Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact by Marvin Jones
We often think of an herb in a garden and forget that Basil was also an amazing church father who helped mold the church into what it is today. In Marvin Jones’ new book, Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact, he takes a look into what made Basil so important in the forging of the early church, how his theology helped fuel his faith, and what made Basil so darn interesting. Rather than come from an academic and dry perspective, Marvin explicates Basil’s influence and theology, including his pneumatology with skill and precision, highlighting the most instrumental points of his life and including some amazing quotations as well. In turn, Marvin brings together very interesting sections on monasticism, the Holy Spirit, and Basil’s view of Scripture, which coincides with a Reformed and Evangelical perspective. You will not be disappointed in reading this book.
Monasticism and Basil
Marvin quickly points out that Basil greatly appreciated the monasteries of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria but he had some reservations as well. Marvin writes, “Although Basil admired the monks’ lifestyle, there were certain problems with the ascetic approach. He recognized that the structure was more legalistic than spiritual. While Basil did not reject the monasticism of the Egyptians and Syrians entirely, his conception of asceticism allowed more of a communal environment rather than one that isolated the individual from community (62).” Upon visiting these monasteries, Basil concluded that a more communal approach would be more beneficial, and in turn, he would be one of the founders of coenobitic monasticism or monasticism in connection with others who had the same view on life. Why was it that Basil sensed that living in community was better than solitary living? For one, extreme asceticism increased pride as a means of garnering spiritual weight over and against other Christians who weren’t as extreme. Marvin points out that some of his criticism of the more rigorous ascetic practices were due to his understanding of Scripture. For one of Basil’s rules in his rules for monastic living was that “Certain specific Christian duties, such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, are impossible for the true solitary (64).” Yet, even in his criticism, much of the devout practices exhibited at these monasteries were instrumental in Basil’s own life and in his founding of monasteries.
Basil and the Holy Spirit
One of Basil’s paramount contributions to theological formulations in the early church was his writing on the Holy Spirit. He personally dealt with even people in his own church who were confused about the Holy Spirit. Basil was one of the first theologians to advocate for the an economic Trinity and also a view of the Trinity that considers the one relationship between each person. He writes, “If a man calls upon God, but rejects the Son, his faith is empty. If someone rejects the Spirit, his faith in the Father and the Son is made useless; it is impossible to believe in the Father and the Son without the presence of the Spirit … it is impossible to call upon the Father except in the Spirit of adoption (103).’ Notice Basil’s language regarding the Spirit, how it is impossible to disinvite the Spirit to the party of the Trinitarian relationship. The Spirit changes the heart of people and works with the Father in adoption, also, the Spirit applies the work of the Son to the person. This is at the heart of Basil’s economic and cooperative unity view of the Trinity, each person of the Godhead has different roles or functions but they each carry them out in concert with one another, never seeking to make a name for oneself but for each other.
I really think this book goes a long way in clearing up the contribution that Basil made to the church and to the Christian faith today. Take it, read it, and grow in your faith.
Thanks to Christian Focus Publications and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.