Acta Sanctorum: St. Basil of Caesarea (Jan 2)
January 02, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

[Beginning in January of this year, I plan to post a weekly “Saint of the Week” whose feast day occurs during that time.  These will be saints and blesseds who are in the General Roman Calendar of the Catholic Church as well as those listed in the Roman Martyrology for that day.  Each post will include an icon or work of art; a brief biography; a passage from Scripture designated for the feast day or the Common; a selection from that person’s writings, a musical selection related to the saint or blessed, and a concluding collect].

January 2

St Basil of Caesarea (“the Great”)


St. Basil was one of the group of great oriental theologians to whom, under God, we owe our right belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation, and also the chief organizer of ascetic community life in the East. He was born in 329 at Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia, far up in the interior of Asia Minor. A surprising number of his family are honored as saints: his grandmother St Macrina the Elder, his father and mother, St Basil the Elder and St Emmelia, his brothers St Gregory of Nyssa and St Peter of Sebaste, and his sister St Macrina the Younger. He studied at Constantinople and went on from there to Athens, which was still the great university city of the Greek-speaking world. Here his fellow student and close friend was another young Cappadocian, St Gregory Nazianzen, who with the two brothers Basil and Gregory of Nyssa makes up the trio of Cappadocian doctors of the church. 

When Basil returned to Caesarea he taught rhetoric for some years in the city. Then he retired from the world, inspired by the example of his elder sister Macrina, who with her widowed mother had already founded her own community of nuns on one of the family estates at Annesi on the river Iris. He traveled through all the monastic centers of the east, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia, to study the monastic life wherever it was flourishing. Then he returned and founded his own community not far from that of his sister; and the way of life which he worked out for it, on the basis of what he had seen on his travels, is still that which is followed by all the monks of the eastern Orthodox churches and by some Catholic monks of the Byzantine rite. Furthermore it deeply influenced St Benedict, who knew St Basil's ascetic writings in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and through him the whole of western monasticism. It was a way of life better balanced and more humane than the most important earlier form of ascetic common life, the Egyptian monasticism of St Pachomius. There was more loving obedience and less harsh discipline; a moderate communal asceticism (extreme enough, certainly, by modern standards) instead of individual competition in austerities; and an emphasis on work, intellectual (the prayerful study of the Scriptures) and manual (useful labor for the benefit of the monastic community). St Basil only lived for five years as a monk in his monastery. But what he did and wrote then was the most immediately and lastingly successful part of his life's work. 

In 370 he became archbishop of Caesarea. At that time the Arian heresy, which denied that Christ was God, in the sense of his being of the same substance with the Father, was at the height of its influence. The Emperor Valens was an Arian, and was vigorously persecuting the Catholics. St Basil's primary task as archbishop was the defense of the Catholic faith, which he carried out for the rest of his life with unflinching courage, great intellectual power, and a charity and desire for agreement with his opponents (though not at the price of orthodoxy) unusual among theological controversialists. He so overawed the Prefect of the east, Modestus, and the Emperor Valens himself, that he and his diocese were left alone, though there was persecution everywhere else. His answer to the Prefect, recorded (perhaps with some embellishments) by St Gregory Nazianzen, may explain why, and gives an excellent idea of the quality of the man. Modestus had threatened him with confiscation, exile, torture and death. St Basil said, 'Well, in truth, confiscation means nothing to a man who has nothing, unless you covet these wretched rags and a few books; that is all I possess. As to exile, that means nothing to me, for I am attached to no particular place. That wherein I live is not mine, and I shall feel at home in any place to which I am sent. Or rather, I regard the whole earth as belonging to God, and I consider myself as a stranger wherever I may be. As for torture, how will you apply it? I have not a body capable of bearing it, unless you are thinking of the first blow you give me, for that will be the only one in your power. As for death, this will be a benefit to me, for it will take me the sooner to the God for whom I live . . .' The Prefect said that nobody had ever spoken to him like that. St Basil replied, 'Perhaps that is because you have never had to deal with a bishop.' 

Besides defending the Catholic faith against heresies, St Basil was a model diocesan bishop. He visited every part of his diocese continually, he organized a great hospital for the sick poor, and like all ancient bishops he preached very frequently, some of his courses of sermons, which are major theological works, have been preserved. Heresy was by no means his only trouble. There was every sort of division among the Catholics of the east and very considerable misunderstandings between east and west. St Basil's life as a bishop, in fact was lived in the midst of the sort of miserable muddles so common in the history of the church, when everybody is more or less in the wrong, no one trusts anybody else, and Christian charity is very little in evidence. His own charity never failed, and he worked unceasingly for peace and unity. But he was misunderstood and misrepresented; all his efforts to unite the Catholics seemed to go wrong. He did just live to see the death of Valens, which meant the end of the Arian persecution: but he died very soon after, worn out, at the age of only forty-nine, on January 1, 379. 


Scripture (Eph 4:1-7,11-13)

I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

  But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

  And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.


(Year A)  The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with angels and sing: To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us, not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy? This feast belongs to the whole universe. It gives heavenly gifts to the earth, it sends archangels to Zechariah and to Mary, it assembles a choir of angels to sing, Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Stars across the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, "Dust you are and to dust you shall return", but “You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.” It is no longer, "In sorrow you shall bring forth children", but, “Blessed is she who has borne Emmanuel and blessed the breast that nursed him.” For a child is born to us, a son is given to us, and dominion is laid upon his shoulder. Come, join the company of those who merrily welcome the Lord from heaven. Think of shepherds receiving wisdom, of priests prophesying, of women who are glad of heart, as Mary was when told by the angels to rejoice, as Elizabeth was when John leapt in her womb. Anna announced the good news; Simeon took the child in his arms. They worshiped the mighty God in a tiny baby, not despising what they beheld but praising his divine majesty. Like light through clear glass the power of the Godhead shone through that human body for those whose inner eye was pure. Among such may we also be numbered, so that beholding his radiance with unveiled face we too may be transformed from glory to glory by the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and power for endless ages. Amen. (Sermon on the Theophany)

Musical Selection (lyrics in video)


Lord God, you have enlightened your Church through the example and teaching of Saint Basil;

grant that we may humbly learn your truth and practice it with faithful love.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. (cf. ICEL; 1998)