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E00776: A late 4th c. Greek text ascribed to Basil of Caesarea (appended to his Letter 197 to Ambrose of Milan) describes the transfer of the relics of *Dionysius (bishop of Milan, ob. 360/362, S00473), who had died in exile, from Cappadocia (central Asia Minor) to Milan (northern Italy). The author reassures his correspondent of the authenticity of the relics. Written in Cappadocia.

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posted on 13.10.2015, 00:00 by erizos
Basil of Caesarea, Letters (CPG 2900), Letter 197

ΑΜΒΡΟΣΙῼ ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠῼ ΜΕΔΙΟΛΑΝΟΥ

(……)
Ἡ δὲ περὶ τὸν μακαριώτατον Διονύσιον τὸν ἐπίσκοπον φιλοτιμία σου καὶ σπουδὴ πᾶσάν σοι μαρτυρεῖ ἀγάπην πρὸς τὸν Κύριον, τιμὴν εἰς τοὺς προλαβόντας, σπουδὴν περὶ τὴν πίστιν. Ἡ γὰρ πρὸς τοὺς εὔνους τῶν ὁμοδούλων διάθεσις τὴν ἀναφορὰν ἐπὶ τὸν Δεσπότην ἔχει ᾧ δεδουλεύκασι, καὶ ὁ τοὺς διὰ πίστιν ἠθληκότας τιμῶν δῆλός ἐστι τὸν ἴσον ζῆλον ἔχων τῆς πίστεως, ὥστε μία αὕτη πρᾶξις πολλῆς ἀρετῆς ἔχει τὴν μαρτυρίαν. Γνωρίζομεν δέ σου τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀγάπῃ ὅτι οἱ σπουδαιότατοι ἀδελφοί, οἱ παρὰ τῆς εὐλαβείας σου εἰς τὴν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἔργου διακονίαν προτιμηθέντες, πρῶτον μὲν παντὶ τῷ κλήρῳ ἔπαινον ἤνεγκαν διὰ τῆς ἐμμελείας τῶν τρόπων· ἐν γὰρ τῇ καθ’ ἑαυτοὺς εὐσχημοσύνῃ τὸ κοινὸν πάντων εὐσταθὲς κατεμήνυον. Ἔπειτα πάσῃ σπουδῇ καὶ ἐμμελείᾳ χρησάμενοι κατετόλμησαν μὲν χειμῶνος ἀβάτου, ἔπεισαν δὲ μετὰ πάσης εὐτονίας τοὺς πιστοὺς φύλακας τοῦ μακαρίου σώματος τὰ φυλακτήρια τῆς ἑαυτῶν ζωῆς παραχωρῆσαι τούτοις. Καὶ γίνωσκε ὅτι οὔτε ἀρχαὶ οὔτε δυναστεῖαι ἀνθρώπων ἐξίσχυσαν ἄν ποτε βιάσασθαι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐκείνους, εἰ μὴ τὸ εὔτονον τῆς προαιρέσεως τῶν ἀδελφῶν τούτων ἐξεδυσώπησεν αὐτοὺς πρὸς τὴν συγχώρησιν. Συνήργησε δὲ μάλιστα πρὸς τὸ καταπραχθῆναι τὰ σπουδαζόμενα καὶ ἡ παρουσία τοῦ ποθεινοτάτου καὶ εὐλαβεστάτου υἱοῦ ἡμῶν Θηρασίου τοῦ συμπρεσβυτέρου, ὃς αὐθαιρέτως τὸν κόπον τῆς ὁδοιπορίας ὑποδεξάμενος ἔπαυσε μὲν τὸ σφοδρὸν τῆς ὁρμῆς τῶν ἐκεῖ πιστῶν, λόγῳ δὲ συμπείσας τοὺς ἀντεχομένους, ἐπὶ πρεσβυτέρων καὶ διακόνων καὶ ἄλλων πολλῶν τῶν φοβουμένων τὸν Κύριον μετὰ τῆς πρεπούσης εὐλαβείας ἀνελόμενος τὰ λείψανα, συνδιέσωσε τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς· ἃ μετὰ τοσαύτης χαρᾶς ὑποδέξασθε μεθ’ ὅσης λύπης προέπεμψαν οἱ φυλάσσοντες. Μηδεὶς διακρινέσθω, μηδεὶς ἀμφιβαλλέτω· οὗτός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος ὁ ἀήττητος ἀθλητής. Ταῦτα γνωρίζει τὰ ὀστᾶ ὁ Κύριος τὰ συνδιαθλήσαντα τῇ μακαρίᾳ ψυχῇ. Ταῦτα μετ’ αὐτῆς στεφανώσει ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς ἀνταποδόσεως αὐτοῦ τῇ δικαίᾳ, κατὰ τὸ γεγραμμένον· ὅτι δεῖ ἡμᾶς παραστῆναι τῷ βήματι τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κομίσηται ἕκαστος πρὸς ἃ ἔπραξε διὰ τοῦ σώματος. Μία λάρναξ ἦν ἡ ὑποδεξαμένη τὸ τίμιον ἐκεῖνο σῶμα, οὐδεὶς ὁ πλησίον αὐτοῦ κατακείμενος, ἐπίσημος ἡ ταφή, μάρτυρος ἡ τιμή. Χριστιανοί, οἱ ξενίσαντες, ταῖς ἰδίαις χερσὶ καὶ κατέθεντο τότε καὶ ἀνείλοντο νῦν. Οὗτοι ἔκλαυσαν μὲν ὡς πατέρος καὶ προστάτου στερούμενοι, προέπεμψαν δὲ τὴν ὑμετέραν χαρὰν τῆς ἰδίας παρακλήσεως προτιμοτέραν θέμενοι. Οἱ παραδόντες τοίνυν εὐλαβεῖς, οἱ ὑποδεξάμενοι ἀκριβεῖς. Οὐδαμοῦ ψεῦδος, οὐδαμοῦ δόλος, μαρτυροῦμεν ἡμεῖς· ἀσυκοφάντητος ἔστω παρ’ ὑμῶν ἡ ἀλήθεια.

‘(………)
Now your warm interest and zeal regarding the most blessed bishop Dionysios bear witness to all your love for the Lord, your respect for your predecessors, and your zeal for the faith. For a man’s disposition toward the loyal among his fellow-servants is directed toward the Master whom they have served, and he who honours those who have contended for the faith shows that he has an equal zeal for the faith, so that this act alone of yours bears witness to much virtue. But we are informing your Charity in Christ that the most zealous brethren who have been chosen by your Piety for the execution of the good work have first of all brought praise upon all the clergy by reason of the consistency of their character; for in the decorum that has characterised them they have revealed the steadfastness common to all. Secondly, employing all zeal and propriety, they braved an impassable winter, and persuaded the faithful guardians of the blessed body with all persistency to yield to them those things which protected their own lives. And rest assured that no human authority or coercion would ever have availed to overpower those men, had the commitment in these brethren’s behaviour not bent them to consent. But in accomplishing the object of their zeal, the presence of our most beloved and pious son Thērasios, their fellow-presbyter, contributed especially, for, after voluntarily assuming the toils of the journey, he put down the violent attacks of the faithful there, and, after persuading the refractory by his words, in the presence of presbyters and deacons and many others of those who feared the Lord, he took up the relics with becoming piety, and helped the brethren to preserve them. Receive these relics with joy as great as the grief with which their guardians have sent them on. Let no one stagger. Let no one be uncertain: this is that invincible athlete [i.e. Dionysios]; the Lord recognises these bones which shared the contest with that blessed soul; He will crown them together with it [the soul] on the just day of His requital, according to what is written: “We must stand before the judgement seat of Christ that everyone may receive according as he hath done in the body.” It was one single coffin that received that venerable body; no one else lay beside it; its burial was distinguished; the reverence it received was that of a martyr. His hosts were Christians, and with their own hands they both laid him away then and took him up now. They wept as though they were being bereft of a father and protector: but they sent him on, considering your joy of greater worth than their own consolation. So, they who surrendered him were pious; they who received him got precisely what they had been searching for. Nowhere was there deceit, nowhere fraud. We ourselves bear witness to this. Let the truth be free from all calumny on your part.’

Text: Courtonne, vol. 2 (1961), 151-152.
Translation: Deferrari, vol. 3, 95-99 (modified).
Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

Categories

Keywords

History

Evidence ID

E00776

Saint Name

Dionysius, bishop of Milan, ob. 360/362 : S00473

Saint Name in Source

Διονύσιος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

375

Evidence not after

375

Activity not before

375

Activity not after

375

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 - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of specific relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Raising of relics

Source

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. Our text forms the second half of Basil’s Letter 197 to Ambrose. The attribution of this section of the letter to Basil has been questioned by Pouchet (1992) who ascribed it to Basil’s younger brother and fellow bishop, Peter of Sebaste (bishop of Sebasteia/Sebaste in East Anatolia, c. 380-391). However, no one disputes its 4th century date. On the manuscript tradition, editions and translations of the text, see: Fedwick, P.J., Bibliotheca Basiliana Universalis. 5 vols. Vol. I (Corpus Christianorum; Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), 307-308. http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/5913/

Discussion

Our letter was apparently written to accompany the relics of Dionysius, bishop of Milan (PCBE 2, 'Dionysius 1'), which were exhumed from their resting place in Cappadocia, and transferred to Italy at the request of Ambrose of Milan. Dionysius was a bishop of Milan (c. 352-355/6), exiled from his see for staying faithful to Nicene orthodoxy. He spent the last years of his life as an ascetic in Cappadocia, and, after his death, he was revered in Milan as a symbol of resistance for the faith. Ambrose of Milan (374-397) sent a delegation of priests to Cappadocia in search for Dionysius’ remains. According to our text, the Milanese priests were warmly received in Kaisareia/Caesarea and were assisted to find the village where the exiled bishop had lived and was buried. Allegedly, the locals had already started to revere his grave as that of a holy man, and it therefore took some effort to persuade them to allow the exhumation. The exhumation and translation of the relics of Dionysius is one of the first cases of a ‘confessor’ (a cleric dying in exile or prison, or having otherwise suffered, for Orthodoxy) being promoted to a status of veneration analogous to that of a martyr. In other letters (E00773, E00777), Basil refers emphatically to the fact that several Nicene clerics died in his time as a result of violence by the ‘Arian’ authorities, and that these people should be honoured as martyrs, but this did not happen, because the persecutors were Christian rulers. Persecution and martyrdom were widely regarded by the people as a thing of the pre-Constantinian past, but, for dissidents like Basil (a Nicene bishop under the ‘Arian’ regime of Valens) this reality could re-emerge under Christian rulers siding with heresy. ‘Confessors’ would soon become a separate category of sainthood, specifically associated with clerics wronged or exiled, defending orthodoxy under Christian rule. Basil and other contemporary bishops, like Ambrose of Milan, are the first who attempted to include in the veneration of saints champions of Nicene Orthodoxy. It is remarkable that the author describes Dionysius in terms of martyrdom, employing the typical athlete metaphor normally used for martyrs (‘οὗτός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος ὁ ἀήττητος ἀθλητής/ ‘This is that invincible athlete’), and he insists that his tomb received the same honours as those of the martyrs. It is evident that the translation of Dionysius’ relics was conceived as the prelude to his cult and veneration, and it was therefore crucial to reassure their recipients about the reliability of their identification with the deceased bishop. The author offers his guarantee that: the burial was isolated and prominent, i.e. there was no possibility for the remains to have belonged to some other individual; Dionysius was buried by Christians; his grave was kept and revered by Christians; and his relics were exhumed and delivered by Christians, i.e. it was impossible that the identification had been the result of fraud by pagans. The author’s emphasis on these issues demonstrates that the veracity of bodily relics was deemed important in their cult.

Bibliography

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. Vol. 2 (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). On the authenticity of the text: Pouchet, J.R., Basile le Grand et son univers d’amis d’après sa correspondence (Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum; Rome: 1992), 515-525. 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).

Licence

Exports

Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

Categories

Keywords

Licence

Exports