Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact by Marvin Jones
Title: Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact
Series: Early Church Fathers
Author: Marvin Jones
Genre: Biography, Church History
Publisher: Christian Focus Publications
Release Date: April 27, 2014
Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD) was a Greek Bishop in what is now Turkey. A thoughtful theologian, he was instrumental in the formation of the Nicene Creed. He fought a growing heresy, Arianism, that had found converts, including those in high positions of state. In the face of such a threat he showed courage, wisdom and complete confidence in God that we would do well to emulate today.
The Early Church Fathers series relates the magnificent impact that these fathers of the early church made for our world today. They encountered challenges similar to ones that we face in our postmodern world, and they met them with extraordinary values that will encourage and inspire us today.
“[Basil’s] sermons were Christ-centered. The homilies depicted a systematic theologian striving to proclaim the truth of Christ from the Old Testament and the New Testament. His concept of spirituality developed the body of believers, centered upon the Holy Spirit, revealing the truth of Christ to the congregant. He innovated to bring the truth of God’s Word to the people of God so that the doxology [the way of worship] was theologically orthodox.”
There is a good reason why a book like “Basil of Caesarea” is important to individual believers in the Lord Jesus Christ today. Simply put, what we believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit affects how we live from day to day. Most Christians today believe in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But we don’t always look deeply enough to understand exactly what we believe about it. The task of the early church fathers was to make sense of God’s nature, of the one who is not like anything or anyone on earth and impart the knowledge to people living in a pagan world. Complications and barriers to understanding His nature was due to finite mental limitations trying to comprehend an infinite Being. Thus, the church in its early days struggled to find adequate language to contemplate and explain Him.
For the first three hundred years since the death and resurrection of Christ, new believers faced outside opposition. Persecution caused people to scatter far and wide establishing churches all over the Roman Empire. The early Christians received their first break when Emperor Constantine was more or less converted to Christianity after he perceived God’s assistance in winning a key battle. Constantine wanted unity (and control) for the Empire, which he obtained. He then turned his energies to the organized Christian church when he noted the divisions which he believed would threaten peace in the Empire. Because there was no unified statement of faith defining who Jesus was, how He related to God the Father, how the Holy Spirit related to the Son and the Father, groups sprang up around leaders, bishops, and clergy with various definitions.
One group followed Arius, a bishop in Alexandria, Egypt. He taught that Jesus was a created being of a high order, not eternal like God the Father. He was not of the same substance as the Father. Arius obtained a large following which conflicted with another bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. Alexander believed Arius was promoting the worship of a half human half god which qualified as the Scripture’s view of idolatry. The dispute between the two camps was bitter and divisive. The emperor saw this as an obstacle to unity and peace in the Empire. When he became involved, politics was intertwined in the conflict. He called for a council of church leaders in the year 325 AD in Nicaea. Arians faced the Alexandrians while a third group present remained neutral and undecided.
What came out of the counsel was a statement of faith against Arianism. However, the third group led by Eurebius then wrote their own statement that Jesus was God the Son, but not of the same substance as the Father, but similar to Him. So the meeting condemned Arianism as heresy, but there was still disagreement in the church about the exact nature of the Son of God within the Trinity. This is where Basil made his impact.
This book covers the background history of the early church’s beliefs of the Godhead and how Basil helped refine these beliefs to the establishment of the foundation which would remain firmly orthodox to this day. The first part of the book follows Basil’s life as he moved through the stages of maturity as pastor, a leader within the church, and eventually as wise theologian and prolific writer. There are over 300 letters and works available for study and cross reference with other church leaders of the time. These tomes aided the author in painting a vivid image of the spiritual struggles in the fourth century. I found all this fascinating reading since my own knowledge of this era is like Swiss Cheese–it is full of holes.
Producing precise language that dealt with the issues left unanswered by the Nicaean council, that was closest to Scriptural truth as possible while unifying the factions splitting the church, took a great deal of time and intellect. Basil, according to this author’s assessment, was adequate to the task so that by the end of the fourth century the orthodox viewpoint was established and all the forms of Arianism were finally proven to be non- Scriptural.
While most of the content of this book relates the history of Basil’s life and impact on the church as a whole, the author does take time to explain in each chapter how this knowledge could be valuable for the modern day Christian–in particular, evangelicals.
I appreciate the author’s hard work collecting sources that are not readily available to most of us, to write with acuity the political and religious climate of the era and explain succinctly Basil’s role in clarifying the Scripture’s position of each member of the Trinity. All of this is accomplished in a short book whereas all the information could have filled several textbooks. I believe the author’s purpose is to make this information widely available to the modern reader. If so, he has accomplished this goal. Some of the holes in my Swiss Cheese knowledge of Christian history has been filled in; my perception of early church struggles has been enhanced. I highly recommend this volume as a valuable reference source.
My one caveat is to warn the reader to be prepared for some tough vocabulary. I would recommend a good dictionary and/or the Internet to gain greater historical context. However, the benefits of learning and understanding the lives of pivotal church leaders of the past reminds me of a quote I heard from a movie recently–that in order to know where we are going, we must first know where we have been.
About the Author: Dr. Marvin Jones is the Assistant Professor of Church History and Theology, Louisiana College, Pineville, Louisiana, and the Chairman of the Christian Studies Department.
About the series editor: Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC)on behalf of Christian Focus Publication. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”