I have no standing to cry out in anguish “How long, O Lord, how long?” about the dismal darkness of Jesus’s Church today because I have contributed to it, especially by silence. So I am comforted that there are present-day Basil’s who can speak truth to evil power and confront the “rulers of this present darkness” in Holy Mother Church.
St. Basil, 329-379 A.D., also known as Basil The Great, was an influential deacon, priest, and then bishop of Cappadocia, in what is Turkey today in Asia Minor. As both a very public bishop and an expert theologian, he vehemently opposed Arian and Apollinarian heretics. He is remembered for how he dealt with an emissary of the Roman emperor, Valens, who was himself an Arian heretic. The emissary, imperial prefect Modestus, was taken aback when Basil, without deference, told him how there was no “making nice” with heretics for the sake of peace and that compromise with those who oppose the truth is impossible. Modestus, affronted, told him no one had ever addressed him in this way. Basil replied, “Perhaps you have never had to deal with a bishop.”
Would that we had a multitude of bishops like this today instead of the handful with the moral courage to decry heresy in the Church. It is refreshing to read the writings of Basil. In confronting the widespread acceptance of heresy, even by those of rank and power within the Church, Basil wrote his own version of “How long, O Lord”:
“For, when life is buffeted by so fierce a storm that all the intelligence of those who are instructed in the word is filled with the deceit of false reasoning and confounded, like an eye filled with dust, when men are stunned by strange and awful noises, when all the world is shaken and everything tottering to its fall, what profits it to cry, as I am really crying, to the wind?” (Basil, On The Holy Spirit, Chapter 29).
Basil then goes on to say why one must not give up. In his Chapter 30 that follows the above quote, Basil describes the Church as if he had a crystal ball and could see the world in 2018.
There are many sources for Basil’s writings on the Internet; e.g. at the New Advent site: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3203.htm. In concluding this post, I will quote, probably too extensively, from his On The Holy Spirit, Chapter 30. It is recommended in its entirety.
Exposition of the present state of the Churches.
- To what then shall I liken our present condition. . . . The disorder and confusion is tremendous, for the extremity of misfortune, when life is despaired of, gives men license for every kind of wickedness. Suppose, too, that the men are all smitten with the incurable plague of mad love of glory, so that they do not cease from their struggle each to get the better of the other, while their ship is actually settling down into the deep.
- Turn now I beg you from this figurative description to the unhappy reality. Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed . . ., so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion. But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one another. If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side. . . .. And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks? Some have gone to the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their allies, some from the blundering of their own officers. We see, as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith. …. The luminaries of the world, which God set to give light to the souls of the people, have been driven from their homes, and a darkness verily gloomy and disheartening has settled on the Churches.. . .Harsh rises the cry of the combatants encountering one another in dispute; already all the Church is almost full of the inarticulate screams, the unintelligible noises, rising from the ceaseless agitations that divert the right rule of the doctrine of true religion, now in the direction of excess, now in that of defect. . . . No oaths of confederacy are so efficacious in keeping men true to sedition as their likeness in error. . . The institutions of the Gospel have now everywhere been thrown into confusion by want of discipline; there is an indescribable pushing for the chief places while every self-advertiser tries to force himself into high office. The result of this lust for ordering is that our people are in a state of wild confusion for lack of being ordered; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered wholly purposeless and void, because there is not a man but, out of his ignorant impudence, thinks that it is just as much his duty to give orders to other people, as it is to obey any one else. . .
- Now there is no one to receive the weak in faith . . . but mutual hatred has blazed so high among fellow men that they are more delighted at a neighbour’s fall than at their own success. Just as in a plague, men of the most regular lives suffer from the same sickness as the rest, because they catch the disease by communication with the infected, so nowadays by the evil rivalry which possesses our souls we are carried away to an emulation in wickedness, and are all of us each as bad as the others. Hence merciless and sour sit the judges of the erring; unfeeling and hostile are the critics of the well disposed. And to such a depth is this evil rooted among us that we have become more brutish than the brutes; they do at least herd with their fellows, but our most savage warfare is with our own people. . . .
- . . . I was taught too . . . that, when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we ought alone and all unaided to do our duty. . Wherefore we too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth.