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E00770: A Greek Homily on Psalm 115, attributed to Basil of Caesarea, points out the contrast between the Old Testament attitude to the remains of the dead as abominable, and the Christian appreciation of relics as precious. He states that sanctifying grace is imparted by touching the bones of a martyr. Written in Kaisareia/Caesarea of Cappadocia (central Asia Minor) in the 370s.

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posted on 2015-10-13, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Basil of Caesarea, Homily on Psalm 115 (dubious) (CPG 2910)

(…………………) Ὅτε Ἰουδαϊκῶς ἀπέθνησκον, βδελυκτὰ ἦν τὰ θνησιμαῖα· ὅτε ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ ὁ θάνατος, τίμια τὰ λείψανα τῶν ὁσίων αὐτοῦ. Πρὸ τούτου ἐλέγετο τοῖς ἱερεῦσι καὶ τοῖς Ναζωραίοις τὸ, Οὐ μιανθήσεσθε ἐπ’ οὐδενὶ τεθνηκότι· καὶ τὸ, Ἐάν τις ἅψηται νεκροῦ, ἀκάθαρτος ἔσται ἕως ἑσπέρας· καὶ τὸ, Πλυνεῖ ἑαυτοῦ τὰ ἱμάτια. Νυνὶ δὲ ὁ ἁψάμενος ὀστέων μάρτυρος, λαμβάνει τινὰ μετουσίαν ἁγιασμοῦ ἐκ τῆς τῷ σώματι παρεδρευούσης χάριτος. (………………)

‘(................) When they died in Judaism, all things touched by death were abominable. But when death is for Christ, the remains of his holy ones are held precious. Before this, it was said to the priests and the Nazarites: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any dead body’; and also: ‘Whoever touches a dead body will be impure till evening’, and that ‘He must wash his garments’. But now whoever touches the bones of a martyr receives some partaking in sanctification by the grace abiding in that body. (....................) ‘

Text: Migne 1851. Translation: E. Rizos


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Basil of Caesarea

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - bones and teeth Touching and kissing relics


Born around 330 to an aristocratic Christian family of Neokaisareia/Neocaesarea of Pontus Polemoniacus (Anatolia), Basil was educated in Kaisareia/Caesarea, Antioch, and Athens. After his studies, he spent time in the monasteries in Egypt, before returning to Pontus, where he organised an ascetic community on his family estate in Pontus. In the 360s, Basil was ordained in Kaisareia/Caesarea, and, on 14 June 370, he was consecrated bishop there. He died on 1 January 379. Basil was a prolific writer, composing homilies, theological, ascetical, and liturgical works. This homily was published in the Patrologia Graeca among texts misattributed to Basil. Many scholars, however, accept it as a genuine sermon of his. On the manuscript tradition and editions, see: Fedwick, P.J., Bibliotheca Basiliana Universalis. 5 vols. Vol. II,2 (Corpus Christianorum; Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), 1037-1039.


Employing inaccurate quotations from Leviticus, the author stresses the contrast between the Christian reverence for relics of martyrs, and the Old Testament rules of impurity concerning contact with corpses and remains of the dead. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition is probably correct in stressing the overall positive stance of the Christians towards the remains of the dead, which culminated in a belief in the physical sacredness of the remains of saints. Although the Jewish tradition also had reverence for the tombs of the holy dead, it is not known to have ever developed a particular reverence or veneration for their bodily remains per se. The author's words articulate the view that special grace resides in relics and can be transmitted by touching, which was widely supported by various ecclesiastical authors in the late 4th century (e.g. Victricius of Rouen, Jerome, John Chrysostom). If genuinely by Basil, this passage is the earliest known explicit reference to the veneration of relics by touching.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologiae cursus completus: series graeca 30 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1851), 112. Further reading: Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 18-20.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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