On the Source of Disorder and Disharmony

Agios VasiliosSt. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

Liberated from the error of pagan tradition through the benevolence and lovingkindness of the good God with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit, I was reared from the very beginning by Christian parents. From them I learned even in babyhood the Holy Scriptures which led me to a knowledge of the truth. When I grew to manhood, I traveled about frequently and, in the natural course of things, I engaged in a great many worldly affairs. Here I observed that the most harmonious relations existed among those trained in the pursuit of each of the arts and sciences; while in the Church of God alone, for which Christ died and upon which He poured out in abundance the Holy Spirit, I noticed that many disagree violently with one another and also in their understanding of the Holy Scriptures. Most alarming of all is the fact that I found the very leaders of the Church themselves at such variance with one another in thought and opinion, showing so much opposition to the commands of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so mercilessly rending asunder the Church of God and cruelly confounding His flock that, in our day, with the rise of the Anomoeans, there is fulfilled in them as never before the prophecy, ‘Of your own selves shall arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:30)

Witnessing such disorders as these and perplexed as to what the cause and source of such evil might be, I at first was in a state, as it were, of thick darkness and, as if on a balance, I veered now this way, now that—attracted now to one man, now to another, under the influence of protracted association with these persons, and then thrust in the other direction, as I bethought myself of the validity of the Holy Scriptures. After a long time spent in this state of indecision and while I was still busily searching for the cause I have mentioned, there came to my mind the Book of Judges which tells how each man did what was right in his own eyes and gives the reason for this in the words: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel.’ (Jags 21:24) With these words in mind, then, I applied also to the present circumstances that explanation which, incredible and frightening as it may be, is quite truly pertinent when it is understood; for never before has there arisen such discord and quarreling as now among the members of the Church in consequence of their turning away from the one, great, and true God, only King of the universe. Each man, indeed, abandons the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and arrogates to himself authority in dealing with certain questions, making his own private rules, and preferring to exercise leadership in opposition to the Lord to being led by the Lord. Reflecting upon this and aghast at the magnitude of the impiety, I pursued my investigation further and became convinced that the aforesaid cause was no less the true source also of secular difficulties. I noticed that as long as the common obedience of the others to some one leader was maintained, all was discipline and harmony in the whole group; but that division and discord and a rivalry of leaders besides proceeded from a lack of leadership. Moreover, I once had observed how even a swarm of bees, in accordance with a law of nature, lives under military discipline and obeys its own king with orderly precision. Many such instances have I witnessed and many others I have heard of, and pereons who make profession of such matters know many more still, so that they can vouch for the truth of what I have said. Now, if good order with its attendant harmony is characteristic of those who look to one source of authority and are subject to one king, then universal disorder and disharmony are a sign that leadership is wanting. By the same token, if we discover in our midst such lack of accord as I have mentioned, both with regard to one another and with respect to the Lord’s commands, it would be an indictment either of our rejection of the true king, according to the Scriptural saying: ‘only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way,’ (2 Thes. 2:7) or of denial of Him according to the Psalmist: “The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.”(Ps. 13:1) And as a kind of token or proof of this, there follow the words: ‘They are corrupt and are become abominable in their ways.’

…From this and similar evidence I concluded that, in general, as a result of not knowing God, the wickedness of vice produces a reprobate understanding and, in particular, that the disagreement in the world comes from the fact that we have rendered ourselves unworthy of the Lord’s leadership. But, if I should apply myself to an inquiry into such behavior, I should be unable to assess the full extent of its obtuseness, or irrationality, or madness, or—what word I should use I know not, because of the enormity of the evil If even among the very brutes we find mutual harmony preserved by reason of their obedience to a leader, what ought we to say of the great disharmony existing among ourselves and of our insubordination to the Lord’s commands? Must we not think that all these models are proposed to us now by the good God for our instruction and conversion, but that in the great and dreadful day of judgment they will be brought forward by Him unto the shame and condemnation of those who have not profited by the instruction? Already, to be sure, He has said and He ever keeps saying: ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel hath not known me and my people hath not understood/ 12 and many other utterances of this kind are to be found. Consider, further, these words of the Apostle: ‘And if one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it 3 ; 13 likewise, that saying: ‘that there might be no schism in the body, but the members might be mutually careful one for another 514 —that is to say, being animated by one soul dwelling therein. Wherefore is it so ordained? In my opinion, so that this conformity and harmony may exist in a pre-eminent degree in the Church of God to which are addressed the words: ‘Now you are the body of Christ and members of member’ 15 —that is, the one and only true Head which is Christ exercises dominion over and unites the members, each with the other, unto harmonious accord. With those among whom harmony is not secured, however, the bond of peace is not preserved, mildness of spirit is not maintained, but there dissension, strife and rivalry are found. It would be a great piece of audacity to call such persons ‘members of Christ’ or to say that they are ruled by Him; but it would be the expression of an honest mind to say openly that the wisdom of the flesh is master there and wields a royal sovereignty, according to the words of the Apostle who says definitively: To whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are whom you obey,’ (Rom. 6:16)…

In the light of these and many more sayings which I pass over in silence, it is so obviously and undeniably essential for unity to be fully realized in the whole Church at once, according to the will of Christ in the Holy Spirit, and, on the other hand, disobedience to God through mutual discord is so dangerous and fatal (‘for,’ says the Evangelist, ‘he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him’), that I thought the following inference could be drawn: Whatever sins a man is able to gain pardon for from God, or whatever be their number or their gravity, he is, in any case, liable to condemnation for contumacy. Accordingly I find, in taking up the Holy Scripture, that in the Old and New Testament contumacy toward God is clearly condemned, not in consideration of the number or heinousness of transgressions, but in terms of a single violation of any precept whatsoever, and, further, that the judgment of God covers all forms of disobedience…

A very wicked convention, however, leads us astray and a perverted human tradition is the source of great evil for us; I mean that tradition according to which some sins are denounced and others are viewed indifferently. Crimes like homicide and adultery are the object of a violent but feigned indignation, while others, such as anger or reviling or drunkenness or avarice, are not considered deserving of even a simple rebuke. Yet, regarding all these transgressions, Paul, speaking in Christ, also expressed in another place the view noted above, saying: ‘they who do such things are worthy of death.’ And certainly, where every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God is destroyed, and every understanding is brought into captivity unto the obedience of Christ., and every disobedience receives condign punishment, there, nothing is left undestroyed, nothing remitted without penalty, nothing is exempt from the obedience of Christ. Moreover, the Apostle has shown also that all forms of disobedience have a common feature in that they all represent the very greatest impiety. (“On the Judgment of God”, Ludwig Schopp. The Fathers Of The Church A New Translation Saint Basil Ascetical Works Volume 9 [Kindle Locations 572-781]. The Catholic University Of America Press)

 

 

 

 

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