S A I N T BASIL ASCETICAL WORKS Translated by SISTER M. MONICA WAGNER, C S. C. New York Fathers of the Church, Inc. 195 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ASCETICAL LIFE decreed by a king for his ordinary subjects, but nobler and more regal are the commands he addresses to his soldiers. As if military orders are being proclaimed, therefore, let that man give ear who desires what is of great and celestial worth, who wishes to be ever Christ's comrade in battle, who heeds that mighty word: 'If any man minister to me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my minister be.'1 Where is Christ, the King? In heaven, to be sure. Thither it behooves you, soldier [of Christ], to direct your course. Forget all earthly delights. A soldier does not build a house; he does not aspire to the possession of lands; he does not concern himself with devious, coinpurveying trade. 'No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular businesses; that he may please him to whom he hath engaged himself." The soldier enjoys a sustenance provided by the king; he need not furnish his own, nor vex himself in this regard. By royal edict, a home lies open to him wherever there are subjects of the king. He is not required to toil at building a house. On the open road is his tent and he takes his food as OBLE ARE THE ORDINANCES 1John 12.26. 9 necessity demands; water is his drink, and his slumber such as nature provides. Many are his marches and vigils; his endurance INTRODUCTION TO ASCETICAL LIFE of heat and10 cold, engagements with the foe, the worst and greatest of perils; often, perchance, death itself—but a glorious death followed by rewards and a king's gifts. His life is toilsome in war; in peace it is joyous. The prize of valor, the crown awarded to him who has lived noblyINTRODUCTION in righteousness, is LIFE to be endowed11 TO ASCETICAL with sovereignty, to be called the King's friend, to stand at His side, to receive His salutation, to accept honors from the King's own hand, to be eminent among the King's people, and to play the mediator for his friends without the court in whatever they desire. Come, then, soldier of Christ, with the aid of these ordinary parallels drawn from human considerations conceive the desire of everlasting goods. Set before yourself a life without house, homeland, or possessions. Be free and at liberty from all worldly cares, lest desire of a wife or anxiety for a child fetter you. In the celestial warfare this cannot be, 'For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God.'3 Bodily nature does not exercise dominion over you, nor docs it constrain you against your will; it does not make you slave instead of free. Desire not to leave behind you progeny upon the earth, but to lead them to heaven; nor to cleave to fleshly unions, but to strive after spiritual ones—to exercise power over souls and beget sons in the spirit. Follow the Heavenly Bridegroom; withstand the onset of invisible foes; wage war against principalities and powers,4 driving them out first from your own soul that they may have no part with you and, thereafter, out of those who fly to you and, seeking the protectionINTRODUCTION of your counsel, castLIFE themselves at12 TO ASCETICAL your feet as their leader and champion. Repudiate those disputes which arc opposed to the faith of Christ. Fight with the word of piety against the impious and wicked counsel; 'destroying counsels,' as the Apostle says, 'and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.'5 Place your trust, most 2 Cor. 10.4. 4 Eph. 6.12. 5 2 3 Cor. 10.4-5. of all, in the arm of the great King, the mere beholding INTRODUCTION of which makes HisLIFE enemies fear13 TO ASCETICAL and tremble. But whenever He wills that you also become holy through the endurance of perils and wishes to pit His own forces against the foe, then, in every struggle let your arms be invincible, your soul undaunted by danger, and with ready will change your abode from land to land and from sea to sea. 'And when they shall persecute you, flee from city to city,' says the Evangelist.2When you are summoned to court and must stand, perforce, before the magistrates or be a victim of popular attack; when you are forced to behold the dread visage of the executioner and hear his harsh voice, or endure the cruel sight of instruments of torment, or be tried by torture—fight even to the death. Be not faint-hearted in the face of all these sufferings. Keep before your eyes Him who for your sake was afflicted by them, knowing that for the sake of Christ you also must be tried therein, and you will be victorious over them; for you follow a King who is a victor, and who wishes you to share in His victory. Moreover, not even if you die have you been conquered—nay, then, in truth, have you won the perfect victory, inasmuch as you have preserved unto your own self and even to 2 Matt. 10.23. the end the truth which remains ever unchanged and you have maintained an intrepid boldness in speaking on behalf of the14 INTRODUCTION TO ASCETICAL LIFE truth. From death you shall pass to everlasting life, from ignominy in men's sight to glory with God, and from the adversities and chastisements of this world to eternal peace with the angels. Earth did not accept you as a citizen, but heaven will welcome you. The world persecuted you, but the angels will bear you aloft to the presence of Christ. You will even be called friend by Him and will hear the longed-for word 15 28 SAINT BASIL of commendation: 'Well done, good and faithful servant, brave soldier and imitator of the Lord, follower of the King, I shall reward you with My own gifts and I shall pay heed to your words even as you did to Mine.' You will ask the salvation of your brethren still laboring under tribulation and you will receive from the King for your comrades in the faith and in holy charity a share in His blessings. You will join in the never-ending dance and wear your crown in the sight of the angels, ruling under the King over His creatures and living blessedly in the company of the blessed. But if He wish to leave you still on earth after your conflicts in order to wage other and more diversified kinds of warfare and rescue many from contests with visible and invisible foes, great will be your glory even upon earth; you will be held in honor by your friends who will have found in you a defender, a friend in need, and an able spokesman. They will cherish you as a brave soldier; they will honor you as a noble champion; they will salute you as a friend and welcome you with joy as an angel of God and, according to Paul, as Christ Jesus.7 Such, then, are the similitudes of the spiritual warfare. But our discourse is not addressed to men only; for members of the female sex are not rejected 50 LUKE 16.10. because of physical weakness, but, chosen for the army of Christ by reason of their virility of spirit, they also battle on the side of Christ and fight no 28 SAINT BASIL less valiantly than men. Some even win a greater renown. Of the number of these are they who compose the virgin throng. Of these are they who are pre-eminent in the combat for the confession of the faith and in the triumphs of martyrdom. Indeed, women as well as men followed after the Lord during His life on earth and both sexes ministered to our Saviour. Since this is the glorious recompense laid up for the army of 7 50 LUKE 17.10. Gal. 4.14. 28 SAINT BASIL Christ, the fathers of sons and the mothers of daughters should be filled with longing for it. Let them, in their desire to have worthy envoys and spokesmen with Christ, bring before Him their offspring, rejoicing in the everlasting hopes which their children will share in with themselves. And let us not become faint-hearted in our concern for our children nor grow fearful if they suffer tribulation, but let us be happy that they will be glorified. Let us offer to the Lord the gifts received from Him, so that we may be partners with our children in glory, going before Him together with them and standing with them in His presence. Certainly, to those who show an alacrity such as this and who nobly contend for the victory, the words of the Psalmist may be appropriately applied: 'Blessed be you of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.8 And the prayer of Moses will be offered for them: 'Bless, O Lord, their Works, strike the brow of their enemies.'3 Fight manfully, then, like good soldiers and run nobly your race for the everlasting crown4 in Christ Jesus, our Lord, to whom be glory for ever. Amen. 50 LUKE 18.10. 3 Deut. 33.11. 4 I Cor. 9.24,25. 4 I'rov. 16.24.