A study of the roots, development and influence of Basilian monasticism in the fourth century AD

Spiers, John McLaren (1995) A study of the roots, development and influence of Basilian monasticism in the fourth century AD. MTh(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Brought up in a devout Christian family, which knew the cost of bearing witness to Jesus Christ within a pagan society, Basil of Caesarea forsook the things of this world for the things of God. Although his aristocratic upbringing and academic ability led him to study in the major centres of learning, and to accept the chair of rhetoric on his return home from Athens, Basil never forgot the early stirrings within him for the life of the monk. The influence of his sister Macrina played no small part in his decision to undertake journeyings to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia to visit the monastic life in these countries. His encounter with the desert monks of Egypt affected him greatly and he returned to his homeland convinced that he was called to follow in their way of seeking after union with God through the ascetic life. Basil however did not adopt the eremitic life of Antony, nor did he embrace the form of cenobitic life of Pachomius, but rather adapted the cenobitic life to suit the country and the age in which he lived. In his time Christianity had become the official religion of the empire. The result was an increase in nominal Christianity and a consequent diminution of its witness. Basil, who believed that Jesus Christ was the supreme example of the ascetic life, felt that the monastic life had a vital role to play in influencing both the Church and society. In order to ensure that this influence would be effective Basil wrote much for the spiritual and social upbuilding of his monks. In this thesis a number of his Ascetical Works, his Letters and his two sets of Rules have been considered. They dealt with every aspect of the monk's life and regulated the order and discipline of Basil's monasteries. They also revealed Basil's close adherence to Scripture in his understanding of the ascetic life and of the life lived out by the early Church. In their witness Basil's monks practised the twofold command of Christ, to love God and to love one's neighbour. Their life was no escape from the world but rather a separation from the world to meditate upon the things of God so that they could be of service to the world through acts of loving service. This social dimension was of great importance to Basil and so his monastic communities were involved in education, caring for the needy and nursing the sick. Before Basil, monks had tended to isolate themselves from the world as they pursued their own spiritual journey towards perfection. They had come to see themselves as spiritually superior to the Church which they saw as tainted by the world. Basil was himself a Churchman and as a bishop he was able to draw the Church and monastery closer together. This was a challenge to the Church to reflect more closely the life of the early Church as witnessed to by his monks. It also enabled the monasteries, which were known for their defence of orthodoxy, to be supportive of the orthodox stance within the Church in its struggle against heresies. The impact made by Basilian monasticism in the fourth century AD was due in no small measure to the stature of its founder. Basil was a man of intellect, organising ability, administrative skills, and deep spirituality and he used them all in the service of Jesus Christ. In all that he did it is clear that the teaching and example of Christ was of major importance and in the formulation of his Ascetical Works it is equally clear that the teaching of Scripture was the guiding influence. Recognised as the father of ecclesiastical cenobitic monasticism in the East Basil's influence upon monastic life waned after his death. It would appear that the East preferred the eremitic life. His influence, however, was felt again in the sixth century when Benedict of Nursia, the acknowledged founder of cenobitic monasticism in the West, adopted many of Basil's ideals and encouraged his monks to read the Rules of Basil. His contribution, however, to the cenobitic monastic life, with its emphasis upon being in the world and yet not of the world, and its commitment to Christ's command to love God and to love one's neighbour, has been considerable and this study has shown that he deserves the name Basil the Great.

Item Type: Thesis (MTh(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Religious history
Date of Award: 1995
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1995-72906
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/72906

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