Basil of Caesarea
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Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great , was the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian and monastic. Theologically, Basil was a supporter of the Nicene faction of the church, in opposition to the Arians on one side and the Apollinarians on the other. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.
In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer and manual labor. Together with Saint Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity. He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity.
Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, and Basil's brother Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of Great Hierarch, while the Roman Catholic Church has named him a Doctor of the Church. He is also referred to as "the revealer of heavenly mysteries" (Ouranophantor).
Early life and education
Basil was born into the wealthy family of Basil the Elder, a famous rhetor, and Emelia around 330 in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia . It was a large household, consisting of ten children, the parents, and Basil's grandmother, Macrina the Elder. His parents were known for their piety,Oratio 43.4, PG 36. 500B, tr. p.30, as presented in Rousseau (1994), p.4. and his maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine I's conversion. Four of Basil's siblings are known by name, and considered to be saints by various Christian traditions. His older sister Macrina the Younger was a well-known nun. His older brother Peter served as bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and wrote a few well-known theological treatises. His brother Naucratius was an anchorite, and inspired much of Basil's theological work. Perhaps the most influential of Basil's siblings was his younger brother Gregory. Gregory was appointed by Basil to be the bishop of Nyssa, and he produced a number of writings defending Nicene theology and describing the life of early Christian monastics.
Shortly after Basil's birth, the family moved to the estate of his grandmother Macrina, in the region of Pontus. There, Basil was educated in the home by his father and grandmother. He was greatly influenced by the elder Macrina, who herself was a student of Gregory Thaumaturgus. Following the death of his father during his teenage years, Basil returned to Caesarea in Cappadocia around 350-51 to begin his formal education. There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend. Together, Basil and Gregory went on to study in Constantinople, where they would have listened to the lectures of Libanius. Finally, the two spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the emperor Julian the Apostate. It was at Athens that he began to first think about living a life focused on Christian principles.
Returning from Athens around 355, Basil briefly practiced law and taught rhetoric in Caesarea. A year later, Basil's life would change radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic.
Basil soon abandoned his legal and teaching professions in order to devote his life to God. Describing his spiritual awakening in a letter, Basil said:
After receiving the sacrament of baptism, Basil traveled in 357 to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism.Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th ed.) vol. 1, p. 938. While impressed by the piety of the ascetics, the ideal of solitary life held little appeal to him. Rather, he turned his attention toward communal religious life. After dividing his fortunes among the poor he went briefly into solitude near Neocaesaria on the Iris. Basil soon ventured out of this solitude, and by 358 he was gathering around him a group of like-mided disciples, including his brother Peter. Together they founded a monastic settlement on his family estate at Arnesi in Pontus. Joining him there were his mother Emelia, then widowed, his sister Macrina and several other women, gave themselves to a pious life of prayer and charitable works. Eustathius of Sebaste had already labored in Pontus in behalf of the anchoretic life, and Basil revered him on that account, although they differed over dogmatic points, which gradually separated the two.
It was here that Basil wrote his works regarding monastic communal life, which are accounted as being pivotal in the development of the monastic tradition of the Eastern Church and have led to his being called the "father of Eastern communal monasticism".Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0140513124. In 358 he wrote to his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus, asking Gregory to join him in Arnesi. Gregory eventually agreed to come; together, they collaborated on the production of the production of the Philocalia, an anthology drawn from Origen. Gregory then decided to return to his family in Nazianzus.
Basil attended the Council of Constantinople in 360. It was here that he first sided with the Homoiousians, a semi-Arian faction who taught that the Son was of like substance with the Father, neither the same (one substance) nor different from him. Its members included Eustathius, Basil's mentor in asceticism. The Homoiousians opposed the Arianism of Eunomius but refused to join with the supporters of the Nicene Creed, who professed that the members of the Trinity were of one substance ("homoousios"). This stance put him at odds with his bishop, Dianius of Caesarea, who had subscribed only to the earlier Nicene form of agreement. Some years later Basil abandoned the Homoiousians, emerging instead as a supporter of the Nicene Creed.
In 362 Basil was ordained a deacon by Bishop Meletius of Antioch. He was summoned by Eusebius to his city, and was ordained presbyter of the Church there in 365. His ordination was probably the result of the entreaties of his ecclesiastical superiors, who wished to use his talents against the Arians, who were numerous in that part of the country and were favored by the Arian emperor, Valens, who then reigned in Constantinople.
Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the Arian heresy, which threatened to divide the region of Cappadocia. The two friends then entered a period of close fraternal cooperation as they participated in a great rhetorical contest of the Caesarean church precipitated by the arrival of accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors. In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant. This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the church. Basil next took on functional administration of the Diocese of Caesarea.Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude. Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return. Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the diocese for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius.
In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated bishop on June 14, 370. His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of exarch of Pontus and metropolitan of five suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor. It was then that his great powers were called into action. Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese.
His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes. They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders. He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice. At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations. In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was regarded at the time as one of the wonders of the world.
His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth. The Emperor Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction. Basil's adamant response in the negative prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before. Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil. Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence. He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded. Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad. This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church.
Basil then had to face the growing spread of Arianism. This belief system, which denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church. Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians. The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the Holy Spirit. Although Basil advocated objectively the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and Athanasius defended him. He maintained a relationship with Eustathius despite dogmatic differences. On the other hand, Basil was grievously offended by the extreme adherents of Homoousianism, who seemed to him to be reviving the Sabellian heresy.
Basil corresponded with Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn heresy wherever found, both East and West. The Pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness. It is still a point of controversy over how much he believed the Roman See could do for the Churches in the East, as many Roman Catholic theologians claim the primacy of the Roman bishopric over the rest of the Churches, both in doctrine and in authoritative strength.
He did not live to see the end of the factional disturbances and the complete success of his continued exertions in behalf of the Church. He suffered from liver illness and his excessive asceticism seems to have hastened him to an early death. A lasting monument of his episcopal care for the poor was the great institute before the gates of Caesarea, which was used as poorhouse, hospital, and hospice.
The principal theological writings of Basil are his On the Holy Spirit, a lucid and edifying appeal to Scripture and early Christian tradition (to prove the divinity of the Holy Spirit), and his Refutation of the Apology of the Impious Eunomius, written in 363 or 364, three books against Eunomius of Cyzicus, the chief exponent of Anomoian Arianism. The first three books of the Refutation are his work; the fourth and fifth books that are usually included do not belong to Basil, or to Apollinaris of Laodicea, but probably to Didymus "the Blind" of Alexandria.
He was a famous preacher, and many of his homilies, including a series of Lenten lectures on the Hexaemeron (the Six Days of Creation), and an exposition of the psalter, have been preserved. Some, like that against usury and that on the famine in 368, are valuable for the history of morals; others illustrate the honor paid to martyrs and relics; the address to young men on the study of classical literature shows that Basil was lastingly influenced by his own education, which taught him to appreciate the importance of the classics.
In his exegesis Basil tended to interpret Scripture literallyfollowing more the Antiochian schoolrather than allegorically as Origen and the Alexandrian school had done. Concerning this, he wrote:
"I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those, truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own end.". Cf. Hexameron, 3.9 .
His ascetic tendencies are exhibited in the Moralia and Asketika (sometimes mistranslated as Rules of St. Basil), ethical manuals for use in the world and the cloister, respectively. Of the two works known as the Greater Asketikon and the Lesser Asketikon, the shorter is the one most probably his work.
It is in the ethical manuals and moral sermons that the practical aspects of his theoretical theology are illustrated. So, for example, it is in his Sermon to the Lazicans that we find St. Basil explaining how it is our common nature that obliges us to treat our neighbor's natural needs as our own, even though he is a separate individual. Later theologians explicitly explain this as an example of how the saints become an image of the one common nature of the persons of the Trinity.
His three hundred letters reveal a rich and observant nature, which, despite the troubles of ill-health and ecclesiastical unrest, remained optimistic, tender and even playful. His principal efforts as a reformer were directed towards the improvement of the liturgy, and the reformation of the monastic institutions of the East.
Most of his extant works, and a few spuriously attributed to him, are available in the Patrologia Graecae, which includes Latin translations of varying quality. Several of St. Basil's works have appeared in the late twentieth century in the Sources Chretiennes collection. No critical edition is yet available.
St Basil of Caesarea holds a very important place in the history of Christian liturgy, coming as he did at the end of the age of persecution. At this time, liturgical prayers were transitioning from being extemporaneous or memorized into written formulas, and liturgy began to be influenced by court ritual. Basil's liturgical influence is well attested in early sources. Though it is difficult at this time to know exactly which parts of the Divine Liturgies which bear his name are actually his work, a vast corpus of prayers attributed to him has survived in the various Eastern Christian churches. Tradition also credits Basil with the elevation of the iconostasis to its present height.
Most of the liturgies bearing the name of Basil are not entirely his work in their present form, but they nevertheless preserve a recollection of Basil's activity in this field in formularizing liturgical prayers and promoting church-song. Patristocs scholars conclude that the Liturgy of Saint Basil "bears, unmistakably, the personal hand, pen, mind and heart of St. Bail the Great."
One liturgy that can be attributed to him is The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, a liturgy that is somewhat longer than the more commonly used Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The difference between the two is primarily in the silent prayers said by the priest, and in the use of the hymn to the Theotokos, All of Creation, instead of the Axion Estin of Saint John Chrysostom's Liturgy. Chrysostom's Liturgy has come to replace Saint Basil's on most days in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic liturgical traditions. However, they still use Saint Basil's Liturgy on certain feast days: the first five Sundays of Great Lent; the Eves of Nativity and Theophany; and on Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday; and the Feast of Saint Basil, January 1 .
The Eastern Churches preserve numerous other prayers attributed to Saint Basil, including three Prayers of Exorcism, several Morning and Evening Prayers, the "Prayer of the Hours" which is read at each service of the Daily Office, and the long and moving "Kneeling Prayers" which are recited by the priest at Vespers on Pentecost in the Byzantine Rite.
Influence on monasticism
Through his examples and teachings Basil effected a noteworthy moderation in the austere practices which were previously characteristic of monastic life. He is also credited with coordinating the duties of work and prayer to ensure a proper balance between the two.
Basil is remembered as one of the most influential figures in the development of Christian monasticism. Not only is Basil recognised as the father of Eastern monasticism; historians recognize that his legacy extends also to the Western church, largely due to his influence on Saint Benedict.See K.E. Kirk, The Vision of God: The Christian Document of the summum bonun, , 9.118, as quoted in Meredith) Patristic scholars such as Meredith assert that Benedict himself recognized this when he wrote in the epilogue to his Rule that his monks, in addition to the Bible, should read "the confessions of the Fathers and their instistutes and their lives and the Rule of our Holy Father, Basil.
Basil's teachings on monasticism, as encoded in works such as his Small Asketikon, was transmitted to the west via Rufinus during the last 4th century. Silvas (2002), pp. 247-259, in Vigliae Christanae
As a result of his influence, numerous reglious orders in Eastern Christianity bear his name. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Basilian Fathers, also known as The Congregation of St. Basil, an international order of priests and students studying for the priesthood, is named after him.
Commemorations of Basil
St Basil was given the title Doctor of the Church for his contributions to the debate initiated by the Arian controversy regarding the nature of the Trinity, and especially the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Basil was responsible for defining the terms "ousia" (essence/substance) and "hypostasis" (person/reality), and for defining the classic formulation of three Persons in one Nature. His single greatest contribution was his insistence on the divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.
In Greek tradition, his name was given to Father Christmas and he is supposed to visit children and give presents every January 1 (when Basil's memory is celebrated)unlike other traditions where Saint Nicholas arrives either on December 6 (St. Nicholas' Day) or on Christmas Eve (December 24). It is traditional on St Basil's Day to serve "Vasilopita," a rich bread baked with a coin inside, in commemoration of St. Basil's charity. It is customary on his feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil. In Greek tradition and according to historical records, St Basil, of Greek heritage, is the original "Santa Claus," who being born into a wealthy family, gave away all his possessions to the poor and those in need, the underprivileged and children. A similar story exists for another Greek bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra. Over the centuries the two have been merged but the Western "Santa Claus" is St. Nicholas and the Eastern "Santa Claus" is St. Basil.
Saint Basil died on January 1, the day on which the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day together with that of the Feast of the Circumcision.
In the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, January 1 is the day marking the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and St Basil's feast is celebrated on the following day, January 2, together with Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Prior to the revision of the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969, St Basil's feast was celebrated on June 14, the traditional date of his ordination as Bishop. Traditional Roman Catholics continue to celebrate the feast day of "St. Basil the Great, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church" as a Double feast or a feast of the III Class.
The Anglican Church celebrates St Basil's feast on January 2, whereas the Episcopal Church celebrates it on June 14. The Lutheran Church, of various synods, commemorates him on both dates, each time with Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa.
In the Byzantine Rite, January 30 is the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs, in honor of Saint Basil, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint John Chrysostom.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrates the feast day of Saint Basil on the 6th of Tobi (6th of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church). At present, this corresponds to January 14, January 15 during leap year.
There are numerous relics of Saint Basil throughout the world. One of the most important is his head, which is preserved to this day at the monastery of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos in Greece. The mythical sword Durandal is said to contain some of Basil's blood.
Gregory of Nyssa
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Early Church Fathers, Series II, Vol. VIII contains the treatise On the Holy Spirit, the Hexaemeron, some of the homilies and the letters
St. Basil the Great in English and Greek, Select Resources
Basil the Great article from Orthodox Wikipedia has a slightly longer article on St. Basil
The Heritage of the Holy Fathers has a more complete collection of his homilies in Russian
Basil of Caesarea and His Influence on Monastic Mission benedictines.org.uk
Preface to the Asketikon English translation by Oxford University Press
St. Basil the Great the Archbishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia Orthodox icon and synaxarion