St Basil the Great: Are You Embracing the Fullness of Wisdom?

Feast of St Paraskeve the Righteous Martyr of Rome

Basil_Square_2.jpgHUNTING TRUTH is no easy task; we must look everywhere for its tracks. Learning truth is like learning a trade; apprentices grow in experience little by little, provided they do not despise any opportunity to increase their knowledge. If a man spurns fundamental elements as insignificant trifles, he will never embrace the fullness of wisdom. “Yes” and “No” are only two syllables, yet truth, the best of all good things, as well as falsehood, the worst possible evil, are most often expressed by these two small words. Why do I mention this? Because in former times someone on trial could join the ranks of Christ’s martyrs by a single nod of his head, for this one act signified total commitment to true religion.

If this is so, what theological term is so insignificant that it will not greatly upset the balance of the scales, unless it is used correctly? We are told that “not one jot nor one tittle shall pass away from the law” (Mt. 5.18); how then could we safely pass by even the smallest point? The questions that you want us to examine are both small and great: small, because it only takes a moment to utter the words in question—and for this reason they are thought to be negligible—but the force of their meaning is great. They can be compared to the mustard seed, for it is the smallest of all seeds, but when properly grown its potential is revealed; it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree (cf. Mt. 13.31-32). Anyone who laughs at the subtlety of our use of syllables, while at the same time craftily devising false subtleties of his own, as the Psalmist says (Ps. 119.85, LXX), will end up reaping laughter’s barren fruit. But as for us, let us not succumb to the reproaches of men, or be conquered by their contempt, so that we abandon our investigation. Far be it from me to be ashamed of these small matters; indeed, if I ever attain to even a fraction of their dignity, I would congratulate both myself for having won great honor and my brother and fellow-investigator for an achievement far above the mediocre. I am aware that little words express a great controversy, and in hope of winning the prize I will not hesitate to work. I am convinced that this discussion will prove to be useful for me, and fruitful for my hearers. Therefore, I begin this explanation asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten me . . .

~St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit

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