Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Dogmatic Treatises.: His charge of cowardice is baseless: for Basil displayed the highest courage before the Emperor and his Lord-Lieutenants.
§12. His charge of cowardice is baseless: for Basil displayed the highest courage before the Emperor and his Lord-Lieutenants.
He treats our words so; and in the rest of his presumptuous statements can there be shown to be a particle of truth? In these he calls him cowardly, spiritless, a shirker of severer labours, exhausting the list of such terms, and giving with laboured circumstantiality every symptom of this cowardice: the retired cabin, the door firmly closed, the anxious fear of intruders, the voice, the look, the tell-tale change of countenance, everything of that sort, whereby the passion of fear is shown. If he were detected in no other lie but this, it alone would be sufficient to reveal his bent. For who does not know how, during the time when the Emperor Valens was roused against the churches of the Lord, that mighty champion of ours rose by his lofty spirit superior to those overwhelming circumstances and the terrors of the foe, and showed a mind which soared above every means devised to daunt him? Who of the dwellers in the East, and of the furthest regions of our civilized world did not hear of his combat with the throne itself for the truth? Who, looking to his antagonist, was not in dismay? For his was no common antagonist, possessed only of the power of winning in sophistic juggles, where victory is no glory and defeat is harmless; but he had the power of bending the whole Roman government to his will; and, added to this pride of empire, he had prejudices against our faith, cunningly instilled into his mind by Eudoxius 98 of Germanicia 99 , who had won him to his side; and he found in all those who were then at the head of affairs allies in carrying out his designs, some being already inclined to them from mental sympathies, while others, and they were the majority, were ready from fear to indulge the imperial pleasure, and seeing the severity employed against those who held to the Faith were ostentatious in their zeal for him. It was a time of exile, confiscation, banishment, threats of fines, danger of life, arrests, imprisonment, scourging; nothing was too dreadful to put in force against those who would not yield to this sudden caprice of the Emperor; it was worse for the faithful to be caught in Gods house than if they had been detected in the most heinous of crimes.
But a detailed history of that time would be too long; and would require a separate treatment; besides, as the sufferings at that sad season are known to all, nothing would be gained for our present purpose by carefully setting them forth in writing. A second drawback to such an attempt would be found to be that amidst the details of that melancholy history we should be forced to make mention p. XLVIII of ourselves; and if we did anything in those struggles for our religion that redounds to our honour in the telling, Wisdom commands us to leave it to others to tell. “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth 100 ;” and it is this very thing that our omniscient friend has not been conscious of in devoting the larger half of his book to self-glorification.
Omitting, then, all that kind of detail, I will be careful only in setting forth the achievement of our Master. The adversary whom he had to combat was no less a person than the Emperor himself; that adversarys second was the man who stood next him in the government; his assistants to work out his will were the court. Let us take into consideration also the point of time, in order to test and to illustrate the fortitude of our own noble champion. When was it? The Emperor was proceeding from Constantinople to the East elated by his recent successes against the barbarians, and not in a spirit to brook any obstruction to his will; and his lord-lieutenant directed his route, postponing all administration of the necessary affairs of state as long as a home remained to one adherent of the Faith, and until every one, no matter where, was ejected, and others, chosen by himself to outrage our godly hierarchy, were introduced instead. The Powers then of the Propontis were moving in such a fury, like some dark cloud, upon the churches; Bithynia was completely devastated; Galatia was very quickly carried away by their stream; all in the intervening districts had succeeded with them; and now our fold lay the next to be attacked. What did our mighty Basil show like then, that spiritless coward, as Eunomius calls him, shrinking from danger, and trusting to a retired cabin to save him? Did he quail at this evil onset? Did he allow the sufferings of previous victims to suggest to him that he should secure his own safety? Did he listen to any who advised a slight yielding to this rush of evils 101 , so as not to throw himself openly in the path of men who were now veterans in slaughter? Rather we find that all excess of language, all height of thought and word, falls short of the truth about him. None could describe his contempt of danger, so as to bring before the readers eyes this new combat, which one might justly say was waged not between man and man, but between a Christians firmness and courage on the one side, and a bloodstained power on the other.
The lord-lieutenant kept appealing to the commands of the Emperor, and rendering a power, which from its enormous strength was terrible enough, more terrible still by the unsparing cruelty of its vengeance. After the tragedies which he had enacted in Bithynia, and after Galatia with characteristic fickleness had yielded without a struggle, he thought that our country would fall a ready prey to his designs. Cruel deeds were preluded by words proposing, with mingled threats and promises, royal favours and ecclesiastical power to obedience, but to resistance all that a cruel spirit which has got the power to work its will can devise. Such was the enemy.
So far was our champion from being daunted by what he saw and heard, that he acted rather like a physician or prudent councillor called in to correct something that was wrong, bidding them repent of their rashness and cease to commit murders amongst the servants of the Lord; their plans, he said, could not succeed with men who cared only for the empire of Christ, and for the Powers that never die; with all their wish to maltreat him, they could discover nothing, whether word or act, that could pain the Christian; confiscation could not touch him whose only possession was his Faith; exile had no terrors for one who walked in every land with the same feelings, and looked on every city as strange because of the shortness of his sojourn in it, yet as home, because all human creatures are in equal bondage with himself; the endurance of blows, or tortures, or death, if it might be for the Truth, was an object of fear not even to women, but to every Christian it was the supremest bliss to suffer the worst for this their hope, and they were only grieved that nature allowed them but one death, and that they could devise no means of dying many times in this battle for the Truth 102 .
When he thus confronted their threats, and looked beyond that imposing power, as if it were all nothing, then their exasperation, just like those rapid changes on the stage when one mask after another is put on, turned with all its threats into flattery; and the very man whose spirit up to then had been so determined and formidable adopted the most gentle and submissive of language; Do not, I beg you, think it a small thing for our mighty emperor to have communion with your people, but be willing to be called his master too: nor thwart his wish; he wishes for this peace, if only one little word in the written Creed is erased, that of Homoousios. Our master answers that it is of the greatest importance that the emperor p. XLIX should be a member of the Church; that is, that he should save his soul, not as an emperor, but as a mere man; but a diminution of or addition to the Faith was so far from his (Basils) thoughts, that he would not change even the order of the written words. That was what this spiritless coward, who trembles at the creaking of a door, said to this great ruler, and he confirmed his words by what he did; for he stemmed in his own person this imperial torrent of ruin that was rushing on the churches, and turned it aside; he in himself was a match for this attack, like a grand immoveable rock in the sea, breaking the huge and surging billow of that terrible onset.
Nor did his wrestling stop there; the emperor himself succeeds to the attack, exasperated because he did not get effected in the first attempt all that he wished. Just, accordingly, as the Assyrian effected the destruction of the temple of the Israelites at Jerusalem by means of the cook Nabuzardan, so did this monarch of ours entrust his business to one Demosthenes, comptroller of his kitchen, and chief of his cooks 103 , as to one more pushing than the rest, thinking thereby to succeed entirely in his design. With this man stirring the pot, and with one of the blasphemers from Illyricum, letters in hand, assembling the authorities with this end in view, and with Modestus 104 kindling passion to a greater heat than in the previous excitement, every one joined the movement of the Emperors anger, making his fury their own, and yielding to the temper of authority; and on the other hand all felt their hopes sink at the prospect of what might happen. That same lord-lieutenant re-enters on the scene; intimidations worse than the former are begun; their threats are thrown out; their anger rises to a still higher pitch; there is the tragic pomp of trial over again, the criers, the apparitors, the lictors, the curtained bar, things which naturally daunt even a mind which is thoroughly prepared; and again we see Gods champion amidst this combat surpassing even his former glory. If you want proofs, look at the facts. What spot, where there are churches, did not that disaster reach? What nation remained unreached by these heretical commands? Who of the illustrious in any Church was not driven from the scene of his labours? What people escaped their despiteful treatment? It reached all Syria, and Mesopotamia up to the frontier, Phœnicia, Palestine, Arabia, Egypt, the Libyan tribes to the boundaries of the civilized world; and all nearer home, Pontus, Cilicia, Lycia, Lydia, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Caria, the Hellespont, the islands up to the Propontis itself; the coasts of Thrace, as far as Thrace extends, and the bordering nations as far as the Danube. Which of these countries retained its former look, unless any were already possessed with the evil? The people of Cappadocia alone felt not these afflictions of the Church, because our mighty champion saved them in their trial.
Such was the achievement of this coward master of ours; such was the success of one who shirks all sterner toil. Surely it is not that of one who wins renown amongst poor old women, and practises to deceive the sex which naturally falls into every snare, and thinks it a great thing to be admired by the criminal and abandoned; it is that of one who has proved by deeds his souls fortitude, and the unflinching and noble manliness of his spirit. His success has resulted in the salvation of the whole country, the peace of our Church, the pattern given to the virtuous of every excellence, the overthrow of the foe, the upholding of the Faith, the confirmation of the weaker brethren, the encouragement of the zealous, everything that is believed to belong to the victorious side; and in the commemoration of no other events but these do hearing and seeing unite in accomplished facts; for here it is one and the same thing to relate in words his noble deeds and to show in facts the attestation of our words, and to confirm each by the other—the record from what is before our eyes, and the facts from what is being said.
Afterwards of Antioch, and then 8th Bishop of Constantinople (360–370), one of the most influential of all the Arians. He it was who procured for Eunomius the bishopric of Cyzicus (359). (The latter must indeed have concealed his views on that occasion, for Constantius hated the Anomœans).XLVII:99
A town of Commagene.XLVIII:100
Proverbs xxvii. 2.XLVIII:101
The metropolitan remained unshaken. The rough threats of Modestus succeeded no better than the fatherly counsel of Enippius. Gwatkins Arians.XLVIII:102
Other words of Basil, before Modestus at Cæsarea, are also recorded; “I cannot worship any created thing, being as I am Gods creation, and having been bidden to be a God.”XLIX:103
This cook is compared to Nabuzardan by Gregory Naz. also (Orat. xliii. 47). Cf. also Theodoret, iv. 19, where most of these events are recorded. The former says that Nabuzardan threatened Basil when summoned before him with the μαχαίρα of his trade, but was sent back to his kitchen fire.XLIX:104
Modestus, the Lord Lieutenant or Count of the East, had sacrificed to the images under Julian, and had been re-baptized as an Arian.
Next: Résumé of his dogmatic teaching. Objections to it in detail.
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