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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Basil the Great HEXAEMERON, Complete

Translated by Bl. Jackson.

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Page 73

8. If we simply read the words of Scripture we find only a few short syllables. "Let the waters bring forth fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven," but if we enquire into the meaning of these words, then the great wonder of the wisdom of the Creator appears. What a difference He has foreseen among winged creatures! How He has divided them by kinds! How He has characterized each one of them by distinct qualities! But the day will not suffice me to recount the wonders of the air. Earth is calling me to describe wild beasts, reptiles and cattle, ready to show us in her turn sights rivalling those of plants, fish, and birds. "Let the earth bring forth the living soul" of domestic animals, of wild beasts, and of reptiles after their kind. What have you to say, you who do not believe in the change that Paul promises you in the resurrection, when you see so many metamorphoses among creatures of the air? What are we not told of the horned worm of India! First it changes into a caterpillar, [1682] then becomes a buzzing insect, and not content with this form, it clothes itself, instead of wings, with loose, broad plates. Thus, O women, when you are seated busy with your weaving, I mean of the silk which is sent you by the Chinese to make your delicate dresses, [1683] remember the metamorphoses of this creature, conceive a clear idea of the resurrection, and do not refuse to believe in the change that Paul announces for all men.

But I am ashamed to see that my discourse oversteps the accustomed limits; if I consider the abundance of matters on which I have just discoursed to you, I feel that I am being borne beyond bounds; but when I reflect upon the inexhaustible wisdom which is displayed in the works of creation, I seem to be but at the beginning of my story. Nevertheless, I have not detained you so long without profit. For what would you have done until the evening? You are not pressed by guests, nor expected at banquets. Let me then employ this bodily fast to rejoice your souls. You have often served the flesh for pleasure, to-day persevere in the ministry of the soul. "Delight thyself also in the Lord and he shall give thee the desire of thine heart." [1684] Do you love riches? Here are spiritual riches. "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold and precious stones." [1685] Do you love enjoyment and pleasures? Behold the oracles of the Lord, which, for a healthy soul, are "sweeter than honey and the honey-comb." [1686] If I let you go, and if I dismiss this assembly, some will run to the dice, where they will find bad language, sad quarrels and the pangs of avarice. There stands the devil, inflaming the fury of the players with the dotted bones, [1687] transporting the same sums of money from one side of the table to the other, now exalting one with victory and throwing the other into despair, now swelling the first with boasting and covering his rival with confusion. [1688] Of what use is bodily fasting and filling the soul with innumerable evils? He who does not play spends his leisure elsewhere. What frivolities come from his mouth! What follies strike his ears! Leisure without the fear of the Lord is, for those who do not know the value of time, a school of vice. [1689] I hope that my words will be profitable; at least by occupying you here they have prevented you from sinning. Thus the longer I keep you, the longer you are out of the way of evil.

An equitable judge will deem that I have said enough, not if he considers the riches of creation, but if he thinks of our weakness and of the measure one ought to keep in that which tends to pleasure. Earth has welcomed you with its own plants, water with its fish, air with its birds; the continent in its turn is ready to offer you as rich treasures. But let us put an end to this morning banquet, for fear satiety may blunt your taste for the evening one. May He who has filled all with the works of His creation and has left everywhere visible memorials of His wonders, fill your hearts with all spiritual joys in Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom belong glory and power, world without end. Amen.

[1682] This word is curiously rendered by Eustathius verucae, and by Ambrose caulis. Garnier (Praef. in Bas. 28) thinks that the latter perhaps found in some corrupt ms. kramben for kampen.

[1683] Arist., H.A. v. 19.

[1684] Ps. xxxvii. 4.

[1685] Ps. xix. 9 and 10, LXX.

[1686] Ps. xix. 10.

[1687] The kuboi were marked on all six sides, the astragaloi on only four, the ends being rounded.

[1688] With Basil's description of the gaming tables, presumably of Caesarea, cf. Ovid's of those of Rome: "Ira subit, deforme malum, lucrique cupido; Jurgiaque et rixae, sollicitusque dolor. Crimina dicuntur, resonat clamoribus aether, Invocat iratos et sibi quisque deos, Nulla fides: tabulaeque novae per vota petuntur, Et lacrymis vidi saepe madere genis. De A.A.iii. 373 seqq.

[1689] "Cernis ut ignavum corrumpant otia corpus." Ovid, I. Pont. 6. "Facito aliquid operis ut semper Diabolus inveniat te occupatum. Jerome, In R. Monach.

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