25 July 2006

Another Melancholy Lament

What storm at sea was ever so savage as this tempest of the Churches? It has moved every boundary established by the Fathers; every foundation, every established bulwark of doctrine has been shaken. Everything still remaining afloat is shaken by unsound teaching and thrown back into the abyss.

We attack one another; we are overthrown by one another. If the enemy does not strike us first we are wounded by our comrade; if he is wounded and falls, he is trampled by his fellow soldier. Although we are united in our hatred of common foes, no sooner do they retreat, and we find enemies in each other. Who could even list all the casualties? Some have fallen in battle with the enemy; some have been treacherously betrayed by their allies; others are the victims of their leaders' incompetence. Entire churches are dashed and shattered on the sunken reefs of subtle heresy, while other enemies of the Spirit of salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith. ...

A darkness full of gloom and misery has descended on the Churches: the lights of the world, established by God to enlighten the souls of the people, have been exiled. The terror of universal destruction already hangs over us, yet they continue enjoying their rivalries, ignoring any sense of danger. Private enemies are more important to these men [than] the struggle of an entire people; they prefer the glory of subduing their opponents to securing the common welfare, and they love the immediate delights of worldly honor more than the rewards awaiting us in the age to come.

So all men alike, depending on how much power each one has, rush upon each other with murderous hands. They fight against each other with harsh words; they nearly fill the Church with the meaningless cries and unintelligible shouts of their incessant clamor. They continually pervert the teachings of true religion, sometimes by adding to them, and other times by reducing them. ... Inspired scripture is meaningless to mediate between [them], nor can apostolic tradition offer them terms of reconciliation.

One honest word and your friendship with them is finished; one disagreement with their opinions is sufficient pretext for a quarrel. No oath is so effective for holding a conspiracy together as common fellowship in error.

Every man is a theologian; it does not matter that his soul is covered with more blemishes than can be counted. The result is that these innovators find an abundance of men to join their factions. So ambitious, self-elected men divide the government of the Churches among themselves, and reject the authority of the Holy Spirit. The ordinances of the Gospel have been thrown into confusion everywhere for lack of discipline... The result of this lust for power is that wild anarchy prevails among the people...since every man in his arrogant delusion thinks that it is more his business to give orders to others than to obey anyone himself.

Since no human voice is powerful enough to be heard in such an uproar, I reckon that silence is more profitable than words. If the words of the Preacher are true: "The words of the wise are heard in quiet," then with the present state of affairs, any discussion of them at all is scarcely appropriate. ...

The love of many has grown cold; concord among brothers is no more; the very name of unity is ignored; Christian compassion or sympathetic tears cannot be found anywhere. Thre is no one to welcome someone weak in faith, but mutual hatred blazes so fiercely among brothers that a neighbors' fall brings them more joy than their own household's success. ...

Those who judge the erring are merciless and bitter, while those judging the upright are unfair and hostile. This evil is so firmly rooted in us that we have become more brutish than the beasts: At least they herd together with their own kindred, but we reserve our most savage warfare for the members of our own household.

These are the reasons I should have kept quiet, but love pulled me in the opposite direction, the love that is not self-seeking, but desires to conquer every obstacle put in her way by time and circumstance. I learned from the example of the children in Babylon that when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we must accomplish our duties alone. They sang a hymn to God from the midst of the flames, not thinking of the multitudes who rejected the truth, but content to have each other, though there were only three of them.

Therefore the cloud of our enemies does not dismay us, but we place our trust in the Spirit's help, and boldly proclaim the truth.

These are the closing words of St Basil's De Spiritu Sancto as translated by David Anderson. For me, they ring as true today as they did more than 1600 years ago.

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