Saturday, December 06, 2014

Broken Heroes: The Life and Ministry of Basil of Caesarea

Basil of Caesarea (ca. 330-379) was a fourth-century scholar, bishop, and leader who, along with several other prominent figures, shaped the life and thinking of the church for many generations. His father was a well-to-do lawyer but more importantly a passionate follower of Jesus. His mother was the daughter of a well-known Christian martyr, and thus her love for Jesus was neither theoretical nor superficial. She knew what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ, and along with her husband, taught her many children to take up their cross in the cause of Christ. Basil’s family was wealthy, but more so, they were wealthy toward Christ.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Basil was well educated, studying in the most important academic centers of his day. He spent six years in Athens where he met life-long friend and ministry partner, Gregory of Nazianzus, and where he became unusually skilled in reason and rhetoric. On the one hand, his notable skill was an important part of his life’s work, but on the other hand, it was a thorn in the flesh because along with skill came intractable pride. But as we will see next week, God was faithful to provide people and circumstances that humbled Basil and prepared him to be greatly used of God.

When his time of preparation was complete, Basil began his public career as a professor at the University of Caesarea, but within a year Christ captured his heart in significant ways and he decided to forsake the academic world in favor of the monastic life. As he sought Christ, he grew in influence and then rose to prominence in 369 when the church sought to respond to a great famine. Basil’s great passion for the poor, and his ability to articulate the gospel, led him to be appointed Bishop of Caesarea, “and soon afterwards he started to build a charitable and medical center just outside the city, comprising a church, a hospital for the sick, a hospice for travelers, workshops, bishop’s residence and clerical quarters” (Nikolai Lipatov, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, InterVarsity: 2007, page 168).

In the ten years that followed, Basil became “one of the most significant exegetes and church leaders during the period when Christian belief was being articulated and developing into its enduring forms. His contribution to these processes was unique both in terms of its scope and the authority it soon gained. Basil’s work helped give definitive shape to trinitarian theology, biblical exegesis, liturgy, ascetic life, canon law, homiletics, the relationship church and state and the social work of the church. Basil based all theological reflection on the inseparable conjunction of the study of Scripture, a life of sacraments and personal spirituality” (Lipatov, page 167).

As we will see next week, Basil had significant flaws that were confronted by God and others throughout his life. But he is a hero of the church for whom we should be deeply thankful to God.

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