Letters of St.Basil The Great: Do you worship what you know or what you do not know?


Letter to Amphilochius, in reply to certain questions.

Do you worship what you know or what you do not know? If I answer, I
worship what I know, they immediately reply, What is the essence of the
object of worship? Then, if I confess that I am ignorant of the essence,
they turn on me again and say, So you worship you know not what. I
answer that the word to know has many meanings. We say that we know
the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His
providence over us, and the justness of His judgment; but not His very
essence. The question is, therefore, only put for the sake of dispute. For
he who denies that he knows the essence does not confess himself to be
ignorant of God. because our idea of God is gathered from all tire attributes
which I have enumerated. But God, he says, is simple, and whatever
attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the
absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high
attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? And is
there the same mutual force in His awfulness and His loving-kindness, His
justice and His creative power, His providence and His foreknowledge,
and His bestowal of rewards and punishments, His majesty and His
providence? In mentioning any one of these do we declare His essence? If
they say, yes, let them not ask if we know the essence of God, but let
them enquire of us whether we know God to be awful, or just, or merciful.
These we confess that we know, if they say that essence is something
distinct, let them not put us in the wrong on the score of simplicity. For
they confess themselves that there is a distinction between the essence and
each one of the attributes enumerated. The operations are various, and the
essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations,
but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations
come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach. But, it is replied, if you are ignorant of the essence, you are ignorant of
Himself.

St. Basil the Great
Retort, If you say that you know His essence, you are ignorant
of Himself. A man who has been bitten by a mad dog, and sees a dog in a
dish, does not really see any more than is seen by people in good health;
he is to be pitied because he thinks he sees what he does not see. Do not
then admire him for his announcement, but pity him for his insanity.
Recognize that the voice is the voice of mockers, when they say, if you are
ignorant of the essence of God, you worship what you do not know. I do
know that He exists; what His essence is, I look at as beyond intelligence.
How then am I saved? Through faith. It is faith sufficient to know that
God exists, without knowing what He is; and "He is a rewarder of them
that seek Him." So knowledge of the divine essence involves perception of
His incomprehensibility, and the object of our worship is not that of
which we comprehend the essence, but of which we comprehend that the
essence exists.

And the following counter question may also be put to them. "No man
hath seen God at any time, the Only-begotten which is in the bosom hath
declared him." What of the Father did the Only-begotten Son declare? His
essence or His power? If His power, we know so much as He declared to
us. If His essence, tell me where He said that His essence was the being
unbegotten? When did Abraham worship? Was it not when he believed?
And when did he believe? Was it not when he was called? Where in this
place is there any testimony in Scripture to Abraham's comprehending?
When did the disciples worship Him? Was it not when they saw creation
subject to Him? It was from the obedience of sea and winds to Him that
they recognized His Godhead. Therefore the knowledge came from the
operations, and the worship from the knowledge. "Believest thou that I
am able to do this?" "I believe, Lord;" and he worshipped Him. So
worship follows faith, and faith is confirmed by power. But if you say
that the believer [also knows, he knows from what he believes; and vice
versa he believes from what he knows. We know God from His power.
We, therefore, believe in Him who is known, and we worship Him who is
believed in.

Source:
https://archive.org/stream/St.BasilLettersAndSelectedWorks/St_basil_lettersAndSelected_works_djvu.txt


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