The Theology of Gender – 9. St. Basil the Great

The Theology of Gender – 9. St. Basil the Great


Sofia Matzarioti-Kostara


St. Basil the Great was indeed a great figure in the history of Christianity, a charismatic hierarch with significant contribution in various areas. With concern to our topic, we will examine the pastoral and canonical aspects of his multifarious work. The most important characteristic of his personality is that he had a tremendous education, rare for his time, and was an eloquent speaker. He was a master of oratory and law. His broad education makes his views on issues of law authoritative. Given, however, that St. Basil never wrote in order to satisfy his personal needs or to express abstract theories, but to offer pastoral guidance to his Christian flock and help it progress spiritually, his canons should not be evaluated apart from the rest of his work.

Throughout his writings it is clear that St. Basil does not support the devaluation of women. He does not exclude women from chanting or from full participation in the liturgical life of the Church, and stresses the women’s gift for fasting which he considers to be as natural to them as breathing. He also teaches that obedience to the commandments is an obligation for all Christians. According to St. Basil, the Creator balanced the physical weakness of female nature with the sexual power women have over men. This anthropological observation is the key to understanding St. Basil’s views on issues of ethical misdemeanors of women. Since women have a greater influence on men in physical relationships, they are more accountable for their sexual transgressions. Thus, although St. Basil praises the virtues of women as being the same as those of men, on the issue of sexual transgression he is harsher toward females, possibly because the immorality of women can push men to carnal sin.

On the issue of marriage, St. Basil believes that it is honorable and was given to humans in the act of creation as a way for achieving immortality through their offspring, as well as for companionship and for assisting each other in spiritual growth. Therefore, he condemns any irrational passion that destroys the matrimonial union and is contrary to the purpose of marriage. St. Basil is very negative about divorce and believes that the man who divorces his wife should not be allowed to marry again, just as any woman divorced by her husband should remain single. This ascetic approach to marriage is characteristic of St. Basil’s views on Christian life. His great asceticism permeates all his work, as he tries to inspire Christians to adopt higher standards of life. In view of that, second marriage is seen by St. Basil only as a medication for human weakness, and not as a means for sensual pleasures. Nevertheless, he does not disregard the physical satisfaction of matrimonial life and acknowledges that a good wife is a great blessing for a man. The pastoral care for his flock is obvious in all his writings, including his exegetical work on creation, where he mentions the devastating consequences that a second marriage has on children.

St. Basil’s canonical letters, like all his writings, express his pastoral care, and convey the ethos of asceticism for the spiritual advancement of all Christians. At the same time, however, they are significant legal documents with a lasting influence on the Church throughout her history. These letters became the basis for many canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, where St. Basil’s legislation attained canonical authority for the Church.





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