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Article

Traits of protreptic exhortation in St. Basil’s homily On the Words ‘Give heed to Thyself’

Studia Patristica. 2013. Vol. LXII. No. 10. P. 69-80.

The article considers some protreptic motifs of the First Alcibiades in St. Basil’s homily On the Words ‘Give Heed to Thyself’. Dealing with a verse from Deuteronomy (15:9: Πρόσεχε σεαυτῷ etc.). St. Basil evidently regards it as a biblical counterpart of the Delphic maxim γνῶθι σαυτόν, using the sacred text to impel his audience to virtue and self-knowledge. In the second part of this article we highlight some parallels between St. Basil’s text, Porphyry’s writing Περὶ τοῦ γνῶθι σαυτόν, the Preparation for the Gospel XI 27 of Eusebius of Caesarea and the Address to Origen traditionally ascribed to Gregory Thaumaturgus. We finally point to similar interpretations of Πρόσεχε σεαυτῷ in Philo’s treaty On the migration of Abraham and in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata. In conclusion, we argue that both in choice and in elaboration of his subject St. Basil follows the platonic tradition; in compliance with this tradition St. Basil associates the protreptic motifs of the First Alcibiades with the motifs of immortality and the knowledge of God. Just like for Porphyry and (as far as we can judge) for Origen, self-knowledge is not an end in itself for him; impelling his audience to ‘give heed’ he urges them to ascend towards the knowledge of God, which is the true philosophy for him. The genre of the philosophical protreptic, whose traits we find in the homily, turns out to be opportune precisely because for St. Basil, along with the earlier Christian writers, it is Christianity which is the only real philosophy.