Cabasilas, Nicolas

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Byzantine theologian, liturgist, and spiritual writer; b. Thessalonica, c. 1320; d. before 1391. Nicolas's surname was Chamaetus, but he preferred to use his mother's family name, Cabasilas. His uncle, Nilus cabasilas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was his teacher. Nicolas served at the court of Emperor John VI Cantecuzenus in 1350, apparently as a layman; and in 1354 he was one of the three candidates for the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He was not selected, however, and remained a layman; the view that he succeeded his uncle in the See of Thessalonica is false. He is not to be identified with Michael Cabasilas, the sacellarius, nor was he a partner of nicephorus gregoras in controversy.

Of his more important writings, A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy is an explanation of the Byzantine Mass; it is unexcelled as a profound and devout tract on the Eucharistic sacrifice. In spite of an anti-Latin section (cc. 2930) that deals with the dispute concerning the words of consecration, the work has been well received in the West and was used at the Council of Trent during the deliberations on the Mass as a witness to Catholic tradition. Nicolas dealt with the spiritual life in his Life in Christ, composed of seven books; it is a major work on Christian asceticism. The first five books treat of the divine activity in the spiritual life, the last two, of man's cooperation. God's activity is seen to take place within the sacramental life. Thus the first book treats of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Man's activity is seen as a submission to the will of God, which is accomplished by prayer and meditation on the life of Jesus.

Nicolas exhibited a keen awareness of the social revolution affecting the Byzantine Empire, and particularly Thessalonica. He wrote a tract against usury and directed a memorandum to the Empress concerning the rate of interest. He opposed the policies of the religious zealots in regard to ecclesiastical property, and wrote a consideration concerning the cultivation of learning on the part of virtuous men (unedited). He wrote also a treatise on skepticism directed against the influence of Sextus Empiricus on his contemporaries.

His preaching, particularly because of its theological quality, was greatly appreciated. Among his writings are sermons on the Ascension, on the Annunciation, and on other feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary; sermons on the sufferings of Christ; encomiums for St. Demetrius, St. Theodora, and St. Nicholas, James the Younger, and on the Three Hierarchies. He engaged in mild polemics with the West and took some part in the Hesychast controversies. He wrote religious poetry of some value and left a considerable amount of correspondence. Nicolas Cabasilas represents the tradition of the Byzantine lay theologian at its best.

Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca 150:368772. m. jugie, ed. and tr., Patrologia Orientalis 19.3 (1925) 456510, sermons. r. guillaud, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 30 (192930) 96102. v. laurent, Hellenicá 9 (1936) 185205. r. j. loenertz, Orientalia Christiana periodica 21 (1955) 205231, letters and chronology. A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, tr. j. m. hussey and p. a. mcnulty (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1960). Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich 780782. s. salaville, Catholicisme 2:339340; Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique 2:19. j. gouillard, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 11:1421. f. vernet, Diction-naire de théologie catholique 2.1:129295. h. m. bierdermann, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, new eds. 7:988. g. horn, Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 3 (1922) 2045. m. i. lot-borodine, Un Maître Nicolas Cabasilas (Paris 1958).

[h. d. hunter]