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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)

Page 2

More immediately interesting to English readers is the Anglo-Saxon abbreviation attributed to AElfric, Abbot of St. Albans in 969, and by some identified with the AElfric who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 996 to 1006. This is extant in a MS. numbered Junius 23 in the Bodleian Library, and was collated with the MS. Jun. 47 in the same, a transcript of a MS. in the Hatton Collection, by the Rev. Henry W. Norman for his edition and translation published in 1848. It is nowhere a literal translation, but combines with the thoughts of St. Basil extracts from the Commentary upon Genesis of the Venerable Bede, as well as original matter. It is entitled

ST Basilii Exameron.

"L'Hexameron," writes Fialon, "est l'explication de l'oeuvre des six jours, explication souvent tentee avant et apres Saint Basile. Il n'est personne parmi les hommes, disait Theophile d'Antioche au deuxieme siecle, qui puisse dignement faire le recit et exposer toute l'ecomomie de l'oeuvre des six jours; eut il mille bouches et mille langues....Beaucoup d'ecrivains ont tente ce recit; ils ont pris pour sujet, les uns la creation du monde, les autres l'origine de l'homme, et peut-etre n'ont ils pas fait jaillir une etincelle qui fut digne de la verite.' [1362] Nous ne pouvons savoir ce que fut l'Hexameron de Saint Hippolyte et nous ne savons guere qu'une chose de celui d'Origene: c'est qu'il denaturait completement le recit mosaique et n'y voyait que des allegories. L'Hexameron de Saint Basile, par la purete de la doctrine et la beaute du style, fit disparaitre tous ceux qui l'avaient precede." [1363] So, too, bishop Fessler. "Sapienter, pie, et admodum eloquenter istae homilae confectae sunt; quaedam explicationes physicae profecto juxta placita scientiae illius aetatis dijudicandae sunt." [1364] On the other hand the prominence of the "scientiae illius aetatis" is probably the reason why the Hexaemeron has received from adverse critics less favour than it deserves. "Diese letztern," i.e. the Homilies in question, says Boehringer, "erlangten im Alterthum eine ganz unverdiente Beruehmtheit....Die Art, wie Basil seine Aufgabe loeste, ist diese; er nimmt die mosaische Erzaehlung von der Schoepfung Vers fuer Vers vor, erklaert sie von dem naturhistorischen Standpunkt seiner Zeit aus, wobei er Gelegenheit nimmt, die Ansichten der griechischen Philosophen von der Weltschoepfung u. s. w. zu widerlegen, und schliesst dann mit moralischer und religioeser Nutzandwendung, um den Stoff auch fuer Geist und Herz seiner Zuhoerer fruchtbar zu machen. Es braucht indess kaum bemerkt zu werden, dass vom naturwissenschaftlichen wie exegetischen Standpunkt unserer Zeit diese Arbeit wenig Werth mehr hat." The Three Cappadocians, p. 61. But in truth the fact that Basil is not ahead of the science of his time is not to his discredit. It is to his credit that he is abreast with it; and this, with the exception of his geography, he appears to be. Of him we may say, as Bp. Lightfoot writes of St. Clement, in connexion with the crucial instance of the Phoenix, "it appears that he is not more credulous than the most learned and intelligent heathen writers of the preceding and following generations." He reads the Book of Genesis in the light of the scientific knowledge of his age, and in the amplification and illustration of Holy Scripture by the supposed aid of this supposed knowledge, neither he nor his age stands alone. Later centuries may possibly not accept all the science of the XIXth.

[1361] cf. Rufinus ii. 9.

[1362] Theophilus of Antioch, ii. Ad Autolycum.

[1363] Etude sur St. Basile, 296.

[1364] Inst. Pat., Ed. B. Jungmann 1890.

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