« AnteriorContinuar »
Cappad simple a Nothin
take an instance in which a due admiration of great qualities must mingle with our reprobation of mischievous sentiments. Instead of a St. Symeon, or a St. Columban, we turn to Basilthe primate of Cappadocia.'
But how obtain the simple and living truth in the instance we have chosen ? Nothing belonging to that age in which the Church ascended to the place of worldly greatness is to be found in its native form and real colours. Flattery and clerical arrogance confound all distinctions, violate all modesty, and in the interested idolatry of human excellence, commit frightful outrages upon the just rules of piety. Those calumniators of his friend and patron against whom Gregory Nazianzen inveighs, could not have injured the true fame of Basil so fatally as himself has done by his hyperbolic encomiums. We turn as well with suspicion as disgust from
exaggerations of Butler on the one hand, and the maligu misrepresentations of Gibbon on the other; and will learn to hold very cheap, as well culogists as calumniators, when it is Truth we are in search of.
18 Let ninety-nine of every hundred of the Saints of the Calendar retain their title. If the Romanists please, it shall be Saint George, Saint Dunstan, Saint Dominic, and so forth ; but we are disposed to withhold the sullied honour from the few whom we believe, notwithstanding the misfortune of their canonization, to have been good and honest men, and sincere Christians. And certainly we so think of Basil of Cappadocia. He governed the churches of that province rather more than eight years, during the reigns of Valentinian and Valens.
17 See the funeral oration in praise of Basil, Morell's Greg. Nazianzen, 1680, Tom. I. pp.360, 363.
the turgid oration, and are fain to relinquish the attempt to rescue a good and accomplished man from the suffocating embrace of his eulogist. Well might a warning be taken by the Church, even now, against the danger of indulging the spirit of exaggeration and of fond adulatory regard to the illustrious dead. It was this very spirit, as much as any other influence we can name, which effected the ruin and hastened the corruption of early Christianity. Hence, directly, sprang some of the very worst errors which, in a matured state, strengthened the despotism of Rome, and made its services idolatrous, and its practices abominable.
A reasonable distaste of the inflation which offends the eye so often on the pages of the early Christian writers (as well as motives of indolence or levity) has almost cut us off from correspondence with the worthies of the ancient Church; so that men whose vigour of mind, whose copious eloquence, and whose universal learning, should attract us to the perusal of their works, are little more thought of than the demigods of the Grecian mythology. Yet undoubtedly by this oblivion we not only forfeit the advantage of justly estimating things that are, by comparison with things that have been; but fail of that special and highly important benefit which an exact knowledge of history conveys, namely - a timely caution against the first inroads of insidious errors and spurious sentiments.
18 The twentieth oration, above referred to, érritaplos, in which Gregory exhausts the powers of language in the service of his deceased friend and spiritual father ; upon whom indeed, while living, he had lavished the hyperbolas of praise; as in the sixth, seventh, and nineteenth orations, and in various places of his Epistles. Could the simplicity of the Gospel, and the honour of Christ comport with that style of adulation which, in the age of Gregory, was accredited and common in the Church? The epistle, the nineteenth, in which he excuses himself from the charge of neglecting his friend, would astound the modern reader. No wonder that those should have fallen into an idolatry of the saints in heaven, who had already gone so far in worshipping one another.
It may be too much to affirm that Basil, eminent as were his qualities, or indeed that any single mind could have turned the tide which, at the opening of the fourth century, was in full course, bearing the Christian worldeastern and western, fast toward that swamp of superstition wherein all its virtues were soon after lost. Yet it is certain that although he might not have had power to divert the course of things, his influence was great and extensive in accelerating the unhappy movement. As well in the Latin as the Greek Church, and during many successive centuries, the writings of Basil formed the text book of monkery, and gave sanction to its follies.19 His friend and biographer assures us, and his own writings attest the fact, that, not like many who so long as their private interests go well, trouble themselves not at all on account of the evils that may prevail abroad, Basil anxiously occupied himself with whatever concerned the welfare of the Christian community throughout the world : 20 and seeing the Church “ split into ten thousand sects, and distracted with errors," 21 laboured, as well by his writings as by personal interposition, to remedy the existing evils. Nor were his labours without fruit. The specific heresies with which he contended were held in check by his eloquence, and by the weight of his personal character.-False dogmas he discerned, and refuted; but alas, the false temper of the
19 The praises of Basil and of his institutions are on the lips of most of the contemporary and succeeding church writers, as well Latins as Greeks; and most of the oriental monkish establishments were founded upon the model of which he was the author. Isidore, (Lib. I. Epist. 61,) reproaches one who, while he professed high regard to the words of our divINELY INSPIRED FATHER---Basil, practically set his authority at naught. Equivalent expressions are employed by other writers. By a strange catachresis the monastic rule was called
generally by the writers of that age (as by Isidore in the epistle here referred to) kavwy pilocopias, and the institution itself the true and divine philosophy. See a fond and frequent use of this phrase in the epistles of Gregory Nazianzen. | 0 ... ảA vệow the cepany fuápas, Kai KUKAọ rò ris Noxus όμμα περιαγαγών, πάσαν είσω ποιείται την οικουμένην, όσην ο ootýplos Nóyos été pauev. Greg. Naz. Orat. 20. His assertion is borne out by several passages in Basil's own writings, from which it appears that the state of the Church universal was the subject of his frequent (and not very happy) meditations : for instance, in his treatise on the Holy Spirit, c. 30, where, with admirable force of language and vigour of conception, he makes a comparison between the distracted state of the Church, and a sea-fight during a storm: or again in that remarkable epistle to the bishops of the West, in which he entreats them to send delegates to the eastern church, who might raise it from the dust. The same catholic and patriarchal solicitude appears in his epistles to Athanasius, and in those of similar import, to the bishops of Gaul and Italy. Basil's monasticism did not at all seclude him from public interests.
... eis te uupias dócas kai trávas dieotag uévov.
times—the universal wrong tendency of men's notions of religion and piety, this he did not discern ; on the contrary, while fighting with errors in the detail, himself immensely promoted the grand error which had already poisoned the Church, and which, after a century or two, laid her prostrate as a corrupting carcase. So it is that what is special we can see : what is general escapes our notice.- A hundred times, while following Basil through his track of cogent argument and splendid illustration, one stops to ask, Why did not so comprehensive and penetrating an intelligence question itself, and question the Christian body, concerning the soundness of its first principles of practical piety? Why not inquire whether a system of conduct manifestly at variance with the course of nature, and with the constitutions of the social economy, was indeed enjoined by Scripture, or could, in its issue, be safe and advantageous ? Not a surmise of this sort, so far as we can find, ever disturbed the meditations of the Cappadocian primate.—No;—but those only may fairly blame and wonder who themselves are habituated to entertain and indulge severe inquiries concerning the opinions and usages they most zealously affect.
Far from seeming fanatical or malignant, the monastic system, as it stands on the shining pages of Basil, bears quite a seductive form. His descriptions of his own seclusion among