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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Basil the Great HEXAEMERON, Complete

Translated by Bl. Jackson.

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80 Pages (Homilies: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Introduction to the Hexaemeron.

The Hexaemeron is the title of nine homilies delivered by St. Basil on the cosmogony of the opening chapters of Genesis. When and where they were delivered is quite uncertain. They are Lenten sermons, delivered at both the morning and evening services, and appear to have been listened to by working men. (Hom. iii. 1.) Some words in Hom. viii. have confirmed the opinion that they were preached extempore, in accordance with what is believed to have been Basil's ordinary practice. [1361] Internal evidence points in the same direction, for though a marked contrast might be expected between the style of a work intended to be read, like the De Spiritu Sancto, and that of the orations to be spoken in public, the Hexaemeron shews signs of being an unwritten composition.

In earlier ages, it was the most celebrated and admired of Basil's works. Photius (Migne, Pat. Gr. cxli) puts it first of all, and speaks warmly of its eloquence and force. As an example of oratory he would rank it with the works of Plato and Demosthenes.

Suidas singles it out for special praise. Jerome (De Viris Illust.) among Basil's works names only the Hexaemeron, the De Sp. Scto, and the treatise Contra Eunomium.

That Basil's friends should think highly of it is only what might be expected. "Whenever I take his Hexaemeron in hand," says Gregory of Nazianzus, (Orat. xliii. 67) "and quote its words, I am brought face to face with my Creator: I begin to understand the method of creation: I feel more awe than ever I did before, when I only looked at God's work with my eyes."

Basil's brother Gregory, in the Prooemium to his own Hexaemeron, speaks in exaggerated terms of Basil's work as inspired, and as being, in his opinion, as admirable as that of Moses.

The Hexaemeron of Ambrose is rather an imitation than a translation or adaptation of that of Basil. Basil's Hexaemeron was translated into Latin by Eustathius Afer (c. A.D. 440) and is said to have been also translated by Dionysius Exiguus, the Scythian monk of the 6th C. to whom is due our custom of dating from the Saviour's birth.

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