Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/383

This page needs to be proofread.


BASIL


331


BASIL


young man. Fortunately, Basil came again in con- tact -n-ith Dianius, Bishop of Ca-sarea, the object of his boyish affection, and Dianius seems to have bap- tized him, and ordained him Reader soon after liis return to Cicsarea. It was at this time also that he fell under the influence of that very remarkable woman, his sister Macrina, who had meanwhile founded a religiovis 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 -i-isited the monas- eries of Egj'pt, Palestine, Ccele-SjTia, and Mesopo- tamia. 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 com- munity form, and the new feature was imitated by many companies of men and women. (Cf. Sozomen, Hist. Eccl., VI, xx\'ii; Epiphanius, Hier., Ixxv, 1; Basil, Ep. ccxxiii; Tillemont, M4m., IX, Art. XXI, and note XXVI.) Basil became known as the Father of Oriental monasticism, the forerunner of St. Bene- dict. How well he deserved the title, how seriously and in what spirit he undertook the sj^stematizing of the religious life, may be seen by the study of liis Rule. He seems to have read Origen's â– nTitings 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 arena of theological controversy in 360 when he accompanied two delegates from Seleucia to the emperor at Con- stantinople, and supported his namesake of Ancyra. There is some dispute as to his courage and liis perfect orthodoxy on this occasion (cf. Philostorgius. Hist. Eccl., IV, xii; answered by Gregory of Nyssa, In Eunom., I, and Maran, Prolcg.. vii; Tillemont, Mem., note XVlII). A little later, however, both qualities seem to have been sufficiently in e\'idence, 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 the books against Eunomius (363) and some correspondence with Athanasius. It is possible, also, that Basil \^TOte liis monastic rules in the briefer form while in Pontus, and enlarged them later at Caesarea (Baert). There is an account of an in\-itation from Julian for Basil to present himself at court and of Basil's refusal, coupled with an admonition that angered the em- peror and endangered Basil's safety. Both incident and correspondence however are questioned by some critics (e. g. Maran; cf. Tillemon*:. De Broglie, Fialon).

Basil still retained considerable influence in Ca;sarea, 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 prac- tically placed in his office by the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. Eusebius ha\ing persuaded the reluc- tant Basil to be ordained priest, gave him a promi- nent place in the administration of the diocese (363). In ability for the management of affairs Basil so far eclipsed the bishop that ill-feeling arose 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 clergj' and the people necessitated the presence of a strong personality, Basil was re- stored to his former position, being reconciled to the bishop bj' 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 ven,' unusual powers. He laid do^n the law to the leading citizens and the imperial gov- ernors, settled disputes with wisdom and finality, assisted the spirituall} needy, looked after "the support of the poor, the entertainment of strangers, the care of maidens, legislation â– nTitten and un- T\Titten for the monastic life, arrangements of prayers, (liturgy?), adornment of the sanctuarj'" (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. Ca?.sarea 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 chorcpiscopt (Baert). Basil's actual influence, says Jackson (Prolegomena, XXXII) covered the whole stretch of country "from the Balkans to the Jlediterranean and from the ^Egean to the Euphrates". The need of a man like Basil in sucli a see as Csesarea was most pressing, and he must have known this well. Some (e. g. Allard, De Broglie, Venables, Fialon) think that he set about procuring his own election; others (e. g. Maran, Baronius, Ceillier) say that he made no attempt in his own behalf. In any event, he became Bishop of C:esarea largely by the influence of the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. His election, saj's the younger Gregorj' (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 liis previous .ad- ministration of the diocese Basil had so clearly de- fined his ideas of discipline and orthodoxy, that no one could doubt the direction and the vigour of his policy. St. ,\thanasius was greatly pleased at Basil's election (.\d Pallad., 953; Ad Joann. et Ant., 951); but the .\rianizing Emperor Valens, displayed considerable 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 ministrj' and the deliverance of the bishops from the temptation of simony; how he required exact discipline and the faithfill 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, Iv, clxxxviii, cxcix, ccxvii, and Ep. clxix, on the strange incident of Glycerins, 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 strenously defended clerical rights and immunities (Ep. civ), on the other he trained his clergy so strictly that they grew famous as the tj-pc of all that a priest should be (Epp. eii, ciii). Basil did not confine his activity to diocesan affairs, but threw himself v-ig