(i) As of the De Spiritu Sancto, so of the Hexæmeron, no further account need be given here. It may, however, be noted that the Ninth Homily ends abruptly, and the latter, and apparently more important, portion of the subject is treated of at less length than the former. Jerome and Cassiodorus speak of nine homilies only on the creation. Socrates says the Hexæmeron was completed by Gregory of Nyssa. Three orations are published among Basil's works, two on the creation of men and one on Paradise, which are attributed to Basil by Combefis and Du Pin, but not considered genuine by Tillemont, Maran, Garnier, Ceillier, and Fessler. They appear to be compositions which some editor thought congruous to the popular work of Basil, and so appended them to it.
The nine discourses in the Hexæmeron all shew signs of having been delivered extempore, and the sequence of argument and illustration is not such as to lead to the conclusion that they were ever redacted by the author into exact literary form. We probably owe their preservation to the skilled shorthand writers of the day.
(ii) The Homilies on the Psalms as published are seventeen in number; it has however been commonly held that the second Homily on Ps. xxviii. is not genuine, but the composition of some plagiarist. The Homily also on Ps. xxxvii. has been generally objected to. These are omitted from the group of the Ben. Ed., together with the first on Ps. cxiv., and that on cxv. Maran thinks that none of these orations shew signs of having been delivered in the episcopate, or of having reference to the heresy of the Pneumatomachi; two apparently point directly to the presbyterate. In that on Ps. xiv. he speaks of an amerimnia which would better befit priest than the primate; on Ps. cxiv. he describes himself as serving a particular church. Both arguments seem a little far-fetched, and might be opposed on plausible grounds. Both literal and allegorical interpretations are given. If Basil is found expressing himself in terms similar to those of Eusebius, it is no doubt because both were inspired by Origen. The Homily on Psalm i. begins with a partial quotation from 2 Tim. iii.16, |All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable,| and goes on, |and was composed by the Spirit to the end that all of us men, as in a general hospital for souls, may choose each what is best for his own cure.| For him, Scripture is supreme. As is noticed on Hom. IX. of the Hexæmeron, Basil is on the whole for the simpler sense. But he was a student of Origen, and he well knows how to use allegory when he thinks fit. An example may be observed in Letter VIII., where there is an elaborate allegorisation of the |times and the seasons| of Acts i.7. An instance of the application of both systems is to be found in the Homily on Psalm xxviii. (i.e. in A.V. xxix.). The LXX. Title is Psalmos tho Dauid exodiou skenes, Psalmus David in exitu e tabernaculo.| Primarily this is a charge delivered to the priests and Levites on leaving their sacred offices. They are to remember all that it is their duty to prepare for the holy service. As they go out of the Tabernacle the psalm tells them all that it behoves them to have in readiness for the morrow, young rams (Ps. xxix.1, LXX.), glory and honour, glory for His name. |But to our minds, as they contemplate high and lofty things, and by the aid of an interpretation dignified and worthy of Holy Scripture make the Law our own, the meaning is different. There is no question of ram in flock, nor tabernacle fashioned of lifeless material, nor departure from the temple. The tabernacle for us is this body of ours, as the Apostle has told us in the words, For we that are in this tabernacle do groan.' The departure from the temple is our quitting this life. For this these words bid us be prepared, bringing such and such things to the Lord, if the deeds done here are to be a means to help us on our journey to the life to come.|
This is in the style of exegesis hitherto popular. To hearers familiar with exegesis of the school of Origen, it is an innovation for Basil to adopt such an exclusively literal system of exposition as he does, -- e.g. in Hom. IX. on the Hexæmeron, -- the system which is one of his distinguishing characteristics. In his common-sense literalism he is thus a link with the historical school of Antioch, whose principles were in contrast with those of Origen and the Alexandrians, a school represented by Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodorus of Tarsus, and later by Theodoret.
It is remarked by Gregory of Nazianzus in his memorial oration that Basil used a threefold method of enforcing Scripture on his hearers and readers. This may be understood to be the literal, moral, and allegorical. Ceillier points out that this description, so far as we know, applies only to the Homilies on the Psalms.
The praise of the Psalms, prefixed to Psalm i., is a passage of noticeable rhetorical power and of considerable beauty. Its popularity is shewn by the fact of its being found in some manuscripts of St. Augustine, and also in the commentary of Rufinus. The latter probably translated it; portions of it were transcribed by St. Ambrose.
|The prophets,| says St. Basil, |the historians, the law, give each a special kind of teaching, and the exhortation of the proverbs furnishes yet another. But the use and profit of all are included in the book of Psalms. There is prediction of thing to come. There our memories are reminded of the past. There laws are laid down for the guidance of life. There are directions as to conduct. The book, in a word, is a treasury of sound teaching, and provides for every individual need. It heals the old hurts of souls, and brings about recovery where the wound is fresh. It wins the part that is sick and preserves that which is sound. As far as lies within its power, it destroys the passions which lord it in this life in the souls of men. And all this it effects with a musical persuasiveness and with a gratification that induces wise and wholesome reflexion. The Holy Spirit saw that mankind was hard to draw to goodness, that our life's scale inclined to pleasure, and that so we were neglectful of the right. What plan did He adopt? He combined the delight of melody with His teaching, to the end that by the sweetness and softness of what we heard we might, all unawares, imbibe the blessing of the words. He acted like wise leeches, who, when they would give sour draughts to sickly patients, put honey round about the cup. So the melodious music of the Psalms has been designed for us, that those who are boys in years, or at least but lads in ways of life, while they seem to be singing, may in reality be carrying on the education of the soul. It is not easy for the inattentive to retain in their memory, when they go home, an injunction of an apostle or prophet; but the sayings of the Psalms are sung in our houses and travel with us through the streets. Let a man begin even to grow savage as some wild beast, and no sooner is he soothed by psalm-singing than straightway he goes home with passions lulled to calm and quiet by the music of the song.
|A psalm is souls' calm, herald of peace, hushing the swell and agitation of thoughts. It soothes the passions of the soul; it brings her license under law. A psalm is welder of friendship, atonement of adversaries, reconciliation of haters. Who can regard a man as his enemy, when they have lifted up one voice to God together? So Psalmody gives us the best of all boons, love. Psalmody has bethought her of concerted singing as a mighty bond of union, and links the people together in a symphony of one song. A psalm puts fiends to flight, and brings the aid of angels to our side; it is armour in the terrors of the night; in the toils of the day it is refreshment; to infants it is a protection, to men in life's prime a pride, to elders a consolation, to women an adornment. It turns wastes into homes. It brings wisdom into marts and meetings. To beginners it is an alphabet, to all who are advancing an improvement, to the perfect a confirmation. It is the voice of the church. It gladdens feasts. It produces godly sorrow. It brings a tear even from a heart of stone. A psalm is angels' work, the heavenly conversation, the spiritual sacrifice. Oh, the thoughtful wisdom of the Instructor Who designed that we should at one and the same time sing and learn to our profit! It is thus that His precepts are imprinted on our souls. A lesson that is learned unwillingly is not likely to last, but all that is learned with pleasure and delight effects a permanent settlement in our souls. What can you not learn from this source? You may learn magnificent manliness, scrupulous righteousness, dignified self-control, perfect wisdom. You may learn how to repent, and how far to endure. What good thing can you not learn? There is a complete theology; a foretelling of the advent of Christ in the flesh; threatening of judgment; hope of resurrection; fear of chastisement; promise of glory; revelation of mysteries. Everything is stored in the book of the Psalms as in some vast treasury open to all the world. There are many instruments of music, but the prophet has fitted it to the instrument called Psaltery. I think the reason is that he wished to indicate the grace sounding in him from on high by the gift of the Spirit, because of all instruments the Psaltery is the only one which has the source of its sounds above. In the case of the cithara and the lyre the metal gives forth its sound at the stroke of the plectrum from below. The Psaltery has the source of its melodious strains above. So are we taught to be diligent in seeking the things which are above, and not to allow ourselves to be degraded by our pleasure in the music to the lusts of the flesh. And what I think the word of the Prophet profoundly and wisely teaches by means of the fashion of the instrument is this, -- that those whose souls are musical and harmonious find their road to the things that are above most easy.|
On Psalm xiv. (in A.V. xv.) the commentary begins:
|Scripture, with the desire to describe to us the perfect man, the man who is ordained to be the recipient of blessings, observes a certain order and method in the treatment of points in him which we may contemplate, and begins from the simplest and most obvious, Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?' A sojourning is a transitory dwelling. It indicates a life not settled, but passing, in hope of our removal to the better things. It is the part of a saint to pass through this world, and to hasten to another life. In this sense David says of himself, I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.' Abraham was a sojourner, who did not possess even so much land as to set his foot on, and when he needed a tomb, bought one for money. The word teaches us that so long as he lives in the flesh he is a sojourner, and, when he removes from this life, rests in his own home. In this life he sojourns with strangers, but the land which he bought in the tomb to receive his body is his own. And truly blessed is it, not to rot with things of earth as though they were one's own, nor cling to all that is about us here as through here were our natural fatherland, but to be conscious of the fall from nobler things, and of our passing our time in heaviness because of the punishment that is laid upon us, just like exiles who for some crimes' sake have been banished by the magistrates into regions far from the land that gave them birth. Hard it is to find a man who will not heed present things as though they were his own; who knows that he has the use of wealth but for a season; who reckons on the brief duration of his health; who remembers that the bloom of human glory fades away.
|Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?' The flesh that is given to man's soul for it to dwell in is called God's tabernacle. Who will be found to treat this flesh as though it were not his own? Sojourners, when they hire land that is not their own, till the estate at the will of the owner. So, too, to us the care of the flesh has been entrusted by bond, for us to toil with diligence therein, and make it fruitful for the use of Him Who gave it. And if the flesh is worthy of God, it becomes verily a tabernacle of God, accordingly as He makes His dwelling in the saints. Such is the flesh of the sojourner. Lord, who shall sojourn in Thy tabernacle?' Then there come progress and advance to that which is more perfect. And who shall dwell in thy holy hill?' A Jew, in earthly sense, when he hears of the hill,' turns his thoughts to Sion. Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?' The sojourner in the flesh shall dwell in the holy hill, he shall dwell in that hill, that heavenly country, bright and splendid, whereof the Apostle says, Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,' where is the general assembly of angels, and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven.'|
The Second Homily on Psalm xiv. (xv.) has a special interest in view of the denunciation of usury alike in Scripture and in the early Church. The matter had been treated of at Nicæa. With it may be compared Homily VII., De Avaritia.
After a few words of introduction and reference to the former Homily on the same Psalm, St. Basil proceeds; -- |In depicting the character of the perfect man, of him, that is, who is ordained to ascend to the life of everlasting peace, the prophet reckons among his noble deeds his never having given his money upon usury. This particular sin is condemned in many passages of Scripture. Ezekiel reckons taking usury and increase among the greatest of crimes. The law distinctly utters the prohibition Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother' and to thy neighbour. Again it is said, Usury upon usury; guile upon guile.' And of the city abounding in a multitude of wickednesses, what does the Psalm say? Usury and guile depart not from her streets.' Now the prophet instances precisely the same point as characteristic of the perfect man, saying, He that putteth not out his money to usury.' For in truth it is the last pitch of inhumanity that one man, in need of the bare necessities of life, should be compelled to borrow, and another, not satisfied with the principal, should seek to make gain and profit for himself out of the calamities of the poor. The Lord gave His own injunction quite plainly in the words, from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.' But what of the money lover? He sees before him a man under stress of necessity bent to the ground in supplication. He sees him hesitating at no act, no words, of humiliation. He sees him suffering undeserved misfortune, but he is merciless. He does not reckon that he is a fellow-creature. He does not give in to his entreaties. He stands stiff and sour. He is moved by no prayers; his resolution is broken by no tears. He persists in refusal, invoking curses on his own head if he has any money about him, and swearing that he is himself on the lookout for a friend to furnish him a loan. He backs lies with oaths, and makes a poor addition to his stock in trade by supplementing inhumanity with perjury. Then the suppliant mentions interest, and utters the word security. All is changed. The frown is relaxed; with a genial smile he recalls old family connexion. Now it is my friend.' I will see,' says he, if I have any money by me. Yes; there is that sum which a man I know has left in my hands on deposit for profit. He named very heavy interest. However, I shall certainly take something off, and give it you on better terms.' With pretences of this kind and talk like this he fawns on the wretched victim, and induces him to swallow the bait. Then he binds him with written security, adds loss of liberty to the trouble of his pressing poverty, and is off. The man who has made himself responsible for interest which he cannot pay has accepted voluntary slavery for life. Tell me; do you expect to get money and profit out of the pauper? If he were in a position to add to your wealth, why should he come begging at your door? He came seeking an ally, and he found a foe. He was looking for medicine, and he lighted on poison. You ought to have comforted him in his distress, but in your attempt to grow fruit on the waste you are aggravating his necessity. Just as well might a physician go in to his patients, and instead of restoring them to health, rob them of the little strength they might have left. This is the way in which you try to profit by the misery of the wretched. Just as farmers pray for rain to make their fields fatter, so you are anxious for men's need and indigence, that your money may make more. You forget that the addition which you are making to your sins is larger than the increase to your wealth which you are reckoning on getting for your usury. The seeker of the loan is helpless either way: he bethinks him of his poverty, he gives up all idea of payment as hopeless when at the need of the moment he risks the loan. The borrower bends to necessity and is beaten. The lender goes off secured by bills and bonds.
|After he has got his money, at first a man is bright and joyous; he shines with another's splendour, and is conspicuous by his altered mode of life. His table is lavish; his dress is most expensive. His servants appear in finer liveries; he has flatterers and boon companions; his rooms are full of drones innumerable. But the money slips away. Time as it runs on adds the interest to its tale. Now night brings him no rest; no day is joyous; no sun is bright; he is weary of his life; he hates the days that are hurrying on to the appointed period; he is afraid of the months, for they are parents of interest. Even if he sleeps, he sees the lender in his slumbers -- a bad dream -- standing by his pillow. If he wakes up, there is the anxiety and dread of the interest. The poor and the usurer,' he exclaims, meet together: the Lord lighteneth both their eyes.' The lender runs like a hound after the game. The borrower like a ready prey crouches at the coming catastrophe, for his penury robs him of the power of speech. Both have their ready-reckoner in their hands, the one congratulating himself as the interest mounts up, the other groaning at the growth of his calamities. Drink waters out of thine own cistern.' Look, that is to say, at your own resources; do not approach other men's springs; provide your comforts from your own reservoirs. Have you household vessels, clothes, beast of burden, all kinds of furniture? Sell these. Rather surrender all than lose your liberty. Ah, but -- he rejoins -- I am ashamed to put them up for sale. What then do you think of another's bringing them out a little later on, and crying your goods, and getting rid of them for next to nothing before your very eyes? Do not go to another man's door. Verily another man's well is narrow.' Better is it to relieve your necessity gradually by one contrivance after another than after being all in a moment elated by another man's means, afterwards to be stripped at once of everything. If you have anything wherewith to pay, why do you not relieve your immediate difficulties out of these resources? If you are insolvent, you are only trying to cure ill with ill. Decline to be blockaded by an usurer. Do not suffer yourself to be sought out and tracked down like another man's game. Usury is the origin of lying; the beginning of ingratitude, unfairness, perjury....
. . . . .
. . . . . .
|But, you ask, how am I to live? You have hands. You have a craft. Work for wages. Go into service. There are many ways of getting a living, many kinds of resources. You are helpless? Ask those who have means. It is discreditable to ask? It will be much more discreditable to rob your creditor. I do not speak thus to lay down the law. I only wish to point out that any course is more advantageous to you than borrowing.
. . . . . . . . . . .
|Listen, you rich men, to the kind of advice I am giving to the poor because of your inhumanity. Far better endure under their dire straits than undergo the troubles that are bred of usury! But if you were obedient to the Lord, what need of these words? What is the advice of the Master? Lend to those from whom ye do not hope to receive. And what kind of loan is this, it is asked, from all which all idea of the expectation of repayment is withdrawn? Consider the force of the expression, and you will be amazed at the loving kindness of the legislator. When you mean to supply the need of a poor man for the Lord's sake, the transaction is at once a gift and a loan. Because there is no expectation of reimbursement, it is a gift. Yet because of the munificence of the Master, Who repays on the recipient's behalf, it is a loan. He that hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the Lord.' Do you not wish the Master of the universe to be responsible for your repayment? If any wealthy man in the town promises you repayment on behalf of others, do you admit his suretyship? But you do not accept God, Who more than repays on behalf of the poor. Give the money lying useless, without weighting it with increase, and both shall be benefited. To you will accrue the security of its safe keeping. The recipients will have the advantage of its use. And if it is increase which you seek, be satisfied with that which is given by the Lord. He will pay the interest for the poor. Await the loving-kindness of Him Who is in truth most kind.
|What you are taking involves the last extremity of inhumanity. You are making your profit out of misfortune; you are levying a tax upon tears. You are strangling the naked. You are dealing blows on the starving. There is no pity anywhere, no sense of your kinship to the hungry, and you call the profit you get from these sources kindly and humane! Wo unto them that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter,' and call inhumanity humanity! This surpasses even the riddle which Samson proposed to his boon companions: -- Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.' Out of the inhuman came forth humanity! Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles, nor humanity of usury. A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. There are such people as twelve-per-cent-men and ten-per-cent-men: I shudder to mention their names. They are exactors by the month, like the demons who produce epilepsy, attacking the poor as the changes of the moon come round.
|Here there is an evil grant to either, to giver and to recipient. To the latter, it brings ruin on his property; to the former, on his soul. The husbandman, when he has the ear in store, does not search also for the seed beneath the root; you both possess the fruit and cannot keep your hands from the principal. You plant where there is no ground. You reap where there has been no sowing. For whom you are gathering you cannot tell. The man from whom usury wrings tears is manifest enough; but it is doubtful who is destined to enjoy the results of the superfluity. You have laid up in store for yourself the trouble that results from your iniquity, but it is uncertain whether you will not leave the use of your wealth to others. Therefore, from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away;' and do not give your money upon usury. Learn from both Old and New Testament what is profitable for you, and so depart hence with good hope to your Lord; in Him you will receive the interest of your good deeds, -- in Jesus Christ our Lord to Whom be glory and might for ever and ever, Amen.|
(iii.) The Commentary on Isaiah. The Commentary on Isaiah is placed by the Benedictine Editors in the appendix of doubtful composition, mainly on the ground of inferiority of style. Ceillier is strongly in favour of the genuineness of this work, and calls attention to the fact that it is attested by strong manuscript authority, and by the recognition of St. Maximus, of John of Damascus, of Simeon Logothetes, of Antony Melissa of Tarasius, and of the Greek scholiast on the Epistles of St. Paul, who is supposed to be OEcumenius. Fessler ranks the work among those of doubtful authority on the ground of the silence of earlier Fathers and of the inferiority of style, as well as of apparent citations from the Commentary of Eusebius, and of some eccentricity of opinion. He conjectures that we may possibly have here the rough material of a proposed work on Isaiah, based mainly on Origen, which was never completed. Garnier regards it as totally unworthy of St. Basil. Maran ( Vit. Bas.42) would accept it, and refutes objections.
Among the remarks which have seemed frivolous is the comment on Is. xi.12, that the actual cross of the Passion was prefigured by the four parts of the universe joining in the midst. Similar objections have been taken to the statement that the devils like rich fare, and crowd the idols' temples to enjoy the sacrificial feasts. On the other hand it has been pointed out that this ingenuity in finding symbols of the cross is of a piece with that of Justin Martyr, who cites the yard on the mast, the plough, and the Roman trophies, and that Gregory of Nazianzus instances the same characteristic of the devils. While dwelling on the holiness of character required for the prophetic offices, the Commentary points out that sometimes it has pleased God to grant it to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar for the sake of their great empires; to Caiaphas as the high priest; to Balaam, because of the exigencies of the crisis at which he appeared. The unchaste lad who has some great sin upon his conscience shrinks from taking his place among the faithful, and is ashamed to rank himself with the weepers. So he tries to avoid the examination of those whose duty it is to enquire into sins and he invents excuses for leaving the church before the celebration of the mysteries. The Commentary urges that without penitence the best conduct is unavailing for salvation; that God requires of the sinner not merely the abandonment of the sinful part, but also the amends of penance, and warns men that they must not dream that the grace of baptism will free them from the obligation to live a godly life. The value of tradition is insisted on. Every nation, as well as every church, is said to have its own guardian angel.
The excommunication reserved for certain gross sins is represented as a necessary means enjoined by St. Paul to prevent the spread of wickedness. It is said to be an old tradition that on leaving Paradise Adam went to live in Jewry, and there died; that after his death, his skull appearing bare, it was carried to a certain place hence named |place of a skull,| and that for this reason Jesus Christ, Who came to destroy death's kingdom, willed to die on the spot where the first fruits of mortality were interred.
On Is. v.14, |Hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure,| it is remarked that these are figurative expressions to denote the multitude of souls that perish. At the same time an alternative literal meaning is admitted, the mouth being the opening through which the souls of the damned are precipitated into a dark region beneath the earth.
It is noted in some mss. that the Commentary was given to the world by an anonymous presbyter after St. Basil's death, who may have abstained from publishing it because it was in an unfinished state. Erasmus was the first to undertake to print it, and to translate it into Latin but he went no further than the preface. It was printed in Paris in 1556 by Tilmann, with a lengthy refutation of the objections of Erasmus.