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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. VIII:
Prolegomena.: The Presbyterate.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

V.—The Presbyterate.

Not long after the accession of Valens, Basil was ordained presbyter by Eusebius. 104   An earlier date has been suggested, but the year 364 is accepted as fitting in better with the words of Gregory 105 on the free speech conceded to heretics.  And from the same Letter it may be concluded that the ordination of Basil, like that of Gregory himself, was not wholly voluntary, and that he was forced against his inclinations to accept duties when he hesitated as to his liking and fitness for them.  It was about this time that he wrote his Books against Eunomius; 106 and it may possibly have been this work which specially comp. xx mended him to Eusebius.  However this may be, there is no doubt that he was soon actively engaged in the practical work of the diocese, and made himself very useful to Eusebius.  But Basil’s very vigour and value seem to have been the cause of some alienation between him and his bishop.  His friend Gregory gives us no details, but it may be inferred from what he says that he thought Basil ill-used. 107   And allusions of Basil have been supposed to imply his own sense of discourtesy and neglect. 108   The position became serious.  Bishops who had objected to the tumultuary nomination of Eusebius, and had with difficulty been induced to maintain the lawfulness of his consecration, were ready to consecrate Basil in his place.  But Basil shewed at once his wisdom and his magnanimity.  A division of the orthodox clergy of Cappadocia would be full of danger to the cause.  He would accept no personal advancement to the damage of the Church.  He retired with his friend Gregory to his Pontic monasteries, 109 and won the battle by flying from the field.  Eusebius was left unmolested, and the character of Basil was higher than ever. 110

The seclusion of Basil in Pontus seemed to afford an opportunity to his opponents in Cappadocia, and according to Sozomen, 111 Valens himself, in 365, was moved to threaten Cæsarea with a visit by the thought that the Catholics of Cappadocia were now deprived of the aid of their strongest champion.  Eusebius would have invoked Gregory, and left Basil alone.  Gregory, however, refused to act without his friend, and, with much tact and good feeling, succeeded in atoning the two offended parties. 112   Eusebius at first resented Gregory’s earnest advocacy of his absent friend, and was inclined to resent what seemed the somewhat impertinent interference of a junior.  But Gregory happily appealed to the archbishop’s sense of justice and superiority to the common unwillingness of high dignitaries to accept counsel, and assured him that in all that he had written on the subject he had meant to avoid all possible offence, and to keep within the bounds of spiritual and philosophic discipline. 113   Basil returned to the metropolitan city, ready to cooperate loyally with Eusebius, and to employ all his eloquence and learning against the proposed Arian aggression.  To the grateful Catholics it seemed as though the mere knowledge that Basil was in Cæsarea was enough to turn Valens with his bishops to flight, 114 and the tidings, brought by a furious rider, of the revolt of Procopius, 115 seemed a comparatively insignificant motive for the emperor’s departure.

There was now a lull in the storm.  Basil, completely reconciled to Eusebius, began to consolidate the archiepiscopal power which he afterward wielded as his own, 116 over the various provinces in which the metropolitan of Cæsarea exercised exarchic authority. 117   In the meantime the Semiarians were beginning to share with the Catholics the hardships inflicted by the imperial power.  At Lampsacus in 364 they had condemned the results of Ariminum and Constantinople, and had reasserted the Antiochene Dedication Creed of 341.  In 366 they sent deputies to Liberius at Rome, who proved their orthodoxy by subscribing the Nicene Creed.  Basil had not been present at Lampsacus, 118 but he had met Eustathius and other bishops on their way thither, and had no doubt influenced the decisions of the synod.  Now the deputation to the West consisted of three of those bishops with whom he was in communication, Eustathius of Sebasteia, Silvanus of Tarsus, and Theophilus of Castabala.  To the first it was an opportunity for regaining a position among the orthodox prelates.  It can hardly have been without the persuasion of Basil that the deputation went so far as they did in accepting the homoousion, but it is a little singular, and indicative of the comparatively slow awakening of the Church in general to the perils of the degradation of the Holy Ghost, that no profession of faith was demanded from the Lampsacene delegates on this subject. 119   In 367 the council of Tyana accepted the restitution of the Semiarian bishops, and so far peace had been promoted. 120   To this period may very probably be referred the compilation of the Liturgy which formed the basis of that which bears Basil’s name. 121   The claims of theology and of ecclesiastical administration in Basil’s p. xxi time did not, however, prevent him from devoting much of his vast energy to works of charity.  Probably the great hospital for the housing and relief of travellers and the poor, which he established in the suburbs of Cæsarea, was planned, if not begun, in the latter years of his presbyterate, for its size and importance were made pretexts for denouncing him to Elias, the governor of Cappadocia, in 372, 122 and at the same period Valens contributed to its endowment.  It was so extensive as to go by the name of Newtown, 123 and was in later years known as the “Basileiad.” 124   It was the mother of other similar institutions in the country-districts of the province, each under a Chorepiscopus. 125   But whether the Ptochotrophium 126 was or was not actually begun before Basil’s episcopate, great demands were made on his sympathy and energy by the great drought and consequent famine which befell Cæsarea in 368. 127   He describes it with eloquence in his Homily On the Famine and Drought128   The distress was cruel and widespread.  The distance of Cæsarea from the coast increased the difficulty of supplying provisions.  Speculators, scratching, as it were, in their country’s wounds, hoarded grain in the hope of selling at famine prices.  These Basil moved to open their stores.  He distributed lavishly at his own expense, 129 and ministered in person to the wants of the sufferers.  Gregory of Nazianzus 130 gives us a picture of his illustrious friend standing in the midst of a great crowd of men and women and children, some scarcely able to breathe; of servants bringing in piles of such food as is best suited to the weak state of the famishing sufferers; of Basil with his own hands distributing nourishment, and with his own voice cheering and encouraging the sufferers.

About this time Basil suffered a great loss in the death of his mother, 131 and sought solace in a visit to his friend Eusebius at Samosata. 132   But the cheering effect of his journey was lessened by the news, which greeted him on his return, that the Arians had succeeded in placing one of their number in the see of Tarsus. 133    The loss of Silvanus was ere long followed by a death of yet graver moment to the Church.  In the middle of 370 died Eusebius, breathing his last in the arms of Basil. 134



It will have been noted that I have accepted the authority of Philostorgius that he was already deacon.  The argument employed by Tillemont against this statement is the fact of no distinct diaconate being mentioned by Gregory of Nazianzus.  But the silence of Gregory does not conclusively outweigh the distinct τι τάξιν διακόνου ἔχων of Philostorgius; and a diaconate is supported by the mistaken statement of Socrates (H.E. iv. 26) that the deacon’s orders were conferred by Meletius.


Greg. Naz., Ep. viii.


cf. Ep. xx.


Greg. Naz., Orat. xliii. 28, Epp. xvi.–xvii.


e.g. Hom. in Is. i. 57, λαζονεία γὰρ δεινὴ τὸ μηδενὸς οἴεσθαι χρῄζειν.


Gregory has no doubt that Eusebius was in the wrong, even ridiculously in the wrong, if such be the true interpretation of his curious phrase (Or. xliiii. 28), πτεται γὰρ οὐ τῶν πολλῶν μονὸν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἀρίστων, ὁ Μῶμος.  The monasteries to which Basil fled Gregory here (id. 29) calls φροντιστήρια, the word used by Aristophanes (Clouds, 94) of the house or school of Socrates, and apparently a comic parody on δικαστήριον.  It might be rendered “reflectory.”  “Contemplatory” has been suggested.  It is to be noted that Basil in the De Sp. Scto. (see p. 49, n.) appears to allude to the Acharnians.  The friends probably read Aristophanes together at Athens.


Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.  Soz. vi. 15.


vi. 15.


Greg. Naz., Epp. xvi., xvii., xix., and Or. xx.


οὐκ ὑβριστικῶς, ἀλλὰ πνευματικῶς τε καὶ φιλοσόφως.


Soz. vi. 15.


Amm. Marc. xxvi. 7, 2.


ντεῦθεν ἀυτῶ περιῆν καὶ τὸ κράτος τῆς ἐκκλησίας, εἰ καὶ τῆς καθέδρας εἶχε τὰ δεύτερα.  Greg. Naz. Or. xliii.


cf. Maran, Vit. Bas. xiv. and D.C.A. s.v. exarch.  The archbishop of Cæsarea was exarch of the provinces (παρχίαι) comprised in the Pontic Diocese.  Maran refers to Letters xxviii., xxx., and xxxiv., as all shewing the important functions discharged by Basil while yet a presbyter.


Ep. ccxxiii.


Hefele, § 88.  Schröckh, Kirch, xii. 31.  Swete, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 54.


Epp. ccxliv. and cclxiii.


Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.


Ep. xciv.


καινὴ πόλις.  Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.  cf. Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Bk. II. Chap. V.


Soz. vi. 34.


Epp. cxlii., cxliii.


πτωχοτροφεῖον, Ep. clxxvi.  Professor Ramsay, in The Church and the Roman Empire, p. 464, remarks that “the ‘New City’ of Basil seems to have caused the gradual concentration of the entire population of Cæsarea round the ecclesiastical centre, and the abandonment of the old city.  Modern Kaisari is situated between one and two miles from the site of the Græco-Roman city.”


For the date, cf. Maran, Vit. Bas. ix. § 5.


§ 2, p. 63.  cf. Greg. Naz., Or. xliii. 340–342, and Greg. Nyss., In Eun. i. 306.


Greg. Nyss., In Eunom. i. § 10 (in this series, p. 45), remarks of Basil:  τὴν πατρῷαν οὐσίαν καὶ πρὸ τῆς ἱερωσύνης ἀφειδῶς ἀναλώσας τοῖς πένησι καὶ μάλιστα ἐν τῷ τῆς σιτοδείας καιρῷ, καθ᾽ ὃν ἐπεστάτει τῆς ἐκκλησίας, ἔτι ἐν τῷ κλήρῳ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἱερατεύων καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα, μηδὲ τῶν ὑπολειφθέντων φεισάμενος.  Maran (Vit. Bas. xi. § 4), with the object of proving that Basil had completely abandoned all property whatsoever, says that this must refer to a legacy from his mother.  The terms used are far more consistent with the view already expressed (§ III.).  So in his Orat. in Bas. Gregory speaks of Basil at the time as “selling his own possessions, and buying provisions with the proceeds.”


Or. xliii.


Greg. Nyss., Vit. Mac. 187, Ep. xxx.


Ep. xxxiv.




Greg. Naz., Or. xliii.

Next: Basil as Archbishop.

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