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“Basil the Great - Letter 2, to Gregory”
Basil describes the life of the ascetic community at Annesos.
Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Greek (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is from the NPNF series.
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TEXTS & TRANSLATIONS
St. Basil the Great on the Holy Spirit
(David Anderson - translator)
On The Human Condition: St Basil the Great (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press "Popular Patristics" Series)
Basil: The Letters, Volume I, Letters 1-58 (Loeb Classical Library No. 190):
(Search also for other 3 volumes of Basil's letters.)
On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (Popular Patristics):
C. Paul Schroeder
Monica Wagner, trans., Basil of Caesarea: Ascetical Works, Fathers of the Church 9
Translated by Agnes Clare Way.
Stephen M Hildebrand:
The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea: A Synthesis of Greek Thought and Biblical Faith
A Life Pleasing to God:
The Spirituality of the Rule of Saint Basil (Cistercian Studies)
Basil to Gregory.
1. [I RECOGNISED your letter, as one recognises one’s friends’ children from their obvious likeness to their parents. Your saying that to describe the kind of place I live in, before letting you hear anything about how I live, would not go far towards persuading you to share my life, was just like you; it was worthy of a soul like yours, which makes nothing of all that concerns this life here, in comparison with the blessedness which is promised us hereafter. What I do myself, day and night, in this remote spot, I am ashamed to write. I have abandoned my life in town, as one sure to lead to countless ills; but I have not yet been able to get quit of myself. I am like travellers at sea, who have never gone a voyage before, and are distressed and seasick, who quarrel with the ship because it is so big and makes such a tossing, and, when they get out of it into the pinnace or dingey, are everywhere and always seasick and distressed. Wherever they go their nausea and misery go with them. My state is something like this. I carry my own troubles with me, and so everywhere I am in the midst of similar discomforts. So in the end I have not got much good out of my solitude. What I ought to have done; what would have enabled me to keep close to the footprints of Him who has led the way to salvation—for He says, “If any one will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me” —is this.]
2. We must strive
after a quiet mind. As well might the eye ascertain an object put before it
while it is wandering restless up and down and sideways, without fixing a steady
gaze upon it, as a mind, distracted by a thousand worldly cares, be able clearly
to apprehend the truth. He who is not yet yoked in the bonds of matrimony is
harassed by frenzied cravings, and rebellious impulses, and hopeless
attachments; he who has found his mate is encompassed with his own tumult of
cares; if he is childless, there is desire for children; has he children?
anxiety about their education, attention to his wife, 3 care of his house,
oversight of his servants, misfortunes in trade, quarrels with his neighbours,
lawsuits, the risks of the merchant, the toil of the farmer. Each day, as it
comes, darkens the soul in its own way; and night after night takes up the day’s
anxieties, and cheats the mind with illusions in accordance. Now one way of
escaping all this is separation from the whole world; that is, not bodily
separation, but the severance of the soul’s sympathy with the body, and to live
so without city, home, goods, society, possessions, means of life, business,
engagements, human learning, that the heart may readily receive every impress of
divine doctrine. Preparation of heart is the unlearning the prejudices of evil
converse. It is the smoothing the waxen tablet before attempting to write on it.
3. The study of inspired Scripture is the chief way of finding our duty, for in it we find both instruction about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing, as some breathing images of godly living, for the imitation of their good works. Hence, in whatever respect each one feels himself deficient, devoting himself to this imitation, he finds, as from some dispensary, the due medicine for his ailment. He who is enamoured of chastity dwells upon the history of Joseph, and from him learns chaste actions, finding him not only possessed of self-command over pleasure, but virtuously-minded in habit. He is taught endurance by Job [who, not only when the circumstances of life began to turn against him, and in one moment he was plunged from wealth into penury, and from being the father of fair children into childlessness, remained the same, keeping the disposition of his soul all through uncrushed, but was not even stirred to anger against the friends who came to comfort him, and trampled on him, and aggravated his troubles.] Or should he be enquiring how to be at once meek and great-hearted, hearty against sin, meek towards men, he will find David noble in warlike exploits, meek and unruffled as regards revenge on enemies. Such, too, was Moses rising up with great heart upon sinners against God, but with meek soul bearing their evil-speaking against himself. [Thus, generally, as painters, when they are painting from other pictures, constantly look at the model, and do their best to transfer its lineaments to their own work, so too must he who is desirous of rendering himself perfect in all branches of excellency, keep his eyes turned to the lives of the saints as though to living and moving statues, and make their virtue his own by imitation.
4. Prayers, too, after reading, find the soul fresher, and more vigorously stirred by love towards God. And that prayer is good which imprints a clear idea of God in the soul; and the having God established in self by means of memory is God’s indwelling. Thus we become God’s temple, when the continuity of our recollection is not severed by earthly cares; when the mind is harassed by no sudden sensations; when the worshipper flees from all things and retreats to God, drawing away all the feelings that invite him to self-indulgence, and passes his time in the pursuits that lead to virtue.]
5. This, too, is a very important point to attend to,—knowledge how to converse; to interrogate without over-earnestness; to answer without desire of display; not to interrupt a profitable speaker, or to desire ambitiously to put in a word of one’s own; to be measured in speaking and hearing; not to be ashamed of receiving, or to be grudging in giving information, nor to pass another’s knowledge for one’s own, as depraved women their supposititious children, but to refer it candidly to the true parent. The middle tone of voice is best, neither so low as to be inaudible, nor to be ill-bred from its high pitch. One should reflect first what one is going to say, and then give it utterance: be courteous when addressed; amiable in social intercourse; not aiming to be pleasant by facetiousness, but cultivating gentleness in kind admonitions. Harshness is ever to be put aside, even in censuring. [The more you shew modesty and humility yourself, the more likely are you to be acceptable to the patient who needs your treatment. There are however many occasions when we shall do well to employ the kind of rebuke used by the prophet who did not in his own person utter the sentence of condemnation on David after his sin, but by suggesting an imaginary character made the sinner judge of his own sin, so that, after passing his own sentence, he could not find fault with the seer who had convicted him.
6. From the humble and
submissive spirit comes an eye sorrowful and downcast, appearance neglected,
hair rough, dress dirty; so that the appearance which mourners take pains to
present may appear our natural condition. The tunic should be fastened to the
body by a girdle, the belt not going above the flank, like a woman’s, nor left
slack, so that the tunic flows loose, like an idler’s. The gait ought not to be
sluggish, which shews a character without energy, nor on the other hand pushing
and pompous, as though our impulses were rash and wild. The one end of dress is
that it should be a sufficient covering alike in winter and summer. As to
colour, avoid brightness; in material, the soft and delicate. To aim at bright
colours in dress is like women’s beautifying when they colour cheeks and hair
with hues other than their own. The tunic ought to be thick enough not to want
other help to keep the wearer warm. The shoes should be cheap but serviceable.
In a word, what one has to regard in dress is the necessary. So too as to food;
for a man in good health bread will suffice, and water will quench thirst; such
dishes of vegetables may be added as conduce to strengthening the body for the
discharge of its functions. One ought not to eat with any exhibition of savage
gluttony, but in everything that concerns our pleasures to maintain moderation,
quiet, and self-control; and, all through, not to let the mind forget to think
of God, but to make even the nature of our food, and the constitution of the
body that takes it, a ground and means for offering Him the glory, bethinking us
how the various kinds of food, suitable to the needs of our bodies, are due to
the provision of the great Steward of the Universe. Before meat let grace be
said, in recognition alike of the gifts which God gives now, and which He keeps
in store for time to come. Say grace after meat in gratitude for gifts given and
petition for gifts promised. Let there be one fixed hour for taking food, always
the same in regular course, that of all the four and twenty of the day and night
barely this one may be spent upon the body. The rest the ascetic ought to spend
in mental exercise. Let sleep be light and easily interrupted, as naturally
happens after a light diet; it should be purposely broken by thoughts about
great themes. To be overcome by heavy torpor, with limbs unstrung, so that a way
is readily opened to wild fancies, is to be plunged in daily death. What dawn is
to some this midnight is to athletes of piety; then the silence of night gives
leisure to their soul; no noxious sounds or sights obtrude upon their hearts;
the mind is alone with itself and God, correcting itself by the recollection of
its sins, giving itself precepts to help it to shun evil, and imploring aid from
God for the perfecting of what it longs for.]
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original Greek text
Basil on monastic life
the communal life of a monk
ascetic life in community
Epistle 2 to Gregory of Nazianzus
Migne Greek Text
Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus
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