- Paperback: 118 pages
- Publisher: St Vladimirs Seminary Pr (November 1, 1980)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0913836745
- ISBN-13: 978-0913836743
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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St. Basil the Great on the Holy Spirit Paperback – November 1, 1980
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The first thing which strikes one is the emphasis Basil places on the analysis of prepositions. Unlike English, French, and German, to my knowledge, preposition change their meaning depending on the case of their usage in the text. The same preposition "meta-" can mean "with, amid, or among" if the context is genitive, while it means "after or behind" if the context is accusitive (or as it appears as a prefix for such words as "metaphysics".) Basil suggests many writers get these subtlties of meaning a bit mixed up. As you read the Cappidocians and others of the period, they sound more and more like modern linguistic philosophers, making arguments on how the terms are used by pastors in the sanctuary.
What is remarkable is the extent to which Basil and the other Cappadocians come so close to virtually quoting Plato, especially his "Myth of the Cave" in Book Seven of "The Republic." Basil's main argument is that as long as you assume the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, none of the way of speaking about it devalues its role in comparison to The Father and The Son. It is co-equal in importance to the other two. He cites his well-known metaphor that the Spirit is akin to the heat of a branding iron, a property of that rod, but not of its essence.
Like his fellow Cappadocians, he spends much time on the connectin between the body and the soul, and how one can be saved when the other dies and decomposes. One of the most rewarding things about studying the Cappadocians is that you do not get the sense that the orthodox and the heretical divisions of Christianity were at one another's throats. That comes later. Here, it may not be unlike modern ELCA Lutherans arguing with Missouri synod members. Both sides were devout and largely shared the same scriptures.
It is a great boon to have these little treatises from these giants of the fourth century, so we can determine easily the strains of fourth century theology.
St Basil the Greats clear language and use of examples to illustrate theology and to show the absurdity of his opponents errors makes the book fun to read. St Basil's strong personality comes through in this work and makes you feel as if he sat with you and instructed you himself.
Interestingly, one of St Basil's key arguments is the oral tradition of the Fathers. The implications of this for ecclesiology are staggering. Merely going to "the bible alone" is not enough and is sometimes heretical! St Basil writes,
So like the debtors,--of course bona fide debtors--they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers (X.25).
Salvation is found in the regenerating grace of Baptism--baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (X.26). Concerning the sometimes omission of the Holy Spirit in baptism (the supposed contrast between Jesus's command and Peter's command), St Basil says, given the biblical witness, "the naming of Christ is the confession of the whole" (XII.28).
In XVIII St Basil gives a long and pregnant with meaning defense of the monarchia of the Father. Again, this is a crucial moment in the doctrine of the Church. Another key defense of the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit is the "operations of the Spirit." Whether in the creation of the heavens or the advent of Christ, the Spirit is there (XIX).
One cannot help but wonder if St Basil's critique of those who advocate that the Spirit is free (free probably in the sense of "autonomous") would not also apply to Calvin's doctrine of the Son as "autotheos" (XX)?
The Spirit cannot be on the same level as "angels" because angels are circumscribed in place (XXIII), whereas the spirit is "everywhere present and fillest all things."
Is this the most articulate, sophisticated presentation of the Holy Spirit? No, but it is an important--even crucial--moment in the life of the Church. St Basil placed his defense of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit within the tradition of the Church. To use modern analytic philosophical language, he removed it from the possibility of "Scriptural defeaters." One can reject his use of "tradition" as a question-begging defense, and in some ways perhaps it is, but one must grant at the same time continuity to his argument. The heretics do not use tradition--and often proudly admit it--therefore they remove themselves further from Christ and the apostles. Maybe they can quote the words of Christ, but they remove themselves from the ancient and venerated community of Christ