St. Basil the Great, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church, semi-double feast
For Centuries the Church celebrated the feast of St. Basil on June 14th, when according to tradition in 370, he was raised to the see of Caesarea Mazaca, today’s Kayseri, Turkey. Caesarea was then a powerful and wealthy city, a crossroads of the Orient. His see controlled Cappadocia, Pontus and more than half of Asia Minor. The Catholic Encyclopedia says he influenced, “from the Balkans to the Mediterranean and from the Aegean to the Euphrates”. I presume with the updated post-Vatican II calendar, his feast was combined with that of his contemporary, St. Gregory Naziazen, bishop of the see of Constantinople and set to January 2nd, the day after the anniversary of his death. Like St. Athanasius, another contemporary, Basil, fought the Arian heresy.
Basil’s letters tell the story of his tremendous and varied activities: he worked for the exclusion of unfit candidates from the sacred ministry and the deliverance of bishops from the temptation of simony, he required discipline and observance of canons from both laymen and clerics. He rebuked the sinful, provided oversight to offenders and penitents. He defended clerical rights and immunities, and made sure his priests were trained for their tasks. Basil was a man of unique powers, as he laid down the law to leading citizens, imperial governors, settled disputes with wisdom and finality, assisted the needy both spiritually and materially. In his earlier pre-episcopate career he became a monastic, founded a monastery, wrote a rule and greatly influenced St. Benedict. He became known as the father of Oriental monasticism. Basil added the cenobitic or community form of monastery life.
His relations with Rome were not altogether smooth. The pope at the time was Damasus I. The Catholic Encyclopedia said the following concerning him:
Damasus defended with vigour the CatholicFaith in a time of dire and varied perils. In two Roman synods (368 and 369) he condemned Apollinarianism and Macedonianism; he also sent his legates to the Council of Constantinople (381), convoked against the aforesaid heresies. In the Roman synod of 369 (or 370) Auxentius, the ArianBishop of Milan, was excommunicated; he held the see, however, until his death, in 374, made way for St. Ambrose. The heretic Priscillian, condemned by the Council of Saragossa (380) appealed to Damasus, but in vain. It was Damasus who induced Saint Jerome to undertake his famous revision of the earlier Latin versions of the Bible (see VULGATE). St. Jerome was also his confidential secretary for some time (Ep. cxxiii, n. 10). An important canon of the New Testament was proclaimed by him in the Roman synod of 374. The Eastern Church, in the person of St. Basil of Cæsarea, besought earnestly the aid and encouragement of Damasus against triumphant Arianism; the pope, however, cherished some degree of suspicion against the great Cappadocian Doctor.
With regard to St. Basil’s view of this dispute, the Encyclopedia says the following:
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.
St. Basil did not accuse the pope with whom he disagreed of “usurpation”.In other words Basil was not accusing the pope of acting in bad faith in regards to Basil’s pleadings, unlike the situation of today. He could not condemn the pope for heresy. His relations with Damasus were just another cross to bear. As stated in previous “Saints posts”, the laity supported bishops like Basil and allowed him the freedom to confront Emperors like Valens and other Arians in the government and episcopacy. I can’t find a trace of his see left in Kayseri, Turkey. What a tragedy for Turkey and all Eastern Catholics – and Christians.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It is the rebuke of St. Basil to the Arians, who did not believe in a fully equal eternally loving Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
The following is a prayer of St. Basil from a tourism site for Turkey(?):
Prayer of St. 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.
St. Basil the Great, pray for us and especially all the peoples of the Middle East particularly now at this time of great trial.
Quotes are from the Catholic Encyclopedia, under Pope Damasus I and St. Basil the Great. Also the prayer is from https://www.turizm.net/cities/cappadocia/stbasil.htm