Monday, June 13, 2016

Feast of St Basil the Great (Class III, June 14)

Basil of Caesarea.jpg

The readings in the Roman Office for the feast are set out below.  The sections omitted for the one reading in the Benedictine Office are indicated by square brackets:
This Basil was a noble Cappadocian who studied earthly learning at Athens, in company with Gregory of Nazianzus, to whom he was united in a warm and tender friendship. He afterwards studied things sacred in a monastery, where he quickly attained an eminent degree of excellence in doctrine and life, whereby he gained to himself the surname of the Great. He was called to Pontus to preach the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and brought back into the way of salvation that country which before had been wandering astray from the rules of Christian discipline. He was shortly united as coadjutor to Eusebius, Bishop of Cassarea, for the edification of that city, and afterwards became his successor in the see. One of his greatest labours was to maintain that the Son is of one Substance with the Father, and when the Emperor Valens, moved to wrath against him, was willing to send him into exile, he so bent him by dint of the miracles which he worked that he forced him to forego his intention.
[The chair upon which Valens sat down, in order to sign the decree of Basil's ejectment from the city, broke down under him, and three pens which he took one after the other to sign the edict of banishment, all would not write and when nevertheless he remained firm to write the ungodly order, his right hand shook. Valens was so frightened at these omens, that he tore the paper in two. During the night which was allowed to Basil to make up his mind, Valens' wife had a severe stomach-ache, and their only son was taken seriously ill. These things alarmed Valens so much that he acknowledged his wickedness, and sent for Basil, during whose visit the child began to get better. However, when Valens sent for some heretics to see it, it presently died.]
The abstinence and self-control of Basil were truly wonderful. [He was content to wear nothing but one single garment.] In observance of fasting he was most earnest, and so instant in prayer, that he would oftentimes pass the whole night therein. [His virginity he kept always unsullied]. He built monasteries, wherein he so adapted the institution of monasticism, that he exquisitely united for the inmates the advantages of the contemplative and of the active life. He was the author of many learned writings, and, according to the witness of Gregory of Nazianzus, no one hath ever composed more faithful and edifying explanations of the books of the Holy Scripture. He died upon the 1st day of January, (in the year of our Lord 379,) at which time so essentially spiritual was his life, that his body showed nothing but skin and bones.
St Basil is a key saint from a Benedictine perspective, since St Benedict knew and drew on several of his works.  His shorter rule and several of his homilies were translated into Latin very early, and circulated widely in the West.  St Ambrose, for example, drew heavily on his sermons on the dyas of creation to produce a similar work of his own.  According to the Wikipedia:
Basil was born into the wealthy family of Basil the Elder, a famous rhetor, and Emmelia of Caesarea, in Pontus, around 330. His parents were renowned for their piety. His maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine I's conversion. His pious widow, Macrina, herself a follower of Gregory Thaumaturgus (who had founded the nearby church of Neocaesarea), 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. There he met Gregory of Nazianzus, who would become a lifetime friend. 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. 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.
Basil's life changed radically after he encountered Eustathius of Sebaste, a charismatic bishop and ascetic. Abandoning his legal and teaching career, Basil devoted his life to God. A letter described his spiritual awakening:
“I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingness of the wisdom of the princes of this world."
You can read more on the saint in Pope Benedict VI's two General Audiences on him, here and here.

No comments: