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Posts Tagged ‘possessions’

One of my favorite stories from studying church history involves Basil the Great, the 4th century bishop of Caesarea and one of the Cappadocians Fathers.  Basil is also considered the father of Eastern monasticism, who lived in relative poverty (especially given his lofty position) in order to help the poor.

Basil was also a widely respected bishop who held to the orthodox Nicene position regarding the deity of Christ, which put him in conflict with the emperor, Valens, who was an Arian.  Valens decided to take a trip to Caesarea and sent an officer ahead of him to keep Basil in check.  Basil, however, proved to be more than he bargained for.  Justo Gonzalez tells of their face off (p185):

Finally, in a heated encounter, the praetorian prefect lost his patience and threatened Basil with confiscating his goods, 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 tortures 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.’

I suppose there are any number of points we can take away from this exchange, but there are two I’d like to focus on.  First, there is a freedom that Basil experienced which accompanied his lack of possessions.  That doesn’t mean he had none (he mentions clothing and books specifically); it means he did not allow himself to grow attached to them.  There is a connection between the paucity of possessions and the lack of unnecessary attachments.

The second point is closely related to the first.  Because Basil did not hold possessions tightly, they had no power over him and thus that power could not be exploited.  Many throughout the years of Christianity have succumbed to the power that comes with the things this world offers.  When losing our possessions is a real possibility, we begin to think about how much we love those things and how we’ll miss them.  We can be exploited.  Because Basil held power over his possessions, he was able to look the emperor (the most powerful man of his time, supposedly) in the eye (figuratively) and refuse to compromise.  He could not be exploited because there was nothing he held to exploit.

Here’s the point: there was nothing that could be taken from Basil nor anything that could be promised him that was going to cause him to falter from God’s plan.

I can’t help but wonder what things hold power over us?  Are we finding inordinate satisfaction in things that have no eternal significance?  Are we dependent on temporary treasures?  What attachments do we have that can be exploited, causing us to compromise on those things God has called us to?

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