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Basil Letters And Select Works by Basil

IX.--Unbroken Friendships.

Brighter and happier intimacies were those formed with the older bishop of Samosata, the Eusebius who, of all the many bearers of the name, most nearly realised its meaning, and with Basil's junior, Amphilochius of Iconium. With the former, Basil's relations were those of an affectionate son and of an enthusiastic admirer. The many miles that stretched between Cæsarea and Samosata did not prevent these personal as well as epistolary communications. In 372 they were closely associated in the eager efforts of the orthodox bishops of the East to win the sympathy and active support of the West. In 374 Eusebius was exiled, with all the picturesque incidents so vividly described by Theodoret. He travelled slowly from Samosata into Thrace, but does not seem to have met either Gregory or Basil on his way. Basil contrived to continue a correspondence with him in his banishment. It was more like that of young lovers than of elderly bishops. The friends deplore the hindrances to conveyance, and are eager to assure one another that neither is guilty of forgetfulness.

The friendship with Amphilochius seems to have begun at the time when the young advocate accepted the invitation conveyed in the name of Heracleidas, his friend, and repaired from Ozizala to Cæsarea. The consequences were prompt and remarkable. Amphilochius, at this time between thirty and forty years of age, was soon ordained and consecrated, perhaps, like Ambrose of Milan and Eusebius of Cæsarea per saltum, to the important see of Iconium, recently vacated by the death of Faustinus. Henceforward the intercourse between the spiritual father and the spiritual son, both by letters and by visits, was constant. The first visit of Amphilochius to Basil, as bishop, probably at Easter 374, not only gratified the older prelate, but made a deep impression on the Church of Cæsarea. But his visits were usually paid in September, at the time of the services in commemoration of the martyr Eupsychius. On the occasion of the first of them, in 374, the friends conversed together on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, now impugned by the Macedonians, and the result was the composition of the treatise De Spiritu Sancto. This was closely followed by the three famous canonical epistles, also addressed to Amphilochius. Indeed, so great was the affectionate confidence of the great administrator and theologian in his younger brother, that, when infirmities were closing round him, he asked Amphilochius to aid him in the administration of the archdiocese.

If we accept the explanation given of Letter CLXIX. in a note on a previous page, Gregory the elder, bishop of Nazianzus, must be numbered among those of Basil's correspondents letters to whom have been preserved. The whole episode referred to in that and in the two following letters is curiously illustrative of outbursts of fanaticism and folly which might have been expected to occur in Cappadocia in the fourth century, as well as in soberer regions in several other centuries when they have occurred. It has been clothed with fresh interest by the very vivid narrative of Professor Ramsay, and by the skill with which he uses the scanty morsels of evidence available to construct the theory which he holds about it. This theory is that the correspondence indicates a determined attempt on the part of the rigidly orthodox archbishop to crush proceedings which were really |only keeping up the customary ceremonial of a great religious meeting,| and, as such, were winked at, if not approved of, by the bishop to whom the letter of remonstrance is addressed, and the presbyter who was Glycerius' superior. Valuable information is furnished by Professor Ramsay concerning the great annual festival in honour of Zeus of Venasa (or Venese), whose shrine was richly endowed, and the inscription discovered on a Cappadocian hill-top, |Great Zeus in heaven, be propitious to me.| But the |evident sympathy| of the bishop and the presbyter is rather a strained inference from the extant letters; and the fact that in the days when paganism prevailed in Cappadocia Venasa was a great religious centre, and the scene of rites in which women played an important part, is no conclusive proof that wild dances performed by an insubordinate deacon were tolerated, perhaps encouraged, because they represented a popular old pagan observance. Glycerius may have played the patriarch, without meaning to adopt, or travesty, the style of the former high priest of Zeus. Cappadocia was one of the most Christian districts of the empire long before Basil was appointed to the exarchate of Cæsarea, and Basil is not likely to have been the first occupant of the see who would strongly disapprove of and endeavour to repress, any such manifestations as those which are described. That the bishop whom Basil addresses and the presbyter served by Glycerius should have desired to deal leniently with the offender individually does not convict them of accepting the unseemly proceedings of Glycerius and his troupe as a pardonable, if not desirable, survival of a picturesque national custom.

Among other bishops of the period with whom Basil communicated by letter are Abramius, or Abraham, of Batnæ in Oshoene, the illustrious Athanasius, and Ambrose, Athanasius of Ancyra; Barses of Edessa, who died in exile in Egypt; Elpidius, of some unknown see on the Levantine seaboard, who supported Basil in the controversy with Eustathius; the learned Epiphanius of Salamis; Meletius, the exiled bishop of Antioch; Patrophilus of Ægæ; Petrus of Alexandria; Theodotus of Nicopolis, and Ascholius of Thessalonica.

Basil's correspondence was not, however, confined within the limits of clerical clanship. His extant letters to laymen, both distinguished and undistinguished, shew that he was in touch with the men of mark of his time and neighbourhood, and that he found time to express an affectionate interest in the fortunes of his intimate friends.

Towards the later years of his life the archbishop's days were darkened not only by ill-health and anxiety, but by the death of some of his chief friends and allies. Athanasius died in 373, and so far as personal living influence went, there was an extinction of the Pharos not of Alexandria only, but of the world. It was no longer |Athanasius contra mundum,| but |Mundus sine Athanasio.| In 374 Gregory the elder died at Nazianzus, and the same year saw the banishment of Eusebius of Samosata to Thrace. In 375 died Theodotus of Nicopolis, and the succession of Fronto was a cause of deep sorrow.

At this time some short solace would come to the Catholics in the East in the synodical letter addressed to the Orientals of the important synod held in Illyria, under the authority of Valentinian. The letter which is extant is directed against the Macedonian heresy. The charge of conveying it to the East was given to the presbyter Elpidius. Valentinian sent with it a letter to the bishops of Asia in which persecution is forbidden, and the excuse of submission to the reigning sovereign anticipated and condemned. Although the letter runs in the names of Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian, the western brother appears to condemn the eastern.

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