LISTEN: The Great Cappadocians, Part 4: Basil the Great (The History of Christianity Podcast #136)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #136, titled, “The Great Cappadocians [KAP-PUH-DO-SHNZ] (Part 4): Basil the Great.”

Our Scripture for today is Ephesians 3:14-16 which reads: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Matt Smethurst. He said: “Christianity is a history-anchored faith. We don’t teach a set of abstract principles or philosophical ideas; we teach the truth of a historical event. If you’re a Christian, then church history is your family history. Think about that. Studying church history is like opening a photo album and exploring your family heritage.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Great Cappadocians [KAP-PUH-DO-SHNZ] (Part 4): Basil the Great” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

When the bishop of Caesarea died, the election of his successor became a focal point for the struggle between the orthodox and the Arian. Basil’s prestige was such that he seemed to be the most likely candidate. The Arian party found only one point at which Basil was vulnerable: his questionable health. The orthodox responded that they were electing a bishop, not a gladiator. Eventually, Basil was elected.

The new bishop of Caesarea knew that his election would lead to conflicts with the emperor, who was Arian. Soon Valens announced his intention to visit Caesarea. The Nicene party knew from bitter experience in other cities that Valens used such visits in order to strengthen Arianism.

Many imperial officers arrived at Caesarea in order to prepare Valens’s visit. The emperor had ordered them to subdue the new bishop through a combination of promises and threats. But Basil was not easy to subdue. Finally, in a heated encounter, the praetorian prefect lost his patience and threatened Basil with confiscating his goods, and with exile, torture, and even death. Basil responded, “All that I have that you can confiscate are these rags and a few books. Nor can you exile me, for wherever you send me, I shall be God’s guest. As to torture you should know that my body is already dead in Christ. And death would be a great boon to me, leading me sooner to God.” Taken aback, the prefect said that no one had ever spoken to him thus. Basil answered, “Perhaps that is because you have never met a true bishop.”

Finally, the emperor arrived. When he took a bountiful offering to the altar, thus showing his favor to the city, no one went forth to receive it. The emperor had to wait for the bishop, who finally accepted his offering, making it very clear that it was he who was favoring the emperor.

After these events, Basil was able to devote his time to his tasks as a bishop. He was particularly interested in organizing and spreading the monastic life, and in advancing the Nicene cause. Through a vast correspondence and several theological treaties, he made a significant contribution to the reaffirmation of trinitarian doctrine and the definitive rejection of Arianism. But, like Athanasius [ATH-A-NAY-SHUS], he was unable to see that final victory, for he died a few months before the Council of Constantinople confirmed the Nicene doctrine in 381.

Next time, we will continue looking at “The Great Cappadocians [KAP-PUH-DO-SHNZ] (Part 5): Gregory of Nyssa [NISSA].”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.