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“Basil the Great Address To Young Men On The Right Use Of Greek Literature

Greek text with English translation

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Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Greek (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is by Frederick Morgan Padelford.

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TEXTS & TRANSLATIONS

St. Basil the Great on the Holy Spirit

(David Anderson - translator)

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Anna Silvas
The Asketikon of St Basil the Great
(Oxford Early Christian Studies)

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On The Human Condition: St Basil the Great (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press "Popular Patristics" Series)

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Georges Barrois:
The Fathers Speak: St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nazianzus, St Gregory of Nyssa

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Basil: The Letters, Volume I, Letters 1-58 (Loeb Classical Library No. 190):
Roy J. Deferrari (Translator)

(Search also for other 3 volumes of Basil's letters.)

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On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (Popular Patristics):

C. Paul Schroeder

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Monica Wagner, trans., Basil of Caesarea: Ascetical Works, Fathers of the Church 9

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Letters, Volume 2 (186-368) [The Fathers of the Church, Volume 28]

Translated by Agnes Clare Way.

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On the Value of Greek Literature (Greek and English Edition)

N.G. Wilson

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STUDIES

P.J. FEDWICK: Basil of Caesarea: Christian, Humanist, Ascetic

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ROBERT C. GREGG: Consolation Philosophy: Greek and Christian Paideia in Basil and the Two Gregories (Patristic Monograph Series of the North American Patristic Society, 3)

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Stephen M Hildebrand:

The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea: A Synthesis of Greek Thought and Biblical Faith

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Augustine Holmes:

A Life Pleasing to God:

The Spirituality of the Rule of Saint Basil (Cistercian Studies)

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Andrew Radde-Gallwitz:
Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity
(Oxford Early Christian Studies)

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Philip Rousseau:
Basil of Caesarea
(Transformation of the Classical Heritage)

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I. Many considerations, young men, prompt me to recommend to you the principles which I deem most desirable, and which I believe will be of use to you if you will adopt them. For my time of life, my many-sided training, yea, my adequate experience in those vicissitudes of life which teach their lessons at every turn, have so familiarized me with human affairs, that I am able to map out the safest course for those just starting upon their careers. By nature’s common bond I stand in the same relationship to you as your parents, so that I am no whit behind them in my concern for you. Indeed, if I do not misinterpret your feelings, you no longer crave your parents when you come to me. Now if you should receive my words with gladness, you would be in the second class of those who, according to Hesiod, merit praise; if not, I should say nothing disparaging, but no doubt you yourselves would remember the passage in which that poet says: ‘He is best who, of himself, recognizes what is his duty, and he also is good who follows the course marked out by others, but he who does neither of these things is of no use under the sun,’ Do not be surprised if to you, who go to school every day, and who, through their writings, associate with the learned men of old, I say that out of my own experience I have evolved something more useful. Now this is my counsel, that you should not unqualifiedly give over your minds to these men, as a ship is surrendered to the rudder, to follow whither they list, but that, while receiving whatever of value they have to offer, you yet recognize what it is wise to ignore. Accordingly, from this point on I shall take up and discuss the pagan writings, and how we are to discriminate among them.


II. We Christians, young men, hold that this human life is not a supremely precious thing, nor do we recognize anything as unconditionally a blessing which benefits us in this life only. Neither pride of ancestry, nor bodily strength, nor beauty, nor greatness, nor the esteem of all men, nor kingly authority, nor, indeed, whatever of human affairs may be called great, do we consider worthy of desire, or the possessors of them as objects of envy; but we place our hopes upon the things which are beyond, and in preparation for the life eternal do all things that we do. Accordingly, whatever helps us towards this we say that we must love and follow after with all our might, but those things which have no bearing upon it should be held as naught. But to explain what this life is, and in what way and manner we shall live it, requires more time than is at our command, and more mature hearers than you. And yet, in saying thus much, perhaps I have made it sufficiently clear to you that if one should estimate and gather together all earthly weal from the creation of the world, he would not find it comparable to the smallest part of the possessions of heaven; rather, that all the precious things in this life fall further short of the least good in the other than the shadow or the dream fails of the reality. Or rather, to avail myself of a still more natural comparison, by as much as the soul is superior to the body in all things, by so much is one of these lives superior to the other. Into the life eternal the Holy Scriptures lead us, which teach us through divine words. But so long as our immaturity forbids our understanding their deep thought, we exercise our spiritual perceptions upon profane writings, which are not altogether different, and in which we perceive the truth as it were in shadows and in mirrors. Thus we imitate those who perform the exercises of military practice, for they acquire skill in gymnastics and in dancing, and then in battle reap the reward of their training. We must needs believe that the greatest of all battles lies before us, in preparation for which we must do and suffer all things to gain power. Consequently we must be conversant with poets, with historians, with orators, indeed with all men who may further our soul’s salvation. Just as dyers prepare the cloth before they apply the dye, be it purple or any other color, so indeed must we also, if we would preserve indelible the idea of the true virtue, become first initiated in the pagan lore, then at length give special heed to the sacred and divine teachings, even as we first accustom ourselves to the sun’s reflection in the water, and then become able to turn our eyes upon the very sun itself.
III. If, then, there is any affinity between the two literatures, a knowledge of them should be useful to us in our search for truth; if not, the comparison, by emphasizing the contrast, will be of no small service in strengthening our regard for the better one. With what now may we compare these two kinds of education to obtain a simile? Just as it is the chief mission of the tree to bear its fruit in its season, though at the same time it puts forth for ornament the leaves which quiver on its boughs, even so the real fruit of the soul is truth, yet it is not without advantage for it to embrace the pagan wisdom, as also leaves offer shelter to the fruit, and an appearance not untimely. That Moses, whose name is a synonym for wisdom, severely trained his mind in the learning of the Egyptians, and thus became able to appreciate their deity. Similarly, in later days, the wise Daniel is said to have studied the lore of the Chaldaeans while in Babylon, and after that to have taken up the sacred teachings.
IV. Perhaps it is sufficiently demonstrated that such heathen learning is not unprofitable for the soul; I shall then discuss next the extent to which one may pursue it. To begin with the poets, since their writings are of all degrees of excellence, you should not study all of their poems without omitting a single word. When they recount the words and deeds of good men, you should both love and imitate them, earnestly emulating such conduct. But when they portray base conduct, you must flee from them and stop up your ears, as Odysseus is said to have fled past the song of the sirens, for familiarity with evil writings paves the way for evil deeds. Therefore the soul must be guarded with great care, lest through our love for letters it receive some contamination unawares, as men drink in poison with honey. We shall not praise the poets when they scoff and rail, when they represent fornicators and winebibbers, when they define blissfulness by groaning tables and wanton songs. Least of all shall we listen to them when they tell us of their gods, and especially when they represent them as being many, and not at one among themselves. For, among these gods, at one time brother is at variance with brother, or the father with his children; at another, the children engage in truceless war against their parents. The adulteries of the gods and their amours, and especially those of the one whom they call Zeus, chief of all and most high, things of which one cannot speak, even in connection with brutes, without blushing, we shall leave to the stage.
 

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Basil original Greek text
Christianity and Greek Philosophy
Christianity and Greek Literature
Basil and Plato and Socrates
Προς Τους Νεους, Ὅπως ἂν ἐξ Ἑλληνικῶν ὠφελοῖντο λόγων
Migne Greek Text
Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus
Patrologia Graeca

 

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