St. Basil and the Holy Spirit

Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all fullness of blessing, both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof; through faith, beholding the reflection of these graces as though they were already present, we await their full enjoyment . . . . If such the first fruits, what the complete fulfilment? (On the Holy Spirit 15.36).

Today we celebrate not only the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (about which you may read here), but also that of St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Pontus), who reposed this day in the year 379.

St. Basil can easily labeled as one of the great polymaths of his day, educated in literature, oratory, astronomy, theology, and rhetoric. You can read a good synopsis of St. Basil’s life here.

We remember him for many things, and in particular for the St. Basil Society his letter on the education of youths, that was part and parcel of his work as a monastic, since his monastery also oversaw an orphanage for both boys and girls, and thus their education. Like his father before him, who taught oratory in Cappadocia, St. Basil had a deep love of what we call classical pagan literature. Certainly not, it should be noted, for the paganism of the texts, but for the beauty these works contained, for the excellence of their speech and the art of their poetry. For him, the young should learn to write from those who demonstrate what good writing is.

This instruction to the young was part of his so-called monastic rule. In truth, his rule was more pious advice about monastic life, and far less a rule as we have come to see in something like The Rule of the Master or The Rule of St. Benedict.

All the same, St. Basil’s rule did serve as the basis for most of Eastern monasticism, though it comes after the organization of the first great monastic communities of St. Pachomius in Egypt. As St. Basil had visited these and other monasteries, so he wasn’t just writing in the dark about such matters.

St. Basil was also one of the great defenders of Nicene Orthodoxy, and in particular his defense of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit was one in nature, power, and Godhead with the Father and the Son.

As we can see from the above quote, for St. Basil in particular saw that the Spirit gave to us the work of Christ, and wrought in us the divinity which Christ has made ours. For St. Basil, as we can see, the Spirit is deeply involved in the very mediatorial work of Christ.

For while the Person of the Son stands as the one Mediator, mediating divine nature to human nature and human nature to divine nature, it is the Spirit, who is the gift of Christ to his Church, the ‘other’ comforter, gives us Christ not as mediator, but as the agent of redemption. Thus, the Spirit must be divine, for he makes us divine.

By the Holy Spirit, we are thus set apart, sealed within the Holy Trinity, till the day of judgement. This is what is meant by the Spirit being the earnest, or the down payment, of our redemption. Just as it is the Spirit who comes upon the Blessed Virgin Mary to form Christ in her, and as He comes to make the Body of our Lord present on the Altar, so He begins the formation of Christ in us, bringing us by grace, as St. Basil says above, all the gifts and privileges that Our Lord has be nature.

The Holy Spirit is how we say that “Jesus is Lord (the name above every name)” and that “God is our Father (He sends the Spirit in our hearts crying “Abba, Father.”).” Were the Holy Spirit not divine, He could not accomplish deification in us.

All that we have and believe was given to us by Christ, but handed on through the Spirit to the Apostles (“When the Spirit is come, He will teach you all things”). The fullness of the Faith was present from the beginning, but in every age new opinions arise that must be addressed, many of these opinions are of course heresies (the same word in Greek, that is, a choice or preference). In St. Basil’s day, it was both the Arians, and their fellow travelers, the Macedonians, who denied the divinity of Christ, and it was St. Basil, along with others, who stood up against them. You can read St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit here.

God grant you all a blessed beginning to the new civil year.

Through the prayers of our holy father among the saints, St. Basil, his mother St. Emmelia, his grandmother St. Macrina the elder, his sister St. Macrina the younger, and his brothers, Sts. Gregory, Naucratius, and Peter, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.

About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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