Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Members of One Another": To Know, and To Be Known, Part II

Craig sent me this via email nearly a year ago, and I had intended to make it a blog post. I obviously forgot. But now I'm posting it, and it fits in perfectly with the current discussion!

This quote from St. Basil of Caesarea (~330-379) gives a wonderful account of the value of life in a Christian community:
    We are ‘each one of us, members of one another’; but if we are not united in harmony into one close-knit body in the Holy Spirit, but each individual chooses solitude, not serving the welfare of the community in the manner well-pleasing to God, but satisfying the private desires of self-fulfillment, how, when thus separated and divided, can we preserve the mutual relation and service of the members, and their subjection to our head, that is, to Christ? For when our life is thus divided, how can we ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, or weep with those who weep’? It is scarcely possible for the individual to know what is happening to his neighbor. Then again, no man is capable of receiving all the spiritual gifts. . . In the community life, the private gifts of the individual become the common property of his fellows. . . the activity of the Holy Spirit in one man extends to all the rest at once. . . What scope will a man have for showing humility, if he has no one before whom to show himself humble? What chance of showing compassion, when cut off from fellowship with others? How practice patience, when there is none to oppose his wishes? . . . The Lord washed the disciples’ feet; whose feet will you wash? Who will you look after? . . . When brethren live together in community, then there is a stadium for athletic exercise, a method for development, a combined course of training and practice in the Lord’s commands. And its object is the glory of God. . .

    - From Regulae Fusius (‘Long Rules’)

St. Basil here is actually contrasting a monastic community life with a life of solitary monasticism, which was common in the fourth century, when he wrote this. But his main thesis is freshly relevant today, in our hyper-individualistic society (when you think of it, ‘hyper-individualistic society’ is really pretty oxymoronic, isn’t it?).

American Christians of the 21st century strongly tend to conceive of the Christian life in individualistic terms – me and my relationship with Jesus – but Basil makes some very sharp points about the limitations of an individualistic Christian life, and the corresponding value of some kind of community life together with fellow-Christians.

-Submitted by Craig