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Thursday, 2 January 2014

Doctors of the Church Series 2:35

Friday, 15 March 2013

DoC and Perfection: St. Basil "Ουρανοφαντωρ"

Some very cool chant

I love St. Basil. I used to have a magnificent icon of him which I gave to a Basilian priest. One reason I love this Doctor of the Church so much is that he helped us to understand the Holy Spirit. Also, he wrote so much, he keeps one quite busy and, in addition, he died early. I am always astounded as to how much work these men and women accomplished; he has over 300 letters alone.


But, here is a snippet to begin a few posts on St. Basil. From Letter VIII.  My comments are in blue.

So much must suffice for the present on the subject of the adorable and holy Trinity.  It is not now possible to extend the enquiry about it further.  Do ye take seeds from a humble person like me, and cultivate the ripe ear for yourselves, for, as you know, in such cases we look for interest.  But I trust in God that you, because of your pure lives, will bring forth fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold.  For, it is said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.1865  And, my brethren, entertain no other conception of the kingdom of the heavens than that it is the very contemplation of realities.  This the divine Scriptures call blessedness.  For “the kingdom of heaven is within you.”1866

Immediately, we see the key points of perfection: 1) that only the pure in heart see God'; 2) contemplation brings about the awareness of the kingdom of heaven,; and 3) the kingdom of heaven is within us.

Perfection is possible and needed to see God, and because of the sacraments, we have the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, the Kingdom of God within. For the modern person, the busyness of daily life impinges on the pursuit of holiness, of perfection. 

Contemplation is the thinking awareness of the attributes of God. It is not meditation on a passage of Scripture, but the direct, immediate focusing on God Himself, and where He meets one.

The inner man consists of nothing but contemplation.  The kingdom of the heaven, then, must be contemplation.  Now we behold their shadows as in a glass; hereafter, set free from this earthly body, clad in the incorruptible and the immortal, we shall behold their archetypes, we shall see them, that is, if we have steered our own life’s course aright, and if we have heeded the right faith, for otherwise none shall see the Lord.  For, it is said, into a malicious soul Wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin.1867  And let no one urge in objection that, while I am ignoring what is before our eyes, I am philosophizing to them about bodiless and immaterial being.  It seems to me perfectly absurd, while the senses are allowed free action in relation to their proper matter, to exclude mind alone from its peculiar operation.  Precisely in the same manner in which sense touches sensible objects, so mind apprehends the objects of mental perception.  This too must be said that God our Creator has not included natural faculties among things which can be taught.  No one teaches sight to apprehend colour or form, nor hearing to apprehend sound and speech, nor smell, pleasant and unpleasant scents, nor taste, flavours and savours, nor touch, soft and hard, hot and cold.  Nor would any one teach the mind to reach objects of mental perception; and just as the senses in the case of their being in any way diseased, or injured, require only proper treatment and then readily fulfil their own functions; just so the mind, imprisoned in flesh, and full of the thoughts that arise thence, requires faith and right conversation which make “its feet like hinds’ feet, and set it on its high places.”1868  

Basil moves from an orthodox treatment on the Holy Spirit to a thoughtful contemplation of God. He is noting that the mind, the intellect, as part of the soul, is made for contemplation.

How astounding is this idea for modern men and women, who, too often, only see what is material and not what is spiritual.

What helps the mind in contemplation? Basil tells us it is faith and right conversation.

How simple this sounds and yet, how one is raised above the mindlessness of daily stress and work to be brought into the high places. 

Surround yourself with good and holy friends, people who want to be perfect as well.

The same advice is given us by Solomon the wise, who in one passage offers us the example of the diligent worker the ant,1869 and recommends her active life; and in another the work of the wise bee in forming its cells,1870 and thereby suggests a natural contemplation wherein also the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is contained, if at least the Creator is considered in proportion to the beauty of the things created.

But look here, busy lay person. Basil tells all of us that the ant and the bee thrive in work and that we too, in doing our duty, find the Holy Trinity is the simplicity of our lives. All living things have a beauty created by God and in that beauty is the natural ability to do what one must to find God.

Before I leave, here is a bit about his amazing family. He was born in 330. To be continued...

St Basil’s mother St Emilia was the daughter of a martyr. On the Greek calendar, she is commemorated on May 30. St Basil’s father was also named Basil. He was a lawyer and renowned rhetorician, and lived at Caesarea.
Ten children were born to the elder Basil and Emilia: five sons and five daughters. Five of them were later numbered among the saints: Basil the Great; Macrina (July 19) was an exemplar of ascetic life, and exerted strong influence on the life and character of St Basil the Great; Gregory, afterwards Bishop of Nyssa (January 10); Peter, Bishop of Sebaste (January 9); and Theosebia, a deaconess (January 10).