I’ve been reading over Basil the Great’s homily on the first Psalm, and rather enjoying it. The beginning is an introduction to the Psalms as a genre. Basil praises the Psalms as they combine the best of other genres in the Old Testament. They foretell events to come, like the prophets, recall events in the past, like the histories, and give rules to live by, like the law. The “old wounds of the soul are healed, and the newer ones are quickly set to rights.” One of Basil’s favorite features of the psalms is their musicality. The doctrine mixed with the “honey of melody” is delightful for the soul, where straight doctrine would not be so palatable.
My own experience with the psalms has been different. Frankly, I find it a rather puzzling book. I usually prefer either the narrative of the gospels or the logic of the epistles. I realize, though, that I’ve completely missed the “honey of melody.” In the west, most traditions typically don’t sing the psalms (unless they get appropriated for hymns or songs, which does happen rather often). Here I’m jealous of Eastern Christians, who, as I understand, still sing (or chant) the psalms in their liturgies. I do think I’d have an easier time memorizing the psalms and appreciating them if I sang them.
Basil also shows his pastoral ability in the homily. The Septuagint uses the gendered ἀνήρ (man, as opposed to woman) in the first psalm, rather than the more gender-neutral ἄνθρωπος (man/person, as opposed to God/gods). I found his response rather interesting. It does not cohere precisely with modern sensibilities (man is described as “the one more given to leadership”), but it’s not precisely complementarian either. I found it rather touching:
“Why does the prophet single out the man for blessing? Has he cut off women from this blessing? God forbid! Man and woman share a common virtue (ἀρετή). Since their creation was of the same honor, so too do they receive the same reward. Listen to Genesis, ‘And God made mankind (ἄνθρωπον), in the image of God he created it, male and female he created them.’ Those who share a nature, also share labor, and those who have the same labor receive the same reward. Why then, does he mention man, but keep silent about woman? Because he thought it was sufficient, in light of their shared nature, to refer to the whole by mentioning only the half more given to authority (ἡγεμονικώτερος).”
Διὰ τί, φησὶν, ὁ προφήτης τὸν ἄνδρα μόνον ἐκλεξάμενος μακαρίζει; ἆρα μὴ τοῦ μακαρισμοῦ τὰς γυναῖκας ἀπέκλεισε; Μὴ γένοιτο! Μία γὰρ ἀρετὴ ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικὸς, ἐπειδὴ καὶ ἡ κτίσις ἀμφοτέροις ὁμότιμος, ὥστε καὶ ὁ μισθὸς ὁ αὐ- τὸς ἀμφοτέροις. Ἄκουε τῆς Γενέσεως· Ἐποίησε, (217.) φησὶ, ὁ Θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον· κατ’ εἰκόνα Θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν· ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς. Ὧν δὲ ἡ φύσις μία, τούτων καὶ ἐνέργειαι αἱ αὐταί· ὧν δὲ τὸ ἔργον ἴσον, τούτων καὶ ὁ μισθὸς ὁ αὐτός. Διὰ τί οὖν, ἀνδρὸς μνησθεὶς, τὴν γυναῖκα (5) ἀπεσιώπησεν; Ὅτι ἀρκεῖν ἡγήσατο, μιᾶς οὔσης τῆς φύσεως, ἐκ τοῦ ἡγεμονικωτέρου τὸ ὅλον ἐνδείξασθαι. (PG 29.217).
Basil’s Greek, at least here, is not overly taxing. Fortunately, though, these homilies are available in English. CUA Press published the translation in 1963 as part of the Fathers of the Church series. Sister Agnes Clare Way translated the homilies on the Psalms and the better known Hexameron. The translation seems to have made it onto Archive.org, which seems a bit strange to me (as the book is not yet in the public domain), but Ι᾽d certainly commend the homilies, in Greek or English, to the interested reader.