PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Basil the Great (Bishop of Caesarea)
SAINT Basil (c. 330 – c. 379 CE), also known as Basil the Great and Basil of Caesarea, was a bishop of Caesarea in central Asia Minor who staunchly defended the church against the 4th-century CE heresy of Arianism. Basil’s writings on monasticism and theological issues would be hugely influential during his lifetime and in later centuries as the Christian Church developed in the east. The saint, regarded as one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church, was also noted for his work helping the poor and his sermons which addressed the imbalances in society.
Basil was born c. 330 CE into an aristocratic family who had a large estate at Ibora on the Pontic-Cappadocian border. He received a thorough education at Nicomedia in Bithynia, northwest Asia Minor, possibly under the tutorship of the famed rhetorician from Antioch, Libanius (d. c. 393 CE) who was, curiously enough, a staunch defender of paganism. As was relatively common for a young aristocrat’s education at the time, Basil was also sent to Athens and Constantinople. It was in Athens that Basil reportedly first began to consider a career in the church, but on his return home, he began his working life as a teacher. Then, in the 350s CE, Basil spent some time in monasteries in Syria and Egypt to learn more about the ascetics there.