Basil Ep 214 & 236

Ep. 214

1. When I heard that your excellency had again been compelled to take part in public affairs, I was straightway distressed (for the truth must be told) at the thought of how contrary to your mind it must be that you after once giving up the anxieties of official life, and allowing yourself leisure for the care of your soul, should again be forced back into your old career. But then I bethought me that perhaps the Lord has ordained that your lordship should again appear in public from this wish to grant the boon of one alleviation for the countless pains which now beset the Church in our part of the world. I am, moreover, cheered by the thought that I am about to meet your excellency once again before I depart this life.

2. But a further rumour has reached me that you are in Antioch, and are transacting the business in hand with the chief authorities. And, besides this, I have heard that the brethren who are of the party of Paulinusare entering on some discussion with your excellency on the subject of union with us; and by us I mean those who are supporters of the blessed man of God, Meletius. I hear, moreover, that the Paulinians are carrying about a letter of the Westerns, assigning to them the episcopate of the Church in Antioch, but speaking under a false impression of Meletius, the admirable bishop of the true Church of God. I am not astonished at this. They are totally ignorant of what is going on here; the others, though they might be supposed to know, give an account to them in which party is put before truth; and it is only what one might expect that they should either be ignorant of the truth, or should even endeavour to conceal the reasons which led the blessed Bishop Athanasius to write to Paulinus. But your excellency has on the spot those who are able to tell you accurately what passed between the bishops in the reign of Jovian, and from them I beseech you to get information. I accuse no one; I pray that I may have love to all, and especially unto them who are of the household of faith; Galatians 6:10 and therefore I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favour, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or to forget the Church which is under him, or to treat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints.

3. Consider well, my excellent friend, that the falsifiers of the truth, who have introduced the Arian schism as an innovation on the sound faith of the Fathers, advance no other reason for refusing to accept the pious opinion of the Fathers than the meaning of the homoousion which they hold in their wickedness, and to the slander of the whole faith, alleging our contention to be that the Son is consubstantial in hypostasis. If we give them any opportunity by our being carried away by men who propound these sentiments and their like, rather from simplicity than from malevolence, there is nothing to prevent our giving them an unanswerable ground of argument against ourselves and confirming the heresy of those whose one end is in all their utterances about the Church, not so much to establish their own position as to calumniate mine. What more serious calumny could there be? What better calculated to disturb the faith of the majority than that some of us could be shown to assert that there is one hypostasis of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? We distinctly lay down that there is a difference of Persons; but this statement was anticipated by Sabellius, who affirms that God is one by hypostasis, but is described by Scripture in different Persons, according to the requirements of each individual case; sometimes under the name of Father, when there is occasion for this Person; sometimes under the name of Son when there is a descent to human interests or any of the operations of the economy; and sometimes under the Person of Spirit when the occasion demands such phraseology. If, then, any among us are shown to assert that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in substance, while we maintain the three perfect Persons, how shall we escape giving clear and incontrovertible proof of the truth of what is being asserted about us?

4. The non-identity of hypostasis and ousia is, I take it, suggested even by our western brethren, where, from a suspicion of the inadequacy of their own language, they have given the word ousia in the Greek, to the end that any possible difference of meaning might be preserved in the clear and unconfounded distinction of terms. If you ask me to state shortly my own view, I shall state that ousia has the same relation to hypostasis as the common has to the particular. Every one of us both shares in existence by the common term of essence (ousia) and by his own properties is such an one and such an one. In the same manner, in the matter in question, the term ousia is common, like goodness, or Godhead, or any similar attribute; while hypostasis is contemplated in the special property of Fatherhood, Sonship, or the power to sanctify. If then they describe the Persons as being without hypostasis, the statement is per se absurd; but if they concede that the Persons exist in real hypostasis, as they acknowledge, let them so reckon them that the principle of the homoousion may be preserved in the unity of the Godhead, and that the doctrine preached may be the recognition of true religion, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the perfect and complete hypostasis of each of the Persons named. Nevertheless, there is one point which I should like to have pressed on your excellency, that you and all who like you care for the truth, and honour the combatant in the cause of true religion, ought to wait for the lead to be taken in bringing about this union and peace by the foremost authorities in the Church, whom I count as pillars and foundations of the truth and of the Church, and reverence all the more because they have been sent away for punishment, and have been exiled far from home. Keep yourself, I implore you, clear of prejudice, that in you, whom God has given me as a staff and support in all things, I may be able to find rest.


To the same Amphilochius.

1. Enquiry has already frequently been made concerning the saying of the gospels as to our Lord Jesus Christ’s ignorance of the day and of the hour of the end; Mark 13:32 an objection constantly put forward by the Anomœans to the destruction of the glory of the Only-Begotten, in order to show Him to be unlike in essence and subordinate in dignity; inasmuch as, if He know not all things, He cannot possess the same nature nor be regarded as of one likeness with Him, who by His own prescience and faculty of forecasting the future has knowledge coextensive with the universe. This question has now been proposed to me by your intelligence as a new one. I can give in reply the answer which I heard from our fathers when I was a boy, and which on account of my love for what is good, I have received without question. I do not expect that it can undo the shamelessness of them that fight against Christ, for where is the reasoning strong enough to stand their attack? It may, however, suffice to convince all that love the Lord, and in whom the previous assurance supplied them by faith is stronger than any demonstration of reason.

Now no man seems to be a general expression, so that not even one person is excepted by it, but this is not its use in Scripture, as I have observed in the passage there is none good but one, that is, God. For even in this passage the Son does not so speak to the exclusion of Himself from the good nature. But, since the Father is the first good, we believe the words no man to have been uttered with the understood addition of first. So with the passage No man knows the Son but the Father; even here there is no charge of ignorance against the Spirit, but only a testimony that knowledge of His own nature naturally belongs to the Father first. Thus also we understand No man knows,  to refer to the Father the first knowledge of things, both present and to be, and generally to exhibit to men the first cause. Otherwise how can this passage fall in with the rest of the evidence of Scripture, or agree with the common notions of us who believe that the Only-Begotten is the image of the invisible God, and image not of the bodily figure, but of the very Godhead and of the mighty qualities attributed to the essence of God, image of power, image of wisdom, as Christ is called the power of God and the wisdom of God? Now of wisdom knowledge is plainly a part; and if in any part He falls short, He is not an image of the whole; and how can we understand the Father not to have shown that day and that hour— the smallest portion of the ages— to Him through Whom He made the ages? How can the Creator of the universe fall short of the knowledge of the smallest portion of the things created by Him? How can He who says, when the end is near, that such and such signs shall appear in heaven and in earth, be ignorant of the end itself? When He says, The end is not yet. Matthew 24:6 He makes a definite statement, as though with knowledge and not in doubt. Then further, it is plain to the fair enquirer that our Lord says many things to men, in the character of man; as for instance, give me to drink is a saying of our Lord, expressive of His bodily necessity; and yet the asker was not soulless flesh, but Godhead using flesh endued with soul. So in the present instance no one will be carried beyond the bounds of the interpretation of true religion, who understands the ignorance of him who had received all things according to the œconomy, and was advancing with God and man in favour and wisdom.

2. It would be worthy of your diligence to set the phrases of the Gospel side by side, and compare together those of Matthew and those of Mark, for these two alone are found in concurrence in this passage. The wording of Matthew is of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. That of Mark runs, But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. What is noticeable in these passages is this; that Matthew says nothing about the ignorance of the Son, and seems to agree with Mark as to sense in saying but my Father only. Now I understand the word only to have been used in contradistinction to the angels, but that the Son is not included with His own servants in ignorance.

He could not say what is false Who said All things that the Father has are Mine, but one of the things which the Father has is knowledge of that day and of that hour. In the passage in Matthew, then, the Lord made no mention of His own Person, as a matter beyond controversy, and said that the angels knew not and that His Father alone knew, tacitly asserting the knowledge of His Father to be His own knowledge too, because of what He had said elsewhere, as the Father knows me even so know I the Father, and if the Father has complete knowledge of the Son, nothing excepted, so that He knows all knowledge to dwell in Him, He will clearly be known as fully by the Son with all His inherent wisdom and all His knowledge of things to come. This modification, I think, may be given to the words of Matthew, but my Father only. Now as to the words of Mark, who appears distinctly to exclude the Son from the knowledge, my opinion is this. No man knows, neither the angels of God; nor yet the Son would have known unless the Father had known: that is, the cause of the Son’s knowing comes from the Father. To a fair hearer there is no violence in this interpretation, because the word only is not added as it is in Matthew. Mark’s sense, then, is as follows: of that day and of that hour knows no man, nor the angels of God; but even the Son would not have known if the Father had not known, for the knowledge naturally His was given by the Father. This is very decorous and becoming the divine nature to say of the Son, because He has, His knowledge and His being, beheld in all the wisdom and glory which become His Godhead, from Him with Whom He is consubstantial.

3. As to Jeconias, whom the prophet Jeremiah declares in these words to have been rejected from the land of Judah, Jeconias was dishonoured like a vessel for which there is no more use; and because he was cast out he and his seed; and none shall rise from his seed sitting upon the throne of David and ruling in Judah,the matter is plain and clear. On the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom had been destroyed, and there was no longer an hereditary succession of reigns as before. Nevertheless, at that time, the deposed descendants of David were living in captivity. On the return of Salathiel and Zerubbabel the supreme government rested to a greater degree with the people, and the sovereignty was afterwards transferred to the priesthood, on account of the intermingling of the priestly and royal tribes; whence the Lord, in things pertaining to God, is both King and High Priest. Moreover, the royal tribe did not fail until the coming of the Christ; nevertheless, the seed of Jeconias sat no longer upon the throne of David. Plainly it is the royal dignity which is described by the term throne. You remember the history, how all Judæa, Idumæa, Moab, both the neighbouring regions of Syria and the further countries up to Mesopotamia, and the country on the other side as far as the river of Egypt, were all tributary to David. If then none of his descendants appeared with a sovereignty so wide, how is not the word of the prophet true that no one of the seed of Jeconias should any longer sit upon the throne of David, for none of his descendants appears to have attained this dignity. Nevertheless, the tribe of Judah did not fail, until He for whom it was destined came. But even He did not sit upon the material throne. The kingdom of Judæa was transferred to Herod, the son of Antipater the Ascalonite, and his sons who divided Judæa into four principalities, when Pilate was Procurator and Tiberius was Master of the Roman Empire. It is the indestructible kingdom which he calls the throne of David on which the Lord sat. He is the expectation of the Gentiles  and not of the smallest division of the world, for it is written, In that day there shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek. I have called you…for a covenant of the people for a light of the Gentiles; and thus then God remained a priest although He did not receive the sceptre of Judah, and King of all the earth; so the blessing of Jacob was fulfilled, and in Him shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, and all the nations shall call the Christ blessed.

4. And as to the tremendous question put by the facetious Encratites, why we do not eat everything? Let this answer be given, that we turn with disgust from our excrements. As far as dignity goes, to us flesh is grass; but as to distinction between what is and what is not serviceable, just as in vegetables, we separate the unwholesome from the wholesome, so in flesh we distinguish between that which is good and that which is bad for food. Hemlock is a vegetable, just as vulture’s flesh is flesh; yet no one in his senses would eat henbane nor dog’s flesh unless he were in very great straits. If he did, however, he would not sin.

5. Next as to those who maintain that human affairs are governed by fate, do not ask information from me, but stab them with their own shafts of rhetoric. The question is too long for my present infirmity. With regard to emerging in baptism— I do not know how it came into your mind to ask such a question, if indeed you understood immersion to fulfil the figure of the three days. It is impossible for any one to be immersed three times, without emerging three times. We write the word  φάγος  paroxytone.

6. The distinction between οὐσία and  πόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear. If we have no distinct perception of the separate characteristics, namely, fatherhood, sonship, and sanctification, but form our conception of God from the general idea of existence, we cannot possibly give a sound account of our faith. We must, therefore, confess the faith by adding the particular to the common. The Godhead is common; the fatherhood particular. We must therefore combine the two and say, I believe in God the Father. The like course must be pursued in the confession of the Son; we must combine the particular with the common and say I believe in God the Son, so in the case of the Holy Ghost we must make our utterance conform to the appellation and say in God the Holy Ghost. Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons. On the other hand those who identify essence or substance and hypostasis are compelled to confess only three Persons, and, in their hesitation to speak of three hypostases, are convicted of failure to avoid the error of Sabellius, for even Sabellius himself, who in many places confuses the conception, yet, by asserting that the same hypostasis changed its form to meet the needs of the moment, does endeavour to distinguish persons.

7. Lastly as to your enquiry in what manner things neutral and indifferent are ordained for us, whether by some chance working by its own accord, or by the righteous providence of God, my answer is this: Health and sickness, riches and poverty, credit and discredit, inasmuch as they do not render their possessors good, are not in the category of things naturally good, but, in so far as in any way they make life’s current flow more easily, in each case the former is to be preferred to its contrary, and has a certain kind of value. To some men these things are given by God for stewardship’s sake, as for instance to Abraham, to Job and such like. To inferior characters they are a challenge to improvement. For the man who persists in unrighteousness, after so goodly a token of love from God, subjects himself to condemnation without defence. The good man, however, neither turns his heart to wealth when he has it, nor seeks after it if he has it not. He treats what is given him as given him not for his selfish enjoyment, but for wise administration. No one in his senses runs after the trouble of distributing other people’s property, unless he is trying to get the praise of the world, which admires and envies anybody in authority.

Good men take sickness as athletes take their contest, waiting for the crowns that are to reward their endurance. To ascribe the dispensation of these things to any one else is as inconsistent with true religion as it is with common sense.