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Proclaiming the Gospel with Miraculous Gifts in the Postbiblical Early Church

Jerome, who provides us with the earliest “Who’s Who in the Church,” also tells of reports current in the late fourth and early fifth centuries that Gregory’s writings were overshadowed by the “signs and wonders” which accompanied his evangelism, bringing “great glory” to the churches.10

It is quite clear that the Holy Spirit’s activity in the Christian Church did not change dramatically after AD 100.

Curiously, the greatest Church historian of the period, Eusebius, is silent on matters miraculous in Gregory’s ministry.11 This silence has been seized upon by modern “demythologizers” to suggest that they were merely figments of disciples’ imaginations. But such an argument, based on negative evidence—based on the absence of evidence for or against—demonstrates nothing. The same scholars argue, in addition, that Gregory’s philosophical and reflective tendencies would have been incompatible with a ministry which evidenced “power evangelism.” One can only wonder how, given this reasoning, they could so readily accept the same mix in the life of St. Paul (compare Acts 17:28 and Rom. 15:18-19)! Basil of Cappadocia (ca. 330-379): the Spirit and Social Concerns

Of all the Early Church Fathers, no one is more concerned about things of the Spirit than Basil of Cappadocia. His writing On the Holy Spirit may be the greatest of all such works ever produced in the Christian Church. He lived in the same section of Asia Minor as Gregory the Wonderworker. This is not at all surprising, because Gregory’s influence is directly referred to in Basil’s writings on the Spirit.

Basil of Cappadocia’s writing On the Holy Spirit may be the greatest of all such works ever produced in the Christian Church.

Basil understood that the vibrant Christian was a “pneumatophor”—an active receptacle, carrier and distributor of the Holy Spirit and of spiritual gifts. He is remembered first for providing Eastern Christianity’s most articulate and powerful description of the person and offices of the divine Third Person of the Trinity.12 Basil also is remembered for establishing the monastic rule which is used by monks throughout Eastern Christianity. One of the unique aspects of Basil’s concept of the Church is that it is a charismatic body, with each person exercising unique and separate gifts, without which the community as a whole would be impoverished. Basil expected that those who exercised leadership and care must be spiritual seniors with gifts of discernment of spirits and healing the sick. They also must be able to foretell the future (i.e., have prophetic gifting: Acts 11:27-28; 20:22; 21:10-11).

One of the charismata which Basil encouraged was empowered Christian preaching. He also stressed the gift of teaching. Basil tended to depend heavily on the leadership of those with obvious spiritual endowment. As a bishop, he would, on occasion, give leadership responsibilities to a lesser monk or a lay brother who was gifted spiritually.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2008

About the Author: Stanley M. Burgess received a BA and MA from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has taught history for 57 years and was Distinguished Professor of Christian History, Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia (2004–2011). He has written numerous scholarly articles on church history and the history of Christianity as well as several books, including The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity (Hendrickson), The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (Hendrickson), and The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Hendrickson), a documentary history of the Christian Peoples of the Spirit: A Documentary History of Pentecostal Spirituality from the Early Church to the Present (New York University Press, 2011), and was co-editor of the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (Oxford, 2012).

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