9.BASIL 328-378


      

                             PLAN
I.ST BASIL AND HIS ASCETICAL WRITINGS
1. Basil and his world

2. Origin and history of the Rules
A) First stage
B) Second stage
C) Third stage
3. Structure of the Basilian Rules
II. THE MORAL RULES
1. The preface
2. The conclusion
III. THE LITTLE ASCETICON - the basic principles
1. Charity
2. Attentiveness to God
3. Cenobitic life
4. Obedience
IV. THE BASILIAN COMMUNITIES OF WOMEN
V. BASIL COMPLEMENTED BY GREGORY OF NYSSA

1. On Virginity
2. The Hypotyposis

 

Cassian was a Desert Father who 'wrote for a purpose': to show inexperienced cenobites how to live the monastic life. St Basil too 'wrote for a purpose'. But, apart from that, the situation is very different. Far from being a desert dweller, an anchorite, Basil is frankly anti-eremitical. Though he made a tour of Egypt, he noticed what should not have been done rather than what should be done!

Moreover, we find ourselves in another world, not Egypt but Cappadocia. We do not have a monk speaking from his experience, but a bishop addressing Christians; indeed, a bishop who does not pretend to write a monastic rule; which nevertheless, posterity would recognise as the second of the Mother-Rules. And it is the longest one!

So we must take the trouble to see who St Basil is, what is the origin of the 'so-called' Rule of St Basil, and what he has to say to us, what is his teaching. Don't forget that St Benedict recommends that we read him!

 

I. SAINT BASIL AND HIS ASCETICAL WRITINGS

1. BASIL AND HIS WORLD

Basil lived in the middle of the fourth century, when monasticism flourished almost everywhere. He was born in Caesarea, in Cappadocia in the middle of present-day Turkey, at a rather gloomy time.

Gloomy from the religious point of view; it was a period of persecution, but inflicted by Christians, not pagans. The emperor was in fact Christian, but a heretic, an Arian. This was a heresy which held that Christ was indeed an extraordinary man, a superman, but he was not God. The emperor wanted forcibly to convert Catholics who remained faithful to the true faith to heresy. He exiled the bishops who resisted him and killed the faithful Christians.

From the economic point of view too, it was a very difficult time; a few huge landowners possessed all the land and were rich, all the rest were small people over-burdened by taxes who had to work hard and were exploited. Slavery had not yet disappeared. Added to this were famine and epidemics; the poverty was great.

Basil's family was rich, and good Christians. Both his father and his mother had known persecution by the pagans; one of Basil's grandfathers had even died a martyr. Basil's father, also called Basil, was a rhetorician; today we would say a professor of letters. His mother was called Emmelie. They had many children, several of whom died young. Macrina was the eldest daughter who had a great influence on Basil, and then four other daughters.

Their father wanted some boys too, he prayed hard and five boys were born. We know four of them: Basil, then Naucratius who died young in a hunting accident; Gregory who would be bishop of Nyssa; and Peter, future bishop of Sebaste.

Their father wanted his sons to do higher studies. He sent Basil first to Caesarea and then to Athens, the intellectual capital at the time, where he made friends with another Gregory whom he later did a bad turn by making him bishop of Nazianzus. But for the moment, with his studies finished, the young man returned to Caesarea and began to teach rhetoric. His eldest sister found that he was not living earnestly enough as a Christian and she strongly reproached him. Basil was touched by grace (he would call this his 'conversion'), took what she said seriously and retired to a family property at Annesi where, with his family and some friends, he lived of retired life apart from the world. They were captivated by the very austere manner of life of a contemporary preacher, Eustathius of Sebaste.

We have Basil's first monastic writing from this period, his LETTER 2, addressed to his friend Gregory of Nazianzus. It is the letter of a young man; Basil writes with the fervour of a young novice overflowing with consolations, no doubt profound ones. Besides his friend, who did not need to be convinced, his enthusiasm was openly addressed to their cultured friends who were scandalized to see him and his companions adopt a way of life fit for slaves. Basil clothed his ascetic ideal in philosophical themes and concepts taken from rhetoric on purpose, very rarely quoting Scripture. He wanted to show that this ascetic ideal which seemed barbaric to his scandalized friends had its precedents in the wise men of Greece and corresponded to what they called paideia.

In this letter we find a beautiful definition of prayer which takes up the themes we studied in the Apophthegmata; after saying that reading awakens the desire for God in the soul, Basil continues: "The best prayer is one which imprints upon the soul a keen sense of God. This what it means to become a house of God: to have God dwelling within through our remembrance of him. We become a temple of God when earthly cares do not sever this continual remembrance of God and unforeseen emotions do not trouble the spirit. Fleeing all things, the one who loves God will draw near to him, chasing away the desires which lead to evil and holding to those things which lead to virtue".

On the other hand, other passages show that he is influenced by the very ostentatious asceticism of Eustathius: "The feeling of lowliness and humility is borne out by a sorrowful eye fixed on the ground, unkempt appearance, untidy hair and dirty clothes". It will come back...! and we shall meet it again when we come back to Eustathius.

Unfortunately, Basil could not enjoy this solitude for long. Eusebius, his bishop, had noticed him; he ordained him priest and after three years he made him his coadjutor bishop. Five years later, Eusebius died and Basil succeeded him as bishop of Caesarea. It was a heavy burden, and he found himself up against many difficulties due to the religious and political climate. He was badly affected, for he had a pessimistic temperament, partly due to a liver complaint. In spite of all, Basil would be a great bishop, fighting against Arianism with all his strength, opposing the demands of the powerful of this world. He died in 378, without having seen the final crowning of his efforts, the Council of Constantinople, which put a definite stop to the spread of Arianism, did not take place until 381.

 

2. THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE BASILIAN RULES.

A) First stage.

Let us go back to when Basil was in his retreat at Annesi, in the fervour of his noviciate and when he was a fervent disciple of the impetuous ascetic Eustathius. This man was criticised at the time, and with reason. He extolled a rigorous asceticism which he flaunted in front of everyone. Basil followed him at first, as we have just seen, but, endowed with solid common sense, it was not long before he realised the weaknesses of such an exaggerated asceticism. Moreover, he was aware of the problems all around him; the social inequality, and above all the disputes and dissension within the Church itself.

To get a better perspective, he stood back from the situation and went on a tour of Egypt. This investigation did not satisfy him; he saw that all was not ideal, even among the monks. He then had the idea of turning to the New Testament to find out: What is a Christian? Returning to Annesi, he wrote down the texts from the New Testament which answered his question, and this became his first work: the Moral Rules, the only one which, for him, merited the title 'Rules', and which was addressed to all Christians, for the New Testament is truly the Rule of the Christian.

B) Second stage

Now, Basil is ordained priest, and then coadjutor-bishop. As a pastor, he found himself in the grip of many difficulties, Eustathius of Sebaste among them; his exaggerated asceticism became even more pronounced. He presented celibacy and total poverty as the ideal conditions for the Christian life, to the extent that he influenced married men, debtors and slaves to escape from the social ties that bound them. The disciples of Eustathius were conspicuous for their disreputable clothing, a glaring symbol of their renunciation of the world. This craze for an exaggerated asceticism was known as encratism, from the Greek word egkrateia meaning 'temperance', 'abstinence'.

Among these ascetics were the people we have met in the Apophthegmata who claimed that, following the advice of the Apostle, one should pray all the time and so do no work. They gave themselves the name 'spirituals', but they were called 'Messalians' from a Syriac word meaning 'those who pray', or 'Euchites' from a Greek word with the same meaning. They practised amerimna, but in the bad sense of an idle life, whereas true amerimna must be completed by nepsis, watchfulness.

To sum up, Eustathius was the spiritual father of groups of more or less educated ascetics with a tendency towards Messalianism, inclined to do just what they liked. Basil realised this, and came to the conclusion that he should put the matter right and bring back this enthusiastic but anarchic ascetic movement. He would be the driver of the wayward cart. With rare tact he re-established them in the way of the Gospel which he had analysed in his book, the Moral Rules: What is a Christian?

As auxiliary to his bishop, he went round the villages. During the day he catechised all the population. In the evening he spoke to a chosen audience of the fervent: the fraternities of ascetics. He gained their confidence and they questioned him. Basil answered them in the spirit of his former studies, the Moral Rules, in which he had taken from the New Testament guidelines for the true Christian. Thus day by day, with the help of Scripture, doubts and difficulties over organisation were resolved and a reform gradually took place among these groups which had until then been under the influence of Eustathius. These improvised dialogues, about 200 in number, constitute what is called the Little Asceticon.

C) Third stage

Later, these communities developed, they became large fraternities with their own internal organisation and stability which set them apart in a definitive way from the generality of the Christian people. Later, when Basil became bishop, the long hard winters of Cappadocia when one had to stay at home gave him some spare time. He went back to his first draft, adapted it in view of the development of communities, and completed it, adding several passages. This second draft is what is called the Great Asceticon.

Basil's works on monastic legislation were written throughout his life, under the pressure of circumstances. There are three of them: the Moral Rules in which he analysed the behaviour of a Christian; the Little Asceticon for small communities of fervent Christians; the Great Asceticon for the use of those communities which had grown and had become, in fact, monastic communities.

Strangely enough, we find that these three stages in the formation of the 'Rules' of St Basil correspond to the three stages of development in Christian asceticism:

Gospel    

Groups of fervent  Christians

Cenobitism

  

Moral Rules     

Little Asceticon

Great Asceticon

 

Basil's monastic writings have two characteristics, the consequence of their origin.

1) The point of departure is reflection on the Bible, classified in the Moral Rules. His whole thought is centred on the Bible, particularly the New Testament, considered as the Rule of the Christian.

2) Basil wanted to reform an ascetic movement which had its own characteristics and deviations. Thus he would insist on certain points to remedy its weaknesses:

* a) The followers of Eustathius formed a spiritual movement with a tendency to set itself apart from the Church, believing itself superior to other people. So Basil, even in the last draft where he dealt with communities which could be called monastic, never used the word 'monk', but he always spoke of 'brothers', or 'Christians'. For him, the monk was not a being apart, but a Christian who wanted to live his faith to the full. Moreover, the word monk means 'alone', which is another reason why he did not use the it; he said somewhere that man is not 'a monastic animal', meaning that man is not made to live alone.

On the other hand, although charity holds a central place for him, one finds very little of the mystical spirit in his monastic works. There is more of it in his sermons to the people!

* b) In dealing with a movement which lacked order, Basil took care to structure these informal communities by giving them a leader. Although we never find the word 'superior', there is in the Basilian monastic writings, and particularly in the Great Asceticon, a complete theology of the superior.

* c) It was an excessively ascetic movement, especially concerning poverty, which was trumpeted in a very ostentatious way. Because of this, Basil spoke little about poverty and proposed a moderate asceticism.

* d) Finally, there were Messalian tendencies: "Do not bother to work, it is enough to pray". In reaction, although Basil was a man of prayer, as we find in all his writings which give us a complete doctrine of prayer, he rarely mentions it in his Rule. He is one of the few Fathers of the Church who gives us a fairly elaborate doctrine of manual work.

3. STRUCTURE OF THE BASILIAN RULES

We have then three principal works which can be called the "Rules of St Basil": the "Moral Rules, the Little Asceticon and the Great Asceticon.

1) The Moral Rules, written, like letter 2, during Basil's retreat at Annesi, are an enquiry into the New Testament on the question: "What is the Christian life in the life of the Gospel?" They are a collection of scriptural texts, Rules given in the Gospel for every Christian who wants to live a full life of faith.

Next we have two writings which incorrectly bear the name of Rules: the Little Asceticon like the Great Asceticon are answers Basil gave by word of mouth to questions put to him during his years of preaching and episcopate. Basil subsequently edited these two texts under the heading Asceticon in the form of questions and answers.

2) The Little Asceticon. This consists of 203 answers to questions put by the small communities of fervent Christians when Basil was still only a priest or auxiliary of his bishop. Its interest lies in the fact that of the three texts, it was the only one which St Benedict knew, it's influence is felt in our Rule; Rufinus had translated it into latin. It can be found in the collection of various rules brought together by Benedict of Aniane in the Latin Patrology: PL 103.

3) The Great Asceticon came 8-10 years later. Basil was by then bishop and he wanted to give better organisation to these enlarged communities of fervent Christians. He took the Little Asceticon and completed in with contemporary needs in mind. This Great Asceticon is composed of the Great Rules or Long Rules, 55 in number and drawn up in two stages; and the Little Rules or Short Rules to the number of 313.

The table shows that the two Asceticon have a common structure in the sense that they both begin with ascetical teaching. These are the basic principles (the beginning of the Little Asceticon and the Long Rules of the Great Asceticon). Then come the answers to various questions of the brothers (the end of the Little Asceticon and the Short Rules of the Great Asceticon).

This is how the Great Asceticon is divided in relation to the Little:

COMPARING THE TWO STRUCTURES

  LITTLE ASCETICON   GREAT ASCETICON
    Long Rules
The ascetical teaching    
The basic principles    1 - 11    1- 23
  //////     24 - 55
    Short Rules
Various questions
of the brothers  
12 - 203 192 Q's (from L.A.)
    (one needs a concordance to find them)
  //////       121 Q's (new)

 

The Long Rules are in two parts: chapters 1-23 take up the basic principles of Christian life found in the Little Asceticon The second part is not in the Little Asceticon. These are later additions made necessary for the organisation of these communities as they grew in numbers and became 'monastic'. They regulate the practical aspects of life: domestic arrangements, activities, discipline. Much space is given to the superior, above all in rules 45-55 which are a still later addition. As time went on, the need for a superior made itself felt the more, and his role became more well defined.

In the Short Rules the questions and answers are a bit haphazard, without any overall plan, although one can group some of them by subject.

* * ** * * * *

Now we shall see from the texts how Basil's thought developed. First the Preface to the Moral Rules will show us the foundation and progression. The whole moves towards the conclusion (Rule 80 - the end) where he outlines the portrait of a Christian.

Then we come to the essential basic principles of the two Asceticon.

 

II. THE MORAL RULES

 

PREFACE TO THE MORAL RULES
1. Trinitarian Introduction
Basil introduces himself            
Reference to Macrina
2. He notes: Discord and disunion
3. He has pondered & questioned     The cause: God is ignored, abandoned.
4. The validity of his reflection An example from the world - the bees
5 Further reflection Obedience makes for unity.
When there is disunity, there is disobedience
6.(Scriptural texts) - When there is disobedience, it is because of  ignorance  
7. What are the norms for change 1) The Apostle shows us the Church, the place of union and peace when it is ruled by Christ.
8. 2) The life of the Trinity itself proves that obedience makes for unity.
9. First conclusion (general)

The Church must find unity & peace again. So, no one must seek his own will, but everyone must seek the will of Christ in  the Holy Spirit.

10. Search in Scripture  Second conclusion (specific) . All those who form the Church must answer their deeds
11. Third conclusion (practical) I will search in the Scriptures for what  pleases God and what displeases him, so that we can do what pleases him, and avoid what does not.

                                                              

The Preface, as you can see by the plan outlines the progression of Basil's thought very well: at the beginning there is a statement of the troubles in the Church, the disorder among the enthusiastic disciples of Eustathius of Sebaste. In spite of his admiration for the Master, Basil realises that this enthusiasm could be dangerous without proper direction, so he searches for the true Master speaking in the Gospel. He ponders on the Christian ascetical life in the light of the New Testament (Text 1).

The body of the work is thus a collection of quotations from the N.T. grouped under chapter headings, the only evidence of the hand of Basil. 1542 verses of the N.T. are recorded and classified. The work ends with a synthesis in which Basil brings together the main results of his reflection which go to the heart of the Christian life.

This synthesis is found in chapter 80. It is composed of three parts: the first where he describes, using images from Scripture, what a Christian should be: disciple of Christ, sheep of Christ, vine of Christ, member of Christ, spouse of Christ, temple of God, offered victim, child of God, light in the world, salt of the earth, word of life. In the second he describes "what Scripture wants those to whom the preaching of the Gospel is entrusted to be like": servants of Christ, heralds of the kingdom, models of piety, the eye in the body, shepherds of the sheep, doctors, foster-fathers, collaborators of God, workers in the vineyard of the Lord, builders of the temple of God. In the third part he defines what belongs to the Christian person. This forms the concluding section of his enquiry. (Text 2).

III. THE LITTLE ASCETICON

The Preface to the Moral Rules shows us the point of departure of Basil's thought: we do not live as Christians, so we must look at the Scriptures to see what a Christian is like. This is what he does in the Moral Rules and text 2 paints a portrait of the Christian.

Now Basil is speaking to those who want to live the Christian life more deeply. He will give them the principles. This is the beginning of the Little Asceticon. Later he will take up these same principal themes when the communities have developed further, looking at them from a decidedly monastic perspective.

These common basic principles of the two Asceticons are particularly important. They which show us what Basil considered a monk to be. Here they are in detail with the relevant chapters of the Little Asceticon.

THE BASIC PRINCIPLES

CHARITY                     General remarks

1

                                      Towards God

2

                                     Towards others

2

FEAR OF GOD             

2

MINDFULNESS OF GOD        

2

RETREAT FROM THE WORLD    2
LIFE                                3
RENUNCIATION    Of oneself   4
  What is renounced 5
                                    Those who renounce 6
                                     Admission of subjects 7
TEMPERANCE          In general 8
                                   In laughter  8
                                  In food   9-10
                                   In clothing   11

We shall follow this text, translated into latin by Rufinus, as it was the only one known to St Benedict. The foundation of Basil'sthought is first of all charity - oth one and twofold. It urges us on to reverence God and be mindful of him. It also entails some withdrawal from the world, and in order to obtain mutual support we go to live with other brothers who have the same purpose in mind: to love God more than all else. This is the first part of the basic principles (1-3).

The second part: in order that this love should be effective, we must renounce ourselves, as the Gospel and the example of Christ tell us, and practice temperance (4-11).

These basic principles then all flow from charity, the first principle, and hang together in a logical order. As we cannot study them all, we shall look at the most important in the first part: charity, mindfulness of God and the common life.

We shall also say a word about obedience. In his first reflection, the Preface to the Moral Rules, Basil realised, as we have seen, that the evils of the Church in his time came from a lack of obedience. The need for obedience is present in all his writings. We can take this insistence on obedience too as one of the basic principles of his thought.

 

1. CHARITY

Rule 2 which concerns charity is at the heart of Basil's thought: "Wonderful pages which reveal the heart of a saint touched by the arrow of divine love" writes T. Spidlick.

We can distinguish two parts:

The first revolves continually round the fact that God has given us his love; it is a seed which must cultivate. Thus one can say that all beings tend towards God (Text 3:1,1).

The second part deals with the motives which will arouse us to love God. (Texts 3:1,2-9)).

Then Basil applies what he has said of the love of God to the love of our neighbour.

2. MINDFULNESS OF GOD.

The love of God is thus sown in our hearts. But how can we make it grow? After the theory, we go on to the practice. Here we have a text of the greatest importance. Based on the Pauline theme: "to please God", this text deals with continual prayer, with an example taken from manual work. We find here the themes of apatheia, guarding of the heart, remembrance of God. It is very valuable (Text 3:2).

3. COMMON LIFE

Here we have a very good description of the benefits of the common life. Perhaps it lacks some moderation, Basil is fiercely anti-eremitical! But it is remarkable that all the reasons he gives in favour of the cenobitic life find support in Sacred Scripture, and in particular in the New Testament. One can sum up his thought by saying that the common life is preferable to the solitary life because it is more evangelical (Text 3:3).

4. OBEDIENCE

In the Little Asceticon, straight after these basic principles which will be repeated in the Great Asceticon, come three chapters which deal with obedience, and one on the superior. As in all the work of Basil, obedience is prominent. (Texts 3:4,1-5, taken from the Great Asceticon. In what follows, LR = Long Rules, SR = Short Rules. 'Question' refers to the Little Asceticon) .

* For him, obedience is love in action, the proof of our love. As far as man is concerned love is the foundation of obedience. He says clearly in SR 153: "What are the signs that we possess the love of God?". Reply: "The Lord tells us: 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments'." Moreover we have seen in the Moral Rules that Basil grounds obedience objectively in the very life of the divine Persons and in the kingship of Christ. The idea is found too in SR 1. (Text 3:4,1). He then explains that one should obey Scripture first, and when nothing is found there, then one should conform to the directive of St Paul: "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful" (1 Cor.10:23), and in this way seek not what is pleasing to oursleves but what is useful for others.

* Obedience has above all the teaching of Jesus Christ in Scripture as its object. These two facts will be taken up in Question 12; and in the next he makes it clear that we also obey one another - and the superior (Question 15); but if some one commands something contrary to the commandments of God, we do not obey him.

* The dispositions which animate obedience are humility, and above all the desire to please God and give him glory. A desire which Basil describes as "ardent, insatiable and constant" (SR 157). For the Christian, obedience must be his food, as it was for Jesus who said: "My food is to do the will of my Father".

This text, and others, show us that the three theological virtues are the foundation of obedience: faith, hope and charity. That is why Basil gives it such importance.

* Now, what is the measure of obedience? To the question: "What is the measure of the love of God?" Basil answers: "Always to stretch out our spirit towards the will of God, seeking out and desiring all that gives him glory". Obedience and love of God are thus intimately linked. There is no measure of the love of God, nor of obedience (Text 3:4,3).

Elsewhere we find the same idea in a text close to the thought of St Benedict (Text 3:4,4)

This last text shows us what Basil thought of the disobedient person: murmuring and disobedience engrave in his heart the vices opposed to obedience. The obedient man is like a person in good health radiating joy; on the other hand the disobedient man is sick, according to Basil (Text 3:4,5).

Murmuring is thus a lack of faith which separates a person from the community of believers. If the disobedient person does not amend, Basil does not hesitate to cut him off from the community.

IV. THE COMMUNITIES OF WOMEN

It seems that the origin of double monasteries in the Basilian tradition began with Macrina, Basil's elder sister. In fact, under her influence, the family home became two monasteries. In his 'Life of Macrina', Gregory of Nyssa gives us some information on the women's monastery of Annisa where Macrina was superior; prayer was spread through the day and the night; work took second place and was concerned with hospitality and charity. The spirit of this monasticism was conformed to Gregory's ideal of 'Christian philosophy': freedom from the passions so as to purify the soul and enable it to become acceptable to Christ the Spouse. The theme of progress, (epektasis), so dear to Gregory, inspired this life which was a constant growth in virtue. These double monasteries later increased.

Basil's letters and his Great Asceticon prove the existence of these women's communities. The canonical letter 199 gives a definition of the virgin: "A virgin is one who, of her own free will, has offered herself to the Lord, has renounced marriage and prefers a life of holiness". Then Basil sets down the rules of admission: it must be voluntary and not before 16 or 17 years old. Letter 173 describes the way of life of these communities of virgins. (Text 6).

In this text we find on the one hand the insistence on poverty of life in both clothing and food, characterised by the allowance of necessities and the absence of superfluity; and on the other hand the prudence demanded by Basil "in conversation with men".

This last point is insisted upon again in the Great Asceticon in the finishing touches added by Basil when he became bishop and the communities had grown. There are two Little Rules which only concern the women's communities. This proves their existence and although they availed themselves of the advice given by Basil to the men ascetics, they also had questions of their own to ask him. One of these (SR 153), concerning the "sister in charge of the wool" who has to give each sister her work, gives us a sure indication of the charitable purpose of their work. Question 281 asks what must be done when a sister does not want to share in the common office of psalmody (Text 7). In SR 154 the question is about the small number of brothers who have to lend a hand to a large number of sisters, which supposes some growth in the communities of women.

A few other Rules which mention the women's monasteries deal with the relationship between them and the monasteries of men, insisting on prudence. It does not seem that these virgins were in fact cloistered; they should not therefore provoke gossip, and set malicious tongues wagging. Basil is a realist, he knows human weakness. He remembers too the care Paul took not to scandalise the weak. He takes precautions which would today seem excessive, to "avoid every shadow or suspicion of evil". SR 220 repeats LR 33, and prescribes that the sisters and brothers should not speak together except in the presence of others. SR 108 specifies "in the presence of the superior"; and SR 110 says that the superior must be present even when a sister makes her confession to an abba.

Unfortunately sin is always round the corner in this life. Sometimes there were failures; letter 199 gives precise details on what must be done when a virgin goes astray. Basil addresses letter 46 to one of them: "You have broken the yoke of divine intimacy, you have fled from the pure chamber of the true King".

But though he is a realist, Basil is also a spiritual man who lives in the presence of God, who alone can judge his freedom (PR 109). He hopes to see his disciple grow in that spiritual perfection which rises above the flesh and demonstrates the good news of the Gospel expressed by St Paul: "In Christ, there is neither male nor female, slave or free man". SR 154 refers to this (Text 8).

Another optimistic note that we find throughout the Rules of Basil is that he takes up a position in favour of the liberation of women, fairly unusual in his time, and the fruit of his meditation on the Gospel. Here is Short Rule 111, quite entertaining: the reply is very short, a single word which says a lot! "When a senior monk gives an order to a sister without the knowledge of her superior, has she the right to be indignant?" - Reply: "Absolutely!".

 

 

V. BASIL COMPLEMENTED BY GREGORY OF NYSSA

Gregory, Basil's brother, deserves a place at the end of a study of the monastic writings of the great bishop of Caesarea.

Gregory was six years younger than Basil, the youngest of the brothers. His elder brother was a man of action, a powerful personality; even when he was alive he was given the title 'Great'. While Basil was alive, Gregory stayed in the shadow of the great bishop, his brother. It was only after Basil's death that he revealed the strength of his genius as a theologian and a spiritual man. Then he wrote his most famous books which would quickly be read and appreciated in monastic circles: the "Life of Moses", his Commentaries on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. This is not the place to go into Gregory's spirituality who, very likely married, was not a monk, although he occasionally spent time at the mini-monastery in the family home of Annesi.

But there are two works which Gregory wrote specially for monks. They round off those of Basil by adding themes dear to this great contemplative and mystic who was bishop of Nyssa.

These two works, properly called monastic, are the: On Virginity, and The Hypotyposis.

 

1. ON VIRGINITY

This was written when he was relatively young; Gregory was 40, a skilful orator, and Basil profited from his skill by asking him to write something in praise of virginity. It smacks a little of 'publicity', but publicity is not always very objective! Here, the author has some passages where the inconvenience of marriage serves as a foil to extol virginity! Obviously this is not acceptable. On the other hand Gregory is not yet confronted with pastoral problems; it was only later that Basil made him bishop of Nyssa against his will. Moreover, the rhetoric displayed in this book sometimes makes for boring reading.

Apart from these negative aspects, the treatise is full of rich things. Contrary to other works of the Fathers on this subject, it is written for young men, without excluding the other sex.

Gregory finds in God the archetype of virginity; God is holy and immaculate, not only in his divine nature, but also in the relationships which distinguish the divine persons. The Father begot the Son without passion, that is to say without the alteration which birth brings about. The Holy Spirit is pure (Text 9). The mystery of eternal generation within the Trinity thus gives meaning to Christian virginity here below: The consecrated virginity of virgins, on earth, is a reflection and participation of that eternal generation (Text 10).

In order to understand the doctrine of Gregory on virginity, we must understand his anthropology, which is not what we are used to! (See Table 8 - Book 2).

For western theology human nature includes animal life which we have in common with the beasts, with instinct and the two basic tendencies which Plato had already defined: the concupiscible and the irascible appetites, (which are not bad in themselves, they are there to protect the animal life), and the intellectual life which includes the intellect and the will, and is capable of free choice. Added to this is the life of grace which is rightly called the 'super - natural' life.

Gregory has a different scheme: human nature comprises the intellectual life and the spiritual life; the animal life is added because of the fall. The present human condition no longer corresponds with human nature as it was willed by God. Our true nature is to be an 'image of God': possessing intellect and reason, pure, a stranger to all evil, immortal. This animal life which has been 'added-on' is what Gregory calls "the tunics of skin", symbol of our mortal condition which is not destined to exist eternally. The "tunics of skin" are not the body itself, but the condition of fallen man (Text 11). It also means human beings subject to the passions which we have in common with the beasts and which our wills can no longer master as they did before the fall.

Death, like sexuality, is thus for Gregory a sequel to sin; so too is the disordered state of the instincts: now human beings live under the dominance of the passions. They are caught up in the web sin and evil which bring death.

In their creation, human beings are then in the image of God, the archetype of virginity: they are virgin, they have parrhesia, that is the spontaneous trust of the child towards its father, but they are also endowed with freedom. The first couple lived in continence, finding pleasure only in the one Lord. It was only later, because of sin, that Adam, in turning from the Lord, knew sexual pleasure (Text 12).

To set ourselves free, as this text expresses it, we must return the opposite way along the road taken by Adam. Marriage is the last step, so it must be renounced first of all. Virginity of body, reintroduced into the world by Christ, is then the first stage on the road to perfection. But it must be accompanied by virginity of soul, the second stage and the most important. This is what will help us to take off the "tunics of skin" with which our first parents were clothed after the fall.

So we must follow the road taken by Adam, but in the opposite direction: first renouncing marriage in order to embrace virginity, then taking off the "tunics of skin", which means to take in hand the wayward passions, the "thoughts of the flesh" (Text 13).

Why does virginity favour the shedding of the passions? A characteristic of the thought of Gregory is that we are persons of strong desires; if desire is detached from created things, the soul directs its desire to the things of God (Text 14). Virgins who love with all their strength the one most desirable thing, the beauty which is God, can more easily master the passions. So ascesis enables one to recover apatheia, it restores the image of God and favours contemplation. (Text 15).

Elsewhere Gregory says that this happens in two ways here below: through the beauty of creation and through the image of God present in the purified soul. In this first book Gregory only outlines this latter idea. On the other hand he emphasises that the virgin does not pursue an abstraction but a person; God who is Spouse. "Let the chaste virgin, clinging to the Logos, hold herself aloof from every passion which affects the soul and keep herself pure for the Spouse who is rightfully united to her" (16:2). Gregory delights in seeing in virginity a marriage with God, a spiritual marriage which is the antitype of corporal marriage. God is preferred above all, and we find here the most passionate vocabulary of human love, with the terms "lover" (erastheis), "object of desire" (pothomenou - to epithumŔtikon), "covetous love" (er˘s) (Text 16).

Gregory derives the fruitfulness of virginity from the fact that God is the 'partner'; marriage with God is promised a more universal and noble fruitfulness than human marriage; virgins share in the fruitfulness of Mary (Text 17).

 

2. THE HYPOTYPOSIS

Gregory's other monastic writing is very different. Rhetoric gives way to simple language, short and profound. Basil is dead. The communities which he reformed have grown. Gregory is now a mature man, celebrated as a writer and mystic, and he is still in contact with these communities. He wrote a little book which he modestly entitled "a model": Hypotyposis, and which is in fact a valuable summary of the essentials of monastic life, its goal and the means to reach this goal. It is also known under its latin title: "De Instituto Christiano". In the first two parts it is very similar to a work by a contemporary author known to us by the name of 'Pseudo-Macarius' (studied in the next chapter); the relationship between the two writings has been much discussed. It seems that Gregory took and reworked the 'Great Letter' of Macarius in order to spread his ideas in a more cultured environment. We will present Gregory's version.

The first lines give the plan of the work: "An outline of the goal of piety, on the common life and on the course to run". The two first parts are clearly delineated, the third serves rather as a conclusion.

In this book written no doubt for the Basilian communities, we find set out the points on which Basil had insisted: renunciation of property and above all of one's own will, and consequently the necessity of obedience; the benefit of the common life and of spiritual direction; the idea, borrowed from Stoicism, that all the virtues hold together; the quest for the glory of God and following on from that the humility which bids us seek our glory from God and not from human beings; the remembrance of God: "The remembrance and desire for God are the only means of guarding the soul, the only way to maintain an attitude of vigilance".

There are other themes even more typical of Gregory. We have seen in the preceeding treatise that we are beings of desire. We find it again here (Text 18). It is this characteristic of human nature, the desire for an infinite God which is the origin of the theme of epektasis already initiated by Origen, but which Gregory has fully drawn out, and which is found in this treatise (Text 19). The vision of the greatness of God engenders both humility and generosity.

One characteristic of this book is the intertwining of two other original themes which one meets nowhere else with such frequency; they are like two threads which run through the book: synergy and the indwelling of the Spirit who works within the soul.

Synergy comes from two Greek words: sun 'with' and ergon 'work'; it expresses the interaction of the spirit and the human will in the work of our sanctification. The role of the Spirit is pre-eminent; he comes to meet the soul who draws him to herself by prayer and even through the fruits she bears (Texts 20 & 21).

In this way the soul which purifies herself draws the spirit to her, and in turn the power of the spirit purifies the soul, enabling her to be yet more inhabited by the divine guest: "The soul offers herself to the adorable and holy Spirit as a pure dwelling. She receives the steadfast peace of Christ by which she clings to the Lord and unites herself permanently to him". This is the divine goal; the grace of the Spirit makes the soul blossom in divine beauty, toiling over us who labour under his transformation (Text 22).

After a beautiful passage which depicts the role of prayer (Text 23), the book finishes with a text demonstrating the degree of spiritual maturity reached by Gregory, to which he invites us too (Text 24).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

W. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil. London, SPCK 1925

 

 

9. BASIL


REVISION

 

 

1) What were the circumstances that led to Basil's reflections?

2) What are the three books which together are called the 'Rules of Basil'?

At what stage in Basil's life was each of them written?

What is the characteristic of each?

3) What are the basic principles of the 'asceticons'? Show how they are consistent.

4) What reasons does Basil give why we must love God?

5) Give some of the arguments Basil uses to justify life in community.

6) What is the basis of obedience, its object, what should be our dispositions; to what extent should we practice obedience? Describe murmuring in a few words.

7) Which are the two work of Gregory of Nyssa which complete the teaching of Basil? What seems to you most noteworthy in each of them?

 

 

 

9. BASIL & BENEDICT


STUDY PAPER 5

 

Here are some extracts from Basil's Little Asceticon, the text which St Benedict knew. On the next page are the numbers of the chapters in the Rule where we can trace Basil's influence. Find which chapter (and paragraph) of RB corresponds to these passages from the Little Asceticon. Several of Basil's texts are referred to in the RB. If any words are the same, underline them.

 

RECEPTION OF BROTHERS

1. First of all the one who wants to join the brothers must be given some hard work, of a kind which is humiliating to people in the world; see if he does it with a ready heart, faithfully and without embarassment, and if he bears the humiliation without ill-humour; observe too whether he is prompt and quick to work. (Q 6)

 

2. Any children who are offered by the wish and consent of their parents, must be received before several witnesses, and even the parents themselves, so that malicious folk may not be given the opportunity to speak evil. (Q 7)

 

PRAYER

3. If it happens that someone is not present with the others in the place of prayer, he should fulfil his work of devotion in whatever place he finds himself. (Q 107)

 

4. How can one avoid distractions in prayer?

If one abides in the presence of God. Indeed, when in the presence of one's judge and one's master, and speaking with him, one does not let one's eyes wander elsewhere. How much more should the one who approaches the Lord never turn away the eye of his heart, but fix it on Him who searches the reins and the heart. (Q 108)

 

FRATERNAL CHARITY

5. How should we serve sick brothers?

As if we were serving the Lord himself who said: "What you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me (Q 36).

 

RENUNCIATION

6. We must not do all that is permitted, but what edifies our neighbour. Whoever wishes to accomplish this must without doubt deny his own will, in imitation of the Lord who said: "I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me". (Q12)

 

CONTINENCE

7. All should have the same resolve not to eat to satiety, for to fill the stomach and weigh it down with food makes the body incapable of any work. (Q9)

 

HUMILITY

8. Humility is to believe everyone is superior to ourselves. (Q62)

 

POVERTY

9. Food which is the easiest to obtain in each province, and at the best price, must always be used; never look for something more expensive and difficult to come by under the pretext of abstinence. (Q9)

 

10. Should any brother have something for his own?

This is contrary to the witness given in the Acts of the Apostles; it is written of the first believers: "No one said that anything he had was his own, but everything was held in common". If someone calls something his, without doubt he distances himself from the elect of God and the charity of the Lord who taught poverty by his words and showed it in his actions, who gave his life for his friends. If he himself gave his life for his friends, how then can we claim for ourselves what is not our life?

 

11. How should those who are working look after the tools which are given them?

First they must use them as if they were vessels of God, or things henceforth consecrated to God. Then let them consider that without them they will find no profit in their prayers and studies.

 

WORK

12. Should those who join the brothers learn a craft straight away?

It is for the superiors to decide. Let those who join the community learn a craft according to their age and ability; so for example, if there is someone less able to meditate or engage in spiritual things, let him busy himself with other things, for fear Satan takes possession of him so that he is laid open to his arrows if he is found sluggish with idleness and without work. The apostle said: "The one who does not work should not eat!" and Solomon said: "Idleness is the enemy of the soul" (Q192)

 

OBEDIENCE

13. The apostle shows us the way to obey in recommending the obedience of the Lord: "He made himself obedient even to death, death on the cross". (Q65)

14. Disobedience is the cause and the root of all evils. But if it seems that someone has good reason to be excused from a job, let him explain it to the one who presides and leave it to his judgment to see whether the excuse he gives is valid. (Q69)

 

15. What should be done if someone is vexed, and will not accept what has been offered to him for his use?

He does not deserve to receive it, even if he asks for it, until the one who presides has tested him; when he sees that the vice in his soul is healed, then he can offer him what is necessary for his body. (Q96)

 

16. If anyone dares to give alms against the wishes of the one in charge, let him be punished as a restless and undisciplined person, until he learns to keep the place which is his, as the apostle says: "Let each one keep to the situation in which he was called" (Q98)

 

17. What should be done if the one who presides wishes to take back a receptacle or a tool from someone, and he objects?

He has surrendered himself and his body into another's power, by reason of the commandment of God; from then on how can he be allowed to refuse a tool to him to whom special authority has been given.

 

THE SUPERIOR

18. The one who presides should think of himself as a servant of Christ and the "steward of the mysteries of God", fearing to say or command anything contrary to the will of God or what is explicitly ordained in the sacred Scriptures. (Q15)

 

19. Those who preside should observe the rule which says: "They gave to each one according to his needs". They must, indeed, take care of each one so that, whatever his work, he may find something to refresh his strength. (Q94)

 

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Rule of St Benedict: 2 - 7 - 20 - 31 - 33 - 36 - 39 - 40 - 43 - 48 - 50 - 55 - 58 - 59 - 68.

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9. BASIL


TEXTS

1. THE STARTING POINT

Preface to the Moral Rules:

The Judgment of God

1. Through the kindness and favour of the goodness of God, in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was preserved from the errors alien to our faith; brought up, as I was, since birth by Christian parents. While still a child I learnt the sacred Scriptures from them and was led to a knowledge of the truth.

2. When I became a man, I travelled often and being naturally involved in much business, I noticed in all the arts and sciences a splendid harmony among those who studied them; yet on the contrary, in the one Church of God, for which Christ died and upon which he poured the abundance of his Holy Spirit, I saw frequent and excessive discord among many, both between themselves and about the divine Scriptures.

What is worse, it was the leaders themselves who had such dissentiant thoughts and opinions, taking different attitudes to the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ, pitilessly dividing the Church of God and carelessly disturbing his flock. It was at this time when the Anomeans were rife, that the saying was fulfilled as never before: "People with pernicious teaching will rise up among you who will try to draw disciples after them".

3. Observing all this and much else of the same kind, I wondered about the cause and origin of so great an evil. At first I found myself in great darkness and, as if I were on the scales of a balance, I alternated from one side to the other; one consideration based on my long experience of persons pulled me down to one side while another pulled me down on the other because of the truth I recognised in the Scriptures.

I spent a long time looking for the cause of these things. Then I remembered the book of Judges which tells how each one each one did what seemed good to him and gave the reason in these words: "In those days there was no king in Israel".

This recollection immediately led me to reflect on present events - perhaps a frightful and paradoxical thing to say, but very true if you think about it - the one great, true and only God and King of all has not yet been rejected, yet there has never been such discord and strife among Church members. Each one is forsaking the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, claiming his own authority for his theories and definitions and preferring to overrule the Lord rather than be ruled by him.

4. Turning over these thoughts and full of fear in the face of so much impiety, I pushed my enquiry further; It seemed to me that it was also true if one considered the goings on in the world. Order and harmony prevail in a crowd as long as the obedience of all to one person is maintained, while discord, disagreement and a scramble for power come from the absence of a leader.

I once saw a a swarm of bees gather in orderly fashion behind their queen, following the law of their nature. I have seen and heard many examples of this sort, and those who have studied them know more, and can confirm the truth of what I am saying.

5. Indeed, if those who look to one authority and serve a single leader maintain good order and agreement, it is obvious that all dissension or division is the sign of the lack of a leader. By the same token, if we too find among ourselves such disagreements both about the commandments of God and among ourselves, it is an indication that we have forsaken the true King.... (Then follow some texts from Scripture to prove it).

6. From these texts, and others like them, it seemed obvious to me that in general, through ignorance of God, the evil of the passions brings about a depraved outlook; and in particular the discord which puts people against each other comes from the fact that we make ourselves unworthy to be ruled by the Lord.

Actually, I thought it a good idea to undertake a study of such behaviour, but I was incapable of judging such thoughtlessness, madness, folly; I do not know what word to use to describe such excessive wickedness. For if even among animals which have no reason we find harmony because they submit to their leader, what can be said of us, who disagree among ourselves and contravene the commands of the Lord?......

7. This is what the Apostle says: "When one member suffers, all the others suffer with him, and when one member rejoices, all the others rejoice with him". .and again: "There should be no division in the body, But all the members should have the same care for one another", for they are obviously inspired by one indwelling Spirit. Why this rule of conduct? For myself, I think that it is to safeguard more effectively cohesion and cooperation in the Church of God to which it was said: "You are the body of Christ and individually members of it". The one and only true head, that is Christ, clearly rules and binds each one to the other to establish unity.

But among them there is no unity, peace is not kept, the spirit of gentleness is not preserved; on the contrary there is quarrelling, discord and rivalry. Really it would be a bold person who would call people who live in such a way members of Christ, or pretend that they are governed by Him!.....

8. Moreover, the Only Son of God himself, our God, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, proclaims: "I have not come down from Heaven to do my own will, but the will of my Father who sent me". And: "I do nothing of myself". And "He has told me what I should say and teach". In the same way the Holy Spirit who gives great and marvellous gifts, bringing about all things in every person, speaks nothing of Himself, but says all that he has heard from the Lord.

9. How, I ask, is it not much more necessary that the Church, striving to keep unity in the bond of peace, should fulfil what is written in the Acts: "The multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul"? For it is clear that no one should prefer his own will, but all together should seek in the one Spirit of the Lord the will of the one Jesus Christ who said: "I did not come down from heaven to do my will".....

10. Having then reread the Holy Scriptures, I discovered both in the Old and the New Testament, that it was not the number or the greatness of sins, but the single transgression of a commandment, whatever it may be, which is clearly an insult to God, and that the same sentence is passed by God on all disobedience... (Then follow further biblical texts in support).

11. Through the grace and goodness of God "who wishes all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth", and "who teaches all of us knowledge", I have found this and many other things of the kind in the divinely inspired Scriptures; I have understood the terrible cause of such conflict of people among themselves and against the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ. Since then I have been taught the dreadful judgment pronounced on such iniquity, and knowing that every disobedience against any decree of God is equally punished; told also of the dreadful judgment passed against those who, without having sinned personally, nevertheless incur his anger for not having shown zeal with regard to sinners, even if they had often not known about it; I thought it necessary to draw out from the inspired Scriptures, as far as I am able, an account of the things that displease God and those which please him. In this way, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Holy Spirit; renouncing self-will and worldliness; and walking rather according to the Gospel of our blessed God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and so living in this world in a way pleasing to him, avoiding what is forbidden with the greatest care and striving to do what approved; we shall be judged worthy, in the time of immortality, to escape the anger which will fall on the children of disobedience and be among those found worthy of eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven which our Lord has promised to all those who "keep his covenant and remember his commandments to do them".

 

2. THE POINT OF ARRIVAL

Moral Rules 80 (end).

1. What is the mark of a Christian? Faith which works through charity. What is the mark of faith? Firm belief in the truth of the inspired words of God, a faith unshaken by any argument based either on a law of nature or on an appearance of piety. What is the mark of a believer? To be so convinced that the words used have meaning, that we dare not either take away from or add to them. For all that does not come from faith is sin, as the Apostle says (Rom.14:23); but faith comes from preaching, and preaching is only on the word of Christ (Rom.10:17), thus everything that is outside inspired Scripture, as it does not come from faith, is sin.

What is the mark of one who loves God? To observe his commandments with the intention of giving him glory. What is the mark of love of our neighbour? Not to seek one's own interest, but the interest of the one whom we love in both soul and body.

2. What is the mark of the Christian? To be born anew in water and the Spirit through baptism. What is the mark of one who is born of water? As Christ died once to sin for all, so he too is dead and unmoved by any sin, as it is written: "All of us who have been baptised in Jesus Christ have been baptised into his death. We have therefore been buried with him in his death through baptism. Knowing that our old self has been crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom.6:3-6).

What is the mark of one who is born of the Spirit. To become, in the measure that is given him, that very thing of which he was reborn, as it is written: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn.3:6).

What is the mark of one who is born a second time? To strip off the old self with its deeds and desires, and to be reclothed in the new self, which is renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col.3:9), as he said: "You who have been baptised in Christ, have all been clothed in Christ" (Gal.3:27).

3. What is the mark of a Christian? To purify oneself in the blood of Christ from all uncleanness of body and spirit, and to complete the work of one's sanctification in the fear of God and the love of Christ (2Cor.7:1), to have "neither spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing", but to be holy and irreproachable (Eph.5:27), and so to eat the body of Christ and drink his blood, "For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks his own condemnation" (1Cor.11:29).

What is the mark of those who eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord? To keep the constant memory of him who died for us and rose again. What is the mark of those who keep this memory? "To live no longer for themselves, but for Him who dies for them and rose again" (2Cor.5:15).

4. What is the mark of a Christian? That his righteousness should surpass that of the scribes and pharisees in every way (Mt.5:20), as Christ taught in the Gospel.

What is the mark of a Christian? To love one another as Christ loved us (Eph.5:2).

What is the mark of a Christian? It is to have the Lord always present before one's eyes. (Ps.15:8).

What is the mark of a Christian? It is to watch every day and at all times, and to be ready in the perfection which is pleasing to God, for the Lord will come at an hour when we are not thinking about it (Lk.12:40).

3. THE BASIC PRINCIPLES

1. Charity

The Little Asceticon, Question 2

Question: As you say that the love of God is the first of the commandments, tell us about it first. We have understood that we must love, but we would like to know how to do it.

Reply: A good question! It is indeed the best beginning and what I want to speak to you about most. I will answer you, with the help of God.

1. You must understand, first of all, that if this commandment seems isolated, it does however include and encompass all the commandments, as the Lord assures us: "For from these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets".. But our purpose is not to speak in detail of the order of the commandments. We shall just look at the one which concerns us at this moment.

First let me say that we have, sown within us, the strength from God who enables us to fulfil all the commandments. Because of this, we have no difficulty in fulfilling them, it is not something new and extraordinary; and on the other hand, there is no reason why we should be proud, as though we imagine we can offer something more to God than we have received from him in our created nature.

Since there is within us this strength sown by God, to live uprightly and devoutly is to practise virtue. On the other hand, to ill-use the gifts of nature is to tend towards evil. This is the definition of evil: to use the impulses of the soul sown in us by God in the wrong way. On the other hand, the definition of virtue is this: to use the movements of the soul introduced in us by God in the right way, that is, according to the commandment of God and our conscience.

2. This being so, this is what can can infer concerning charity. We have received the commandment to love God. The soul carries within it, put there by God from its very beginning, the power to love. We do not need an outside witness to believe this, each one of us finds the proof of what we are saying within himself and about himself. Every person desires what is good, and we are drawn by a feeling which is natural to us, to all which we regard as good. Moreover, without anyone having taught us, we are bound by love to our parents and those who are closely related to us. To those too from whom we have received love and favours, we feel united through their tenderness and the kindnesses they have done for us.

3. Who is as good as God? Or rather, who is good, but God alone? What radiance, what splendour, what beauty which naturally draws us to love Him, can one find anywhere, which could be as great as that which we believe to be, which indeed is, in God? Where find such grace? What flame of love is capable of enfolding the most secret and intimate parts of the soul, as the love of God can inflame the hidden recesses of the spirit - above all if it is purified from all stain and if the soul is pure and cries out with sincerity: "I am wounded by love!"?

Yes, I know it, the love of God is ineffable, easier to experience than to put into words. It is a sort of indescribable light; even if a word could capture it and render it similar to lightning or a spark, the ear would not sustain it, it would not receive the message. If you take the rays of the morning star, the splendour of the moon and even the light of the sun, in comparison with his glory, all this is but blackness and much more sombre than if one compared a black night plunged in the obscurity of deep darkness to the purest light of the midday sun.

This beauty is not seen with the eyes of the body; only the soul and the spirit can encompass it. If, by chance, this beauty has touched the soul and spirit of the saints, it has pierced them with the burning pang of love. This is why one of them, as if consumed by the fires of this love and holding this present life in abhorrence, wrote: "When shall I come and appear before the face of God?" And elsewhere, set on fire by the ardour of these flames, he says: "My soul is thirsting for the living God!". and consumed by his insatiable desire, he begs to "see the delight of the Lord and to be in the shelter of his holy temple".

So then, we naturally desire what is good, and we love it. Yet nothing, we have said, is as good as God; and that is why we pay back to him as a debt this charity we have received from him....

4. As for our parents, we have a natural love for those who gave us birth; indeed this is not only found among human beings, but also among animals. Take care then that we are not found to be more stupid that the beasts and more savage than ferocious beasts, should no feeling of love bind us to Him who brought us into being..

Even if we cannot know his greatness nor what he is, from the mere fact that we come from Him, we must venerate and love him with the love that we have for our parents and cling continually to the thought of him, like babies clinging to their mother's neck.

5. But we should do so even more and with much greater eagerness, knowing as we do that we are indebted to him for his immense gifts. And this too, I believe, we have in common with the other animals, for they too remember the good that has been done to them. If you do not believe me, listen to the prophet who says: "The ox knows its herdsman, and the ass the manger of its master". But God would not be pleased if what follows could be said of us: has not known me, and my people have not understood me".

So too, we love those who do good to us without being taught, and try, as far as possible, to pay them back in return. How can we give thanks for the gifts of God, which are so great they cannot be numbered, and such that a single one puts us under an obligation to our benefactor for the whole of our life?

6. I shall not speak of all the gifts which, although great and magnificent, are however eclipsed by the greatest and best as the stars are by the greater radiance of the sun. It is not the moment to prolong our discourse to enumerate in detail the divine gifts we have received. We shall pass over in silence the daily rising of the sun and the whole world illuminated by the brightness of a single light. We shall not mention the phases of the moon, the changes and sequence of the winds, the rain that falls from the clouds, the springs and rivers which rise from the earth...

Of all this, and many other things too, I shall not speak. But there is one thing which cannot be left out, and I cannot be silent about it. Although it is not possible to pass over this favour in silence, it is even less possible to speak about it fittingly, as one should. This favour, is that God has allowed human beings to know him, and that he has created him a rational animal on the earth, and given him the opportunity, through the pleasure and beauty he experiences, of an indescribable Paradise.

7. But God never scorned Man, deceived as he was by the shrewdness of the serpent, fallen into sin, and then from sin cast down to death; he gave him the Law as a help, confided him to the angels and sent him the prophets. He curbed the hold that evil had over him by severe threats; he aroused good desires by marvellous promises, and he emphasised in advance by many images what awaits us at the end of both paths.

8. When, after all this, we became hardened in evil by our lack of faith, the goodness of this tender Lord did not turn away from us and abandon us. Even though we were ungrateful for his gifts and thrust aside his mercy, his goodness did not change; but called us back from death and restored us to life again through our Lord Jesus Christ. "Who, being in the form of God, did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant". "He has borne our weakness and carried our infirmities, he was chastised on our behalf, that we might be healed by his wounds". "He has set us free from the curse, who became a curse for us". And he was condemned to a most shameful death, to call us back to life.

Yet it was not enough for him to give us life; to us who were dead he gave a share in his divinity and bestowed on us the gift of eternity. And above all that we could desire or comprehend, he has prepared for those who believe in Him and love him: "What the eye has not seen, what the ear has not heard, nor the human heart conceived".

9. What shall we render to the Lord for all his bounty? Truly, He is so good and so gentle that he does not ask us to give anything in return, he is content to be loved for all that he has showered upon us. Who then would be so ungrateful as not to love Him who has heaped such inestimable gifts upon us?

Let this be enough about the love of God. As I said before, one cannot mention everything, nor was it my intention, I only wanted to say briefly the most important thing: the love of God is sown in the soul and we must make it grow.

 

2. Mindfulness of God.

Little Asceticon, Question 2 (cont.)

1. Above all, it must be said that no one knows how to carry out what is commanded concerning love of God and neighbour, nor any other commandment, if one's mind is distracted among many varied and diverse occupations. People who flit here, there and everywhere cannot devote themselves to any craft or train themselves in any activity.

2. We must then take every care to guard our hearts, so that evil desires and unworthy thoughts do not chase from our souls the desire for God and take its place; on the contrary, through continually recalling the heart, through the remembrance of God, let us engrave his form and figure as a seal on our soul in such a way that no disturbance can efface it.

3. In this way the desire of divine Love will be stirred in us, since frequent remembrance of him enlightens our soul and spirit; we will be urged and aroused to set to work on the commandments of God. In return, the love of God will be preserved in us, or even increased by these acts of charity.

This, I believe, is what the Lord wanted to show us when he said: "If you love me, keep my commandments". But sometimes: "If you do what I tell you, you will dwell in my love, as I too have kept my Father's commandments and dwell in his love". The Lord teaches us by this that the gaze which guides our action must be depend on his will. It is like a mirror in which we always look at Him; we govern our actions by the eye of our heart fixed on Him.

4. It is, indeed, like any craft which train the mind to see certain things, and the hands of the craftsman accomplish what the mind has perceived. In this work of ours we must likewise hold to one manner of seeing things, and one goal towards which we strive: to please God. Let us then direct the work which is commanded us with this in mind.

5, Otherwise, it will be impossible for us to give shape to our work, if we do not always remember the will of him who has given it to us to do; observing his will and eagerly accomplishing our work as it should be done, we shall always be united to God since we always have Him in mind.

As the blacksmith making an axe or a sickle always thinks of the one who ordered it, keeping in mind the measurements, the quality and the shape which he has ordered. He works at it continually because he remembers the directions of the one who gave him the job. He guides his hands so that the shape he gives it will correspond to the will of him who gave him the order. But if he forgets the nature and the quality of what he was told to do, he will, of course, fashion something quite different from what he was commanded to make.

6. In the same way the Christian must in all his actions put every effort and all his enthusiasm into directing his work according to the will of God who has commanded him to do it. Done in this way, his actions will be an adornment and he will carry out the will of Him who commanded him. Then he will fulfil what is written: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever else you do, do it all to the glory of God".

But if anyone turns away from the rule and breaks the observance of the law, we see by that very fact that he does not remember God.

 

3. Life in Community

Little Asceticon, Question 3.

I think that in many ways, it is exceedingly useful to lead a life in common with those who have the same desire and purpose.

1. First of all because none of us is self-sufficient when it comes to bodily needs and food, And it is true to say that we need each others labour for things that are necessary to keep us alive. So, the foot has its own strength but lacks that of the other limbs, and without their help it cannot do its work or even exist without them; so a solitary life does not seem bearable to me, since it cannot get hold of the things it does not have and what it does have is of no use.

2. Besides, charity does not allow anyone to seek his own interest, as the Apostle says: "Charity does not seek its own interest".

3. Furthermore, each person cannot easily discern his own faults and vices, if he has no one to admonish him; he might easily become like the one of whom it is written: "Woe to the one who is alone, for, if he falls, he has no one to lift him up".

4. Moreover, the commandments can be more easily fulfilled by several people. One person alone can carry out one, but be prevented from putting another into practice. Tell me, how can he who is alone visit the sick, how can he receive guests?

5. If all of us together are the body of Christ, members of one another, we must be fitted together by the Holy Spirit to form one single body, and bound to one another. If one person chooses the solitary life, he will do it, surely, not for some motive pleasing to God or because he wants to serve others, but to satisfy his own will and pleasure. Then, divided and separated, how can we accomplish and bring about perfect harmony among the members? Far less can we rejoice with those who rejoice or weep with those who weep; separated and far away from others, one cannot even know the needs of one's neighbours.

6. Then again, no single person is able to receive all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the sharing out of faith and the spiritual gifts is made according to the measure of each one, in such a way that what is given to each in a fragmentary way, gathers together and unites to form one whole in the same way that all the members do so, for the building up of one body. for "to one has been given a word of wisdom, to others a word of knowledge, to others faith, to others prophecy, to others the grace of healing", and so on. Each person receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not for his own sake but for the sake of others. So it comes about that the grace which each one receives from the Holy Spirit is for the service of all.

It follows then that the person who lives apart and isolated, though he receives some grace, he renders it useless since he does nothing with it , but buries it within himself. Those of you who read the Gospel know what great danger this may lead to. But if this person shares his grace with others, he will enjoy the grace he has himself received, it will increase within him as he shares it with others, and he enjoys the grace of others as well.

This common life led by the saints has many other advantages, so numerous that it is not possible to mention them all now. Yet already, as we said, there is the fact that in the company of many, it is easier to preserve the gifts of the Holy Spirit than if we lived in solitude.

7. Moreover, to ward off the ambushes of the enemy which attack us from without, it is much safer and more practical to live in the company of several brothers; if someone grows heavy with the sleep that leads to death, it is easier for him to be woken up. The sinner's misdeed becomes apparent to him more easily if it is noticed or pointed out by several people , as the Apostle says: "For such a person, punishment inflicted by many is (2Cor.2:6).

8. Again, in prayer, there is no little advantage gained from several people praying with one mind: through the grace within us, thanksgiving is given to God by many people.

On the other hand, danger lies in wait in the solitary life. The first danger to which it is exposed, a truly grave one, is self-satisfaction; having no one to put his actions to the test, the solitary thinks he has reached the highest perfection.

Then, lacking experience, the solitary does not know his many faults, nor the virtue he lacks. He is no longer able to discern the quality of his actions as he has no opportunity to reveal them. How can he prove his humility, when there is no one before whom he can humble himself? How can he practise compassion if he is cut off from all companionship and from society? How train himself in patience if no one contradicts his wishes?

Someone may pretend that the teaching of the Scriptures and the precepts of the Apostles is sufficient for him to amend his ways and direct his life, but to me he is like those who talk endlessly about the art of forging iron and yet have fashioned nothing, or like those who spend all their time learning the art of architecture and have never built a house.

9. The Lord also did not think that the teaching of his word alone was enough, but he wanted to give us an example of humility when, girded with a towel, he washed the feet of his disciples. Whose feet do you wash? Whom do you care for? To whom do you make yourself inferior and last of all, since you live alone?

10. Moreover, it is said: "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together!" This happiness which the Holy spirit compares to the perfume of the high priest which runs down upon his head to his beard - how can it be found in the dwelling of a solitary?

This community of brothers who live in harmony is like a sports track where, to correct one's ways and reform one's life, one advances by the practice of virtue. In community meditation on the divine commandments shines resplendently. Community resembles and exemplifies the saying of holy Scripture in the Acts of the Apostles: "All the believers lived together and had everything in common"

 

4. Obedience

Short Rules 1

1. Great Asceticon

Talking about the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ declared: "He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak", and about himself: "The Son can do nothing of himself". Elsewhere he added: "I do not speak on my own authority, but my Father who sent me has himself told me what I must say, and I know that his commandment is life eternal. The words that I say to you, I say as my Father has told me".

Who, then, would be foolish enough to dare to express such a thought of himself? For man must be led with kindness by the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of truth.

2. Short Rules 84

What are the right dispositions for obedience? - Just as a hungry infant would suckle its mother's breast at her slightest sign, or with the same promptitude that a man receives something essential for his life; and even with greater eagerness, for the future life is more precious than the present life. The Lord said: "My commandments are eternal life".

3. Short Rules 82

The one who loves God faithfully and purely does not think what he is told to do is enough, but always tends to do more; he desires and longs for more than he is asked to do, even if this seems beyond his strength.

4. Long Rules 28, end.

When someone has once and for all accepted enrolment in the body of the brethren, if he is considered capable of service, then even if it seems to him that an order is beyond his strength, let him rely on the judgment of the one who commanded him more than he felt able, and show himself docile and obedient even unto death, remembering the Lord "who was obedient unto death, death on a cross".

For rebellion and contradiction lay bare many faults; a weak faith, unstable hope and a proud character. No one, in fact, rejects an order without having first despised him who gave it. But the one who has confidence in the divine promises and hopes firmly in them will certainly not hesitate to do what he is asked, however difficult, for he knows that: "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with future glory".

Besides, the one who believes that "whoever humbles himself will be exalted", will show greater eagerness than his superior expects, for he does not forget that "our slight momentary afflictions prepare for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison".

5. Short Rules 71

The Apostle said: "Do everything without murmuring or discussion", so the one who murmurs should be isolated from the unity of the brothers and his work rejected. It is obvious that such a man is sick because of lack of faith; he is not animated by real confidence in the future hope.

 

IV. COMMUNITIES OF WOMEN

6. Letter 173

Tongue and eye must be trained to be used in the spirit of the Gospel; they must work with their hands with the intention of pleasing God; their feet must be on the go and they must make use of every limb in their body as the Creator laid down in the beginning. It is important to be modest in clothing, prudent in conversation with men, frugal in food, and while possessing what is necessary to avoid superfluity.

These are only small things when one enumerates them, but it is a great struggle to put them into practice.

7. Short Rules 281

Is it necessary to force a sister who does not want to sing psalms?

If she does not go willingly to sing the psalms, if she does not show the attitude of the one who said: "How sweet is your word to my taste, better than honey in my mouth!", and if she does not think her laziness is a great misfortune for her, she must be corrected or sent back, lest a small amount of leaven corrupts the whole pastry.

8. Short Rules 154

When a small number of brothers have to lend a hand to to a large number of sisters and have to go a long way to fulfil their tasks, is there any danger for them?

If their only concern is to obey the command of the Lord and do whatever God wants of them, every brother who fulfils his own task is pleasing to God. Unity comes about through union of souls, the ideal of the community and the realisation of the word of St Paul: "Though absent in body I am with you in spirit".

 

V. BASIL COMPLEMENTED BY GREGORY

9. On Virginity 2:1

The grace of virginity is found also in the incorruptible Father, now it is a truly astonishing thing (and quite outside our experience), that virginity can be found in a Father who possesses a Son and has begotten him without passion. God, the Only Son, leader of the incorruptible, is also virgin, for his begetting was resplendent with the purity and passionlessness of his coming to be; again the same paradox, virginity leads to the thought of a Son. We contemplate it too in the essential and incorruptible purity of the Holy Spirit, for in speaking of purity and incorruptibility we are describing virginity under another name.

10. id. 2:2

The source of incorruptibility, our Lord Jesus Christ himself, did not enter the world through marriage so that he might give proof of this great mystery by the manner of his Incarnation; only purity is able to receive God when he comes. One cannot live virginity in depth unless one becomes a stranger to the passions of the flesh. What was accomplished in immaculate Mary's body when the fulness of Divinity shone forth in Christ by virtue of her virginity, is also accomplished in every soul who remains virgin.

11. Dialogue on the Soul and the Resurrection

By these skins I understand the form of animal nature, with which we have been covered by our sensual life. The things that have been added to our true nature are intercourse, conception, child-bearing, nursing, food, desire for another, adolescence, maturity, old age, sickness, death.

12. On Virginity 12:4

What was the first man like, in his first life? He was naked, without any clothes made of skins; he looked upon the face of God with confidence and freedom and did not yet measure the good by taste and sight but found his delight in the one Lord, and for this used the help given him, as the divine Scripture implies: he had not known the woman before they were banished from paradise and she had been condemned to the pain of child-bearing for her sin in letting herself be led astray. This then is the chain of circumstances by which we left paradise, expelled with our forbears; and you can see also how it is possible now, by retracing our steps, to run once again towards that original blessedness.

13. id. 13:1.

Marriage then constitutes the last step in our estrangement from the life of paradise. Those who set out towards Christ must first renounce marriage, this is the first stage; then they must free themselves from the worldly drudgery in which man has become ensnared after sin; then they must divest themselves of the garments of flesh, casting off the "tunics of skin", that is the "thoughts of the flesh". "Renouncing all the shameful things which are done in secret", they should no longer shelter under the shade of the fig tree of a bitter life, but come again before the eyes of their Creator. They should repel the temptations of taste and sight and no longer follow the counsel of the venomous serpent but the precept of God alone. But he demands that we cling solely to what is good and thrust aside every inclination to savour what is evil, for our entanglement in evil began with our refusal to ignore evil.

14. Id, 6:2.

In the same way that water enclosed in a sealed pipe is often pushed upwards by rising pressure there being nowhere else for it to go despite its natural tendency to fall downwards, so the human intellect, when closely channelled on all sides by the practice of continence, will be lifted up, as it were, towards the desire for the highest good by its natural disposition to move forward, in the absence of other outlets. A being in continual movement, endowed by his Creator with such a nature, can never remain stationary; if he is hindered from going after vanities, he has no other possibility open to him than to go straight to reality, since absurdities have been excluded on all sides.

15. Id. 5.

How can our intellect still gaze freely upon the intelligible light to which it bears a relationship, if it allows itself to be nailed down to the pleasures of the flesh, if it spends its desire on human passions?.... In order to be able, then, to lift our eyes to a divine and blessed pleasure as freely and as spontaneously as possible, our soul will not turn towards any earthly things and will not take part in pleasures which ordinary life permits. It will rather turn its ability to love away from bodily good to the intellectual and immaterial contemplation of Beauty.

16. Id. 20:4

If anyone would believe Solomon and dwell with true Wisdom of which he says: "Take her into your heart and she will guard you; honour her, so that she may may encompass you with her protection", and would take her as his life-companion, such a person will, in a manner worthy of this desire, clothe himself in a spotless garment and prepare to feast with those who find their joy in this marriage. He will do this so that he may not be shut out because he is not clothed in the wedding garment allowing him to share the feast.

It is clear that this discourse concerns both men and women eager for such a marriage. Indeed, when, according to the expression of the Apostle: "there is no longer man and woman", and when "Christ is all in all" then surely the lover of Wisdom will possess the divine object of his desire which is true Wisdom, and the soul, clinging to the incorruptible Spouse, will possess the love of true Wisdom, which is God.

17. Id. 13:2,3

We know that the flesh, as a result of sin, is subject to death, but the Spirit of God is incorruptible, life-giving, immortal. Just as generation according to the flesh confers on the one begotten a potency which brings dissolution, so too, surely, the Spirit confers on those who are begotten through his virtue a potency which brings life.

Bodily union produces mortal bodies, but in the case of communion with the Spirit, life and incorruptibility take the place of children in those united with him. The psalmist sang of this in his divine hymns: "he gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children". For this virgin-mother truly rejoices to bear immortal children in her womb through the Spirit, she who was called barren by the prophet because of her chastity.

18. Hypotyposis 13.

We have a natural and inborn impulse, a desire which bears us towards beauty and excellence. There is in our nature a love, blissful and transcending all passion, of this clear and blessed 'Image' which we ourselves reflect.

19. Id. 37-38

We must not, under any pretext, slacken the intensity of our effort, nor leave the arena that stretches out before us, nor be anxious about what is in the past, but forgetting all this, "stretch out to what is before us" as did the Apostle. The one who esteems this Charity and who gazes up towards the promise does not extol himself on achieving success, neither when he fasts, nor when he keeps vigil, nor when he is zealous in all kinds of virtue. Filled with the desire of God, and gazing intently towards the One who calls him, he considers all that he has done to attain Him but a small thing and unworthy of recompense. As long as this life lasts, he keeps on advancing, heaping labour upon labour and virtue upon virtue, until he appears before God, precious in his works, but never considering himself made worthy of God.

20. Id. 18-19.

The Spirit is rich and not jealous of his gifts; he pours himself like a torrent upon those who receive grace; the holy Apostles, full of this grace, have displayed to the Churches of Christ the fruits of his plenitude. The Spirit dwells in those who receive this gift in complete uprightness; according to the measure of each person's faith, he is their guest, he works with them and fashions goodness in each, in proportion to their zeal of soul in the works of faith.

21. Id. 21.

The Apostle invites us to run and concentrate all our efforts upon this combat, for the gift of grace is in proportion to the effort of the one who receives it.

It is the grace of the Spirit which gives eternal life and ineffable joy in the heavens; and it is love which, through faith accompanied by works, bears fruit, attracts gifts and rejoices in grace. The grace of the Spirit and good works labour together towards the same end, filling the soul in which they are united with this blessed life. On the other hand, separated, they bring no profit to the soul. For the grace of God is of such a nature that it cannot visit souls which refuse salvation; while human virtue is of itself incapable of raising to the life of heaven souls who do not share in grace.

22. Id. 57.

We must put all our zest, our love and our hope into the work of prayer, fasting and other exercises, yet remain conviced that the flowers and fruit of this labour are the work of the Spirit.

23. Id. 52.

Above all persevere in prayer which leads the choir of virtues, and it is through prayer that we ask God for all the other virtues. Those who persevere in prayer commune with God; they are united to him by a mystical consecration, a spiritual force, a state of soul which cannot be expressed.

From now on, taking the Spirit as guide and support they are on fire with the charity of the Lord and bubble with desire, never having enough of prayer. More and more are they inflamed with love of good and rekindle their fervour of soul, according to this word of Scripture: "Those who eat me will still hunger, those who drink of me will still thirst".

24. Id. 59.

When a person receives the grace of the Spirit, he is united to the Lord through it, becoming one spirit with him. Not only does he unhesitatingly exercise the virtues which have become his, without having to fight the enemy now that he can withstand the assaults of his evil design, but also - and this surpasses all the rest - he receives within himself the sufferings of the Passion of the Lord and is filled with a happiness greater than all the lovers of life on this earth who rejoice in the honours, glory, and power conferred by human beings.

The Christian who has received grace, and who, by the gift of the Spirit and the good conduct of his life, progresses towards the 'fulness of knowledge', the glory, the satisfaction, the joy which surpasses all pleasure is to be hated for the sake of Christ, to be persecuted, to put up with every insult and humiliation, for his faith in God.

The hope of such a person in the resurrection and in the good things to come is total, and so all the torments, the anguish, the sufferings, whatever they may be, even the cross itself, will constitute his well-being, his repose and a pledge of heavenly benefits.

Since it is in heaven that with the strength of the Spirit as your help you are building an edifice of power and glory, behave as citizens of heaven. Bear with gladness all your labours and your struggles, using them for the foundations of this building so that you may be judged worthy to become the dwelling-place of the Spirit and co-heirs with Christ.

 

9. BASIL


EXPLANATION OF THE TEXT

 

THE STARTING POINT

Preface to the Moral Rules

1. Trinitarian introduction: "God" is the Father.

"Favour": the word philanthropia, ie. through friendship for humanity.

"Knowledge of the truth". The word will recur later: the root of evil is ignorance of God and of his commandments.

2. "Harmony" = Sumphonia, symphony. The words "harmony/discord"(diaphonia)run like a leit-motiv throughout this passage.

"For which Christ died". 'For' = uper = 'For the sake of'. The death of Christ dominates history.

"Flock": Basil was a pastor.

"the Anomeans": the most extreme and rigorous branch of the Arian heretics..

3. "Scales of a balance" = a contemporary rhetorical image. Basil was the son of a 'rhetor' (rhetorician, orator) and a rhetor himself.

"True and only God and King". A reference to the royalty of Christ; cf. St Benedict: prologue and ch. 61.

4. "Bees": this too is a rhetorical image; "their queen" = in Greek basileus: king.

5-6. Here again we have the pair: sumphonia/ diaphonia. The "animals which have no reason" = in Greek alogoi (without the Logos), compared to "madness" (unreason) a few lines higher.

7. Again sumphonia/diaphonia, and the reference to Christ the King.

8. "Through whom all things were made". Christ is creator: a favourite idea of the Greek Fathers.

"proclaims" = boýntos = cries

St Basil's profound insight that the obedience of the Christian has its source in the Trinity.

9. The reference to Acts found in most of the monastic legislators; one senses a nostalgia for the primitive Christian community.

"his own will": self-will, an expression probably invented by Basil, and much used by posterity.

The end of this verse shows well that the obedience of the Christian, based in theory on the Trinity, must also refer to the Trinity in practice.

10. This shows Basil's rigorism, for him the commandments are one whole. They hold together; to disobey one is to disobey them all - an idea from Stoic thought.

11. Here is his conclusion: the fruit of his reflection on Scripture.

We find once more the term: "self-will", and the Pauline expression: "pleasing to God", dear to Basil. We will meet them again later.

Another reference to the Trinity.

 

2. THE POINT OF ARRIVAL

Moral Rules 80 (end)

1."Firm belief" = plerophoria.

Basil's argument with regard to Romans: if considered objectively, is beside the point; Paul is speaking of his conviction that no food is impure, and not of theological faith. But subjectively, it is right in the anti-heretical context which Basil is dealing with. The conclusion seems a bit extreme, but is made clear by SR 1:

Among the actions or words which we find in Holy Scripture, some are mentioned as the object of an order from the Lord, others are passed over in silence. As far as those in Holy Scripture are concerned, no one is allowed to do something if it is forbidden, or not to do it if it is commanded, for the Lord has willed it once for all and he has said: "You will observe the commandment that I have given you; you will not add or take away anything".Concerning those which are not laid down precisely, the apostle Paul gives us a rule when he says: "Everything is permitted to me, but not all is profitable, everything is permitted to me, but not all is edififying". So no one must look for what pleases himself, but what is useful for others. This doctrine is found again here: "Not to seek one's own interest" = forgetfulness of self, gift of self. "But the interest of the one whom we love": for Paul's "that of another" Basil substitutes "one whom we love", and he insists: "in both soul and body".

2. The topic of baptism: plunged in the death and resurrection of Christ. At the end, a reference to man in the image of God.

3. Purification through ascesis prepares us for the eucharist. To the quotation from Paul (2Cor.7:1) Basil adds: "and the love of Christ" The eucharist must lead to prayer, and this must be translated into deeds.

4. "Righteousness that surpasses that of the pharisees". The law of Jesus is a law of love. There is all the difference here between law and charity; one can finish with the law, fulfil all its prescriptions and think oneself free of it. But God would not be God if one could wipe out one's debt to Him. this is why the demands of charity are infinite, and why the righteousness of the Christian must surpass that of the pharisee. There is no limit to the love of God. Love demands a continual advance, always walking forward. Here we have the reference to epektasis - "always more", which we often meet in the Fathers. In Basil, it has the character of concrete engagement which is special to him.

 

3. THE BASIC PRINCIPLES

Charity

The Little Asceticon, Question 2.

1.Let us say straight away that Basil was strongly influenced by Stoicism. He took themes and ideas from this philosophical movement. These are fragments taken from the Stoic system which serve to express ideas which he takes from Scripture. For Stoicism, the world is a living thing, like God, with whom it is confused. To live, for human beings, is to be in harmony with universal life. In so doing man will be in the truth; while on the contrary to be in disharmony with universal life is to be in error.

This idea of "strength sown within us" also comes from Stoicism. Before Basil, we meet it in the philosophy of the Christian apologist Justin.

This strength urges us to good. If one works with this strength one is virtuous, if one goes against it one is depraved. We find here, as in Antony, the idea that nature is good.

The Greek text, which is later, took up this idea, clarifying what "the school of God's commandments" is which will nurture this seed. But for Basil, this school is listening to the Gospel, it is not the monastery as we find in Benedict (cf. Prol.45).

2. Basil applies this principle to love. This fragment gives us the plan of what follows: "good", "parents", "favours". We shall love God then, because he is good, because he is our Father, because he showers us with favours.

Basil's reasoning is presented in a syllogism: we have received strength from God which predisposes us towards love. But God is supremely lovable, for he is beautiful and good. Therefore we must love him and it is inexcusable if we do not love him. This might appear to confuse the natural will with free will, for though that which we do well through a free decision is, by nature, ours, the inverse is not true: we do not always do freely the good which we love 'by nature'. But Basil takes his stand on the hypothesis of perseverance in the fear of God. The commandments are effective on condition that one observes them: the love one has for God lead us to love him the more, on condition that one is aware of this natural love and cultivates it in oneself. The seed of charity does not germinate and grow unless one cultivates it in "the school of the precepts of God". The text should be understood in this perspective.

3. Now follows one of the most beautiful pages in the work of Basil and indeed in Christian literature. We find again here Origen's theme of the "wound of love".

God is good and beautiful: the first motive for loving him. And from the beginning, to inspire us to love him, Basil lets us catch a glimpse of the joys found through the flowering of love, as will Benedict, more unobstrusively at the end of the Prologue and in chapter 7.

4. God is our Father and our Mother!

5-8. Basil deals here with the gifts of God; first as Creator, then as Redeemer, who by his Incarnation and his Passion has won for us the gift of heaven where we will be divinised.

9. The conclusion is well balanced. Basil leaves no room for laxity: "God does it all, why bother ourselves?" nor for Pelagianism: "man is free, it is he who effects his salvation". On the contrary, man receives (passive aspect); but he must bear fruit through asceticism (active aspect). Two complementary aspects.

Mindfulness of God

Little Asceticon, Question 2.

1. This is the next part of the Little Asceticon. After the theory, comes the practice. First a general principle: every skill requires concentration.

2. Then the application to ourselves, to our craft which Basil describes later as: "the craft of pleasing God". First the negative aspect, defensive: guarding the heart, dear to monks of the desert. Then the positive aspect: if we guard our hearts from bad thoughts, it is to engrave on them the remembrance of God.

3. An important text dealing with Basil's conception of asceticism, and also of continual prayer and prayer during work. One can schematize this text in the form of a circle. Basic to his thought is the text of St Paul: two poles. Basil adds a third, remembrance: love leads to remembrance; this leads to the desire to be pleasing to the loved one by following the commandments. Moreover action, to be correct, must conform to the will of God, it must remain anchored in obedience. This takes for granted that one remembers the order received and him who gave it. We shall see later that one ascends to love through the remembrance of God.

4. The scopos of Cassian which was purity of heart becomes here the intention to "please God". The monk is one whose craft or work is to be pleasing God.

5. Earlier, we had a descending movement in the circle of love. Here we climb up again: the remembrance of what is pleasing to God guides our actions, and to do well we must keep the remembrance of God in our thoughts, which will intensify our love. This, for Basil, is the way of continual prayer. Asceticism leads to contemplation.

To help us to understand it better, Basil gives us the example of the blacksmith. Here again we find the circle of love. It is a circle which is never closed in this life; we should rather speak of a spiral.

6. Now the conclusion: the love of God must be translated into deeds; it leads to the glory of God, and to our glory as well: "his actions bring him enrichment". The glory of God and our glory go together. In one of his homilies to the people, Basil comments on the word of the psalmist: "I exalt you": "This means that God is exalted by those who are aware of his greatness, who know rightly who he is, and who live for the glory of God. For the one who knowingly pursues his own blessedness - the one who sanctifies himself -, exalts God. As for one who does the opposite, it is not even possible to say at what point he degrades God, in the measure at least that a person can do so".

The love of God and true love of self thus go together; we shall be glorified in the measure in which we have given glory to God.

Life in Community

1-2. There is no very clear plan in this extract. Basil begins with one sensible remark on the practical level: we need other people.. Then he rests his thought on the first of the basic principles: charity to our neighbour, which is one with charity to God.

3-5. Common life is useful for correction (3); for practising all the commandments: Cenobites complement each other (4). We are members of Christ and must help one another (5).

6. An original idea: God is so great that one single person cannot receive all his gifts, all his graces. On the other hand, the gifts given to one person also belong to others.

7. The idea of fraternal correction comes up again.

8. A return to the idea developed in 6, under another aspect: God is so great that one single person is not sufficient alone to thank him - idea of thanksgiving dear to Basil. There is a similar passage in the homily on Psalm 33: "One mind alone, the meditation of a sole person is not sufficient in the short time he has available, to understand the magnificent works of the Lord. For this the efforts of all those who have learnt to live in peace must be united".

Then Basil begins a long criticism of the life of the anchorite.

9-10. A fine conclusion in three parts: the cenobitic life has the example of the Lord (90; the support of Scripture and the example of the primitive community (10). The last paragraph is a beautiful commendation of the common life.

Obedience

4. A text to be compared with the chapter in the Rule of St Benedict on obedience in impossible things.

Observe that the three theological virtues underlie this whole text. Obedience, for Basil, is something very fundamental.

 

IV. Communities of Women

6. "Tongue and eye must be trained to be used in the sprit of the Gospel". We have here again the idea that the Gospel is the Rule of the Christian. The prescriptions which follow are but practical applications of this Rule. Practising the Gospel is the way "to be pleasing to God". Again we have the theme dear to Basil; we saw earlier that for him this defines the monk. The same idea comes again in text 8.

Basil complemented by Gregory

On Virginity

9. Consecrated virginity is thus considered by Gregory to be a participation in that virginity which he discerns in God within the relationship of the three Persons.

"An astonishing thing (and quite outside our experience)", is a translation of the greek word: paradoxos, in English 'paradox'. Here the paradox is virginal fatherhood and fruitful virginity. In the writings of Gregory of Nyssa we often find this paradoxical character of the experience of divine things expressed by two contrasting words: luminous darkness, learned ignorance, vigilant sleep, sober inebriation. This is what is called an oxymoron (from oxis = pointed and moron = blunt).

"He has begotten him without passion". For the Greeks, generation implied suffering, a qualitative change by way of alteration: that is to say, a birth. Whence we have the paradox, as God is impassible, he cannot suffer change.

"Leader of the incorruptible" = choir master or choreographer, leader of the dance.

10.

"Enter the world..." here means the Incarnation.

To welcome God, we must be like Mary, a stranger to the passions of the flesh. Virginity of the spirit is meant here, which is more important than bodily virginity.

12.

"In his first life" means in the life before sin and the fall. In the previous text we found that the "clothes made of skins" stood for what we have in common with the animals whose skins became the clothes of fallen man..

"Confidence and freedom" is parrhesia, that confident familiarity of the child towards his Father which, according to Gregory, was man's before the fall.

13.

The "worldly drudgery" is doubtless the pre-occupied search for well-being through work in a life where all is vanity.

"The shade of the fig tree" is an allusion to the quickly falling leaves of a life spent in the search for earthly glory (glory, honours, pleasure); "bitter life": before they are ripe, figs are bitter. Life on earth is bitter in contrast to life in heaven which will be 'ripe and succulent'.

After detachment from evil and passing things, comes attachment to the true good.

14.

This comparison has already been made by Gregory of Nazianzan and will be taken up by John Climacus (26th degree).

"In continual movement": man is a being of desire, in search of infinite good, by his very creation. This idea gives rise to the theme of epectasis. St Augustine has the same idea: "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you". Man either chases after vanity, or he seeks the true good where he will find rest.

16.

"Men and women". Clement of Alexandria had already emphasised the equality of the sexes in their search for God: "The same virtue concerns all of us, men and women alike" (Pedagogue 1,IV:10) So too Origen in his Commentary on the Canticle (III:9) takes up the word of St Paul: "In Christ there is neither male nor female" (2Cor.8:9). Gregory of Nazianzan too in his funeral prayer for Gorgonia cries: "Indeed feminine nature has surpassed masculine nature in the struggle for salvation, proving that there is a difference of body between the two but not of soul".

Note the vocabulary of passionate love: (eros, used in the last line, of true Wisdom), and its derivative erastheis, the object of desire (epithumia), clinging (proskoletheisa), possess.

17.

Mary is not named in this text; she is behind the quotation of Psalm 112, and the context of the strict parallelism between bodily fruitfulness and spiritual fruitfulness.

Continence is fruitful through participation in the Spirit, as the virginity of Mary was made fruitful by the Spirit.

The Hypotyposis

18.

The same idea is found in Rule 2 of Basil in which the love of God is presented as inborn in man; Gregory gives it a dynamic nuance. By nature man, a being of desire, is drawn towards the Beauty which is God. This is so because he is created "in the image of God".

19.

Following on the preceeding text is the theme of epectasis dear to Gregory: the soul never ceases in its approach to and discovery of God who is infinite. This theme is developed particularly in the Life of Moses and in the Homilies on the Canticle. Here it is the pledge of both generosity and humility.

20.

It is "according to the measure of each person's faith" that the Spirit comes to each and the he works and "fashions goodness in each in proportion to their zeal". The text is an eloquent expression of synergy. Later Pelagianism would place human effort before grace. Gregory teaches that human effort is tied to the power of the Spirit who works within the person.

21.

The Spirit is thus present both at the beginning and the end of the work of the person's efforts: faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. But the response of the human person, whose chief characteristic is freedom according to Gregory, conditions the extent of the gifts of God.

23.

Here again on the subject of prayer, we can emphasise the dynamism of Gregory and its underlying theme of epectasis: God is infinite, the soul can never have its fill of contemplation. The rest of the text shows that here are to be found: "the first-fruits, the sign of eternal felicity which the souls of the saints enjoy in eternity". Although in Western theology we are at "death 'fixed' in the degree of charity we have reached; according to Gregory, even the life hereafter will be a continual progress in charity.

24.

The Passion being the summit of life in Christ, for the monk, the lover of Christ in Gregory's eyes, communion in the passion of Christ is the gauge of future joys. It is of course in the Spirit and in his strength that this joy can be tasted.

 

Table 8

The tutor can judge the advantages and limits of these two presentations.

The first (Western) gives a better account of the origin ofman as a rational animal, by nature mortal; but it presents man as two-fold, unaware of the spiritual part of his nature.

On the other hand the second part, according to the approach of Irenaeus and Origen, is a three-fold anthropology: body, soul and spirit. But it shows the final destiny of man as possessed by him since his creation. It connects death with sin, although death is in the nature of man.

 

 

 

9. BASIL


REVISION

ANSWERS

 

 

1) What were the circumstances that led to Basil's reflections?

He saw quarrels in the Church, social injustice, ascetics who did whatever came into their heads. He concluded that they knew nothing of a loving God and that none of these people sought to please God. So he went to the Scriptures to find what is pleasing to God.

 

2) What are the three books which together are called the 'Rules of Basil'?

At what stage in Basil's life was each of them written?

What is the characteristic of each?

These three books are: the "Moral Rules", the "Little Asceticon", and the "Great Asceticon". He wrote the first during his monastic period at Annesis, the second when he was a priest, and the third when he was a bishop.

The "Moral Rules" are a reflection on the New Testament: what is Christian life? What is a Christian?

The "Little Asceticon" is a collection of answers given to fervent ascetics who were not always very enlightened. Basil visited their little communities, answered their questions, and then corrected the deviations in their spirituality.

Later, Basil became a bishop, the communities grew and there was a need for more precise regulations, a more complete organisation with the presence of a more clearly defined authority. He then made the "Little Asceticon" more explicit and completed it. This is the "Great Asceticon"

 

3) What are the basic principles of the 'asceticons'? Show how they are consistent.

The first of these principles is charity. This is the logical consequence of the teaching given in the New Testament: God is Love and we must love him and love our brothers. To love God, we must be mindful of him, so this is the second basic principle: mindfulness of God. To do this as well as possible, we retire from the world and live in community: these are the two principles which follow from the first. Life in community implies obedience. This is the last of the basic principles which we studied. We have omitted two others which concern asceticism, temperance and renunciation.

 

4) What reasons does Basil give why we must love God?

We must love God, first because it is part of our nature: we have received the inborn need to love. We love that which we consider good and beautiful. But God is good and beautiful. Moreover, we naturally love those who do good to us. But God has created us and placed us in a marvellous world. He has not abandoned sinful human beings, but he has come to our help; he became man and died for us; he secures eternal life for us and promises to give us a share in his divinity. What wonderful gifts! How could we not love him?

 

5) Give some of the arguments Basil uses to justify life in community.

The question is more personal. The main arguments can be summed up as follows:

One cannot be sufficient unto oneself and without other people.

Life with others enables one to see one's faults and failings better.

Someone living alone cannot fulfil all the commandments of Scripture.

Someone living alone cannot receive all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In giving the gifts we have received to others, they are multiplied.

Someone living alone cannot give to God all the thanksgiving he deserves.

Life in common enables one to humble oneself in front of one's brethren and so imitate the humility of Christ.

 

6) What is the basis of obedience, its object, what should be our dispositions; to what extent should we practice obedience? Describe murmuring in a few words.

The basis of obedience is love. - Its object is the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. Our disposition is to please God, to give him glory, which presumes humility. - Its measure: always more!

Murmuring is a lack of faith, a sickness.

 

7) Which are the two writings of Gregory of Nyssa which complete the teaching of Basil? What seems to you most noteworthy in each of them.

The two writings of Gregory of Nyssa which complete the teaching of Basil are the "On Virginity", and the "Hypotyposis".

The second part of the question is more personal. What is noteworthy in the "On Virginity" is that Gregory presents virginity as a reflection of the life of the Trinity. He makes use of an anthropology to which we are not accustomed and which has both its riches and its limits. It is very idealistic, and shows in Adam the goal which we must reach. Gregory also sees in virginity a marriage with God which gives it its fecundity.

In the "Hypotyposis", there are some noteworthy features which are special to Gregory: the emphasis he places on epectasis (which is not absent in the work of Basil, but is there seen in a more active light) - and the two themes of synergyu and the indwelling of the Spirit within the soul.

 

9. BASIL & BENEDICT


 

STUDY PAPER 5

ANSWERS

 

Here are some extracts from Basil's Little Asceticon, the text which St Benedict knew. On the next page are the numbers of the chapters in the Rule where we can trace Basil's influence. Find which chapter (and paragraph) of RB corresponds to these passages from the Little Asceticon. Several of Basil's texts are referred to in the RB. If any words are the same, underline them.

 

RECEPTION OF BROTHERS

1. First of all the one who wants to join the brothers must be given some hard work, of a kind humiliating to people in the world; see if he he does it with a ready heart, faithfully and without embarrassment, and if he bears the humiliation without ill-humour; observe too whether he is prompt and quick to work. (Q 6)

58, 3, 7, 8.

2. Any children who are offered by the wish and consent of their parents must be received before several witnesses, and even the parents themselves, so that malicious folk may not be given the opportunity to speak evil. (Q 7)

59.

PRAYER

3. If it happens that someone is not present with the others in the place of prayer, he should fulfil his work of devotion in whatever place he finds himself. (Q 107)

50, 4.

4. How can one avoid distractions in prayer?

If one abides in the presence of God. Indeed, when in the presence of one's judge and one's master, and speaking with him, one does not let one's eyes wander elsewhere. How much more should the one who approaches the Lord never turn away the eye of his heart, but fix it on Him who searches the reins and the heart. (Q 108)

19, 1, 2, 6.

 

FRATERNAL CHARITY

5. How should we serve sick brothers?

As if we were serving the Lord himself who said: "What you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me (Q 36).

36, 1, 3.

RENUNCIATION

6. We must not do all that is permitted, but what edifies our neighbour. Whoever wishes to accomplish this must without doubt deny his own will, in imitation of the Lord who said: "I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me. (Q12).

7, 31-32.

CONTINENCE

7. Each one should have the same resolve not to eat to satiety, for to fill the stomach and weigh it down with food makes the body incapable of any work. (Q9)

39, 7.

HUMILITY

8. Humility is to believe everyone is superior to ourselves. (Q62)

7, 51.

POVERTY

9. Food which is the easiest to obtain in each province, and at the best price, must always be used; never look for something more expensive and difficult to come by under the pretext of abstinence. (Q9)

55, 7.

10. Should any brother have something of his own?

This is contrary to the witness given in the Acts of the Apostles; it is written of the first believers: "No one said that anything he had was his own, but everything was held in common". If someone calls something his, without doubt he distances himself from the elect of God and the charity of the Lord who taught poverty by his words and showed it in his actions, who gave his life for his friends. If he himself gave his life for his friends, how then can we claim for ourselves what is not our life?

33, 3

11. How should those who are working look after the tools which are given them?

First they must use them as if they were vessels of God, or things henceforth consecrated to God. Then let them consider that without them they will find no profit in their prayers and studies.

31, 10.

WORK

12. Should those who join the brothers learn a craft straight away?

It is for the superiors to decide. Let those who join the community learn a craft according to their age and ability; so for example, if there is someone less able to meditate or engage in spiritual things, let him busy himself with other things, for fear Satan takes possession of him so that he is laid open to his arrows if he is found sluggish with idleness and without work. The apostle said: "The one who does not work should not eat!" and Solomon said: "Idleness is the enemy of the soul" (Q192)

48, 1.

OBEDIENCE

13. The apostle shows us the way to obey in recommending the obedience of the Lord: "He made himself obedient even to death, death on the cross". (Q65)

14. Disobedience is the cause and the root of all evils. But if it seems that someone has a good reason to be excused from a job, let him explain it to the one who presides and leave it to his judgment to see whether the excuse he gives is valid. (Q69)

68, 2.

15. What should be done if someone is vexed, and will not accept what has been offered to him for his use?

He does not deserve to receive it, even if he asks for it, until the one who presides has tested him; when he sees that the vice in his soul is healed, then he can offer him what is necessary for his body. (Q96)

43, 19.

16. If anyone dares to give alms against the wishes of the one in charge, let him be punished as a restless and undisciplined person, until he learns to keep the place which is his, as the apostle says: "Let each one keep to the situation in which he was called" (Q98)

2, 8.

17. What should be done if the one who presides wishes to take back a receptacle or a tool from someone, and he objects?

He has surrendered himself and his body into another's power, by reason of the commandment of God; from then on how can he be allowed to refuse a tool to him to whom special authority has been given?

58, 25.

THE SUPERIOR

18. The one who presides should think of himself as a servant of Christ and the "steward of the mysteries of God", fearing to say or command anything contrary to the will of God or what is explicitly ordained in the sacred Scriptures. (Q15)

2.

19. Those who preside should observe the rule which says: "They gave to each one according to his needs". They must, indeed, take care of each one so that, whatever his work, he may find something to refresh his strength. (Q94)

55, 20.

 

 

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Rule of St Benedict: 2 - 7 - 20 - 31 - 33 - 36 - 39 - 40 - 43 - 48 - 50 - 55 - 58 - 59 - 68.

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