|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Psychotherapy|
BASIL THE GREAT AND COMMUNAL OWNERSHIP (=common usage)
By the Rev.Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos
Among the holy Fathers who opposed the unjust rich who relied on material wealth and scorned or were indifferent to the injustice and the hunger that prevailed in society was Basil the Great. It should be noted that Basil had spoken out about the scorching issues of his time, after first having set an example himself. He had distributed the immense wealth that he possessed and then became priest and bishop of Caesaria of Cappadocia. Thus, he was not merely speaking theoretically, from the confines of an office. He firstly practiced and then taught. His word was like thunder, because his life previously was like lightning.
Basil the Great had labored poemantically. He did not attempt to turn the indignation of the poor against the rich and thus generate hatred; instead, he tried to minister to both the poor and the rich so that they would both see things differently. When matters are handled superficially, they create greater problems. Thus, by elaborating on the instability of wealth and how easily it can be transformed after certain social factors are changed, he then went on to stress that we should disregard material wealth. As mentioned earlier, he did this in order to work poemantically among the people. The easiest thing to do would have been to delude the people by superficially tossing them slogans. The difficult thing was to cure the passions of the people. By teaching them to disregard material wealth, he aspired to transfer the thoughts -of both the rich and the poor- away from material wealth, so they would cease to believe it to be the only worthwhile thing on earth. The reason for disregarding wealth is not a Manichaic one; it is merely an attempt to bring equilibrium to society. The fact is that there are two stances that one can take towards material possessions. The one is an idolatrous stance (to deify them) and the other is Manichaic (to reject them altogether). The Fathers of the Church are not in favor of either stance; instead, they propose that material wealth is a gift of God, which must be re-offered, both to God as well as our fellow-man.
Whenever he needed to be caustic, he was. Whenever he saw the rich boasting about the power that their wealth gave them, he did not remain silent. In one of his works, he says that in his opinion, a perfect society is the one in which the characteristic of property has been abolished along with contrary opinions (quarrels). However, when examining all of Basilís works, we reach the conclusion that he was not so much against material possessions per se, as he was with the misappropriation of material possessions. He strove to soften the mentality of the rich, so that they might give freely to those in need, thus making communal ownership prevalent on earth. This notion of communal ownership he tried to substantiate with numerous examples.
He used the example of animals. Sheep graze in the open countryside, and the multitudes of horses also enjoy the grass of the same meadow, but without any discord between them. We, however, snatch things that are common to everyone and we misappropriate things that belong to the many.
He also used natural arguments. He who misappropriates material wealth, he says, is like a spectator who arrives at the theatre first, takes over the entire theatre and does not allow anyone else to enter because he regards the theatre to be exclusively his.
Furthermore, since man is born naked and returns to the soil naked, it is unreasonable to misappropriate material wealth, just because he had the opportunity to acquire it. He also uses the argument regarding the social destination of material possessions and wealth. Bread, he says, belongs to the hungry; clothes belong to the naked; shoes belong to the barefooted and money belongs to the poor. Those who hoard possessions and thus avoid dressing the naked or feeding the hungry are no better than a thief who strips naked a hungry person. The saint would say these things because in his time, during a period of famine, the rich had their own storehouses full.
He also used the example of the first Church, where everything was common: their lives, their spirit, their agreement, their dining table, their brotherhood and their love, which turned the many bodies into one, and united the various souls into one single harmony. This communal ownership must be interpreted as common usage.
Apart from the above, Basil the Great intensely stresses the value of the true wealth, which is the Grace of Christ. Without Christ, the rich are thoroughly poor, whereas the poor who have Christ are extremely wealthy. Material pleasures, he used to say, have more pain than material satisfaction. Wealth has conspiracies; leisureliness, satiety and incessant pleasures contain a variety of illnesses but also passions. The Apostles had Christ and they had everything. The same is observed with the Saints.
The Fathers of the Church tried to solve the problems of their time on the basis of God and the salvation of mankind, but they also constantly strove to elevate manís thoughts to the true wealth, which is God.
Translation by A. N.
Article published in English on: 11-2-2008.
Last update: 11-2-2008.