My most honoured father among the Fathers, St Basil of Caesarea, was not surnamed ‘the Great’ for nothing. Not in one field only, but in a whole range of fields he proved to be an outstanding Father of the Church in the later part of the fourth century AD. For one thing, he had a very important role to play in the development of the monastic life, being the first to institute a public vow for monks witnessed by the bishop or his representative. His Asketion, an instruction on the nature of Christian community life, was translated by Rufinus ofAquileia as early as 397 in southern Italy, and became one ofthe sources of the Rule of St Benedict, which expressly commends ‘the Rule of our Holy Father Basil’. So he really is a great monastic Father for both the eastern and western churches.

But he was also the successor of St Athanasius the Great in leading the Eastern Church in the final phase of the Arian controversy that racked the Church through much ofthe fourth century. Thanks to his exhaustive labours during the 370s, most of the Greek speaking bishops rallied round his Neo-Nicene front, as we may call it, till the Nicene doctrine on the Holy Trinity was re-affirmed and given further nuance in the Council of Constantinople in 381.

The Nicene Creed

Every Sunday and Solemnity when we confess the Nicene Creed, we in fact commemorate St Basil and his fellow Cappadocian Fathers, for we pronounce the words on the Holy Spirit which they had approved for insertion in the Creed at the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381. I here steer a little more closely to the Greek:

I believe in the Holy Spirit — that much was in the original Creed of 325, then were added: the Lord (2 Cor 3.17-18), the giver of Life (Jn 6.63,2 Cor 3:6), who proceeds from the Father (Jn 15:26), who with Father and the Son is co-worshipped and co-glorified (cf. Mt 28.19), who has spoken through the prophets (cf. Acts 28:25,1 Pet 1:10-12, 2 Pet 1:21).

This is no less a person than St Basil the Great speaking – for the faith of the Universal Church. It encapsulates his whole manner of demonstrating the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, using three precise scriptural phrases, then alluding implicitly to the Baptismal Trinitarian formula of Mat 28.19, and finally summing up several texts showing that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets.

St Basil played an important role in the liturgy too, for he helped determine the daily cycle of the Liturgy ofthe Hours for the Church both East and West. He also reshaped and expanded an ancient Antiochene Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer into what is now known as the Anaphora of St Basil. According to Brian Kelleher, ‘Those who are familiar with the various Anaphorae in use in the Church, both today and in the past, often consider St Basil’s to be, on balance, the best of the lot’.{{1}}

In fact we now have it in the West today in a much adapted form as the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer IV – or at least such of it as the ICEL translation of 1970 has managed to spare us.

In addition, St Basil was quite typical of the great Fathers in his championship of the poor and the sick in the local community. He constantly goaded the privileged to commit to Christian, and not worldly use, the wealth with which they were entrusted. There arose in his metropolitan city, Caesarea, the so-called Bosileiad, the ‘city of the poor’, which housed a complex of religious communities, hospices for the aged poor, work-shops, and a point for the collection and distribution of food.

For all these reasons Basil was given the surname ‘the Great’. He really was, as Theodoret of Cyrrhus calls him the ‘shining light of the whole world’ and is still our Father today.

Basil the Person

But what kind of person was Basil? To be sure, there is a certain stern strength about St Basil’s character that does not immediately invoke endearments, the way, for example, one might feel affection for a St Therese, or a St Francis – though there was a steely side to these saints too. And would to God that we could have a share of their steely side!

Fortunately, a large collection of St Basil’s letters have survived, some 350 letters of so, of which, may it please God, I may be the editor one day. Through them we can come close to his mind and heart. We can see the successive stages of his spiritual growth; see him groping through severe trials and temptations due to the contemporary chaos in the Church, his continual sicknesses, the grief of betrayal and of rapture with one-time friends; see him making mistakes and coming to acknowledge and correct them, see him moving from naivete to perception over the years; see his humility, compassion and suffering.

Here was no Baroque era prince-bishop, but a man in whom the Episcopal office was matched in every way by an interior spirit of holiness and earnest asceticism. He very much drew his theology of the Episcopate from St Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. He went around poor and in tattered clothing, barefoot or with worn sandals; an itinerant on the earth, eating but one frugal meal a day, kissing lepers, bathing and feeding the sick with his own hands; in all ways communicating the desire to be well-pleasing to the Lord in his words and in his own person. The authority of personal holiness and of formidable intelligence trained by years of study and prayer matched that of his apostolic office. Basil was not a small man in a great office. He carried his office, not his office him – and with it, in a very real sense, he carried the Church of his day.

The Turmoil of the Church in Basil’s Day

Any Catholic my age has had to grow to adulthood and try to cobble together some sort of spiritual life through a very disconcerting phase in the life of the Church in recent decades. The 1998 Statement of Conclusions concerning the state of the Church in Australia spoke of a ‘crisis of faith’, and of other crises, not of non-Catholics, but of those in the Church. While holding fast to holy Hope, and acknowledging signs of vitality and the prevailing power of the Risen Lord against all odds, I do believe that we are presently in one of the most serious crises the Church has ever gone through. If one were to go back in history to find a comparable period of widespread internal – not external – confusion in the Church, the nearest thing that comes to my mind is not the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century but the Arian crisis of the fourth century.

It began, as you know, with the holding of an ecumenical council aimed at settling a point of disputed doctrine and issuing guidelines for the future: the Nicene Council of 325. The Council was scarcely over, alas, when its fruits began to be blighted. This was a process engineered above all by ambitious and politically savvy prelates. For nearly sixty years the Church endured an incredibly twisting trail of doctrinal mayhem, distorted endlessly by imperial interventions, till the next ecumenical council in 381, mentioned above. Not that God’s providence was not in all this! A deeper exposition of the faith and the ‘raising up of men and women outstanding in holiness’ came about precisely in the midst of such adversities.

This was the state of the Church in which Basil was born in about 329 and in which he grew up. Listen to his own account of it from one of his introductory works on Christian asceticism called On Judgment:

I was delivered from the error of the tradition of those outside [the Faith], having been brought up from the very beginning by Christian parents. From them, I learned even from infancy the Sacred Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim 3:15) which led me to a knowledge of the truth. But when I became a man (1 Cor 13:11) I was often away from home, and, as might be expected, engaged in many affairs. Now I noticed that in other crafts and branches of knowledge there was a great harmony among those who accurately pursued each field of study; whereas in the Church of God alone, for which Christ died, and on which He poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly, I saw a great, an exceeding discord on the part of many, both towards each other, and towards the divine Scriptures. And what was truly frightful, I saw the very ones who presided over it [he means the bishops and theologians’] so entrenched in their variance with each other in opinions and views, and so opposing themselves to the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so mercilessly scattering the Church of God, and so unsparingly agitating the flock, that now, if ever, when the Anomoians [extreme Arians, see below], had sprung up, the saying was fulfilled: From among your own selves men shall arise making perverse statements, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:30).

As I saw these disorders and others like them, and wondered what could be the cause and origin of so great an evil, I fell at first into a profound darkness. As if on a pair of scales, I inclined now to one side, now to that. First one man, then another would attract me … but again I would be put off because of the truth I recognised in the divine Scriptures. I had endured this situation for a long time, and was bewildered as to its cause, as I said, when I remembered the book Judges which tells how each did what was right in his own eyes, and shows the reason when it says: There was no king in Israel (Judg 11:24). So… it may be a frightful prospect, it may seem impossible, but the most truthful thing is to realise that never before till now, has there been such great dissension and strife among those in the Church, because they have ignored the one great true and only King and God of all. Each one sets aside the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and arrogantly claims a right to his own arguments and definitions, preferring to wield influence over others in opposition to the Lord, than to be ruled by him.

Thinking over these things, and astounded at the extent of the impiety, I carried my investigation further. I was convinced all the more, even from the affairs of this life, that the above-mentioned cause was the true one. For I beheld the good-order of the many that prevails as long as common obedience to a single head is maintained; and, on the other hand, all the dissension and division (diathonian kai diathiasin), even the mob-rule (eti te poluarchian) that comes from anarchy (anarchias).

Thank you holy Father Basil. Strangely you hearten us. Be a Father to us again in the distresses of the Church in our day, we pray.

Basil’s ‘Hinge Years’

A threefold remedy crystallised in Basil’s mind: obedience to the Lord and his teaching, a passionate commitment to the Church and its apostolic tradition and the necessity of each Christian’s engagement in the moral and spiritual endeavour required by Baptism; in brief: Scripture, Church and piety, not one sustainable without the other.

Basil’s early years at Annisa were engaged in struggling for these ends in himself. These were his ‘hinge years’, in which he laid the spiritual groundwork for his life of pastoral labour. In tandem with prayer, fasting and manual work, Basil developed what can only be described as a passion for Scripture. He dredged the Scriptures on the crises of the day, making systematic notes under subject headings – the early drafts of the Moralia. Gregory Nazianzen, in his Letter 6, speaks of the orois graptios kai kanosin, ‘written rules and regulations’, the two of them compiled during Gregory’s stay at Annisa between 359 and 361. Jean Gribomont remarks on the importance of Basil’s scriptural study in this period:

At the beginning of his conversion, alerted by the squabbles and excesses which were apparent to right and to left, as equally among the ascetics as among the bishops (and Basil has no qualms about criticising them, individually and in the Mass) the Saint devoted years to coming to know the scriptural standard in all its details, with the words of Jesus as the norm. Whenever he speaks out later on, we can be sure that before speaking, his enlightened gaze has picked out whichever Gospel precepts are applicable and to which he must lead his hearers.{{2}}

The Anomoians

In the text above Basil mentions the Anomians.? That brings us to the ‘arrogant theologian’ of our title. His name was Eunomius, the most brilliant spokesman – and indeed theologian – for the Anomian heresy, who caused a lot of trouble in the early 360s and again after Basil’s death.

The Anomians were extreme Arians. In general, Arian theology made such a distinction between Father and Son, as to drive a wedge if not a gulf between them. If you ask some of the moderately instructed today ‘who were the Arians?’ they will say, ‘Ah! They’re the ones who taught that Jesus wasn’t God.’ That is far, far, too simplistic, and really misses the point! The same could be said of any Judaizing Christology where Jesus is only an ‘inspired man’ or prophet. Islam is the most conspicuous example. Arianism was much more sophisticated than that. In fact, it was not primarily concerned with oikonomia, oi.Kovop.La, or the Incarnation as such. Indeed, Arians held that Christ was the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos, or Word, just as much as Catholics did, which is far from an inspired man Christology. No, the issue was the nature of the relationship between this pre-existent Logos and God.

So Arianism was not a Judaizing heresy, but a very Greek one. Its account of the relations of Father, Son and Spirit, in fact, seems to be little else than an attempt to marry Christian revelation with the latest and best in contemporary philosophy – in which there is surely a warning for our own time. The philosophy concerned was the Stoic and Hermetic influenced Neo-Platonism of the 3rd century. The Arians, like the Neo-Platonists, viewed existence as a hierarchy of descending emanations from totheion, the Divine. Each emanation emerged on a lesser level than the one from which it proceeded. In the Arian account the Logos assumed the features of a ‘demiourgos’, a very lofty spiritual being, created by God and acting as a kind of sub-creator under him. And the Spirit, proceeding from the Logos, was, again, a very lofty spiritual substance, but on a lower level than the Logos; then come the archangelic and then the angelic orders and so on down.

Eunomius pushed this Arian tendency to its logical conclusions. He argued that the Logos or the Son was so distinct from the Father, as to be positively ‘unlike’ him. The Greek word for ‘unlike’ is anomoios, hence the name, Anomoian – the ‘Unlikists’ you might say.

Much of Basil’s issue with him concerned his theological method. Eunomius was a master of Aristotle’s Categories, and put the methods of dialectical argument to full use. You could say, in general, that he employed Aristotelian logic to defend ideas of a neo-Platonist inspiration. Being a rationalist, with an over-weaning confidence in the use of language, he thought that our knowledge of God was more or less in proportion to the skill with which we could construct verbal arguments about Him. According to Basil, and the Church followed him in this, the Anomoians had reduced theology to technical quibbles and clever syllogisms. In a famous phrase Basil says of them: technologousi loipon au thologousin (Letter 90, Def II, 125): literally: ‘they only ‘technologise’; they do not theologise.’

Embracing the Ascetic Life

Basil returned home from years of study in Athens, in 356. We can thank his elder sister Macrina, a very interesting person in her own right, for deflating his intellectual pride and recalling him to the undiluted Gospel. By the end of 357, he had embraced Baptism and undertaken the ascetic, or religious life. The late 350s was rife with intense church-state politics, synods and counter-synods. [cf. Jerome, Rimini] Basil began an education in these doctrinal disputes early in 358, through a family friend, Eustathius, the bishop of Sebaste. Once he became aware of what was going on in the Church, he experienced the personal crisis he spoke about in the quotation above. He was present at a synod in Constantinople in 360, a disastrous event, which marked the imperially engineered triumph of Arianism. This is where he first saw Eunomius in action, holding public meetings to disseminate his views. Eunomius had recently become bishop of Cyzicus, but even the triumphant Arians thought his views too extreme, and deposed him from the Episcopate. Soon, however, Julian the Apostate became Emperor who strategically allowed all Christian parties to flourish, hoping they would tear themselves apart – a reasonable expectation in the circumstances. So Eunomius had free play again, and published a book, his Apologia. It was in response to this that Basil wrote his Contra Eunomium in the year 364, by which time he had been ordained a priest. It was his first attempt at serious theology, with inadequacies that he himself later corrected and complemented in his more famous work, On the Holy Spirit.

Basil’s Approach to Doing Theology

Eunomius considered theology was essentially a matter of technically accurate verbal formulations. His core idea was to identify the term agennesia, ‘unbegottenness’, with the term for the God’s substance, ousia. On this basis he argued that the Son, because he was gennetos, i.e., begotten, was different from the Father in ousia, that the Father was prior to him, and of course that the Logos must have been created out of nothing. When Eunomius uses ‘begetting’ language, he becomes entangled in the logic of human procreation.

According to Basil, however, one cannot advance Christian piety simply by scoring logical points. The terms of the relationship of the Father and the Son must be sought in Scripture, he says, and not extrapolated into the divinity from passionate human procreation (CE 2.14,23.) Scripture provided the only context within which the question at hand could be rightly elucidated. Attempts to understand the actual manner of the Father’s generation of the Son were of less significance, and in the end, beyond understanding, and should not even be discussed.

Thus Basil sounds a warning bell about theologising to God from below – that is, arguing from earthly, human experience to God. Is this not absolutely rampant in the immanentism, subjectivism, and the manipulation of language practised by various types of liberal theologians of today? Basil, however, says (de Fide (p. 94)): ‘If we apply the word “Father” to God wholly according to our use of the term, we are impious, for it denotes passions and sexual powers and ignorance and weakness, and things of this sort.’ In short, the terms used of God cannot and may not be carried over in a crass manner from our own limited experience. We must look in the first place to God’s revelation of himself.

In another of his theologisings, Eunomius subtly conflated the meaning of two Greek words, gennetos (begotten) and genetos (that which comes into being, or loosely, ‘is created’). He treated them as synonyms, and got a lot of mileage out of it. This raised the issues of God, time and eternity, which Arius himself had first raised when he made his famous statement about the Logos: nu ote ouk nu – ‘there was [a time] when he was not’ – that is, some kind of interval between God existent in himself, and the generation of the Logos. Basil discusses whether there can be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ in relation to the Father’s generation of the Son. Again, he has recourse to the Scriptures, above all the opening verses of the Gospel of John, In the beginning was the Word, where he insists that the two phrases ‘in the beginning’ and ‘was’ must be fused completely. One cannot ‘get behind’ the first, or separate it from the second.


As can be seen, Basil gives central attention to Scripture. Scripture educates the nexus between thought and expression, and between word and deed. It becomes the key to the way we must use religious language. We have seen how it points to the original sense of the word ‘father’. Observe, says Basil, what happens when you think of Jesus as ‘gate’, ‘way’, ‘bread’, ‘vine’, ‘shepherd’, and ‘light’. You cannot understand these terms just from logically breaking down the simplicities of sense experience, but only when your relationship to Christ as a believer is brought into the picture. In short, the character of our prayer and interior response to God are a material factor in our ability to do theology rightly. Evagrius of Pontus summed it up as: ‘The theologian is one who prays’.

When we allow the word of God in Scripture to engage us, Basil explains, we enter a dynamic world, in which God reaches out to us and expects us to reach back to him. For God who is love, is above all relational, and reaches directly to us. He expects that our understanding of this (an understanding He himself makes possible) will result in a response rather than in a mere attempt at description.

So, says Basil, God is our Father too, ‘not merely by analogy, but in the truest sense of the word’, for it is the comparability of Father and Son, which Eunomius denied and Basil insisted on, that through the Incarnation of the Son, opens up for us a path to the Father, a path of knowledge, a path that leads us to aspire without blasphemy to likeness to God (CE I.26ff and 92 n. 43.)

Combating Novelties

Basil feared that amid the plethora of theological opinions carelessly tossed about, some would acquire a patina of respectability and tradition, when in fact they were no more than someone’s novel invention. A corrective here is the submission of theological discourse into the Church’s tradition. At the heart of Basil’s conception of Church discipline was the contrast between what was ancient and apostolic and what was embraced merely for the sake of contentious novelty. Eunomius was of the exactly contrary inclination. His error lay in setting his mind to work on the material of tradition, subjecting it to detailed criticism. Eunomius even used the same word, paradosis, ‘tradition’, and said we should accept the patristic heritage as a guide and touchstone (osper tina guoma kai kanona); but that we should subject that tradition to our own detailed critique.

Basil makes hay of this, saying that Eunomius is full of reverent praise for tradition one minute and full of criticism the next. To ‘ask questions without contentiousness’ was precisely what controversialists like Eunomius seemed incapable of doing. Why, asks Basil, should anyone wish to subject Kdvva to additions – that is, to his own complicated critique? (CE IAS) It was through such analysis, criticism and commentary that the most dangerous novelties were liable to arise. To pit one’s more recent insights against the received wisdom of the past, ‘the apostolic proclamation of the faith’ [rf\v CHTOOTOXIKOVTfjs TTLCTTCCOSKipuyp.a], was to seek merely ‘the popular novelty of the day’ [TT|V VVV emTTo\d£ouo-av KcavoTopiav] (Letter 105). In Letter 172 to Bishop Sophronius, we find a Basil weary of disputation, sighing with nostalgia for ‘the ancient blessedness of the churches’ which had been untouched by ‘the sickness of inquiry’. This contact with his friend is a respite and a balm, for, as he says:

Nothing is so rare now as a meeting with a spiritual brother, and peaceful discourse, and spiritual fellowship… For to be deemed worthy of meeting a man who reverences the faith of the Fathers,… is in truth to return to the ancient blessedness of the Churches, when they were few who suffered from the sickness of enquiry (ol voaoOvres irepl CnTfjaeLs), g^ all were in peace, being workmen fulfilling the commandments and not needing to be ashamed, serving the Lord through a simple and not too elaborate confession, and preserving inviolate and not too elaborate their faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ (Def H, 446-449)


For Basil, the much needed antidote (9epaTTeta) to the spiritual sickness of captious enquiry was CiGmq, silence and reticence. Almost his opening assertion in the Contra Eunomium states that, in the face of the all-sufficient truth of the Gospel handed down to us by the apostles the best response is silence (CE 1.1.) It is no accident that the work ends on the same note of humbled wordlessness in the presence of God (CE III.6.) Here then we come to another all-important requisite for true theology: humility. Basil felt that it was mistake to suppose that theologians always had all the words and arguments necessary for a specific task. His more general view was that speculation merely generated fruitless controversy, (Homily on the holy generation of Christ: 1, PG 31 1457-1476 at 1457C) [‘Let us reverence in silence the generation of Christ, let us not enquire with busy scrutinies …’]. The divine truth that lies behind the words is far greater than the words themselves. The words are but the outer keep of the castle, so to speak.

For Basil, the coordinate of this reverent heedful silence is not speech but action. He expresses a sentiment of cardinal importance to him when he says: ‘This is knowledge (yvuais) of God, the keeping of God’s commandments’, {Homily on the Martyr Mamas PG 31.597A). Basil’s doctrine is the antithesis of every Gnostic tendency, being governed by this Johannine teaching that love for God is in the obediential moral act. This itself qualifies the mind to understand.

The Ekklesia

Access to Divine truth, therefore, occurs only in the context of a worshipping and obedient response to God’s revelation. Adoration and obedience foster true theological insight. To acknowledge religious authority is not so much a case of assenting to propositional statements, but of relating as a believertoarevealingGod. Again,thisbringsusbacktothe ecclesial context of true theology. We, as Christ’s faithful, come to a knowledge of God only through the word of God proclaimedintheassemblyofGod, theeKKXnaLaorChurch, vivified by the Spirit who, as it were, ‘ecclesiises us’. Yes, the believing community, the Church, in some sense seeks further understanding, and this is the aspiration of theology; but she must not be robbed in the process of her faith and her hope.

Eunomius, on the other hand, scorned such pastoral sensitivity, declaring that he was not going to follow the ‘unreflective opinions (86£ca) ofthe majority’. Basil throws that proud sophistication back in his face: ‘He does not think it necessary to take into account the simple and unstudied faith (TTLCTTLS) ofthe majority’ (CE III.l.) Thus the learned and masterful Basil, would, like Newman in his Grammar of Assent, defend the right to the consent of faith of those who do not have the knowledge or verbal skills to articulate their choice. He censures Eunomius because he does not help his audience to move into that arena ofthe living Word of God where they can be formed in the right way in the meanings of words. He accuses him of trying to fool the simple with his own words instead of opening up for them a path for the, the power of God (CE 1.5.) In short, he blames Eunomius’ type of theology, because it does not help the faithful grow in piety, it does not foster in them the authentic life in Christ. Eunomius’ approach not only fails completely in pastoral purpose, but distracts the faithful from the supreme goal of being well-pleasing to God.

Truth is Symphonic

And this brings us to an all-important aspect of Basil’s theology: all aspects of the faith belong together, not split offonefromanother,orasHansUrs VonBalthasarhassaid, and has been echoed by Ratzinger: Truth is symphonic.

In the world ofBasil and the Fathers, reflective understanding, moral life and worship are not separable compartments of Christian life. There is a complete bond between theology, moral endeavour, worship and scripture, and their context is the Church. Only in the Church and her liturgy do we learn the right way to use religious language and experience ‘the power oftrue religion’. (CE n.22.) The very act and formulae of Baptism, for example, say something all-important about Father and Son; and, Basil notes, there is no sign there of a 8ruuoupy6s [demiurge] oraiTOirin.a [something fashioned]! ‘Baptism is the seal ofour faith [a9apyis TTJS moreus]’, he says, ‘and faith means acknowledging divinity [9COTTITOS] ‘ (CEIII.5.) ‘The”momentofBaptism’“,asheputit, ‘extends throughout a person’s life’: without it, one would be robbed of illumination, which alone guaranteed inner discernment and the knowledge of God (Protreptic to Baptism).


I mentioned earlier the figure of Eustathius, the Metropolitan of Sebasteia in Armenia Minor, who effectively initiated the young Basil into Church politics. When Basil was young he was very impressed by his example for he was a zealous ascetic, and let it be stressed, much given to service of the poor.Headmiredhimsomuchhestrovetoimitatehim. But as the years went by Eustathius emerged as the leader of his own neo-Arian party, the Pneumatomachoi, who would not reckon the Holy Spirit to be of divine nature. Basil himself, by this time Metropolitan of Caesarea, was the object of duplicity, deceit, and eventually the naked politics of destruction by his former mentor. This bitter experience taught him something: never be impressed by someone whose outward practice ofthe Christian life seems to be very exemplary, ifhe is missing other essential aspects ofthe life in Christ, especially soundness of faith, and prayer.

Basil’s mature doctrine insists on the interdependence of sound faith (orthodoxy), praxis (moral virtue), and prayer (the heart on God). It illustrates exactly what von Balthasar and Ratzinger say: truth is symphonic. The different aspects of Christian life and faith must not be cordoned off from each other, but go forward on a common front.Each convalidates the other.

We saw above how Basil insisted that the knowledge of God is shown in obedience to God’s commandments. So too he maintains that prayer is necessarily manifest in our moral life; the very choices we make in daily life are a form of wordless plea to God, ‘We should express our petition not merely in words … but the power of prayer should be fulfilled more in the moral disposition of the soul (TTpoaLpecreL il^xA?) and in the virtuous actions that extend throughout our life… This is how youpray unceasingly, not by offering prayer in words, but joining yourself to God by the whole conduct ofyour life, until your life itself becomes one unceasing prayer (Homily on the Martyr Julitta 3,4, PG 31.244A,244D-245A).

Drawing lessons for the Church today

Basil’s censure of Eunomius’ contentious and controversial theology has not lost its relevance for us today, for many of the characteristics that he targeted in the Arian theologian are rampant among the last two generations of so called ‘theologians’, who seem to have undergone a revolution since about 1968. Those of a liberal dissenting stamp have assumed the rhetoric of secular academic independence.

Much of what St Basil characterises as necessary for true theology, docility to the Church’s tradition and a sense of ecclesial communion, a serious life of prayer, a life of moral endeavour seeking to be well-pleasing to God, humility and reverent silence, the pastoral intention of building up, not tearing down, the faith of the members of Christ’s body, are foreign to them. Of course, all that Basil knows about recourse to the Scriptures has been well and truly scrambled by modern ‘scientific’ biblical criticism, and modernist and post-modernist hermeneutics. I may be wrong, but the peculiar deference of some bishops towards their periti at the Second Vatican Council, may have been a turning point for the new role of theologians.

Now, Christ has assigned his Apostles to shepherd the sheep of his flock, and the bishops after them, not a latter-day magisterium of ‘experts’. But unfortunately, many of the bishops lost their nerve in this period, or so it seems. For example, it is utterly bewildering as to how they abdicated their apostolic charge of episkope, in favour of the ‘liturgical experts’ who got away with imposing what was never asked for in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and then betrayed, for example, the English-speaking faithful for so long with ‘translations’ of a truly mind-numbing intellectual bankruptcy – to say nothing of other criteria. And these alien agenda were all granted Episcopal approval and certificates of concordat cum originali and Vatican recognition.

Among ten thousand examples, I will mention the case of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, which is based on St Basil’s Anaphora. It adopts a Johannine modalities, and at one stage addresses God as ‘Holy Father’. This is straight from our Lord’s High Priestly prayer. Yet the translators deleted the ‘Holy’, thereby effectively correcting our Lord in his most sublime address to his Father. Unbelievable!

A revolution of humility

It does seem mat a massive undermining oftheology has taken place in our day. In my opinion, neither authoritarianism, nor dogmatism, nor emotive pietism, nor a rationalist kind of scholasticism can adequately remedy what has happened. Something reaching much deeper is needed. Unless you change and become as little children, says the Lord, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 18:3). Where are we going to find those of high intellectual calibre and skill who can yet preserve the heart of a child in their faith, that is, be both wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove, and find them above all in the Episcopate, like the Fathers of the Church?

They can be found all right, beginning with our most honoured Father, Pope Benedict and others. Unfortunately these seem to have little impact on the decaying Church in Australia, whose intelligentsia prefer to listen to a narrow band of chattering experts instead. But we not only need a radical reform of the spirit and practice of theology – to say nothing of Catholic religious education – we need a revolution of humility and holiness in this land.

Where, O Lord, are the great, unmistakable saints like a St Francis or St Teresa through whom You might fan a great current of spiritual energy among us and redeem our awful mediocrity and sterility? If there is one such in this very room, I beg you; do not let the call of Jesus pass by unheeded, for all of our sakes. For the rest of us, let us try to take more seriously our vocation to holiness as children of the Church, summoned by the Holy Trinity in Baptism, let us implore the Lord to raise up for us the saints, theologians and pastors after His own heart that our spiritually beggared country and culture so sorely needs.


I thought I might close with a passage from Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger’s acutely intelligent, yet always spiritual and prayerful, manner has always deeply impressed me. He reads very like a Greek Father, or of a Latin Father in the ‘contemplative’ tradition of, for example, a St Gregory the Great, St Bernard or St Bonaventure. In commenting on the so called ‘third secret’ of Fatima, he took the opportunity to both broaden and deepen the discourse. He spoke about the biblical heart, about Mary, the supreme poet of God’s word and about the convergence of reason, will, temperament and sensitivity in obedience to God’s Word that she exhibited. They are an excellent sum of the dispositions necessary for the right conduct of theology, according to the great Father of the Church we have been studying:

In biblical language, the ‘heart’ indicates the centre of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and interior orientation. According to Mt 5:8, the ‘pure heart’ is a heart which, with God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity, and therefore ‘sees God’. To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Maty means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart,whichmakesHasfiat – ‘beitdonetomeaccordingto your word’ – the denning centre of one’s whole life.{{3}}

[[1]]Brian Kelleher, ‘Some Aspects of the Anaphora of Saint Basil the Great’, Word and Spirit I (1979), 165-76 at 165-6.[[1]]

[[2]]Jean Gribomont, ‘Christ and the primitive monastic ideal’, Word and Spirit 5 (Still River, Mass: St Bede’s Publications, 1983), 96-116 at 109.[[2]]

[[3]]‘Apocalypse with a happy ending’, The Catholic Herald, 30 June 2000, 5.[[3]]

Dr Anna Silvas is an Australian Reserch Fellow at the University of New England, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities. This was her keynote address at the ACCC 2009 Annual Conference.