Saint Basil the Great

Doctor of the Church

Feast Day: June 14

Saint Basil the Great

Bishop of Caesarea, and one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church. Born probably 329; died 1 January, 379. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Oriental Church against the heresies of the fourth century. With his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, he makes up the trio known as "The Three Cappadocians", far outclassing the other two in practical genius and actual achievement.


    St. Basil the Elder, father of St. Basil the Great, was the son of a Christian of good birth and his wife, Macrina (Acta SS., January, II), both of whom suffered for the faith during the persecution of Maximinus Galerius (305-314), spending several years of hardship in the wild mountains of Pontus. St. Basil the Elder was noted for his virtue (Acta SS, May, VII) and also won considerable reputation as a teacher in Caesarea. He was not a priest (Cf. Cave, Hist. Lit., I, 239). He married Emmelia, the daughter of a martyr and became the father of ten children. Three of these, Macrina, Basil, and Gregory are honoured as saints; and of the sons, Peter, Gregory, and Basil attained the dignity of the episcopate.

    Under the care of his father and his grandmother, the elder Macrina, who preserved the traditions of their countryman, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-275) Basil was formed in habits of piety and study. He was still young when his father died and the family moved to the estate of the elder Macrina at Annesi in Pontus, on the banks of the Iris. As a boy, he was sent to school at Caesarea, then "a metropolis of letters", and conceived a fervent admiration for the local bishop, Dianius. Later, he went to Constantinople, at that time "distinguished for its teachers of philosophy and rhetoric", and thence to Athens. Here he became the inseparable companion of Gregory of Nazianzus, who, in his famous panegyric on Basil (Or. xliii), gives a most interesting description of their academic experiences. According to him, Basil was already distinguished for brilliancy of mind and seriousness of character and associated only with the most earnest students. He was able, grave, industrious, and well advanced in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and medicine. (As to his not knowing Latin, see Fialon, Etude historique et littéraire sur St. Basile, Paris, 1869). We know the names of two of Basil's teachers at Athens - Prohaeresius, possibly a Christian, and Himerius, a pagan. It has been affirmed, though probably incorrectly, that Basil spent some time under Libanius. He tells us himself that he endeavoured without success to attach himself as a pupil to Eustathius (Ep., I). At the end of his sojourn at Athens, Basil being laden, says St. Gregory of Nazianzus "with all the learning attainable by the nature of man", was well equipped to be a teacher. Caesarea took possession of him gladly "as a founder and second patron" (Or. xliii), and as he tells us (ccx), he refused the splendid offers of the citizens of Neo-Caesarea, who wished him to undertake the education of the youth of their city.

    To the successful student and distinguished professor, "there now remained", says Gregory (Or. xliii), "no other need than that of spiritual perfection". Gregory of Nyssa, in his life of Macrina, gives us to understand that Basil's brilliant success both as a university student and a professor had left traces of worldliness and self-sufficiency on the soul of the young man. Fortunately, Basil came again in contact with Dianius, Bishop of Caesarea, the object of his boyish affection, and Dianius seems to have baptized him, and ordained him Reader soon after his return to Caesarea. It was at the same time also that he fell under the influence of that very remarkable woman, his sister Macrina, who had meanwhile founded a religious community on the family estate at Annesi. Basil himself tells us how, like a man roused from deep sleep, he turned his eyes to the marvellous truth of the Gospel, wept many tears over his miserable life, and prayed for guidance from God: "Then I read the Gospel, and saw there that a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one's goods, the sharing of them with the poor, the giving up of all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy towards things of earth" (Ep. ccxxiii). To learn the ways of perfection, Basil now visited the monasteries of Egypt, Palestine, Coele-Syria, and Mesopotamia. He returned, filled with admiration for the austerity and piety of the monks, and founded a monastery in his native Pontus, on the banks of the Iris, nearly opposite Annesi. (Cf. Ramsay, Hist. Geog. of Asia Minor, London, 1890, p. 326). Eustathius of Sebaste had already introduced the eremitical life into Asia Minor; Basil added the cenobitic or community form, and the new feature was imitated by many companies of men and women. (Cf. Sozomen, Hist. Eccl., VI, xxvii; Epiphanius, Haer., lxxv, 1; Basil, Ep. ccxxiii; Tillemont, Mém., IX, Art. XXI, and note XXVI.) Basil became known as the father of Oriental monasticism, the forerunner of St. Benedict. How well he deserved the title, how seriously and in what spirit he undertook the systematizing of the religious life, may be seen by the study of his Rule. He seems to have read Origen's writings very systematically about this time, for in union with Gregory of Nazianzus, he published a selection of them called the "Philocalia".

    Basil was drawn from his retreat into the area of theological controversy in 360 when he accompanied two delegates from Seleucia to the emperor at Constantinople, and supported his namesake of Ancyra. There is some dispute as to his courage and his perfect orthodoxy on this occasion (cf. Philostorgius, Hist. Eccl., IV, xii; answered by Gregory of Nyssa, In Eunom., I, and Maran, Proleg., vii; Tillemont, Mém., note XVIII). A little later, however, both qualities seem to have been sufficiently in evidence, as Basil forsook Dianius for having signed the heretical creed of Rimini. To this time (c. 361) may be referred the "Moralia"; and a little later came two books against Eunomius (363) and some correspondence with Athanasius. It is possible, also, that Basil wrote his monastic rules in the briefer forms while in Pontus, and enlarged them later at Caesarea. There is an account of an invitation from Julian for Basil to present himself a court and of Basil's refusal, coupled with an admonition that angered the emperor and endangered Basil's safety. Both incident and correspondence however are questioned by some critics.

    Basil still retained considerable influence in Caesarea, and it is regarded as fairly probable that he had a hand in the election of the successor of Dianius who died in 362, after having been reconciled to Basil. In any case the new bishop, Eusebius, was practically placed in his office by the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. Eusebius having persuaded the reluctant Basil to be ordained priest, gave him a prominent place in the administration of the diocese (363). In ability for the management of affairs Basil so far eclipsed the bishop that ill-feeling rose between the two. "All the more eminent and wiser portion of the church was roused against the bishop" (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii; Ep. x), and to avoid trouble Basil again withdrew into the solitude of Pontus. A little later (365) when the attempt of Valens to impose Arianism on the clergy and the people necessitated the presence of a strong personality, Basil was restored to his former position, being reconciled to the bishop by St. Gregory of Nazianzus. There seems to have been no further disagreement between Eusebius and Basil and the latter soon became the real head of the diocese. "The one", says Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. xliii), "led the people the other led their leader". During the five years spent in this most important office, Basil gave evidence of being a man of very unusual powers. He laid down the law to the leading citizens and the imperial governors, settled disputes with wisdom and finality, assisted the spiritually needy, looked after "the support of the poor, the entertainment of strangers, the care of maidens, legislation written and unwritten for the monastic life, arrangements of prayers, (liturgy?), adornment of the sanctuary" (op. cit.). In time of famine, he was the saviour of the poor.

    In 370 Basil succeeded to the See of Caesarea, being consecrated according to tradition on 14 June. Caesarea was then a powerful and wealthy city (Soz., Hist. Eccl., V, v). Its bishop was Metropolitan of Cappadocia and Exarch of Pontus which embraced more than half of Asia Minor and comprised eleven provinces. The see of Caesarea ranked with Ephesus immediately after the patriarchal sees in the councils, and the bishop was the superior of fifty chorepiscopi (Baert). Basil's actual influence, says Jackson (Prolegomena, XXXII) covered the whole stretch of country "from the Balkans to the Mediterranean and from the Aegean to the Euphrates". The need of a man like Basil in such a see as Caesarea was most pressing, and he must have known this well. Some think that he set about procuring his own election; others (e.g. Maran, Baronius, Ceillier) say that he made no attempt on his own behalf. In any event, he became Bishop of Caesarea largely by the influence of the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. His election, says the younger Gregory (loc. cit.), was followed by disaffection on the part of several suffragan bishops "on whose side were found the greatest scoundrels in the city". During his previous administration of the diocese Basil had so clearly defined his ideas of discipline and orthodoxy, that no one could doubt the direction and the vigour of his policy. St. Athanasius was greatly pleased at Basil's election (Ad Pallad., 953; Ad Joann. et Ant., 951); but the Arianizing Emperor Valens, displayed considerably annoyance and the defeated minority of bishops became consistently hostile to the new metropolitan. By years of tactful conduct, however, "blending his correction with consideration and his gentleness with firmness" (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii), he finally overcame most of his opponents.

    Basil's letters tell the story of his tremendous and varied activity; how he worked for the exclusion of unfit candidates from the sacred ministry and the deliverance of the bishops from the temptation of simony; how he required exact discipline and the faithful observance of the canons from both laymen and clerics; how he rebuked the sinful, followed up the offending, and held out hope of pardon to the penitent. (Cf. Epp. xliv, xlv, and xlvi, the beautiful letter to a fallen virgin, as well as Epp. liii, liv, lv, clxxxviii, cxcix, ccxvii, and Ep. clxix, on the strange incident of Glycerius, whose story is well filled out by Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, New York, 1893, p. 443 sqq.) If on the one hand he strenuously defended clerical rights and immunities (Ep. civ), on the other he trained his clergy so strictly that they grew famous as the type of all that a priest should be (Epp. cii, ciii). Basil did not confine his activity to diocesan affairs, but threw himself vigorously into the troublesome theological disputes then rending the unity of Christendom. He drew up a summary of the orthodox faith; he attacked by word of mouth the heretics near at hand and wrote tellingly against those afar. His correspondence shows that he paid visits, sent messages, gave interviews, instructed, reproved, rebuked, threatened, reproached, undertook the protection of nations, cities, individuals great and small. There was very little chance of opposing him successfully, for he was a cool, persistent, fearless fighter in defence both of doctrine and of principles. His bold stand against Valens parallels the meeting of Ambrose with Theodosius. The emperor was dumbfounded at the archbishop's calm indifference to his presence and his wishes. The incident, as narrated by Gregory of Nazianzus, not only tells much concerning Basil's character but throws a clear light on the type of Christian bishop with which the emperors had to deal and goes far to explain why Arianism, with little court behind it, could make so little impression on the ultimate history of Catholicism.

    While assisting Eusebius in the care of his diocese, Basil had shown a marked interest in the poor and afflicted; that interest now displayed itself in the erection of a magnificent institution, the Ptochoptopheion, or Basileiad, a house for the care of friendless strangers, the medical treatment of the sick poor, and the industrial training of the unskilled. Built in the suburbs, it attained such importance as to become practically the centre of a new city with the name of he kaine polis or "Newtown". It was the motherhouse of like institutions erected in other dioceses and stood as a constant reminder to the rich of their privilege of spending wealth in a truly Christian way. It may be mentioned here that the social obligations of the wealthy were so plainly and forcibly preached by St. Basil that modern sociologists have ventured to claim him as one of their own, though with no more foundation than would exist in the case of any other consistent teacher of the principles of Catholic ethics. The truth is that St. Basil was a practical lover of Christian poverty, and even in his exalted position preserved that simplicity in food and clothing and that austerity of life for which he had been remarked at his first renunciation of the world.

    In the midst of his labours, Basil underwent suffering of many kinds. Athanasius died in 373 and the elder Gregory in 374, both of them leaving gaps never to be filled. In 373 began the painful estrangement from Gregory of Nazianzus. Anthimus, Bishop of Tyana, became an open enemy, Apollinaris "a cause of sorrow to the churches" (Ep. cclxiii), Eustathius of Sebaste a traitor to the Faith and a personal foe as well. Eusebius of Samosata was banished, Gregory of Nyssa condemned and deposed. When Emperor Valentinian died and the Arians recovered their influence, all Basil's efforts must have seemed in vain. His health was breaking, the Goths were at the door of the empire, Antioch was in schism, Rome doubted his sincerity, the bishops refused to be brought together as he wished. "The notes of the church were obscured in his part of Christendom, and he had to fare on as best he might,--admiring, courting, yet coldly treated by the Latin world, desiring the friendship of Rome, yet wounded by her reserve,--suspected of heresy by Damasus, and accused by Jerome of pride" (Newman, The Church of the Fathers). Had he lived a little longer and attended the Council of Constantinople (381), he would have seen the death of its first president, his friend Meletius, and the forced resignation of its second, Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil died 1 January, 379. His death was regarded as a public bereavement; Jews, pagans, and foreigners vied with his own flock in doing him honour. The earlier Latin martyrologies (Hieronymian and Bede) make no mention of a feast of St. Basil. The first mention is by Usuard and Ado who place it on 14 June, the supposed date of Basil's consecration to the episcopate. In the Greek "Menaea" he is commemorated on 1 January, the day of his death. In 1081, John, Patriarch of Constantinople, in consequence of a vision, established a feast in common honour of St. Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom, to be celebrated on 30 January. The Bollandists give an account of the origin of this feast; they also record as worthy of note that no relics of St. Basil are mentioned before the twelfth century, at which time parts of his body, together with some other very extraordinary relics were reputed to have been brought to Bruges by a returning Crusader. Baronius (c. 1599) gave to the Naples Oratory a relic of St. Basil sent from Constantinople to the pope. The Bollandists and Baronius print descriptions of Basil's personal appearance and the former reproduce two icons, the older copied from a codex presented to Basil, Emperor of the East (877-886).

    By common consent, Basil ranks among the greatest figures in church history and the rather extravagant panegyric by Gregory of Nazianzus has been all but equalled by a host of other eulogists. Physically delicate and occupying his exalted position but a few years, Basil did magnificent and enduring work in an age of more violent world convulsions than Christianity has since experienced. (Cf. Newman, The Church of the Fathers). By personal virtue he attained distinction in an age of saints; and his purity, his monastic fervour, his stern simplicity, his friendship for the poor became traditional in the history of Christian asceticism. In fact, the impress of his genius was stamped indelibly on the Oriental conception of religious life. In his hands the great metropolitan see of Caesarea took shape as the sort of model of the Christian diocese; there was hardly any detail of episcopal activity in which he failed to mark out guiding lines and to give splendid example. Not the least of his glories is the fact that toward the officials of the State he maintained that fearless dignity and independence which later history has shown to be an indispensable condition of healthy life in the Catholic episcopate.

    Some difficulty has arisen out of the correspondence of St. Basil with the Roman See. That he was in communion with the Western bishops and that he wrote repeatedly to Rome asking that steps be taken to assist the Eastern Church in her struggle with schismatics and heretics is undoubted; but the disappointing result of his appeals drew from him certain words which require explanation. Evidently he was deeply chagrined that Pope Damasus on the one hand hesitated to condemn Marcellus and the Eustathians, and on the other preferred Paulinus to Meletius in whose right to the See of Antioch St. Basil most firmly believed. At the best it must be admitted that St. Basil criticized the pope freely in a private letter to Eusebius of Samosata (Ep. ccxxxix) and that he was indignant as well as hurt at the failure of his attempt to obtain help from the West. Later on, however, he must have recognized that in some respects he had been hasty; in any event, his strong emphasis of the influence which the Roman See could exercise over the Eastern bishops, and his abstaining from a charge of anything like usurpation are great facts that stand out obviously in the story of the disagreement. With regard to the question of his association with the Semi-Arians, Philostorgius speaks of him as championing the Semi-Arian cause, and Newman says he seems unavoidably to have Arianized the first thirty years of his life. The explanation of this, as well as of the disagreement with the Holy See, must be sought in a careful study of the times, with due reference to the unsettled and changeable condition of theological distinctions, the lack of anything like a final pronouncement by the Church's defining power, the "lingering imperfections of the Saints" (Newman), the substantial orthodoxy of many of the so-called Semi-Arians, and above all the great plan which Basil was steadily pursuing of effecting unity in a disturbed and divided Christendom.

St. Basil the Great,
Bishop of Caesarea
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Basil, who is called by the Holy Church, the Great, because he was truly so, not only in mind, eloquence and learning, but also in courage against the heretics, in zeal for the honor of God, in holiness and in miracles, was born in Cappadocia, of noble, rich, but at the same time, holy parents. He had three brothers who are also honored as Saints. He studied the liberal arts at Csesarea, Constantinople, and lastly at Athens: in the last place he became acquainted with St. Gregory Nazianzen. St. Porphyrius, who was superior of a convent in Egypt, instructed him in Holy Writ. After this he visited the holy places and was on his return, ordained deacon by Bishop Meletius at Antioch, and began to preach in that city, and afterwards continued at Cassarea, not only with the fame of great wisdom, but also with indescribable benefit to his hearers. At the latter place he was ordained priest. When he, however, perceived that even the bishop became jealous of him on account of the great reputation which he gained by his sermons, he fled secretly to a desert in the land of Pontus. There he lived several years with his friend Gregory, occupied in the study of Holy Writ, praying, fasting and watching. Many came to him, desirous to live more piously. The rules he gave them to regulate their conduct, were by no one kept more punctually than by himself. He also instructed the heathen inhabitants of the surrounding places in the true faith, and converted many of them.

Some years later, Valens, an Arian, ascended the imperial throne and persecuted the Catholics most cruelly. When St Basil was informed of this, he left the desert, repaired to Cassarea, fearlessly opposed the heretics and strengthened the Catholics in their faith. Meanwhile the Bishop of that city died, and Basil much against his inclinations, became his successor. Invested with this dignity, he changed nothing in the austerity to which he had been accustomed while living in the desert; but he used the opportunities offered to him to be still more kind and charitable to the poor. A terrible famine took place at that time by which many lost their lives. The holy bishop sold all that he possessed and divided the money among the poor, and exhorted others in his sermons to be charitable to the needy. The sick he nursed with admirable humility, in a hospital which he had built for them. He hesitated not to give them food with his own hands, and to wash and bandage their wounds. But notwithstanding all these acts of pious kindness, he neglected not to combat the Arians, both with tongue and pen, and to guard his flock from their ravages.

Valens, the Emperor, sent one of his chief officers to Caesarea to induce the saint to join the Arians, or else to drive him out of the city. Modestus, the imperial officer, summoned Basil into his presence, and addressed him haughtily in the following words: "Why do you not comply with the Emperor's wishes, and confess yourself to belong to his faith?" Basil fearlessly replied: "Because the Lord, my God, who is infinitely greater than your Emperor, forbids it." "Do you not fear then," said Modestus, "the power and wrath of the Emperor? He can deprive you of all your possessions, drive you from your country, make you suffer and languish, and even take your life." The holy man answered: "Whosoever possesses nothing, fears not that anything can be taken away from him. My country is heaven, out of which you cannot drive me. You cannot make me suffer long, as my body is so weak that his first blow will destroy my life. Death will be a favor to me; for it will bring me sooner to my God." Modestus, astonished at the boldness of this answer, said: "Nobody has ever dared to speak to me in such a manner." "This may be the case, because you have never spoken to a bishop, said Basil; for in cases like this, all bishops speak as I do." "I will give you this night," said Modestus, "to consider the wishes of the Emperor." "And I shall be the same tomorrow as today," replied Basil, as he went away.

The Emperor himself was filled with admiration for the Saint, when he was informed of what had taken place; but the heretics left him no peace, until he gave orders that Bishop Basil should be placed in a carriage during the night and secretly carried away. Everything was in readiness to execute the Emperor's command, when suddenly the Empress and her son, a very young child, became dangerously sick. The physician despaired of their lives, and the Emperor, thinking it was a punishment sent by God because of his evil intentions against the holy Bishop, sent hastily to him to request earnestly that he would obtain from God the health of the mother and the child. Basil promised to comply with his wish on the condition that the Emperor would promise that the child should be baptized and educated in the Catholic faith. The Emperor consented, Basil prayed, and the Empress and the prince entirely recovered in the same hour. Hardly, however, had the Saint left the Emperor, when the latter, breaking his promise, had the child christened by an Arian bishop: but he was almost immediately punished, for the prince became sick again and died.

Some time later the Emperor, again incited against the Saint intended to banish him; but when he sat down to sign the order, the chair suddenly broke under him. He rose, took three pens, one after the other, but was not able to write his name. None of them gave any ink, but all split in his hand, which itself began to tremble and lose all life. Hence, he tore the order, and left the Saint undisturbed. Many other miraculous events took place in regard to this holy bishop, to relate all of which would occupy too much space; as also all the labor he performed for the salvation of his flock and to the benefit of the whole Church. Neither can we relate how much he wrote in defence of the true faith, how valiantly he opposed the heretics, how carefuly he guarded the faithful. To a steward of the Emperor, who dared to dispute with him about articles of faith, he gave an answer, which by a slight change would serve very well in our days for many who deem themselves wiser than they are. "Your office is," said he, "to attend to the soup in the kitchen, and to see that it is not too much salted; but not to dispute about articles of faith."

St. Ephrem saw the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove upon the shoulder of the Saint, whispering to him what to preach or to write. A Jew, who had crept secretly into the Church during Holy Mass, saw a beautiful child in the hands of the bishop, when he raised the consecrated Host, which miracle caused him to embrace Christianity. With another Jew, who had considerable medical knowledge, the saint had frequent conversations in the hope of converting him to Christ. When he became dangerously sick, he called the Jewish physician into his presence, and asked him what hope there was of his recovery. The Jew answered; "There is no hope: this very evening, the bishop will be a corpse." "But what would you say," said the Saint, "if I should still be alive tomorrow?" "It is impossible," was the Jew's reply; "if that should happen I will become a Christian." "I will remind you of your promise," said Basil: and turning his heart to God, he prayed fervently that his life might be prolonged for the conversion of the Jew. And in fact on the following day, the holy bishop arose from his bed entirely recovered. The Jew came, saw the miracle, and being already sufficiently instructed in the Christian faith, was led by the Saint into the Church, and amidst a crowd of people, baptized with his whole family. This being accomplished the Saint returned to his bed, his sickness reappeared, and a happy death soon ended his earthly pilgrimage.

Before his end, he exhorted all present to remain constant in the true faith, and zealous in the practice of virtue. After this he saw a host of angels who invited him to enter heaven. His last words were; "Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." His happy death took place in the year of our Lord 378.

Practical Considerations


St. Basil gave to the Arian steward who disputed with him on articles of faith a memorable and well-deserved reproof, as it is not becoming that such people should doubt or criticise what the true and infallible Church teaches. At the present day, nothing is more common than a desire in those who are not Catholics to dispute about articles of faith. And whom do they attack? Generally those they suppose are not very well versed in the knowledge of their faith. To these they say what they like. They cite a verse from Holy Writ, and expound it after their own fashion, thus seeking to mislead the Catholics. There are, however, Catholics also, who although they have never studied theology, pretend to understand Holy Writ better than the Holy Fathers, and who explain the most difficult mysteries of the faith more thoroughly than they; nay, who even dare to doubt the teachings of the true Church, and who consider lawful what priests, confessors and spiritual advisers unanimously declare to be sinful. We have here two dangerous kinds of men. As far as the first are concerned, do not dispute with them if you are not well instructed. Tell them to go to those whose office it is to expound and to defend the articles of faith. As for yourself, believe as true what the Catholic Church teaches, and you will walk in the sure path. To testify the truth of anything it is not sufficient to cite a few verses of Holy Writ, and explain them to one's own liking. Did not Satan do the same when he tempted Christ in the wilderness? The second kind of people you should shun as you would shun heretics, and believe not their words, as they are not appointed to instruct you in articles of faith. This is the office of the priests, the preachers, and the confessors. To those Christ says: "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me " (St. Luke, x.). And the prophet Malachy says: " The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth: because he is the Angel (or messenger) of the Lord of Hosts" (Malach. ii.).

St. Basil said to the Imperial officer, that he obeyed not the Emperor, because God, an infinitely greater Lord, had forbidden it. And the Saint was right, for when a man commands what God forbids, our own reason tells us to obey God and not man, even if he were the greatest monarch on earth, because God is an infinitely greater and mightier Lord than all men. Hence, the two holy Apostles said to the Jewish priests who forbade them to teach in the name of Jesus: "If it be just in the sight of God, to hear you rather than God, judge ye!" (Acts iv.) Whence comes then the blasphemous manner of speaking which in our day has almost become.a proverb; "Man's laws are above God's laws."

Truly none but Satan himself could inspire such words. In times long gone by, he wished to be the Lord's equal; but now he incites some people to prefer the lord of earth to the Lord of heaven and earth. And who are those lords whose laws should be above the laws of God! Are they not men, though they are the greatest monarchs on earth? But what is man in comparison with God? Less than a worm crawling on the ground, in comparison with the mighty monarch. Is it therefore reasonable to prefer the command of a creature to that of a Creator? For example, your governor, king or prince commands you to do something; but a servant orders you to do just the contrary; now if you obey the latter, saying that his commands were above those of your governor, king or prince, would it not be an unendurable offence to him and justly deserve punishment? would it not be a kind of rebellion and a great wickedness? For would it not be a sign that you obeyed the servant rather than the governor, because you esteemed the command of the servant above his? From this you may conclude, how unreasonable and blasphemous it is to say "Man's laws are above God's laws." I am willing to believe that many who speak thus do not mean what they say; but one ought to abstain from such words and instead of them say with St. Peter: "We ought to obey God rather than man. (Acts v.)




    Of the five books against Eunomius (c. 364) the last two are classed as spurious by some critics. The work assails the equivalent Arianism of Eunomius and defends the Divinity of the Three Persons of the Trinity; it is well summarized by Jackson (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, VIII). The work "De Spiritu Sancto", or treatise on the Holy Spirit (c. 375) was evoked in part by the Macedonian denial of the Divinity of the Third Person and in part by charges that Basil himself had "slurred over the Spirit" (Gregory Naz., Ep. lviii), that he had advocated communion with all such a should admit simply that the Holy Ghost was not a creature (Basil, Ep. cxiii), and that he had sanctioned the use of a novel doxology, namely, "Glory be to the Father with the Son together with the Holy Ghost" (De Sp. S., I, i) The treatise teaches the doctrine of the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, while avoiding the phrase "God, the Holy Ghost" for prudential reasons (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii). Wuilcknis and Swete affirm the necessity of some such reticence on Basil's part. (Cf. Jackson, op. cit., p. XXIII, note.) With regard to Basil's teaching on the Third Person, as expressed in his work against Eunomius (III, i), a controversy arose at the Council of Florence between the Latins and the Greeks; but strong arguments both external and internal, availed to place Basil on the side of the "Filioque". The dogmatic writings were edited separately by Goldhorn, in his "S. Basilii Opera Dogmatica Selecta" (Leipzig, 1854). The "De Spiritu Sancto", was translated into English by Johnston (Oxford, 1892); by Lewis in the Christian Classic Series (1888); and by Jackson (op. cit.).


    These include nine homilies "On the Hexaemeron" and thirteen (Maran) genuine homilies on particular Psalms. A lengthy commentary on the first sixteen chapters of Isaias is of doubtful authenticity (Jackson), though by a contemporary hand. A commentary on Job has disappeared. "The Hexaemeron" was highly admired by Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. xliii, no. 67). It is translated entire by Jackson (op. cit.). The homilies on the Psalms are moral and hortatory rather than strictly exegetical. In interpreting the Scripture, Basil uses both the literal and the allegorical methods, but favours the literal system of Antioch. His second homily contains a denunciation of usury which has become famous.


    Twenty-four sermons, doctrinal, moral, and panegyrical in character, are looked upon as generally genuine, certain critical difficulties, however, remaining still unsolved. Eight of these sermons were translated into Latin by Rufinus. The discourses place Basil among the very greatest of Christian preachers and evince his special gift for preaching upon the responsibilities of wealth. The most noteworthy in the collection are the homilies on the rich (vi and vii) copied by St. Ambrose (De Nabuthe Jez., v, 21-24), and the homily (xxii) on the study of pagan literature. The latter was edited by Fremion (Paris, 1819, with French translation), Sommer (Paris, 1894), Bach (Münster, 1900), and Maloney (New York, 1901). With regard to Basil's style and his success as a preacher much has been written. (Cf. Villemain, "Tableau d'éloq. Chrét. au IVe siècle", Paris, 1891; Fialon, "Etude Litt. sur St. B.", Paris, 1861); Roux, "Etude sur la prédication de B. le Grand", Strasburg, 1867; Croiset, "Hist. de la litt. Grecque", Paris, 1899.)

Moral and Ascetical

    This group contains much of spurious or doubtful origin. Probably authentic are the latter two of the three prefatory treatises, and the five treatises: "Morals", "On the Judgment of God", "On Faith", "The Longer Monastic Rules", "The Shorter Monastic Rules". The twenty-four sermons on morals are a a cento of extracts from the writings of Basil made by Simeon Metaphrastes. Concerning the authenticity of the Rules there has been a good deal of discussion. As is plain from these treatises and from the homilies that touch upon ascetical or moral subjects, St. Basil was particularly felicitous in the field of spiritual instruction.


    The extant letters of Basil are 366 in number, two-thirds of them belonging to the period of his episcopate. The so-called "Canonical Epistles" have been assailed as spurious, but are almost surely genuine. The correspondence with Julian and with Libanius is probably apocryphal; the correspondence with Apollinarus is uncertain. All of the 366 letters are translated in the "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers". Some of the letters are really dogmatic treatises, and others are apologetic replies to personal attacks. In general they are very useful for their revelation of the saint's character and for the pictures of his age which they offer.


    A so-called "Liturgy of St. Basil" exists in Greek and in Coptic. It goes back at least to the sixth century, but its connexion with Basil has been a matter of critical discussion (Brightman, "Liturgies, Eastern and Western", Oxford, 1896, I; Probst, "Die Liturgie des vierten Jahrhunderts und deren Reform", Münster, 1893, 377-412).


    The editio princeps of the original text of the extant works of Basil appeared at Basle, 1551, and the first complete Latin translation at Rome, 1515 (autograph manuscript in the British Museum). The best edition is that of the Maurist Benedictines, Garnier and Maran (Paris, 1721-30), republished with appendixes by Migne (P. G., XXIX-XXXII). For fragments attributed to Basil with more or less certainty, and edited by Matthaei, Mai, Pitra, and others, see Bardenhewer, "Patrologie" (Freiburg, 1901), 247. Portions of letters recently discovered in Egyptian papyri were published by H. Landwehr, "Grieschische Handschriften aus Fayûm", in "Philologus", XLIII (1884).

GREG. NAZ., Prationes, especially xliii; IDEM, Epistolae; Carm. de vit=E1 su=E2; GREG. NYSS., Vita Macrinae; IDEM, Or. in laudem fratris Basilii; IDEM, In Eunom., I; SOCRATES, Hist. Eccl., IV, xxvi; VI, iii; SOZOMON, Hist. Eccl., VI, xxvi; VI, xv, xvi, xvii, xxii; RUFINUS, Hist. Eccl., II, ix; THEODORET, Hist. Eccl., IV, xix; PHILOSTORGIUS, Hist. Eccl., VIII, xi-xiii; EPHILEM SYRUS, Encomium in Bas., ap. COTELIER, Mon. Eccl. Gr., II; JEROME, De Vir. Illust., cxvi. The Vita Basilii by AMPHILOCHIUS is a forgery of about the ninth century. NEWMAN, Church of the Fathers, I-III

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

Text courtesy of

Prayers of St. Basil the Great

Troparion of Saint Basil the Great

Thy fame has gone forth into all the earth, which has received thy word. Thereby thou hast taught the Faith; thou hast revealed the nature of created things; thou hast made a royal priesthood of the ordered life of men./ Righteous Father Basil intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion of Saint Basil the Great

Thou wast an unshaken foundation of the Church and didst give to all mortals an inviolate lordship which thou didst seal with thy doctrine, O righteous Basil, revealer of the mysteries of heaven.

Basil: Liturgy of Saint Basil, 373AD

By the command of your only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of your whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of your holy name.

Prayer for a Deeper Sense of Fellowship with All Living Things

O God, grant us a deeper sense of fellowship with all living this, our little brothers and sisters to whom in common with us you have given this earth as home. We recall with regret that in the past we have acted high-handedly and cruelly in exercising our domain over them. Thus, the voice of the earth which should have risen to you in song has turned into a groan of travail. May we realize that all these creatures also live for themselves and for you - not for us alone. They too love the goodness of life, as we do, and serve you better in their way than we do in ours. Amen.

Saint Basil of Caesarea, Bishop, Doctor

Prayer of Saint Basil the Great

O God and Lord of the Powers, and Maker of all creation, Who, because of Thy clemency and incomparable mercy, didst send Thine Only-Begotten Son and our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and with His venerable Cross didst tear asunder the record of our sins, and thereby didst conquer the rulers and powers of darkness; receive from us sinful people, O merciful Master, these prayers of gratitude and supplication, and deliver us from every destructive and gloomy transgression, and from all visible and invisible enemies who seek to injure us. Nail down our flesh with fear of Thee, and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls with Thy love, that ever contemplating Thee, being enlightened by Thee, and discerning Thee, the unapproachable and everlasting Light, we may unceasingly render confession and gratitude to Thee: The eternal Father, with Thine Only-Begotten Son, and with Thine All-Holy, Gracious, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer to St. Basil
by Dom Gueranger

O doctor of the Holy Ghost, O defender of the Word Consubstantial to the Father, grant that we, now prostrate at thy feet, may ever live to the glory of the Holy Trinity. These are the words of thine own admirable formulary: "To be baptised in the Trinity, to hold one's belief conformable to one's baptism, to glorify God according to our faith,--such was the essential basis set down by thee, for the being a Monk; but is it not that also of the being a Christian? Would that all might thoroughly understand this! Vouchsafe, dear Saint, to bless us all.

Petition to the Holy Trinity

Most Holy Trinity, Godhead indivisible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our first beginning and our last end, since Thou hast made us after Thine own image and likeness, grant that all the thoughts of our minds, all the words of our tongues, all the affections of our hearts and all our actions may be always conformed to Thy most holy will, to the end that after having seen Thee here below in appearances and by means of faith, we may come at last to contemplate Thee face-to-face in the perfect possession of Thee forever in paradise. Amen.

(Indulgence of 3 years)

Prayer in Thanksgiving After Communion

We give Thee thanks, O Lord our God, for the Communion of Thy holy, pure, deathless and heavenly Mysteries, which Thou hast given for the good, the hallowing and the healing of our souls and our bodies. Do Thou, O Sovereign of the world, cause this Communion in the Holy Body and Blood of Thy Christ to nourish in us unashamed faith, sincere charity, ripe wisdom, health of soul and body, separation from all ills, observance of Thy Law, and justification before His awful Judgment Seat.

O Christ our God, the Mystery of Thy Providence has been accomplished according to our ability. We have been reminded of Thy Death and we have seen a figure of Thy Resurrection; we have been filled with Thine Infinite Life, and we have tasted Thine inexhaustible joy; and we pray Thee to make us worthy of these things in the life to come, through the grace of Thine Eternal Father and of Thy holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, eternally: Amen.

(Saint Basil the Great)

Quotes of St. Basil the Great

O sinner, be not discouraged, but have recourse to Mary in all you necessities. Call her to your assistance, for such is the divine Will that she should help in every kind of necessity.

Saint Basil the Great

The bread which you use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.

Saint Basil

Let us raise ourselves from our fall and not give up hope as long as we are free from sin. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. 'Come, let us adore and prostrate ourselves and weep before him' (Psalm 95:6). The Word calls us to repentance, crying out: 'Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you' (Matthew 11:28). There is, then, a way to salvation if we are willing to follow it"

from a letter of Saint Basil the Great

Envy is a gnawing pain which springs from the success and prosperity of another; and this is the reason why the envious are never exempt from trouble and vexation. If an abundant harvest fills the granaries of a neighbor, if success crowns his efforts, the envious man is chagrined and sad. If one man can boast of prudence, talent, and eloquence; if another is rich, and is very liberal to the poor, if good works are praised by all around, the envious man is shocked and grieved.

The envious, however, dare not speak; although envy makes them counterfeit gladness, their hearts are sore within. If you ask him what vexes him, he dare not tell the reason. It is not really the happiness of his friend that annoys him, neither is it his gaiety that makes him sad, nor is he sorry to see his friend prosper; but it is that he is persuaded that the prosperity of others is the cause of his misery.

This is what the envious would be forced to acknowledge, if they spoke the truth sincerely; but because they dare not confess so shameful a sin, they, in secret, feed a sore which tortures them and eats away their rest.

As the shadow ever accompanies the pedestrian when walking in the sun, so envy throws its shadow on those who are successful in the world.

Saint Basil, from "De Individia"

Sermons of St. Basil the Great

Homily of St. Basil
from the Roman Breviary

Perfect renunciation, then, consists in this, that we reach that point, when we are not even inclined towards the love of life itself, and we have in mind the alternative of death, so that we may not be confident in our own selves. And the beginning of this manner of renunciation consists in alienation from external things, such as possessions, vain show, habits of life, and attachment to useless things. And in this the holy disciples of our Lord have left us a fine example, James, for instance, and John, who left their father Zebedee, and likewise even the boat, upon which the whole of their livelihood depended; Matthew also, who rose up from the receipt of custom itself and followed the Lord.

But what need is there to confirm that which we say by our arguments, or by the examples of holy men, when we are able to bring into the discussion the actual words of the Lord, and by them convince any religious and God-fearing soul, as he declares clearly and unanswerably, when he says: So likewise every one of you who does not renounce all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple? And in another place, when he had first said: If you will be perfect, go, and sell all that you have, and give to the poor; and then he adds: Come, follow me.

Renunciation then, as we have taught, is a loosening of the chains which bind us to this earthly and transitory life, a freeing from human affairs, by which we are made more ready and fit to start on the way that leads to God. It is also a speedy means for acquiring and using those treasures, which are far more valuable than gold and precious stones. And, in short, it is a lifting-up of the human heart to a heavenly manner of life, so as to be able to say: Our conversation is in heaven. And (which is the greatest of all) it is the beginning of our being made like to Christ, Who, being rich, became poor for our sakes.

St. Basil the Great, Sermon in Ps. xxxiii:

"When temptation to sin assails you I would have you reflect on that awful, insupportable judgment-seat of Christ when the Judge will preside on His high and lofty throne, when the whole of creation will stand before Him and tremble at the sight of His glory. For one by one we shall be brought before Him to give an account of what we have done during our lives. Speedily will the terrible and misshapen demons stand beside those who have committed many crimes during their lives; they will show their fiery countenances and will breathe out fire, thus betraying their cruel mind and purpose; their faces will be like the night owing to their own gloom and their hatred of the human race.

"Then think of that deep pit, of the indescribable darkness, of that fire that affords no light, for though it has the power to burn it lacks light; think of the worms that discharge their poison, that devour the flesh, that eat and are never sated nor filled but inflict insupportable pain by their gnawings. Finally--and this is the worst punishment of all--think of the disgrace and the everlasting shame. Dread these things and, overwhelmed by your dread, keep your soul, as by a bit in your mouth, from the concupiscence of sin."


Saint Bede

Feast day: May 27th

[icon of Saint Bede]

Saint Bede

    Bede tells us practically all we know of his early life in a few brief sentences appended to his Ecclesiastical History. He was born in 673 or 674 on land to the south of the Tyne which afterwards became the property of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow where his whole life was spent.  At the age of seven he was given to the care of Abbot Benet Biscop to be educated. Ordained a deacon at the age of eighteen, he became a priest in 702 or 703 when he was twenty-nine.

    His monastic life was an uneventful one and we can sum it up in his own words: 'I have spent the whole of my life ... devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures, and, amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily task of singing in the church, it has ever been my delight to learn or teach or write.' This summary is in very truth the whole of Bede's life. He seldom left the monastery, and we hear of two journeys only. Once he visited York to see Archbishop Egbert and to inspect the flourishing schools there, and on an earlier occasion, to gain material for his life of St. Cuthbert, he stayed at Lindisfarne and from there visited Farne Island to examine the remains of the saint's cell.

    It was as a teacher that Bede was supreme. He had no interest in speculation and no desire to be original; his genius was that of one who, with infinite pains, educates himself and transmits not only what he has learned but a deep sense of the value of such knowledge. Of his oral teaching--to which he attached great importance--of course we cannot speak, but his books became standard works of reference in his own lifetime. His carefulness and sobriety of approach, his pains to be accurate, his obvious orthodoxy, gave to them a unique authority. Bede's works fall into three well-defined classes. His theological writings consist mainly of a teacher's commentaries on the Bible, based very largely on the western Fathers and written for the most part in the allegorical manner of Christian tradition. Bede used his knowledge of Greek and displayed what we may think was an innocent vanity in making the most of such Hebrew as he had learned. Yet, despite the lack of originality in his approach, the commentaries of Bede remain even today one of the best means to arrive at the thought of the early Fathers.

    His scientific writings consist partly of traditional explanations of natural phenomena, in which the poetic approach of St. Ambrose is sometimes reflected, and partly of treatises on the calendar and the calculation of Easter--a matter of moment, as the Paschal controversy between Saxons and Celts had by no means entirely died down. It was Bede's popularization of the method of calculating calendar years from the supposed date of our Lord's birth which more than anything else ensured its universal acceptance in western Christendom.

    The saint's historical writings are perhaps best remembered today. The chief of these was The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, one of the most important pieces of historical writing of the early middle ages. It is the sole source of much of our information about early Saxon history, and (apart from occasional bias against the Celtic church) it is written with sober objectivity and balance of judgment, dependent upon documentary sources and trustworthy witnesses. Bede also wrote a short history of the abbots of Wearmouth and prose and verse lives of St. Cuthbert.

    Bede, then, remained from 679 onwards in the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, carrying out meticulously the duties of his monastic life and engaged unceasingly in writing and teaaching. Of his holiness, none of his contemporaries had any doubts, and it is refreshing to see that it was accompanied by none of the phenomena dear to the conventional hagiographer, for he worked no miracles, saw no visions and taught no new path to God.

    His death was as sober and undeterred as was his life. In the early summer of 735, when he was sixty-three, his health began to fail, and he suffered much from asthma. He was, however, at work until the very end. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of pepper and incense and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the very last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of St. John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor, he sang the anthem 'O King of Glory' from the Office of Ascension Day and so died. It was May 27th, 735.

    He is still usually referred to by that title given him in his lifetime--'the Venerable Bede'--but since his recognition in 1899 as a saint and doctor of the church, he is sometimes known as St. Bede the Venerable.

 Prayer to Saint Bede, the Venerable

Careful Historian and Doctor of the Church,

lover of God and of the truth,

you are a natural model
for all readers of God's inspired Word.
Move lectors to prepare for public reading

by prayerfully pondering the sacred texts

and invoking the Holy Spirit.
Help them to read in such a way

that those who hear

may attain learning and edification. Amen