From St Basil the Great, Richard Travers Smith, Society for Promoting Christian knowledge, London, 1879.
The Doctrine of the Son.
A very eminent writer has said that the controversies of the fourth century, “were carried on, so to speak, in the scientific region, and did not greatly enter into the moulding of ordinary life and character.” No doubt this remark might be explained in some sense consistent with truth. But assuredly, if we were to apply it to the work of St. Basil in the region of theology, it would lead us quite astray. He was a great orthodox theologian, but he was a man of so pre-eminently practical a spirit, that if the theological controversies in which he mingled had not entered into the moulding of ordinary life, we may feel almost certain that he would not have touched them.
He grew up in the midst of the controversies upon the nature of the Son; and those upon the nature of the Holy Ghost had their origin during the period of his ministry. We have treatises from his pen upon both subjects; but there is the strongest proof of his moderation upon both, and of the fact that nothing but a clear and deliberate conviction of the vital importance of Catholic truth could have induced him to lay aside the great works of moral reformation and of charity which he had in hand, in order to engage in the discussion. Many of his oldest and best friends had been at some period of their lives deceived by the plausible arguments of Arianism, or semi-Arianism, or had been induced to make concessions to error amidst the perplexities of those difficult times. Gregory of Nazianzus the elder had subscribed a semi-Arian creed, and so had Dianius of Csesarea, the beloved teacher of Basil’s youth, whose memory he regarded with love and reverence; Meletius of Antioch had received Arian ordination, and Eusebius of Samosata, than whom he had no closer confidant, was tainted in a similar way. But the persecutions of the reign of Constantius had afforded to many semi-Arians an opportunity of suffering for their faith, which brought them and the orthodox together; and Athanasius, as well as Basil, was very ready to forget past errors in the case of those who were now willing to draw to their side for the defence of truth. We may be sure then that the words of Basil which we have in this controversy are those of one who had weighed well and charitably what could be said upon the other side.
Upon the Arian controversy there was no question of drawing up a new creed; that was sufficiently provided by the creed of Nicaea, upon which Basil always takes his stand, maintaining it on the one hand true, and on the other sufficient. But the declarations regarding the Holy Spirit which our creed contains were not yet adopted by the Church. Basil repeatedly recites the Nicene creed (Ep. 125, 140 & 258), and declares that he will add nothing to it, except a declaration that the Holy Ghost is not a creature, and that He is essentially holy, as are the Father and the Son. We find him (Ep. 125) announcing his determination not to leave behind him any composition upon the faith; meaning thereby, we suppose, either a defined creed, or else a doctrinal treatise over and above those which he had already composed. This was a degree of moderation unusual at that period; for it was then that in some church, with which Basil must have been in close connection, the creed was cast nearly into the form to which we give the name of Nicene, and that other creeds were also propounded to supply the obvious insufficiency of the Nicene in respect to the controversies of the day. Moreover, Basil drew upon himself the vehement suspicions and even open accusations of the religious world of his time by his apparent laxity on the doctrine of the Spirit; and we know from Gregory of Nazianzus that there existed at one time an understanding between the friends that Gregory should prosecute the controversy upon the Holy Ghost, while Basil should be silent, in order to give as few offences as possible to any committed to his charge. We may, therefore, be assured that what he was at last obliged to write upon this subject also was not the work of a controversialist, or of a thinker insensible to the evils of over-definition, but sober words forced from him by the practical needs of Christian truth.
The same idea of St. Basil’s relations to Christian doctrine is impressed upon us by the position which the treatise de Fide holds to the Moralia. Were we sure that it was intended to be as it now stands, a preface to that work, it would inevitably bear the appearance, not indeed of a moralist getting doctrine speedily out of his way, but of a Christian worker laying down briefly, decidedly, and beyond suspicion, the doctrinal principles of his work, in order to devote himself at leisure to that edifice of morality as a basis for which he values truth. Even if we suppose the de Fide to have been composed at an earlier period, this impression appears equally well based, and, on the whole, we can hardly be mistaken in viewing St. Basil as a man weary of strife and bent upon Christian living as the chief thing, yet driven to treat of doctrines because he believed that they did enter into the moulding of ordinary life and character, and was persuaded, as Professor Huxley expresses it, that “rational expectation and moral action are alike based upon beliefs.”
The forms of error with which Basil had to deal were chiefly those of the Anomaeans Aetius and Eunomius, who, without denying to the Son the name of God and divine worship, yet asserted His distinction in substance from the Father; of Sabellianism, which denied the reality of the distinction of persons in the Trinity, and regarded the various manifestations of the divine as only different appearances to the same one person, and the later heresy of the Pneumatomachi, which regarded the Holy Ghost as a creation of God, and in various other ways, often very difficult to grasp, denied the Catholic faith concerning the third person of the Godhead.
Basil s apprehension of the momentous practical danger of Arianism and Sabellianism is summed up in his repeated declaration that if we teach the existence of different beings of different substance, to whom we give the name of God and divine worship, we accept the principle of heathen polytheism, and if we teach the unreality of the personal distinction between the various modes of manifestation of God, we are really returning to Judaism. “Those who say that the Only-begotten is a creature of God, and then worship Him and call Him God, by adoring the creature and not the Creator, re-introduce the errors of the heathen; and they who deny that He is God of God, and nominally confessing the Son of God, in reality and truth evacuate His existence, renew Judaism” (Hom. 24 N/A); and a letter to the Western bishops, describing the miser able condition of the East, complains that there ” Polytheism obtains; a greater and lesser Deity are recognised. The Son is not a name denoting His nature, but is considered as a title of some kind of dignity; the Holy Ghost is not thought to complete the Holy Trinity, nor partake the divine nature, but to be one of the creatures, joined at random and by chance with the Father and the Son” (Ep. 243).
Basil’s defence of Catholic doctrine is not based upon any arrogant estimate of the knowledge we are capable of attaining. Quite the reverse. “If I laid down that all things were capable of being grasped by our knowledge, I might be ashamed to confess my ignorance. But the fact is, that not only are in numerable things of those which are laid up for us in the future, or of those now existing in the heavens, concealed from us, but we cannot even understand clearly the things which exist in our bodies. As, for instance, with respect to sight, whether it is by receiving the images of visible things that we form our perceptions of them” (Con Eun. 3.6). Thus the substance of everything is incomprehensible to us. “What is the substance of the earth, and what is the method by which it is known? (Con Eun. 1.12)” and if the substance of all things is unknown to us, much more that of God. “The peace of God passeth all understanding, yet Eunomius will not allow that the very substance of God is beyond all understanding and knowledge of man. For my part, I believe that the conception of it passes not only men s understanding, but that of all rational creatures” (Con Eun. 1.13-14). No one knoweth the Father save the Son, and the Spirit searcheth all things; and what can this pre-eminence in knowledge mean if any other can comprehend the essence of the Deity. “It is under the teaching of God’s acts, and knowing the Creator through His works, that we arrive at the conception of His wisdom and His goodness” (And thus ” there is no one name which suffices to include the whole nature of God (Con Eun. 1.10)”. “Names express not substances, but peculiar qualities which characterise individuals. When we hear the word Peter, we think not of his essence (I mean the material substance), but of the individual qualities which we perceive about him (Con Eun 2.4).”
What then is the meaning of declaring that the Son is of one substance with the Father?” That one and the same manner of existence is beheld in both so that if, for instance, the Father be thought of as being Light in Himself and in His substance, we shall confess the substance of the Son also to be Light (Con Eun. 1.19)”. Basil uses repeatedly, in explaining this matter a form of expression which at first sight is startling, namely, that the distinction between substance (ousia) and person (hypostasis) corresponds to the distinction between common and proper nouns; as, ” man” and ” Peter.” So that the common nature which is designated by a common noun is common substance; and those proper nouns which are designated in general by the same common one are consubstantial (Ep. 38). Thus ” all men are of one substance” (Con Eun. 2.4). Plainly this is open to a misconception, which in fact was formed in the days of Basil; namely, that the assertion of the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son meant ” a kind of division and distribution of a previously existing substance” (Con Eun. 2.4) This objection was made by Paul of Samosata. But the answer lies in considering the nature of the substance of which we speak. “The idea might have some application to brass, and coins made of it; but, in the case of the Father and of the Son, the substance of one is not older than that of the other, neither can it be conceived as superimposed on both” (Ep. 52). In fact, when you are dealing with perfect substance, the common appellation comes to denote a kind of unity, and an absence of separation, which it does not in the case of those substances which are limited and imperfect. We doubtless see in these passages of Basil the thoughts which were the germ of the contest between Nominalism and Realism.
Now the argument of Eunomius the Anomaean is based upon a refusal frankly to accept the knowledge which God gives us of Himself, going as far as He leads us, but confessing our ignorance where our knowledge really stops short. We grow weary as the argument of Eunomius is repeated in various forms, and pursued through infinite distinctions, that the epithet unbegotten expresses something which belongs to the substance of the Father, and that therefore the Son, who is admittedly begotten, cannot be of the same substance. But, replies Basil, ” if the word unbegotten expresses the substance of the Father, so no doubt must also the terms immutable, invisible, and incorruptible. Now these confessedly are applicable to the Son: your argument therefore recoils upon yourself. For if these words express substance, then He to whose substance they apply must be consubstantial with the Father, to whom they also apply” (Con Eun. 1.8).
St. Luke, in recording the generations, mounts from the later to the earlier, from Joseph to Heli, from Heli to Matthew, and so back to Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the Son of God. In enumerating those, he surely does not indicate the essence or substance of the various persons named, but their origin. As he said then that Adam derived his origin from God, so we proceed to ask ourselves, “and God, from whom ?” As every one must reply, “from none,” we therefore call God unbegotten. Now if, in recording the human generations, their substance was not denoted, why should we suppose that God s substance is denoted by the denial that any generation took place in His case (Con Eun. 1.15)? The word unbegotten expresses, not what the substance of God is, but what it is not (Con Eun. 4.2).
When we speak of generation in regard to God, we must think of a generation worthy of Him, and impassible” (Con Eun. 2.17) that God out of His own divine nature, and in a manner becoming Himself, begat the Son, only-begotten, of equal honour and glory, sharer of His throne, His counsels, and His works; of one substance with God the Father, and not estranged from His sole Deity.” Were the Son not all this, He ought not to be worshipped, for ” thou shalt worship none other gods but Me” (Con Eun. 5.5). He is the Word of God. But when we say Word we must not think of our methods of speech. God requires none such for His utterance. “The divine will and the first impulse of intelligent movement is the Word of God; out of the very thoughts of His heart, as one might say, comes the communication of His will” (Con Eun. Hex 3.2). And to introduce questions of time in relation to His existence is exactly as if one were to speak of what will happen after the death of an immortal being (Hex 2.17). There are multitudes of expressions applied in Scripture to God, which we agree are to be tropically taken; as when we hear of God sleeping, being angry, flying, and the like; and shall generation be the only word into which we shall insist upon forcing a human meaning when we apply it to God (Hex. 2.24). We concede, it is true, that in one sense the Father must be placed before the Son; namely, in respect of the relation of a cause to that which it causes. But not in respect of difference of nature, nor yet in respect of priority of time. He said, ” My Father is greater than I.” But the Jews themselves interpreted the Lord better than Eunomius, when they accused Him of making Himself equal with God. And the Apostle declares, that He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Plainly He uses the expression greater, because the Father is the cause of His being (Con Eun. 1.25). But it must be confessed that Basil elsewhere appears to reject this explanation of the verse, and to refer it to the voluntary honour which the Son pays to the Father (Con Eun. 4.3). And in still a third passage he argues that this very verse proves the Son consubstantial with the Father. For we make comparison of greater and less between things of the same nature, as between angels and angels, or men and men; and we cannot wonder that He who, by taking human flesh, made Himself lower than the angels, should say that His Father is greater than He.
He does, indeed, say, “As the Father said unto Me, even so I speak”; and “the word which ye hear is not mine, but His which sent Me”; and again, “As the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Not as if He were deprived of choice or will, or as if He waited for a preconcerted signal to commence His work; but He uses these expressions to manifest His own will to be inseparably adherent to the Father. Therefore when He speaks of commandment we must not understand an imperious injunction conveyed by physical organs, and giving directions regarding conduct to the Son as to a subject; rather must we think as becomes the Godhead, of a communication of will like the reflection of a form in a mirror, passing from the Father to the Son beyond the limits of time (De Sp. Sanc. 20). For ” what time is to things physical that eternity is to the supramundane” (Con Eun. 2.13). In truth, the declaration that He can do nothing of Himself is the one thing which proves Father and Son of the same nature. For all rational creatures can do something of themselves, for better or for worse: if the Son cannot, He is not a creature (Ep. 8).
“He was in the beginning with God.” There are many beginnings of many things, but there is one beginning of all things, which lies beyond. Suffer your mind to range as far as it will, and stretch upwards; after numberless wanderings and vain endeavours, you will find it return back without any success in placing this beginning behind or beneath it. The beginning is ever found to be above and beyond our thought. In this beginning then was the Word (Hom. 16.1-2). And whoever thinks to lower the Son must needs apply the depreciating process to the Father also. For if he places the Father in the highest place, and supposes the Son to sit below, he is using a carnal method of imagination which must apply to the one divine person as well as to the other (De Sp. Sanc. 15).
The eye cannot use its vision beyond the region of light, nor can the mind use its faculty of apprehension beyond the Only-begotten. “Vain and blind and devoid of understanding is the mind which supposes itself able to apprehend the existence of anything before Him” (Con Eun. 2.16). But in regard to the question raised by the term Anomaean; namely, whether the Son is like or unlike to the Father, it is to be observed that Basil does not profess to decide either way, but puts it aside as one which our faculties do not enable us to grasp. “We neither assert the Son to be like nor unlike to the Father; both of these are alike impossible. Like and unlike are words which refer to qualities; now God is without qualities” (Ep 8). ” Gird thee with thy sword upon thy thigh, O thou most mighty.” Even so; for ” that God should assume the nature of man is truly the greatest proof of His power. The formation of heaven and earth, of the ocean and the firmament, and the elements, and of things above the earth and things beneath, commends not the power of the Divine Word so much as His Incarnation and descent to the lowliness and weakness of humanity” (Hom. in Ps. 44.5). “He took upon Him the form of a servant.” Had He been a creature, this could not have been said, for He would have been a servant already (Con. Eun. 4.1); He took our flesh with all natural affections; but He did no sin. And as death, which was transmitted to us from Adam through our flesh, was swallowed up by the Deity, so was sin destroyed by the righteousness that is in Jesus Christ; that in the resurrection we might receive back again our flesh, neither subject to sin nor sentenced to death. These be the mysteries of the Church; these the traditions of the fathers. I testify to every man who fears the Lord, and looks for the judgment of God, that he be not carried about with divers doctrines. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to the wholesome words of faith, but rejects the oracles of the Spirit, and considers his own teaching preferable to the doctrines of the gospel, such an one avoid (Ep. 261).
The Doctrine of the Spirit
The heresy concerning the Holy Ghost which St. Basil had to oppose was, as he declares, unheard of in the Church up to his time. Montanus had propounded many false notions concerning Him, but had shrunk from calling Him a creature of the Son, as the Son a creature of the Father. It is impossible, Basil argues, that such a thing should be, were it but for this reason, that no operation of the Son can be separate from that of the Father, for, He says, “all mine are thine, and thine are mine” (Con Eun. 2.33-34). We may remark, in passing, that it is difficult to see how, if the question of the Procession of the Spirit from the Son as from the Father had been before Basil, he could have resisted the twofold application of the principle which he here states, and of the text by which he supports it, as showing the impossibility of conceiving the Procession from the Father, if it was not also from the Son.
And the same may be said of another passage, which lays down that “as the Son is the Logos of God, so the Spirit is the word of the Son, who up holds all things, says Holy Scripture, by the word of His power. And since He is the word of the Son, therefore also that of God; as it is said, the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Adv Eun. 5). And so again, he argues, that the Spirit could not bear witness with our spirits, that we are children of God, or cry Abba Father, unless He were really communicated by the Son, not sent by Him as a human spirit might be, but the everlasting Spirit of God and of the Son (Con Eun. 5). But it is to be confessed that the question of the two fold procession of the Spirit was not before the mind of our saint, and that nothing absolutely decisive on the subject is to be found in his writings. “The Son came forth from the Father, the Spirit proceedeth from the Father. But the Son is from the Father by generation, the Spirit, after an unspeakable fashion, from God” (Hom. Con Sabell. 7).
Basil’s views of the operation of the Spirit in the universe of God are very noble. The Saviour is the Word of the Lord, the Holy Ghost the Spirit of His mouth, and both wrought together in the creation of the heavens, and the powers that are therein; wherefore it is said by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. Nothing possesses holiness save by the presence of the Holy Ghost. The creative Word, the maker of all things, communicated being to the angels, and the Holy Ghost added holiness (Hom. in Ps. 32.4).
There is no holiness without the Spirit. The heavenly powers themselves are not holy by their own nature; otherwise there would be no difference between them and the Holy Spirit ; but according to the proportion of their dignity they have their measure of sanctification from the Holy Ghost . . . . . And they preserve their dignity through perseverance in good, possessing freedom of choice, but never falling out of the keeping of Him who is goodness essential. So that were you to withdraw the Spirit from their rational powers, the choirs of angels were broken up, the preeminence of the archangels destroyed, everything were confused, and their life reduced to disorder, lawlessness, and misrule. How should the angels say Glory to God in the highest, except through the power of the Spirit; for none can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost, and none in the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; which is what the evil spirits say, thereby confirming my principle that the unseen powers possess free will, equally capable of turning to virtue or to vice, and on this account requiring the aid of the Spirit. For my part, I believe that Gabriel himself could not foretell the future by any other means than the prescience of the Spirit, because prophecy is one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost” (De Sp. Sanct 38).
“He who would expel the Son [from the work of creation], expels the principle and source of the whole creation; for the Word of God is the source of existence to all things. And he who would expel the Spirit, would remove the perfection of things; since by the mission and communication of the Spirit all things are that are” (?). “You are to believe that in the creation of things, the primary Cause of all things is the Father, the efficient the Son, the perfecting the Holy Ghost …. Let no man suppose either that I am preaching three originating persons, or that I am declaring the working of the Son to fail in perfection. There is one Originating Principle of all things, creating by the Son, perfecting by the Spirit”(?).
“The river of God, which is the Holy Ghost, makes glad the city of God, which is the church of those who have their citizenship in heaven ; yea, all the rational creation, from the heavenly powers down to human souls, is in this city of God made glad by the river of the flood of this Holy Spirit”(Hom. in Ps. 45). “But as for the dispensation for the saving of mankind which, by the mercy of God, was performed by the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who will deny that it was fulfilled by the grace of the Spirit? Regard either the blessings of the patriarchs of old, the help that was given to men through the Law, the types, the prophecies, the courageous deeds done in war, the miracles that were wrought by holy men, or the events which accompanied the advent of the Lord, they were done through the Spirit. For, first, He was present to the human body of our Lord Himself through His anointing, and was inseparably united to Him, according to the words, On whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding on Him, this is My beloved Son; and again, Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost. Then every act of His was done by the presence of the Spirit, who was with Him when He was tempted of the devil, for Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness ; was in closest union with Him in the performance of His miracles, for I, said He, by the Spirit of God, cast out devils ; and left Him not when He rose from the dead. For when the Lord, renewing human nature, and rendering back to man again the grace which he had once possessed by the inspiration of the Spirit and had lost, breathed upon His disciples, what said He ? Receive the Holy Ghost : whose-so-ever sins ye remit they are remitted unto them, and whose-so-ever sins ye retain they are retained. And the order of the Church is clearly, and beyond contradiction, carried on through the Spirit. For He gave, says St. Paul, first apostles, secondarily prophets, third teachers ; after that work ing of miracles ; then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. For this order is arranged according to the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit” (De Sp. Sanct. 39).
“Let us recount what our accepted ways of think ing concerning the Spirit are; as well those gathered from the Scriptures as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the fathers. Who then is not elevated in soul when he hears the very names of the Spirit. He is called the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Truth which proceedeth from the Father the right Spirit, the ruling Spirit. But Holy Spirit is His chief and distinctive title Impossible, therefore, that he who hears of the Spirit should frame the thought of a circumscribed nature subject to change or alteration or in any way like to a creature; but, mounting in thought to the very highest, he must conceive a rational substance, boundless in power, unlimited in greatness, immeasurable by times or by aeons, unsparing in the dispensation of His good gifts. Unto whom all things turn when they need holiness; whom all things long after that live according to virtue, watered by His influence, and assisted unto the end which is their own and according to their nature. Perfecting everything, Himself in nothing deficient: Himself not living by renewal, but the giver of life; growing not by accessions but in His fulness at once stablished in Himself and everywhere existent The source of holiness; the intellectual light; giving to every rational power an enlightenment from Himself for the discovery of truth. By nature unapproachable, yet comprehensible by His own graciousness; filling all things by His power yet communicable only to the worthy; communicated not to all in the same measure, but distributing His energy according to the proportion of faith. Uncompounded in His essence, various in His powers; wholly present to each and wholly present everywhere. Divided, yet without suffering division; partaken by all, yet Him self remaining whole, like a ray of the sun, which is present to him who enjoys it as if to him alone, yet shines over land and sea and is diffused into the air. Even so the Holy Spirit, while He is wholly present with every one capable of receiving Him, yet infuses into all a grace complete and sufficient; so that all who partake of Him enjoy Him as far as their own nature allows, but not to the measure of His power He, like the sun, if He find thine eye cleansed, will show thee in Himself the image of Him who is invisible. In the blessed contemplation of the image thou shalt see the ineffable beauty of the archetype. From Him comes the uplifting of the heart, the guidance of the weak, the perfecting of the advancing. He shines upon those who are purged of stain and makes them spiritual through communion with Himself. And as light transparent bodies touched by the sun become themselves aglow, and send forth another splendour from themselves, so souls that bear the Spirit, illumined by the Spirit, become themselves spiritual, and transmit grace to others. Hence the foreknowledge of things to come, the comprehension of mysteries, the discovery of secrets, the diffusion of gifts, the heavenly citizenship; the choral song with angels, the unending joy, the perseverance in God, the likeness to God; then, the summit of all desires, to become God” (De Sp. Sanct. 23)
The proof of the deity of the Holy Ghost lies in this, that all of the operations and relations which are most peculiarly divine are ascribed to Him. If God be good, the Spirit is good by His very nature. If the Son be our Paraclete, He sends the Spirit to be such too. If Christ is our one master, the Spirit comes to teach us all things. If the Father and the Son distribute their gifts, so does the Spirit; as it is said there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit; differences of administration but the same Lord; diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all: where we have to mark that the operation of the Holy Ghost is placed side by side with that of the Father and of the Son. And so again St. Paul says of God that He quickeneth all things; and Christ has the same power, for He says, ” My sheep hear my voice, and I give unto them eternal life.” Now, we are also quickened by the Spirit, as says St. Paul, “He that raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Ye are built for an habitation of God by the Spirit. Can He then, by whom God dwells in us, be Himself of other nature than that of God? And our baptism is, according to the tradition of the Lord, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He can be no creature and no servant who is thus united to the Father and the Son as completing the Godhead in Trinity (Con Eun. 3.5). And how can He be called a servant who by baptism delivered you from servitude (Ep. 8). Must not the giver of renewal, who changes corruption into incorruption, who makes of us the new creature that abideth for ever, be God (Con Eun 5)? Basil’s treatise upon the Holy Spirit originated in the complaints (perhaps not at all unnatural) which some of his people made of varieties which he introduced into his doxologies in praying with them. Sometimes he was accustomed to ascribe glory to the Father with the Son and with the Holy Ghost; sometimes to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Ghost. Now it was from such a use of prepositions that the Pneumatomachi were accustomed to argue against the Deity of the Blessed Spirit. For they alleged that the preposition by indicated the maker of anything, as when we say that a bench is made by a carpenter; that by means of, or through, indicates the instrument, e.g. the axe which the carpenter uses; that of denotes the material of the work, viz. wood; and according to, the mental conception or the pattern to which the bench conforms; the word for expresses the final cause, as, for the use of man; and in, the time or the place of the making. Now Basil admits that he very often applies these prepositions; but he totally denies that they necessarily imply any such restriction of meaning. The Apostle applies to one divine person the very three prepositions which the heretics considered to be severally distinctive of the three persons: of Him. and through Him, and to Him, are all things. The Apostle writing to the Ephesians applies the preposition of to Christ, of (or from) whom the whole body groweth unto an holy temple. And it is also applied to the Spirit, as when the Lord says, that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Through, which they thought distinctive of the Son, is equally, in various places, used of each of the three persons. Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, and “that good thing which was committed unto thee keep through the Holy Ghost.” And in, which they appropriated to the Spirit alone, and considered to mark His difference of nature from the Father and the Son, is used very often in reference to these; as (among many other instances) Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father.
The fact is, that we vary the preposition according to the relation in which the divine person to whom we apply it is at the moment felt to stand to us. For instance, when we contemplate the majesty and dignity of the Son, we give Him glory with the Father. When we think of the blessings which He has brought to us, we confess that this grace is wrought for us in Him and through Him. And so, indeed, it is with all the terms that we can apply to the divine persons shepherd, king, physician, bridegroom, way, fountain, head, all these describe not His nature, but the variety of His action.
Thus Basil’s thorough knowledge of Scripture and his minuteness of detail, accompanied by large-minded good sense, furnish him with a very thorough answer to the ingenious arguments of his opponents. And his belief is summed up in these words: Because those qualities which are common to all creatures are not shared by the Holy Ghost, and those qualities which belong to the Holy Ghost are not shared by the creatures, we infer that the Spirit is not a creature; because the attributes which are common to the Father and the Son are common also to the Spirit, because those points by which in Scripture the Father and the Son are characterised serve also there to characterise the Holy Spirit, we infer that the Spirit is of the same deity with the Father. Because those properties which belong to the Father alone as God and not as Father, and to the Son as God and not as Son, belong also to the Spirit alone and not to the creature, so that names and acts unshared by the creature are common to the Trinity alone; we hence infer that the Trinity is consubstantial” (Con Eun. 3.5). And this heavenly truth has this earthly action, that “our mind enlightened by the Spirit looks unto the Son and in Him as in an image beholds the Father” (Ep. 226).
The Work of Salvation
Basil entertains by no means a low opinion of the natural condition of man. “The virtues,” he believes, “arc in us by nature, and there is an affinity of the soul to them untaught by men and due to nature itself. For as no instructions are needed to make us hate disease, and we have a natural aversion to things which give pain, even so the soul has an untaught aversion from vice, and all vice is a disease of the soul” (Hex. 9.4). “And so it is not difficult for us, if we will, to conceive a love of virtue and a hatred of evil. For God has given every faculty to the natural soul for a good purpose; as that of love, so likewise that of hatred, in order that under the guidance of reason we may love virtue and hate vice. For there is a true and good use of hatred; Do not I hate them, Lord, that hate Thee?” (Hom. in Ps. 44) “And there is within the secret soul of us every one a balance, placed there by our Maker, whereby we can judge of the nature of things.” (Hom in Ps. 51) And yet this balance is liable to error. ‘What if any man says my conscience does not condemn me?’ This happens in bodily diseases. For there are many diseases of which the sufferers are not conscious; yet they trust the information of the physician more than their own insensibility. Even so also in the diseases of the soul, that is, its sins; even if one, not conscious of sins, does not condemn himself, he ought to believe those who see further into his state. The Apostles are an example of this when, in the fulness of their assurance that they loved their Lord well, they heard from Him, One of you shall betray Me.”
The awful question of the origin of evil presented itself to Basil as it has done to all thinkers. His general treatment of the question is optimistic; but at present we desire to note his particular account of the origin of man’s sin. It is that which has occurred to so many others, that it comes from the abuse of liberty, which could not have been withdrawn from man without destroying his capacity for virtue.” Why is man capable of evil at all? On account of the free will which is suitable to his position as a rational being. Released from all constraint and receiving from his Maker a life which is free because he is made in the image of God, he perceives the good and knows the happiness of it, and has power, if he continues in the contemplation of the good and the enjoyment of spiritual blessings, to keep the life which is according to his nature; but has also power on occasion to turn from the good; . . . therefore, expelled from Paradise, he was deprived of that happy life, and became evil, not of necessity but through folly . . . . As far as he departed from life, so near he approached to death. For God is life, and to be deprived of life is death. So that Adam by his departure from God brought death upon himself . . . . Thus it was not that God made death, but we drew it on ourselves by our wickedness . . . . But why, it will be said, were we not at our creation made righteous? For the same reason that you yourself consider your servants dutiful to you, not when you hold them in bondage, but when you see them willingly fulfilling their duties to you.” “Adam by eating sinfully transmitted sin.” But still ” he who against his will is attracted by sin ought to know that he is held in bondage by some sin previously committed by him, through his willing slavery to which he is carried forward by it even to sin which he does not desire to commit.” ” Let us return therefore to the grace first given, from which we fell through sin.”
It is well known that the questions of original sin, of predestination, and the bondage of the will, never took hold of the mind of the Greek church as they did of the Latin. It need not be said that this was certainly not due to any superior subtlety in the West, or any deficiency on the part of the Easterns in readiness for difficult discussions. And so far as the Oriental element prevailed in the Church of the East, it may be shown by the case of Mohammedanism that high predestinarian doctrine would not have been naturally alien to its tendencies. But perhaps we may discern in the circumstance a phase of that deep-seated difference between the Greek and Latin mind which determined the progress of their political constitutions. Individualism was the character of the one, organisation of the other. To the Greek the idea of a great central government, binding vast multitudes into one and reaching to each individual, was not conceivable; to the Latin this was the very idea of the state. It may be that we discern the individualism of the Greek in religion as well as in politics. Basil in any case died long before the Pelagian controversy brought these questions distinctly before the Church. But we can feel a certain assurance that the passages above quoted involve principles which would hardly have inclined him to acceptance of the views of St. Augustine.
Basil’s conception of Redemption will appear from the following: “Seek not thy brother to redeem thee, but one who excels thy nature; no mere man, but the man Christ Jesus, who alone can offer a propitiation to God for us all, since God hath set Him forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. Moses was the brother of the Israelites, yet he could not make atonement for them . . . . He could not make atonement for himself. What can a man find of sufficient value that he should give it for the redemption of his soul? Yet was there found one thing, the equivalent for all mankind, which was given as a price for the redemption of our souls; namely, the holy and precious blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, which He shed for us all. Therefore are we bought with a price . . . . Though we were not His brethren, but were enemies through wicked works, yet He, being not man alone, but God, after He Himself has given us freedom, calls us brethren. He who redeemed us was, if we consider His nature, neither our brother nor man ; but if we regard His gracious condescension to us, He calls us brethren and descends to humanity” (Hom. in Ps. 48).
In another place we find that view of the atonement which is more commonly regarded as the patristic; namely, that the sufferings of Christ were borne at the hands of Satan, who believed himself to be gaining full possession of the Son of God, and was deceived and defeated thereby. ” The artifice which Satan planned against man turned out ill for himself, and what he had devised against humanity he proved to have unawares devised against himself: since he in no wise so much injured Him whom he hoped to estrange from God and from eternal life, as he did himself, made as he was an exile from God, and condemned to eternal death. And by the snare which he set for the Lord was he himself taken, crucified where he expected to crucify, and dying by the death whereby he hoped to destroy the Lord.” But there is probably no real inconsistency between these views of the atonement. The sacrifice of Christ was offered to God: but the reason why such a death should have taken place is hid from us as part of the great secret of the pain and evil of the world, whereof Satan is the prince. It is plain therefore that while in one way the sacrifice of the Lord must be regarded as a free and pure offering to God, in another it must be thought of as an injury inflicted on Him by the evil which God mysteriously allows in the world.
He who believes in Christ is made by faith a son of God, worthy to be himself called a god, and is not judged. Sometimes, indeed, in Scripture the word to judge means to prove, and sometimes to condemn. ” Judge me, O Lord,” the Psalmist says, meaning, as he himself proceeds to say, ” prove and try me.” ” If we would judge ourselves,” the Apostle says, “we should not be judged,” meaning condemned” (Hom. in Ps. 7.4).
“Let nothing be to you an occasion of unbelief. If thou considerest the stones, even they contain proof of the power of their Maker; and so does the ant, the gnat, the bee. In smallest things the wisdom of the Creator is oftentimes displayed. He who stretched out the heavens, and poured forth the mighty volume of the sea, He it is who hollowed the minute sting of the bee to shed its virus through. You must not say that anything was done by chance (Hom. in Ps. 32.3). But His judgments are like the great deep. And if you ask why the life of the wicked is prolonged and the days of the just shortened; why the wicked is prosperous and the just afflicted; why the child is cut off before its time; whence wars, shipwrecks, earthquakes, droughts, and floods; why those things have been created which are deadly to human life; why one is a slave and another free, one rich and another poor, and what requital is to be made by the Judge for all these, when these things come into your thought, remember that the judgments of God are a great deep. But to him that believeth is the promise given by God, I will give thee hidden treasures of secret places” (Hom. in Ps. 32.5).
Such is Basil’s mind concerning the blessings imparted to the individual believer. And to every believer an angel is assigned who is held worthy to behold the face of the Father in heaven (Hom. in Ps. 48.9).
Now let us see what he has to say concerning the aggregate of the faithful the Church. “God hath blessed Thee for ever . . . . is manifestly spoken of the Saviour as man. Or, since the Church is the body of Christ and He the Head of the Church; as I have said that the ministers of the divine Word are the lips of Christ, as Paul had Christ speaking in him so has every other who is Paul s equal in virtue; so all we, the rest, as many as have believed, are the members of Christ. So that were any one to refer to the Church the blessing given to the Lord, he would not be wrong. These words, therefore, God hath blessed thee, mean He hath blessed thy members, and filled thy body with all His good things for ever” (Hom. in Ps. 44).
“On thy right hand did stand the queen in a vesture of gold, wrought about with divers colours.” He speaks here of the Church, of which we read in the Canticles, that “she alone is the spotless dove of Christ, who conducts to the right hand of Christ those known for their good works, separating them from the evil, as the shepherd his sheep from the goats. The queen then stands by, the soul united to the bridegroom, even the Word, not dominated by sin, but partaker of the kingdom of Christ” (Hom in Ps. 32.5). And “let not the Church of God, which has received the garment without seam, woven from the top throughout, preserved unrent even by the soldiers, and which has put on Christ let her not rend her robe” (?) And “they who will not accept the ordinances of the churches elect of God, resist the command of God (Ep. 227) Thus Basil expresses that care for the unity of the Church, and that sense of the guilt of disobedience or of schism, which indeed his whole life exemplified. But his idea of ecclesiastical obedience, and of the greatness of the Church was far from being tyrannical or secular. He values it for the sake of the holiness of individual souls ; and he gives to every holy soul a distinct part in church authority, and an assurance that all the promises to her will have their fulfilment individually to him.
The coming of Christ, whereby the present order of things will come to an end, will not be, as some suppose, a local or a carnal advent; we are bidden to expect an advent suddenly to take place through out all the world in the glory of the Father (The Morals: Rule 68). And Basil’s conception of the nature of the happiness of heaven and of the pains of hell is equally spiritual with his idea of the advent of the Lord. “It may be that the shame in which sinners are to live through eternity may be a more dreadful thing than the darkness and the eternal fire, where they will ever have before their eyes the traces of sin in their flesh, like some ineffaceable stain ever remaining in the memory of their souls” (Hom in Ps. 32.5; Ep. 8.12). I Brethren, do not imagine the kingdom of heaven to be anything else than the true contemplation of things which really exist which the Holy Scriptures call happiness. For the kingdom of heaven is within you : and to the man within nothing belongs but contemplation. Contemplation, then, must be the kingdom of heaven. For we see now the reflections of things as in a mirror; but afterwards, when freed from this earthly body, and clothed with one which is incorruptible and immortal, we shall behold their archetypes” (Ep. 8.12).
Controversies of the Church
If we ask what side Basil would have taken in the Church controversies of the present day, we find that each of our parties might with much ease gather a catena of passages from his writings to favour its particular views. We have seen how strong his assertion is that the blood of Christ can alone atone for sin. He describes the true servant of God as putting no trust in his good deeds, nor expecting justification for his works, but placing his only hope in the compassion of God, (Hom. in Ps. 32.10) and again he declares that the true and genuine joy in God is when one is very humble about his own righteousness, and under stands that he is altogether deficient in that respect, but is justified by faith in Christ alone (Hom. de Humil. 3); and it would be equally easy to cite passages to show that he held Church doctrine upon the effect of the sacraments, upon the ministry of the Church, upon the nature of Church unity. But in truth, when we come from gathering texts to support certain doctrines to the much more important question, what proportion these doctrines held in his method of teaching and in his life, we find far more difficulty in classing him. If we might venture to express him in terms of our parties, we should say that he is much more addicted to preaching works than our Low Church, much less sacramental than our High, much more definite and ecclesiastical than our Broad; of course, each party is at liberty to contend that had he lived under the circumstances of the present day, he would have developed that part of his doctrine especially which it contends for. Though he has said the things above recorded concerning the nature of justification, we can by no means maintain that he uses the atonement as an instrument of conversion, or as a constant subject for Christian thought, in the way in which our great evangelical preachers have been accustomed to apply it. Though there is no doubt that he held sacramental doctrine, yet we do not find the sacraments used as motive arguments. The facts of regeneration and of the Real Presence are not brought to bear upon all Christians to reprove their sin, or encourage their hope, after the fashion to which many a great teacher has accustomed us now. The great subject of human duty is that which inspires Basil. To press this home, to pursue it in his own life into every minutest point, and draw others to follow him, this was what in that evil time he felt called to do. Not that he was a mere moralist; his zeal for holy works is inspired throughout with the most passionate love of Christ; it is never otherwise than intensely spiritual. But he is so intent upon the duty itself that he does not turn aside to connect it with doctrines, even where we might have expected that he must be led to do so. The doctrines for which he contended so earnestly were those which concern the nature of God; and, as we have above contended, he maintained these because he saw that they must have the greatest importance to human life; but what one might call the intermediate doctrines, which show how and by what process it is that human life connects itself with the truth about God, upon these he does not largely dwell. The particular necessities of his time had not called for the prominent development either of the doctrine of faith upon the one hand, or that of the sacraments upon the other, as making the connection between God and the Christian soul.
If, then, we proceed to state his belief and practice upon some of our controverted points, it is not that they occupied his mind in the same degree that they occupy ours. They are incidental matters with him; but the records of his own beliefs and those of his time upon them are not the less interesting to us.
Baptism he holds to have the remission of sins, and to bring to debtors the security of a free discharge (Hom. in Ps. 59.4) he who is not baptised is not illuminated. For this reason he exhorts to speedy baptism. Every time is proper for obtaining salvation through baptism, and a most moving picture is drawn of the sad end of a man who has put off baptism until the last, and then, through the neglect of friends and the deception of a physician, who hides the approach of death, dies unbaptised (Hom. de Sanct. Bapt.). But plainly Basil speaks of a state of things in which not only is adult baptism common, but a habit of deferring the rite prevails. Faith and baptism, he says, are two ways of obtaining salvation which are very closely linked together (De Sp. Sanct. 12). We can see that the Church has not yet entered upon the practice of claiming all persons for God at the very opening of their lives, and giving them baptism as a testimony of His free love to them before ever they can consciously love Him. It is true that Basil’s principles must in the end lead to infant baptism. For instance, where he argues that the Jew does not put off circumcision, but on account of God’s command, and the threats to the uncircumcised soul, performs it on the eighth day, and asks, Shall we put off the circumcision not made with hands? it is plain that his argument and his analogy lead to the baptism of infants; and he lays down a principle applicable to all baptism, even that of hypocrites, when he says that although the Holy Spirit is not mingled with the unworthy, yet He seems in a certain way to be always present with those who are once baptised, waiting for their salvation through conversion, until He is finally cut off from the soul which profanes His grace.
It is not wonderful that the Church, suddenly put into a nominal possession of the Roman world, while conscious at the same time that her true adherents were only the few, should have hesitated to throw open her doors at once by the universal practice and preaching of infant baptism. A mass of her people only hung about her entrance, Christians in name, and yet not really such. It was natural she should delay to call them hers till there seemed some prospect of making the name a reality. But it is plain from what Basil says above on deferring baptism, as well as from many other testimonies from the history of the time, that deferring it by no means implied any depreciation of its value. Rather we should imagine ourselves to discern a superstitious over value of the formal rite, which led to much moral harm.
With regard to the re-baptism of heretics, Basil evidently feels a strong sympathy with the views of Cyprian, which enjoined that practice. The Cathari, Encratitae, Hydroparastatae, separated from the Church, had, he believes, no longer among them the grace of the Holy Spirit, the communication failing as the apostolic succession had been cut off. Those who first separated had ordination from their fathers, and by imposition of their hands possessed the spiritual gift. But they who were cut off, having become laity, had neither power to baptise nor ordain, nor could communicate to others the grace of the Holy Spirit, from which they themselves had fallen. Where fore Cyprian and Firmilian and their adherents directed that the members of these sects, when returning to the Church, should be purified by the genuine baptism of the Church. But since it has seemed to some in Asia that for the sake of wise management of the multitude the baptism of these heretics should be accepted, be it accepted (Ep. 188). But in another place we find that this principle is forbidden to be extended to those sects which were infected with Marcionite theories of the essential evil of matter. For if they make God thus the author of something essentially evil, their use of His name in baptism must be a mere mockery. “Therefore,” says Basil, “if re-baptism is generally forbidden among you, as it is among the Romans for the sake of some policy, let however our dictum bear its weight with resect at least to these” (Ep. 199).
We shall devote a special chapter to Basil s conspicuous faith in Holy Scripture and his loving use of it. But this did not in him imply any disbelief in the existence or value of church tradition. He commences his work against Eunomius by saying that if all Christians could have been content with the tradition of the Apostles he would have had no need to write. And again, “Let the tradition warn us all not to separate the Holy Ghost from the Father and from the Son. For so the Lord taught; the Apostles preached; the fathers preserved the deposit, and the martyrs sealed it with their testimony” (Hom. contra Sabel., 6). It is with Basil an important thing that his belief should agree with that of the great majority. But this great majority includes not merely the Christians that now are, but those who have been since the time that the Gospel was first preached. And this tradition is to be gathered from the ways of speech which have been handed down not in one particular church, but everywhere “both in town and country” (De Sp. Sanct 7) ” Of the dogmas which are preserved in the Church, there are some which we have from Scripture, others we have received from the tradition of the Apostles, and both have the same force; nor will anybody contradict them who has any experience of the laws of the Church.” But the sequel shows that the traditions thus spoken of refer to practices or to such teaching as is embodied in practices, rather than to formal doctrines. “For if we go about to reject the unwritten customs as of slight importance, we shall unawares do injury to the vital parts of the Gospel itself, or rather, reduce the preaching of it to a mere name. For instance (to mention in the first place what comes first of all and is most common) who has taught us by writing to sign with the cross those who place their hope in Christ? What Scripture has taught us to turn to the east in the prayers? The words of invocation, when the bread of the Eucharist and cup of blessing are consecrated, which of the saints has left to us in writing? For we are not content with those words which the Apostle and the Evangelist record, but, both before and after, we use others and consider them to possess great importance to the mystery; and these we have received by unwritten teaching. And we bless both the water of baptism and the oil of unction, and even the very person who is baptised. Out of what Scripture? Is it not on account of the silent mystical tradition? The very anointing with oil itself, what written record has taught? And whence received we the custom that the man should be thrice immersed? And the rest of the ceremonies in baptism, as the renouncing of the devil and his angels, whence have we . . . . ? For this cause we all look to the east in our prayers; but few of us know that in doing so we seek our native land Paradise, which the Lord planted in Eden, toward the sun-rising. And we pray standing on the first day of the week, not only because, being risen together with Christ, we should seek those things which are above; but because that day appears to be a type of the world for which we hope” (De Sp. Sanct. 66).
Concerning confession we find one passage which would seem to indicate that Basil regarded it as an outward and public act of self-mortification, to be resorted to only in the case of very flagrant sin. “Hast thou reviled: then bless, Hast thou extorted: then restore. Hast thou been drunken: fast. Hast thou been proud: humble thyself. Hast thou been envious: exhort. Hast thou killed: suffer martyrdom, or, what is equivalent to martyrdom, afflict thy body by confession” (Hom. in Ps. 32.2). Yet it would be very hasty to assume this to be a sufficient account of the matter, for again we find confession spoken of as the universal means of return to God: ” If thou desire by confession to return to God, avoid drunkenness, lest it alienate thee more from Him.” We find him applying the term confession to the solemn public acknowledgments of general sin which he and his fellow-worshippers made in the time of famine. In his monastic rules Basil directs that even every thought of the mind should be divulged to those brethren who are appointed for the gentle and sympathising treatment of the diseased souls (Reg. fus. tract., Interr. 26). And indiscriminate confession to all is forbidden (Reg. fus. tract., Interr. 229). It is to be made to those to whom is in-trusted the dispensing of the mysteries of God. For so in old times they who repented are found to have done before the saints; it is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist; in the Acts, to the Apostles themselves, by whom also they were all baptized (Reg. fus. tract., Interr. 288).
But while we find these directions concerning confession in Basil, it must be observed that the general tenor of his teaching is by no means what some would call sacerdotal. Of course he held those beliefs concerning the priesthood which were accepted in his time, and which we find incorporated in the Liturgy which bears his name. But the offices of preaching and teaching, with the accompanying duty of holy example, form the side of the Christian ministry which occupies his chief attention. When we read among the Moralia that “they who are in-trusted with the preaching of the Gospel ought with supplication and prayer to appoint, whether deacons or presbyters, without reproach and of approved life,” we seem to ourselves to be reading an ordinance of some Reformation church, and taking the view of the offices of bishops and clergy which we should expect to find in it (Moralia, Reg. 70). And ” he who is elected ” is not, on the one hand, to preach until he be licensed, nor, on the other, to put off obedience when he is called to preach (Moralia, Reg. 70). Those hearers who are instructed in the Scriptures ought to put to the proof what is said by their teachers; to receive what is agreeable to the Scriptures, and to reject what disagrees. What Basil’s views were concerning the priesthood of the clergy and that of the laity we see from his answer to the question “whether the saying, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, applies to priests alone; and how every one of us offers a gift at the altar.” It is, that “it is reasonable to refer the words [only] in a special and primary sense to priests, since it is written, yc shall be called priests of the Lord, the ministers of our God; and, the sacrifice of praise honoureth me; and again, the sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; and again the Apostle says that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service; every one of which things is common to all. And whatever is of this kind every body is bound to perform” (Moralia, Reg. 72). But the passage above quoted in respect to baptism, concerning the failure of the gifts of the spirit in schismatical bodies after the first generation, shows how strongly Basil held the doctrine of Apostolical Succession.
Upon the Holy Eucharist we find him alleging the Lord s words in St. John 6 to prove that participation in the body and blood of Christ is necessary even to eternal life itself. But he proceeds to point out that he who comes to communion without a perception of the manner in which the body and blood of Christ are given receives no profit; and he who eats and drinks unworthily is condemned. The manner in which we are to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lord is explained to be, in remembrance of His obedience unto death, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again (Moralia, cap, 21). It would be difficult to prove that Basil had formulated any theory of the manner of the Presence in the Eucharist (Ep. 93). Concerning the practice of reception we have a letter from Basil in answer to a lady who has consulted him about the expediency of daily communion. He pronounces it to be thoroughly good and useful. For when the Lord Himself says, “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life,” who can doubt that to be continual partaker of life is to live in a manifold way? His own custom he declares to be to communicate four times a week; namely, on Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and on any other days also on which the feast of a saint may fall. He proceeds to solve a scruple about taking the communion with one’s own hands in time of persecution, when no priest or deacon is present. This he declares plainly right; and customary also, as in the case of hermits. For when once the priest has perfected the sacrifice and distributed it, he who receives it and takes daily a portion of what he received, may well consider that he is daily receiving it from the priest’s hands.
In his preface to the ” Moralia,” upon the judgment of God, he dwells upon the evils of schism in a way which would certainly have led him to point to an infallible earthly guide had he known such a one to exist. In his wide experience of life he declares himself to have observed that in every art and science the best understanding is maintained among those who are devoted to its pursuit. In the Church of God alone, for which Christ died, and upon which the Holy Spirit has been abundantly shed, he has observed a great and exceeding dissension in the mass, both as to their relations to one another and to the Holy Scriptures; and what was most terrible, the rulers of the Churches themselves took part in the dissensions. When he sought the cause of this lamentable condition, he remembered the case of the Jews when there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. And this, strange though it appears, he believes to be most truly the case among Christians, and that all this schism arises because men have revolted from the one great and true and only King and God, our Lord Jesus Christ. The good order and agreement of the people he has observed to continue so long as the rulers of the Churches themselves obey in common the one chief. Why was the Church united in one body? That discipline and order might rather be maintained in her of whom it was said, ” Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular”: for that the one and only Head, who is Christ, governs and unites each to each. And, again, we find him recording how the Lord constituted Peter, after Himself, shepherd of the Church, saying to him, “Feed my sheep”; and adding, that He extends equal authority to all pastors and teachers after (Const. Monast., cap. 22). If we cannot maintain these passages to have been aimed at the pretensions of the bishop of Rome, the only reason is that we cannot suppose those pretensions to have been at the time so put forward as to require them. But they, when combined with the record which we have in his letters of his actual relation to the Pope of his day, sufficiently show on which side Basil would have been if the controversy on the supremacy and on the infallibility of the Pope had arisen in his time. If these doctrines be true, we are driven to the conclusion that this great saint was absolutely ignorant of a part of the Christian religion which if true must always be the most important part of all, but in Basil’s time would have assumed even more than usual prominence on account of the confusion and separation which reigned supreme through the whole East.
In truth, there is almost nothing in the genuine writings of St. Basil which in the least degree jars with the beliefs or devotional habits of a faithful Anglican churchman, he cannot have believed in purgatory who exhorts us to believe that the separation of soul and body is liberation from all evil, and so bids us await the enjoyment of everlasting blessings, whereof all the saints have been made par takers (Ep. 42). He cannot have been a believer in the immaculate conception who asks, what need had there been of the Holy Virgin if it had not been necessary that the god-bearing flesh should have been taken out of the lump of Adam (Ep. 261.2) Basil applies the Lord’s prophecy, “All ye shall be offended because of Me this night,” to a fluctuation of mind which His death should bring not only to Peter but to the Blessed Virgin herself (Ep. 260). Nor is there anywhere in his works to be found one slightest hint of the inter cession or intervention of the Blessed Virgin in any shape whatever.
There is one marked exception to the general agreement of Anglican theology to that of Basil in the value attached by him to relics of the martyrs, and in the point therewith connected of resort to the intercession of martyrs at the place of their sepulture. He promises Arcadius, a bishop who was engaged in building a new church, to find him, if it be possible, some relics of martyrs, and expresses great interest in the matter (Ep. 49). To a relation in Scythia he suggests, that as persecution is said in that country to be even still providing martyrs, his correspondent should send some relics of them to his native land (Ep. 45). To St. Ambrose he writes, sending at the request of that saint the body of Dionysius, bishop of Milan, and affirming with great emphasis the genuineness of the remains (Ep. 196) In preaching upon the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, he exhorts his hearers to have recourse to their intercession, and records miracles to have been effected by its means (Hom. in Quadrag. Mart.).
But it is to be remarked, that this belief in our power to call the intercession of martyrs to our aid is strictly connected by Basil with the place where their remains lie. He bids all those who in this place, have found the martyr Mamas a helper in their prayer, to re member him (Hom. 23.1). He declares that the body of the martyr Jullitta, buried in the beautiful church of the town, confers sanctity both on the place and on those who pray there (Hom. in Mart. Julitt., 2). And thus his idea upon the subject involves merely a very emphatic recognition of that feeling which is so natural to us all, that we are brought nearer to the dead when we visit their graves, combined with a belief that the saints in glory are certainly engaged in intercession. And an argument which he uses for the deity of the Holy Ghost seems to prove that he had never thought of extending his belief in the intercession of martyrs or saints to all places indiscriminately, or endowing them with that practical omnipresence which a general practice of invoking them involves. Other heavenly powers, he says, are confined in their operations each to one place. The angel who stood by Cornelius did not at the same time stand by Philip; nor did the one who spoke to Zacharias at the altar fill at the same time his place in heaven. Whereas the Spirit is at one and the same time present with Habbakuk and Jeremiah in Palestine, with Daniel in Babylon, and with Ezekiel by the Chebar; and does not this presence in various places at the same time prove His deity? (De Sp. Sanct., 23). It seems impossible that any man accustomed to invoke saints whom he knew at the same time to be invoked by Christians in other places, should have advanced this argument without some anticipation of the obvious retort.
Questions of the Day
We have to face deeper problems in our day than those which concern controversies in the Church; and in conversing with the works of a great thinker of the past, the thing we most desire to find is the information which he may have to give us upon these vital questions. Let us select from the writings of St. Basil two or three specimens of his thoughts upon the difficulties which oppress us. To us the cardinal problem of all is that of Theism or Agnosticism. And some readers of Hamilton, Mansel, and Herbert Spencer, may possibly imagine this doubt to be an invention of these later times. But the reader will judge whether it did not in its essential nature come before Basil, and whether he shrank from facing it.
“Do you worship something which you know, or something which you do not know ? If we answer, We worship something which we know, the rejoinder is immediate, What, then, is the essentia of the object of your worship? But if we confess that we do not know this essentia, they retort upon us, So then you worship something which you know not. But we reply, that this word “know” has different significations. For we say that we know the greatness of God, and His power, and His wisdom, and His goodness, and the providence with which He guards us, and the justice of His judgments; but not His very essence. He who confesses that he knows not the essence of God does not thereby confess ignorance of a God the conception of whom is brought near to us by all these things which I have enumerated. But God, they say, is uncompounded; and whatever in Him you regard as known, belongs to His essence. This is a sophism. For of all these attributes which we have mentioned, shall we say that they are all names for the one essence, and that His awfulness and His kindness, His justice and His creative power, His prevision and His retribution, His magnificence and His providence, are equivalent to one another; and that whichever of them we speak of, we speak of His essence? For if they say that, let them not ask us if we know the essence of God, but whether we know that God is awful, just, or merciful: for we say that we do know that. But if they say that essence is anything else, let them not mock us by talking of His uncompounded nature, when they themselves assert essence to be different from these attributes.
“Which comes first, knowledge or faith? We reply, that in education faith generally precedes knowledge; but in our doctrine, if anybody says that knowledge precedes faith, we shall not differ with him. For in education you must first believe that this letter is an alpha, and when you have learnt the characters and pronunciation, then you come to the accurate knowledge of the power of the letter. But in the faith which is conversant about God, the thought that God is, leads the way, and this we know from the creation. So we receive Him as our Master; for since God is the Maker of all the world, and we are a part of the world, He is our Maker. And faith follows this knowledge, and worship this faith . . . . . .
“We profess that we know so much of God as can be known, and that we know also that something escapes our apprehension. As if you were to ask me if I knew what sand is, and I were to say, yes, you would manifestly charge me falsely with ignorance, if immediately you require me to tell you the number of grains of sand. The sophism is the same as if one were to say, Do you know Timothy? Well, if you know Timothy, you know his nature: give us an account of it. I know Timothy, and do not know him according to the signification of the word know which you adopt . . . . .
“If it be otherwise, how does St. Paul say, Now I know in part ? This is impossible if God is regarded as uncompounded. Do we know His whole essence? How then does he add, when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away? ‘The ox knoweth his owner, says the prophet; and so, according to you, the ox must know the essence of his master” (Ep. 284 & 285). From these extracts we perceive that Basil was aware of the difficulties and apparent contradictions to which men’s imperfection condemns them in their knowledge of religion, but also that he recognised that basis of necessary knowledge of God which lays in each human soul a natural foundation for religion. And the same appears from the following extract, in which truthful and careful think ing are not less apparent than passionate devotion.
“The love of God cannot be taught. We did not learn from any one else to take pleasure in the light nor to desire life. No one taught us to love our parents, or our nurses. Thus, or rather far more, the learning of the love of God comes not from without, but along with the constitution of life (I mean the life of man) a certain seminal power of reason is in grafted in us, which possesses from its own store the means of that appropriation which leads to love. Which power the school of the divine commandments takes in hand, tills with care, nourishes with skill, and by the grace of God brings to perfection . . . . Whatever commandment God gives us, we have received beforehand from Him the power of performing . . . . And the definition of vice is the evil use, against the divine command, of what He has given us for a good end . . . . Since, therefore, we have received the commandment to love God, we possess the loving power sown in us at our primary constitution, and the demonstration comes not from without, but every one may learn it from himself and in himself. For we naturally love the beautiful, though to different persons different things may seem beautiful; and we have an untaught love of that which is related to us and is brought close to us, and we delight to display all good to those who do us good. Now what more admirable than the Divine Beauty? What conception more attractive than the magnificence of God? What longing so vehement and irresistible as that which is engendered of God in the soul which is purged of vice, and which cries out of unfeigned desire, I am sick of love ? . . . . This beauty cannot be discerned by the eyes of flesh, but is apprehended by the soul and mind alone; and when it shines upon a saint, it leaves in him an irresistible longing; for in their weariness of the present life, some have said, When shall I come and appear before God? and to depart and be with Christ is far better; and, My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God; and, “Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace . . . . For through their insatiable longing after the Divine Beauty, they mace supplication that their sight of the pleasures of the Lord should extend itself throughout eternity.
“Whatever, therefore, can be accomplished by the operation of our will is also in us by nature, if we have not perverted our thoughts by sin. And so the love of God is required of us as a debt due of necessity, and the absence of love is to the soul that wants it the most intolerable evil. For alienation and aversion from God is worse than any torments of hell, as the privation of light is to the eye, even if no pain be present, or the deprivation of life to a living thing. And if children naturally love their parents, let us not seem more unreasoning than children, being without love for our Maker, whom even if we could not know from His goodness to be what He is, yet we ought to love for this reason alone, that we are made by Him. But among those who are naturally loved, the greatest benefactors hold the first place . . . . Now the goodness of the Master never deserted us, nor did we hinder His love by undervaluing all His gifts; we were recalled from death, we were quickened to life again by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself . . . . He took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses, He was wounded for our transgressions, and by His stripes we are healed: He redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us: He endured a most shameful death that He might restore us to the glorious life . . . . And He is so good as to exact no recompense, but is satisfied if He be merely loved for what He gave. And when I think of all these things (to reveal my heart s desire), I fall into a kind of terror and ecstasy of fear, lest ever, through inattention of mind or occupation with vanities, I should fall from the love of God and become a reproach to Christ . . . . The reproach which our fall will bring on Christ and the glorying of the enemy seems to me worse than the punishments of hell; that we should afford to the foe of Christ matter of boasting, and occasion of pride against Him who died for us and rose again (Reg, us. tract., Interr. 2).
Surely no man ever possessed a loftier or more generous religion than this.
It may interest the reader to know how Basil thought upon the great question of Future Punishment. The query is proposed (Reg, us. tract., Interr. 267), “If one shall be beaten with few stripes, and another with many, how say some that there is no end of punishment?” The answer is as follows: ” Those things which, in certain places of inspired Scripture, appear doubtful and obscurely expressed, are cleared up by other passages which are admittedly plain. When the Lord, therefore, in one place declares that these shall go into everlasting punishment, and in a second sends some away into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; and in another place names hell fire, and adds, where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, since these and such like passages are found in many parts of inspired Scripture, it is one of the devices of Satan that the mass of mankind, as if forgetful of these declarations of our Lord, should prescribe an end to punishment, in order to encourage themselves in sin. For if there shall once be an end of punishment, eternal life also shall clearly have an end. And if we cannot endure to think this of life, on what principles shall we assert that eternal punishment will end . . . This being confessed, we perceive that the words, he shall be beaten with few stripes, and he shall be beaten with many, do not indicate duration but difference in the nature of punishment. For if God be a just judge, rendering to each not only of the good but also of the wicked, according to his works, one may be worthy of inextinguishable fire, yet this may be of a gentler or fiercer power of burning; and one of the worm that dieth not, yet this again causing a milder or a sharper pain according to his deserts; and one may be worthy of hell, yet hell may easily have different punishments; and another of outer darkness, where some may be in weeping alone, and others also in gnashing of teeth, on account of the severity of the pains. And that outer darkness plainly indicates that there is an inner darkness too. And the expression in Proverbs, the depth of Hades, shows that some are in Hades, but not in the depth of Hades, enduring a lighter punishment. One may illustrate this by the case of bodily diseases as we know them now. For one man shall have a fever with aggravated symptoms and other sufferings; a second suffer from simple fever, and this not in the same way as another man; another has no fever, but some pain in his limbs, and this again in a greater or less degree than another.”
Whatever value maybe attached to St. Basil s treatment of the subject, the manner in which he approached it is plain. He was not insensible to its awful difficulties, but the method by which his mind sought relief from them was not that of anticipating degrees in the duration of punishment, but by conceiving all kinds of possible degrees of punishment, to some of which the epithets soft and mild might be applicable. On one point, at all events, his authority cannot be disregarded. Upon the meaning of the words aeon and aeonial it is equal to that of an English scholar of the present day upon the meaning of the English of the time of the Reformation.
As closely allied to this subject we may give St. Basil s conception of the nature of evil and of the nature of punishment. “If evil is neither uncaused nor caused by God, whence has it its being? For that evil exists no one who has life will deny. What do we say then? That evil is not an existence living or animated, but a disposition 1 of the soul contrary to virtue, produced in the inert on account of their fall from the good” (Hex. Hom. 2) “Evil is the privation of good.”
” This must also be said, that we do not punish those who have done wrong on account of what has been done ; for what device can there be by which what is done can be undone ? We punish them that they may be made better for the future, or that they may be an example to others” (Ep. 112).