A translation of Basil the Great’s commentary on Isaiah is online!

A kind correspondent drew my attention to the fact that there is an English translation of Basil the Great’s Commentary on Isaiah accessible on Academia.edu here.  This is the page of the translator, Nikolai Lipatov.  Grab your copy now!


A “gentleman’s translation” by H.S. Boyd of Ps.Basil’s homily on Paradise

A couple of weeks ago, Ted Janiszewski wrote to tell me about another volume of “gentleman’s translations” that he had found.  I see no purpose in paraphrasing his fascinating email, which is practically a blog post in itself!

I’ve come across another gentleman’s translation of patristic writings: The Fathers not Papists: Or, Six Discourses by the Most Eloquent Fathers of the Church: With Numerous Extracts from Their Writings (London: Bagster, 1834). The author is Hugh Stuart Boyd, who is principally famous as Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Greek tutor. Remarkably, he was also as blind as Homer. The book has 48 pages of preface and 447 (!) of translation from the Greek Fathers, peppered with Boyd’s often-delightfully polemical footnotes. (N.B.: Boyd had published another book of translations some years before. This book contains all of those and many more besides.)

If this review in the The British Critic, Quarterly Theological Review, and Ecclesiastical Record is to be trusted, they aren’t very good translations:

… we thought him a scholar,—which he is,—but which, on the whole, the specimens of the Fathers in these Six Discourses are not sufficient to prove…. his pages are soiled with very many defects, his translations are inaccurate, his style turgid and verbose, and his annotations foisted in, and childish….

Still, even if the reviewer is right, a lousy translation of a Greek text is better than no translation at all.

I read through the first few entries in the table of contents to see if there’s anything of value in here, and it appears that there is:

  1. Chrysostom’s first oration on Eutropius;
  2. Basil’s homily on the forty martyrs of Sebaste;
  3. Basil’s homily on Gordius the martyr;
  4. the pseudo-Basilian homily on paradise;
  5. Basil’s homily on faith;
  6. Gregory Nazianzen’s oration on the Nativity.

After this come a whole host of lengthy extracts from various and sundry writings, followed by a great deal of translated poetry.

Some of these works are also translated in NPNF: 1. is here and 6. here. Basil’s homilies on the forty martyrs and Gordius were again translated in 2005 by Pauline Allen in “Let Us Die That We May Live”: Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria (c. AD 350–AD 450). I believe Basil’s homily on faith is in Mark DelCogliano’s volume in Popular Patristics, On Christian Doctrine and Practice (2013). I don’t know that another translation of the pseudo-Basilian homily on paradise exists at all.

It’s really worth looking at these older translations, because they do sometimes contain materials not otherwise available.  The sniffiness of the reviewer – who admits that the translator is capable – is probably political.

Ps.Basil, De Paradiso (CPG 3217, where it is listed among the spuria for Gregory of Nyssa) appears in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 30, cols. 61-72, which I would imagine is reprinted from the Benedictine edition.  But Boyd translates from the 1551 Basle edition, which he states is rather different.[1]

Of course Boyd’s book is online and may be consulted by those so inclined.  But I thought that I’d run it through my scanner, and give a slightly modernised version.  Boyd was clearly something of a poet, and it shows in his translation.

    *    *    *    *


“God planted Paradise in Eden, in the orients; and placed there the man whom he had formed.” (Gen. 2:8)

Can we doubt that the garden which the Lord implanted was worthy of him; was correspondent to the divine perception of beauty; the perception of an Artificer so great? In a former part of the narration it is said, “Let the earth bring forth the herb, and the fruitful tree; yielding seed and bearing fruit.” If Paradise were composed of the common trees, it is manifest that it was comprehended in the primary creation of plants; and that the trees which were now planted by the hand of God himself, could have required no subsequent, no especial implantation. But that the plants which now were called into existence, the innumerous trees, so sapiently designed and so elaborately formed by the Deity himself, were different from his primary productions, is evident from the words of scripture.

For as it pleased him that man should be his peculiar workmanship above all other animals, so he deemed it suitable, that the habitation of man should be his especial work. A place pre-eminent above all creation, the Lord selected; a place admirable in beauty, conspicuous afar; by reason of its peerless elevation, overshadowed not with gloom; illumined by the rising of all the stars, and on every side irradiate; blest by an harmonious union of the most different seasons, and glittering with an atmosphere of purest light. It was there that God planted Paradise. It was a spot where no tempest raged, where there was no confusion of seasons, no inclement hail, no desolating whirlwind, no baleful lightning, no destroying thunderbolt; where no wintry frost was known, no vernal moisture, no summer heat, no autumnal drought. But there, prevailed the most serene tranquillity: the conspiring seasons were blended in most harmonious accordance; for each was arrayed in its own garniture of beauty, and not one intruded on another. The flowers of the spring were uninjured by the too hasty approach of summer; and the fruits, both summer and autumnal were unwasted by a wintry age. Though all the seasons together danced around, yet each in deferential homage presented its peculiar tribute. There, were blended the amenity of spring, the fruitfulness of summer, the hilarity of autumn, and the repose of winter. Fertile and luxuriant was the soil, distilling milk, distilling honey. It was indeed adapted to the copious production of delicious fruit; irrigated with life-bestowing fountains, which gave it an inimitable charm. Their streams were pearly and translucent; delectable to the eye, but conferring benefits superior to the pleasure. When the hand of the Omnipotent raised up this glorious habitation, he so adorned and beautified it, that it became worthy of the trees planted by the Lord; and now he enriches it with trees of every soil and climate, at once affording a delightful spectacle, and an exquisite enjoyment.

But how shall I be able so clearly to depict your country, that you may seem to be recalled from exile? A meadow blooming, and variegated with flowers, is an object most beauteous in the contemplation; but if in your fancy you would picture paradise, you must delineate a scene of far transcending loveliness. Here will you find the rose in mournful companionship with the thorn; enveloping in its charms a latent mischief, and seeming, with its crimson lips, to address you thus: “Understand, O man, that in this terrestrial abode your cup of pleasure is mingled with affliction.” Indeed our experience testifies that no earthly blessing is unmixed, and that sorrow is ever engrafted upon joy. On marriage, is engrafted widowhood; on the rearing of children, anxiety; on a virtuous progeny, bereavement; on worldly honours, degradation; on prosperity, sad reverses; on luxury, repletion; and on health, disease.

Though lovely be the rose, and fragrant, yet when I gaze upon the flower, my heart is surcharged with sorrow; for I am reminded of my sin; of that transgression, through which the earth produces thorns and briers. Here, too, the vernal flowers are transient in duration, withering in the hand that still would cherish them. Yes, in the very moment they are gathered, their resplendent hues are fading. But the rose of Paradise did not beam with evanescent lustre; its delightfulness was ever-enduring; its countenance, ever lovely; its enjoyment, undeclining; its fragrance brought no satiety, and it flashed around the lightning of its charms. No ruthless winds desolated its beauty; it decayed not with the revolving months; it was unbent, and unchilled by frost; it was parched not by the fervid beam; but the softest, the most unruffled gales, gently visiting it in balmy respiration, preserved it unimpaired by time.

And Oh! the stateliness of the trees. They also were worthy of the God who made them, of the God who planted them. The lowly brushwood, and the plants that compose the thicket; the trees with naked stem, and those luxuriant in branches; those whose foliage is at the summit, and those with a spreading shade; those which cast off their leaves, and those which bloom throughout the year; those enriched with fruitage, and those devoid of fruit; those regarded for their utility, and those conducing to enjoyment; all pre-eminent in stature and beauty; all umbrageous, clothed in perennial verdure, and blooming with fruit immortal; all yielded the benefit and the delight peculiar unto each. Though abundant was the grace resident in each, the utility even surpassed the grace. How shall I convey an adequate idea of that primeval paradise? If I were to illustrate it by terrestrial objects, I should rather dishonour it with my words, than communicate a clear idea by the illustration. All the fruits were perfect, all mature, and not gradually ripened. For they did not attain the perfection of their bloom, from the slowly expanding blossom; but were increased by their native vigour, made perfect, not by human cultivation, but through their inherent nature. The birds also, of every region, were assembled there; and by the melody of their warblings, as well as the flower of their plumage, they added a wondrous enchantment to the already enchanted scene. Thus, for every sense of man, was the banquet spread. His eye was captivated; his ear was charmed; his touch was gratified; his smell, regaled with odours; and his taste, with delicacies. There too, he beheld the tribes of animals, all gentle in disposition, all of kindred natures, both uttering and hearing sounds, intelligible to all. The serpent then was not terrible, but mild and harmless; not yet gliding and rolling onward as the destructive billow, but walking upright upon his feet.

It was there, that God placed the man whom he had formed. In another part of the earth he formed him, and then translated him to paradise. As he made the luminaries of heaven, and then placed them in the firmament; so he formed man from collected particles of earth, and then placed him in paradise. Observe it is not said, “The man whom he had made,” but “The man whom he had formed.” When he made man, he made him after his own image. That is, his incorporeal nature: and what is incorporeal is uncircumscribed by place. For that which was made, followed that which had been formed. In other words, the creation of the soul was consequent on the formation of the body, and the union immediately took place. An abode is prepared previously to the formation of the body, and the soul is afterwards contained in a locality, by reason of the corporeal conjunction; for it cannot, from its intrinsic nature, be circumscribed in space.

And now have I exhilarated your heart, by portraying the joys of paradise; or have I rather pained it, with the contrast of things that perish? For the mind of man, prone to meditation upon themes sublime and elevated, and soaring above the world; having its citizenship in heaven, and looking upward to the promised blessings, would like to hear something about that treasured good, which “the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to imagine.” If the eye has not seen it, who can unfold its nature? If the ear has not heard it, how can your ear receive the narration? If it has not entered into the heart of man, how can my mind be large enough for the vast idea?

And now, shall we not reject whatever is corporeal, and seek after spiritual objects? As, under the law, many things were perceptible to sense, but were types of things intellectually discerned; so, we conceive of paradise corporeally, but allegorize it spiritually. “God planted paradise in Eden, in the orients.” The names of the plants are not recorded; but the name of the region in which they were planted has been transmitted. “God planted it,” says the historian, “in Eden,” that is, in enjoyment; for Eden signified enjoyment. Does he mean that enjoyment which through the medium of the mouth is conveyed to the stomach; and has he commemorated a sensual enjoyment? And is this the gift of God? What! to gratify the appetite? to pamper the body? The very mention of such a thing were impious. Sensual gratification is assuredly the instrument of lust, and insolence, and whatever is interdicted; tending to make gross the body, and to overwhelm the soul, submerging it in the gulf of sin. Wherefore, let us consider, that the enjoyment was worthy of the Deity to bestow; and we shall learn from thence, that the trees were of such a nature, as the celestial Husbandman would plant. But what enjoyment is commensurate to the capability of the saints? “Let your delight be in the Lord, and he will grant you the petitions of your heart.” Since then the beauty of virtue is unlimited, inasmuch as it emanates from a wisdom infinite in operation; we are informed that God planted paradise, not in the orient, but in the orients. For every plant which the Lord had planted, being beautified with native light, beamed out an inherent glory. There, were the fountains of that river “which makes glad the city of God.” It is elsewhere designated, the stream of enjoyment, which nurtures, and heightens the charms of those intellectual plants. It is subsequently called, the river which goes forth from Eden, to water paradise. In a former part of the narration, it is said, that having first consummated the work of creation, he conducted man into empire and sovereignty. But now, the contrary is effected. He forms man, and then implants paradise. The reason is this: in the former case, he finished creation’s work, that the palace might be prepared before the entrance of the monarch; lest man should be created in an indigent condition, and afterwards crowned with riches. In the present case having bestowed in part the blessings he was accomplishing, he creates him in another place, and afterwards establishes him in paradise; that having learnt the difference between an external life, and an abode in paradise, from the comparison of both, he may understand the surpassing excellency of the latter, and may dread his fall.

But that you may perceive that the planting spoken of was worthy of the hand divine, consider what our Lord said to his disciples: “You are the vine-branches, and my Father is the gardener.” It is manifest that they were planted by him. They “who are planted in the house of the Lord,” and they “who flourish in the courts of the Lord,” are of the same culture. And again, in the Prophet: “I have planted every true vine which bears fruit.” The noble imitator of Christ speaks boldly when he says, “We are fellow-labourers. You are the gardening of God. I have planted; Apollos has watered; God has given the increase.” And the righteous man is likened to “A tree, planted by the courses of the stream, which shall give forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf shall not fall away.”

It is also written, “The righteous man shall flourish like the palm:” and again, “You have transferred a vine from Egypt. You have cast out the nations, and have transplanted it.” Make it therefore your endeavour, from the instruction you hast received, to live in meditation on that happy region; that you may be illuminated by the splendours of the divine light, where the beam of knowledge rises; planted like paradise, in enjoyment. And if you should conceive that paradise is the habitation of the holy; where they who shine forth in deeds of righteousness enjoy the celestial grace, that true and spiritual beatitude; you would not go wrong in your imagination. There, rooted and engrafted, are the powers angelical, who minister to the saints; for man when begotten from above, is to them entrusted, as needing much of discipline in his march unto perfection. In that paradise, is the company of the righteous; in that paradise, are the orients of light; in that paradise, is the enjoyment of the soul. It is there that God places man!

Are you corporeal in your desires? You have the delineation of a paradise, adapted to your desires, and yielding a full enjoyment. Are your bent on the gratification of the senses? Go, and revel. There, everlasting pleasures are dispensed. Are you spiritual in your affections? Do your aspiring thoughts tower above corporeal delights? Ascend on intellectual wings, and contemplate the glory of the angels. Observe the fruits of righteousness, which bloom among them. Behold the river of God, which is full of streams, whose fountains make glad that city of which the artificer and architect is God. Through it the river of God flows. That is the river which has its origin in Eden, which irrigates paradise. All these things consider, and having considered, glorify the Lord; for unto him is rightly ascribed all glory; to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, throughout the eternal ages. Amen.

  1. [2]
  2. [1]Divi Basilii Magni opera graeca quae ad nos extant omnia.  The publisher is Froben.  De Paradiso is on p.643-5.  Online at the BSB here./ref]  Apparently there is a more modern edition: H. Hörner, Gregorii Nysseni Opera Supplementum, Leiden, 1972, 74-84.[2]“Auctorum Incertorum Vulgo Basilii Vel Gregorii Nysseni Sermones De Creatione Hominis – Sermo De Paradiso (Gregorii Nysseni Opera , Supplement 1) (Greek and Latin Edition)”, Brill Academic Publishers (1997 reprint) ISBN 10: 9004034722 ⁄ISBN 13: 9789004034723.
  3. [3]Boyd writes: The learned Benedictine Editor thinks that this homily is spurious, and states his reasons. He begins by telling us, that Combefisius may think this homily genuine, if be likes it; but that the man who is a little more sagacious, will readily perceive that its style is different from the style of Basil. He then adduces five passages, some expressions of which, he says, were never employed by Basil. Now, his edition differs very materially, as to this homily, from the Paris ed. of 1618, and the Bas. ed. of 1551, in which it first made its appearance. In all these five cases, the reading in those editions is different from his. It follows, that the authenticity of this beautiful discourse, like the rose which it describes, remains uninjured and unaffected. It is curious that he is mistaken in what he says of ακροατης, the very first word against which he directs his battery. He thinks that it was not only unemployed by Basil, but also that it was never used by any Greek Fathers of that age. Besides meeting with it in Chrysostom, I have noticed it in Basil himself. It twice occurs in the exord. of his 6th hom. on the Hexaem. It is a remarkable thing, that the text of this hom. is more beautiful in the old ed. than in the ed. Bened. My translation of this, as well as the two preceding homilies, has been made from the ed. Bas. which gives the Greek text without any comment, note, or version. I have a strong partiality for those editions of Greek books, which are printed without version, or comment, even although they be not the best editions.

Basil the Great, On holy baptism – now online in English

A correspondent writes to say that he has discovered a forgotten translation of Basil the Great’s Sermon 13: On holy baptism (In Sanctum Baptismum).

He found it as an appendix in an 1843 American volume of Catholic anti-protestant polemic on the subject, issued by a certain Francis Patrick Kenrick who was later to become Archbishop of Baltimore.

I’ve scanned the text: it is here.

The translator went a bit mental part way through and started spouting cod-Jacobean English.  I have removed such excrescences from the text, but otherwise left it alone.

The use made of the work by Kenrick is perhaps the opposite of that intended by Basil.  It is pretty plain, reading the sermon, that Basil is dealing with people who are Christians mainly in observance and socially, with a real component of nominalism.  His task, an unpleasant one, is to stop them playing games with the church and either commit or not.  The point of commitment – for them – is baptism.

By contrast Kenrick is dealing with 19th century baptists.  In the main these were people fully committed to Christ, but with a genuine scruple about blasphemy in applying baptism to people who didn’t believe.  It is quite unlikely that Basil would have preached such a sermon to them.  I fear that Mr Kenrick’s work probably fell on rather deaf ears, therefore.  It does very little good to anyone to make St Basil – or any of the fathers – into a proponent of superstition, when he was in fact engaged in trying to overthrow it.

Nevertheless we all benefit from that forgotten work, because Kenrick stopped to translate Basil for us all.  Thank you, sir: and thank you also Ted Janiszewski for finding it for us.


Basil the Great discusses twitter, blogging and online discussion fora

From On the Holy Spirit, 1.1:

I admire your proposing questions not for the sake of testing, as many now do, but to discover the truth itself. For now a great many people listen to and question us to find fault. . . . [T]he questions of many contain a hidden and elaborate bait, like the hunters’ snare and the military ambush. These are the people who throw out words, not so that they may receive something useful from them, but so that they may seem to have a just pretext for war if they find answers that do not accord with their own liking.

Via Joel J. Miller, quoting a modern translation.

The work of Basil on the Holy Spirit may be found in the old NPNF translation here.  It is addressed to his brother Amphilochius, another of the Cappadocian fathers.  After a couple of sentences we find:

And this in you yet further moves my admiration, that you do not, according to the manners of the most part of the men of our time, propose your questions by way of mere test, but with the honest desire to arrive at the actual truth.

There is no lack in these days of captious listeners and questioners; but to find a character desirous of information, and seeking the truth as a remedy for ignorance, is very difficult.

Just as in the hunter’s snare, or in the soldier’s ambush, the trick is generally ingeniously concealed, so it is with the inquiries of the majority of the questioners who advance arguments, not so much with the view of getting any good out of them, as in order that, in the event of their failing to elicit answers which chime in with their own desires, they may seem to have fair ground for controversy.

Anybody who has encountered atheist “questions” about Christianity online will be very familiar indeed with this form of trickery.  It is generally advisable, if we have reason to suspect that our enquirer is really phrasing a statement as a question, to ask a question about his own beliefs in return.  This will be dodged, for such “enquirers” have no desire to query their own beliefs.  Most of them live by convenience; I invariably say so, and ask why.  The answers are rarely satisfactory, but it at least puts a stop to the pleasant game of throwing stones at any Christian who may be entrapped into being their target.