September 9, 2021

Paradise and Hell According to Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian

Saint Basil the Great refers to the fire of the Three Children in the furnace to interpret Psalm 28/29:7, where it says the fire was split or divided in two. It did not burn for those who were in the midst of the furnace, but for those who were outside the furnace the same flames did burn. In a similar way, says Basil, after the Great Judgment the righteous will experience the fire of the presence of the Lord as light and delight, while sinners will experience the fire of the presence of the Lord as burning and punitive.
By St. Basil the Great

(Excerpt from his Interpretation of Psalm 28)

"The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire." (Psalm 28/29:7)

According to the story of the three children in Babylon the flame of fire was divided, when the furnace poured forth the fire forty-nine cubits high and burned up all those around; but, the flame, divided by the command of God, admitted the wind within itself, providing for the boys a most pleasant breeze and coolness as in the shade of plants in a tranquil spot. For, it was, it is said, ‘like the blowing of a wind bringing dew.' And it is far more wonderful for the element of fire to be divided than for the Red Sea to be separated into parts. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord divides the continuity and unity in the nature of fire. Although fire seems to human intelligence to be incapable of being cut or divided, yet by the command of the Lord it is cut through and divided. I believe that the fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord, in order that, since there are two capacities in fire, the burning and the illuminating, the fierce and punitive part of the fire may wait for those who deserve to burn, while its illuminating and radiant part may be allotted for the enjoyment of those who are rejoicing. Therefore, the voice of the Lord divides the fire and allots it, so that the fire of punishment is darksome, but the light of the state of rest remains incapable of burning.
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Saint Gregory the Theologian also embraces the view that God Himself is the fire of Paradise and Hell, and it depends on man how this fire is experienced for eternity. The fire of the Lord is either cleansing and illuminating or punitive and darkening, depending on which state we enter into the presence of the Lord.
By St. Gregory the Theologian
(Excerpt from Oration 40, On Holy Baptism
There is sprung up a light for the righteous, and its partner joyful gladness. And, "The light of the righteous is everlasting;" and "You are shining wondrously from the everlasting mountains," is said to God, I think of the Angelic powers which aid our efforts after good. And you have heard David's words; "The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom then shall I fear?" And now he asks that the Light and the Truth may be sent forth for him, now giving thanks that he has a share in it, in that the Light of God is marked upon him; that is, that the signs of the illumination given are impressed upon him and recognized. One light alone let us shun — that which is the offspring of the baleful fire; let us not walk in the light of our fire, (Isaiah 50:11) and in the flame which we have kindled. For I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to send upon the earth, and He Himself is anagogically called a Fire. This Fire takes away whatsoever is material and of evil habit; and this He desires to kindle with all speed, for He longs for speed in doing us good, since He gives us even coals of fire to help us. I know also a fire which is not cleansing, but avenging; either that fire of Sodom which He pours down on all sinners, mingled with brimstone and storms, or that which is prepared for the Devil and his Angels or that which proceeds from the face of the Lord, and shall burn up his enemies round about; and one even more fearful still than these, the unquenchable fire which is ranged with the worm that dies not but is eternal for the wicked. For all these belong to the destroying power; though some may prefer even in this place to take a more merciful view of this fire, worthily of Him that chastises.

And as I know of two kinds of fire, so also do I of light. The one is the light of our ruling power directing our steps according to the will of God; the other is a deceitful and meddling one, quite contrary to the true light, though pretending to be that light, that it may cheat us by its appearance. This really is darkness, yet has the appearance of noonday, the high perfection of light. And so I read that passage of those who continually flee in darkness at noonday (Isaiah 16:3); for this is really night, and yet is thought to be bright light by those who have been ruined by luxury. For what says David? Night was around me and I knew it not, for I thought that my luxury was enlightenment. But such are they, and in this condition; but let us kindle for ourselves the light of knowledge. This will be done by sowing unto righteousness, and reaping the fruit of life, for action is the patron of contemplation, that among other things we may learn also what is the true light, and what the false, and be saved from falling unawares into evil wearing the guise of good. Let us be made light, as it was said to the disciples by the Great Light, you are the light of the world. Let us be made lights in the world, holding forth the Word of Life; that is, let us be made a quickening power to others. Let us lay hold of the Godhead; let us lay hold of the First and Brightest Light. Let us walk towards Him shining, before our feet stumble upon dark and hostile mountains. While it is day let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, which are the dishonesties of the night....

Receive besides this the Resurrection, the Judgment and the Reward according to the righteous scales of God; and believe that this will be Light to those whose mind is purified (that is, God — seen and known) proportionate to their degree of purity, which we call the Kingdom of heaven; but to those who suffer from blindness of their ruling faculty, darkness, that is estrangement from God, proportionate to their blindness here.