Ancient Theologians weigh in on Genesis: Basil’s reflections on creation (part 4)

This post is part of a series looking at Basil’s views on the creation account in Genesis. If you have not already read it, I recommend starting with part 1.

In the last post we looked at Basil’s homilies as they related to the makeup of the universe. Basil accepted the idea that the cosmos was made up of 5 elements and correlated the heavens, earth and water in the first few verses of the account to them. In this post we will continue to explore how Basil explained the creation account in Genesis with the “science” of his day.

Is the Universe eternal?

One characteristic of the universe that was commonly held during the fourth century was that the universe has always existed and always will exist. Basil describes some philosophers as those “who have imagined that the world co-existed with God from all eternity”. Others he describes as atheists that see the universe as “conceived by chance and without reason”.

Basil rejected any view of the universe that suggested it was eternal or created by chance. He strongly argued that the universe was created by God and thus had a beginning as well as a purpose.

He first establishes a beginning, so that it might not be supposed that the world never had a beginning. … [The Creator] needed only the impulse of His will to bring the immensities of the visible world into being. …

Do not then imagine, O man! That the visible world is without a beginning … do not vainly imagine to yourselves that the world has neither beginning nor end. … In the beginning God made. That which was begun in time is condemned to come to an end in time. If there has been a beginning do not doubt of the end.

Homily I

Basil is careful to elaborate on “the beginning” as referring only to the “visible world” and not the “invisible world”. The former would be the universe in which we dwell and the latter is the abode of angels which is “outstripping the limits of time” and existed before the “beginning”.

The purpose of the visible world was a place to train the souls of men who were mortal.

To this world (referring to the abode of angels) at last it was necessary to add a new world, both a school and training place where the souls of men should be taught and a home for beings destined to be born and to die.

Basil astutely notes that time, itself, was among the things created “in the beginning”.

In the beginning God created; that is to say, in the beginning of time. 

Thus was created … the succession of time, for ever pressing on and passing away and never stopping in its course. Is not this the nature of time, where the past is no more, the future does not exist, and the present escapes before being recognized?

Continue reading