De Spiritu Sancto
If one comes to On the Holy Spirit looking for a systematic treatment of the Spirit, one will surely be disappointed. Basil writes dSS in a particular polemical context, and it is those issues that drive his treatise. Those issues become readily apparent in 2-4, the attacks of Aetius, Eunomius, and the like, both on the place of the Spirit in the Trinity, and the innovation in liturgy that Basil is accused of, for speaking “ with the Son together with the Holy Ghost” ( Μετά ... σύν; 2).
Basil's treatise advances on two main thrusts. Firstly, Basil engages in a vigorous investigation of the use of prepositions in scripture; secondly, he advances a pro-Nicene argument for the Spirit's divinity.
In the first vein, Basil identifies his opponents' position in 5-6 as treating prepositions as only admitting a singular usage and application. Instead, Basil will show that this position is contradictory when applied to the scriptures, which instead show variation according to various meanings and emphases. So “through” (δία) is used not only of the Son, but also the Father (10), and “in” (ἐν)not only of the Spirit, but also of the Father (11).
Basil joins not only prepositional analysis, but partitive exegesis, in 17f, as he speaks of the blessings that are economically presented through the Son, without subordinating him in ontology or doxology.
From 22f Basil's focus is on the Spirit. Against his opponents' contention that the Spirit not be ranked with the Father and Son (24), Basil simply points to Mt 28:19 and the strength of baptismal traditions. If Jesus is prepared to rank the Spirit with the Father and Himself, who are we to improve on it? The attack, Basil says, is not so much against himself, but against the Christian Faith. Basil spends significant time on appealing to the faith of our baptism. In 34 is a great argument that we are baptised 'in' water, but we do not grant water equal dignity with Father and Son! Of course not!
From 37f, Basil begins to discuss the Spirit's common operation with the Father and Son. They share all works, in inseparable operation. Basil's explanation of this is that the original cause is the Father, the creative cause, the Son, the perfecting cause, the Spirit, of all things that are made (38).
Against the claim that the Spirit should not be exalted, Basil directs us again to scripture ( Jn 4:24, Lam 4:20, 1 Jn 2:20 (the NPNF reference is incorrectly to 1 Jn 1:10), Ps 143:10, Ps 51:10, Ps 92:15; Jn 14:17, 16:13, 1 Jn 5:6, 2 Cor 3:8-9, Jn 14:16) which are shared in common with the Father and Son.
A novel argument of his opponents appears in 51, that the Spirit is neither slave, nor master, but a free (citizen). Basil in response to this refers to the sharp Creator/creation distinction, and asserts that all creatures are slaves, and if not a creature, then the Spirit is God and shares his monarchy.
Basil returns to discussion of prepositions (58f), again affirming that the Scriptures vary their prepositional usage to point to functional differences, not ontological or doxological distinctions. So, when we speak of his proper rank, we contemplate him with the Father and Son. When of his grace in operation, that the Spirit is in us (63).
Against the claim that 'in' is sufficient and therefore 'with' is novel and inappropriate, Basil launches a sustained appeal to church tradition and uniformity, (66-70) and to specific precedents in the Fathers (72-75).
and Selected Epistles (9, 52, 125, 234)
(Quotations from NPNF series)
Epistle 9, to Maximus, (ca. 360)
Noteworthy for Basil saying that ὄμοιον κατ´ οὐσίαν if read with ἀπαραλλάκτως is equivalent to homoousion. (like according to essence + without any difference). But if “without any difference” is removed, as at Constantinople, then the phrase is suspicious, since likeness by itself supposes unlikeness. “I am myself for the homoousion, as being less open to improper interpretation”.
This letter is variously ascribed to either Basil of Caesarea, or Gregory of Nyssa. I will treat it under Gregory.
Epistle 52, to Canonicae (women devoted to charity and living apart from men) (ca. 370)
Again the issue is homoousion. Basil responds to the problem that the Antiochene synods (264, 269) condemned its use in association with Paul of Samosata; he denies that it implies an anterior or underlying substance, and says “when both the cause and that which derives its natural existence from the cause are of the same nature, then they are called 'of one substance'” (2) He also affirms that it refutes modalism “For nothing can be of one substance with itself, but one thing is of one substance with another” (3). He also defends the place of the Spirit as coeternal and coequal in the Godhead (4).
Epistle 125 A transcript of the faith, dictated by Basil, subscribed by Eustathius, bishop of Sebasteia. (ca. 373)
Important for its statement of the Nicene creed (2), and relation to recent developments concerning the spirit (3).
Epistle 234, to Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium (ca. 376)
This letter addresses the attack that the pro-Nicenes worship what they do not know, for they consider the essence of God unknowable. Basil writes, “The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from his operations, but do not undertake to approach near to his essence” (1). Basil affirms the incomprehensibility of God in himself as a fundamental principle for pro-Nicene theology
Part I: Introduction to Basil of Caesarea
Part II: Basil's Theological Contribution