Chapter XVI.—Basil becomes Bishop of Cæsarea after Eusebius; his Boldness towards the Emperor and the Prefect.
Some time after, the emperor again visited Cappadocia, and found that Basil was administering the churches there after the death of Eusebius. 1457 He thought of expelling him, but was unwillingly restrained from his intention. It is said that the night after he had formed his plans his wife was disturbed by a frightful dream, and that his only son Galates was cut off by a rapid disease. The death of this son was universally attributed to the vengeance of God as a punishment of his parents for the machinations that had been carried on against Basil. Valens himself was of this opinion, and, after the death of his son, offered no further molestation to the bishop.
When the prince was sinking under the disease, and at the point of death, the emperor sent for Basil and requested him to pray to God for his sons recovery. For as soon as Valens had arrived at Cæsarea, the prefect had sent for Basil and commanded him to embrace the religious sentiments of the emperor, menacing him with death in case of non-compliance. Basil replied that it would be great gain to him and the grant of the highest favor to be delivered as quickly as possible from the bondage of the body. The prefect gave him the rest of the day and the approaching night for deliberation, and advised him not to rush imprudently into p. 356 obvious danger, but that he should come on the day after and declare his opinion. “I do not require to deliberate,” replied Basil. “My determination will be the same to-morrow as it is to-day; for since I am a creature I can never be induced to worship that which is similar to myself and worship it as God; neither will I conform to your religion, nor to that of the emperor. Although your distinction may be great, and although you have the honor of ruling no inconsiderable portion of the empire, yet I ought not on these accounts to seek to please men, and, at the same time, belittle that Divine faith which neither loss of goods, nor exile, nor condemnation to death would ever impel me to betray. Inflictions of this nature have never excited in my mind one pang of sorrow. I possess nothing but a cloak and a few books. I dwell on the earth as a traveler. The body through its weakness would have the better of all sensation and torture after the first blow.”
The prefect admired the courage evinced in this bold reply, and communicated the circumstance to the emperor. On the festival of the Epiphany, the emperor repaired to the church, with the rulers and his guards, presented gifts at the holy table, and held a conference with Basil, whose wisdom and whose order and arrangement in the conduct of the priesthood and the church elicited his praise.
Not long after, however, the calumny of his enemies prevailed, and Basil was condemned to banishment. The night for the execution of the edict was at hand; the son of the emperor suddenly fell ill with a pressing and dangerous fever. The father prostrated himself on the earth and wept over the son who was still alive, and not knowing what other measures to take towards effecting the recovery of his son, he dispatched some of his attendants to Basil to come and visit the prostrate child; because he himself feared to summon the bishop, on account of the injury just inflicted upon him. Immediately on the arrival of Basil, the boy began to rally; so that many maintain that his recovery would have been complete, had not some heretics been summoned to pray with Basil for the restoration of the boy. It is said that the prefect, likewise, fell ill; but that on his repentance, and on prayer being offered to God, he was restored to health. The instances above adduced are quite inadequate to convey an idea of the wonderful endowments of Basil; his extreme addiction to the philosophic life and astonishing powers of eloquence attracted great celebrity.
Greg. Naz. Or. xliii. 44–57; Greg. Nyss. contra Eunomium, ii. 290–295; Ruf. ii. 9; Soc. iv. 26. Cf. Theodoret, iv. 19.