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Basilian Monasticism


The monastic development under Basil of Caesarea is usually placed in the line of development after the anchoritism of St. anthony of egypt and the cenobitism of the large communities under St. pachomius, leading toward the establishment of Benedictine monasticism (see monasticism). This is an error in perspective. Basil was a successor in the tradition of the enthusiastic and sectarian asceticism of eustathius of sebaste; he aimed not at constituting an isolated group but at reforming the Church according to the demands of the gospel, without clashing with the bulk of the faithful.

The Asceticon. The chronological development of Basil's thought can be followed through the two successive editions of his I Asceticon, one in 202 questions (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 103:487), the other in 55 great rules (which develop out of the 11 first questions of the first edition) and in 313 short rules (191 questions of the first edition with new ones added). When new brotherhoods began to develop, Basil in no way attempted to impose his own conceptions on them but, rather, sought to meditate with them on the New Testament, to put into practice the renunciation demanded by Baptism.

obedience is understood in terms of the Biblical commandments, interpreted in the light of the need of one's neighbor. poverty is not a juridical convention but, rather, a generous devotion of the fruits of a conscientious toil to the service of the poor; and here Basil separates himself radically from Messalianism. Celibacy is taken for granted; in the second edition there is a requirement of a formal engagement in this matter, but it is never made a central point except when a virgin fails to honor her promises (Epist. 46).

Reference to the individual superior appears only in the latest texts; at the outset emphasis was placed on the group of those who had received the charisms of discernment of spirits; for each had his function and duties, expressing charity to the other members of the Body of Christ. Basil was a vigorous opponent of anchoritism. His stand must be understood in the light of the history of his day: he states that the tendency to isolation in one's environment is not healthy but, rather, is a self-willed anchoritism. Further, he shows little sympathy for the appeal of inwardness that so delighted his friend gregory of nazianzus. Basil stressed the objective aspect of prayer; he thought of prayer as liturgical, and readily mingled prayer with work and apostolic responsibilities: prayer was for Basil more a song than a silence.

Basilians. Basil never promulgated any precise rule, nor did he found a centralized order; there is no justification for calling Basilian even those Oriental monks who recognize him as one of their fathers. The idea of a Basilian order is a Latin one, a product of the Roman Curia's extension of Western categories. Following the curial practice, the Uniate Oriental monks from the Middle Ages on can in a certain sense be considered Basilians, and the Curia officially made them such when it reformed them. The Italo-Greek monks, who also had a Spanish Latin-rite congregation; the Ukrainian Basilians of St. Josaphat, with a few Rumanian monks; and finally the Melchites of Lebanon should be mentioned.

Italo-Greek. The Greeks who had been so flourishing an ethnic group in south Italy in antiquity had not entirely disappeared there when justinian i in the 6th century reoccupied these provinces. Monasticism spread there despite the threat of Arab invasions. It prospered in sicily and especially in Calabria and Lucania, from the 9th to the 1lth century, based on a Studite tradition but with direct contacts with Palestine and Egypt. Numerous Italo-Greek manuscripts still witness to this culture. Although it was the first Byzantine province to be invaded by the Latins (Normans), south Italy did not, for all that, lose its characteristics; indeed the new dynasty relied on the monasteries for support and favored them in return. As many as 265 have been counted, most of them quite small. Confederations developed around S. Salvatore in Messina and St. Elias of Carbone. Leaders among the monks included St. Elias the Younger (d. 903), St. Elias Spelaiotes (d. 960), St. sabas the younger (d. 990 or 991), St. nicodemus of mammola (d. 990), St. Luke of Armento (d. 993), St. nilus of rossano (d. 1005), St. simeon of polirone (d. 1016), and St. Bartholomew of Rossano (d. 1020).

The influence of these spiritual centers on medieval spirituality (e.g., monte cassino, St. romuald) and on the Greek culture in Rome itself should not be underestimated. Unfortunately the rule of the Angevins brought the beginning of a decline, and the Greek element disappeared little by little. When bessarion tried to reform the monasteries in 1446, the majority of the houses had passed to Latin religious or disappeared. Cardinal Santoro pursued Bessarion's efforts, and 1579 was to become the official date of the foundation of a congregation of 38 monasteries. With these were associated the Basilians of Spain. The emigrations from Albania revived the Greek-language groups. In 1866 the government suppressed the monasteries with the exception of grottaferrata (outside Rome), whose traditions of scholarship, liturgy, and music experienced a brilliant revival.

In Spain, two groups of Latin religious and hermits adopted almost simultaneously the Rule of St. Basil at Orviedo and Tardon (the so-called reformed province, given more to manual labor) in 1561 and in 1568; in 1569 they were united to the Basilians of Italy. They were suppressed by the Spanish government in 1855.

Ruthenians, Rumanians, and Melchites. The Ruthenian Basilians of St. josaphat kuncevyČ were established shortly after the Union of Brest-Litovsk (1595), when St. Josaphat reformed about 30 Ukrainian monasteries, under the influence of the constitutions of St. igna tius of loyola, and instituted an active congregation, which he called Basilian (1617). It played a crucial role in the Ruthenian Church, representing the cultural element and furnishing the bishops. It had provinces in Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and Austria. In the reform under Pope leo xiii, the personality of Metropolitan A. sheptyts'kyĬ gave the order a more Oriental character. In the wake of World War I the monks emigrated, especially to North and South America.

Rumanian Basilians consisted of a little congregation of monks around the monastery of Blaj, from 1750 to 1870; and another group, around Bixad from 1925 to 1945.

Among the Melchites, at the end of the 17th century, when a United Melchite Church was reconstituted, Euthymius Saifi organized the Congregation of Our Savior or Salvatorians (1684); and later, that of the Chouerites (1697), from which that of the Aleppans would branch off (1829). The three congregations are flourishing today in Lebanon.

Bibliography: d. amand, L'Ascése monastique de saint Basile (Maredsous 1949). j. gribomont, in Théologie de la vie monastique (Maredsous 1961) 99113. c. korolevskij, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 6:11801236; Le Métropolite A. Szeptickyj (Rome 1964). m. scaduto, II monachismo basiliano nella Sicilia medievale (Rome 1947). b. capelli, Il monachismo basiliano ai confini calabrolucani (Naples 1963). a. guillou, Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire 75 (1963) 79110. r. devreese, Les Manuscrits grecs de l'Italie méridionale (Studi et Testi 183;1955). b. hamilton, "The City of Rome and the Eastern Churches in the Xth Century," Orientalia Christiana periodica 27 (1961) 426. a. benito durÁn, Revista de la biblioteca 20 (1951) 167237. t. boresky, Life of St. Josaphat (New York 1955). Analecta Ordinis S. Basilii Magni (Zhovkua 1944) passim. j. georgesco, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15v. (Paris 190350) 14.1:6667 r. janin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 10.1:51920.

[j. gribomont]

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