October 21, 2020

Noted: St. Basil has a very good idea

St. Basil the Great had the right idea.

At such a time, then, there is need of great effort and diligence that the Churches may in some way be benefited. It is an advantage that parts hitherto severed should be united. Union would be effected if we were willing to accommodate ourselves to the weaker, where we can do so without injury to souls; since, then, many mouths are open against the Holy Spirit, and many tongues whetted to blasphemy against Him, we implore you, as far as in you lies, to reduce the blasphemers to a small number, and to receive into communion all who do not assert the Holy Spirit to be a creature, that the blasphemers may be left alone, and may either be ashamed and return to the truth, or, if they abide in their error, may cease to have any importance from the smallness of their numbers.

Let us then seek no more than this, but propose to all the brethren, who are willing to join us, the Nicene Creed. If they assent to that, let us further require that the Holy Spirit ought not to be called a creature, nor any of those who say so be received into communion. I do not think that we ought to insist upon anything beyond this. For I am convinced that by longer communication and mutual experience without strife, if anything more requires to be added by way of explanation, the Lord Who works all things together for good for them that love Him, will grant it.

-St. Basil the Great, Letter 113: To the Presbyters of Tarsus


  1. Well how very paleo-orthodox of you.

  2. Michael,
    I may be a bit presumptuous, but I am willing to guess that the only reason that he didn’t mention any other doctrines is that he couldn’t possibly have imagined that at some point there would be disagreement with Marian dogma and transubstantiation and all those other essentials.
    In all seriousness however, I like the idea and the quote. From discussions on your website here, I know however that this is much farther from becoming a reality today than it ever was in his time. I am with you wholeheartedly in your quest for Jesus shaped spirituality.
    My only question now is how many discussions will it take to get to the center of Jesus shaped spirituality? 😉

  3. Only one more, but who knows which one that will be?

    Seriously, this quote demonstrates that unity is now a question of willingness to find a compromise rather than insist on absolute surrender.

    If you want absolute unity on all things, it will never happen.

    If you desire a level of unity that allows mutual love and respect, that path can be found. Basil knew where it was.

  4. wow. that was my first thought. So long ago, yet so relevent.

  5. Jeff M:

    SO you believe that St. Basil believed all dogmas that are defined by the RCC today?

    For example, Papal infallibility?

    Be careful of your answer if you don’t know about some of his letters regarding a conflict he had with the bishop of Rome.

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    Some difficulty has arisen out of the correspondence of St. Basil with the Roman See. That he was in communion with the Western bishops and that he wrote repeatedly to Rome asking that steps be taken to assist the Eastern Church in her struggle with schismatics and heretics is undoubted; but the disappointing result of his appeals drew from him certain words which require explanation. Evidently he was deeply chagrined that Pope Damasus on the one hand hesitated to condemn Marcellus and the Eustathians, and on the other preferred Paulinus to Meletius in whose right to the See of Antioch St. Basil most firmly believed. At the best it must be admitted that St. Basil criticized the pope freely in a private letter to Eusebius of Samosata (Ep. ccxxxix) and that he was indignant as well as hurt at the failure of his attempt to obtain help from the West. Later on, however, he must have recognized that in some respects he had been hasty; in any event, his strong emphasis of the influence which the Roman See could exercise over the Eastern bishops, and his abstaining from a charge of anything like usurpation are great facts that stand out obviously in the story of the disagreement.



  6. I think Jeff alluded to the problem here above.

    What do we do with the millennium-and-a-half of diverse heresies and aberrant teachings/practices that have sprung to life since the time of St. Basil? How do I practically “unite” in any meaningful sense with a professing believer who prays to Mary and insists on my undying allegiance to a pope? How would I “unite” with all the professing believers in Lakeland, FL catching the “anointing” (via boot-kick to the face) right now?

    I guess I just can’t see how “unity” as it seems to be aimed at here is possible, practicable or even good.

  7. Ryan Cordle says

    I tend to believe that people who simply dismiss the idea of unity as “not practical” lack imagination. Perhaps someone, somewhere could think creatively about it for awhile, and something might happen. Or maybe I’m just simple; I don’t know.

  8. Absolutely. I have to work on unity here where I serve every day, and imagination is the best word I can think of, because there are all kinds of phony unity among Christians, but real unity is a journey we all have to be on; a journey where you are going to change and the way you relate to others is going to change.

    No imagination- no way to conceive of how things could be different and yet better.

    The same thing that caused so many Christians to support segregation and other things. “I just can’t imagine it.”

  9. Well, that’s all very helpful, but it doesn’t even00 begin to address the question.

    Just one example of the problem I see:

    Mr. Spencer, you’ve seriously (and rightly) criticized the circus in Lakeland here:


    How would you do real, practical, unity with these folks (i.e. do local church together) without bringing serious correction and modification to the Bentley-ites? (Corrections and modifications that would almost certainly end in their ceasing to be Bentley-ites.)

    I don’t mean to say that I don’t believe unity is important. I’m just not sure unity must = ecumenism. (And I don’t mean to say that anyone here does either, but what then do we do with St. Basil’s quote?)

    God Bless

  10. Get me some solid information about what the “Bentley” ites believe about Jesus and we can talk.

    My guess is they can’t say the Nicene Creed. If fact, I’m almost certain they believe in a number of Christological and Holy Spirit defining heresies that mark them outside the Great Tradition.

  11. iMonk,
    You do know that I am a Baptist, right? To answer your question simply. I don’t think that many of those early bishops believed in Papal infallibility. I was commenting on another thread here on the Easter controversy and some of the things that were written there when we were discussing the RCC magisterium. Frankly, if Papal infallibility were an early belief in the churches there should never have been the East/West schism.
    I was trying to anticipate the Catholic argument a little bit tongue in cheek, but maybe I didn’t do a good job.

  12. Sorry if I sounded upset. I think people tend to read everything I say as angry for some reason. I do answer to the point, but trust me it’s not personal.

    But I did assume you were RC for a moment. Nothing wrong with that. Sorry if I offended.



  13. No offense here. Maybe I did too good a job with my comment of anticipating the RC response. I have been talking with a lot of RC folks lately. I didn’t think you sounded upset and hopefully I didn’t either. It’s one of the things that makes this medium hard to work with. But I love doing it all the same. 😉

  14. I happen to know several believers within the fringe charismatic/pentecostal/prophetic camp that are very excited about the Lakeland “Revival”. All, without exception, would enthusiastically affirm the Nicene Creed.

    This may take the conversation too far afield, but what, exactly, does Bentley teach that directly contradicts anything in the Nicene Creed? (I think his teaching is riddled with heresy, but nothing I can think of that would explicitly fall outside Nicene.)

    I only raise Bentley/Lakeland as an example of an expression of Christianity that would – at least on the surface – affirm every essential St. Basil would affirm, and yet most Christian churches and denominations would rightly separate from them. I’m just trying to figure out how these kinds of groups would fit into this attempt at Basilian unity.

    God Bless

  15. Paul in the GNW says


    I’ve let this one sit for a day. On reelection, I don’t see anyway I can be useful discussing unity in this forum.

    I think you are doing yourself a disservice by coming back to unity on your own blogs. The nature of blogging general, and the contributers here etc. ensures that this effort will be unsatisfactory for all.

    I think there are a few Catholics (Memphis Aggie, and Fr. Kimel in particular) who are very informed and articulate, and understand the doctrines and divisions pretty well, however a real discussion requires pretty broad knowledge, time to research a lot of history and a commitment to writing. You just can’t expect anyone in this forum to put forth the time and effort, especially considering that the blog moves on before a full discussion can develop.

    I have prayerfully concluded that I am not going to encourage you in your Quixotistic endeavor. By engaging people the way you do on your own blog you prevent any real progress addressing your questions because you engage mostly people like me who are amateurs not scholars. The few truly educated Catholics may not have time to really engage you. You get frustrated when you can’t get your way. The distracting accusations and cross fire from the less than charitable participants on both the Catholic and Protestant sides of the issue just distract the efforts of everyone.

    In the fullest sense of Christian Charity, compassion and brotherhood I urge you to take a break from the ‘unity’ issue. When you take it up again, I suggest that it would be in your best interest if you engage someone individually. You might consider the Priest at your local RCIA or you might find someone through the internet to exchange emails with. Perhaps the best solution would be exchange pen and paper letters with a brother Monk on a nearby Monastery you are familiar with.

    Seriously, God Bless


  16. Well trust me Paul, I have all the RC advice I could ever need. There’s no one on the net who has tried harder in his life to be RC-friendly, but when you get down to the actual issue of “the basis of unity,” then the endeavor does get difficult.

    But I have news for you: I won’t be shutting up about it, nor will I stop saying it’s a failure of imagination, and it doesn’t matter who “explains” it to me, the separating issues are simple.

    It’s my reaction to the obvious that continues to be the problem. I can always become more Christlike and teachable, but if someone’s definition of Christian humility is “agree with my church on all matters we’ve dogmatized,” then I won’t be seen as humble or teachable.

    Thanks for your contribution.

  17. I think one of the greatest challenges for any “post-Evangelical” (at least for me) is wrestling with the boundary between being comfortable with theological/moral/philosophical ambiguity (where ambiguity really, scripturally, exist) and relativism.

    I do honor the Nicene Creeders for not just their theological insights but the deeper matter that were attempting to address, the infiltration of Platonic-Dualism into the Church tradition.

  18. Jim B:

    The Kansas City Prophets/Toronto Blessing crowd have a number of Christological and Holy Spirit problems. Many are non-trinitarians. Jesus Born again in hell. Holy SPirit a substance. EW Kenyon- to Hagin- to tulsa Word Faith etc.

    See D.R. McConnell, A Different Gospel.

    As to behavior, that’s a different matter. I don’t think we are going to start defining Christian unity by vote on what we think of behavior. A few orthodox Christians burned people at the stake on both sides of the Tiber.



  19. I understand the problems with the history of this movement. You and I would agree here. However, every professing believer I’ve encountered in this camp would affirm an orthodox view of the trinity, Christ and the Holy Spirit. (They typically acknowledge the doctrinal errors of these “men of God” like Kenyon and Branham, and maintain that God uses imperfect vessels.)

    I guess my point is that there seem to clearly be professing believers who you and I would have very serious disagreements with – disagreements over which we would likely separate – that would sincerely and legitimately affirm the Nicene Creed.

    The idea that we can all “just get along” (i.e. express a functional corporate unity) if we simply affirm the Nicene Creed and agree to demand nothing more doesn’t seem to hold up when you actually try to apply it.

    But I could be wrong…

    God Bless

  20. Howdy, your recent convert to Orthodoxy here. I thought I’d point out that, from what I’ve learned about the Orthodox Church so far, St. Basil’s approach is, more-or-less, exactly how the Church approaches unity.

    However, St. Basil’s statement must be read in the context in which he lived. First of all, St. Basil lived in the time between the First and Second Ecumenical Councils. At this time, there was only one Church and some schismatic sects (Arianism was still going strong). In other words, not even the non-Chalcedonians had schismed yet. So he’s writing in a context in which “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” means pretty much what the Catholics/Orthodox say.

    During the time that St. Basil wrote, the two major issues, IIRC, affecting the Church were Arianism (after the First Council, the Arians claimed to affirm the Creed according to their own understanding; this was part of the reason the Creed had to be revised in the Second Council) and the Holy Spirit (i.e., is the Holy Spirit a Person of the Trinity).

    He never lived to see the Nestorian controversy (where the Church declared that it is heresy to say that Mary is not the Theotokos, or “Birth-giver/Mother of God”), which was deemed a Christological error, nor did he know the Seventh Council, which refuted the Iconoclastic heresy (again, considering Iconoclasm a Christological error). In addition, he missed Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and many other heresies the Church has had to refute.

    And, so, when I say that the Orthodox Church is in line with St. Basil’s principle here quoted, I mean to contrast (my understanding of) the Eastern approach to dogma with the Western.

    It seems to me that, in the West, we tend to view the dogmas set forth, especially by the early Fathers, as definitive statements of belief. In other words, we’re looking at them like we’d read a dictionary: these teachings are formulae that define what we believe. As a result, Western theology has had to continuously develop these definitions, to produce a systematic, precise theology.

    In the East, however, it seems that the dogmas set forth by the Church, again, especially by the early Fathers, are seen more as warning signs. They mark places where people have gone off the path and fallen into error, and they are there to keep us from making the same mistake. The sentiment in the East seems to be, “I would rather spend my time in prayer and worshiping God than in debating and arguing points of doctrine, but this doctrine has arisen and is threatening the Church, therefore, I must act.”

    Anyway, as St. Basil says, “Union would be effected if we were willing to accommodate ourselves to the weaker, where we can do so without injury to souls.” I think that he would agree that, if the Church has seen fit to declare something a heresy, we cannot receive into Communion those who would continue to teach such heresy “without injury to souls”, both ours and theirs; for the purpose of declaring something “heresy” is to set up a warning sign, alerting us that going in a particular direction is perilous for our souls. If we believe it is heresy to say that Mary did not give birth to God, then how can we unite ourselves with those who teach this? If we believe it is heresy to reject the use of iconography, then how can we unite ourselves with those who condemn us for our veneration?

    Anyway, this is, again, just my understanding. As I’ve said, I’ve been Orthodox for about a year, now. I’m no expert or anything; in fact, it’d be more accurate to say I’m ignorant.

  21. Coder I wanted to respond to your well-written comments (as well as iMonk’s efforts of bringing up this interesting topic). First I want to say that if you are new (as of one year) to Orthodoxy, you certainly seem to be a fast learner and shared some great insights.

    I always find it hard to write on these blogs, trying to be concise but at the same time clear in my meaning. To make myself unambiguous, I want to start by saying the points which I want to make are not incongruent with your own views, but simply a different perspective or layer to this discussion. While you did an excellent job on the theological/historical perspective, I wanted to add . . . I guess what I would call the metaphysical.

    If human culture is the canvas on which any new idea is painted, then of course the church was “painted” on the Greek fabric (I admit the early stages on the Jewish traditions). Culture of course, in itself, is inevitable. Culture is the natural manifestation of human history, or as I say, history is the scaffolding on which culture is perched. Culture, like all Fallen human endeavors, is a mixture of the wonderful, the amoral and the contra-scriptural or contra-productive.

    I propose that at the time of the birth of the church the predominating metaphysical view of the Greek culture (along the thought lines of Pythagoras and of course Plato) was Dualism. There was an unnatural (speaking of “natural” as the way God had created things) cleavage and economy between the cosmos and the ether and the soul and the body. The “spiritual” had far more value than the “physical.” Of course some, like the Gnostic influences took it to the point that the physical was not just inferior but evil.

    As I read Genesis, the natural break (or true dualism) is between the nothingness before God’s creative act and all that exist (created by God), not between the body and the soul.

    The early Church did not heed the words of Paul in Colossians chapter two: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” But allowed this Hellenistic (contra-scriptural) perspective taint the way in which they viewed the world. This in turn created these strange tensions between Jesus being of the flesh and God. Or Mary (physical women) begetting God (a complete absurdity in Platonic thinking). Or the Holy Spirit being God or created.

    The problem with many of these doctrinal issues (and all the early controversies such as those of Arius, Nestorius) was the outward workings of this basic underlying metaphysical dilemma. Until today I still believe that this is the one of the fundamental problems of what ails the Church. So, my point with this perspective, is that if the metaphysical problem was resolved Biblically, I think many of these dividing dogmas would fade in significance.

    On a different note, I think you said it well and I will re-phrase in agreement, than many things that started in the early Church as caveats, unfortunately became dogmas in retrospect. Looking at this metaphysical problem, I feel (but may be wrong) what the early Church fathers were staking out (the edges of the cliff)to avoid the greater influence of Platonic Dualism.

    Now, within Evangelicalism, things like a 6 thousand year old earth is now considered dogma, or a litmus test for true orthodoxy (with a small “o”).

  22. j. Michael Jones: First of all, I just want to make sure I’m clear that my reason for pointing out being so new to Orthodoxy is to set up my own “warning” sign, as it were, around my own statements. In other words, “This is my own understanding of what the Church teaches. However, I am a newbie at this, and, while I am confident I have been taught correctly, I may have interpret what I was taught through my own lens of experience, and there may be some error on my end. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt, knowing that I could be totally wrong.”

    That said, I would also have to disagree with your statement that the “early Church did not heed the words of Paul.” Certainly, many individuals have gone astray (and hence we have the councils declaring heresy to protect us from further straying in these ways), but I dare say it is hard to believe that a Church which confesses Christ as God and Man, which venerates the relics of Saints, which paints icons, kisses them, and adorns their churches with them, which clothes their clergy with beautiful vestments, and so on has fallen prey to the pagan dualism you speak of.

    I would also point out that St. Paul, himself, was a favorite of many Gnostics, because of his often writing about the war between the flesh and the spirit, and the distinction between faith and works. That is to say, the Gnostics obviously did not read Paul correctly, but it can be, admittedly, very easy to find such ideas in his letters.

    That said, I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at with this paragraph:

    “The problem with many of these doctrinal issues (and all the early controversies such as those of Arius, Nestorius) was the outward workings of this basic underlying metaphysical dilemma. Until today I still believe that this is the one of the fundamental problems of what ails the Church. So, my point with this perspective, is that if the metaphysical problem was resolved Biblically, I think many of these dividing dogmas would fade in significance.”

    Are you saying that the reason Arianism and Nestorianism and so on were even an issue was because the Arians and Nestorians and such had fallen into the trap of Platonic Dualism?

  23. JMJ: Please forgive me if I came across overly contrary in my last post. I did not intend to be contrary; mainly, I guess I’m trying to understand what you were saying. I can be a little slow sometimes. Sorry if I offended at all.

  24. “But even though a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. In this all the children of God may unite, even though they retain these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may help one another increase in love and in good works.”

    “A catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit does not need to seek his religion. He is as fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh anything that can be offered against his principles, but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind so neither does it occasion any.”

    “I dare not…presume to impose my mode of worship on any other…my belief is no rule for another…Let all these things stand by: we will talk of them, if need be, at a more convenient season, my only question at present is this, ‘Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?'”

    (Selected quotes from “Catholic Spirit”, by John Wesley)

  25. CoderForChrist

    No offense taken. We may disagree (not sure even if we do yet) but I respect you, love you and I’m always open to learning something new from you.

    To answer some of your questions (about my OPINIONS not my DOGMA ):

    You wrote:
    “Are you saying that the reason Arianism and Nestorianism and so on were even an issue was because the Arians and Nestorians and such had fallen into the trap of Platonic Dualism?”

    Yes. And Mani, and other early church heretics. I won’t blame Plato for all of it, but most of it… plus maybe a little blame on Zoroaster and the Jewish Essenes. Dualism, as a metaphysical concept is always an easy trap. It seems to me that only the teachings of the God of the Old and New Testament has a universe created good in all its physical and spiritual forms (yet both sides tainted by the Fall).

    You wrote:
    “but I dare say it is hard to believe that a Church which confesses Christ as God and Man, which venerates the relics of Saints, which paints icons, kisses them, and adorns their churches with them, which clothes their clergy with beautiful vestments, and so on has fallen prey to the pagan dualism you speak of.”

    I respectfully disagree. I do believe the core of the church was influenced, even though the saints and great Church fathers fought against such influence using such means as the councils and creeds. I think the church (East, West and Protestant) have had an on-again and off-again relationship with Dualism over the ages. I blame the Dark Ages on this unhealthy love affair with the Hellenistic philosophical orientation (this world, education, science, math . . . all worthless and only the “spiritual” was considered important). Just read Augustine. He left a very Dualistic Mani for Plato. In his “City of God,” many times he calls Plato the greatest of philosophers and other places refers to him as a De Facto Christian.

    That idea (that the Church isn’t perfect) doesn’t threaten my faith in the Church. In my humble opinion the Church, in all its forms, reflects fallen man who supports it. I don’t believe there has ever been (nor will be) a perfect church (or Church) nor maybe even a good one, this side of eternity. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t continue and try.

    I agree with you that Paul sounds dualistic at times (and again to define what I mean by Dualism is Platonic, metaphysical Dualism . . . not the Biblical moral dualism . . . Good vs. Evil). I wrestle with some of Paul’s statements and have different theories why they sound dualistic (won’t go into it here).

    I can equally blame the goofy, cheesy TV evangelist phenomena on the modern influence of metaphysical Dualism, but that’s another long story.

    In closing, I hope you understand the spirit in which I am writing this. I am not arguing with you and what you have written makes me think harder. I also am not proclaiming myself has the holder of truth. I often make mistakes in my thinking.

  26. Hi all,

    I have just started a series on “Alternatives to Division”. Options for unity when we don’t agree. I think it is relevant to the discussion here. The first post is on the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the role of women as elders. It looks at their 18 year debate on the issue and how they finally resolved it.

  27. I was reading this morning and came across these verses in Luke 9:49-50
    49 “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
    50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

    Does this have something to say to us about getting along a little better? Is there more room for leeway in Jesus’ Kingdom that we are willing to give?

  28. Sorry for the noise, but I thought this article by Roger Olson entitled “Does Evangelical Theology Have a Future?” might be of some use. He focuses the discussion to the riffs between traditionalists and reformists.


    This quote may be particularly helpful:

    “One is not necessarily or automatically pronouncing heresy just because the expected shibboleth comes out wrongly. G. K. Chesterton is supposed to have warned against liberal distortions of Christian truth by saying that if one wishes to draw a giraffe one can draw it many ways, but it has to have a long neck. A moment of genuine enlightenment occurred for me when I repeated this aphorism to a colleague who replied: ‘Unless one is viewing the giraffe from above.’ Before condemning a Christian thinker for not drawing the giraffe correctly, it is worthwhile to inquire into his or her perspective. Traditionalists are right to affirm that Christianity —and especially evangelical Christianity—cannot be made compatible with any and every cognitive content. On the other hand, they need to recognize that viewpoints may give equally correct affirmations diverse forms.”