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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

THE same Providence that opposed Didymus to the Arians at Alexandria, raised up Basil of Cæsarea and Gregory of Nazianzen to confute them in other cities. The merits of these two eminent characters, of whom it will be seasonable to give a brief account in this place, are recorded in the memories of all men; and the extent of their knowledge is sufficiently perceptible in their writings to render any eulogy superfluous. Since however the exercise of their talents was of great service to the church, tending in a high degree to the maintenance of the catholic faith, the nature of my history obliges me to take particular notice of these two persons. Whoever compares Basil and Gregory with one another, and considers the life, morals, and virtues of each, will find it difficult to decide to which of them he ought to assign the pre-eminence: so equally did they both appear to excel, whether you regard the rectitude of their conduct, or their deep acquaintance with Greek literature and the sacred Scriptures. In their youth they were pupils at Athens of Himerius and Prohæresius, the most celebrated sophists of that age: subsequently they frequented the school of Libanius at Antioch in Syria, where they became highly accomplished in rhetoric. Their proficiency induced many of their friends to recommend them to teach eloquence as a profession; others persuaded them to practise the law; but despising both these pursuits, they abandoned their former studies, and embraced the monastic life. Having had some slight taste of philosophical science from him who then taught it at Antioch, they procured Origen’s works, and drew from them the right interpretation of the sacred Scriptures; and after a careful perusal of the writings of that great man, whose fame was at that time celebrated throughout the world, they contended against the Arians with manifest advantage. And when the defenders of Arianism quoted the same author in confirmation, as they imagined, of their own views, these two confuted them, and clearly proved that their opponents did not at all understand his reasoning. Indeed although Eunomius, who was then their champion, and many others on their side were considered men of great eloquence, yet whenever they attempted to enter into controversy with Gregory and Basil, they appeared in comparison with them mere ignorant and illiterate cavillers. Meletius bishop of Antioch first promoted Basil to the office of deacon; and from that rank he was elevated to the bishopric of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, which was his native country. Thither he therefore hastened, fearing lest these Arian dogmas should have infected the provinces of Pontus; and in order to counteract them, he founded several monasteries, diligently instructed the people in his own doctrines, and confirmed the faith of those whose minds were wavering. Gregory being constituted bishop of Nazianzen, a small city of Cappadocia over which his own father had before presided, pursued a course similar to that which Basil took; for he went through the various cities, strengthening the weak, and establishing the feeble-minded. To Constantinople in particular he paid frequent visits, and by his ministrations there, so comforted and assured the orthodox believers, that a short time after, by the suffrage of many bishops, he was invested with the prelacy of that city. When intelligence of the proceedings of these two zealous and devoted men reached the ears of the emperor Valens, he immediately ordered Basil to be brought from Cæsarea to Antioch; where being arraigned before the tribunal of the præfect, that functionary asked him why he would not embrace the emperor’s faith? Basil with much boldness condemned the errors of that creed which his sovereign countenanced, and vindicated the doctrine of con substantiality: and when the præfect threatened him with death, “Would,” said he, “that I might be released from the bonds of the body for the truth’s sake.” The præfect having exhorted him to re-consider the matter more seriously, Basil is reported to have said, “I am the same to-day that I shall be to-morrow: but I wish that you had not changed yourself.” Basil therefore remained in custody. It happened however not long after that Galates, the emperor’s infant son, was attacked with a dangerous malady, so that the physicians despaired of his recovery; when the empress Dominica his mother assured the emperor that she had been greatly disquieted at night by terrific visions, which led her to believe that the child’s illness was a chastisement on account of the ill treatment of the bishop. The emperor after a little reflection sent for Basil, and in order to prove his faith said to him, “If the doctrine you maintain is the truth, pray that my son may not die.” “If your majesty will believe as I do,” replied Basil, “and will cause dissension and disunion to cease in the church, the child shall live.” To these conditions the emperor would not agree: “Let God’s will concerning the child be done then,” said Basil; upon which the emperor ordered him to be dismissed, and the child died shortly after. Such is an epitome of the history of these distinguished ecclesiastics, both of whom have left us many admirable works, some of which were translated into Latin by Rufinus, as he himself testifies. Basil had two brothers, Peter and Gregory; the former of whom adopted Basil’s monastic mode of life; while the latter emulated his eloquence in teaching, and completed after his death “Basil’s Treatise on the Six Days’ Work,” which had been left unfinished. He also pronounced at Constantinople the funeral oration of Meletius bishop of Antioch; and many other orations of his are still extant.








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