The Utterly Ineffable Love of God – Basil of Caesarea

Geoff ChapmanGreat Quotes0 Comments

The utterly ineffable love of God—as I at any rate experience it—which can be more easily experienced than spoken of, is a certain inexplicable light. Even if speech should cite or compare a lightning flash or a dazzling brilliance, still, the hearing cannot take it in. Invoke if you will the rays of the morning star, the splendours of the moon, or the light of the sun itself—in comparison with that glory they are all more obscure and murkier by far than an ink-black night and the gloom of a dense fog compared with the flawlessly clear light of the noon-day sun.

Such loveliness is not seen by bodily eyes; it is perceived only by the soul and the mind. If perchance this loveliness has grazed the mind and heart of the saints, it left embedded in them a most fiery sting of yearning for it,  till at length, as if languishing in the fires of such love and shuddering at this present life, such as these would say: When shall I come and appear before the face of God? (Ps 41:2), and again, one who is burning in the flames of this ardour would say: My soul has thirsted for the living God (Ps 41:1),  and being insatiable in his desire, would pray that he might see the delight of the Lord and find shelter in his holy temple (Ps 26:4). So therefore we naturally long for and love the good…

How shall we ever be able to repay our gratitude for the gifts of God, which are so many as to surpass number, and so great and of such a kind that just one among them all obliges us to give thanks to our benefactor for our entire life?  For I leave aside all other benefits—which are themselves magnificent and splendid—yet are outshone by the greater and the better as are the stars by the more resplendent rays of the sun— since there is no leisure for us to enlarge on them more fully, even if we could enumerate the divine benefits to us in lesser things.

So then, let us pass over in silence the daily risings of the sun and the whole world illumined by the brilliance of a single torch.  Let us pass over in silence the orbits of the moon, the changing patterns and vicissitudes of the atmosphere, showers from the clouds, streams and springs from the earth, the expanses and depths of the sea,  the whole of the earth and the living beings that are born of it, those which teem in the sea and those which are established and flourish on the land, all that is assigned to the service and use of our life.

These things therefore and countless others I leave aside. There is however one thing only, which even if someone could leave it aside who wanted to, we cannot pass over in silence,  and though it is impossible to hold back, it is however much more impossible to utter anything worthy and befitting.  This one thing so great of which I speak is that God gave to man knowledge of himself and made him a rational animal on the earth and provided for his enjoyment the delight and loveliness of ineffable paradise.  And when he was deceived by the craft of the serpent and fell into sin and through sin fell headlong into death, he by no means despised him,  but gave him the Law for a help, set angels over him, sent prophets, checked the impulses of vice by the severity of threats,  stirred desires for the good by the most lavish promises, and declared beforehand the end of either course in many images.

Yet when after all these things were hardened in our vices and our disbelief, even then the generosity of a faithful Lord did not turn away from us or forsake us, and we, notwithstanding our ingratitude for all his benefits, were unable to deflect or shut out his mercy towards us,  but were recalled from death and restored to life again through our Lord Jesus Christ  who, though he was in the form of God, he did not deem that he was equal to God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7).  And he took on our infirmities and bore our sicknesses and was wounded for us, that by his bruises we might be made whole (Isa 53:4-5, 11),  and he redeemed us from the curse, having become a curse for us (Gal 3:13) and was condemned to a most shameful death (Wis 2:2) that he might recall us to life.  And it was not enough to give life to us who were dead, he even bestowed a participation in his divinity (cf. 2 Pet 1:4) and lavished on us the gift of eternity,  and he prepared for those who believe and love, beyond all that we could seek or understand what eye has not seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man (1 Cor 2:9).

What return, therefore, shall we make to the Lord for all that he has given to us (Ps 115:12)? Yet he is so generous and tender that he seeks no recompense, but is enough for him, that for all that he has bestowed he should be loved.  Who then is so incurably ungrateful as not to love his benefactor for benefits so great and of such a kind?

Basil of Caesarea – The Rule of St Basil 

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