basil_of_caesarea St. Basil urges us to live in God’s presence by seeking solitude. “Solitude provides us with the greatest help toward the achievement, quieting our passions, and giving leisure to our reason to uproot them completely from the soul.”

I find this one of the most difficult aspects of my modern life. Everything around me screams against solitude and unless I intentionally plan for it then it will never happen. I am not sure this is a modern problem, though modern "conveniences" (creature comforts) make it much more difficult in one sense.

To live in God’s presence we must learn to nourish our souls with “divine thoughts.” We do this best when we begin the day with prayer and song he says. We also do this by reading the Bible. “Meditation on the divinely inspired Scriptures is also a most important means for the discovery of duty. The Scriptures not only propose to us counsels for the conduct of life, but also open before us the lives of the blessed handed down in writing as living images for our imitation of life spent in quest of God.”

St. Basil says the Bible provides the remedy we all need. Just as one would go to a drug store to get medicine for the body so we go to Scripture to get medicine for our soul. He uses the story of Joseph, the husband-to-be of Mary the mother of our Lord, to say we learn chastity from him. He is not only a model of self-control but a habitual lover of virtue.

From Basil’s counsel we get a sense of how the early church theologians used Scripture. They did not merely look for doctrines in texts but they looked for medicine dispensed through the narratives of those who lived well.

Basil says we learn from Job how to remain the same, “preserving untarnished his nobility of soul.” Even when his friends came to offer him comfort, by taking advantage of his unfortunate situation, he was not provoked to anger. In turn if one wants to be meek consider King David who was noble in the deeds of war yet gentle and dispassionate in the punishment of his enemies. Such was Moses who rose in great wrath against those offending God but endured with a meek spirit the slanders against himself.

Finally, we should pray again following our reading of Scripture. We should pray that the Scripture will “take hold upon a fresher and more vigorous soul already stirred to a longing for God.” Our goal is that our earthly thoughts would “cease to interrupt our continual remembrance of Him.”

St. Basil clearly demonstrates the clarity and power of how some of the great Fathers of the Christian Church understood Christian living. For this reason alone we ought to familiarize ourselves with their incredibly fruitful writings. Isn’t it a bit odd that we follow the teachings of modern theologians and ignore the first theologians of the church? These men lived in far more difficult times, were far closer to the origins of the church and in general applied Scripture to the soul in remarkable ways. Our failure to read and appreciate them is our great loss in the twenty-first century. Thankfully a great deal is being done to remove this loss for those who want to read the Fathers for their own growth in grace.

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  1. David Gordon April 13, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Thank you for these posts on St. Basil. As always I enjoy your thoughts. I have begun to read Your Church is Too Small. Excellent!! You do a masterful job of pulling together so much of things I’ve been thinking about for the past 8 or so years. Thank you for your labor of love to the Church.
    David Gordon

  2. Tim Byrnes April 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Hey John!
    This is great! I received a copy of Volume I of Basil’s Letters from my sister for Christmas this year, and I love everything that I have read so far. Basil, more than any other writer, is helping me to really understand what the Trinity is about.
    Tim Byrnes

  3. John H. Armstrong April 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I get genuinely excited when I get a comment like this one from Tim. Reading the great Church Fathers is a real cure for much of anemic modern Christianity.

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