Friday, January 02, 2015

the original Christian bromance

Today's saints, Basil of Caesarea (known as Basil the Great) and Gregory Nazianzen, have to be the first witnesses to that phenomenon (not so much talked about this past year) called the "bromance." Whereas the love of man and woman leads them to become "one flesh," Gregory testifies that he and Basil were two bodies with "one spirit."

Gregory says that he and Basil "felt mutual affection" that "grew daily warmer and deeper"; they shared a home, meals, goals. Taking up Gregory's homily about Basil (Gregory outlived him by about ten years), a 21st century reader who did not know their whole story might assume, at least from the first paragraphs, that this is an ancient (circa AD 380) witness to same-sex marriage. Instead it is a picture of Christian friendship: "We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people today were to share the stories of that kind of spiritual friendship? These are stories that demonstrate the breadth of love, a warm human love that is as fulfilling as it is chaste. We can broaden the discourse about love by telling such stories!

Here are Gregory's own words, taken from today's "Office of Readings":

Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.
I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.
What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honor than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.
Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that “everything is contained in everything,” yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

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