Yesterday was the feast day of St. Basil the Great. I ♥ St. Basil! I also ♥ St. Gregory of Nyssa (Basil’s brother) and St. Gregory of Nazianzus. I love these theological giants who are known as the Cappidocian fathers because they helped to define and defend the theology of the Trinity.
Together the Cappidocian fathers helped make great strides in defining the doctrine of the Trinity, most especially in combating the heresy of Arianism. It might seem strange that the early Christians had to “figure out” the Trinity, but they did. It wasn’t until the year 380 that the Trinity was defined in what is commonly known as the Nicene Creed. That’s roughly 350 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! It took the early Christians a long time to put words to their experience of God.
St. Basil lived at a time when the nature of Christ was in question. The controversy started with Arius (250-336 AD). He taught that the God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, did not always exist. Rather, the God the Son was created by the eternal God the Father and, therefore, not equal to the Father. This teaching became a huge threat to the unity of the early Church.
Why would this matter? You have to follow the theology all the way to the Cross. If the Son of God is created, that means that while He might be similar to the Father, he is NOT the same as the Father. Then the question becomes: how can a created being save us? And, the answer is: a created being can not save us. Only God can save us. Only God taking on our fleshy, material nature can save us.
In particular St. Basil is famous for clarifying the use of the words: Person and substance when referring to the Trinity and in helping to define the Holy Spirit (I’ll leave these for another day).
Why do we still honor St. Basil over 1600 years after his death? Because how we understand and express the awesome Mystery of God matters. Basil spent his life contemplating the Eternal; we are the heirs of his brilliance and dedication.