Basil of Caesarea & Letter-Writing

Following in the train of the New Testament authors, and early Christian writers from the second century to fourth centuries, Basil of Caesarea (c.330-379), according to P.J. Fedwick, was convinced that letter-writing was an important way of exercising leadership when one could not be present in person. [The Church and the Charisma of Leadership in Basil of Caesarea (Toronto: Pontifical Institute Of Mediaeval Studies, 1979), 169-173]. This is quite different from the classical Greek suspicion of the written word. Of course, Basil was aware of the problems of written words: they seem to lack life and warmth. Thus, he could write to a philosopher named Maximus: “why do you not visit us, my noble friend, so that we may speak with each other personally and not entrust subjects of such importance [how to discourse about the Trinity] to lifeless letters…?” [Letter 9.3, trans. Agnes Clare Way, Saint Basil: Letters (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1951), I, 43].

Nevertheless, Basil had a deep—and biblical—appreciation of the way that letters can overcome various barriers, such as those of space and time. Basil thus resorted to the ministry of letter-writing to overcome these, and other, hindrances to his wider ministry.

Moreover, Basil expected those to whom he wrote to return letters to him. Thus, he could say to one person to whom he had written: “Write me, at least in the future, with pen and ink and a short piece of paper, loving us who love you.” [Letter 330 (trans. Way, Saint Basil: Letters, II, 315-316)].

And to another who also failed to respond to Basil’s letters: “One indication of life is speech. How, then, could you be considered to be upon earth, since you never speak? But put aside your silence, writing to us and making it evident that you are living.” [Letter 332 (trans. Way, Saint Basil: Letters, II, 316)].