Basil of Caesarea

Saint Basil the Great
Basil of Caesarea.jpg
Icon of St. Basil the Great from the
St. Sophia Cathedral of Kiev
Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church; Great Hierarch
Born 329 or 330
Caesarea, Cappadocia,
Died January 1 or 2, 379 (aged 48–50)
Caesarea, Cappadocia
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodoxy
Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Lutheranism
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast
Attributes vested as bishop, wearing omophorion, holding a Gospel Book or scroll. St. Basil is depicted in icons as thin and ascetic with a long, tapering black beard.
Patronage Russia, Cappadocia, Hospital administrators, Reformers, Monks, Education, Exorcism, Liturgists

Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great ( Greek: Ἅγιος Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας, Ágios Basíleios o Mégas; 329 or 330 [6] – January 1 or 2, 379), was the Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.

In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labour. Together with Pachomius, he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity. He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity.

Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches have given him, together with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, the title of Great Hierarch. He is recognised as a Doctor of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church. He is sometimes referred to by the epithet Ouranophantor (Greek: Οὐρανοφάντωρ), "revealer of heavenly mysteries". [7]

Life

Early life and education

The theology of Gregory Thaumaturgus, a student of Origen, influenced Basil through his grandmother Macrina the Elder.

Basil was born into the wealthy family of Basil the Elder, [8] and Emmelia of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, around 330. [9] His parents were known for their piety. [10] His maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine I's conversion. [11] [12] His pious widow, Macrina, herself a follower of Gregory Thaumaturgus (who had founded the nearby church of Neocaesarea), [13] raised Basil and his four siblings (who also can be venerated as saints): Macrina the Younger, Naucratius, Peter of Sebaste and Gregory of Nyssa.

Basil received more formal education in Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (modern-day Kayseri, Turkey) around 350-51. [14] There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend. [15] Together, Basil and Gregory went to Constantinople for further studies, including the lectures of Libanius. The two also spent almost six years in Athens starting around 349, where they met a fellow student who would become the emperor Julian the Apostate. [16] [17] Basil left Athens in 356, and after travels in Egypt and Syria, he returned to Caesarea, where for around a year he practiced law and taught rhetoric. [18]

Basil's life changed radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic. [19] Abandoning his legal and teaching career, Basil devoted his life to God. A letter described his spiritual awakening:

Annesi

Russian icon of Basil of Caesarea

After his baptism, Basil traveled in 357 to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to study ascetics and monasticism. [21] [22] He distributed his fortunes among the poor, then went briefly into solitude near Neocaesarea of Pontus (mod. day Niksar, Turkey) on the Iris. [21] Basil eventually realized that while he respected the ascetics' piety and prayerfulness, the solitary life did not call him. [23] Eustathius of Sebaste, a prominent anchorite near Pontus, had mentored Basil. However, they also eventually differed over dogma. [24]

Basil instead felt drawn toward communal religious life, and by 358 he was gathering around him a group of like-minded disciples, including his brother Peter. Together they founded a monastic settlement on his family's estate near Annesi [25] (modern Sonusa or Uluköy, near the confluence of the Iris and Lycos Rivers [26]). His widowed mother Emmelia, sister Macrina and several other women, joined Basil and devoted themselves to pious lives of prayer and charitable works (some claim Macrina founded this community). [27]

Here Basil wrote about monastic communal life. His writings became pivotal in developing monastic traditions of the Eastern Church. [28] In 358, Basil invited his friend Gregory of Nazianzus to join him in Annesi. [29] When Gregory eventually arrived, they collaborated on Origen's Philocalia, a collection of Origen's works . [30] Gregory then decided to return to his family in Nazianzus.

Basil attended the Council of Constantinople (360). He at first sided with Eustathius and the Homoiousians, a semi-Arian faction who taught that the Son was of like substance with the Father, neither the same (one substance) nor different from him. [31] The Homoiousians opposed the Arianism of Eunomius but refused to join with the supporters of the Nicene Creed, who professed that the members of the Trinity were of one substance (" homoousios"). However, Basil's bishop, Dianius of Caesarea, had subscribed only to the earlier Nicene form of agreement. Basil eventually abandoned the Homoiousians, and emerged instead as a strong supporter of the Nicene Creed. [31]

Caesarea

Icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great (left), John Chrysostom (center) and Gregory the Theologian (right)—from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland.

In 362, Bishop Meletius of Antioch ordained Basil as a deacon. Eusebius then summoned Basil to Caesarea and ordained him as presbyter of the Church there in 365. Ecclesiastical entreaties rather than Basil's desires thus altered his career path. [21]

Basil and Gregory Nazianzus spent the next few years combating the Arian heresy, which threatened to divide Cappadocia's Christians. In close fraternal cooperation, they agreed to a great rhetorical contest with accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors. [32] In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant. This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the Church. [32] Basil next took on functional administration of the city of Caesarea. [28] Eusebius is reported as becoming jealous of the reputation and influence which Basil quickly developed, and allowed Basil to return to his earlier solitude. Later, however, Gregory persuaded Basil to return. Basil did so, and became the effective manager of the city for several years, while giving all the credit to Eusebius.

In 370, Eusebius died, and Basil was chosen to succeed him, and was consecrated bishop on June 14, 370. [33] His new post as bishop of Caesarea also gave him the powers of exarch of Pontus and metropolitan of five suffragan bishops, many of whom had opposed him in the election for Eusebius's successor. It was then that his great powers were called into action. Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese.

His letters show that he actively worked to reform thieves and prostitutes. They also show him encouraging his clergy not to be tempted by wealth or the comparatively easy life of a priest, and that he personally took care in selecting worthy candidates for holy orders. He also had the courage to criticize public officials who failed in their duty of administering justice. At the same time, he preached every morning and evening in his own church to large congregations. In addition to all the above, he built a large complex just outside Caesarea, called the Basiliad, [34] which included a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital, and was compared by Gregory of Nazianzus to the wonders of the world. [35]

His zeal for orthodoxy did not blind him to what was good in an opponent; and for the sake of peace and charity he was content to waive the use of orthodox terminology when it could be surrendered without a sacrifice of truth. The Emperor Valens, who was an adherent of the Arian philosophy, sent his prefect Modestus to at least agree to a compromise with the Arian faction. Basil's adamant negative response prompted Modestus to say that no one had ever spoken to him in that way before. Basil replied, "Perhaps you have never yet had to deal with a bishop." Modestus reported back to Valens that he believed nothing short of violence would avail against Basil. Valens was apparently unwilling to engage in violence. He did however issue orders banishing Basil repeatedly, none of which succeeded. Valens came himself to attend when Basil celebrated the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), and at that time was so impressed by Basil that he donated to him some land for the building of the Basiliad. This interaction helped to define the limits of governmental power over the church. [36]

Basil then had to face the growing spread of Arianism. This belief system, which denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father, was quickly gaining adherents and was seen by many, particularly those in Alexandria most familiar with it, as posing a threat to the unity of the church. [37] Basil entered into connections with the West, and with the help of Athanasius, he tried to overcome its distrustful attitude toward the Homoiousians. The difficulties had been enhanced by bringing in the question as to the essence of the Holy Spirit. Although Basil advocated objectively the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, he belonged to those, who, faithful to Eastern tradition, would not allow the predicate homoousios to the former; for this he was reproached as early as 371 by the Orthodox zealots among the monks, and Athanasius defended him. He maintained a relationship with Eustathius despite dogmatic differences.

Basil corresponded with Pope Damasus in the hope of having the Roman bishop condemn heresy wherever found, both East and West. The pope's apparent indifference upset Basil's zeal and he turned around in distress and sadness.

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Basil Qeysəriyyəli
беларуская: Васілій Вялікі
български: Василий Велики
Esperanto: Sankta Bazilo
गोंयची कोंकणी / Gõychi Konknni: Sant Basil
hrvatski: Bazilije Veliki
Bahasa Indonesia: Basil dari Kaisarea
interlingua: Basilio de Cesarea
italiano: San Basilio
ქართული: ბასილი დიდი
latviešu: Basilijs Lielais
മലയാളം: ബെയ്സിൽ
română: Vasile cel Mare
shqip: Vasili
slovenčina: Bazil Veľký
slovenščina: Bazilij Veliki
српски / srpski: Василије Велики
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Vasilije iz Cezareje
Türkçe: Basileios
українська: Василій Великий
Tiếng Việt: Basiliô Cả