10 Quotes From Basil the Great That Are, Well, Great

10 Quotes From Basil the Great That Are, Well, Great

Basil of Caesarea, who has come to be known as Saint Basil the Great, is an ancient voice who often speaks with uncanny relevance to our modern world. Born about 300 years after the ministry of Jesus in AD 330, Basil is what is known as one of the “Cappadocian Fathers” and was a pivotal person in the early centuries of the church as a monk, theologian, and pastor. 

Having grown up in a wealthy, aristocratic home, Basil renounced his wealth and took on a monastic vow, later going on to become a parish priest. He was a fierce advocate for the Nicene Creed, which still stands as a litmus test for orthodox Christian belief today and is agreed upon by virtually every Christian tradition. His advocacy of the creed stood opposed to the heresy called Arianism, which denied the deity of Jesus and was spreading rapidly during his time. At one point, it may have even been the predominant view.

But far more than debating theology (as essential as the doctrine may have been), Basil also had very practical concerns as it relates to how Christians lived out their faith. Against the backdrop of vast economic disparity and slavery in his day, Basil spoke about wealth and charity in ways that were strikingly countercultural and even extreme—for his time, as well as our own. 

As someone who lived more than a millennium before the Protestant Reformation, Basil speaks about what it means to be human in ways that modern evangelicals may find suspicious at first. Nevertheless, when we consider that Basil’s words are not made in light of the abuse of indulgences and a denial of fundamental human sinfulness, and rather in light of the full counsel of Scripture, modern evangelicals can come to find Basil’s perspective both refreshing and instructive. 

Basil’s work is preserved mostly in the form of homilies, which we are able to read through the faithful work of scholars who have translated them from their ancient Greek into modern English for us. 

Here are 10 quotes from Saint Basil the Great that are, well, great. 

Do not despise the wonder that is in you. For you are small in your own reckoning, but the Word will disclose that you are great…Learn well your own dignity. He did not cast forth your origin by a commandment, but there was counsel in God to consider how to bring the dignified living creature into life.

Were something like this said from a pulpit today, it would likely be characterized by some as soft on sin, or at least soft on theology. But Basil was neither. 

During his ministry, Basil didn’t shy away from decrying what he saw to be the worst of human depravity, including oppression, love of money, and the denial of essential Christian truths. 

Yet despite being acquainted and deeply burdened by the wickedness he saw play itself out among humanity, Basil never let any of it rob him of his sense of wonder for what exactly it meant to be fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God

The natures [of men and women] are alike of equal honor, the virtues are equal, the struggles equal, the judgments alike. Let her not say, ‘I am weak.’ The weakness is in the flesh, in the soul is the power. Since indeed that which is according to God’s image is of equal honor, the showing forth of good works.

Living in a male dominated culture that privileged men over and against women, Basil was quick to point out the equal dignity and value of women. And while there isn’t any evidence to suggest that Basil was an egalitarian as we would define it in modern times, he nevertheless saw the dishonoring of women as an affront to God’s image.

What then will you answer the Judge? You gorgeously array your walls, but do not clothe your fellow human beings; you adorn horses, but turn away from the shameful plight of your brother or sister; you allow grain to rot in your barns, but do not feed those who are starving; you hid gold in the earth, but ignore the oppressed!

Basil was so passionate about Christians using their wealth to provide for the needs of others that he referred to a failure to do so as stealing from God. If he were to say such things today, many evangelicals would accuse him of taking his cues more from Karl Marx than from the Bible. 

Except Marx wouldn’t be born for another 1,500 years. 

Temptation comes in two forms. Sometimes affliction proves the heart like gold in a furnace, testing its purity by means of suffering. But for many, it is prosperity of life that constitutes the greatest trial.

If Basil were in a modern day worship service and heard a worship leader talking about a “trial” or “circumstance” in between songs, Basil’s mind would immediately be drawn to the hardship of his prosperity. 

It is not he who begins well who is perfect. It is he who ends well who is approved in God’s sight.

In a time where church leadership scandals hit the news faster than we can keep up, Basil’s words remind us that character and virtue are far more important than charisma and talent when it comes to leading lives that are faithful to Jesus over the long haul.

Works of piety are an excellent burial garment. Make your departure dressed in the full regalia of your good deeds; convert your wealth into a truly inseparable adornment; keep everything with you when you go!

In Basil’s mind, a life of anonymous service was far more profitable than the accolades that come with building a large platform or accumulating wealth. And that’s because your good deeds are what echo into eternity.

Everyone is a theologian, even those who have stains on their souls.

To Basil, everything was spiritual and everyone is a theologian. The only difference among us is whether you’re a good one or not. 

If you see your neighbor in sin, don’t look only at this, but also think about what he has done or does that is good, and infrequently trying this in general, while not partially judging, you will find that he is better than you.

Jesus spoke about taking the plank out of our own eye before inspecting the speck in someone else’s. Basil suggested that if we impartially inspect someone else’s speck long enough, we gain a sobering appreciation for exactly how large our own log is. 

A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

Basil believed that doing the right thing was an end unto itself, but that it also produced something good. It caused flourishing. Doing what is good is actually good for you, too.

Every evil is a sickness of soul, but virtue offers the cause of its health.

And that’s because what’s healthy and what’s holy are often more closely related than we realize. 

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