Dominion over Lions


Basil of Caesarea, or Basil the Great, was one of the greatest writers on spirituality from the fourth century. He was at least a third generation Christian, since his grandmother had been executed for her faith during one of the last great persecutions, and his family produced a number of Christian leaders who had a lasting influence on the Church. Having received a first-class education in Athens, he practiced law in his hometown of Caesarea before abandoning all worldly pursuits in favor of a life devoted completely to God in monastic endeavors. He went on to become one of the founders of communal monasticism in the Eastern Church and in his final role as bishop of Caesarea did much to strengthen the Church in the area, from organizing a hospital for the poor to preaching daily to a large congregation.

The excerpt below is taken from Basil’s sermon on Genesis 1:28 in which God commands the original human couple to exercise dominion over the entire created realm. Basil points out that in order for man to have dominion over creation he must first have dominion over his own sinful desires and passions. It is a far easier thing to tame a lion than it is to tame the beast within.

Have you truly become ruler of beasts if you rule those outside but leave those within ungoverned? Will you rule truly in ruling the lion by your reason and despising its roar, but gnashing your teeth and emitting inarticulate sounds as the anger within all at once strives to attack? What is more dangerous than this, when a human being is ruled by passion, when anger pushes reason aside, not consenting to remain within, and takes upon itself governance of the soul? . . .

Rule the thoughts in yourself, that you may become ruler of all beings. Thus the rule we have been given over the animals trains us to rule the things belonging to ourselves. For it is misplaced to be governed at home and govern nations, to be ruled within by a prostitute and be mayor of the city by public consent. It is necessary that household affairs be managed well and that good order within be arranged, and thus to receive authority over others. Since the word of Scripture will be turned back at you by those you rule if your household affairs are disorderly and disorganized, namely “Physician, heal yourself” [Lk 4.23][,] let us heal ourselves first.

Nobody is condemned for not catching a lion, but one who will not govern anger is ridiculous to everyone. So one who does not prevail over his own passion is led to condemnation, while one who cannot prevail over wild beasts does not appear to have done anything worthy of blame.1


1 St. Basil the Great, On the Human Condition, trans. Nonna Verna Harrison (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 47-48.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. I love what St. Basil has to say about the Holy Catholic Church

    “what did the Lord say? “Receive the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever ye retain, they are retained.” John 20:22-23 And is it not plain and incontestable that the ordering of the Church is effected through the Spirit? For He gave, it is said, “in the church, first Apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues,” 1 Corinthians 12:28 for this order is ordained in accordance with the division of the gifts that are of the Spirit.”

  2. Here is what St. Basil has to say about only following what is strictly in the Bible and ignoring the rich traditions that the Catholic Church didn’t include in that one of its many literary works.

    “Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar. In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity. “Dogma” and “Kerugma” are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world. One form of this silence is the obscurity employed in Scripture, which makes the meaning of “dogmas” difficult to be understood for the very advantage of the reader”

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