Basil of Caesarea never saw the two significant church councils of the 4th century, and yet his name is deservedly associated with both of them.
He was born after the Council of Nicaea in 325, where it was established that the Father and the Son are of identical essence and eternal existence. The Council followed the worthy and celebrated Athanasius in rejecting the argument that Jesus Christ was the first created being, and therefore not God.
And yet the triumph of Nicaea was fragile and heavily dependent on the religious whims of the Roman emperor, who merely wanted unity within his realm. The battle over the nature of the Lord Jesus continued to rumble on, but Basil picked up the baton from Athanasius and ran with it.
In this period, his own understanding of Scripture developed under challenges from others. Basil became a brave and staunch defender of the doctrinal orthodoxy which we wrongly assume was fixed with the recognition of the New Testament canon.
The next great challenge arose over the nature of the Holy Spirit. Although Basil died before the Council of Constantinople was convened in 381, he had prepared the ground for it. His arguments from Scripture, taken up by others, were persuasive and prevailed.
Constantinople secured our understanding of all three persons of the Trinity as equal in power and glory. We can thank Basil for the ‘ands’ in ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost’.
Basil was also at the forefront of a more spiritual and less isolationist form of monasticism. At a time when Christianity was shot through with compromise because it had become the official religion of the Empire, many were eyeing the monastic life as the best way to serve the Lord.
This book is part of a series entitled ‘Early Church Fathers’, the aim of which is to bring otherwise unknown leaders from the first millennium of church history to our attention. Marvin Jones does that here as he skilfully charts his way through the life of the man who justifiably came to be known as ‘Basil the Great’.