The First Canonical Epistle of Our Holy Father Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.1
(This Epistle, number ct xxxviij., is found translated in Volume VIII. of the Second Series of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, p. 223 et seqq.)
As to the question concerning the Puritans the custom of every country is to be observed, since they who have discussed this point are of various sentiments. The [baptism] of the Pepuzenes I make no account of, and I wonder that Dionysius the canonist was of another mind. The ancients speak of heresies, which entirely break men off, and make them aliens from the faith. Such are the Manichaeans, Valentinians, Marcionites and Pepuzenes, who sin against the Holy Ghost, who baptize into the Father, Son and Montanus, or Priscilla. Schisms are caused by ecclesiastical disputes, and for causes that are not incurable, and for differences concerning penance. The Puritans are such schismatics. The ancients, viz. Cyprian and Fermilian, put these, and the Encratites, and Hydroparastatae, and Apotactites, under the same condemnation; because they have no longer the communication of the Holy Ghost, who have broken the succession. They who first made the departure had the spiritual gift; but by being schismatics, they became laymen; and therefore they ordered those that were baptized by them, and came over to the Church, to be purged by the true baptism, as those that are baptized by laymen. Because some in Asia have otherwise determined, let [their baptism] be allowed: but not that of the Encratites; for they have altered their baptism, to make themselves incapable of being received by the Church. Yet custom and the Fathers, that is bishops, who have the administration, must be followed; for I am afraid of putting an impediment to the saved; while I would raise fears in them concerning their baptism. We are not to allow their baptism, because they allow ours, but strictly to observe the canons. But let none be received without unction. When we received Zois and Saturninus to the Episcopal chair, we made, as it were, a canon to receive those in communion with them.
Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years' penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not.
A deacon guilty of fornication, is deposed, not excommunicated; for the ancient canon forbids a single crime to be twice punished. And further, a layman excommunicated may be restored to the degree from which he falls, but a clergyman deposed cannot. Yet it is better to cure men of their sins by mortification, and to execute the canon only in cases where we cannot reach what is more perfect.
They that marry a second time, used to be under penance a year or two. They that marry a third time, three or four years. But we have a custom, that he who marries a third time be under penance five years, not by canon, but tradition. Half of this time they are to be hearers, afterwards Co-standers; but to abstain from the communion of the Good Thing, when they have shewed some fruit of repentance.
Heretics, upon their death-bed, giving good signs of their conversion, to be received.
Let it not be counted a marriage, when one belonging to the canon commits fornication, but let them be forced to part.2
They who have committed sodomy with men or brutes, murderers, wizards, adulterers, and idolaters, have been thought worthy of the same punishment; therefore observe the same method with these which you do with others. We ought not to make any doubt of receiving those who have repented thirty years for the uncleanness which they committed through ignorance; for their ignorance pleads their pardon, and their willingness in confessing it; therefore com- mand them to be forthwith received, especially if they have tears to prevail on your tenderness, and have [since their lapse] led such a life as to deserve your compassion.
He that kills another with a sword, or hurls an axe at his own wife and kills her, is guilty of wilful murder; not he who throws a stone at a dog, and undesignedly kills a man, or who corrects one with a rod, or scourge, in order to reform him, or who kills a man in his own defence, when he only designed to hurt him. But the man, or woman, is a murderer that gives a philtrum, if the man that takes it die upon it; so are they who take medicines to procure abortion; and so are they who kill on the highway, and rapparees.
Our Lord is equal, to the man and womanforbidding divorce, save in case of fornication; but custom requires women to retain their husbands, though they be guilty of fornication. The man deserted by his wife may take another, and though he were deserted for adultery, yet St. Basil will be positive, thatthe other woman who afterward takes him is guilty of adultery; but the wife is not allowed this liberty. And the man who deserts an innocent wife is not allowed to marry.
That they who swear that they will not be ordained, be not forced to break their oath. Severus, Bishop of Masada, who had ordained Cyriacus priest to a country church, subject to the Bishop of Mesthia, is referred to the divine tribunal, upon his pretending that he did it by surprise. Cyriacus had upon his ordination, been forced, contrary to canon, to swear that he would continue in that country church; but the Bishop of Mesthia, to whomthat church properly belonged, forced himout. St. Basil advises Amphilochius to lay the country church to Masada, and make it subject to Severus, and to permit Cyriacus to return to it and save his oath; and by this means he supposes that Longinus, the lord of that country, would be prevailed upon to alter his resolution of laying that church desolate, as he declared he would upon Cyriacus's expulsion.
He that is guilty of involuntary murder, shall do eleven years' penance-that is, if the murdered person, after he had here received the wound, do again go abroad, and yet afterward die of the wound.
The canon excludes from the ministry those who are guilty of digamy.
Our fathers did not think that killing in war was murder; yet I think it advisable for such as have been guilty of it to forbear communion three years.
An usurer, giving his unjust gain to the poor, and renouncing his love of money, may be admitted into the clergy.
Not properly canons, but explications of Scripture, and therefore neither Balsamon, nor Aristenus, regard them as canons.