Arthur Middleton on the role of the preacher in the writings of St Basil
St Basil is concerned about the role of the preacher in preaching. The first point he makes is that this preacher must have a certain degree of authority when he is delivering the message. He gets this authority not on his own, but precisely as a ‘calling’ from the Holy Spirit, through the Christian community’s ordination. Preaching and ordination are closely connected. One does not truly preach to those who do not recognize this authority; the choice, i.e. the ‘worthy’—which is shouted out at ordination by the people—is involved.
When this authority is in good order, then the preacher proclaims, as St Basil says in On Psalm 48, as a herald, as an apostle, and as the lips of Christ. The priest who preaches is totally to be identified with the proclamation, so that he and it become one. St Basil emphasizes this: ‘I bring back to you the tidings the Spirit taught me, and I say nothing of my own, nothing human’ (On Psalm 48, 2).
Preacher and proclamation
This identification with the proclamation has other im plications for St Basil, and certainly for the contemporary preacher. In his Moral Rule 70, for example, St Basil says the con tents of the message must be exemplified in his own life: ‘The preacher must himself possess what he brings’ and ‘one must not put constraint upon others to do what he has not done himself.’
Finally, ‘the preacher of the word should make himself an example to others of every good thing, practising what he teaches.’ In fact, in the 37th section of Rule 70, he says that the preacher, who is the judging eye of the community, has to be prepared himself to stand scrutiny and judgment ‘by the very people who are entrusted to him.’
In his Epistle 150.4, Basil says: ‘The instruction of how to lead a Christian life depends less on words than on daily living.’ Thus, he is not only preacher of the word, but the servant of the word. St Gregory Nazianzen says the same thing: ‘How can we induce somebody to accept an opinion which is different from that which we have taught by our life?’ On the proclamation itself, in his Moral Rule 70, St Basil warns of some impediments to the preaching of the Word.
First, the preacher must not flatter the hearers, satisfying their own pleasures. Secondly, he must not abuse his authority either to insult them or exalt himself over them.
Thirdly, he must not imagine that he himself is credited with preaching, but that he is a ‘co-worker’ with the Spirit.
Fourthly, he must not put himself at the disposal of those who pay special attention to him, i.e. he must not preach in order to receive ‘favours.’
Finally, in his Rule 70, St Basil brings us very practically to the wholeness of the preacher of the Word. We need a ‘boldness’ in proclaiming and bearing witness; we need continuous prayers for the growth of those who receive our words; we need periodic visitations aimed at strengthening the receivers; we need spiritual and material assistance for the hearers who need it. Basil is insistent that the priest, who is the preacher, should live a sober and chaste life, for such a life speaks louder than words. The preacher’s life must be conformed to the doctrine if his preaching is to have any effect.
We see clearly how this is a ‘ministry.’ Finally, St Basil says: ‘He who teaches should set before himself this aim: to bring all to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, yet each in his own order.’