What did they say? What did these two mighty men, sometime students together in Athens, seekers after solitude and contemplation, learned rhetors, bishops who fought to save the flock from the ravages of heretics, what did they say when they wrote letters one to the other?
1. Personal Greeting of St Basil to St Gregory; friendly remarks and recognition.
He laments he has not made better use of solitude. Gregory wondered what Basil did, how he disposed of his time. Basil, alas, could not make use of the solitude and quiet these men, like Augustine also, so craved.
2. Stillness of the Mind and Heart; Solitude and Separation; Preparation of the Heart.
“We must strive after a quiet mind.” Why? Why always, why so persistently, why must they get away into the mountains, away from the cities and the people and the clamor? “Now solitude is of the greatest use for this purpose, inasmuch as it stills our passions, and gives room for principle to cut them out of the soul.” And later, “Thus the mind, saved from dissipation from without, and not through the senses thrown upon the world, falls back upon itself, and thereby ascends to the contemplation of God.”
3. The Study of Scripture is an Instruction for Life and Duty; Lifes of the Saints Our Models for Holy Living.
Here he remarks how the godly seek the Scripture and the example of other godly people in order to order his life after it. For he doesn’t merely want quiet for the sake of silence, but for the sake of holiness.
4. Prayer Refreshes the Soul and Stirs Up the Love of God.
This section is too small, and all good!
Prayers, too, after reading, find the soul fresher, and more vigorously stirred by love towards God. And that prayer is good which imprints a clear idea of God in the soul; and the having God established in self by means of memory is God’s indwelling. Thus we become God’s temple, when the continuity of our recollection is not severed by earthly cares; when the mind is harassed by no sudden sensations; when the worshipper rites from all things and retreats to God, drawing away all the feelings that invite him to self-indulgence, and passes his time in the pursuits that lead to virtue.
5. On the Proper Manner of Speaking, Giving and Receiving Knowledge and Criticism.
Here is good advice from a man whose life was often fraught with ecclesiastical controversy.
6. Inner Humility Leads to Outer Simplicity; Proper Dress and Behaviour for the Christian Person.
He speaks here of how to wear one’s clothes, what shoes to buy, how often to eat and what. It is far, far from what we know today. One should consider how earnestly they pursued the vocation of Christianity. These men were as athletes of piety. “Let sleep be light and easily interrupted, as naturally happens after a light diet; it should be purposely broken by thoughts about great themes.” Here were two men in earnest about Christianity.