He Compares Our Souls to Vines

From Homilies on the Hexameron, V.6. (ca. 370).

“Let the earth,” the Creator adds, “bring forth the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself.” (Genesis 1:11).

At this command, every copse was thickly planted; all the trees, fir, cedar, cypress, pine, rose to their greatest height, the shrubs were straightway clothed with thick foliage…Most marked differences separated them from other plants, and each one was distinguished by a character of its own.

It is the trees which contribute most to our life, which offer their various fruits to humanity and provide us with plentiful nourishment.  Such is the vine, which produces wine to make glad the heart of man…

How many things in nature are combined in the same plant! In a vine, roots, green and flexible branches, which spread themselves far over the earth, buds, tendrils, bunches of sour grapes and ripe grapes. The sight of a vine, when observed by an intelligent eye, serves to remind you of your nature. Without doubt you remember the parable where the Lord calls himself a vine and his Father the husbandman, and every one of us who are grafted by faith into the Church the branches. He invites us to produce fruits in abundance, for fear lest our sterility should condemn us to the fire (John 15:1-6).

He constantly compares our souls to vines. “My well beloved,” says he, “has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill” (Isaiah 5:1), and elsewhere, “I have planted a vineyard and hedged it round about” (Matthew 21:33). He calls human souls his vine, those souls whom he has surrounded with the authority of his precepts and a guard of angels. The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear him. And further: He has planted for us, so to say, props, in establishing in his Church apostles, prophets, teachers. And raising our thoughts by the example of the blessed in olden times, he has not allowed them to drag on the earth and be crushed under foot.

He wishes that the claspings of love, like the tendrils of the vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that, in our continual aspirations towards heaven, we may imitate these vines, which raise themselves to the tops of the tallest trees. He also asks us to allow ourselves to be dug about; and that is what the soul does when it detaches itself from the cares of the world, which are a weight on our hearts. The one, then, who is freed from carnal affections and from the love of riches, and, far from being dazzled by them, disdains and despises this miserable vainglory, is, so to say, dug about and, at length, breathes, free from the useless weight of earthly thoughts.

Nor must we, in the spirit of the parable, put forth too much wood, that is to say, live with ostentation, and gain the applause of the world; we must bring forth fruits, keeping the proof of our works for the husbandman. Be like a green olive tree in the house of God, never destitute of hope, but decked through faith with the bloom of salvation. Thus, you will resemble the eternal vitality of this plant and will rival it in fruitfulness, if each day sees you giving abundantly in alms.

St. Basil the Great (330-379) was Bishop of Caesarea and a devoted advocate of Nicene Christology, traditionally acclaimed as one of the four Eastern Doctors of the Church. A rule written by him is the basis of communal monastic life in the Eastern Church, and he founded the first major Christian hospital. His Hexameron, a series of nine sermons on the six days of creation, are a wide-ranging survey of theological, cosmological and scientific themes, the oldest surviving example of a genre of treatise that was common in the patristic and medieval eras. The text is slightly adapted for modern readers. His feast day is June 14.


Online Archives