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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 61

3. The food of fish differs according to their species. Some feed on mud; others eat sea weed; others content themselves with the herbs that grow in water. But the greater part devour each other, and the smaller is food for the larger, and if one which has possessed itself of a fish weaker than itself becomes a prey to another, the conqueror and the conquered are both swallowed up in the belly of the last. And we mortals, do we act otherwise when we press our inferiors? [1615] What difference is there between the last fish and the man who, impelled by devouring greed, swallows the weak in the folds of his insatiable avarice? Yon fellow possessed the goods of the poor; you caught him and made him a part of your abundance. You have shown yourself more unjust than the unjust, and more miserly than the miser. Look to it lest you end like the fish, by hook, by weel, or by net. Surely we too, when we have done the deeds of the wicked, shall not escape punishment at the last.

Now see what tricks, what cunning, are to be found in a weak animal, and learn not to imitate wicked doers. The crab loves the flesh of the oyster; but, sheltered by its shell, a solid rampart with which nature has furnished its soft and delicate flesh, it is a difficult prey to seize. Thus they call the oyster "sherd-hide." [1616] Thanks to the two shells with which it is enveloped, and which adapt themselves perfectly the one to the other, the claws of the crab are quite powerless. What does he do? When he sees it, sheltered from the wind, warming itself with pleasure, and half opening its shells to the sun, [1617] he secretly throws in a pebble, prevents them from closing, and takes by cunning what force had lost. [1618] Such is the malice of these animals, deprived as they are of reason and of speech. But I would that you should at once rival the crab in cunning and industry, and abstain from harming your neighbour; this animal is the image of him who craftily approaches his brother, takes advantage of his neighbour's misfortunes, and finds his delight in other men's troubles. O copy not the damned! Content yourself with your own lot. Poverty, with what is necessary, is of more value in the eyes of the wise than all pleasures.

I will not pass in silence the cunning and trickery of the squid, which takes the colour of the rock to which it attaches itself. Most fish swim idly up to the squid as they might to a rock, and become themselves the prey of the crafty creature. [1619] Such are men who court ruling powers, bending themselves to all circumstances and not remaining for a moment in the same purpose; who praise self-restraint in the company of the self-restrained, and license in that of the licentious, accommodating their feelings to the pleasure of each. It is difficult to escape them and to put ourselves on guard against their mischief; because it is under the mask of friendship that they hide their clever wickedness. Men like this are ravening wolves covered with sheep's clothing, as the Lord calls them. [1620] Flee then fickleness and pliability; seek truth, sincerity, simplicity. The serpent is shifty; so he has been condemned to crawl. The just is an honest man, like Job. [1621] Wherefore God setteth the solitary in families. [1622] So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. [1623] Yet a wise and marvellous order reigns among these animals. Fish do not always deserve our reproaches; often they offer us useful examples. How is it that each sort of fish, content with the region that has been assigned to it, never travels over its own limits to pass into foreign seas? No surveyor has ever distributed to them their habitations, nor enclosed them in walls, nor assigned limits to them; each kind has been naturally assigned its own home. One gulf nourishes one kind of fish, another other sorts; those which swarm here are absent elsewhere. No mountain raises its sharp peaks between them; no rivers bar the passage to them; it is a law of nature, which according to the needs of each kind, has allotted to them their dwelling places with equality and justice. [1624]

[1615] cf. Pericles ii. i. 3 Fish. Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea. 1 Fish. Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.

[1616] ostrakodermos.

[1617] Fialon quotes Le Fontaine Le Rat et l'Huitre: Parmi tant d'huitres toutes closes, Une s'etait ouverte, et baillant au soleil, Par un doux Zephyr rejouie, Humait l'air, respirait etait epanouie, Blanche, grasse, et d'un gout, a la voir, sans pareil.

[1618] Pliny ix. 48, says of the octopus: "imposito lapillo extra corpus ne palpitatu ejiciatur: ita securi grassantur, extrahuntque carnes."

[1619] cf. Theog. 215: poulupou orgen ische poluplokou, hos poti petre te prosomilesei toios idein ephane Nun men tes ephepou, pote d'alloios chroa gignou, kraipnon toi sophie gignetai eutropies . Greg. Naz., Or. xxxvi.: pollas metalambanon chroas hosper ta ton petron hei polupodes hais han homilesosi, and Arist., Hist. An. ix. 37: kai thereuei tous ichthus to chroma metaballon kai poion homoion hois de plesiaze lithois.

[1620] cf. Matt. vii. 15.

[1621] So the Cod. Colb. and Eustathius, who renders Justus nihil habet fictum sicut Job. The Ben. Ed. suspect that Basil wrote Jacob and Job. Four mss. support Jacob alone, who, whatever may be the meaning of the Hebrew in Gen. xxv. 27, is certainly aplastos only in the LXX., and a bad instance of guilelessness.

[1622] Ps. lxviii. 6.

[1623] Ps. civ. 25.

[1624] cf. Cudworth, Int. Syst. iii. 37, 23: "Besides this plastick Nature which is in animals, forming their several bodies artificially, as so many microcosms or little worlds, there must also be a general plastick Nature in the macrocosm, the whole corporeal universe, that which makes all things thus to conspire everywhere, and agree together into one harmony. Concerning which plastick nature of the universe, the Author De Mundo writes after this manner, kai ton holon kosmon, diekosmese mia he dia panton diekousa dunamis, one power, passing through all things, ordered and formed the whole world. Again he calls the same pneuma kai empsuchon kai gonimon ousian, a spirit, and a living and Generative Nature, and plainly declares it to be a thing distinct from the Deity, but subordinate to it and dependent on it. But Aristotle himself, in that genuine work of his before mentioned, speaks clearly and positively concerning the Plastick Nature of the Universe, as well as that of animals, in these words: It seemeth that as there is Art in Artificial things, so in the things of Nature, there is another such like Principle or Cause, which we ourselves partake of: in the same manner as we do of Heat and Cold, from the Universe. Wherefore it is more probable that the whole world was at first made by such a cause as this (if at least it were made) and that it is still conserved by the same, than mortal animals should be so: for there is much more of order and determinate Regularity in the Heavenly Bodies that in ourselves; but more of Fortuitousness and inconstant Regularity among these mortal things. Notwithstanding which, some there are, who though they cannot but acknowledge that the Bodies of Animals were all framed by an Artificial Nature, yet they will need contend that the System of the Heavens sprung merely from Fortune and Chance; although there be not the least appearance of Fortuitousness or Temerity in it.' And then he sums up all into this conclusion: hoste einai phaneron hoti esti ti toiouton ho de kai kaloumen phusin. Wherefore it is manifest that there is some such thing as that which we call Nature,' that is, that there is not only an Artificial,' Methodical,' and Plastick Nature in Animals, by which their respective Bodies are Framed and Conserved, but also that there is such a General Plastick Nature likewise in the Universe, by which the Heavens and whole World are thus Artificially Ordered and Disposed."

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