Letter CXCVII. 2684
To Ambrose, bishop of Milan. 2685
1. The gifts of the Lord are ever great and many; in greatness beyond measure, in number incalculable. To those who are not insensible of His mercy one of the greatest of these gifts is that of which I am now availing myself, the opportunity allowed us, far apart in place though we be, of addressing one another by letter. He grants us two means of becoming acquainted; one by personal intercourse, another by epistolary correspondence. Now I have become acquainted with you through what you have said. I do not mean that my memory is impressed with your outward appearance, but that the beauty of the inner man has been brought home to me by the rich variety of your utterances, for p. 235 each of us “speaketh out of the abundance of the heart.” 2686 I have given glory to God, Who in every generation selects those who are well-pleasing to Him; Who of old indeed chose from the sheepfold a prince for His people; 2687 Who through the Spirit gifted Amos the herdman with power and raised him up to be a prophet; Who now has drawn forth for the care of Christs flock a man from the imperial city, entrusted with the government of a whole nation, exalted in character, in lineage, in position, in eloquence, in all that this world admires. This same man has flung away all the advantages of the world, counting them all loss that he may gain Christ, 2688 and has taken in his hand the helm of the ship, great and famous for its faith in God, the Church of Christ. Come, then, O man of God; not from men have you received or been taught the Gospel of Christ; it is the Lord Himself who has transferred you from the judges of the earth to the throne of the Apostles; fight the good fight; heal the infirmity of the people, if any are infected by the disease of Arian madness; renew the ancient footprints of the Fathers. You have laid the foundation of affection towards me; strive to build upon it by the frequency of your salutations. Thus shall we be able to be near one another in spirit, although our earthly homes are far apart.
2. By your earnestness and zeal in the matter of the blessed bishop Dionysius you testify all your love to the Lord, your honour for your predecessors, and your zeal for the faith. For our disposition towards our faithful fellow-servants is referred to the Lord Whom they have served. Whoever honours men that have contended for the faith proves that he has like zeal for it. One single action is proof of much virtue.
I wish to acquaint your love in Christ that the very zealous brethren who have been commissioned by your reverence to act for you in this good work have won praise for all the clergy by the amiability of their manners; for by their individual modesty and conciliatoriness they have shewn the sound condition of all. Moreover, with all zeal and diligence they have braved an inclement season; and with unbroken perseverance have persuaded the faithful guardians of the blessed body to transmit to them the custody of what they have regarded as the safeguard of their lives. And you must understand that they are men who would never have been forced by any human authority or sovereignty, had not the perseverance of these brethren moved them to compliance. No doubt a great aid to the attainment of the object desired was the presence of our well beloved and reverend son Therasius the presbyter. He voluntarily undertook all the toil of the journey; he moderated the energy of the faithful on the spot; he persuaded opponents by his arguments; in the presence of priests and deacons, and of many others who fear the Lord, he took up the relics with all becoming reverence, and has aided the brethren in their preservation. These relics do you receive with a joy equivalent to the distress with which their custodians have parted with them and sent them to you. Let none dispute; let none doubt. Here you have that unconquered athlete. These bones, which shared in the conflict with the blessed soul, are known to the Lord. These bones He will crown, together with that soul, in the righteous day of His requital, as it is written, “we must stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may give an account of the deeds he has done in the body.” 2689 One coffin held that honoured corpse. None other lay by his side. The burial was a noble one; the honours of a martyr were paid him. Christians who had welcomed him as a guest and then with their own hands laid him in the grave, have now disinterred him. They have wept as men bereaved of a father and a champion. But they have sent him to you, for they put your joy before their own consolation. Pious were the hands that gave; scrupulously careful were the hands that received. There has been no room for deceit; no room for guile. I bear witness to this. Let the untainted truth be accepted by you.
Ambrose was placed in the archiepiscopate of Milan in 374. The letter of Basil is in reply to a request for the restoration to his native city of the relics of St. Dionysius of Milan, who died in Cappadocia in 374. cf. Ath., Ep. ad Sol.; Amb. iii. 920.235:2686 235:2687 235:2688 235:2689