Those Witty Orthodox Bishops

After love and compassion, wit may be the human capacity that I find myself enjoying most frequently. Right or wrong, I am always impressed and delighted with the fine art of combining  cleverness and humor. I find it especially refreshing in the form of subtle, dry humor in a Sunday morning sermon. Beautiful.

Wit is also fun to discover in the pages of a Church history book. Now, I know that two thousand years ago people were still people. There was just as much variety in personality types, interests, perspectives, emotions, and expressions then as there is today. That can be hard to remember, though, when the bulk of the written record they left behind—as well as our own commentaries on those writings—focuses on weighty political, theological, or philosophical matters. The wit is there, but it isn’t what we look for or talk about.

That is why I was so pleased to find one such mention in Justo González’ The Story of Christianity. 

During the Arian controversy, the bishop of Caesarea died, leaving the followers of Arius and those of the Nicene party to contend for the position. Basil the Great was a champion of the Nicene cause and the most likely candidate. The Arians were motivated to disqualify him, but found it a difficult task. Gonzalez reports,

The Arian party found only one point at which Basil was vulnerable: his questionable health. The orthodox responded that they were electing a bishop, not a gladiator.

I love that! These are a bunch of fourth century bishops and church leaders convening for the serious matter of electing a new bishop. They were witty guys!


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