What Insights We Have

From Concerning Faith, 3 (ca. 372-375)

The nature and majesty of God cannot be defined in language or comprehended by human intellect. It cannot be explained or grasped in any one phrase or concept, but requires a variety of language. Inspired Scripture has instructed the pure in heart, but only with difficulty, and then, “as in a mirror, darkly.” For to see God face to face and to have our knowledge perfected is promised for the age to come, and then, only to those who are deemed worthy of it.

But now in this present life, even though we be a Peter or a Paul, and though we see truly and be not deceived or subject to a fantasy, yet must we always remember that we are still seeing “as in a mirror, darkly.” So let us cherish what insights we have in this life with joy, as we wait for the perfection of hereafter.

When we study Scripture we become increasingly aware of its witness to the partiality of our present knowledge and the incomprehensibility of the divine mystery. As a person progresses in this life so horizons expand, and the prospect of achieving a satisfactory understanding diminishes. We wait for the day when the partial shall be abolished and the wholeness of perfection established. No single title is sufficient to declare the glory of God, and there is great danger of fastening upon one phrase as if it were all-sufficient. For example, one person says, “God”, but that does not necessarily connote Father; and in the title “Father”, the idea of Maker is absent. And where in these titles are the others found in Scripture: goodness, wisdom, power, and so on?

Again, if we apply the term “Father” to God (in the strict sense in which we habitually use it), then are we not predicating of God passions, sexual impulses, ignorance, weakness, and various things? Similarly with the term “Maker”; in human constructs this involves time, the use of materials and various instruments and assistance. But these images are wholly inappropriate when applied to God, and as far as is humanly possible, they must be excluded from our thinking. For, as I have said, though every mind were to be united in investigating the mystery of God, though every tongue were united in its proclamation, yet not one would be found worthy of comprehending what is by definition, incomprehensible.

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 homily Concerning Faith is an important statement of his mature Trinitarian doctrine, and places special emphasis on the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, a matter in dispute at the time. His feast day is June 14.

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