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E00773: Basil of Caesarea in 376 writes his encyclical Letter 243, addressed to the bishops of Italy and Gaul, reporting on the persecution of the Orthodox by the Arian authorities in the East. He deplores that, although people suffer and die as martyrs, they are not venerated as such. Written in Greek at Kaisareia/Caesarea of Cappadocia (central Asia Minor).

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posted on 2015-10-13, 00:00 authored by erizos
Basil of Caesarea, Letters (CPG 2900), Letter 243


Διωγμὸς κατείληφεν ἡμᾶς, ἀδελφοὶ τιμιώτατοι, καὶ διωγμῶν ὁ βαρύτατος. Διώκονται γὰρ ποιμένες, ἵνα διασκορπισθῶσι τὰ ποίμνια. Καὶ τὸ βαρύτατον, ὅτι οἱ μὲν κακούμενοι ἐν πληροφορίᾳ μαρτυρίου τὰ πάθη δέχονται, οἱ δὲ λαοὶ οὐκ ἐν μαρτύρων τάξει τοὺς ἀθλητὰς θεραπεύουσι διὰ τὸ Χριστιανῶν ὄνομα τοῖς διώκουσι περικεῖσθαι.

‘To the Bishops of Italy and Gaul, regarding the Condition and Confusion of the Churches
A persecution has befallen us, most venerable brethren, indeed the most severe of persecutions. For shepherds are being persecuted that their flocks may be scattered. And the gravest thing is that, although those wronged accept their sufferings in the certainty of martyrdom, the people do not reverence the athletes according to the rank of martyrs, because the persecutors bear the name of Christians. 

Text: Courtonne, vol. 3, 69.
Translation E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Basil of Caesarea

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people Ecclesiastics - bishops


Born around 330 to an aristocratic Christian family of Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea of Pontus Polemoniacus (Anatolia), Basil was educated in Kaisareia/Caesarea, Antioch, and Athens. After his studies, he spent time in the monasteries in Egypt, before returning to Pontus, where he organised an ascetic community on his family estate in Pontus. In the 360s, Basil was ordained in Kaisareia/Caesarea, and, on 14 June 370, he was consecrated bishop there. He died on 1 January 379. Basil was a prolific writer, composing homilies, theological, ascetical, and liturgical works. His 369 letters form a major corpus on ecclesiastical politics and the broader history of Anatolia and the Christian East. On the manuscript tradition, editions and translations of this text, see: Fedwick, P.J., Bibliotheca Basiliana Universalis. 5 vols. Vol. I (Corpus Christianorum; Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), 530-532.


This is a testimony to the development of ideas concerning persecution, martyrdom and sainthood in the age of Christian freedom. In this letter, Basil updates the (Nicene) bishops of the West on the tensions prevailing in the East under the emperor Valens whose anti-Nicene policy the author describes as a persecution. Basil refers to violence against dissident Nicene clerics, some of whom have died as a result. Basil stresses that these people suffer consciously as potential martyrs, but those of them that indeed become so are not venerated, because the persecutors are Christians. Basil’s remarks are interesting, because they suggest that persecution and martyrdom were widely regarded by the people as a thing of the pre-Constantinian past. For dissidents like Basil (a Nicene bishop under the ‘Arian’ regime of Valens), however, the reality of persecution and martyrdom could re-emerge under Christian rulers siding with heresy. Indeed, ‘martyrs’ and especially ‘confessors’ (mostly clerics who die in exile or in prison defending orthodoxy) under Christian rule would soon become a separate category of sainthood. Basil and other contemporary bishops, like Ambrose of Milan, are the first who attempted to include champions of Nicene Orthodoxy in the veneration of saints. (also see E00776 and E00777)


Text edition and French Translation: Courtonne, Y., Saint Basile. Lettres. 3 vols (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1957-1966). Text and English Translations: Deferrari, R.J., Saint Basil, the Letters. 4 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 1928). Way, A.C., Saint Basil. Letters, Volume 1 (1‒185) (Fathers of the Church 13; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1951). Further Reading: Courtonne, Y., Un témoin du IVe siècle oriental: saint Basile et son temps d'après sa correspondance (Collection d'études anciennes; Paris: Les Belles lettres, 1973), esp. 356-359. Radde-Gallwitz, A., "The Letter Collection of Basil of Caesarea," in: C. Sogno, B.K. Storin, and E. Watts (eds.), Late Antique Letter Collections: A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 69-80. Rousseau, P., Basil of Caesarea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

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