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Review: Basil of Caesarea

In Basil of Caesarea: A Guide to His Life and Doctrine Andrew Radde-Gallwitz gives space to not only to the historical events and context of the life of Basil of Caesarea, but takes an extended look into the theology of Basil. However, unlike many books summarizing the theology of a great influencer of the church, Radde-Gallwitz doesn’t separate the human being from his or her theology. Radde-Gallwitz gives the context of the political and ecclesiastical world Basil lived in along with Basil’s various academic and personal relationships as a window into the place in life from which he approached the divine mysteries of God. Radde-Gallwitz strives to show a Basil who is not only an innovative and politically cunning bishop of the early church, but a theologian trying to bring unity in a difficult time whilst bringing as little innovation to the church’s understanding of God as possible.

The trajectory and guiding principal behind Basil of Caesarea — that the theology of Basil of Caesarea cannot be well understood outside of the historical context of the time and the mind of the theologian — is clear from a glance at the general outline of the book. Radde-Gallwitz starts with a quick introduction to the Council of Nicea and the difficulties of the pro-Nicea party within the church during the reign of Emperor Valens. From there the reader, in the early chapters of the book, is introduced to Basil the rhetoricist, the ascetic, and finally the presbyter and emerging theologian. While the story of Basil’s early ministry unfolds Radde-Gallwitz presents Basil’s theological counter to Eunomius’ understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son within its context to the effect that the reader can in some part feel the tension and hurt leading Basil’s theological perspective. As Radde-Gallwitz continues to show the development of Basil’s career and his eventual enthronement to the episcopacy of Caearea, he lays out Basil’s ever more defined view on the nature of the Holy Spirit and His relationship to the Father and the Son. Basil of Caesarea ends with Radde-Gallwitz presenting a Bishop Basil who is sickly, estranged by his once close friend Gregory of Nazianzus, and deeply hurt by the personal attacks of Eunomius’ refutation of Basil’s earlier work. Radde-Gallwitz leaves the reader with a broken and very personal Basil who is one with his theology.

From the introduction of Basil of Caesarea to the final chapter, Radde-Gallwitz remains academically neutral in his presentation of Basil. Space is given for Basil to be imperfect and to even have less-pious, political and career-based motives for some of his actions. Radde-Gallwitz makes it clear that during Basil’s lifetime it was not a fore-drawn conclusion that the statements of the Council of Nicea would become the definition of orthodoxy in the majority of the Christian church. Radde-Gallwitz ensures that no value judgements are placed upon those who counter Basil’s theology; any judgements within the text are clearly given from the perspective of Basil.

Given the above, it is very jarring when the final paragraphs of Basil of Caesarea become much less unbiased and suddenly very pro-Basil. Radde-Gallwitz says on page 147 that, “scholars must appreciate the gifts of Basil the theologian.” On page 148 Radde-Gallwitz drops academic neutrality altogether and begins to unpack his own Basil-inspired trinitarian theology. Though I agree with his stance on Basil and his theology of the Trinity, I found the placement of his personal opinion without separation from the neutral, academic text to be in very poor taste.

In all Andrew Radde-Gallwitz’s Basil of Caesarea: A Guid to His Life and Doctrine is a great presentation on the life and theology of Basil. The book presents not only an accurate historical context to Basil’s life, but paints of clear picture of the man Basil. Radde-Gallwitz shows how the relationships and personal struggles of Basil greatly influence his theological perspective; he shows a human working through the divine mysteries rather than an all-knowing saint. For this, I would highly recommend this work as a starting point for any serious study into the life or theology of Basil of Caesarea.