The "holy Basil" is the name attached to the liturgy ascribed to this father, a title won from an admiring age by his ascetic habits and self-sacrificing labors, even more than by his defense of orthodoxy. He was born about A. D. 330 at Csesarea in Cappadocia, of wealthy and cultivated parents. The family gave to the Church three bishops, Basil and his brothers Gregory and Peter; while their sister, the saintly Macrina, and their eldest brother, Naucratius, a Christian jurist, were ornaments to the piety of the age. In Basil's childhood the family removed to Pontus, but he returned while young to Cassarea, where he received his earlier education. After intermediate study at Byzantium, his course was completed at Athens, where he took the highest rank as a scholar. Gregory Nazianzen, with whom he thus early formed a life-long friendship, says that his industry was such that he might have succeeded without talent, and that his endowments were such that he might have succeeded without great labor.
He was as yet unbaptized, and his studies were those of the Greek curriculum rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, and medicine being his favorite departments. Of the latter science he acquired the practice, a proficiency to which he was prompted by his own feeble constitution. He began active life by teaching rhetoric at Csesarea; but, through the influence of his sister Macrina, he was soon led to embrace a religious life. Being baptized and ordained as a reader, he made a trip to Egypt and Palestine, visiting the famous monks and hermits of those countries. Profoundly impressed with the spiritual value of an ascetic and contemplative life, but appreciating the loss to the world through a selfish withdrawing of men into solitude, he soon established in Pontus a convent, where the advantages of seclusion and self-denial could be coupled with the mutual aid of like-minded brethren. To this retreat he enticed his friend Gregory, and, in the little time which they there spent together, the two, in addition to their manual labors, devoted themselves to the study of Scripture and to compiling selections from the works of Origen. But Basil had entered upon the monastic life in a practical spirit, and had no thought of being content with the spiritual culture of himself or a narrow circle of friends. His evangelistic labors reached out into the provinces of Pontus and Cappadocia, and led to the establishment of many religious communities, and to the wide preaching of the gospel of unworldliness among a most worldly people. Amid this monastic work Basil did not forget other interests of the whole Church. By his writings and his personal influence he was a firm supporter of the Nicene faith, and he used this influence, though in vain, to keep the Bishop of Caesarea from subscribing to the creed of Arianism. At the death of this bishop, and the election of Eusebius, a civilian, as his successor, Basil, whose work against Eunomius had now given him prominence, seemed likely at once to have the real administration of the see confided to him. Owing to the jealousy of the bishop, this was delayed for a season; but soon the troubles arising from divisions in the Church and from Arian opposition compelled Eusebius to call for assistance, and Basil thus became the actual head of the diocese of Caesarea some years before he was made bishop in name. It was A. D. 370 when he succeeded to the chair of Eusebius, which he occupied until his death in A. D. 379; and, though in very delicate health, probably no bishop ever crowded into a shorter space so much and such good work as he accomplished in these nine years. An important part of his labors was the reforming of the clergy of his diocese, into which body would seem to have been received many incompetent and unworthy men. He also resisted, as did no other bishop in the East, the encroachments of the Arian government. Once, at the coming of Valens to Cesarea, Modestus the prefect summoned Basil to an interview, hoping to secure his submission to the faith of the Arian emperor. The bishop appeared, but confronted the officer with such firmness that he exclaimed indignantly that he had never before been addressed in such tones. "Apparently you have never before met a bishop," was the proud reply. But, if somewhat imperious in temper, he was also princely in his ideas of the beneficent work becoming a bishop. The charitable institutions which he carried on in Cesarea, the hospitals and asylums served by his monks, might well have challenged the admiration, if they did not awaken the jealousy and the emulation, of the state authorities. Happy would it have been for the Church and for the world if asceticism and monasticism had always resulted in such practical beneficence! His own example, in giving away his whole fortune in a time of famine, gave him a vantage-ground as a preacher of self-denial, and in nothing does he become more eloquent than in his appeals to the rich in behalf of the poor.
Beyond his own province his influence was mainly felt as a supporter of the orthodox faith, and a promoter of the peace of the Church. Especially did he labor to interest the bishops of the West in behalf of the confessors of the Nicene creed in the East.
Still Basil was not the defender of orthodoxy, nor the superlative preacher of his age. That he could receive such an extravagant eulogy as he received from Gregory Nazianzen; that he filled so large a place in the regard of the Church that the fathers at Chalcedon, seventy years later, could call him "the greatest of the fathers," must be attributed, not to his books nor to his sermons, but to the remarkable personality which he threw into the practical every-day work of the Church, and with which he impressed himself upon all his associates. Such was this personal impression that men far and near came to copy his individual habits. Not simply to accept Basil's opinions, but to be a Basil, was the ambition that he aroused in his contemporaries. Athanasius's greatness was due not a little to the reflex upon him of the great cause which he advocated. Basil gave greatness to an institution by becoming its champion.
WORKS UPON SCRIPTURE.
The most important of these are in the form of homilies and addresses, of which fifty-eight are now extant. The nine homilies of Basil upon the Hexameron have been deemed by some critics the finest of all his works. They explain the Scripture account literally, yet with elevation and breadth of thought and with elegance of expression. Though evincing great erudition, they are said to have been prepared hastily, and preached morning and evening during the Lenten fast. Gregory Nyssa affirms that men, women, and children of the humbler classes flocked in crowds to hear these discourses, and testified their appreciation of them by their applause. "The most simple," he says, "understood well his discourses, and the wisest admired them."
The first homily is here given almost entire:
Homily I, on the Hexameron.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."Gen. 1:1.
1. A fitting introduction for one about to set forth the system of the world is to recount before his address the beautiful order of things visible. For the creation of the heaven and the earth is about to be treated a creation which was not the work of chance, as some have imagined, but which had its origin in God. What hearing is worthy of the grandeur of the theme? With what preparation of soul ought one not to come to the hearing of so great things? He must be free from the passions of the flesh, not blinded by worldly care, toilsome, apt at inquiring into everything surrounding him whereby he may secure a worthy knowledge of God. But before noting the precision of the words, and tracing how great is the significance of these few utterances, let us consider who is discoursing to us. For, although we may not attain to the full meaning of our author, on account of the feebleness of our intellect, yet, considering the authority of the speaker, we shall be led spontaneously to consent to the things spoken. [Brief sketch of Moses' education, career, and intimate relations with God.] This, then, is he who, alike with the angels deemed worthy of beholding God face to face, speaks of the things which he heard from God. Listen, then, to the words of truth, not as speaking the persuasions of a human wisdom, but the oracles of the Holy Ghost; their aim being, not the applause of those who hear them, but the salvation of those who are instructed by them.
2. "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth." My speech pauses, from wonder at its sentiment. What shall I say first? How shall I begin my theme? Shall I speak of the vanity of those without? or shall I sing praises to our own truth? The sages of Greece have built upon nature a multitude of systems; but not one has had a strong and solid consistence, the one which follows always overthrowing the one which has preceded it. Thus we have not the work of refuting them, since they suffice one another for their own overthrow. In their ignorance of God, they did not know that an intelligent cause presided at the creation of the universe; but they paused with the order of events, as was appropriate to their ignorance of the first principle. Some took refuge in materialistic arguments, positing the cause of all things in the elements of the universe; others represented that atoms, and indivisible parts and masses, and fibers (Greek letters) contained the nature of things visible....Truly they weave spiders' webs who speak these things, who thus posit fragile and baseless foundations for heaven and sea. For they have not known how to say, "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth." Wherefore, on account of their atheism, they have deceived themselves into believing that all things are without a governor, unarranged, as if directed by chance. That we might not be influenced by which [opinion], the writer of the creation, almost in the first words, illumined our minds by the name of God. "In the beginning God made." How beautiful the order! He establishes at first a beginning, that one may not believe that the world has had no beginning. He adds immediately "made," to show that the making is the least part of the power of the Creator. Like a potter who, after having made with an equal energy a great number of vessels, has exhausted neither his art nor his power, so the sovereign Maker of the universe, to whom belongs creative power, not restricted to our world, but without bounds has fixed the greatness of things visible at what it is, solely by his own will. If, then, the world has had a beginning and has been created, seek ye who has given to it this beginning, who has been its creator. Rather, lest through inquiry by human reasoning you turn from the truth, he anticipates this by his teaching, putting forth the most honorable name of God as a seal and preservation, saying, "In the beginning God made." The blessed Nature, the Goodness without measure, the Best-Loved by all who have reason, the Beauty much desired, the Principle of all which exists, the Source of life, the Light which lightens minds, the Wisdom impenetrable He, "in the beginning, made the heaven and the earth." 3. " Heaven and earth shall pass away." The preannouncement of the dogmas concerning the end and transformation of the world had already been given in brief, in the elementary instruction of inspiration: "In the beginning God made." All things begun in time of necessity end in time....4. [Sets forth that proficiency in the human sciences, as in knowledge of the heavens, brings men into greater condemnation when they do not discern God.] 5.... There was a certain order of things older than the creation of the world, suited to the celestial powers, transcending time, eternal, perpetual. It was fitting that to this pre-existing world should be added a new world, which should be both the school and place of discipline of human souls, and in general a home suited to all who are born and who die. At the same moment with the world, and the animals and plants therein, began the procession of time, always urging and rolling on, never ceasing in its course. Is not this time, that of which the past is no more, the future is not yet, and the present escapes before it is observed? 6 and 7. [Here it is shown that the "beginning" was no part of time; and that the creation was not formal but real.] 8.... As to what is the essence of the firmament we are satisfied by what was spoken by Isaiah, who in commonplace words set forth a conception of its nature suitable for us when he said, "Who hath established the heavens as smoke,"* that is, has fixed for the constitution of the heaven a delicate nature, not solid and not crass. And as to the form, that suffices us which he said in the praise of God, "Who hath raised the heaven as an arch." ... 9. [Having spoken of a too curious inquiry into the nature of things, the author says:] But it is necessary, whether we grant that the earth rests upon itself, or say that it lies upon the water, never to recede from the pious opinion, but to confess that all things are held together by the power of the Creator. It is, indeed, fitting to say this to ourselves and to those who ask upon what the huge and overwhelming burden of the earth rests, that "in the hands of God are the deep places of the earth." This is safest for us, and is profitable for those who hear. 10. [Discusses the mediate position of the earth.] 2...From the grandeur of these sensible bodies surrounding us, we know him who is infinite, exceeding difficult to know, surpassing all thought in the plenitude of his power. For, although we are ignorant of the nature of things created, still the various objects which fall under our senses are so marvelous that the most penetrating mind comes short of so understanding the least things in the world as to do them justice, or to render worthy praise to their Creator. To whom belong glory, honor, and dominion, world without end. Amen.
* Isaiah, 51:6, Septuigent Version.
Introduction to Homily on Psalm 1.
(A preface to the study of the whole Psalter.)
The whole of Scripture is divinely inspired and useful, being written by the Holy Spirit to this end, that, as in a common surgery of souls, all men may select the medicine for their own ills: for "medicine," it is said, "assuages great sins." In some parts the prophets teach, in some the historians, in others the law, and elsewhere is given the peculiar instruction of the Proverbs. The book of Psalms unites what is useful in them all. It prophesies of things to come; it recalls to mind historic facts; it lays down the laws of life; it prescribes the things to be done; and, in a word, is a common treasury of wholesome instruction, discovering diligently that which is suitable to each. It heals the old wounds of souls, and brings a speedy cure to those but recently hurt; what is ill it relieves, what is sound it preserves. In short, it eradicates the evils in the life of men, spread skillfully under whatever form in their souls, and that by a certain winning of souls which produces chaste and sweet and wise thought. For, since the Holy Spirit saw the race of men restive toward goodness, and us heedless of the right life by reason of a proneness to pleasure, what did he do? He mingled with precepts the agreeableness of harmony, in order that through the smoothness and softness of the sound we might draw from the words that which is useful, just as wise physicians, giving their more bitter medicines to the sick to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey.... Youths either in age or disposition may think of the melody, but they instruct their minds with the truth. For no one of the easygoing multitude has passed away who has ever carried easily in his memory the apostolic and prophetic precepts, but they chant the words of the Psalms at home and sound them around the marketplace. And when any one whose soul is violently agitated at once begins to sing a psalm, he is immediately calm, having soothed the agitation of his soul by the melody.
Psalmody is the tranquillity of souls, the arbiter of peace, soothing the turbulence and violence of the thought. For it represses the passion of the soul and chastens its license. Psalmody is the bond of friendship, the union of those separated, the reconciliation of those at enmity. For who is able still to cherish enmity toward one with whom he has lifted up one voice unto God? Psalmody puts demons to flight, places us under the protection of angels, arms against nocturnal frights, rests from the fatigue of the day. It is a support to infancy, the ornament of youth, the consolation of old age, the most beautiful dress of woman. It makes deserts habitable, and moderates the forum. It is a start to those beginning, progress to those advancing, and support to those nearing the end. The language of the Church, it makes glad her festal days, it inspires the sorrow which is according to God. Psalmody draws a tear from the heart of stone. Psalmody is the work of angels, the employment of heaven, the incense of spirits. O wise invention of the teacher, who causes us at once to sing and to find out what is useful! ...What is not there to be learned? Are not firmness of courage, the perfection of justice, grave sobriety, consummate prudence, a model of penitence, a standard of patience, whatever you can mention of good? Here are a perfect theology, the prophecy of the coming of Christ in the flesh, the threatening of judgment, the hope of the resurrection, the fear of punishment, promises of glory, the revelation of mysteries. As in a great public treasury, all things are stored in the book of Psalms.
Extract from Homily on Psalm, 48.
"You had need of a Redeemer to secure the freedom which you had lost when conquered by the power of the devil, who, bringing you under his sway, would not release you from his power until, persuaded by a suitable ransom, he should choose to exchange you. It was needful, then, that the ransom should not be of the same nature with those in bonds, but should differ greatly, in order that the captive might be willingly released from bondage. Wherefore a brother could not release you. For no man is able to persuade the devil to release one once under him from his power, since none is able to make atonement for his own sins to God. How, then, could he do this for another? Seek not, therefore, thy brother for thy redemption, but some one who surpasses thy nature, and not a man, but the God-man, Jesus Christ, who alone is able to make atonement to God for us all, because 'him did God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.'...What can a man find of such value that he should offer it for the redemption of his soul? Yet one thing was found, the equivalent for all mankind, which was given as a price for the redemption of our souls, namely, the holy and precious blood of Jesus Christ, which he shed for us all. Therefore are we bought with a price....He who redeemed us, considered as to his nature, was neither our brother nor man; but, regarded as to his gracious condescension to us, he calls us brethren, and comes down to humanity."
Summary of Homily upon Baptism.
Those not baptized are still in darkness, and the Church ceases not to solicit them to come and be renewed in the sacrament of regeneration. Decide, then, to be baptized without delay. Show the seal of the child of God. The true motive for delay is a desire to indulge yourself in evil. There will be nothing to commend in giving yourself when sated with pleasure and ready to die. Life, too, is uncertain; also, one's ability to receive baptism if so delayed. It may be too late at last, and then the fires of hell!
Extract from Homily on pulling down and building greater.
"Who, then, is the miser? He who has never enough. Whom do you account a robber? He who despoils others? You would not be a miser, a robber? you who appropriate to yourselves what you have received only to dispense! You would call a robber him who strips from the clothed his dress; but does he, who, being able, does not give to one who is in want, merit any other name? The bread which you hold back is his who is hungry; the clothing which you keep in your closets is his who is naked; the shoes which you let rot are his who is unshod; that gold which you bury is his who has none. So that you do wrong just so far as you allow tears."
Basil's Confession of Faith: in Homily upon Faith.
"We believe in and we confess that there is one God, sole principle of all good, Father all-powerful, author of all things, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, also God. And [we believe in] his one only Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, alone true, by whom all things have been made, whether visible or invisible, and in whom all subsist; who in the beginning was with God and was God, and afterward was seen upon earth and lived among men, according to the Scriptures; who, having the form of God, did not think it a prize for himself to be equal to God, but emptied himself; and by birth from a virgin took the form of a servant, and, becoming a man in likeness, accomplished all which had been written concerning him, in accordance with the will of the Father, being made obedient unto death, the death of the cross. And after being raised from the dead the third day, according to the Scriptures, he was seen by his faithful disciples and others, as it was written. And he ascended into the heavens and is seated at the right hand of the Father, whence he will come at the end of this age, to judge the dead, and to render to each one according to his works; when the just will enter into eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, and the wicked will be reserved to an eternal punishment where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched. And [we believe in] one only Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, by whom we have been sealed for the day of redemption, the Spirit of unity, the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry Abba, Father; who determines according to his own will, and distributes to each one the gifts of God according to their utility; who teaches us and suggests to us all things whatsoever he hears from the Son; who is good, and who directs us into all truth; and confirms all believers in a certain knowledge and an accurate confession, and a pious worship, and a spiritual and true adoration of God the Father and of his only-begotten Son, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and of himself."
Extract from Address to Young Men on reading the Profane Authors.
[After citing the examples of Moses and Daniel, it continues:] "It is sufficiently proved that this pagan learning is not without use to the soul. Consequently, we now say in what manner it is needful for you to share in it. First, to commence with the works of the poets, as they offer discourses of every kind, the mind is not to fix upon all things in their order. When they show you a good man, whether they recount his actions or his words, it is necessary to love him, to take him for a model, and to make all effort to resemble him. Do they offer the example of a bad man? It is necessary to shun the imitating of such, shutting your ears, as they say that Ulysses did, so as not to hear the songs of the sirens. For the habit of hearing words contrary to virtue leads to the practice of vice. It is necessary, then, to watch incessantly in guarding our souls, lest that, charmed by the attraction of the words, we receive in our ignorance some bad impressions, and with the honey introduce into our bosoms poisonous fluids. Thus, we do not approve the poets when they put into the mouths of their characters revilings and sarcasm, when they depict love or drunkenness, or when they make happiness to consist in a table well served and effeminate songs. Still less should we listen to them discoursing of their gods....I am able to say as much of the historians. As to the orators, we should keep ourselves from imitating their art of lying: for falsehood can never become us, neither in the tribunal nor in anything us, who have chosen the true and right way of life. But we should collect carefully the recitals of these authors when we see there the praise of virtue or the condemnation of vice. We rejoice only in the perfume and the colors of flowers, while the bees know how to find in them honey: so those who are not content to seek for the agreeable and the seducing in the works of the pagans, are able even to find in them treasures for the soul."
This work, in five books, was written in refutation of the "Apology of Eunomius," which was a defense of Arian doctrines. It has in part the form of a dialogue between Basil and Eunomius, and was deemed by the ancients one of the most valuable of the controversial works of the Church.
Book on the Holy Spirit.
This work was composed upon complaints being made that Basil held unorthodox views as to the Holy Spirit, since he closed his sermons with the words "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, with the Holy Spirit." The expression "of whom," says Basil, which should be applied to the Holy Spirit as to the Son, denotes the efficient cause. The Holy Spirit is in no wise inferior to the Father. The judgment of the Church with regard to the Holy Spirit is received by tradition, and is in accord with the Scriptures. The Spirit is a person eternal, infinite, unchangeable, who perfects and strengthens us and gives us life. That the Holy Ghost is to be joined with the Father and the Son is established by the formula of baptism. Certain objections, however, are made to this assertion, but we answer 1. That baptism is sometimes performed in the name of Christ alone does not militate against our truth, since the name of Jesus Christ denotes the whole Trinity. The ordinance, however, ought not to be performed in the name of Christ alone. 2. The Holy Spirit is joined with the Father and the Son, in Scripture, in a far different sense from that in which the angels are so joined. 3. To the assertion that the Scripture speaks of baptism into Moses, we reply that such baptism was only typical. Another sophism of the heretics is that we are baptized in water, which, however, is not honored as divine. This is ridiculous; the water does not baptize us, but the Spirit; the water is joined with the Spirit as the sign of the death and burial of the old man, but it is the Spirit who gives new life. Baptism is administered by dipping three times into the water, and by invoking the Trinity three times. The baptism of Jesus Christ is very different from that of John, which was truly only a baptism of water, whereas the baptism of Christ is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. Besides, the martyrs who have suffered death for Jesus Christ have not needed the baptism of water in order to receive their crowns, being baptized in their own blood. Further, the Spirit is to be joined to the Father and Son as an equal. [The proof of this is given by the rules of logic.] The same glory and praise and honor are to be accorded to the Spirit as to the Father and Son. Some contend that the Holy Spirit is neither a Lord nor a servant, but that he is free. This opinion is absurd, since he either is a creature or he is not. If not, then he is God or Lord; if he is, then he is a servant. He is called Lord in the holy Scriptures, which also prove his divinity. [Many testimonies are cited.] The miracles attributed to the Holy Spirit prove him God. The expression, "Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit," means nothing else but Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The fathers simply used the particle "with" as the most proper to oppose the errors of Arius and Sabellius. [The author says, however, that he is not tied up to that expression, provided all be willing to accord glory to the Holy Spirit] The particles "in" and "with" are distinguished. It is once more objected that we ought to receive nothing but what is in Scripture, whereas the words "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit" are not found there. But we have some very common practices in the Church which are supported solely by tradition, by the use of which, in addition to the Scriptures, our holy mysteries are preserved. Both these authorities have equal power for the promotion of piety. [Examples of the usages established by tradition are cited, among them the making of the sign of the cross upon those who hope in the name of Jesus Christ, and the formulas for consecrating the bread and wine of the eucharist.] This position is supported by citing the usage of Irenseus, Clement of Rome, the two Dionysii (of Rome and Alexandria), Eusebius, Origen, Africanus, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Firmilian, and Melitius, as well as the prayers of the Church, and the consent of the Eastern and Western Churches.
The Church in her present unhappy condition is like a naval fleet tossed by a tempest during a battle, and obliged to struggle at once with the waves and with furious enemies.
(1.) "Let us explain what are our ideas concerning the Spirit; as well those gathered from Scripture as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the fathers. Who, then, but is elevated in soul when he hears the very name of the Spirit, and seizes upon thoughts of the highest nature? He is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, the right Spirit, the ruling Spirit. Holy Spirit is his leading and distinctive title....Impossible, then, that he who hears of the Spirit should picture in his mind a circumscribed nature subject to change or alteration, or in any way like to a creature; but, soaring to the highest thought, he must conceive a rational substance, boundless in power, unlimited in greatness, immeasurable by time or by aeons, bountiful in his good gifts; unto whom all things turn when they need holiness, whom all things long after that live according to virtue....Perfecting all others, himself wanting in nothing, not living himself by removal but the giver of life; not growing by accessions, but at once complete, stablished in himself and existing everywhere. The source of holiness; the intellectual light; giving to every rational power a certain enlightenment from himself for the discovery of truth. By nature unapproachable; comprehensible by his own graciousness. Filling all things by his power, yet communicable to the worthy alone. Not communicated to all in the same measure, but distributing his energy according to the proportion of faith. Uncompounded in his essence; various in his powers. Wholly present to each, and wholly present everywhere. Divided without passion; being shared, yet remaining whole, like a ray of the sun, whose favor to him who enjoys it is as if to him alone, but which shines over land and sea, and is diffused into the air. Even so the Holy Spirit, while he is wholly present to every one capable of receiving him, infuses into all a grace complete and sufficient, so that partakers enjoy him according to the measure of their ability, not of his power....Cleansed, then, from the disgrace which through wickedness has defiled, and turned back to what is by nature good, and having, like a royal image, stripped off the old appearance through cleansing, so alone it is that one "approaches the Paraclete....He shines upon such as are purged of all stain, and makes them spiritual through communion with himself. And as clear, transparent bodies, touched by the sun, become glowing, and send forth from themselves another splendor, so Spirit-bearing souls, illumined by the Spirit, become themselves spiritual, and transmit grace to others. Hence the foreknowledge of things to come, the comprehension of mysteries, the discovery of secrets, the diffusion of gifts, the heavenly citizenship, the choral song with angels, the everlasting joy, the perseverance in God, the likeness to God, then the goal of all desires to become God."(Cap. 9, secs. 22, 23.)
To trace Basil's correspondence fully would be to write the history of the Church in his day, to fathom its controversies, to point out its secret and open enemies, and to detail the unhappy relations of the East and the West. We must be content with extracts from a few of his three hundred and sixty extant letters.
From Reply to Gregory Nazianzen.
[Gregory had written to inquire about Basil's manner of life in his monastic retreat.]
"I am ashamed to write. For, although I have left behind me the diversions of the city as the cause of innumerable evils, I have not yet been able to leave myself. I am like those voyagers who are not accustomed to the sea; the motion of the vessel which bears them gives them an unendurable sickness; for, on quitting the land, they have not left upon shore the bile and the humors with which their stomachs are surcharged. That is precisely my case. So long as we bear about the germs of disease, we are everywhere subject to like disturbances. I have not found great fruits in my solitude. But what we are to do, and how we are to begin to be firm in the footsteps of him who has pointed out the way of salvation for he said, 'If any one will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me' is this: We must try to have a peaceful spirit. [Being ensnared by the world,] The only escape is separation from worldly things. What I call flying from the world is not merely to separate one's self from it in body, but to detach all one's affections; to be without country, home, business, society, property; to be poor, unoccupied, unsociable, untaught in human sciences, prepared to receive in the heart the canons which spring from the divine teachings. Now, for this, it is necessary to begin by destroying in one's mind all anterior prejudice. You can not impress upon wax new characters until after you have effaced the old: so divine instruction can not have place in a heart preoccupied by all the ideas which come from one's habits. To this end the desert is of the greatest benefit to us, soothing our passions and giving the reason the calm necessary for altogether rooting them out from the soul. For as wild animals, being stroked down, are easily controlled, so the lusts and passions and fears and pains, the venomous evils of the soul, soothed by quietude, and not exaggerated by continual rousing, are easily restrained by the power of the mind. The place should be such as this, far from all intercourse with human beings, where the pious exercises of the religious life are not interrupted by anything without. The exercise of piety feeds the soul with divine reflections. What, then, is more blessed than to imitate upon earth the life of the angels: to rise at dawn to prayer and to the praise of the Creator in hymns and songs; then as the sun shines clearly, and work is undertaken, prayer going side by side with it, to season the labors with hymns as with salt? For the consolation of hymns confers a cheerful and untroubled state of the soul. Quiet, then, is the beginning of the cleansing of the soul; the tongue not uttering the things of men, the eyes not beholding the fine complexions and symmetry of bodies, the hearing not breaking down the strength of the soul through melodious strains conducive to pleasure, nor through the words of facetious and jesting men, which especially have the effect of impairing the vigor of the soul. For, not dissipated by things without, and not called away by the visible things of the world, the soul turns back upon itself; it elevates itself by its own efforts to the thought of God. Enlightened by his beauty, it forgets its own nature; it is not anxious, then, about food, is not weighed down by care for dress. Disengaged from earthly anxieties, it gives over its entire being to the possession of immortal good, whereby it may continually maintain self-control, manly vigor, righteousness, prudence, and the other virtues of this sort everything which makes for life, and leads one into the right way.
"To know well the path of duty, a most effectual way is to meditate upon our God-given Scripture....After the lesson comes prayer, and occupies the soul filled with new strength and power, and stirred with a longing for God. Prayer is effectual to awaken in the soul a clear apprehension of God. And therein consists the dwelling of God in us, that we have God enthroned in us by thought. Thus we become a temple of God when constant reflection is not interrupted by worldly cares, and the spirit is not disturbed by sudden desires; but when he who loves God flies all, and devotes himself to God who drives away the bad inclinations which lead him to intemperance, and employs himself in works which lead to virtue."
From Letter to Bishop Amphilochius.
"Indicate to me the suitable time and the place in which we may bring together our brothers with ourselves, that we may take proper measures for the government of the Church according to the ancient discipline; also, for seeking to unite the brethren whom different opinions have divided. Let us treat them and receive them as if they were of our party and our friends. For it was once the glory of the Church that the faithful went from one end of the earth to the other, with short letters of recommendation instead of traveling-money, finding in each church their fathers and their brothers. The enemy of Jesus Christ has deprived the Church of this advantage as well as of several others. We are limited to our city. Every one holds his neighbor in suspicion. Whence is the cause of this, if not that we have suffered our love to grow cold, by which alone, according to the judgment of our Lord, we may, as by a seal, recognize his disciples? "
To the Western Bishops.
"We implore you to give your attention, and to abandon yourselves without a moment's delay, to the zeal which love should inspire in you. Do not excuse yourselves by reason of the distance, of your domestic affairs, or of any other pretext. It is not one or two churches alone which are exposed to this furious tempest; heresy spreads itself from the confines of Illyria to the Thebaid. The infamous Arius sowed the first seeds of it; it has been strengthened by multitudes who have sustained his impiety with ardor, and we see now its fatal fruits. The dogmas of the holy doctrines are abolished, the unity of the Church is destroyed, the passion of ruling has seized upon the souls of those who fear not God, and the bishoprics are abandoned to them as the price of their impiety. He who has spoken most horrible blasphemies surpasses all his competitors, by the suffrage of the people; we no longer see marks of sacerdotal gravity; there are no longer pastors who have sufficient learning to instruct and feed the flock of the Lord; and the ambitious have converted to their own uses the alms designed for the subsistence of the poor. The exact following of the canons no longer obtains; sin is committed with impunity, with great license. Judgment is no longer given with equity: each one follows the movement of his own corrupt desires. Those who administer public offices do not dare to speak, because they are slaves to those who have procured the offices for them. A species of warfare is made upon those who follow the good doctrine, and men cover under the veil of an apparent piety the hatred which they have in the heart. You have heard of what has been seen in several cities: men, women, children, old men, remaining faithful, are thrust without the walls of the city, and there offer their prayers and suffer with an incredible courage all the injuries of the open air, awaiting the help of the Lord....Send us the most that you can of your brothers; that the number may be sufficient to constitute a legitimate synod; and that the merit of the envoys may contribute to re-establish the faith, by renewing that which the fathers of the Nicene Council ordained, and by cutting up entirely the root of heresy. It is the means of restoring peace to the Church, and of bringing in those who have cut themselves off by a diversity of opinion."
No works of Basil have exerted a more powerful influence upon the development of the Church than his ascetic writings. Besides some preliminary discourses, there are:
1. The Ethics.
This is a body of rules of morality drawn from the Scriptures. The rules are eighty in number, each divided into chapters, and each chapter substantiated by quotations from the New Testament. As a reason for so basing his ethics, he alleges that "whatever is outside of inspired Scripture, being not of faith, is sin." Rule seventy is a body of laws for the conduct of the minister of the Word. That it embodies so faithfully the permanent principle of ministerial labor is sufficient reason for giving it in full.
Rule for those intrusted with the Word.
1. Those who take into their care the preaching of the gospel ought, with prayer and supplication, to appoint, whether as deacons or presbyters, those of a previously blameless life.Matt. 9:37, 38; Luke 6:13-16; 10:1, 2; Acts 1:1, 2, 23-26; 1 Tim. 3:1-10; Titus 1:5-9.
2. Ordinations should not be matters of ease, nor should they be yielded to inconsiderately: for the unproved is not without danger. And one detecting any one in wrong-doing should make it known, lest he be himself a sharer in the sin, and that others be not offended, but rather learn to fear. 1 Tim. 5:22, 19, 20.
3. It is not fitting that he who is called come to the work of preaching of himself; but he should await the time of God's approval, and begin preaching when he is intrusted, and preach to those to whom he is sent. Matt. 10:5, 6; 15:22-24; John 8:42; Acts 11:19, 20; Rom. 1:1; 10:14, 15; 1 Tim. 1:1, 2.
4. He who is called to the preaching of the gospel ought to obey immediately and not to procrastinate. Luke 9:59, 60; Gal. 1:15-17.
5. It is not right to teach heresies. John 10:1, 2,7, 8; Gal. 1:8, 9; 1 Tim. 6:3, 4.
6. It is right to teach believers all things commanded by the Lord, in the gospel and through the apostles, and whatever is consonant therewith. Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 16:4; 1 Tim. 6:2; Titus 2:1.
7. If any one intrusted with the Word of the Lord's teaching is silent as to anything necessary to the well-pleasing of God, he is guilty of the blood of such as are endangered, either by the doing of what is forbidden or by the omission of what ought to be done. Luke 11:52; Acts 18:5, 6; 20:26, 27.
8. In regard to what is not expressly enjoined by Scripture, it is necessary for each one to teach that which is best. Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:25-27.
9. It is not permitted to lay upon others the necessity of doing what one does not himself perform. Luke 11:46.
10. One appointed to the Word should give an example of all good to others, performing first what he teaches. Matt. 11:28, 29; John 13:12-15; Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 4:12.
11. One appointed to the Word should not be content with what is right of itself; but the peculiar and chosen work of his profession is to see the betterment of believers. Matt. 5:13; John 6:37-40; 1 Thes. 2:19.
12. One appointed to the Word ought to visit all the cities and villages intrusted to him. Matt. 4:23; Luke 8:1.
13. It is necessary to summon all to the obedience of the gospel, and to preach the Word with all boldness, although some may forbid and may pursue even unto death. Matt. 10:27, 28; 22:8, 9; John 18:20; Acts 5:27-29; 20:23, 24; 1 Thes. 2:1, 2.
14. It is right to pray for the progress of believers, and to give thanks for the same. John 17:20, 21, 24; Luke 10:21; Rom. 1:8, 9; Philip, 1:8-11.
15. Those things which are done rightly by the grace of God should be made known to others to the glory of God. Luke 9:10; Acts 14:26; Eph. 6:21, 22.
16. It is necessary to have the care not only of those present, but also of those absent, and to do all things as the wants of the structure may require. John 10:16; 1 Thes. 3:1, 2.
17. We must give heed to those who summon us to good deeds. Matt. 9:18, 19; Acts 9:38.
18. It is necessary to establish those who have received the word of truth by visitation. Acts 15:36; 1 Thes. 2:17, 18; 3:1-3.
19. It belongs to him who loves the Lord, in great charity toward those who are taught, with much zeal to train them in every way; although it be needful to persevere in teaching publicly and privately even unto death. John 10:11; 21:15-17; Acts 20:7, 2:20, 21, 31; 1 Thes. 2:9.
20. He who is intrusted with the Word should be merciful and compassionate, and especially toward the souls of those who are evil-disposed. Matt. 9:11-13, 36.
21. It is fitting to think compassionately even of the bodily wants of believers, and to care about them. Matt. 15:52; Mark 1:40, 41; Acts 6:1-3.
22. One intrusted with the WoVd should not be zealous to work with his own hands upon trifles, to the neglect of a fit attention to greater affairs. Acts 6:2, 4.
23. It is not right fo try to win applause or to seek to make gain of the word of teaching by the flattery of the hearers, to the assurance of their pleasure or profit; but to beseech or speak unto the glory of God for his own sake. Matt. 23:5-10; John 7:16-18; 2 Cor. 2:17; 1 Thes. 2:3-6.
24. One intrusted with the Word should not exercise his authority insolently toward those under him, nor be arrogant toward them; but ought rather to use his rank as the opportunity for lowli-mindedness toward them. Matt. 24:45-51; John 13:13, 14; Luke 22:24-26; Acts 20:17-19; 2 Cor. 11:19-21.
25. It is not right to preach the gospel through strife, or envy, or rivalry toward any. Matt. 12:18, 19; Philip. 1:15-17.
26. It is not proper to employ worldly advantages for the preaching of the gospel, lest by them the grace of God be obscured. Matt. 11:25; 1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5.
27. It ought not to be thought that the success of preaching is effected by our own talents, but that the whole is wrought by God. 2 Cor. 3:4-6; 4:7.
28. It is not proper for one who has been intrusted with the preaching of the gospel to acquire possessions beyond what is necessary for his own use. Matt. 10:9, 10; Luke 9:3; Acts 20:33; 2 Tim. 2:4.
29. One should not give himself solicitude for the worldly affairs of those who are busy with too much care for these things. Luke 12:13, 14; 2 Tim. 2:4.
30. Those who through obsequiousness to their hearers neglect to speak freely the will of God, making themselves servants of those whom they wish to please, fall from their service of the Lord. John 5:44; Gal. 1:10.
31. The teacher should propose as his object to train all to a full manhood, according to the measures of the statures of the fullness of Christ, and each one in his own order. Matt. 5:48; John 17:20, 21; Eph. 4:11-13.
32. Opposers should be instructed with forbearance and meekness, expecting their repentance, until the full measure of effort for them is filled up, Matt. 12:19, 20; 2 Tim. 2:24-26.
33. It is right to yield to those who, through fear or reverence, seek excuse from the presence of the preacher of the Word; and not to urge contentiously. Luke 8:37.
34. It is proper to withdraw from those who, through obstinacy, do not receive the preaching of the gospel, and not to suffer ourselves to be benefited by them in things requisite for bodily wants. Matt. 10:14; Luke 10:10, 11; Acts 18:5, 6.
35. After completing all manner of effort in behalf of the disbelieving, it is proper to withdraw from them. Matt. 23:37, 38; Acts 13:46, 47; Titus 3:10, 11.
36. In all things, and toward all, it is necessary to preserve the literalness of the Lord's words, lest one's action be biased. 1 Tim. 5:21.
37. He who is appointed to the Word should say and do each thing with circumspection and much consideration, according to the standard of what is well pleasing to God; as bound both to be considerate of the believers and to bear witness. Acts 20:18, 19, 33, 34; 1 Thes. 2:10.
2. The [Monastic] Rules in extenso.
These are fifty-five in number, arranged in the form of question and answer, each response being a little treatise upon some theological or practical question. Query two, for example, is, Concerning love toward God, and as to the natural inclination and ability in men to obey the commands of the Lord. Query nine is, Whether necessity is laid upon those who are devoted to the Lord to give over their goods, without distinction, to the ungrateful among their relatives.
3. The [Monastic] Rules in Epitome.
These, too, are in the form of question and answer, being 313 in number, but individually briefer than the Great Rules. The following extract is from Rule 267:
Extract concerning Future Punishment.
The question is upon the beating with few or many stripes. "Those things which seem to have been expressed ambiguously and obscurely in some parts of the inspired Scriptures are to be explained by acknowledged principles found in other places. When, therefore, the Lord once declared that 'these should go away into eternal punishment prepared for the devil and his angels'; and elsewhere, speaking of the hell of fire, added, 'Where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched "...while these and similar expressions occur many times in the inspired Scriptures, this is one of the artifices of the devil, that most men, as if forgetting such words and sentiments of the Lord and so many of them, may prescribe an end to punishment, to their presumption in sin. For, if once there is an end to the punishment of eternity, eternal life also will no doubt end. But, if we may not endure to think this of life, what reason is there for putting an end to eternal punishment? For the addition, (Greek letters) belongs alike to both. For 'these,' it says, 'shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.' Since, then, things are confessedly so, it must be certain that 'to beat with many' and 'to beat with few ' indicate not a cessation but a difference of punishment."
The above conception of punishment as unending is used by Basil with great rigor in his sermons and in his letters to transgressors.
4. Canons on Monastic Penalties.
5. Monastic Constitutions.
A work upon the principle which should govern the lives of ascetics, as well those who dwell alone as those who live in communities.
Principal Extant Works of Basil.
HOMILETICAL: Nine homilies upon the Hexameron; two upon the "Creation of Man"; one upon "Paradise"; twenty-two upon "The Psalms"; twenty-four homilies and addresses upon various subjects. DOGMATICAL: "Against Eunomius"; "On the Holy Spirit." EXEGETICAL: "Commentary on first sixteen chapters of Isaiah." EPISTOLARY: 365 letters. ASCETICAL: The works mentioned in the text under this head. CANONICAL: A letter to Amphilochius, laying down eighty-five canons of Church discipline.
LITURGICAL: The Eastern Church still uses a liturgy known as the "Liturgy of the Holy Basil." What part of this is from the hand of Basil it is now impossible to tell; but there can be little doubt that it corresponds in part with a form of service prepared by this father.
Go to the Tables of Contents of The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers
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