Spark of Divine Love

L ove of God is not something that can be taught. We did not learn from someone else how to rejoice in light or want to live, or to love our parents or guardians. It is the same – perhaps even more so – with our love for God: it does not come by another’s teaching. As soon as the living creature (that is, man) comes to be, a power of reason is implanted in us like a seed, containing within it the ability and the need to love. When the school of God’s law admits this power of reason, it cultivates it diligently, skilfully nurtures it, and with God’s help brings it to perfection.

For this reason, as by God’s gift, I find you with the zeal necessary to attain this end, and you on your part help me with your prayers. I will try to fan into flame the spark of divine love that is hidden within you, as far as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit.

First, let me say that we have already received from God the ability to fulfil all his commands. We have then no reason to resent them, as if something beyond our capacity were being asked of us. We have no reason either to be angry, as if we had to pay back more than we had received. When we use this ability in a right and fitting way, we lead a life of virtue and holiness. But if we misuse it, we fall into sin.

This is the definition of sin: the misuse of powers given us by God for doing good, a use contrary to God’s commands. On the other hand, the virtue that God asks of us is the use of the same powers based on a good conscience in accordance with God’s command.

Since this is so, we can say the same about love. Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence an innate power and ability to love. The proof of this is not to be sought outside ourselves, but each one can learn this from himself and in himself. It is natural for us to want things that are good and pleasing to the eye, even though at first different things seem beautiful and good to different people. In the same way, we love what is related to us or near to us, though we have not been taught to do so, and we spontaneously feel well disposed to our benefactors.

What, I ask, is more wonderful than the beauty of God? What thought is more pleasing and wonderful than God’s majesty? What desire is as urgent and overpowering as the desire implanted by God in a soul that is completely purified of sin and cries out in its love: I am wounded by love? The radiance of divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.

This excerpt from St. Basil the Great’s Detailed Rule for Monks (resp. 2,1: PG 31, 908-910) on the love of God is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Tuesday of the 1st week in Ordinary Time. St. Basil is one of the greatest of the Early Church Fathers and is revered by both East and West as a Doctor of the Church.

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St. Basil the Great

Born around 330AD, St. Basil the Great received the best education in pagan and Christian culture available in his day, studying in his native Cappadocia, Constantinople, and Athens. Yet St. Basil’s life changed course decidedly when he forsook a worldly career to embrace the monastic life. He lived a life of prayer and tranquility, far from the turbulence of city life until his bishop, Eusebius, called upon St. Basil in 364 to help defend orthodox Christianity against the Arian emperor, Valens. In 370 Basil was chosen to succeed Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Here he found himself in the thick of the fray between those Orthodox, Catholic Christians who confessed Christ’s full divinity, and the various Arian parties who taught that Jesus was not equal to God the Father. He soon was also engaged in battling those called “Pneumatomachi” (“fighters against the spirit”) who denied the full divinity of the Holy Spirit. Yet he also is famous for his care for the poor, and build a series of hostels and hospitals around Caesarea to relieve their suffering.

 

St. Basil the Great was one of the most influential of the Greek Fathers of the Church during the “Golden Age of the Fathers” (the 4th and 5th Centuries). St. Basil, his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and his best friend, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, are known as “the Cappadocian Fathers” after the region of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from which they came. His rule for monks set the tone for religious life in the East and his book On the Holy Spirit laid the groundwork for the clarification of the Spirit’s full divinity that was defined by the first Council of Constantinople in 380AD. Together with his friend, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Basil compiled the “Philocalia,” a selection from the works of Origen which grew to be a spiritual classic of Eastern Christianity. His three “Books Against Eunomius” are also important for their doctrine on Christ’s full divinity. His Monastic Rule forms to this day the basis of virtually all religious life in the Eastern Churches and the liturgy named after him is one of the principal liturgies of the Byzantine tradition. St. Basil the Great died in 379 AD, the year before the First Council of Constantinople finished the Creed we now recite each Sunday.