Natural Contemplation in St. Basil of Caesarea

Rev. Dr. Enrico Cattaneo, SJ

For St. Basil (c. 330-379) “natural contemplation” (physikê theôria) is the capacity to see traces of God’s wisdom and beauty in visible realities. It is a natural capacity, connected with the use of reason, which cannot fail to arrive at the Creator, when taken by surprise and wonder at the world’s order and beauty. This view of nature is not utilitarian, but rather contemplative and requires a mind free from the passions. Thus, starting from the book of nature, man is able to elevate his mind to God and, going beyond created reality, he contemplates with the eyes of his soul something of Divine Beauty. In summary, this is the essence of Basil’s thought, which we will now try to illustrate.[1]

The Bishop of Caesarea preached and then wrote out nine famous sermons on Gen 1,1-25, i.e., the first five days of creation, according to a theological-spiritual interpretation, going against the more common trend of an allegorical interpretation, employed by those under the influence of the Alexandrian school.[2]

Thus, the Bible’s literal sense, as intelligently understood, is the point of departure. After every creative act, resounds the affirmation: And God saw that it was good (Gen 1,8), kalòn, i.e., beautiful, according to the Septuagint version – the Scripture inspired by God – not only affirming the goodness of creation but also the harmony of its order. Basil comments:

The Beautiful (kalòn) is what is done in accordance with the rules of art and seeks the usefulness of its end. Thus, He had clearly established the purpose of created things and, by His manifest words, He approved every part of creation inasmuch as it conformed to its end. […] God is described as the Supreme Artist, praising each one of His works; and, when His work is complete, He will accord well deserved praise to the whole together (Hex. 3,10,1-3; ed. M. Naldini, 102).

The Psalms also sing of God’s glory present in creation (cf. Ps. 18,2), since He has created all things in His wisdom:

What language can attain to the marvels of the Creator?  What ear could understand them?  And what time would be sufficient to relate them? Let us say, then, with the prophet, O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all (Hex. 9,3,11; Naldini 280).

There is a page from his Commentary on Isaiah that seems to be taken from the Hexameron:

Admire in birds the wisdom and harmonious disposition of the Creator: how their weight is borne upon the air; how air’s subtle nature serves as a vehicle for their wings; how, by the extension of their wings, they pass through the air, while their tails function as a rudder directing their flight; how those birds unfit to walk supplement with their wings the weakness of their legs. As for animals, those made for swimming and those made for hunting have bodies adapted according to their particular mode of life: some have bodies made for grasping, i.e., they have claws; others have webbed feet, like fins, to more easily push and move through water. All things are filled with God’s wisdom (In Is. 78; PG 30, 249AB).

Above all, Rm 1,20 states without hesitation that certain perfections of God can be known from creation. Basil often has recourse to this text:

The created world […] is really the school (disaskalèion) where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground (paideutêrion), where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation (theôrian) of invisible things. For, as the Apostle says, the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Rm 1,20)” (Hex. 1,6,2; Naldini 20-22).

Here the term theôria – contemplation[3] – appears, indicating the purely intellectual act, which starts from visible reality and, then, rises from the senses to the invisible:

May God who, after having made such great things, […] grant you the intelligence of His truth, so that you may raise yourselves from visible things to the invisible Being, and that the grandeur and beauty of creatures may give you a just idea of the Creator. For the visible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, and His power and divinity are eternal(Rm 1,20)” (Hex. 3,10,5-6; Naldini 104).

In the classical world, the idea of “contemplation” has had a long and complex history.[4] For Plato, the “contemplation” of Ideas – the Good and the One – begins with the sensible world, as when beginning with corporeal beauty, one can step by step arrive at the contemplation of Beauty Itself.[5] Aristotle placed a distinction between the “active life” (of the polis) and the “contemplative life” (of the philosopher, uninvolved in the polis). Philo of Alexandria wrote De vita contemplativa, which is not a treatise on mysticism, but rather a description of the life of the “contemplatives,” who formed a veritable monastic community, completely dedicated to prayer and the ascetical life.[6] Plotinus also developed an ascending path to Beauty.[7]

First of all, we observe in Basil the presence of the concept of “analogy”:

Let us glorify the supreme Artificer for all that was wisely and skilfully made; by the beauty of visible things let us raise ourselves to Him who is above all beauty; by the grandeur of bodies, visible and limited in their nature, let us conceive of the infinite Being whose immensity and omnipotence surpass all the efforts of the imagination (Hex. 1,11,7; Naldini 36).[8]

This is what Basil calls “natural contemplation,”[9] i.e., the knowledge of God not directly, but mediated through creatures:

“In the contemplation of nature (physikê theôria), reflection on the Holy Trinity is also involved, since from the beauty of created things, by means of analogy, the Creator is contemplated” (Ep. 8,12; PG 32,268B).[10]

This contemplation does not have a practical purpose, but it obviously presupposes a moral life, a discipline and purification of the senses, because without this purification, the mind itself is not “perspicacious,” i.e., it is no longer able to “see” beyond the sensible:

The true and lovable beauty, which is the blessed and divine nature, can be contemplated only by those who have a purified mind (Hom Ps. 29,5; PG 29,317B).[11]

Some passages in the Commentary on Isaiah return to this need for a purification of the mind and a detachment from the passions:

He, who does not believe in the Lord, does not encounter the true beauty of nature, nor reach its contemplation. In fact, there is no enjoyment felt in the harmony of limbs, nor in the tones of a healthy body; for Beauty par excellence in the divine nature is known only by a mind purified in a perfect manner, as the Psalm says: On account of your glory and your beauty (Ps 44,4). Therefore, he that does not perceive the rays of divine beauty by the inner eye calls what is ugly, beautiful; and if he negates what is beautiful, he obviously adheres to its opposite (In Is. 175; PG 30, 412CD).

The danger offered by the senses is that once obsessed by corporeal beauty, one can think that true beauty lies only therein:

No one, drawn gently away from the bitterness of vice, gives glory to a lascivious lifestyle; while the soul, yielding to the slavery of physical beauty, maintains that therein lies the nature of true beauty (In Is.175; PG 30, 413A).

Thus, it is not the senses that are evil, rather their abuse, like those addicted to vice of drinking. In this regard, the text Is. 5.11-12 contains a “woe” addressed to die-hard drinkers, who spend time from morning to night in banquets, music and dance. The prophet names the detrimental effect of this vice as the loss of a religious sense. In fact, these men do not observe the works of the Lord and do not understand His handiwork (Is 5,12).[12] Basil comments:

They do not find the time to understand the wonderful works of God, nor give their eyes a chance to look up at the sky and see its beauty, in such a manner that beginning with this wondrous order, they could reach an understanding of their Creator (In Is.154; PG 30, 372B).

They do not have time to observe the works of God and understand the labour of His hands (In Is. 155; PG 30, 373B).

This text of Isaiah invites Basil, most certainly under the influence of Origen, to place a distinction between the verbs ‘to observe’ (emblèpein) and ‘to understand’ (katanoèin):

“To observe” indicates the perception of things through the eyes, “to understand” means the contemplation of invisible realities through the intellect. Since the invisible things of God, from the very creation of the world, can be contemplated by the intellect in His works (Rom 1,20), he, who does not admire [His] works, does not arrive at an understanding [of Him], which comes through the intellect. What does the word [of the Prophet] mean? Drunkenness is a principle of atheism, because the intellectual faculty, which is given to us to know God, is darkened (In Is. 156-157; 376AB).

The contemplation of God through His works is not therefore something optional, something extra that could be done without, rather it touches the eternal destiny of man; thus, “observing” creation without “understanding” the Creator is man’s true sin, because it means missing the end for which he was created:

If it is a sin  not to observe the works of the Lord and not to understand His handiwork, then let us raise the eyes of our minds and see the creative words of God’s works, and let us contemplate the Creator from the immense beauty of creation by means of analogy. And since the invisible perfections of God, from the creation of the world, can be contemplated by the intellect in His works (Rm 1.20); thus, the perception of sensitive creatures is called “vision” and the intellectual perception of suprasensible reality is called “understanding.” For Isaiah says: They do not observe the works of God – i.e., they do not look upon sensible things with their eyes – and they do not understand the works of His hands, i.e., they do not look by means of the intellectual power to understand the invisible realities (In Is.161; PG 30, 381C-384A).

Rather,

those who contemplate the wisdom by which the celestial beings are ordered, namely, the position of the stars, their motion and reciprocal relations, these understand the grandeur of His [God’s] intelligence, so they can say: His intelligence has no measure(Ps 146, 5) (In Is. 168; PG 30, 396C).

Ultimately,

There are two ways by which we can rise to the knowledge of God and perfect ourselves: either through natural concepts, going from visible reality to the Creator, or through the teachings given in Scripture (In Is. 212; PG 30, 485AB).

The purified mind is called Sion, because [its height] forms an observatory[13] of all nature. For it is from a certain height, i.e., from the apex of the mind, that the world and its wondrous order are contemplated, and from there one arrives at God. From up there, you can see all created things and their lowliness. When the mind is immersed in wine and other passions, it falls under the power of drunkenness; on the other hand, the purified mind has God as its support (In Is. 291; PG 30, 629A).

A much debated topic within the Platonic tradition is whether the contemplation of divine realities also implies a “going out of oneself.” For Plotinus “it is necessary that the intellect comes out of itself and ceases to reason in order to attain the highest object of its desire. It is an ecstasy, in the truest sense of the term.”[14] The same applies to Philo.[15] While Origen resolutely rejects this notion of ecstasy, which he identifies with being out of one’s mind.[16] Basil is of the same mind [as Origen] and limits the term strictly to the level of morality: the soul is called to “go out” from sin and the cares of this life, if it is to receive the Word of God:

When the soul enters into contemplation of divine things and turns away from the cares of the body, it “goes out.”[17] When it is overrun with human concerns, or the care of the body, or because it no longer strives toward higher things, then it goes from the outside to the inside, or, shall we say, it is at home or in the city, i.e., it returns to bodily cares (In Is. 193; PG 30, 452AB).

They, who maintain atheism to be normal, are “out of their minds”:

Truth can be grasped from the created world by those who are dedicated to the intelligent study of creation; but those who, although living in the world and despite being illuminated all around by God’s wisdom, suffer from ignorance of God; they are in darkness at midday (cf. Is 16.3 LXX). […] They are out of their minds, because their doctrines do not differ in anything from their imagined fantasies. […] Although creatures preach to us so clearly the power of the Creator, it is true folly and sheer madness to consider that God does not exist and to return to idols and statues (In Is. 304; PG 30, 649BC).[18]

There is a passage from the Commentary, which is surprising in several respects. In a digression on the biblical meaning of ‘morning,’ the theme of contemplation is taken up in conjunction with Psalm 5, 4: In the morning, I present myself before Thee and watch. Basil comments:

As long as one is an observer of beauty, which shines in visible reality, he is called a ‘natural philosopher’ or ‘student of nature;’ but when one goes beyond these realities, and is present before God Himself, after having known in what manner all things are beautiful, and then from such [created] beauty rising up to Beauty Itself and the truly Desirable One, the vision of Whom is limited only to pure souls, who progress towards the realities above the natural, these persons – called by some metaphysicians (metaphysikà) – can become contemplatives. So when – it is said – I present myself to You and I approach the contemplation of You with my intellect, then I will acquire that contemplative capacity by means of an illumination that comes from knowing [You] (In Is. 162; PG 30, 385A).

This beautiful text, with clear echoes of Philo and Plotinus, also reflects the thinking of Origen. In fact, it implies the traditional breakdown of philosophy into morals, physics (or natural philosophy) and contemplative, as recorded by [Origen] the Alessandrian.[19] The above text from In Is omits the first level (the moral), focusing on the transition from second to third, i.e., from “natural” philosophy to “contemplative” (enoptikê). Now Basil refers many times to this tripartite division[20] and use of the adjective enoptikòs:[21]

The intellect united to the divinity of the Spirit becomes contemplative [adjective – enoptikòs]; it contemplates great visions and sees divine beauty, at least in the measure of the grace granted to it and insofar as its own constitution allows (Ep. 233,1; PG 32,865B).

On the dependency of Basil to Origen, M. Girardi writes: “The coupling of the ‘trilogy’ of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs] to the tripartite division and progression of philosophy into ethics, physics and enoptica or metaphysics (others add logic; i.e., the more traditional sucession of logic, ethics, physics) was consciously developed and theorized in an articulate manner by Origen, who touched upon the forced and artificial parallelism with the three progressive levels (moral, natural, mystical) of Christian wisdom. Basil essentially borrowed from him, re-elaborating in his own manner the characteristic features of the three books of wisdom in view of the Christian education of believers.”[22] In the text just quoted, M. Girardi stated that the third part of philosophy was called “enoptica” or “metaphysics,” without saying from which author he had borrowed the term. It is precisely the above text of Isaiah 162 that uses this particular term, which is a truly amazing thing, since it is an example of a hapax legomenon [ἅπαξ λεγόμενον – meaning “(something) said (only) once”], a singular occurrence within the entire body of ancient Greek literature.

Let us continue with the Commentary on Isaiah. The sign of a truly great mind is the ability to make the transition from created things to their Creator, as well as being able to see Divine Providence even in the smallest of creatures:

A truly great mind is one that contemplates great realities, one that is capable of penetrating into the reasons (logoi)[23] of created things, and understand the beauty of the Creator’s wisdom in the universe. A great mind is capable of penetrating the arrangement of things created by God and His Providence, which extends unto the most minute of creatures, and from them to contemplate His righteous judgments. A great mind understands the King of glory and power of the Lord through the angels, the powers and all the glory that surrounds the heavenly realities (In Is. 237; PG 30, 536A).[24]

His sermon on Psalm 28 echoes this text:

He gives glory [to God]; i.e., he, who is able to give the reasons according to which the universe was created and is maintained by [God’s] Providence, which extends to smallest of creatures, and how, after this present economy, judgment will be carried out. He, who with clear and sound reasoning, is able to contemplate individual realities and, after having contemplated them, is able to present to others what pertains to God’s goodness and just judgments. These persons, who live in accordance with such contemplation, bring glory and honour to the Lord (HomPs. 28,2; PG 29,285A).

Equally, in the Hexameron:

May He, Who has given us the intelligence to recognise the great wisdom of the Artist in the smallest things of creation, grant us to perceive even greater things and conceive still higher thoughts concerning the Creator (Hex. 6,11,9, Naldini 206).

Ultimately, it is about knowing how to listen to the voice of creation, according to words of the Psalm:

The heavens declare God’s glory (Ps. 18.2): why don’t they [the heavens] send an audible voice to our ear? Yet, he, who investigates the reasons (logoi) of the world’s constitution and discovers the qualities of the celestial bodies, gives them a kind of voice and he learns to recognize [in them] the greatness of the Creator’s glory. At this, the prophet invites us to: Lift up your eyes and see Him, who has manifested to us all of these things (Is 40.26). In fact, raising one’s eyes means to contemplate profoundly and arrive at knowledge of the One, Who has created them, through these visible realities (In Is. 162; PG 30, 385B).

There is also an erroneous way to observe nature, i.e., not for religious or scientific purposes, but through superstition. These are the devotees of astrology, who monitor the movement of the stars, thinking that they can know in advance the unfolding of human affairs. For Basil, this is not true knowledge:

This is the doctrine of the principles of this world, totally dedicated to the examination of the stars, their movements, their constellations and configurations, affirming that the cause of human events depends upon them (In Is. 191; PG 30, 448A).

This pseudo-science feeds belief in fate and destiny and diverts away from faith in Providence and prayer:

Everyone, who gives importance to the circumstances around nativities and takes into account the necessity of both fate and destiny, draw people away from faith in God and true religion […]. They subject human events to the influence of the constellations, and so deny that human affairs are governed by Providence. Thus, neither prayer nor religion serve any purpose; and even if these sometimes seem to be effective, they are, in fact, inevitably subjected to the law of fate (In Is. 275; PG 30, 601C-604A).

In the Hexameron, homily VI, Basil criticises at length those who give credence to astrology, as if there was a relationship between the stars and a person’s fate in life:

But those who overstep the borders, making the words of Scripture their apology for the art of divining births, pretend that our lives depend upon the motion of the heavenly bodies, and that what the Chaldeans read in the planets will indeed happen to us. By these very simple words let them [the celestial bodoes] be for signs (Gen 1,14), they understand neither the variations of the weather, nor the changes of seasons; they only see in them, at the will of their imagination, the distribution of human destinies. What do they say in reality?  When the planets cross in the signs of the zodiac, certain configurations formed by their meeting give birth a certain destiny, and another configuration would produce a different destiny (Hex. 6,5,1-2; Naldini 178-180).

At this point someone might ask whether this conception of “natural contemplation” in Basil is too philosophical and not Christological enough. In fact, in the texts that we have seen, they elevate the natural ability of the human mind to a level rarely found in ordinary people and society, i.e., to a level free from the influence of passions and superstitions. According to the Christian doctrine taught by Basil, only the grace of Christ, i.e., his Spirit, restores man to his original dignity and, therefore, to the right use of reason. Hence, the grace of Christ is necessary for “natural contemplation:”

Towards Him [= Holy Spirit] turn all things needing sanctification, to Whom tend all things that live in virtue, as being watered by His inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end. […] He is the fount of sanctification and intellectual light, supplying, as it were, through Himself, illumination to every rational faculty in the search for truth (De Spir. S. 9,22; ed. B. Pruche, SCh 17 bis, 324).

Thus, there is no purification of the soul without the grace of the Holy Spirit:

Now the Spirit does not inhabit the soul in a spacial sense. How indeed could the corporeal approach the incorporeal? This inhabitation results from the withdrawal of the passions which, coming afterwards gradually on the soul from its friendship to the flesh, have alienated it from its close relationship with God. Only then after a man is purified from the shame whose stain he took through his wickedness, and has come back again to his natural beauty, and as it were cleaning the Royal Image and restoring its ancient form, only thus is it possible for him to draw near to the Paraclete. And He, like the sun, will by the aid of thy purified eye show you in Himself the image of the invisible, and in the blessed spectacle of the image you will behold the unspeakable beauty of the archetype (Ib., 9,23; SCh 17 bis, 326-328).

Once again the difference with the previous texts seems very small, especially considering the many allusions to Plotinus,[25] but this Spirit cannot be other than the Spirit of Christ, poured out from the Father. The action of the Spirit is one with that of Christ, Who purifies and sanctifies through the Spirit, because the Trinity is undivided. Therefore, we can affirm:

The passions, which previously dominated life through conflicts and turmoil, were removed by the peace of Christ, who pacified all earthly and heavenly beings by reconciling them to Himself (cf. Col 1,20)» (In Is. 250; PG 30, 560A).

This purified sight is able to perceive not only the divine beauty, but also the beauty of the Cross despised in the universe:

Why was the economy of the Incarnation accomplished through the Cross? Because those saved were collected from the four parts of the earth (cf. Mt 24:31). In fact, the cross is divided into four parts in order to touch the four parts of the cosmos. Hence, the chosen death on the cross was so that all parts of the cosmos, through the four parts of the cross, can participate in salvation. Another reason could be that besides the wooden cross, there was an intelligible cross etched into the cosmos, since the four parts of the universe touch at the center, and, thus, from the center energy extends into its four parts (In Is. 249; PG 30, 557B).[26]

The coming of Christ and the Cross have eliminated idolatry and superstition:

In fact, after the coming of Christ the worship of statues ceased […]. With the appearance of the light [of Christ], they finally saw what had previously been hidden in the darkness of ignorance; i.e., wood is only wood, stone is only stone, without being deceived by their external form, their natural substance was recognised. The advent of Christ, which is the salvation of the whole world, was terrible to the demons. Today, those famous places, those workshops of deception, are abandoned. Delphi is no more; there are no more oracles;  the prophet is silenced; they continue to drink from the fountain of Castalia, but those who drink do not fall into ecstasy;[27] Amphiaraus is on the run;[28] Amphilochus is gone; their statues are gone. Even the invisible powers have withdrawn faced with the fear of the Lord and the glory of His strength. When the cross is named, idols are put to flight(In Is. 96; PG 30, 273D-276B).

Another salutary effect of the coming of Christ is peace among the nations, the fruit of true wisdom:

And nation will not take up sword against nation (Is 2:4). Until the fiery words of wisdom operated in the world, nations rose up against each other, pointing at one another words like swords, finely honed, brilliant in thoughtful eloquence. But when he [Christ], our Peace (Eph 2:14), came, glory to God in the highest heavens and peace on earth was proclaimed (Lk 2:14); then, all lies fell silent in the face of truth. As suddenly as birds cease to chirp at the appearance of an eagle above, so the nations ceased to throw words at one another. Some had declared that there was no Providence, others said that it only extends to the moon; likewise, concerning the soul, some wanted to prove that it was mortal, others that it was immortal; similarly, concerning fate, some declared that it dominated everything, others held that it did not exist. But when “the foolishness of preaching” came (cf. 1 Cor 1.21), the crucifixion was glorified, and we came to believe in the resurrection and the last judgement; thus, the nations ended their wars and lived in peace (In Is. 75; PG 30, 244C-245A).

        

Conclusion – Summary

Basing himself on the texts of Scripture, Basil affirms, without any hesitation, the human mind’s natural capacity to have a “contemplative” vision of the cosmos; namely, from the order of things and from sensible beauty we can raise up our minds to God and Beauty Itself. In this way, the Bishop of Caesarea is well within the most-pure classical tradition, from Plato to Plotinus, although with important correctives.[29] While the path traced by the Platonists was progressively a separation of the soul from the sensible, Basil (in the wake of Theophilus and Irenaeus) adopts the Christological way, centered on the mystery of the Incarnation, which has as its goal the sanctification and glorification of the whole man, including the cosmos, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the natural capacity of contemplation is constantly blurred either through the misuse of creatures (eg. alcoholism) or by superstition (e.g. astrology). Only by the grace of the Spirit, the fruit of the Cross of Christ, can man free himself completely from passions and superstitions, and recover the right use of his reason, which is ultimately created to know God and share in His life.


[1] Among the works of St. Basil, we also include the Enarratio prophetam Isaiam (= In Is.), whose authenticity is not accepted by most scholars, but which we consider reliable, as we hope to prove in a forthcoming publication.

[2] BASILIO DI CESAREA, Sulla Genesi (Omelie sull’Esamerone), ed. M. NALDINI, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, Mondadori 1990. The creation-of-man theme was treated by Basil not sequencially, for it appears also in his later works (cf. BASILE DE CÉSARÉE, Sur l’origine de l’homme, par A. SMETS – M. VAN ESBROECK, SCh 160, Paris 1970) and it was taken up by his brother GREGORIO DI NISSA, De hominis opificio (PG 44,124-256; trad. it. di B. SULMONA, L’uomo, Città Nuova, Roma 1982).

[3] Cf. S. RENDINA, La contemplazione negli scritti di S. Basilio Magno, Excerpta ex dissert. ad Lauream in Fac. Theol. Pontif. Univ. Greg., Roma 1959; TH. ŠPIDLÍK, La sophiologie de S. Basile (Orient. Christ. Anal. 162), Roma 1961, 225-233.

[4] Cf. A. GRILLI, Vita contemplativa. Il problema delle vita contemplativa nel mondo greco-romano, Paideia, Brescia 2002, 26-39.

[5] Cf. PLATONE, Symposion 210e-212e. It seems that Socrates alone was in grade to intellectually cross this divide.

[6] Oeuvres de Philon d’Alexandrie, 29 (par F. DAUMAS – P. MIQUEL), Cerf, Paris 1963.

[7] Cf. PLOTINO, Enneadi I, 6 (ed. V. CILENTO, Bibliopolis, Napoli 1986, 206-229).

[8] Cf. Hex. 6,1,4 (Naldini 166): «…through visible things you arrive by analogy to Him, Who is invisible».

[9] About this concept, cf. J. LEMAITRE, «La ΘΕΩΡΙΑ ΦΥΣΙΚΗ», in DictSpir 2 (1953) 1806-1827 (here Basil is totally ignored).

[10] The concept of analogy was already employed by Philo: « It is by analogy that the intelligible world is understood from the sensible world» (De somniis I,188).

[11] Cf. RENDINA, La contemplazione, 34-37.

[12] We have developed this theme in our work: «Il vizio del bere in S. Basilio Magno», in J. MIMEAULT – S. ZAMBONI – A. CHENDI (a cura di), Nella luce del Figlio. Studi in onore di Réal Tremblay, EDB, Bologna 2011, 589-610.

[13] In fact, Sion is interpreted as “observatory” according to some ancient Hebrew etymologies.

[14] J. LEMAITRE, in DSp 2,1865.

[15] Cf. FILONE, Heres 68-85.

[16] J. LEMAITRE, in DSp 2,1866.

[17] The reference is to [Is.] 7.3, where the Lord instructs Isaiah to “go out” to meet King Ahaz.

[18] HomPs. 33,3 (PG 29,357A): “Magnify the Lord […], he, who observes with a great mind and deep consideration the magnifience of creation, can arrive at the contemplation of the Creator from the beauty of creatures.” HomPs. 44,10 (PG 29,409A): “[The Church] has a contemplative mind. Consider – it says – creation, and benefiting from the order that’s within it, rise to the contemplation of the Creator.”

[19] Cf. ORIGENE, CommCt prol. (GCS, Origenes VIII, 75-79).

[20] In HomPs. 32,7 (PG 29,341A), Basil enumerates as the parts of philosphy, logic, ethics, science of nature and epoptikê (that is metaphysics). In HomPs. 44,9 (PG 29,408C) he speaks of the disciplines of ethics, physics and epoptikê.

[21] In De Spir. s. 18,47 (PG 32,153A9), Basil speaks of epoptikê dynamis. Concerning the adjective epoptikòs, certaining borrowed from Origen, cf. RENDINA, La contemplazione, 27. This adjective is absent in Philo.

[22] M. GIRARDI, Basilio interprete della Scrittura. Lessico, principi ermeneutici, passi, Edipuglia, Bari 1998, 44.

[23] On the concept of the “logos of things”, cf. J. LEMAITRE, in DSp 2,1818-1824.

[24] On the concept of Providence in Basil, cf. B. PETRÀ, Provvidenza e vita morale nel pensiero di Basilio il Grande. Pars dissert. ad doct. in Theol. Moral., Roma 1983.

[25] See the notes of B. Pruche in SCh 17 bis, 324-329.

[26] On the cosmic cross, cf. Justin, 1Apol. 60,5 (ed. Ch. Munier, SCh 507, 286).

[27] The “prophet” is evidently Pythia, who worked at Delphi, near the spring of Castalia. Cf. ORIGENE, C.Cels. 7,3.

[28] Amphiaraus and Amphilochus were two soothsayers; the first was forced by the Thebans to flee, the second, the son of first, was killed by Apollo.

[29] Aristotle had grasped the “divine” character inherent in the scientific observation of nature. Cf De Part. anim. 1.5 “it would be really childish to draw back from studying even the smallest of beings. Since, in all the works of nature, and this can be applied to all beings without exception, there is always cause for admiration. These words attributed to Heraclitus, Aristotle gave in response to some foreigners, who came to visit and speak with him. When they found him warming himself at the kitchen fire, the philosopher told them: “Enter without fear, come in. The gods are in here just as they are everywhere.”

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