Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Basil of Ancyra, Priest and Martyr
From the authentic acts of his martyrdom in Ruinart, Henschenius, and Tillemont, t. 7. p. 375.
MARCELLUS, bishop of Ancyra, distinguished himself by his zeal against the Arians, on which account he was banished by Constantius in 336.1 Basil, a ringleader of the Semi-Arians, was introduced into that see, but was himself deposed by the stanch Arians, in 360; and is mentioned by Socrates to have survived our saint, though he continued still in banishment under Jovian. The holy martyr of whom we speak was also called Basil. He was priest of Ancyra under the bishop Marcellus, and a man of a most holy life, and unblemished conversation, and had been trained up by saints in the practices of perfect piety. He preached the word of God with great assiduity, and when the Arian wolf, who bore his name, attempted to plant his heresy in that city, he never ceased to cry out to the people, with the zeal and intrepidity of a prophet, exhorting them to beware of the snares which were laid for them, and to remain steadfast in the Catholic faith. He was forbidden by the Arian bishops, in 360, to hold ecclesiastical assemblies: but he despised the unjust order; and as boldly defended the Catholic faith before Constantius himself. When Julian the Apostate reestablished idolatry, and left no means untried to pervert the faithful, Basil ran through the whole city, exhorting the Christians to continue steadfast, and not pollute themselves with the sacrifices and libations of the heathens, but fight manfully in the cause of God. The heathens laid violent hands on him, and dragged him before Saturninus the proconsul, accusing him of sedition, of having overturned altars, that he stirred up the people against the gods, and had spoken irreverently of the emperor and his religion. The proconsul asked him if the religion which the emperor had established was not the truth? The martyr answered: Can you yourself believe it? Can any man endued with reason persuade himself that dumb statues are gods? The proconsul commanded him to be tortured on the rack, and scoffing, said to him, under his torments: Do not you believe the power of the emperor to be great, who can punish those who disobey him? Experience is an excellent master, and will inform you better. Obey the emperor, worship the gods, and offer sacrifice. The martyr, who prayed during his torments, with great earnestness, replied: It is what I never will do. The proconsul remanded him to prison, and informed his master Julian of what he had done. The emperor approved of his proceedings, and despatched Elpidius and Pegasus, two apostate courtiers, in quality of commissaries, to assist the proconsul in the trial of the prisoner. They took with them from Nicomedia one Aslepius, a wicked priest of Esculapius, and arrived at Ancyra. Basil did not cease to praise and glorify God in his dungeon, and Pegasus repaired thither to him in hopes, by promises and entreaties, to work him into compliance: but came back to the proconsul highly offended at the liberty with which the martyr had reproached him with his apostasy. At the request of the commissaries, the proconsul ordered him to be again brought before them, and tormented on the rack with greater cruelty than before; and afterwards to be loaded with the heaviest irons, and lodged in the deepest dungeon.
In the mean time, Julian set out from Constantinople for Antioch, in order to prepare for his Persian expedition. From Chalcedon he turned out of his road to Pessinunte, a town in Galatia, there to offer sacrifice in a famous temple of Cibele. In that town he condemned a certain Christian to be beheaded for the faith, and the martyr went to execution with as much joy as if he had been called to a banquet. When Julian arrived at Ancyra, St. Basil was presented before him, and the crafty emperor, putting on an air of compassion, said to him: I myself am well skilled in your mysteries; and I can inform you, that Christ, in whom you place your trust, died under Pilate, and remains among the dead. The martyr answered: You are deceived; you have renounced Christ at a time when he conferred on you the empire. But he will deprive you of it, together with your life. As you have thrown down his altars, so will he overturn your throne: and as you have violated his holy law, which you had so often announced to the people, (when a Reader in the church,) and have trodden it under your feet, your body shall be cast forth without the honour of a burial, and shall be trampled upon by men. Julian replied: I designed to dismiss thee: but thy impudent manner of rejecting my advice, and uttering reproaches against me, force me to use thee ill. It is therefore my command, that every day thy skin be torn off thee in seven different places till thou hast no more left. He then gave it in charge to count Frumentinus, the captain of his guards, to see this barbarous sentence executed. The saint, after having suffered with wonderful patience the first incisions, desired to speak to the emperor. Frumentinus would be himself the bearer of this message to Julian, not doubting but Basil intended to comply and offer sacrifice. Julian instantly ordered that the confessor should meet him in the temple of Esculapius. He there pressed him to join him in offering sacrifices. But the martyr replied, that he could never adore blind and deaf idols. And taking a piece of his flesh which had been cut out of his body that day, and still hung to it by a bit of skin, he threw it upon Julian. The emperor went out in great indignation: and count Frumentinus, fearing his displeasure, studied how to revenge an insult, for which he seemed responsible to his master. He therefore mounted his tribunal, and ordered the torments of the martyr to be redoubled; and so deep were the incisions made in his flesh, that his bowels were exposed to view, and the spectators wept for compassion. The martyr prayed aloud all the time, and at evening was carried back to prison. Next morning Julian set out for Antioch, and would not see Frumentinus. The count resolved to repair his disgrace, or at least to discharge his resentment by exerting his rage upon the servant of Christ. But to his thundering threats Basil answered: You know how many pieces of flesh have been torn from my body: yet look on my shoulders and sides: see if any wounds appear? Know that Jesus Christ this night hath healed me. Send this news to your master Julian, that he may know the power of God whom he hath forsaken. He hath overturned his altars, who was himself concealed under them when he was sought by Constantius to be put to death. But God hath discovered to me that his tyranny shall be shortly extinguished with his life. Frumentinus seemed no longer able to contain his rage, and commanded the saint to be laid upon his belly, and his back to be pierced with red-hot iron spikes. The martyr expired under these torments on the 29th of June, in 362. But his name is honoured both by the Latins and Greeks on the 22nd of March.
The love of God, which triumphed in the breasts of the martyrs, made them regard as nothing whatever labours, losses, or torments they suffered for its sake, according to that of the Canticles: If a man shall have given all that he possesses, he will despise it as nothing. If the sacrifice of worldly honours, goods, friends, and life be required of such a one, he makes it with joy, saying with the Royal Prophet, What have I desired in heaven or on earth, besides thee, O God! Thou art my portion for ever. If he lives deprived of consolation and joy, in interior desolation and spiritual dryness, he is content to bear his cross, provided he be united to his God by love, and says, My God and my all, if I possess you, I have all things in you alone: whatever happens to me, with the treasure of your love I am rich and sovereignly happy. This he repeats in poverty, disgraces, afflictions, and persecutions. He rejoices in them, as by them he is more closely united to his God, gives the strongest proof of his fidelity to him, and perfect submission to his divine appointments, and adores the accomplishment of his will. If it be the property of true love, to receive crosses with content and joy, to sustain great labours, and think them small, or rather not to think of them at all, as they bear no proportion to the prize, to what we owe to God, or to what his love deserves: to suffer much, and think all nothing, and the longest and severest trials short; is it not a mark of a want of this love, to complain of prayer, fasts, and every Christian duty? how far is this disposition from the fervour and resolution of all the saints, and from the heroic courage of the martyrs!
Note 1. Marcellus wrote a famous book against the Arians, which Eusebius of Cæsarea and all the Arians condemned, as reviving the exploded heresy of Sabellius. But Sabellianism was a general slander with which they aspersed all orthodox pastors. It is indeed true, that St. Hilary, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, and Sulpicius Severus charge Marcellus with that error; but were deceived by the clamours of the Arians. For Marcellus appealing to Pope Julius, and repairing to Rome, was acquitted, and his book declared orthodox by that pope in 341, and also by the council of Sardica, in 347; as St. Hilary (fragm. 3. p. 1308. 1311.) and St. Athanasius (Apol. contra Arianos, p. 165.) testify. It was a calumny of the Arians, though believed by St. Hilary, that St. Athanasius at length abandoned and condemned him. It is demonstrated by Dom. Montfaucon from the works of St. Athanasius, that he ever defended the innocence of Marcellus. (t. 2. Collect. Patr.) Moreover, Marcellus being informed that St. Basil had suggested to St. Athanasius certain suspicions of his faith, in 372, towards the end of his life, sent to St. Athanasius his most orthodox confession of faith, in which he explicitly condemns Sabellianism; which authentic monument was published by Montfaucon. (t. 2. Collect. Patr. p. 55.) If Patavius, Bull, and others, who censure Marcellus, had seen this confession, they would have cleared him of the imputation of Sabellianism, and expounded favourably certain ambiguous expressions which occurred in his book against the Arians, which is now lost, and was compiled against a work of Aeterius the Sophist, surnamed the advocate of the Arians. [back]