Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Cappadocian Gem

I just discovered that Saint Basil the Great wrote a letter to youths On Reading Greek Literature. Long before the Renaissance, in the midst of a persisting polytheistic idolatry, this fourth century bishop emphasized a certain nobility among the pagans and their literature. Though certainly not uncritical, St. Basil's thoughts should be known to every Christian classicist.

An excerpt:

Now to that other life of the Holy Scriptures lead the way, teaching us through mysteries. Yet so long as, by reason of your age, it is impossible for you to understand the depth of the meaning of these, in the meantime, by means of other analogies which are not entirely different, we give, as it were in shadows and reflections, a preliminary training to the eye of the soul, imitating those who perform their drills in military tactics, who after they have gained experience, by means of gymnastic exercises for the arms and dance-steps for the feet, enjoy when it comes to the combat the profit derived from what was done in sport. So we also must consider that a contest, the greatest of all contests, lies before us, for which we must do all things, and, in preparation for it, must strive to the best of our power, and must associate with poets and writers of prose and orators and with all men from whom there is any prospect of benefit with reference to the care of our soul. Therefore, just as dyers prepare by certain treatments whatever material is to receive the dye, and then apply the color, whether it be purple or some other hue, so we also in the same manner must first, if the glory of the good is to abide with us indelible for all time, be instructed by these outside means, and then shall understand the sacred and mystical teachings; and like those who have become accustomed to seeing the reflection of the sun in water, so we shall then direct our eyes to the light itself.

1 comment:

WLindsayWheeler said...

This is a great find. St. Basil refers to the "Eye of the soul" which is a direct association to Plato's "the mind's eye". Second, the "care of the Soul" is also Plato's.

There is an excellent book that corresponds to this: Jerry Dell Ehrlich's "Plato's Gift to Christianity" which demonstrates that much of Christianity was formed by the Culture of Hellenism and that Plato informed much of the Hellenistic Culture. Prof. Ehrlich's book is a tremoundous resource and it counters much of the overly Judiastic outlook of Christianity.