For if you deal too gently with him who needs a severe application of the knife, and do not strike deep into one who requires such treatment, you remove one Dart of the sore but leave the other: and if on the other hand you make the requisite incision unsparingly, the patient, driven to desperation by his sufferings, will often fling everything away at once, both the remedy and the bandage, and throw himself down headlong, "breaking the yoke and bursting the band. For we ought not, in applying punishment, merely to proportion it to the scale of the offence, but rather to keep in view the disposition of the sinner, lest whilst wishing to mend what is torn, you make the rent worse, and in your zealous endeavors to restore what is fallen, you make the ruin greater.
For weak and careless characters, addicted for the most part to the pleasures of the world, and having occasion to be proud on account of birth and position, may yet, if gently and gradually brought to repent of their errors, be delivered, partially at least, if not perfectly, from the evils by which they are possessed: but if any one were to inflict the discipline all at once, he would deprive them of this slight chance of amendment. For when once the soul has been forced to put off shame it lapses into a callous condition, and neither yields to kindly words nor bends to threats, nor is susceptible of gratitude, but becomes far worse than that city which the prophet reproached, saying, "thou hadst the face of a harlot, refusing to be ashamed before all men.
For as many are uplifted to pride, and then sink into despair of their salvation, from inability to endure severe remedies, so are there some, who from paying no penalty equivalent to their sins, fall into negligence, and become far worse, and are impelled to greater sins. It behoves the priest therefore to leave none of these things unexamined, but, after a thorough inquiry into all of them, to apply such remedies as he has appositely to each case, lest his zeal prove to be in vain.
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And not in this matter only, but also in the work of knitting together the severed members of the Church, one can see that he has much to do. For the pastor of sheep has his flock following him, wherever he may lead them: and if any should stray out of the straight path, and, deserting the good pasture, feed in unproductive or rugged place, a loud shout suffices to collect them and bring back to the fold those who have been parted from it: but if a human being wanders away from the right faith, great exertion, perseverance and patience tare required; for he cannot be dragged back by force, nor constrained by fear, but must be led back by persuasion to the truth from which be originally swerved.
The pastor therefore ought to be of a noble spirit, so as not to despond, or to despair of the salvation of wanderers from the fold, but continually to reason with himself and say, "Peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil. And one who dispenses money to the needy, or otherwise succors the oppressed, benefits his neighbors to some extent, but so much less than the priest in proportion as the body is inferior to the soul. Rightly therefore did the Lord say that zeal for the flock was a token of love for Himself.
BASIL : But what riddle can there be more obscure than this—Christ has commanded him who loves Him to tend His sheep, and yet you say that you decline to tend them because you love Him who gave this command? For I fear lest if I took the flock in hand when it was in good condition and well nourished, and then wasted it through my unskilfulness, I should provoke against myself the God who so loved the flock as to give Himself up for their salvation and ransom.
BASIL : You speak in jest: for if you were in earnest I know not how you would have proved me to be justly grieved otherwise than by means of these very words whereby you have endeavored to dispel my dejection. I knew indeed before that you had deceived and betrayed me, but much more now, when you have undertaken to clear yourself of my accusations, do I plainly perceive and understand the extent of the evils into which you have led me. For if you withdrew yourself from this ministry because you were conscious that your spirit was not equal to the burden of the task, I ought to have been rescued from it before you, even if I had chanced to have a great desire for it, to say nothing of having confided to you the entire decision of these matters: but as it is, you have looked solely to your own interest and neglected mine.
Would indeed you had entirely neglected them; then I should have been well content: but you plotted to facilitate my capture by those who wished to seize me. For you cannot take shelter in the argument that public opinion deceived you and induced you to imagine great and wonderful things concerning me. For I was none of your wonderful and distinguished men, nor, had this been the case, ought you to have preferred public opinion to truth.
For if I had never permitted you to enjoy my society, you might have seemed to have a reasonable pretext for being guided in your vote by public report; but if there is no one who has such thorough knowledge of my affairs, if you are acquainted with my character better than my parents and those who brought me up, what argument can you employ which will be convincing enough to persuade your hearers that you did not purposely thrust me into this danger: say, what answer shall I make to your accusers?
I will not proceed to those questions until I have resolved such as concern yourself alone, if you were to ask me ten thousand times to dispose of these charges. You said indeed that ignorance would bring me forgiveness, and that I should have been free from all accusation if I had brought you into your present position not knowing anything about you, but that as I did not betray you in ignorance, but was intimately acquainted with your affairs, I was deprived of all reasonable pretext and excuse.
But I say precisely the reverse: for in such matters there is need of careful scrutiny, and he who is going to present any one as qualified for the priesthood ought not to be content with public report only, but should also himself, above all and before all, investigate the man's character. For when the blessed Paul says, "He must also have a good report of them which are without," he does not dispense with an exact and rigorous inquiry, nor does he assign to such testimony precedence over the scrutiny required in such cases.
For after much previous discourse, he mentioned this additional testimony, proving that one must not be contented with it alone for elections of this kind, but take it into consideration along with the rest. For public report often speaks false; but when careful investigation precedes, no further danger need be apprehended from it.
On this account, after the other kinds of evidence he places that which comes from those who are without. For he did not simply say, "he must have a good report," but added the words, "from them which are without," wishing to show that before the report of those without he must be carefully examined. Inasmuch, then, as I myself knew your affairs better than your parents, as you also yourself acknowledged, I might deserve to be released from all blame.
Do you not remember hearing from me, and often learning from my actual conduct, the feebleness of my character?
Were you not perpetually taunting me for my pusillanimity, because I was so easily dejected by ordinary cares? But if I ever taunted you, I did it in sport and not in serious truth. However, I do not now dispute about these matters, and I claim the same degree of forbearance from you while I wish to make mention of some of the good qualities which you possess. For if you attempt to convict me of saying what is untrue, I shall not spare you, but shall drove that you say these things rather by way of self—depreciation than with a view to truth, and I will employ no evidence but your own words and deeds to demonstrate the truth of my assertion.
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And now the first question I wish to ask of you is this: do you know how great the power of love is? For omitting all the miracles which were to be wrought by the apostles, Christ said, "Hereby shall men know that ye are my disciples if ye love one another," and Paul said that it was the fulfilling of the law, and that in default of it no spiritual gift had any profit. Well, this choice good, the distinguishing mark of Christ's disciples, the gift which is higher than all other gifts, I perceived to be deeply implanted in your soul, and teeming with much fruit. BASIL : I acknowledge indeed that the matter is one of deep concern to me, and that I endeavor most earnestly to keep this commandment, but that I have not even half succeeded in so doing, even you yourself would bear me witness if you would leave off talking out of partiality, and simply respect the truth.
But I will mention a fact which has only just occurred, that no one may suspect me of attempting to obscure the truth by the great lapse of time in relating events long past, as oblivion would then prevent any objection being made to the things which I might say with a view to gratification. For when one of our intimate friends, having been falsely accused of insult and folly, was in extreme peril, you then flung yourself into the midst of the danger, although you were not summoned by any one, or appealed to by the person who was about to be involved in danger.
Such was the fact: but that I may convict you out of your own mouth, I will remind you of the words you uttered: for when some did not approve of this zeal, while others commended and admired it, "How can I help myself? This is why I betrayed you, this is why I contrived that plot. Do I now convince you that it was not from any malicious intent, nor from any desire to thrust you into danger, but from a persuasion of your future usefulness that I dragged you into this course?
But if you wish me to produce evidence of your practical wisdom also, I will proceed to, do so, and will prove that your understanding exceeds your loving-kindness. At these remarks he blushed scarlet and said, "Let my character be now dismissed: for it was not about this that I originally demanded an explanation; but if you have any just answer to make to those who are without, I would gladly hear what you have to say. Wherefore, abandoning this vain contest, tell me what defence I shall make, both to those who have honored you and to those who are distressed on their account, considering them to be insulted.
What then is the accusation made by these persons, and what are their charges? They say that they have been insulted and grievously wronged by me because I have not accepted the honor which they wished to confer upon me. Now in the first place I say that no account should be taken of the insult shown to men, seeing that by paying honor to them I should be compelled to offend God. And I should say to those who are displeased that it is not safe to take offence at these things, but does them much harm. For I think that those who stay themselves on God and look to Him alone, ought to be so religiously disposed as not to account such a thing an insult, even if they happened to be a thousand times dishonored.
But that I have not gone so far as even to think of daring anything of this kind is manifest from what I am about to say. For if indeed I had been induced by arrogance and vainglory, as you have often said some slanderously affirm, to assent to my accusers, I should have been one of the most iniquitous: of mankind, having treated great and excellent men, my benefactors moreover, with contempt. For if men ought to be punished for wronging those who have never wronged them, how ought we to honor those who have spontaneously preferred to honor us?
For no one could possibly say that they were requiting me for any benefits small or great which they had received at my hands. How great a punishment then would one deserve if one requited them in the contrary manner. But if such a thing never entered my mind, and I declined the heavy burden with quite a different intention, why do they refuse to pardon me even if they do not consent to approve , but accuse me of having selfishly spared my own soul?
For so far from having insulted the men in question I should say that I had even honored them by my refusal. And do not be surprised at the paradoxical nature of my remark, for I shall supply a speedy solution of it. For had I accepted the office, I do not say all men, but those who take pleasure in speaking evil, might have suspected and said many things concerning myself who had been elected and concerning them, the electors: for instance, that they regarded wealth, and admired splendor of rank; or had been induced by flattery to promote me to this honor: indeed I cannot say whether some one might not have suspected that they were bribed by money.
Moreover, they would have said, "Christ called fishermen, tentmakers, and publicans to this dignity, whereas these men reject those who support themselves by daily labor: but if there be any one who devotes himself to secular learning, and is brought up in idleness, him they receive and admire. For why, pray, have they passed by men who have undergone innumerable toils in the service of the Church, and suddenly dragged into this dignity one who has never experienced any labors of this kind, but has spent all his youth in the vain study of secular learning.
For every pretext for maligning is now cut away from them, and they can neither accuse me of flattery, nor the others of receiving bribes, unless some choose to act like mere madmen. For how could one who used flattery and expended money in order to obtain the dignity, have abandoned it to others when he might have obtained it?
For this would be just as if a man who had bestowed much labor upon the ground in order that the corn field might be laden with abundant produce, and the presses overflow with wine, after innumerable toils and great expenditure of money were to surrender the fruits to others just when it was time to reap his corn and gather in his vintage. Do you see that although what was said might be far from the truth, nevertheless those who wished to calumniate the electors would then have had a pretext for alleging that the choice was made without fair judgment and consideration.
But as it is I have prevented them from being open mouthed, or even uttering a single word on the subject. Such then and more would have been their remarks at the outset. But after undertaking the ministry I should not have been able day by day to defend myself against accusers, even if I had done everything faultlessly, to say nothing of the many mistakes which I must have made owing to my youth and inexperience. But now I have saved the electors from this kind of accusation also, whereas in the other case I should have involved them in innumerable reproaches.
For what would not the world have said? For if the choice of a generalship or a kingdom had been submitted to me, and I had then formed this resolution, any one might naturally have suspected me of this fault, or rather I should have been found guilty by all men, not of arrogance, but of senseless folly.
But when the priesthood is offered to me, which exceeds a kingdom as much as the spirit differs from the flesh, will any one dare to accuse me of disdain? And is it not preposterous to charge with folly those who reject small things, but when any do this in matters of preeminent importance, to exempt such persons from accusations of mental derangement, and yet subject them to the charge of pride?
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It is just as if one were to accuse, not of pride, but of insanity, a man who looked with contempt on a herd of oxen and refused to be a herdsman, and yet were to say that a man who declined the empire of the world, and the command of all the armies of the earth, was not mad, but inflated with pride. But this assuredly is not the case; and they who say such things do not injure me more than they injure themselves. For merely to imagine it possible for human nature to despise this dignity is an evidence against those who bring this charge of the estimate which they have formed of the office.
For if they did not consider it to be an ordinary thing of no great account, such a suspicion as this would never have entered their heads. For why is it that no one has ever dared to entertain such a suspicion with reference to the dignity of the angels, and to say that arrogance is the reason why human nature would not aspire to the rank of the angelic nature? It is because we imagine great things concerning those powers, and this does not suffer us to believe that a man can conceive anything greater than that honor.
Wherefore one might with more justice indite those persons of arrogance who accuse me of it.
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For they would never have suspected this of others if they had not previously depreciated the matter as being of no account. But if they say that I have done this with a view to glory, they will be convicted of fighting openly against themselves and falling into their own snare; for I do not know what kind of arguments they could have sought in preference to these if they had wished to release me from the charge of vainglory.
For if this desire had ever entered my mind, I ought to have accepted the office rather than avoided it. For the fact that one of my age, who had so recently abandoned secular pursuits, should suddenly be deemed by all worthy of such admiration as to be advanced to honor before those who have spent all their life in labors of this kind, and to obtain more votes than all of them, might have persuaded all men to anticipate great and marvellous things of me. But, as it is, the greater part of the Church does not know me even by name: so that even my refusal of the office will not be manifest to all, but only to a few, and I am not sure that all even of these know it for certain; but probably many of them either imagine that I was not elected at all, or that I was rejected after the election, being considered unsuitable, not that I avoided the office of my own accord.
Whence then am I to hope for praise? From the many?
They do not know the actual fact. From the few? Here again the matter is perverted to my disadvantage.
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For the only reason why you have come here now is to learn what answer ought to be given to them And what shall I now certainly say on account of these things? For wait a little, and you will clearly perceive that even if all know the truth they ought not to condemn me for pride and love of glory. And in addition to this there is another consideration: that not only those who make this venture, if there be any such which for my part I do not believe , but also those who suspect it of others, will be involved in no small danger.
For the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks amongst heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers.
Fearful, indeed, and of most awful import, were the things which were used before the dispensation of grace, as the bells, the pomegranates, the stones on the breastplate and on the ephod, the girdle, the mitre, the long robe, the plate of gold, the holy of holies, the deep silence within.