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St Basil

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  • goossir <irene.goossens@cec.eu.int>
    On the Holy Spirit, Ch. XXX St. Basil the Great Written during the Arian Controversy, 4th century Exposition of the present state of the Churches: To what then
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2003
      On the Holy Spirit, Ch. XXX
      St. Basil the Great

      Written during the Arian Controversy, 4th century

      Exposition of the present state of the Churches:

      To what then shall I liken our present condition? It may be compared,
      I think, to some naval battle which has arisen out of time old
      quarrels, and is fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one
      another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the
      fight. Look, I beg you, at the picture thus raised before your eyes.
      See the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack. With a
      burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out. Fancy, if
      you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while
      thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so
      that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all
      distinction between friend and foe is lost. To fill up the details of
      the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and
      whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down
      from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high. From every quarter
      of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are
      dashed one against the other. Of the combatants some are turning
      traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some
      have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by
      the gale, and to advance against their assailants. Jealousy of
      authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into
      parties which deal mutual death to one another.

      Think, besides all this, of the confused and unmeaning roar sounding
      over all the sea, from howling winds, from crashing vessels, from
      boiling surf, from the yells of the combatants as they express their
      varying emotions in every kind of noise, so that not a word from
      admiral or pilot can be heard. The disorder and confusion is
      tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired
      of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness. Suppose, too,
      that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of
      glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the
      better of the other, while their ship is actually settling down into
      the deep.

      Turn now I beg you from this figurative description to the unhappy
      reality. Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after
      its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself
      alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us
      was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of
      open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more
      ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were
      stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit
      and individual suspicion. But what storm at sea was ever so fierce
      and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the
      Fathers has been moved; every foundation. every bulwark of opinion
      has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about
      and shaken down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one
      another. If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded
      by the comrade at our side. If a foeman is stricken and falls, his
      fellow soldier tramples him down. There is at least this bond of
      union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the
      enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another. And who could make
      a complete list of all the wrecks? Some have gone to the bottom on
      the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery, of
      their allies, some from the blundering of their own officers. We see,
      as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon
      the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies
      of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of
      the faith. And then the disturbances wrought by the princes of the
      world have caused the downfall of the people with a violence
      unmatched by that of hurricane or whirlwind. The luminaries of the
      world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have
      been driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and
      disheartening has settled on the Churches. The terror of universal
      ruin is already imminent, and yet their mutual rivalry is so
      unbounded as to blunt all sense of danger. Individual hatred is of
      more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom
      the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than
      the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of
      getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare
      of mankind. So all men alike, each as best he can, lift the hand of
      murder against one another. Harsh rises the cry of the combatants
      encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost
      full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising
      from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the
      doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in
      that of defect. On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and
      are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that,
      through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between
      these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate;
      the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.
      Plain speaking is fatal to friendship, and disagreement in opinion
      all the ground that is wanted for a quarrel. No oaths of confederacy
      are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness
      in error.

      Every one is a theologian though he have his soul branded with more
      spots than can be counted. The result is that innovators find a
      plentiful supply of men ripe for faction, while self-appointed scions
      of the house of place-hunters reject the government of the Holy
      Spirit and divide the chief dignities of the Churches. The
      institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into
      confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing
      for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force
      himself into high office. The result of this lust for ordering is
      that our people are in a state of wild confusion for lack of being
      ordered; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly
      purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his
      ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give
      orders to other people, as it is to obey any one else.

      So, since no human voice is strong enough to be heard in such a
      disturbance, I reckon silence more profitable than speech, for if
      there is any truth in the words of the Preacher, "The words of wise
      men are heard in quiet," in the present condition of things any
      discussion of them must be anything but becoming. I am moreover
      restrained by the Prophet's saying, "Therefore the prudent shall keep
      silence in that time, for it is an evil time," a time when some trip
      up their neighbors' heels, some stamp on a man when he is down, and
      others clap their hands with joy, but there is not one to feel for
      the fallen and hold out a helping hand, although according to the
      ancient law he is not uncondemned, who passes by even his enemy's
      beast of burden fallen under his load. This is not the state of
      things now. Why not? The love of many has waxed cold; brotherly
      concord is destroyed, the very name of unity is ignored, brotherly
      admonitions are heard no more, nowhere is there Christian pity,
      nowhere falls the tear of sympathy. Now there is no one to
      receive "the weak in faith," but mutual hatred has blazed so high
      among fellow clansmen that they are more delighted at a neighbor's
      fall than at their own success. Just as in a plague, men of the most
      regular lives suffer from the same sickness as the rest, because they
      catch the disease by communication with the infected, so nowadays by
      the evil rivalry which possesses our souls we are carried away to an
      emulation in wickedness, and are all of us each as bad as the others.
      Hence merciless and sour sit the judges of the erring; unfeeling and
      hostile are the critics of the well disposed. And to such a depth is
      this evil rooted among us that we have become more brutish than the
      brutes; they do at least herd with their fellows, but our most savage
      warfare is with our own people.

      For all these reasons I ought to have kept silence, but I was drawn
      in the other direction by love, which "seeketh not her own," and
      desires to overcome every difficulty put in her way by time and
      circumstance. I was taught too by the children at Babylon, that, when
      there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone
      and all unaided to do our duty. They from out of the midst of the
      flame lifted up their voices in hymns and praise to God, reeking not
      of the host that set the truth at naught, but sufficient, three only
      that they were, with one another. Wherefore we too are undismayed at
      the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the
      Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth. Had I not so
      done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the
      Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true
      religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our
      side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the
      tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence
      of memory to our own day. A further powerful incentive to my
      undertaking was the warm fervor of your "love unfeigned," a and the
      seriousness and taciturnity of your disposition; a guarantee that you
      would not publish what I was about to say to all the world,--not
      because it would not be worth making known, but to avoid casting
      pearls before swine, My task is now done. If you find what I have
      said satisfactory, let this make an end to our discussion of these
      matters. If you think any point requires further elucidation, pray do
      not hesitate to pursue the investigation with all diligence, and to
      add to your information by putting any uncontroversial question.
      Either through me or through others the Lord will grant full
      explanation on matters which have yet to be made clear, according to
      the knowledge supplied to the worthy by the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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