Saint Basil the Great|
"Orator of Orthodoxy"
This week's Doctor of the Church, the sixth in a chronological line of the 33 honored Doctors of the Roman Catholic Church is Saint Basil the Great, who was reared from truly holy stock like his lifelong good friend Saint Gregory Nazianzen, who we covered last week. Basil's parents Saint Basil the Elder and Saint Emmelia raised ten children, educating them all with the help of Basil's grandmother Saint Macrina the Elder. Born in 329 at Caesarea in Cappodocia, a vocation stirred within his soul at an early life. Yet, since Basil was ahead of most his age, his father sent him to Constantinople and Athens for advanced studies. It was there where he formed a lasting friendship with St. Gregory Nazianzen. Nevertheless, the course of studies he took prepared him in life to become a lawyer.
Returning to Caesarea he taught rhetoric and oratory there, becoming well known for his speeches. Wealth followed. Yet Basil was not fulfilled. He longed for something more. He found that missing ingredient with the monks in the desert. Divesting himself of riches, he turned his back on a lucrative career and turned to God, traveling to several monasteries in Egypt, Palestine and Syria before returning to Asia Minor, he became a monk and settled on a small plot of land overlooking the Iris River in Pontus in 358. His holiness and austerity attracted several more souls and soon a monastery was established. Basil would go on to be known as the Founder of Monasticism in the Eastern Church. He drafted a rule and constitution for the monks and founded more monasteries, preaching to the people for support.
In 363 he was ordained a priest in Caesarea but would not stay there for more than a day because of his vast doctrinal differences with Archbishop Eusebius of Caesarea. Basil returned to Pontus for two more years until St. Gregory summoned him to help him in Nazianzen against the mounting Arian heresy. Though Basil was not of robust health, he suffered willingly in penance and prayer and spoke out strongly in defense of the Truths and Traditions of the Church Christ founded. This made him more of an enemy to the Arian bishops and Eusebius sought a truce with Basil and bade him preach in the city of Caesarea because of his eloquence, humility and sincerity in speaking the truth in all things. His words and actions converted many for Basil feared no temporal threat, only the loss of his eternal soul. He realized the terrible turmoil and struggle the Church was in, "The whole Church is in dissolution," he warned. "Our afflictions are well known without my telling: the sound of them has gone forth over all Christendom. The dogmas of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at naught; the discoveries of innovators hold sway in churches. Men have learned to be speculatists instead of theologians. The wisdom of the world has the place of honor, having dispossessed the glorying of the cross. The pastors are driven away, grievous wolves are brought in instead and plunder the flock of Christ."
In 370, upon Eusebius' death, Basil was made the Archbishop of Caesarea and head of 50 other bishops as Metropolitan. This did not sit well with the Arian Emperor Valens nor most of the bishops who had been Arianized. Valens tried to intimidate Basil and make demands, but Basil resisted the heretic. When push came to shove, Valens realized he could not compromise this "Anvil Against Arianism" for when confronted and asked why he did not blindly obey as the other bishops, Basil humbly but firmly replied, "Perhaps, you never measured your strength with a Christian bishop." Valens knew Basil was too strong spiritually for him and the emperor withdrew from Caesarea to plot other ways to weaken Basil and the few orthodox bishops in the universal Church who resisted. From afar Valens set in motion more chicanery, spurring the Arian bishops to mount a massive campaign of slander and calumny, even physical intimidation against the traditional bishops who stood in resistance. Encouraged by men like the "Apostle of Tradition" Saint Athanasius, Basil and Gregory remained strong in their resolve.
By decree Valens split Cappodocia into two, declaring the new region of New Cappodocia. This gave rise to the
neighboring bishop in Tyana, Bishop Anthimus, an Arian, to lay claim as the Metropolitan. Naturally he had all the other Arian bishops on his side, but not God's. Yet Basil submitted, giving up half his see. Yet he did not forsake his flocks, going into the streets to minister to the sick, the poor, the downtrodden. With the death of Athanasius in 373, Basil became the recognized leader of the Orthodox in the East, defending the Nicene Creed always against Arianism in the Byzantine East. He was steadfast against simony and did not hesitate to excommunicate those who persisted in their lustful ways of the world or compromised doctrine. Wouldn't it be refreshing to have some 'Basils' today? Lord knows we need them. St. Basil insisted on strict discipline for the clergy, reminding them that they were to be shining examples to all and woe to anyone of his religious who would cause the least bit of scandal in word or deed. Yes, we truly need some 'Basils' today considering the sad, sad, tragic plight of the hierarchy today.
Basil died in Caesarea at the relatively young age of only 50 in 379. His death was a great loss to the countless souls whom he touched with the truth. Yet all that he professed and passed on the Church, in her wisdom, has preserved. Basil's spirituality and arguments against Arianism served as foundations for the heresy's condemnation at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 two years after his death. In the new liturgy of the post-conciliar Church Basil's feast has been lumped with his friend Gregory of Nazianzen on January 2. In the Traditional liturgy as practiced for centuries Gregory's feast is this week, May 9th and Basil's universal feast is June 14th. These early Doctors of the Church serve as a great inspiration to loyal Catholics today who seek to preserve the True Faith as we see the Faith being eroded everywhere, especially in the United States and Europe. Like Athanasius, Gregory and Basil, faithful Catholics need to stand strong against the auto-demolition that is occurring in our beloved Church.
Perhaps our modern prelates and pastors should read the works of St. Basil - the "Orator of Orthodoxy" who, besides his great gift of speech, also wrote over 400 doctrinal letters and outstanding treatises such as On the Holy Spirit, or the passages he compiled with St. Gregory from Origen, called Philocalia. Indeed the times are very, very similar and the same malaise that threatened the Church over sixteen hundred years ago has returned with a vengeance, ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times, yea, a million times worse because of so many souls who have been affected, because of how devious and deceitful today's heresies of Modernism, humanism, ecumenism, pluralism and so many other anathamas are and how so few see it until it is too late.
Basil's words so parallel the same problems those who strive to uphold the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church today face: "Only one offense is now vigorously punished, an accurate observance of our fathers' traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into deserts. The people are in lamentation. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts are turned into mourning; our houses of prayer are shut up; our altars are deprived of spiritual worship. No longer are there Christians assembling, teacher presiding, saving instructions, celebrations, hymns by night, or that blessed exultation of souls, which arises from communion and fellowship of spiritual gifts."
Basil's words also parallel the plight of the post-conciliar Church today: "The ears of the simple are led astray, and they have become accustomed to heretical profaneness. The infants of the Church are fed on the words of impiety. The evil of heresy spreads itself. The doctrines of Godliness are overturned; the rules of the Church are in confusion; the ambition of the unprincipled seizes upon places of authority; and the chief seat is now openly proposed as a reward for impiety; so that he who blasphemes are the more shocking, is more eligible for the oversight of the people. Priestly gravity has perished; there are none left to feed the Lord's flock with knowledge; ambitious men are ever spending, in purposes of self-indulgence and bribery, possessions which they hold in trust for the poo. The accurate observation of the canons are no more; there is no restraint upon sin. Unbelievers laugh at what they see, and the weak are unsettled; faith is doubtful, ignorance is poured over their souls, because the adulterators of the word in wickedness imitate the truth. Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid places of worship as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude with groans and tears to the Lord in Heaven."
The holy Basil said it as about as well as anyone could on the very same situtation we have today. St. Basil, Pray and Intercede for us.
Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis]