This article has two parts. Part 1 and Part 2 which is shown as two blogs.
The article deals with St. Basil’s homily on Creation (also called as Hexeameron) and the human world of science. In the following paragraphs, the reader gets to understand a comparison about Creation between St. Basil’s homily and science. The major findings of what science has made till today with regards to this subject is also shown to get a clearer understanding about the theology on creation written by St. Basil and how those writings are still relevant today.
The homily is shown in red color and italics; its comparison to science is shown in blue color. The part of the homily which is shown in black, has no comparison to science but is included in the article to keep the original message of the homily as it is. Some notes and sayings of church fathers are given in text boxes.
Let us go back in time, during the early Byzantine period, the time when St. Basil lived….
On the opposite side of Emperor Julian and of the scholars who practiced astrology during the early Byzantine period, a number of Church Fathers (‘Doctors of the Church’) and bishops flourished and left a legacy in Philosophy and Science without belonging to a school, or representing one. Some of these Church scholars were educated in the neo-Platonic school of Athens and they essentially formulated the Christian dogma, representing Christianity, since the Christian philosophy of that age was shaped on the basis of neo-Platonic and Aristotelian influences.
The main representatives of this current of thought in the early Byzantine period are above all others the three Church Fathers from Cappadocia: Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint John Chrysostom.
As per the definition in science, Cosmology is the study of the Universe and its components, how it formed, how it has evolved and what its future is. Cosmology is as old as humankind. Once primitive social groups developed language, it was a short step to making their first attempts to understand the world around them. Modern cosmology grew from ideas recorded in history. Ancient man asked questions such as “What’s going on around me?” which then developed into “How does the Universe work?” the key question that cosmology asks. Many of the earliest recorded scientific observations were about cosmology, and pursue of understanding has continued for over 5000 years. One of the most famous and widely accepted models for the universe’s development is the big bang theory.
|About St. Basil:
St. Basil was born in Neocaesareia, on the Black Sea shore, in the year Constantinople was founded (330). His family was a pious Christian one; his father was Basil, a teacher of Rhetorics and his mother Emmeleia. His grandmother, Macrina, was a daughter of a martyr and she was taught the primal Christian theology by Gregory the Illuminator (c. 257–c. 331), the patron saint of Armenia. After he received an elementary education in Neocaesareia, Basil continued his studies in Caesareia of Cappadocia, in Antioch, in Constantinople (under the gentile orator Livanius) and in the famous neo-Platonic school of Athens, where philosophers Imerius and Proaeresius were teaching. In these student years Basil became a friend of Gregory of Nazianzus, while he also met with Julian, the subsequent Emperor Julian the ‘Renegade’ (Paravates). When he returned in his homeland, Basil followed a monastic life for quite a while. In Caesareia Basil was ordained a deacon, a priest and later on he became a bishop (370-379). After his death he was elevated to the ranks of the saints of the Church; his younger brothers Gregory of Nyssa and Peter of Sebasteia, and sister Macrina, were also sanctified.
During the several years of his studies Basil received a wide classical education. He studied Grammar, Rhetorics, Medicine, Philosophy, Geometry, Mathematics and Astronomy.
About 350 letters are attributed to Saint Basil the Great. Of special interest for those that study Theology, Philosophy and the History and philosophy of the sciences are the Nine Homilies to the Six-Day Creation and the letters, which show his broad and deep knowledge not only in Astronomy but also in Meteorology. This is mentioned by professor Κ.D. Georgoulis: “From a philosophical point of view, of special interest are the ‘Nine Homilies to the Six-Day Creation’. In these Basil has incorporated his views in Physics, Cosmology and Anthropology. He exhibits a love towards nature and he appears to be a keen observer of natural phenomena and events… Nature is esteemed as a creation that was created by God through His wisdom… St. Basil the Great in these Homilies lays the foundations for the new stance of Christianity towards the physical reality.
Let us look into St. Basil’s Homily.
The Nine Homilies to the Six-Day Creation is a work rich in astronomical information and in the corresponding philosophical approaches of Cosmology. The Nine Homilies were translated for the first time in Latin by the Byzantine scholar and philosopher Ioannis Argyropoulos (1410-1490), who earned the seat of Greek studies at the University of Florence in 1456 and stayed there at least up to 1471.
In the Beginning God made the Heaven and the Earth.
- It is right that any one beginning to narrate the formation of the world should begin with the good order which reigns in visible things. I am about to speak of the creation of heaven and earth, which was not spontaneous, as some have imagined, but drew its origin from God.
The big bang theory describes the development of the universe from the time just after it came into existence up to today. Because of the limitations of the laws of science, scientific community couldn’t make any guesses about the instant the universe came into being. This can be known from the statement that ‘A lot happened in that first second of the big bang’, which leads to fact that the existence of the universe was spontaneous. This is what St.Basil mentioned during his time, in the 4th century mentioning in his homily “the creation of heaven and earth, which was not spontaneous, as some have imagined”, showing it is very relevant today also.
What ear is worthy to hear such a tale? How earnestly the soul should prepare itself to receive such high lessons! How pure it should be from carnal affections, how unclouded by worldly disquietudes, how active and ardent in its researches, how eager to find in its surroundings an idea of God which may be worthy of Him! But before weighing the justice of these remarks, before examining all the sense contained in these few words, let us see who addresses them to us. Because, if the weakness of our intelligence does not allow us to penetrate the depth of the thoughts of the writer, yet we shall be involuntarily drawn to give faith to his words by the force of his authority. Now it is Moses who has composed this history; Moses, who, when still at the breast, is described as exceeding fair; Moses, whom the daughter of Pharaoh adopted; who received from her a royal education, and who had for his teachers the wise men of Egypt; Moses, who disdained the pomp of royalty, and, to share the humble condition of his compatriots, preferred to be persecuted with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting delights of sin; Moses, who received from nature such a love of justice that, even before the leadership of the people of God was committed to him, he was impelled, by a natural horror of evil, to pursue malefactors even to the point of punishing them by death; Moses, who, banished by those whose benefactor he had been, hastened to escape from the tumults of Egypt and took refuge in Ethiopia, living there far from former pursuits, and passing forty years in the contemplation of nature; Moses, finally, who, at the age of eighty, saw God, as far as it is possible for man to see Him; or rather as it had not previously been granted to man to see Him, according to the testimony of God Himself, “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house, with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently and not in dark speeches.” It is this man, whom God judged worthy to behold Him, face to face, like the angels, who imparts to us what he has learnt from God. Let us listen then to these words of truth written without the help of the “enticing words of man’s wisdom” by the dictation of the Holy Spirit; words destined to produce not the applause of those who hear them, but the salvation of those who are instructed by them.
|Below are the writings of church fathers on the writings of Moses.
Saint Irenaeos (ca. 130-ca. 200), Bishop of Lyons: “The writings of Moses are the words of Christ. Christ Himself declares to the Jews, as John has recorded in the Gospel: ‘For if ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for concerning Me that one wrote. But if ye believe not the writings of that one, how shall ye believe My words [Jn. 5:46, 47]?’ He thus indicates in the clearest manner that the writings of Moses are His words. If, then, [this be the case with regard] to Moses, so also, beyond a doubt, the words of the other prophets are His [words]….And again, the Lord Himself exhibits Abraham as having said to the rich man, with reference to all those who were still alive: ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if one should rise from the dead [Lk. 16:31].’”
Saint John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407): “The Lord said to the Jews, ‘Cease thinking that I will accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuseth you—Moses, in whom ye have hoped [Jn. 5:45]. For if ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for concerning Me that one wrote. But if ye believe not the writings of that one, how shall ye believe My words [Jn. 5:46, 47]?’ What the Lord is saying is of this kind: ‘It is Moses who has been insulted more than I by your conduct toward Me, for ye have disbelieved him rather than Me.’ See how in every way He has cast them out from all excuse….‘And whence,’ says someone, ‘is it clear that Moses will accuse us, and that Thou art not a boaster? What hast Thou to do with Moses?…And how doth it appear that we shall believe on another who cometh in his own name? All these assertions Thou makest without evidence.’…Yet (Christ would reply) ‘since it is acknowledged that I came from God, both by the works, by the voice of John, and by the testimony of the Father, it is evident that Moses will accuse the Jews.’
“‘But whence doth it appear that they will believe another?’ From their hating Christ, since they who turn aside from Him Who cometh according to the will of God will, it is quite plain, receive the enemy of God….However, since the Scriptures terrified them less than Moses, He brings round His discourse to the very person of Moses, setting over against them their Lawgiver as their accuser, thus rendering the terror more impressive. Observe: they said that they persecuted Jesus through love for God, He showeth that they did so through hating God; they said that they held fast to Moses, He shows that they acted thus because they believed not Moses….If they believed Moses they ought to have done homage to One of Whom Moses prophesied….Therefore, we must cast out all wickedness from our souls, and never more contrive any deceit; for, saith one, ‘To the crooked God sendeth forth crooked paths [Prov. 21:8].’”3
Again, Patriarch Abraham said to the rich man: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if one should rise from the dead [Lk. 16:31].”Saint Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604) comments: “Abraham’s reply is fulfilled. The Lord rose from the dead, but because the Jews were unwilling to believe Moses, they refused to believe the One Who did rise from the dead.”
Note: We know that Basil studied Astronomy in Athens. Basil ended up as a very prolific author of the Church, a Father who struggled for Orthodoxy and against the heretical views of his period.
We observe that first of all, St.Basil opposes to many views of the ancient Greek philosophy that do not agree with the Christian cosmological model; in addition he strongly opposes to certain Christian heretical views that also express or imply a world model different from that of the Old Testament. For his tireless teaching and writing despite his fragile health, Basil was called by the Church ‘Great’ ecumenical Teacher.
From the science point of view perhaps one of the greatest influences on modern thought are the ideas that arose from Greek philosophy between 600 BC and start of the Roman Empire. The works of scholars from this era will influence philosophers and scientists into the 21st century and many of our modern cosmological frameworks have their root in ancient Greek ideas. While many of our first cosmologies were based on myths and legends, it is the Greek philosophical tradition that introduces an intellectual approach based on evidence, reason and debate. While many of their ideas barely qualify as scientific theories, their reliance on mathematics as a tool to understand the Universe remains to this day.
The homily continues as follows:
- “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I stop struck with admiration at this thought. What shall I first say? Where shall I begin my story? Shall I show forth the vanity of the Gentiles? Shall I exalt the truth of our faith? The philosophers of Greece have made much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of God, could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the Universe; a primary error that involved them in sad consequences.
|In support to the above homily by St. Basil Saint Paul says: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived by the things which are made, both His eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse, because, having known God, they glorified Him not as God, nor were thankful, but were brought to nought in their reasonings, and their heart, void of understanding, was darkened; asserting to be wise, they became foolish [Rom. 1:20-22].”|
Cosmology has exploded in the last 20 years with radically new information about the structure, origin and evolution of the Universe obtained through recent technological advances in telescopes and space observatories and basically has become a search for the understanding of not only what makes up the Universe (the objects within it) but also its overall architecture. In science, the source of truth is observation and experimentation. They spawn scientific hypotheses and theories, suggest models and patterns on the basis of some observations or other, and predict the course of events, which in turn must be tested by experiment. If repeated observations do not concur with the theory’s predictions, the theory will be thrown out and replaced by a new one. Science must be based solely on unquestionable, proven facts. We observe here that St. Basil’s statement as “and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor” is true towards scientific experiments.
Some had recourse to material principles and attributed the origin of the Universe to the elements of the world. Others imagined that atoms, and indivisible bodies, molecules and ducts, form, by their union, the nature of the visible world. Atoms reuniting or separating produce births and deaths and the most durable bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion: a true spider’s web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth, and to sea so weak an origin and so little consistency! It is because they knew not how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
On July 4, 2012, scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced their discovery of a particle that behaves the way the Higgs boson should behave. The results, while published with a high degree of certainty, are still somewhat preliminary. Some researchers are calling the particle “Higgslike” until the findings — and the data — stand up to more scrutiny.
Particle physics usually has a hard time competing with politics and celebrity gossip for headlines, but the Higgs boson has garnered some serious attention. That’s exactly what happened on July 4, 2012, though, when scientists at CERN announced that they’d found a particle that behaved the way they expect the Higgs boson to behave. Maybe the famed boson’s grand and controversial nickname, the “God Particle,” has kept media outlets buzzing. Then again, the intriguing possibility that the Higgs boson is responsible for all the mass in the universe rather captures the imagination, too. Or perhaps we’re simply excited to learn more about our world. To this St. Basil say’s “It is because they knew not how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
Deceived by their inherent atheism it appeared to them that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that was all was given up to chance. To guard us against this error the writer on the creation, from the very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God; “In the beginning God created.”
Peter Higgs is an atheist and holds strong political views.
What a glorious order! He first establishes a beginning, so that it might not be supposed that the world never had a beginning. Then he adds “Created” to show that which was made was a very small part of the power of the Creator. In the same way that the potter, after having made with equal pains a great number of vessels, has not exhausted either his art or his talent; thus the Maker of the Universe, whose creative power, far from being bounded by one world, could extend to the infinite, needed only the impulse of His will to bring the immensities of the visible world into being. If then the world has a beginning, and if it has been created, enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was the Creator: or rather, in the fear that human reasoning may make you wander from the truth, Moses has anticipated enquiry by engraving in our hearts, as a seal and a safeguard, the awful name of God: “In the beginning God created”—It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness without measure, a worthy object of love for all beings endowed with reason, the beauty the most to be desired, the origin of all that exists, the source of life, intellectual light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who “in the beginning created heaven and earth.”
The big bang theory describes the development of the universe from the time just after it came into existence up to today. It’s one of several scientific models that attempts to explain why the universe is the way it is. The theory makes several predictions, many of which have been proven through observational data. As a result, it’s the most popular and accepted theory regarding our universe’s development. True to St. Basil’s words, here we see that science does not accept that the world was “Created” and no enquiry is made as to “who gave it this beginning, and who was the Creator”
The article continues with some selected sayings of the church fathers on “The Creator and the creation……..”