Author: St. Basil the Great (330-378)
But still evil exists and it is obvious how much it is spread throughout the world. Therefore, they say: “Whence is it, if it is not without beginning and not created?” Investigating this, we will ask where do diseases come from? Where did the bodily harm come from? Disease is not something unborn, but it is not a creature of God either. On the contrary, animals are created with a constitution which resembles them according to their nature, and are introduced into life as perfect organisms; they get sick when they deviate from what is natural for them: either from bad food or from some other disease-causing cause. Therefore, God created the body, not the disease. The soul has become damaged, deviating from what is natural for it. And what was the most important good for her? Abiding with God and being united with Him through love.
Falling away from Him, she began to suffer from various infirmities. Why is she even susceptible to evil? By reason of a free striving, more than anything peculiar to the rational nature. Not being bound by any necessity, given by the Creator a free life as created in the image of God, she understands the good, knows how to enjoy it, is endowed with freedom and strength, residing in the contemplation of the beautiful and in reasonable enjoyment, can observe the natural for her life; but there is also the freedom to deviate from the beautiful at times. And this happens when, satiated by the blissful pleasure and as in a kind of slumber, falling from her exalted state, she enters into communion with the flesh for vile pleasures of voluptuousness.
Adam was once high, not by habitation, but by good will; high was he when, receiving a soul, he saw heaven, admired its beauty, loved the Benefactor, who granted him the enjoyment of eternal life, placed him in the midst of heaven, gave him a rulership in the likeness of the angels, made him similar to the archangels and able to listens to the Divine voice. Despite all this, being under the protection of God and enjoying His benefits, he soon became fed up with everything and, being blinded by spiritual beauty, preferred what appeared pleasant to the carnal eyes and placed the filling of the stomach above the spiritual.
Soon he was out of heaven, out of the blissful life, becoming evil not out of necessity but out of recklessness. Thus he, having sinned by wrong choice, died by sin. God is life, and the deprivation of life is death. Adam himself prepared death by moving away from God according to what is written: “Those who move away from You perish” (Ps. 72:27). God did not prevent our destruction, for reasons explained above, lest he should preserve the defect itself in us as immortal, any more than the potter would put into the fire a vessel of clay which leaks, until he had corrected the defect in question.
But they will say, “Why is not infallibility built into our very constitution, so that we cannot sin even if we would?” Therefore, because you also do not recognize your servants as good as long as you keep them bound, but when you see that they voluntarily perform their duties before you. Therefore, God is pleased not with compulsion, but with virtue. And virtue comes from good will, not necessity. And good will depends on what is in us; and that which is in us is free. Thus, he who reproaches the Creator for not having made us naturally sinless, he actually prefers an unreasonable nature to a rational one, an immovable and desireless nature to a nature endowed with free will and action.
This is said as a necessary deviation, so that a person who has fallen into the abyss of thought, by losing what he desires, may not also lose God. So let’s stop correcting the Wise. Let’s stop looking for something better than what He created. Although the reasons for its private provisions are hidden from us, let us affirm in our souls that no evil proceeds from the Good.
Related to this question about concepts is another – about the devil. “Where is the devil from, if evil is not of God?” What shall we say to that? In such a matter the same reasoning which we have presented concerning the cunning of man is sufficient. Why is a person cunning? Of his own will. Why is the devil evil? For the same reason, because he also had a free life, and he was given the power to dwell with God or to depart from the Good. Gabriel is an angel and is always before God. Satan is an angel who has completely fallen from his rank. Good will preserved the former in the heights, and freedom of will overthrew the latter. But the first was preserved by the insatiable love of God, and the second was made to be denied by moving away from God. That which is alienated from God is evil. A small movement of the eye causes us to either look at the sunny side or to be on the shadow side of our body. And there enlightenment is ready for him who looks straight on, obscuration is necessary for him who turns his gaze to the shadow. So also the devil is cunning, having his cunning according to his will, not that his nature is contrary to good.
“Why is he at enmity with us?” Therefore, becoming the receptacle of every vice, he took in himself the disease of envy and envied our honor. Our happy life in paradise was unbearable for him. Deceiving man with treachery and cunning and using as a means of deception precisely the same desire that man had – to be like God, he showed the tree and promised that by tasting the fruit man would become like God. Because he said: “In the day you taste of them, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Therefore, he was not created as our enemy, but out of envy he was brought to enmity with us. For, seeing that he himself was cast down by the angels, he could not indifferently watch how the earth-born, through success, was elevated to angelic dignity.
And inasmuch as he became an enemy, God preserved our resistance to him, when, referring a threat to himself, he said to the beast that served as his weapon: “I will sow enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed” (Gen. 3:15). It is really harmful to get close to vice, because in those who get close, such a union of friendship arises usually as a result of simulating one another. It has been rightly said: “Do not lie, evil talk corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33). As in countries with an unhealthy climate the air inhaled even for a short time is bound to cause disease, so bad society brings great disturbance to the soul. That is why the enmity with the snake is irreconcilable. If the cannon is worthy of such abhorrence, then should we not be at war even more with the wielder of the cannon?
But they will say, “What was the tree in Paradise for, by means of which the devil could succeed in his malice against us? And if there was not that tempting bait, how could he draw us into death by disobedience?” It was because a commandment was needed to test our obedience. Therefore, it was a plant bearing beautiful fruit, that we, abstaining from what is pleasant, might show the excellence of abstinence, and rightly be honored with crowns of patience. After the tasting followed not only transgression of the commandment, but also knowledge of nakedness. “She ate and gave to her husband, and he also ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked” (Gen. 3:6-7). And it was not necessary to know the nakedness, so that the mind of man would not be distracted, inventing clothes and protection from the nakedness, and in general, with cares for the flesh, to divert his focused attention in pursuit of God.
But why was he not provided with clothes immediately after creation? Because neither natural nor artificial clothes were decent. Natural clothing is characteristic of the speechless: such are feathers, fur, and rough skin capable of protecting against cold and enduring heat. And in this one animal does not have the slightest advantage over another, because in all nature is of equal dignity. And it was proper for a man according to the love of God to receive excellent gifts and goods. Exercises in art would produce a scarcity of time, which was chiefly to be avoided as injurious to man. That is why the Lord, once again calling us to a heavenly life, removes care from our souls, saying: “Do not worry about your soul – what you will eat and drink – nor about your body, what you will wear” (Mat. 6:25) . Therefore, it was not necessary for man to have both natural and artificial coverings. On the contrary, if he had shown his prowess, other coverings would have been prepared for him, which, by the grace of God, would have beautified the man and would have shone upon him in the form of bright garments, similar to those of angels, surpassing the variegated colors, lightness and radiance of the stars. For this reason, garments were immediately given to man, because they were intended for him as a reward for virtue, but the malice of the devil prevented man from receiving them.
And so the devil became our adversary in consequence of the fall to which we were brought by his malice. And according to God’s house-building, we are in a struggle with him in order to defeat him with obedience and triumph over the adversary. Another thing, if he had not become a devil, but resided in the rank in which the Chief had first placed him! But inasmuch as he became an apostate, an enemy of God and an enemy of men, created in the image of God (he is a man-hater for the same reason that he is a God-fighter: he hates us as God’s creations, he hates us also as God’s likeness), then the wise and the benevolent Master of human affairs availed himself of his cunning for the training of our souls, as the physician uses the poison of the echidna in the composition of a salutary medicine.
“Who is the devil? What is his rank? What dignity does he have? And why is he actually called Satan?
– Because it is an opponent of good. Such is the meaning of the Hebrew word, as we know from the book Kingdom. “And the Lord raised up an adversary for Solomon – Adera the Idumean, of the Idumean royal family” (3 Kings 11:14). He is a devil because he is both an instigator and an accuser of our sins, he rejoices in our destruction and makes a mockery of our deeds. And his nature is incorporeal according to the words of the Apostle: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness” (Eph. 6:12). The place of his leadership is in the air, as the same Apostle says: “The prince of the power of the air, that is, of the spirit that now works in the sons of unbelief” (Eph. 2:2). That is why he is called the prince of this world, because his authority is in the heavenly realms. Thus the Lord says: “Now is judgment upon this world; now will the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). And also: “The prince of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (John 14:30). When talking about the host of the devil, that these are “the heavenly spirits of malice” (Eph. 6:12), it should be known that the Scriptures usually call the sky air, for example, “the birds of the air” (Matt. 6:26) – and “ascend unto the heavens” (Ps. 106:26), that is, rise high into the air. That is why the Lord saw “Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Lk. 10:18), i.e. removed from his power, thrown down below, so that those who trust in the Lord will defeat him. Because He has given His disciples “power to tread on serpents and scorpions and on every power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).
To the extent that his evil oppression has been defeated and the earth has been purified through the redemptive sufferings of the Peacemaker of “all that is in Heaven and that is on earth” (Col. 1:16), then the Kingdom of God is already preached to us. Thus John spoke: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mat. 3:2), and the Lord everywhere preaches the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (Mat. 4:23) and from the beginning the angels exclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” (Luke 2:14), and those rejoicing because of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem exclaim: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). In all, thousands are the victorious voices testifying to the final overthrow of the enemy; therefore, that there may remain no struggle and no feat in the heights, no one opposes or diverts us from the blessed life, but we may calmly go forward to enjoy the tree of life for ever, to join that which hindered us at first the cunning of the serpent, for “God set a Cherubim and a flaming sword… to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24). By completing this path without hindrance, let us enter into the grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be glory and dominion forever!
Source: Works of Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea Cappadocia. Ed. 4, h. 4. Holy Troitskaya Sergieva Lavra, 1901 (in Russian).