Reading Macarius/Symeon

Central to the closing of the late fourth-century debate about the deity of the Holy Spirit was the argument of the Greek theologian Basil of Caesarea (c.329–79) that the Spirit must be divine if, through his indwelling of both angels and humans, he makes them holy beings. As the One who ultimately provides all of the holiness experienced by rational creatures in the universe, the Holy Spirit must be holy without qualification. And as such he cannot be a creature, but has to be ontologically inseparable from the Father and the Son.[1] The source of this argument was both Scripture and Basil’s experience as a monk. In the early monastic movement Basil had been exposed to a rich charismatic environment that convinced him that genuine progress in a life of virtue was deeply dependent upon the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Another monastic leader who shared this conviction, but who expressed it in quite a different fashion, is the author of four major collections of homilies, discourses and letters known as the Macarian corpus. I have long been interested in this author ever since in 1979 I heard a brilliant lecture by Reinhart Staats on the glorification of the Spirit in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed and his brief discussion of some disciples of Macarius who were present at the Council of Constantinople. And so am reading and thinking about the Spirit in the II collection of Macarian homilies.[2] It is a truly amazing slice of Patristic literature. Macarius’ grasp of the Spirit’s work in the context of human sin is largely very biblical.

All of this is preparation for a paper I have to give at an academic confernce this coming Friday at SBTS, the conference is entitled "Human and Christian Agency" and is sponsored by the Society for Christian Psychology, and I am looking at the Spirit and the sturggle against sin in Macarius/Symeon.


[1] Basil of Caesarea, Letter 125.3; 159.2; On the Holy Spirit 19.48. See also J. Verhees, “Die Bedeutung der Transzendenz des Pneuma bei Basilius”, Ostkirchliche Studien, 25 (1976),299–300.

[2] For discussion of the four collections, see Marcus Plested, The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 9–12. See also Stuart K. Burns, “Pseudo-Macarius and the Messalians: The Use of Time for the Common Good” in R.N. Swanson, ed., The Use and Abuse of Time in Christian History (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press for The Ecclesiastical History Society, 2002), 3, n.7.