Basil The Great, a saint of the Christian church, born at Caesarea in Cappadocia in 328 or 329, died elan. 1, 379. His father and mother were St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. His father belonged to a noble family of Pontus, which had long been Christian. He had nine brothers and sisters, all of whom, according to the testimony of their intimate friend St. Gregory Nazianzen, were remarkable for sanctity, and three of whom are canonized, viz., St. Gregory Nyssen, St. Peter of Sebaste, and St. Maorina, His early education was superintended by his father, after whose death he continued his studies at Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens. He excelled in eloquence and logic, applied himself also to philosophy, natural science, medicine, poetry, and the fine arts, and was one of the most ardent advocates of the study of classical literature and eloquence in Christian schools. At Athens he formed an intimacy with St. Gregory Nazianzen. He returned to Caesarea in 355, and opened a school of rhetoric with brilliant success, but soon gave it up for the purpose of embracing a religious life. Dividing the principal part of his property among the poor, he travelled through Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, to visit the most celebrated anchorets and monasteries.
In 358 he returned home, was ordained lector by Dianius, and retired to his grandmother's house in Pontus. His mother and sister had already founded a female convent in the neighborhood, on the bank of the river Isis, in which his sister was superior. Basil now founded a monastery, according to some authorities on the opposite bank, according to others at Seleuco-bol, and in the course of time other affiliated monasteries. He remained in his own convent as superior for four years, when he yielded his place to his brother St. Peter of Sebaste. After his election to the episcopate he continued to watch over these religious homes, and composed rules and spiritual treatises for them; and the principal part of the religious in the East are hence called Basilians. In 359, during a famine, he sold the remaining portion of his property for the relief of the sufferers. Gregory joined him, and has left an interesting account of the life they led in common, in a little hut with a barren garden spot around it, where they found exercise and diversion in cutting stone, carrying wood, planting flowers, and making canals to irrigate the sandy soil. In 3G2 Basil went back to Caesarea and took with him a number of his religious brethren, it seems, to found a cloister.
Julian the Apostate was now emperor; he had been Basil's fellow student at Athens, and he sent a hypocritical invitation to him to come to his court. This in^ vitation was declined, and was followed by another, which was accompanied by an order to pay 1,000 pounds of gold to the treasurer or be dragged through the city. Basil replied in a very bold and severe style to his old comrade, who soon afterward found his death in the Persian war. In his 35th year Basil was ordained priest by Eusebius, the successor of Dianius in Caesarea, but for some reason was soon dismissed from the high post which the bishop had assigned him. Eusebius's conduct met with general censure. Basil retired again to Pontus, but in 366 Eusebius was obliged to recall him to Caesarea, to stem the irruptions which Arianism was making under the auspices of the emperor Valens. In 370, on the death of Eusebius, he was elected archbishop of Caesarea. During the remaining nine years of his life he presided over this important see in such a manner as to win the reputation of one of the greatest bishops of the church. The whole city followed him to the grave, Jews and heathen wept with the Christians at his death, and St. Gregory Nazianzen pronounced his panegyric.
The principal efforts of St. Basil the Great were directed to the defence of the divinity of Jesus Christ against the Arians. On account of this he is styled by the general council of Chalcedon "the great Basil, the servant of grace, who has proclaimed the truth to the whole earth." He is held in especial veneration in the Greek church, though he was a strenuous supporter of the Nicene creed. His works were first published at Basel with a preface by Erasmus in 1532. Ttie most complete edition is that of Gamier (3 vols., Paris, 1721-'30; reprinted in Paris in 6 vols. 8vo, 1839).