Thursday, January 1, 2009

"In the Beginning God made the Heaven and the Earth": Commentary on Creation from St. Basil the Great's Hexaemeron


Today (January 1st), besides Christ's Circumcision, we celebrate St. Basil the Great. One of his great theological works is a commentary on Genesis called the Hexaemeron (after the six days of creation), and below is a quote from the beginning of Homily I (taken from: St. Basil is one of the greatest Fathers, Hierarchs, Theologians, Monastics, Philanthropists and Christians of the Church, and may we emulate his life. For more on St. Basil, see: , , , ,

Icon of Christ God (before His Incarnation in the flesh) Creating the Light (detail, from Decani Monastery, taken from:
"In the Beginning God made the Heaven and the Earth.

1. It is right that any one beginning to narrate the formation of the world should begin with the good order which reigns in visible things. I am about to speak of the creation of heaven and earth, which was not spontaneous, as some have imagined, but drew its origin from God. What ear is worthy to hear such a tale? How earnestly the soul should prepare itself to receive such high lessons! How pure it should be from carnal affections, how unclouded by worldly disquietudes, how active and ardent in its researches, how eager to find in its surroundings an idea of God which may be worthy of Him!
But before weighing the justice of these remarks, before examining all the sense contained in these few words, let us see who addresses them to us. Because, if the weakness of our intelligence does not allow us to penetrate the depth of the thoughts of the writer, yet we shall be involuntarily drawn to give faith to his words by the force of his authority. …
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gen. i. 1). I stop struck with admiration at this thought. What shall I first say? Where shall I begin my story? Shall I show forth the vanity of the Gentiles? Shall I exalt the truth of our faith? The philosophers of Greece have made much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of a God, could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the Universe; a primary error that involved them in sad consequences. Some had recourse to material principles and attributed the origin of the Universe (cf. note on Letter viii. on the στοιχεα or elements which the Ionian philosophers made the ρχαι of the universe. Vide Plato, Legg. x. § 4 and Arist., Met. i. 3.) to the elements of the world. Others imagined that atoms (Posidonius the Stoic names Moschus, or Mochus of Sidon, as the originator of the atomic theory “before the Trojan period.” Vide Strabo, xvi. 757. But the most famous Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus of Abdera, in the 5th c. b.c., arose in opposition to the Eleatic school, and were followed in the 3d by Epicurus.) and indivisible bodies, molecules and ducts, form, by their union, the nature of the visible world. Atoms reuniting or separating, produce births and deaths and the most durable bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion: a true spider’s web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth, and to sea so weak an origin and so little consistency! It is because they knew not how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Deceived by their inherent atheism it appeared to them that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that was all was given up to chance. (cf. the Fortuna gubernans of Lucretius (v. 108)) To guard us against this error the writer on the creation, from the very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God; “In the beginning God created.” What a glorious order! He first establishes a beginning, so that it might not be supposed that the world never had a beginning. Then he adds “Created” to show that which was made was a very small part of the power of the Creator. In the same way that the potter, after having made with equal pains a great number of vessels, has not exhausted either his art or his talent; thus the Maker of the Universe, whose creative power, far from being bounded by one world, could extend to the infinite, needed only the impulse of His will to bring the immensities of the visible world into being. If then the world has a beginning, and if it has been created, enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was the Creator: or rather, in the fear that human reasonings may make you wander from the truth, Moses has anticipated enquiry by engraving in our hearts, as a seal and a safeguard, the awful name of God: “In the beginning God created”—It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness without measure, a worthy object of love for all beings endowed with reason, the beauty the most to be desired, the origin of all that exists, the source of life, intellectual light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who “in the beginning created heaven and earth.” (taken from:
St. Basil the Great (Icon courtesy of, used with permission)

Aposticha of St. Basil the Great
1st Tone By Monk Basil.

You have received the imprint of the virtues of all the Saints, our Father Basil: the meekness of Moses; the zeal of Elias; the confession of Peter; the theology of John; like Paul you do not cease to cry out: Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalised, and I am not on fire? Therefore as you now dwell with them, intercede that our souls may be saved.

2nd Tone. By Monk John.

When you had meditated on the nature of what exists and observed the instability of all things, you found the only unmoved Being, the Creator of all things who is above being; to him you attached yourself and cast away the longing for things which are not. Intercede that we too may find divine longing, Basil teacher of mysteries.
Glory. Tone 6.

You received the grace of wonders from heaven and held up to public scorn the error of idols by your doctrines, and so you are the glory and support of High Priests, all-blest Basil, and the pattern of the teaching of all the Fathers. As you have boldness towards Christ, implore him that our souls may be saved.
(translated from Fr. Ephraim Lash and taken from:
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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