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Basil of Caesarea

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(in Cappadocia), c.ad 330–79 (the dates are debated but not disproved). He is honoured as the chief architect of monastic life in the Greek Church. His early education was completed at Athens, where he came under the influence of Himerius and Prohaeresius. He was also instructed briefly by Libanius. Those experiences marked him out for a teaching career, upon which he may have embarked. However, the influence of Eustathius of Sebaste and of travel in the eastern provinces inclined him to the practice of asceticism, which he undertook in the company of his friend Gregory of Nazianzus. His education bore fruit, nevertheless, in his Address to Young Men, which discussed the adaptation of the classical curriculum to Christian use and enjoyed lasting influence. His ascetic experience was distilled chiefly in his Long Rules and Short Rules.

A growing interest in Church affairs drew him into the moderate party of Basil of Ancyra and encouraged him in lifelong loyalty to Meletius of Antioch. Within the general context of the Arian controversy, those associations made him less acceptable to both Alexandria and Rome. Nevertheless, he was remembered for his courageous resistance to the Arian emperor Valens and he did much to damage the reputation of the Arian theologian Eunomius.

He spent the whole of his priestly and episcopal career in Caesarea. In spite of his orthodoxy, he attracted the favour of Valens, who supported financially his extensive works of charity and sent him on an important mission to Armenia in 373. As a churchman, he strongly advocated and worked for unity but in conservative terms that were less convincing to ambitious peers.

His numerous letters are an important source for eastern provincial life at the time and reveal a man of delicacy, insight, and power. His homilies are much neglected and show a skilful combination of learning, style, and clarity. His crowning achievement was his Hexaemeron, which Ambrose paraphrased.

Philip Rousseau

Subjects: Classical studies

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