and reported that ordinary means of intimidation appeared unlikely to move this undaunted prelate. The archbishop must be owned victorious, or crushed by more brutal violence. But Valens, like all weak natures, oscillated between compulsion and compliance. He so far abated his pretensions to force heresy on Cappadocia, as to consent to attend the services at the Church on the Festival of the Epiphany. 173 The Church was crowded. A mighty chant thundered over the sea of heads. At the end of the basilica, facing the multitude, stood Basil, statue-like, erect as Samuel among the prophets at Naioth, 174 and quite indifferent to the interruption of the imperial approach. The whole scene seemed rather of heaven than of earth, and the orderly enthusiasm of the worship to be rather of angels than of men. Valens half fainted, and staggered as he advanced to make his offering at Gods Table. On the following day Basil admitted him within the curtain of the sanctuary, and conversed with him at length on sacred subjects. 175
The surroundings and the personal appearance of the interlocutors were significant. The apse of the basilica was as a holy of holies secluded from the hum and turmoil of the vast city. 176 It was typical of what the Church was to the world. The health and strength of the Church were personified in Basil. He was now in the ripe prime of life but bore marks of premature age. Upright in carriage, of commanding stature, thin, with brown hair and eyes, and long beard, slightly bald, with bent brow, high cheek bones, and smooth skin, he would shew in every tone and gesture at once his high birth and breeding, the supreme culture that comes of intercourse with the noblest of books and of men, and the dignity of a mind made up and of a heart of single purpose. The sovereign presented a marked contrast to the prelate. 177 Valens was of swarthy complexion, and by those who approached him nearly it was seen that one eye was defective. He was strongly built, and of middle height, but his person was obese, and his legs were crooked. He was hesitating and unready in speech and action. 178 It is on the occasion of this interview that Theodoret places the incident of Basils humorous retort to Demosthenes, 179 the chief of the imperial kitchen, the Nebuzaradan, as the Gregories style him, of the petty fourth century Nebuchadnezzar. This Demosthenes had already threatened the archbishop with the knife, and been bidden to go back to his fire. Now he ventured to join in the imperial conversation, and made some blunder in Greek. “An illiterate Demosthenes!” exclaimed Basil; “better leave theology alone, and go back to your soups.” The emperor was amused at the discomfiture of his satellite, and for a while seemed inclined to be friendly. He gave Basil lands, possibly part of the neighbouring estate of Macellum, to endow his hospital. 180
But the reconciliation between the sovereign and the primate was only on the surface. Basil would not admit the Arians to communion, and Valens could not brook the refusal. The decree of exile was to be enforced, though the pens had refused to form the letters of the imperial signature. 181 Valens, however, was in distress at the dangerous illness of p. xxv Galates, his infant son. and, on the very night of the threatened expatriation, summoned Basil to pray over him. A brief rally was followed by relapse and death, which were afterwards thought to have been caused by the young princes Arian baptism. 182 Rudeness was from time to time shewn to the archbishop by discourteous and unsympathetic magistrates, as in the case of the Pontic Vicar, who tried to force an unwelcome marriage on a noble widow. The lady took refuge at the altar, and appealed to Basil for protection. The magistrate descended to contemptible insinuation, and subjected the archbishop to gross rudeness. His ragged upper garment was dragged from his shoulder, and his emaciated frame was threatened with torture. He remarked that to remove his liver would relieve him of a great inconvenience. 183
Nevertheless, so far as the civil power was concerned, Basil, after the famous visit of Valens, was left at peace. 184 He had triumphed. Was it a triumph for the nobler principles of the Gospel? Had he exhibited a pride and an irritation unworthy of the Christian name? Jerome, in a passage of doubtful genuineness and application, is reported to have regarded his good qualities as marred by the one bane of pride, 185 a “leaven” of which sin is admitted by Milman 186 to have been exhibited by Basil, as well as uncompromising firmness. The temper of Basil in the encounter with Valens would probably have been somewhat differently regarded had it not been for the reputation of a hard and overbearing spirit which he has won from his part in transactions to be shortly touched on. His attitude before Valens seems to have been dignified without personal haughtiness, and to have shewn sparks of that quiet humour which is rarely exhibited in great emergencies except by men who are conscious of right and careless of consequences to self.
Greg. Naz., Or. xliii. 33.xxi:136
i.e. the extant reply to his urgent request that Gregory would come to him. Greg. Naz., Ep. xl.xxi:137
“Persuadé que, sil échouait cen était fait de la foi de Nicée en Cappadoce, il deploie toutes les ressources de son dénie, aussi souple que puissant.” Fialone, Et. Hist. p. 85.
“Personne dans la ville, pas même Basile, malgré son humilité, ne donta que la succession ne lui fût acquise…il fit assez ouvertement ses préparatifs pour sa promotion.” De Broglie, LEglise et lEmpire R. v. 88.
“Basil persuaded himself, and not altogether unwarrantably, that the cause of orthodoxy in Asia Minor was involved in his becoming his successor.” Canon Venables in D.C.B.
“Erselbst, so schwer er sich anfangs zur Uebernahme des Presbyterates hatte entschliessen können, jetzt, wo er sich in seine Stellung hinein gearbeitet hatte wünschte er nichts sehnlicher al seine Wahl zum Bischof. Böhringer the IVth c. p. 24.
“Was it really from ambitious views? Certainly the suspicion, which even his friend entertained, attaches to him.” Ullmann, Life of Gregory of Naz., Coxs Trans. p. 117.xxi:138
“Ne suspicatus quidem in se oculos conjectum iri.” Maran, Vit. Bas.
“Former une brigue pour parvenir à lépiscopat était bien loin de sa pensée.´ Ceillier, iv. 354.xxii:139
Greg. N., Ep. xl. (xxi.).xxii:140
Or. xliii. § 37.xxii:142
Or. xviii., xliii.xxii:147
Athan., Ad Pall. 953; Ad Johan, et Ant. 951.xxii:148
This is inferred from the latter part of Ep. xlviii. cf. Maran, Vit. Bas. xiii. 3.xxii:149
Greg. Naz., Ep. xlv.xxii:150
Id. Ep. xlvi.xxii:151
τήνδε τῆς καθέδρας τίμην. Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.xxii:152
Epp. lviii., lix., lx.xxii:153
Greg. Naz., Or. xliii. § 40.xxii:154
Id. § 43.xxii:155
Basil, Epp. lxvi., lxvii.xxii:156
Hex. Hom. iii. p. 65.xxiii:160
Maran, Vit. Bas. xviii. 4.xxiii:161
Greg. Naz., Ep. lviii. Ep. lxxi.xxiii:162
Mr. C.F.H. Johnston (The Book of St. Basil the Great on the Holy Spirit), in noting that St. Basil in the De Sp. Scto. refrained from directly using the term Θεός of the Holy Ghost, remarks that he also avoided the use of the term ὁμοούσιος of the Son, “in accordance with his own opinion expressed in Ep. ix.” In Ep. ix., however, he rather gives his reasons for preferring the homoousion. The epitome of the essay of C. G. Wuilcknis (Leipsig, 1724) on the economy or reserve of St. Basil, appended by Mr. Johnston, is a valuable and interesting summary of the best defence which can be made for such reticence. It is truly pointed out that the only possible motive in Basils case was the desire of serving God, for no one could suspect or accuse him of ambition, fear, or covetousness. And if there was an avoidance of a particular phrase, there was no paltering with doctrine. As Dr. Swete (Doctrine of the H. S., p. 64) puts it: “He knew that the opponents of the Spirits Deity were watching their opportunity. Had the actual name of God been used in reference to the Third Person of the Trinity, they would have risen, and, on the plea of resisting blasphemy, expelled St. Basil from his see, which would then have been immediately filled by a Macedonian prelate. In private conversation with Gregory, Basil not only asserted again and again the Godhead of the Spirit, but even confirmed his statement with a solemn imprecation, ἐπαρασάμενος ἑαυτῷ τὸ φρικωδέστατον, αὐτοῦ τοῦ πνεύματος ἐκπεσεῖν εἰ μὴ σέβοι τὸ πνεῦμα μετὰ πατρὸς καὶ ῾Υιοῦ ὡς ὁμοούσιον καὶ ὁμότιμον.” (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.) In Letter viii. § 11 he distinctly calls the Spirit God, as in Adv. Eunomius, v., if the latter be genuine. In the De S. Scto. (p. 12) Basil uses the word οἰκονομία in the patristic sense nearly equivalent to incarnation. In the passage of Bp. Lightfoot, referred to in the note on p. 7, he points out how in Ign. ad Eph. xviii, the word has “already reached its first stage on the way to the sense of dissimulation, which was afterwards connected with it, and which led to disastrous consequences in the theology and practice of a later age.” On “Reserve” as taught by later casuists, see Scavini, Theolog. Mor. ii. 23, the letters of Pascal, and Jer. Taylor, Ductor Dubit. iii. 2.xxiii:166
Maran, Vit. Bas. xx. 1.xxiii:167
Epp. lxxiv., lxxv, lxxvi.xxiii:168
Maran, Vit. Bas. xix. 3.xxiii:169
Greg. Nyss., C. Eunom. i.xxiii:170
Theod. iv. 16.xxiii:171
Soc. iv. 16.xxiv:172
cf. Epp. lxviii., cxxviii., ccxliv. and ccli., and Maran, Vit. Bas. xx. 1; possibly the bishops were in Cappadocia as early as the Eupsychian celebration.xxiv:173
Jan. 6, 372. At this time in the Eastern Church the celebrations of the Nativity and of the Epiphany were combined. cf. D.C.A. i. 617.xxiv:174
1 Sam. xix. 20.xxiv:175
Greg. Naz., Or. xliii., Greg. Nyss., Adv. Eunom. i., Soz. vi. 16, Theod. iv. 16. De Broglie well combines the variations which are not quite easy to harmonize in detail. On the admission within the sanctuary, cf. the concession of Ambrose to Theodosius in Theod. v. 18.xxiv:176
Cæsarea, when sacked by Sapor in 260, is said to have contained 400,000 inhabitants (Zonaras, xii. 630). It may be presumed to have recovered and retained much, if not all, of its importance.xxiv:177
The authority for the personal appearance of Basil is an anonymous Vatican document quoted by Baronius, Ann. 378: “Procero fuit habitu corporis et recto, siccus, gracilis; color ejus fuscus, vultus temperatus pallore, justus nasus, supercilia in orbem inflexa et adducta; cogitabundo similis fuit, paucæ in vultu rugæ, eœque renidentes, genæ oblongæ, tempora aliquantum cava, promissa barba, et mediocris canities.”xxiv:178
Amm. Marc. xxx. 14, 7: “Cessator et piger: nigri coloris, pupula oculi unius obstructa, sed ita ut non eminus appareret: figura bene compacta membrorum, staturæ nec proceræ nec humilis, incurvis cruribus, exstanteque mediocriter ventre.” “Bon père, bon époux, arien fervent et zélé, mais faible, timide, Valens était né pour la vie privée, où il eût été un honnête citoyen et un des saints de lArianisme.” Fialon, Et. Hist. 159.xxiv:179
cf. Theod. v. 16 and note on p. 120 of Theod. in this series.xxiv:180
Theod. iv. 16. Bas., Ep. xciv.xxiv:181
Theod. iv. 16.xxv:182
Theod. iv. 16. Soz. vi. 17. Soc. iv. 26. Greg. Naz., Or. xliii. Ruf. xi. 9.xxv:183
Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.xxv:184
“The archbishop, who asserted, with inflexible pride, the truth of his opinions and the dignity of his rank, was left in the free possession of his conscience and his throne.” Gibbon, Chap. xxv.
“Une sorte dinviolabilité de fait demeurait acquise a Basile a Césarée comme a Athanase à Alexandrie.” De Broglie.xxv:185
Quoted by Gibbon l.c. from Jeromes Chron. A.D. 380, and acknowledged by him to be not in Scaligers edition. The Benedictine editors of Jerome admit it, but refer it to Photinus. cf. D.C.B. i. 288.xxv:186
Hist. Christ. iii. 45.
Next: The Breach with Gregory of Nazianzus.
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