Did St Basil actually suggest that the majority of fourth century Christians in Cappadocia were universalists? Contra Michael Pakaluk, David Hart believes that the Greek text of the disputed passage from the Short Rules for Monks can be reasonably interpreted in the positive (full citation). Here’s the sentence in question:
But, for a deception of the devil, many people [hoi polloi tōn anthrōpōn], as though they forgot these and similar statements of the Lord, adhere to the conception of the end of punishment, out of an audacity that is even superior to their sin. (trans. Ramelli)
The key phrase: hoi polloi tōn anthrōpōn. Ramelli translates it as “many people,” as does William Jurgens, but it can also be plausibly rendered as “most people.” Hart gives this explanation:
The idiom hoi polloi anthropon—literally “the many” (arthrous) “of human beings”—means the “broad majority of human beings” or “most people.” “Many persons” would be “polloi (anarthrous) anthropoi.” Idiomatically, the arthrous form of polloi is opposed to the few, the minority, or the one.
Is Hart engaging in wishful-thinking-exegesis? Once again I checked with Fr John Behr, and he confirms Hart’s translation. That should be good enough to refute Michael Pakaluk’s claim that Hart has sloppily distorted Basil. If Hart and Behr are wrong, then it’s an error made in scholarly good faith.
Nor has Hart proposed a novel reading of St Basil. In his classic work Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church (1899), J. W. Hanson translates the Greek almost identically:
Basil says in one place, in a work attributed to him, “The mass of men (Christians) say that there is to be an end of punishment to those who are punished.” If the work is not Basil’s, the testimony as to the state of opinion at that time is no less valuable: “The mass of men say that there is to be an end of punishment.”
Both Hart and Hanson understand the author as talking about Christians and both understand him as numbering the universalists as many or even a majority. Also note that even back in the late 19th century, questions were being raised about Basil’s authorship of the passage.
Hopefully Dr Pakaluk will quickly retract his accusations and offer Dr Hart an apology.