Great (Single) Men of Old – Basil of Caesarea

“What are such threats to me? He who has nothing to lose can scarce fear confiscation, and I have no possessions save these mean garments, and some few books. Neither does he fear exile who counts no spot on earth his home, being here but a pilgrim and a sojourner, seeking a safer place of rest. Heaven is my home. Nor do I fear torture — my frail body would endure but little—you could strike but one blow and my pain is past—I should but depart the sooner to Him, for Whose service alone I am willing to live, and after Whom my soul yearns.” – Basil of Caesarea, quoted by William Bennett, in Lives of Certain Fathers of the Church in the Fourth Century for the Instruction of the Young

Basil_of_CaesareaThis was Basil’s response to Modestus who, under the orders of Valens, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire of the day, was trying to “Arianize” the Church and force Basil to sign the Arian Creed. When Basil refused, Modestus asked Basil if the penalties he was able to levy, including confiscation of property and even death, did not scare him. Obviously, Basil’s answer was a resounding no.

Basil was born around 330 AD in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, which is now modern day Turkey. He was born into a wealthy family that was known for their love of the Lord. He was given a great education in his home, both in the Scriptures and in the classic discipline of rhetoric. He completed his formal education in Athens before traveling through Egypt and Syria learning about the ascetic lifestyle. He also attended the Council of Constantinople where he was introduced firsthand to the growing divisions between the Arians, homoiousians, and homoousians. After returning to Caesarea, he quickly became ordained as a deacon and a few years later, presbyter, then, in 370 at the age of 40, he became bishop of Caeserea. During these years, along with his service to the church, Basil and his lifelong friend Gregory of Nazianzus combated Arianism through public debate and theological writings. Due to the influence of these public debates and writings, Basil, his brother Gregory, and his good friend Gregory of Nazianzus are together remembered as the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil died relatively young, at 50, but his influence continues on to this day.

Basil’s greatest contribution was in his defense of the orthodox view of the Trinity. Basil was influential in defining the terms “ousia” and “hypostasis.” His single most important writing may be his treatise on the Holy Spirit where he argues for the Spirit’s divinity and outlines the orthodox formulation of the Trinity as three persons in one nature. He was also very influential in the development of monasticism. He argued for a communal way of life and organized a monastic community in modern day Turkey. His influence is felt both in the East and the West, as St. Benedict, who was the biggest influence on Western monasticism, mentions Basil by name at the end of his famous Rule.

This is but a brief introduction to Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, Cappadocian Father. Basil served the Lord, lead the church, and defended orthodoxy for fifty faithful years. His collected works, which I have but scratched the surface of, have been a blessing tom any. His theological writings form the foundation of classic orthodoxy and his letters show the love he had for both his local church and for the Church universal. Basil did all of these things as a single man.

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