Thursday, 16 May 2013

Basil puts me in my place

My house is full of stuff. Not secret hoarders, shortly to appear on a Channel 4 documentary levels of stuff, just lots of things. Pretty things, inherited things, revamped things, home made things but LOTS of things. My essay this week is on a fourth century writer, Basil of Caesarea. I'm supposed to be reading about his views on the Holy Spirit and how that represents an advancement on Trinitarian theology (yes, fun eh?!) but I have been waylaid by a little collection of his writings on poverty, riches and basically giving it all away.

Basil was born in to an aristocratic family but after getting serious about the whole Christianity thing found himself attracted to a simpler way of life. More than anything it seems he found his way to a deeply compassionate way of life and that motivated so much of what he did as a Priest and Bishop. He founded a home for the sick out of his own pocket dubbed the Basilia (Nicolia anyone? It has a nice ring eh?!) and saved umpteen people during a serious famine in Caesarea.

His writing certainly packs a punch:
'For if what you say is true, that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love and have given to everyone the same as to yourself, then how did you come by this wealth? Care for the needy requires the expenditure of wealth...Thus, those who love their neighbour as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbour, yet surely you seem to have great possessions! How else can this be, but that you have preferred your own enjoyment to the consolation of many? For the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack love.'


If THAT doesn't get you then nothing will. And so I find myself looking around at all the stuff I have and thinking about my neighbour, my global neighbours, who have so little. Guilty as charged, Basil.

But then I think of the story behind each item. The dress from the beautiful independent store on the High Street, the fabric from the girl who just set out on her own in business, the china from the charity shop on the corner, the jewellery from my Grandma's house, the quilt I made by hand. And then the lines seem to go a little hazy. What does it mean to love my neighbour? To buy nothing and put my wages in the nearest charity box? Perhaps it does, perhaps everything else is just excuses. But then I think of the lady in the haberdashery and the charity shop volunteers and my favourite author whose books I buy and it doesn't seem to so clear cut any more.

Basil left the monastic life to be back in the thick of things in Caesarea and that certainly cost him. It makes me think that perhaps the way to go is not to opt out, no matter how noble it may seem. Perhaps the best option is to really think. To give generously, to live carefully, to buy with integrity. To be neither a burden due to your irresponsibility nor to hold on so tight to what you have and so deny others what is rightly theirs.

What do you think? Is it just qualifying what is straight forward? Stuff = selfishness and there's nothing more to it? Let the conversation begin! Comment or tweet me @nicolahwriter


  1. I feel like I've been mulling this one over for years...and still don't have the answers...

    1. Ha! Glad I am not alone then! I'm thinking there aren't any straight forward answers but then I think is that my greedy, western mindset speaking and actually is much more simple that we make it? Oh dear, this one may go on and on....!