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Sketch of the Life and Works of Saint Basil the Great

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Page 18

VI.--Basil as Archbishop.

The archiepiscopal throne was now technically vacant. But the man who had practically filled it, "the keeper and tamer of the lion," [135] was still alive in the plenitude of his power. What course was he to follow ? Was he meekly to withdraw, and perhaps be compelled to support the candidature of another and an inferior? The indirect evidence [136] has seemed to some strong enough to compel the conclusion that he determined, if possible, to secure his election to the see. [137] Others, on the contrary, have thought him incapable of scheming for the nomination. [138] The truth probably lies between the two extreme views. No intelligent onlooker of the position at Caesarea on the death of Eusebius, least of all the highly capable administrator of the province, could be blind to the fact that of all possible competitors for the vacant throne Basil himself was the ablest and most distinguished, and the likeliest to be capable of directing the course of events in the interests of orthodoxy. But it does not follow that Basil's appeal to Gregory to come to him was a deliberate step to secure this end. He craved for the support and counsel of his friend; but no one could have known better that Gregory the younger was not the man to take prompt action or rule events. His invention of a fatal sickness, or exaggeration of a slight one, failed to secure even Gregory's presence at Caesarea. Gregory burst into tears on receipt of the news of his friend's grave illness, and hastened to obey the summons to his side. But on the road he fell in with bishops hurrying to Caesarea for the election of a successor to Eusebius, and detected the unreality of Basil's plea. He at once returned to Nazianzus and wrote the oft-quoted letter, [139] on the interpretation given to which depends the estimate formed of Basil's action at the important crisis.

[135] Greg. Naz., Or. xliii. 33.

[136] i.e. the extant reply to his urgent request that Gregory would come to him. Greg. Naz., Ep. xl.

[137] "Persuade que, s'il echouait c'en etait fait de la foi de Nicee en Cappadoce, il deploie toutes les ressources de son denie, aussi souple que puissant." Fialone, Et. Hist. p. 85. "Personne dans la ville, pas meme Basile, malgre son humilite, ne donta que la succession ne lui fut fit assez ouvertement ses preparatifs pour sa promotion." De Broglie, L'Eglise et l'Empire R. v. 88. "Basil persuaded himself, and not altogether unwarrantably, that the cause of orthodoxy in Asia Minor was involved in his becoming his successor." Canon Venables in D.C.B. "Erselbst, so schwer er sich anfangs zur Uebernahme des Presbyterates hatte entschliessen koennen, jetzt, wo er sich in seine Stellung hinein gearbeitet hatte wuenschte er nichts sehnlicher al seine Wahl zum Bischof. Boehringer the IVth c. p. 24. "Was it really from ambitious views? Certainly the suspicion, which even his friend entertained, attaches to him." Ullmann, Life of Gregory of Naz., Cox's Trans. p. 117.

[138] "Ne suspicatus quidem in se oculos conjectum iri." Maran, Vit. Bas. "Former une brigue pour parvenir a l'episcopat etait bien loin de sa pensee.' Ceillier, iv. 354.

[139] Greg. N., Ep. xl. (xxi.).

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