SAINT BASIL AS A REFORMER OF MONASTIC LIFE 1
27 April 2017
Saint Basil as Reformer of Monastic Life
St. Basil of Caesarea is not only a great theologian but a prominent legislator of ascetic life and a teacher of monasticism that lived in a fourth century, during an uncertain time in church’s history. The fourth century was both a time of development and disruption for the church. Legalization of Christianity gave its followers the status and freedoms that they had not known before. However, the theological disputes, as well as a controversy initiated by the teaching of Arius, came to further complicate the relationship between pagans, ascetical groups, and now legal Christian church. Observing the ascetical conflicts and theological divisions within the church were disturbing for St. Basil. Consequently, he dedicated his life to mediating conflict and helping to build a new, healthy relationship between all the parties involved. In order to portray St. Basil as a unifier and one of the forefathers of the Eastern cenobitic monastic life, it is necessary to look at Saint Basil’s life journey and works that he had written in his lifetime. Analyzing all of the aforementioned aspects will lead to establishing the degree of Saint Basil’s contribution to the formation of cenobitic monasticism we know today.
It is of essential to look at Saint’s Basil’s upbringing and biography overall in order to understand the motives in his later works. St. Basil was born around 330 in Pontus, Asia Minor in an unwaveringly Christian and socially prominent family (Hildebrand, 2007). His grandfather had died a martyr and his grandmother, St. Macrina, was a faithful disciple of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. Christian traditions of resolute devoutness were integrated into the marriage of Basil and Emmelia, the parents of St. Basil. All in all, the parents of Saint Basil had ten children and gave life to three bishops, a nun, and a monk. As it can be seen, parents of Saint Basil have prided themselves in fostering their children’s religious believes and giving them the education of the highest caliber (Smith, 1879).
Saint Basil had received the basic schooling from his father, a protuberant teacher of rhetoric. After the death of his father, he continued the education in Constantinople and later on in Athens, an intellectual and academic metropolis. While in school, St. Basil met St. Gregory, the future bishop of Nazianzus with whom he built a lifelong friendship (Berardino, Quasten, 1986). After receiving first class education, St. Basil decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and started a short-lived secular career of rhetorician back in his native Caesarea. However, only two years later he renounced his secular career, was baptized and gave himself to God. Saint Basil’s Letter 223 gives us his own rationalization of the decision,
“Much time had I spent in vanity ...