Religio Philologi: St. Basil of the Blogosphere

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Basil of Caesarea (330-379) is among the greatest of the early fathers.  Born in the early 4th century, not long after the Edict of Milan granted immunity from persecution to the Church, Basil  and the other great Cappadocian fathers  (his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, and his good friend Gregory of Nazianzus) come between the generation of Athanisus (b. 297) and the generation of St. John Chrysostom (b. 347).  He is a major figure in the history of Christian theology, brilliant opponent of the Arian heresy, but he was also known for the depth of his charity.  Basil is the real founder of cenobitic monasticism, and St. Benedict pays tribute to his influence.  His letters are particularly valuable, for their charm, their enormous but easy erudition, and for the clear and non-technical presentation of theological issues.  His 8th epistle is a breath-taking refutation of Arianism, rooted both in the Scriptures and in logic.

Basil formed the first monastic community, and several of his letters are addressed to the question of how Christians should live together, both at the mundane level of what to eat and what to wear and at the higher level of good manners.  In the 2nd epistle, he gives the following advice:

This, too, is a very important point to attend to—knowledge how to converse; to interrogate without over-earnestness; to answer without desire of display; not to interrupt a profitable speaker, or to desire ambitiously to put in a word of one’s own; to be measured in speaking and hearing; not to be ashamed of receiving, or to be grudging in giving information, nor to pass another’s knowledge for one’s own, as depraved women their supposititious children, but to refer it candidly to the true parent. The middle tone of voice is best, neither so low as to be inaudible, nor to be ill-bred from its high pitch. One should reflect first what one is going to say, and then give it utterance: be courteous when addressed; amiable in social intercourse; not aiming to be pleasant by facetiousness, but cultivating gentleness in kind admonitions. Harshness is ever to be put aside, even in censuring. The more you show modesty and humility yourself, the more likely are you to be acceptable to the patient who needs your treatment. There are however many occasions when we shall do well to employ the kind of rebuke used by the prophet who did not in his own person utter the sentence of condemnation on David after his sin, but by suggesting an imaginary character made the sinner judge of his own sin, so that, after passing his own sentence, he could not find fault with the seer who had convicted him.

This is not the only passage where Basil gives good advice on Christian behavior, but it should be sufficient to grant him the paradoxical title of “Patron Saint of the Blogosphere.”

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