St. Basil the Great on the Holy Spirit

Μ. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΙΟΣ 1-1One of the ways I try to stay connected to the Great Tradition is through thoughtful reflection on the Church Year, in tying my devotional life into the feast of seasons.  Many people have a Lenten discipline, and this is all for the good.  However, I was disappointed one year by the lack of Easter resources out there and determined that I would read a spiritual book as part of my celebration of Easter.

This year, my Easter book was The Easter Jesus by Gerald O’Collins, SJ.  It was good and bolstered the reasoning behind my belief in the Resurrection as well as helping me think of the Resurrection theologically.

My Pentecost book, which I finished on Thursday the eleventh, was On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great (trans. Rev. George Lewis).  My Trinity book will be Understanding the Trinity by Alister McGrath.

St. Basil lived from c. 329 until January 1, 379.  He helped clarify the doctrine of the Trinity in the years following Nicaea.  He wrote On the Holy Spirit while Bishop of Caesarea in 374.  In this work, St. Basil is setting forth a defence of how he had recently pronounced the doxology.  We are used to the form, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,” about which I have blogged here and here.  At one time, he gave glory to “the  Father with the Son together with the Holy Spirit, at another to God and the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.” (ch. 3)  Some of his parishioners didn’t like this (this is unsurprising; parishioners are apt to complain).

He illustrates the equality of the Son to the Father and how the different prepositions do not necessitate a difference of substance, essence, meaning, or rank.  Thence, he moves on to the Holy Spirit, and demonstrates through logic, tradition, many warrants of Scripture, that not only is the Holy Spirit co-equal and co-eternal with His fellow members of the Godhead, but that the different ways of ascribing glory to the Trinity do not diminish the Holy Three.

At one point, he waxes eloquent about who the Spirit is:

. . . we are compelled to think of an intellectual essence, infinite in power, illimitable in magnitude, immeasurable by periods or ages; who ungrudgingly imparts His excellence; unto whom all things needing sanctification turn, for whom all things living long according to their excellence, being, as it were, watered by His breath, and assisted to attain their own proper and natural end; perfective of all else, Himself lacking nothing; who lives not because He is endowed with life, but because He is the giver of life; who does not grow by additions, but is at once full, self-sustaining, and everywhere present; the source of sanctification, light invisible, who, as it were, illuminates every faculty of reason in its search for truth; unapproachable by nature, accessible by reason of His goodness; filling all things by His power, but communicable only to the worthy; not shared by all in the same degree, but distributing His energy according to the proportion of faith; simple in essence, manifold in powers; wholly present with each individual, and wholly everywhere; impassably divided, and shared without division, like a sunbeam, whose gracious influence is as much his who enjoys it as though he were alone in the world, but which also blends with the air, and shines over land and sea.  Thus, too, the Spirit is present with every one who receives Him as there were only one receiver, but bestows sufficient and complete grace on all; whom all things that partake of Him enjoy according to the capacity of their nature, not to the extent of His power. (ch. 22; p. 53 in Lewis)

Later on, in chapter 36, St. Basil writes:

Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, ascend to the kingdom of heaven, recover the adoption of sons, may boldly call God our own Father, are made partakers of the grace of Christ, are called children of light, partake of eternal glory, and, in a word, enjoy the fulness of blessing both in this world and in that which is to come; the rich treasures of the promises are ours, and through faith we have the fruition of them, as if they were present, since we see the grace as in a mirrior. (pp.73-74 in Lewis)

These passages call me to do honour to and worship this great God of ours, the creator of all that is, has been, and ever shall be!

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