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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Basil of Caesarea, in his Letter 207 of 375, to the clergy of Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea in Pontus Polemoniacus (northern Asia Minor), defends himself against accusations of innovations contrary to the ecclesiastical traditions allegedly established by *Gregory the Miracle-Worker (bishop of Neocaesarea, S00687). Written in Greek at Kaisareia/Caesarea of Cappadocia (central Asia Minor)

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters

Major author/Major anonymous work

Basil of Caesarea

Basil of Caesarea, Letters (CPG 2900), Letter 207

‘To the clerics of Neokaisareia’


Basil replies to his opponents in the clergy of Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea, warning them that the teachings of Markellos of Ankyra on the Holy Spirit are practically a revival of the old heresy of Sabellianism, and a denial of the Trinity. Basil also rejects accusations by the Neocaesareans for introducing innovations like monasticism and novel liturgical practices. His opponents claim that these customs are alien to the local tradition and that they were unknown in the age of *Gregory the Miracle-Worker. Basil rejects these claims as non-provable, and warns the Neocaesareans that by rejecting these practices, they risk alienating themselves from all the churches of south Anatolia, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, where all these things are widely accepted and practiced. Besides, he reminds them that some of their own customs were unknown in the times of Gregory. These include a certain form of litany, which Basil acknowledges as harmless, if novel, and the practice of men covering their heads during worship, which he criticises as opposing the apostolic prohibition (1 Corinthians 11: 4, 11: 7). Furthermore, Basil reproaches the Neocaesareans for taking oaths, for abuse, wrath, bitterness, envy, pride, lies, all of which are great sins, completely alien to the pure spirit of Gregory, whose authority they invoke.

Text: Courtonne, vol. 2, 183-188.
Translation: De Ferrari, vol. 3, 190-193.

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of a community
Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

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 letter, see:

Fedwick, P.J.,
Bibliotheca Basiliana Universalis. 5 vols. Vol. I (Corpus Christianorum; Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), 511-512.


This text provides an interesting testimony for the rise of Gregory the Miracle-Worker to the status of the founding father of the church of North Anatolia, being ascribed with great importance in the local ecclesiastical tradition and identity.

This is the second letter addressed by Basil to his native town of Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea in Pontus, by which he defends himself against accusations that he has deviated from the traditions of the local church. Basil was apparently accused of altering tradition by introducing monasticism, antiphonal singing, new styles of chanting, and nocturnal vigils, which were apparently popular in Kaisareia/Caesarea and south Anatolia, but opposed in the north. It seems that claims arose in Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea that these practices were unknown in the times of *Gregory the Miracle-Worker. Basil replies that there were no witnesses for that, and returns the reproach to the Neocaesareans for covering their heads during worship, contrary to the ancient custom and the apostolic prohibition (1 Corinthians, 11.4; 11.7).


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 2 (186‒368) (Fathers of the Church 28; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1955).

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).

Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00687Gregory the Miracle-Worker (Thaumatourgos), bishop and missionary in Pontus, ob. c. 270ΓρηγόριοςCertain

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