Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Basil of Caesarea

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Basil of Caesarea

Article excerpt

Basil of Caesarea. By Philip Rousseau. [The Transformation of the Classical Heritage, XX.] (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1995. Pp. xix, 412. $55.00.)

As in his previous works on fourth- and fifth-century ascetics, including a monograph on Pachomius, the author offers the serious reader an incisive and refreshing commentary on why and how Basil of Caesarea (330-379) became bishop, and whether or not he may be considered a typical prelate of the fourth-century church.

Much has been written specifically on Basil, and also in passing, particularly in the last twenty years, but very few studies have focused primarily on the above-mentioned questions. Without disputing Basil's involvement in defending orthodoxy and promoting monastic life, Rousseau takes a closer look at Basil's ancestry and classical formation as clues for explaining his actions as a Christian bishop.

Most of the relevant evidence, stemming both from Basil himself and from other contemporary sources, is meticulously scrutinized, with particular attention to questions of chronology and authenticity. The author seldom provides new datings, and for the most part he relies on previous scholarship. In one particular instance, concerning the year of Basil's death, in spite of the recent challenges by A. Booth and P Maraval, one has to say that there is nothing to undermine the traditional date of January 1, 379. In a paper, soon to be published, which was presented in August at the Oxford Patristic Conference, T. D. Barnes has convincingly demonstrated that Basil was still alive in early August, 378. This confirmation has a bearing on the author's discussion of the date of the Hexaemeron (pp. 360-363).

From Rousseau's account, Basil appears at once clear-sighted and confused when tackling everyday issues. He demands from his closest friends, in particular Gregory of Nazianzos and Gregory of Nyssa, that they protect the territorial integrity of his diocese by imposing on them against their will the episcopal charges in the obscure localities of Sasima and Nyssa. To his mentor and old family friend, Eustathios of Sebaste, he peremptorily proposes the signing of a formula of faith. However, Basil not only had high expectations of his friends; he knew also how to, repay their loyalties. But often his judgments, or rather misjudgments, defeated or contradicted his genuinely positive intentions. …

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