Sunday, October 25, 2009

Notes on St. Basil's Moralia and Sterk's "The Monk Bishop"

Basil, Moralia
Format typical of Basil's ascetic writings – this is more a reflection than a book (example of the latter is On the Holy Spirit)
Indisputable: after St. Constantine you get a wave of new Christians who are not as well-disposed to making their life difficult, so there is opposition to the idea that a married Christian must live an ascetic life – spectrum of ascetic possibilities for Christians was narrow prior to St. Constantine: celibate (St. Justin Martyr; celibacy as ideal), married Christian (St. Justin Martyr says they abstained after childbearing, because sex is prettymuch for procreation alone) – after St. Constantine, married Christians would sometimes deny that they needed to practice asceticism – how wide is the gap between the professional ascetic and the married ascetic, in terms of behavior & practice and in terms of whether they are supposed to be in different churches – monks attend one church while urbans attend another Church with Sts. Anthony & Pachomius
Eustathius of Sebaste censured at Council of Gangra because he denies that marriage is legitimate – he said there is no salvation for married people – this is the guy who taught Basil, yet Basil tries to bring the extremes closer together – Eustathius not looking to the future, but talking about today
Theologians are not practical by definition; they speak prophetically about the moment
St. Paul thought that the Second Coming was literally near – it could happen any moment –
Pope St. Gregory the Great was convinced that the world would end within five years, because he lived in the mindset of the authors of Scripture – he writes at the end of late antiquity in the West (bridge to the Middle Ages) – Rome 10% of the population it had 300 years prior – empty forums, senate, coliseum – St. Gregory saw the plague & ghost-town state as being signs of the imminent Second Coming
Of the three Cappadocians, Basil is the practical one
Roman Empire not as strong – collapse of the frontier due to barbarian (Huns, Goths) migrations, mid-4th century senate is gone when Constantinople becomes New Rome (center of Empire) – Italy in a war zone – 470s the last Byzantine ruler of the West - St. Justinian the Great reconquers Italy from the Barbarians, which leads to 30 years of war → famine, plague, entire population of Western Europe in serious decline
Some of these issues were disputed at the time – there were people in 4th century who would not want to interpret Scripture in the Basilian ascetic sense – Basil uses Scripture as basis for all the ascetic views he will apply to the monastery or parish
Basil mostly concerned that everyone should be slightly more ascetic than they already are – pastoral outlook – ideal spiritual director always tailors his advice to your unique needs – St. Basil did not say that someone who just started exercising should go run a marathon
Life of asceticism allows one to read correctly (intellect can abstract from the senses) – humility (avoid the swelling of pride that is so characteristic of heretics)
Platonic idea: Scripture Heavenly, so separating from earthly things can lead to true understanding of the divine scriptures
Athanasius identifies the intellectual study groups as the threats – pursuing their intellectual curiosities, whereas the orthodox are the people like the simple Anthony (Athanasius basically described him as barefoot & illiterate), who performs the perfect Christian practice and thereby receives all he needs to get to Heaven
4th and 5th century dozens of models on how to live Christian life – Basil looking for a middle ground regarding: place of asceticism & education in Church – very famous letter when his nephews get ready to go to university of Athens to be educated by pagans – Basil answers that there are things to be learned from pagan education, but without getting poisoned
Athanasius, in writing the life of Anthony, is literally creating what subsequent Christians hold to be the ideal extreme Christian life – Athanasius only met Anthony once –
True life of asceticism prevents error because one’s purity makes one lest susceptible to error (God protects you from error), less worldly ambition and so no temptation to advance things that would advance oneself (novel ideas contrary to Church teaching), de-emphasizing ______________,
More about controlling poor behavior that hinders theosis
Insurance policy against heretical deception
Basil deems certain ascetic models heretical: Eustathius, Gnostic view

Sterk, The Monk Bishop
Basil responsible for investing episcopal authority (authority of the Church) only in those figures who have ascetic credentials – he elevated 20 bishops, from among monks only, because only the ascetics could be trusted to avoid error b/c only the ascetics were not self-interested
Platonic – The Republic – the ideal ruler: in theory, only the philosophers could be trusted because only the philosophers were not self-interested – Christianized view: only the Christian ascetic can be the Christian leader
Many monks warned: two things to fear, a woman (Eve) and a bishop (ordination will go to your head, the opposite of humility-secret desire to lead in anyone who agrees to ordination) – Sayings of the Desert Fathers – Athanasius had to convince Dracontius to come back (without bishops, who will baptize?”) – balance between one who is sufficiently qualified, and one who is sufficiently humble - unlawful to want to be a priest - this is rhetorical, but it really draws on Plato (only the person brought kicking and screaming is ideally suited, because he doesn’t want the worldly glories) – Gregory the Theologian’s two criteria: (1) be an experienced ascetic; (2) level of education and intelligence that only an aristocrat could have had at the time – i.e., must be an aristocrat who shuns aristocratic privileges
Not yet possible to explain difference between the three persons and the one God – such vocabulary not yet invented – Athanasius only able to explain what the Father and Son have in common, but does not have the language to clarify how they are distinct persons –
Monks can totally avoid making definite doctrinal statements, unlike bishops – Eustathius in the middle, like all of the politicians, and Gregory the Theologian’s saintly father:
Basil and Gregory extend the term homoousios to the Spirit
Only a politican could have thought of homoiousios (similar essence)
Casually remarked that his Christian parents taught him orthodox Christianity & the Scriptures – several letters mentioned his nurturing grandmother St. Macrina – Gregory the Theologian talks about how pious Basil’s parents were – Basil the Elder taught his son learning & holiness – ascetic childhood
Monastic bishop would be particularly good at imitating the lives of the saints – not just a matter of defending orthodoxy and preaching the Gospel
For Basil, monasticism was the epitome of the evangelical life, but all Christians must practice asceticism – especially teachers – teach/lead by an ascetic example
5:00 P.M. basement of University Church – Pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgy
Sterk credits Basil with being the guy responsible for the ideal – he does more to advance this model than anyone else
Sterks’ book well-received, out since 2004 – Demacopoulos’ thesis is that Gregory the Theologian was more responsible
St. Nectarius not even baptized when he was elevated
St. Ambrose and St. Paulinus of Nola also embrace asceticism
Emperor always had a hand in the election of a bishop in major cities
St. Basil reconciles himself with St. Paul because in that age, everyone knew that the bishop was a target – functional, after-the-fact safeguard

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