When I think of all this – let me speak freely of my personal feelings – I fall into a fearful shuddering and terror, lest perhaps through carelessness of mind or absorption in vain things I should fall from the love of God and become a reproach to Christ. For he that now deceives us and is eager to make us forget our Benefactor, using every trick and worldly enticements, jumping on us and attacking us to destroy our souls, he will one day offer our carelessness as a reproach to the Lord and will boast of our disobedience and apostasy. He neither created us nor died for us, but despite this he kept us following his disobedience and neglect of God’s commandments. This reproach against the Lord and this boasting of the enemy seem to me harder to bear than the punishment of hell, namely that we should become to the enemy of Christ a subject of boasting and an opportunity for pride against him who died for us and rose again, to whom for this reason we are more abundantly debtors as is written.

Saint Basil, Longer Rule, 2 as quoted in Augustine Holmes OSB. A Life Pleasing to God. The Spirituality of the Rules of St Basil. London, DLT, 2000. 81

In comparison with other early ascetic literature, the Asceticon gives much less attention to the threat from Satan and the demons in the spiritual life. Compared with the ‘Life of Antony’ it is partly a question of genre, but in general Basil does tend to situate the movement to evil solely in one’s own will (idion thelêma), possibly a consequence of his high view of human nature. In his sermon That God is not the Author of Evils he teaches that evil comes from our own perverted wills which turn away from God through lack of interest in him. The word he uses is koros, the same as used by Origen in his account of the primal fall. Again we see Basil using the ideas of the great Alexandrian, but separated from his controversial cosmology. In addition to his dominant interest in human nature, the relative lack of interest in evil spirits may also have been a reaction to the excessive views of demonic influence current among the enthusiasts.

The presence of the Devil here is significant, though, as it situates the ascetic life, as part of Basil’s re-telling of Salvation History, in the context of the cosmic drama of war between good and evil. The Devil was disobedient and neglected God’s commandments and he encourages us to do the same. The ascetics work is contrary to that of Satan in that it is one of obedience to the commandments. Despite all the positive anthropology mentioned above, the presence of the the Evil One means that our salvation is not assured.

Augustine Holmes OSB. A Life Pleasing to God. The Spirituality of the Rules of St Basil. London, DLT, 2000. 84-85.

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