Basil of Caesarea (ca. 330–379)

Bp. of Caesarea and Greek author. Basil was one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, and the brother of Gregory of Nyssa and Macrina. He was appointed bp. of Caesarea in Cappadocia in 370, and according to the 6th-cent. ‘Life of Ephrem’ he was visited by Ephrem; the episode, however, is legendary and is based on a misidentification of an anonymous ‘Syrian’ in Basil’s writings (the Syrian is now known to have been Eusebius of Emesa, who was born in Edessa). Many of Basil’s writings (in Greek) were translated into Syriac (sometimes twice, first in the 5th, and then again in the 6th/7th cent.: the earlier translations were often very free, whereas the later ones keep much closer to the Greek originals).

The following are the more important works translated into Syriac:

1. ‘Homilies on the Hexaemeron’ ( CPG 2835): ed. with ET, R. W. Thomson (CSCO 550–1; 1995). This early (and rather free) translation was in turn translated into Armenian.

2. ‘Treatise on the Holy Spirit’ ( CPG 2839): ed. with ET, D. G. K. Taylor (CSCO 576–7; 1999). Only the older version is preserved complete, in three very old mss.; of the later version there are only quotations.

3. Homilies ( CPG 2845–69): these are mostly preserved in both an early and a later translation; they remain unpublished. Some of these homilies were incorporated into the liturgical Homiliaries.

4. Small Asceticon ( CPG 2876): the Syriac version, which is entitled ‘Questions to the Brethren’, is a particularly important witness to this work, since the only other witness is the Latin translation by Rufinus (d. ca. 401), the Greek original having been lost (only the Great Asceticon survives in Greek). The early Syriac translation, preserved in a number of early mss., has not yet been published apart from excerpts (by J. Gribomont).

5. Letters ( CPG 2900). 18 Letters from Basil’s very large correspondence survive in Syriac translation. Letter 2, addressed to Gregory of Nazianzus, on the monastic life, was much read, to judge by the number of mss. preserving it (some mss. identify the addressee as Gregory of Nyssa, and in others a further text of unknown origin has been added to it). Only two of the Letters have so far been published: Letter 38 (in fact probably not by Basil but by his brother Gregory of Nyssa, CPG 3196), by M. Parmentier, in Studien zu Gregor von Nyssa, ed. H.  Drobner and C. Klock (1990), 17–55, and (independently) M. Albert, in ARAM 5 (1993), 33–64; and Letter 160, by A. Vööbus, in The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition (CSCO 367–8; 1975), 189–94 (Syr.), 178–82 (ET). (An edition of Letter 2 is in preparation).

6. A few texts attributed to Basil in Syriac are unknown in Greek. This applies to: a. A homily against the Anomoeans ( CPG 2988.14 Suppl.), ed. with LT by A. Van Roey, in OLP 28 (1997), 179–91. b. 6 letters, one of which, addressed to the Monastery of Tell ʿAda, has been edited by M. Albert, in After Bardaisan, ed. Reinink and Klugkist (OLA 89), 11–22. c. A narrative poem, clearly composed in Syriac, on the biblical patriarch Joseph and his brothers; this has been published in two parts, by M. Weinberg (1893) and S. W. Link (1895). ET by K. Heal in preparation; there are Arabic and Ethiopic translations.

7. Various liturgical texts are ascribed to Basil in Syriac: a. A translation of the Greek Anaphora of Basil, found in Rum Orthodox liturgical mss.; b. A (different) Syr. Orth., and Maron. Anaphora; c. The Melkite (Rum Orthodox) baptismal rite; d. A short Maronite baptismal rite.

Besides works by Basil, Syriac also preserves some hagiographical texts concerning Basil.

He is commemorated on 1 Jan.


  • CPG 2835–3008.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Traduzioni siriache degli scritti di Basilio’, in Basilio tra Oriente e Occidente, ed. E. Baudry et al. (2001), 165–80. (contains detailed list of works translated)
  • J.  Gribomont, Histoire du texte des Ascétiques de s. Basile (1953).
  • A.  Muraviev, ‘La partie syriaque du dossier hagiographique de s. Basile le Grand’, in SymSyr VII, 203–10.
  • P.  Rousseau, Basil of Caesarea (1994). (for the wider background)
  • D. G. K.  Taylor, ‘Basil of Caesarea’s contacts with Syriac-speaking Christians’, StPatr , vol. 32 (1997), 213–9.

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Basil of Caesarea,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Basil of Caesarea,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Basil of Caesarea.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018.

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