Tag Archives: St Basil the Great

Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

On this second day of the new year, the Church gives us the liturgical memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church. They were both well educated. These fathers of the Cappadocia were instrumental in forming our theological precision, for example, on the monastic life, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity and the Creed. Saint Basil, a convert, comes from a family of saints, was a monk, a priest and worked for church unity, and worked to the reform of prostitutes and thieves. He was ordained a bishop at age 40.

Perhaps the best description of true friendship ever written was by Saint Gregory Nazianzen:

Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.

I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.

What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honor that his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.

Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.

The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.

We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that “everything is contained in everything,” yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.

Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

The Lord plants the vineyard

“Throughout the Scriptures the Lord continually likens human souls to vines. He says for instance: ‘My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside’, and again: ‘I planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it’. Clearly it is human souls that he calls his vineyard, and the hedge he has put around them is the security of his commandments and the protection of the angels, for ‘the angels of the Lord will encamp around those who fear him’. Moreover, by establishing in the church apostles in the first place, prophets in the second, and teachers in the third, he has surrounded us as though by a firmly planted palisade. In addition, the Lord has raised our thoughts to heaven by the examples of saints of past ages. He has kept them from sinking to the earth where they would deserve to be trampled on, and he wills that the bonds of love, like the tendrils of a vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that always climbing upward like vines growing on trees, we may reach the loftiest heights.”

A reflection from St. Basil for the 27th Sunday through the year
Mt 21:33-43

Epiphany: A recognition

Epiphany c1350The 12th Day of Christmas is upon us with the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The Magi, the Star, the three  gifts, the angels, the shepherds and the animals all coalesce to manifest in-breaking of God in human history. All recognized and read the signs. Two different church fathers give perspective on the meaning of the Epiphany as the great manifestation of the Divine.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Epiphany in this way:

“The wise men from the East lead the way…They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17) (January 6, 2012).

Saint Basil the Great spoke of the Epiphany in this way: “The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with the angels and sing: ‘To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us’, not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy? This feast belongs to the whole universe… Stars across the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives it savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, ‘Dust you are and to dust you shall return’, but ‘You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.’”

Saint Basil the Great and the Holy Spirit

Sts Basil and GregoryThe Church prays today,

O God, who were pleased to give light to your Church by the example and teaching of the bishops Saints Basil and Gregory: Grant, we pray, that in humility, we may learn your truth and practice it faithfully in charity.

Though it is the feast of two saints, I want to concentrate on Basil and his emphasis on the Holy Spirit. We began the new year with the praying of the Veni Creator Spiritus to set new year with a renewed relationship with Triune-God.

One of the great patristic source of our Christian pneumatology comes from Saint Basil the Great. Catholics are frequently, and with good reason, accused of forgetting the work of the Holy Spirit. Some will even call the Spirit the forgotten God. Systematic theologians of the West make the claim that theological reflection, especially in the 20th century, have neglected the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and I would also claim that these same theologians have neglected the activity of the Holy Spirit in the sacred Liturgy. Too often in theological reflection, catechesis, and preaching the Holy Spirit is forgotten sacramentally and the Mass. No Holy Spirit, no Trinity. The good news is that Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar helped to restore a working knowledge of the Holy Spirit with the publication of his 3 volume work, I Believe in the Holy Spirit.

One of the key parts of Basil’s work, On the Holy Spirit, is his use of the baptismal formulation –the lex orandi, lex credendi– found in Saint Matthew’s Gospel to show that the Holy Spirit is integrally connected with the Father and Son as God;  this formulation is now the tradition of the Church.

“What makes us Christians? “Our faith,” everyone would answer. How are we saved? Obviously through the regenerating grace of baptism. How else could we be? We are confirmed in our understanding that salvation comes through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . If we now reject what we accepted at baptism, we will be found further away from our salvation than when we first believed,” (On the Holy Spirit, 10).

His teaching is clear: we are saved by the regenerating waters of baptism: washed of sin, and anointed as priest, prophet and king, we become by adoption what Christ is by nature. The door of salvation is opened in this sacrament of illumination, regeneration, and adoption. The baptismal grace, therefore, is from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it is salvific because it makes the beatific vision possible. We make the salvation known today through baptizing of people “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).

Saint Basil the Great

St Basil the Great detail.jpg

Since it is impossible to be saved unless we perform our works in accordance with the commandment of God, and since we disregard none of the commandments without peril — for it is a terrible arrogance to set ourselves up as the critics of our Lawgiver, now approving some of his laws, now dismissing others — let us who are combatants for piety and who esteem the life of tranquility and freedom from affairs as our collaborator in the keeping of the Gospel decrees, set before ourselves a common mind and purpose: that not so much of a single one of the commandments escape us. For if the man of God must be perfect — as it is written and as our earlier discourse on these matters has shown — it is entirely necessary that he be pruned. (cf. John 15:1) by every one of the commandments unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13); for according to the divine law a beast with a blemish even though clean, was unacceptable as a sacrifice to God (cf. Lev. 21. 19-20).

Saint Basil the Great

Saint Basil (329/30-379) was the bishop in what is modern Turkey in a city called Casesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia. Basil was attentive the needs of the poor and he is famous for for us rule for monasteries that focussed on the common life, the sacred liturgy and manual labor. Saint Benedict used Basil’s rule as one of a few for his own rule for monasteries. Basil is called the “revealer of heavenly mysteries.” Together with Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus is known as the Cappadocian Fathers. Saint Basil was a firm supporter of the Nicene Creed and fought heresy.

Let’s pray for hospital administrators today through the intercession of Saint Basil.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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