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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters (St. Basil of Caesarea) > Letter 366

Letter 366

ST. BASIL OF CAESAREA

Basil to Urbicius the monk, concerning continency

You do well in making exact definitions for us, so that we may recognise not only continency, but its fruit. Now its fruit is the companionship of God. For not to be corrupted, is to have part with God; just as to be corrupted is the companionship of the world. Continency is denial of the body, and confession to God. It withdraws from anything mortal, like a body which has the Spirit of God. It is without rivalry and envy, and causes us to be united to God. He who loves a body envies another. He who has not admitted the disease of corruption into his heart, is for the future strong enough to endure any labour, and though he have died in the body, he lives in incorruption. Verily, if I rightly apprehend the matter, God seems to me to be continency, because He desires nothing, but has all things in Himself. He reaches after nothing, nor has any sense in eyes or ears; wanting nothing, He is in all respects complete and full. Concupiscence is a disease of the soul; but continency is its health. And continency must not be regarded only in one species, as, for instance, in matters of sensual love. It must be regarded in everything which the soul lusts after in an evil manner, not being content with what is needful for it. Envy is caused for the sake of gold, and innumerable wrongs for the sake of other lusts. Not to be drunken is continency. Not to overeat one's self is continency. To subdue the body is continency, and to keep evil thoughts in subjection, whenever the soul is disturbed by any fancy false and bad, and the heart is distracted by vain cares. Continency makes men free, being at once a medicine and a power, for it does not teach temperance; it gives it. Continency is a grace of God. Jesus seemed to be continency, when He was made light to land and sea; for He was carried neither by earth nor ocean, and just as He walked on the sea, so He did not weigh down the earth. For if death comes of corruption, and not dying comes of not having corruption, then Jesus wrought not mortality but divinity. He ate and drank in a peculiar manner, without rendering his food., So mighty a power in Him was continency, that His food was not corrupted in Him, since He had no corruption. If only there be a little continency in us, we are higher than all. We have been told that angels were ejected from heaven because of concupiscence and became incontinent. They were vanquished; they did not come down. What could that plague have effected there, if an eye such as I am thinking of had been there? Wherefore I said, If we have a little patience, and do not love the world, but the life above, we shall be found there where we direct our mind. For it is the mind, apparently, which is the eye that sees unseen things. For we say "the mind sees;" "the mind hears." I have written at length, though it may seem little to you. But there is meaning in all that I have said, and, when you have read it, you will see it.

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Source. Translated by Blomfield Jackson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202366.htm>.

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