Bishop and Doctor of the Church, called Basil the Great of Caesarea; b. Pontus, Asia Minor, c. 329; d. Caesarea, Jan. 1, 379.
Life. Basil was the first Doctor of the Church to combine endowments that often recurred together in later Fathers: aristocracy of birth, refinement of culture, enthusiastic participation in the ascetical movement, and an episcopal ministry. His family were landowners of substance in Pontus, probably of the senatorial class, and had demonstrated heroic loyalty to Christianity during the persecutions; through gregory thaumaturgus they became attached to origenism. Basil's grandmother macrina, his parents Basil and Emilia, his sister Macrina, and his younger brothers gregory of nyssa and Peter of Sebaste are all venerated as saints. Basil was trained in rhetoric at Constantinople and Athens and became a close friend of gregory of nazianzus; he was baptized with him about 358 and gave up a brilliant administrative career to join his family in the life of ascetical retirement they were living at Annesi in Pontus, under the influence of eustathius of sebaste.
Anyone belonging to the ascetical groups, which were then strongly deprecated by the ruling classes, could expect many difficulties; but Basil was admitted into the clergy of Caesarea, and divided his time between a retired ascetical life and priestly activity. He was ordained c. 365 and dedicated himself not only to the defense of Nicean orthodoxy but also to social work of Christian charity. After being elected bishop in the spring of 370, he relied heavily on the common people, who venerated his holiness and charity; his social standing gave him leverage for a vigorous opposition to the civil administration, which was protecting Arianism; but he was utilized by that administration to discipline the new forces and to develop mission activity in Armenia. He tried unsuccessfully to oppose the division of Cappadocia, which deprived him of some influence when a new ecclesiastical province was erected and centered in Tyana. His efforts to reunite all orthodox Christians divided by the schism of antioch extended to the whole of the East and were crowned with success, after his death, in the Synod of Antioch (379) and the Council of constantinople i (381). In 372 he failed in his efforts to win over his old mentor Eustathius of Sebaste, who had become a leading Pneumatomachian. Immediately after Basil's death, his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa eulogized him in terms already redolent of hagiography; but none of his contemporaries wrote a detailed biography of Basil. Two ancient biographies, one in Syriac and the other in Greek, are wrongly ascribed to his disciple Amphilochius; they contain no useful information. There is evidence of local veneration shortly after Basil's death. The high regard in which Basil was held by atha nasius, ambrose, and rufinus of aquileia explains the rapid spread of this veneration to the other Churches, despite the scant sympathy of daasus i and jerome. Basil's doctrinal authority is evident in the writings of augustine and later of Pope leo i and in the florilegia occasioned in such large quantities by the Council of chalcedon.
Works. With Gregory of Nazianzus Basil became from the beginning of his retreat in Annesi a disciple of origen and compiled an anthology of Origen's works, the Philocalia, apparently published posthumously. The Moralia is an anthology of 1,553 verses of the New Testament, with a preface, On the Judgment of God; a second preface, On the Faith, was added later by the author. The famous Ad adolescentes, de legendis libris Gentilium, on the reading of the pagan classics, must also be classed among the works of Basil's earlier years; it is an apology of asceticism addressed to a public with a highly developed Hellenistic culture. A final composition of his early maturity is the small treatise On the Spirit, probably authentic, inspired by plotinus, who was a source for Basil's later writings. The two most important dogmatic works can be dated with some precision: in 364 he wrote three books Contra Eunomium (books 4 and 5 in the preserved text are by Didymus of Alexandria) that refuted the Apologia of eunomius of constantinople, the mouthpiece of the Anomoeans (361); the treatise De Spiritu Sancto (375), addressed to amphilochius of ico nium, gives a report in its chapters 10 to 28 of a tense dialogue between Basil and Eustathius of Sebaste that took place in Sebaste in June 372.
The voluminous correspondence (366 letters) of Basil can often be dated with certainty and furnishes valuable documentation on the ecclesiastical politics of the age. The majority of the homilies are in all probability from the time of his sacerdotal ministry; but there are reasons for dating the nine homilies On the Hexaemeron at the end of Basil's career; these homilies contain a Christian explanation of the created universe, drawing heavily upon Greek science. The Asceticon consists of 55 Great Rules, or systematic regulations, for the cenobitic life and 313 Little Rules, or practical answers, to questions raised on the occasion of visitations to already established communities; they also contain elements from other occasions. The text translated into Latin by Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 400) contains only a rough draft of the first of the Great Rules and half of the Little Rules. This archaic version (Little Asceticon) enables us to grasp the institutions in their creative evolution (basilian monasticism).
Among the works of disputed authenticity should be listed the two books De Baptismo, written during the episcopate, and perhaps the Commentary on Isaias, the work of a 4th-century Cappadocian bishop, very well attested in the manuscript tradition. Basil probably did not put the finishing touches to these two works and is not entirely responsible for their style. The homily on Psalm 115 seems to be authentic, but not that on Psalm 37 (Eusebius of Caesarea) or on Psalm 132, or yet the second homily on Psalm 28 (the work of a disciple of Basil), or the homilies On the Structure of Man (probably by Gregory of Nyssa) and On Paradise, which claim to be continuations of the Hexaemeron. Certainly spurious are the treatises On Virginity (probably by Basil of Ancyra), Consolation to One Lying Sick (perhaps by Proclus), On the Incarnation (also probably by Proclus), and On Virginity (of Syrian orgin). The few homilies still not edited have scarcely any claim to authenticity.
Of the minor ascetical fragments, the Prologue (Patrologia Graeca 31:1509) is authentic, as are the Prologue (PG 31:881) and a list of penances (1305, n. 1–11 and 1313, n. 1–19), at least in the sense that they come from a Basilian environment. Some discourses (PG 31:619, 647, and perhaps 869) are from the 4th or 5th century. The Constitutions (with the exception of ch. 1, which comes from a semi-Messalian environment) and the Exhortation to Renunciation (PG 31:1321, 625) are later works and come from environments influenced vaguely by Basil. The Admonitio ad filium spiritualem and the De consolatione in adversis are ancient but of Latin origin. The De laude solitariae vitae is by St. Peter Damien (Opusc. 11, ch. 19).
Spurious letters are Nos. 8 (evagrius ponticus); 10, 16, and 38 (all three by Gregory of Nyssa); 39 to 45; 47 (Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder); 50, 166 to 167, and 169 to 171 (all six by Gregory of Nazianzus); 189 (Gregory of Nyssa), 197.2; 321 (Gregory of Nazianzus); 335 to 343 (though these may be authentic); 344 to 346 (like-wise?); 347 to 356, 357, 359, 360, 365; 366 (taken from clement of alexandria); 361 to 364 seem to be authentic.
Doctrine. The Cappadocians resumed the tradition of Origen; Basil did this in a critical and highly personal fashion, but it was precisely the sureness of touch with which he succeeded in integrating Origen into orthodoxy that made it possible for the two Gregorys, and later Evagrius Ponticus, to give Origen such importance. Basil drew on Stoic and Platonic philosophy, especially that of Plotinus; Dehnhard's researches show that Basil's assimilation of these philosophical currents was thorough, based on the tradition of the Church. Basil placed supreme reliance on the Bible and was conscientious in referring to it as touchstone for everything; at one point, however, his native sincerity in dialogue with Eustathius of Sebaste made him admit that the orthodoxy of his day had had to define more precisely certain Biblical formulas, and he thus for the first time took clear note of the nature and importance of unwritten tradition (De Spiritu Sancto, c. 27).
Trinity. Basil was far more aware than Athanasius and the Westerners of the danger, represented by marcellus of ancyra, of not distinguishing sufficiently between the Divine Persons; that is why he adopted the formula "three hypostases." In his assertion of the perfect resemblance of the Son (and the Spirit) to the Father, he sometimes came close to Tritheism; if he escaped this danger, it was because of his entirely spiritualized conception of the Divine Being and his respect for the incomprehensibility of God. Basil's ascetical training convinced him that only the purified spirit could know things divine. He tried to avoid multiplication of formulas and to induce contemplation in an attitude of adoration: this is the essence of his monastic theology.
In refuting the subtleties of the heretics, however, he did not hesitate to introduce nonscriptural distinctions between what is common in the Trinity, the ousia, and what is typical of each of the hypostases. As Doctor of the Holy Spirit, he excommunicated those who asserted that the Spirit is a creature, but he did not demand any more positive confession of faith on this point of the divinity of the Third Person. His friends themselves were astonished at this oeconomia. It must be seen not as pure adaptation or "condescension" but as a profound respect for the mystery involved and a desire not to go beyond the terms of the Biblical revelation. In the face of the incipient difficulties of christology, Basil initially attempted to adopt the same prudential line, but he finally had to condemn apollinaris of laodicea.
Ecclesiology. Basil's efforts to reconcile the various Churches were intimately connected with his specifically theological activity. caesarea was associated with Antioch, where Bishop Meletius was in conflict not only with an Arian faction but with a small intransigent group headed by Paulinus of Antioch and supported by Athanasius and Pope Damasus I.
Despite his attachment to the formula "one single hypostasis," Paulinus did not deviate from the orthodox faith, and the schism was primarily a matter of personality clashes. Full of nostalgia for the happy days when the Churches acted in unity as members of the same Body of Christ and aware of the harm being done to the faith of the ordinary laity by the clumsy intervention of the West, Basil made superhuman efforts. He tried not to persuade Meletius to bow out in favor of the man being supported by the Westerners but rather to enlighten those Westerners and if possible to persuade them to come and see on the spot who was in the right, to open their eyes to the actual state of affairs in the East.
Despite the misunderstanding of Basil's position by certain Westerners, he is a very important witness to Catholic unity; his action as mediator implies that he was in communion with Athanasius and Damasus as well as with Meletius. It cannot be denied, of course, that his conception of the local Church and episcopal collegiality, based on faith and charity, is already in line with later orthodox ecclesiology. He had a very clear conception of the freedom of the Church with regard to the imperial power.
Asceticism and Social Christianity. The specific mark of Basil's ecclesiology is its bond with asceticism. The disciples of Eustathius of Sebaste took so seriously the demands for evangelical renunciation that they were in danger of constituting a sect opposed to the official Church, as can be seen at the Council of gangra (c. 340). Basil criticized this enthusiasm from the inside, carefully checking its motives against the Gospel, conferring upon it wisdom and respectability and enlightening it with his humanistic culture. He took care not to mistake exterior manifestations, such as virginity or spectacular poverty, for the essential. His own status in the hierarchy facilitated contacts. In fact the discipline he imposed on his brothers made of them, little by little, distinct communities within the Church; but he himself took care not to regard them as such.
Basil based his entire doctrine of renunciation on perfect obedience to the two commandments of the gospel rather than on the evangelical counsels. He made the same demands in his preaching to the people, when he proposed a sort of Christian communism with communal use, if not ownership, of property and with charity serving as the incentive to labor. His preaching was so demanding upon the rich that it may be asked whether it did not express an exaggerated idealism that refused to see the economic realities. But the historical studies of economists on the fall of ancient civilization show that its essential defects were the disparity between the social classes and the increase in unproductive expenses, i.e., precisely the evils that Basil was combating in the name of Christian poverty.
Ecclesiastical Discipline. Three canonical letters of Basil to Amphilochius of Iconium have been received into the code of the Byzantine Church; they give operational directions on the duration and modalities of excommunication for various faults. Basil was there merely systematizing and correcting the severe usages that he found in force. He was not expressing his personal conception of Christianity as freely as he did in the Asceticon or in his preaching; rather he was giving proof of a remarkable capacity for adaptation.
Liturgy. Basil took into the Church the monastic tradition of the East and canonized psalm-singing, thus contributing to the molding of the ecclesiastical Office of the Hours. A witness as early as Gregory of Nazianzus bears witness to Basil's liturgical activity. Many prayers bear his name. It is difficult to say if all these are genuine; but the Eucharistic Liturgy attributed to him certainly has some connection with him. It survived in two forms, one called the Alexandrine, the other and longer version called the Byzantine. Some of the alterations typical of the second form bear an unmistakable personal mark of Basil. This does not mean, however, that this Liturgy today retains the form he gave it. As for the first, it is still difficult to say whether it represents an earlier Liturgy that Basil inherited or whether it has also been retouched by his hand. He was under no obligation to use one single and identical formula.
Feast: June 14; Jan. 1, Jan. 30 in the East.
Bibliography: Biographical sources and editions of works. p. maran, ed., Vita S. Basilii, Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne, 29:v-clxxvii (Paris 1857–66). m. m. fox, The Life and Times of St. Basil the Great (Catholic University of America, Patristic Studies, 57). l. vischer, Basilius der Grosse (Basel 1953), ecclesiology. Annotated editions of ancient funeral orations. gregory of nyssa, Discours funèbres, ed. and tr. f. boulenger (Paris 1908); Encomium of Saint Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, on His Brother Saint Basil ed. and tr. j. a. stein (Catholic University of America, Patristic Studies, 17); Vita S. Macrinae, ed. v. w. callahan in Gregorii Nysseni opera, ed. w. jaeger, v.8.1 (Leiden 1952) 370–414. ephrem the syrian, "Encomium in S. Basilium Magnum," in Opera, ed. s. g. mercati, V.1.1 (Rome 1915) 113–188. k. v. zetterstÉen, tr., "Eine Homilie des Amphilochius von Iconium über Basilius," Oriens Christianus 3d ser., 9: 67–98. a. vÖÖbus, "Das literarische Verhältnis zwischen der Biographie des Rabbūlā und dem Pseudo-Amphilochianischen Panegyrikus über Basilius," ibid. 44 (1960) 40–45. Opera omnia, Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne, v.29–32, reimpression with introd. and bibliog. by p. maran and j. garnier (Paris 1857–66). The introd. by j. gribomont to the 1960 repr. gives a complete bibliog. of the eds. and studies on each of his works. f. e. brightman, Liturgies Eastern and Western (Oxford 1896), v.1 Eastern Liturgies, 309–344, 400–401. j. doresse et al., Un Témoin archaïque de la liturgie copte de saint Basile (Louvain 1960). Ancient Latin version of the Hexaemeron, e. amand de mendieta and s. y. rudberg, eds., Eustathius (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 66). Homilies. m. huglo, Revue Bénédictine 64: 129–132. Asceticon, Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1878–90) 103:487–554. De Spiritu Sancto, ed. c. t. johnston (Oxford 1892); ed. b. pruche, Sources Chrétiennes, ed. h. de lubac et al. 17 (Paris 1947). Letters, ed. and tr. r. j. deferrari, 4 v. (Loeb Classical Library [London-New York-Cambridge, Mass. 1926–34]) (as an app., Address to Young Men, ed. with m. r. p. mcguire, ibid. 4:363–435); tr. a. c. way, ed. r. j. deferrari, 2 v. (The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, ed. r. j. deferrari et al. 13, 28 [New York 1951–55]); ed. and Fr. tr. y. courtonne, 2v. (Paris 1957–61), v.3 still to appear, more critical text, insufficient annotation. Exegetic Homilies, tr. a. c. way, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, ed. r. j. deferrari et al. 46 (Washington 1963). The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, ed. and tr. w. k. l. clarke (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London 1925). Selected Works, ed. and tr. b. jackson in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d series, ed. p. schaff and h. wace 8 (1895). Textual criticism. m. bessiÈres, La Tradition manuscrite de la correspondance de s. Basile (Oxford 1923). a. cavallin, Studien zu den Briefen des hl. Basillius (Lund 1944). j. gribomont, Histoire du texte des Ascétiques de saint Basile (Louvain 1953). s. y. rudberg, Études sur la tradition manuscrite de saint Basile (Upsala 1953); ed. and tr., L'Homélie de Basile Césarée sur le mot "Observe-toi toi-même" (Stockholm 1962). History of doctrine. e. ivÁnka, Hellenisches und Christliches im frühbyzantinischen Geistesleben (Vienna 1948) 28–67. h. dehnhard, Das Problem der Abhängigkeit des Basilius von Plotin (Patristische Texte und Studien 3; Berlin 1964). w. m. roggisch, Platons Spuren bei Basilius dem Grossen (Diss. Bonn 1949). j. f. callahan, "Greek Philosophy and the Cappadocian Cosmology," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Harvard Univ. 12 (Cambridge, Mass. 1958) 29–57. b. otis, "Cappadocian Thought as a Coherent System," ibid. 95–124. w. a. tieck, Basil of Caesarea and the Bible (Doctoral diss. microfilm; Columbia U. 1953). j. gribomont, "Le Paulinisme de s. Baslie," Studiorum Paulinorum, 2 v. Analecta biblica 17–18; 2: 481–490; "L'Origénisme de s. Basile" in L'Homme devant Dieu: Mélanges Henri du Lubac, 3 v. (Paris 1963–64) 1:281–294. t. spidlÍk, La Sophiologie de S. Basile Orientalia Christiana Analecta. 162 (Rome 1961). Trinity. k. holl, Amphilochius von Ikonium in seinem Verhätnis zu den grossen Kappadoziern (Tübingen 1904), very incisive, but attributes to Basil letters 8 and 38. h. dÖrries, De Spiritu Sancto: Der Beitrag des Basilius zum Abschluss des trinitarischen Dogmas (Göttingen 1956). j. lebon, "Le Sort du 'consubstantiel' nicéen," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 48: 632–682. b. pruche, "Autour de traité sur le Saint-Esprit de s. Basile," Recherches de science religieuse 52: 204–232. g. l. prestige, St. Basil the Great and Apollinaris of Laodicea, ed. h. chadwick (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; London 1956). h. de riedmatten, "La Correspondance entre Basile de Césarée et Apollinaire de Laodicée," Journal of Theological Studies new series 7: 199–210; 8: 53–70. Ecclesiology. p. batiffol, "L'Ecclésiologie de s. Basile," Échos d'Orient 21 (Paris 1922) 9–30. v. grumel, "S. Basile et le Siège apostolique," ibid. 280–292. e. schwartz, "Zur Kirchengeschichte des vierten Jahrhunderts," in Gesammelte Schriften, 4 v. (Berlin 1960) 39–88. m. richard, "S. Basile et la mission du diacre Sabinus," Analecta Bollandiana 67: 178–202, corrects the preceding work. e. amand de mendieta, "Basile de Césarée et Damase de Rome," in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of R. P. Casey, ed. j. n. birdsall and r. w. thomson (Freiburg 1963) 122–166, exaggerates failure of negotiations. g. f. reilly, Imperium and Sacerdotium according to St. Basil (Washington 1945). Ethics and sociology. s. giet, Les Idées et l'action sociales de s. Baslie (Paris 1941). b. treucker, Politische und sozialgeschichtliche Studien zu den Basilius-Briefen (Munich 1961). Liturgy. a. raes, "Un Nouveau document de la liturgie de s. Basle," Orientalia Christiana periodica 26 (Rome 1960) 401–411. w. e. pitt, "The Origin of the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. Basil," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 12: 1–13. h. engberding, "Das anaphorische Fübittgebet der Basiliusliturgie," Oriens Christianus 14 (Leipzig-Wiesbaden 1963) 16–52; 49 (Leipzig-Wiesbaden 1965) 18–32. j. mateos, "L'Office monastique à la fin du IVe siècle: Antioche, Palestine, Cappadoce," Oriens Christianus 47: 53–88. Culture. l. v. jacks, St. Basil and Greek Literature (Catholic University of America, Patristic Studies ; Washington D.C.1922) a. c. way, The Language and Style of the Letters of St. Basil (ibid. 13; 1927). y. courtonne, Saint Basile et l'Hellénisme (Paris 1934). w. hengsberg, De ornatu rhetorico quem Basilius Magnus… adhibuit (Diss. Bonn 1957).
"Basil, St.." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/basil-st
"Basil, St.." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/basil-st
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.