Basil and the two Gregorys, collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers, were leaders of Christian orthodoxy in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in the later fourth century. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers; Gregory of Nazianzus was their friend. All three were influential in shaping the theology ratified by the Council of Constantinople of 381, which is expressed in the Nicene Creed. Their defense of the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and Holy Trinity, together with their contributions to the liturgy of the Eastern Church, make them among the most influential Christian teachers and theologians of their time.
Almighty God, You revealed to Your Church your eternal being o glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in a Trinity of Persons. May Your Church, with bishops like Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, receive grace to continue steadfast in the confession of the true faith and constant in our worship of You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For more information on each of the Cappadocians, please read the extended entry.
The following is from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
St. Basil the Great
Bishop of Caesarea, and one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church. Born probably 329; died 1 January, 379. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Oriental Church against the heresies of the fourth century. With his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, he makes up the trio known as “The Three Cappadocians”, far outclassing the other two in practical genius and actual achievement.
St. Basil the Elder, father of St. Basil the Great, was the son of a Christian of good birth and his wife, Macrina (Acta SS., January, II), both of whom suffered for the faith during the persecution of Maximinus Galerius (305-314), spending several years of hardship in the wild mountains of Pontus. St. Basil the Elder was noted for his virtue (Acta SS, May, VII) and also won considerable reputation as a teacher in Caesarea. He was not a priest (Cf. Cave, Hist. Lit., I, 239). He married Emmelia, the daughter of a martyr and became the father of ten children. Three of these, Macrina, Basil, and Gregory are honoured as saints; and of the sons, Peter, Gregory, and Basil attained the dignity of the episcopate.
Under the care of his father and his grandmother, the elder Macrina, who preserved the traditions of their countryman, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-275) Basil was formed in habits of piety and study. He was still young when his father died and the family moved to the estate of the elder Macrina at Annesi in Pontus, on the banks of the Iris. As a boy, he was sent to school at Caesarea, then “a metropolis of letters”, and conceived a fervent admiration for the local bishop, Dianius. Later, he went to Constantinople, at that time “distinguished for its teachers of philosophy and rhetoric”, and thence to Athens. Here he became the inseparable companion of Gregory of Nazianzus, who, in his famous panegyric on Basil (Or. xliii), gives a most interesting description of their academic experiences. According to him, Basil was already distinguished for brilliancy of mind and seriousness of character and associated only with the most earnest students. He was able, grave, industrious, and well advanced in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, and medicine. (As to his not knowing Latin, see Fialon, Etude historique et littéraire sur St. Basile, Paris, 1869). We know the names of two of Basil’s teachers at Athens — Prohaeresius, possibly a Christian, and Himerius, a pagan. It has been affirmed, though probably incorrectly, that Basil spent some time under Libanius. He tells us himself that he endeavoured without success to attach himself as a pupil to Eustathius (Ep., I). At the end of his sojourn at Athens, Basil being laden, says St. Gregory of Nazianzus “with all the learning attainable by the nature of man”, was well equipped to be a teacher. Caesarea took possession of him gladly “as a founder and second patron” (Or. xliii), and as he tells us (ccx), he refused the splendid offers of the citizens of Neo-Caesarea, who wished him to undertake the education of the youth of their city.
To the successful student and distinguished professor, “there now remained”, says Gregory (Or. xliii), “no other need than that of spiritual perfection”. Gregory of Nyssa, in his life of Macrina, gives us to understand that Basil’s brilliant success both as a university student and a professor had left traces of worldliness and self-sufficiency on the soul of the young man. Fortunately, Basil came again in contact with Dianius, Bishop of Caesarea, the object of his boyish affection, and Dianius seems to have baptized him, and ordained him Reader soon after his return to Caesarea. It was at the same time also that he fell under the influence of that very remarkable woman, his sister Macrina, who had meanwhile founded a religious community on the family estate at Annesi. Basil himself tells us how, like a man roused from deep sleep, he turned his eyes to the marvellous truth of the Gospel, wept many tears over his miserable life, and prayed for guidance from God: “Then I read the Gospel, and saw there that a great means of reaching perfection was the selling of one’s goods, the sharing of them with the poor, the giving up of all care for this life, and the refusal to allow the soul to be turned by any sympathy towards things of earth” (Ep. ccxxiii). To learn the ways of perfection, Basil now visited the monasteries of Egypt, Palestine, Coele-Syria, and Mesopotamia. He returned, filled with admiration for the austerity and piety of the monks, and founded a monastery in his native Pontus, on the banks of the Iris, nearly opposite Annesi. (Cf. Ramsay, Hist. Geog. of Asia Minor, London, 1890, p. 326). Eustathius of Sebaste had already introduced the eremitical life into Asia Minor; Basil added the cenobitic or community form, and the new feature was imitated by many companies of men and women. (Cf. Sozomen, Church History VI.27; Epiphanius, Haer., lxxv, 1; Basil, Ep. ccxxiii; Tillemont, Mém., IX, Art. XXI, and note XXVI.) Basil became known as the father of Oriental monasticism, the forerunner of St. Benedict. How well he deserved the title, how seriously and in what spirit he undertook the systematizing of the religious life, may be seen by the study of his Rule. He seems to have read Origen’s writings very systematically about this time, for in union with Gregory of Nazianzus, he published a selection of them called the “Philocalia”.
Basil was drawn from his retreat into the area of theological controversy in 360 when he accompanied two delegates from Seleucia to the emperor at Constantinople, and supported his namesake of Ancyra. There is some dispute as to his courage and his perfect orthodoxy on this occasion (cf. Philostorgius, Hist. Eccl., IV, xii; answered by Gregory of Nyssa, Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book I, and Maran, Proleg., vii; Tillemont, Mém., note XVIII). A little later, however, both qualities seem to have been sufficiently in evidence, as Basil forsook Dianius for having signed the heretical creed of Rimini. To this time (c. 361) may be referred the “Moralia”; and a little later came two books against Eunomius (363) and some correspondence with Athanasius. It is possible, also, that Basil wrote his monastic rules in the briefer forms while in Pontus, and enlarged them later at Caesarea. There is an account of an invitation from Julian for Basil to present himself a court and of Basil’s refusal, coupled with an admonition that angered the emperor and endangered Basil’s safety. Both incident and correspondence however are questioned by some critics.
Basil still retained considerable influence in Caesarea, and it is regarded as fairly probable that he had a hand in the election of the successor of Dianius who died in 362, after having been reconciled to Basil. In any case the new bishop, Eusebius, was practically placed in his office by the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. Eusebius having persuaded the reluctant Basil to be ordained priest, gave him a prominent place in the administration of the diocese (363). In ability for the management of affairs Basil so far eclipsed the bishop that ill-feeling rose between the two. “All the more eminent and wiser portion of the church was roused against the bishop” (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii; Ep. x), and to avoid trouble Basil again withdrew into the solitude of Pontus. A little later (365) when the attempt of Valens to impose Arianism on the clergy and the people necessitated the presence of a strong personality, Basil was restored to his former position, being reconciled to the bishop by St. Gregory of Nazianzus. There seems to have been no further disagreement between Eusebius and Basil and the latter soon became the real head of the diocese. “The one”, says Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. xliii), “led the people the other led their leader”. During the five years spent in this most important office, Basil gave evidence of being a man of very unusual powers. He laid down the law to the leading citizens and the imperial governors, settled disputes with wisdom and finality, assisted the spiritually needy, looked after “the support of the poor, the entertainment of strangers, the care of maidens, legislation written and unwritten for the monastic life, arrangements of prayers, (liturgy?), adornment of the sanctuary” (op. cit.). In time of famine, he was the saviour of the poor.
In 370 Basil succeeded to the See of Caesarea, being consecrated according to tradition on 14 June. Caesarea was then a powerful and wealthy city (Sozomen, Church History V.5). Its bishop was Metropolitan of Cappadocia and Exarch of Pontus which embraced more than half of Asia Minor and comprised eleven provinces. The see of Caesarea ranked with Ephesus immediately after the patriarchal sees in the councils, and the bishop was the superior of fifty chorepiscopi (Baert). Basil’s actual influence, says Jackson (Prolegomena, XXXII) covered the whole stretch of country “from the Balkans to the Mediterranean and from the Aegean to the Euphrates”. The need of a man likeBasil in such a see as Caesarea was most pressing, and he must have known this well. Some think that he set about procuring his own election; others (e.g. Maran, Baronius, Ceillier) say that he made no attempt on his own behalf. In any event, he became Bishop of Caesarea largely by the influence of the elder Gregory of Nazianzus. His election, says the younger Gregory (loc. cit.), was followed by disaffection on the part of several suffragan bishops “on whose side were found the greatest scoundrels in the city”. During his previous administration of the diocese Basil had so clearly defined his ideas of discipline and orthodoxy, that no one could doubt the direction and the vigour of his policy. St. Athanasius was greatly pleased at Basil’s election (Ad Pallad., 953; Ad Joann. et Ant., 951); but the Arianizing Emperor Valens, displayed considerably annoyance and the defeated minority of bishops became consistently hostile to the new metropolitan. By years of tactful conduct, however, “blending his correction with consideration and his gentleness with firmness” (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii), he finally overcame most of his opponents.
Basil’s letters tell the story of his tremendous and varied activity; how he worked for the exclusion of unfit candidates from thesacred ministry and the deliverance of the bishops from the temptation of simony; how he required exact discipline and the faithful observance of the canons from both laymen and clerics; how he rebuked the sinful, followed up the offending, and held out hope of pardon to the penitent. (Cf. Epp. xliv, xlv, and xlvi, the beautiful letter to a fallen virgin, as well as Epp. liii, liv, lv, clxxxviii, cxcix, ccxvii, and Ep. clxix, on the strange incident of Glycerius, whose story is well filled out by Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, New York, 1893, p. 443 sqq.) If on the one hand he strenuously defended clerical rights and immunities (Ep. civ), on the other he trained his clergy so strictly that they grew famous as the type of all that a priest should be (Epp. cii, ciii). Basil did not confine his activity to diocesan affairs, but threw himself vigorously into the troublesome theological disputes then rending the unity of Christendom. He drew up a summary of the orthodox faith; he attacked by word of mouth the heretics near at hand and wrote tellingly against those afar. His correspondence shows that he paid visits, sent messages, gave interviews, instructed, reproved, rebuked, threatened, reproached, undertook the protection of nations, cities, individuals great and small. There was very little chance of opposing him successfully, for he was a cool, persistent, fearless fighter in defence both of doctrine and of principles. His bold stand against Valens parallels the meeting of Ambrose with Theodosius. The emperor was dumbfounded at the archbishop’s calm indifference to his presence and his wishes. The incident, as narrated by Gregory of Nazianzus, not only tells much concerning Basil’s character but throws a clear light on the type of Christian bishop with which the emperors had to deal and goes far to explain why Arianism, with little court behind it, could make so little impression on the ultimate history of Catholicism.
While assisting Eusebius in the care of his diocese, Basil had shown a marked interest in the poor and afflicted; that interest now displayed itself in the erection of a magnificent institution, the Ptochoptopheion, or Basileiad, a house for the care of friendless strangers, themedical treatment of the sick poor , and the industrial training of the unskilled. Built in the suburbs, it attained such importance as to become practically the centre of a new city with the name of he kaine polis or “Newtown”. It was the motherhouse of like institutions erected in other dioceses and stood as a constant reminder to the rich of their privilege of spending wealth in a truly Christian way. It may be mentioned here that the social obligations of the wealthy were so plainly and forcibly preached by St. Basil that modern sociologists have ventured to claim him as one of their own, though with no more foundation than would exist in the case of any other consistent teacher of the principles of Catholic ethics. The truth is that St. Basil was a practical lover of Christian poverty, and even in his exalted position preserved that simplicity in food and clothing and that austerity of life for which he had been remarked at his first renunciation of the world.
In the midst of his labours, Basil underwent suffering of many kinds. Athanasius died in 373 and the elder Gregory in 374, both of them leaving gaps never to be filled. In 373 began the painful estrangement from Gregory of Nazianzus. Anthimus, Bishop of Tyana, became an open enemy, Apollinaris “a cause of sorrow to the churches” (Ep. cclxiii), Eustathius of Sebaste a traitor to the Faith and a personal foe as well. Eusebius of Samosata was banished, Gregory of Nyssa condemned and deposed. When Emperor Valentinian died and the Arians recovered their influence, all Basil’s efforts must have seemed in vain. His health was breaking, the Goths were at the door of the empire, Antioch was in schism, Rome doubted his sincerity, the bishops refused to be brought together as he wished. “The notes of the church were obscured in his part of Christendom, and he had to fare on as best he might,–admiring, courting, yet coldly treated by the Latin world, desiring the friendship of Rome, yet wounded by her reserve,–suspected of heresy by Damasus, and accused by Jerome of pride” (Newman, The Church of the Fathers). Had he lived a little longer and attended the Council of Constantinople (381), he would have seen the death of its first president, his friend Meletius, and the forced resignation of its second, Gregory of Nazianzus. Basil died 1 January, 379. His death was regarded as a public bereavement; Jews, pagans, and foreigners vied with his own flock in doing him honour. The earlier Latin martyrologies (Hieronymian and Bede) make no mention of a feast of St. Basil. The first mention is by Usuard and Ado who place it on 14 June, the supposed date of Basil’s consecration to the episcopate. In the Greek “Menaea” he is commemorated on 1 January, the day of his death. In 1081, John, Patriarch of Constantinople, in consequence of a vision, established a feast in common honour of St. Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom, to be celebrated on 30 January. The Bollandists give an account of the origin of this feast; they also record as worthy of note that no relics of St. Basil are mentioned before the twelfth century, at which time parts of his body, together with some other very extraordinary relics were reputed to have been brought to Bruges by a returning Crusader. Baronius (c. 1599) gave to the Naples Oratory a relic of St. Basil sent from Constantinople to the pope. The Bollandists and Baronius print descriptions of Basil’s personal appearance and the former reproduce two icons, the older copied from a codex presented to Basil, Emperor of the East (877-886).
By common consent, Basil ranks among the greatest figures in church history and the rather extravagant panegyric by Gregory of Nazianzus has been all but equalled by a host of other eulogists. Physically delicate and occupying his exalted position but a few years, Basil did magnificent and enduring work in an age of more violent world convulsions than Christianity has since experienced. (Cf. Newman, The Church of the Fathers). By personal virtue he attained distinction in an age of saints; and his purity, his monastic fervour, his stern simplicity, his friendship for the poor became traditional in the history of Christian asceticism. In fact, the impress of his genius was stamped indelibly on the Oriental conception of religious life. In his hands the great metropolitan see of Caesarea took shape as the sort of model of the Christian diocese; there was hardly any detail of episcopal activity in which he failed to mark out guiding lines and to give splendid example. Not the least of his glories is the fact that toward the officials of the State he maintained that fearless dignity and independence which later history has shown to be an indispensable condition of healthy life in the Catholic episcopate.
Of the five books against Eunomius (c. 364) the last two are classed as spurious by some critics. The work assails the equivalent Arianism of Eunomius and defends the Divinity of the Three Persons of the Trinity; it is well summarized by Jackson (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, VIII). The work On the Holy Spirit, or treatise on the Holy Spirit (c. 375) was evoked in part by the Macedonian denial of the Divinity of the Third Person and in part by charges that Basil himself had “slurred over the Spirit” (Gregory Naz., Ep. lviii), that he had advocated communion with all such a should admit simply that the Holy Ghost was not a creature (Basil, Ep. cxiii), and that he had sanctioned the use of a novel doxology, namely, “Glory be to the Father with the Son together with the Holy Ghost” (De Sp. S., I, i) The treatise teaches the doctrine of the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, while avoiding the phrase “God, the Holy Ghost” for prudential reasons (Greg. Naz., Or. xliii). Wuilcknis and Swete affirm the necessity of some such reticence on Basil’s part. (Cf. Jackson, op. cit., p. XXIII, note.) With regard to Basil’s teaching on the Third Person, as expressed in his work against Eunomius (III, i), a controversy arose at the Council of Florence between the Latins and the Greeks; but strong arguments both external and internal, availed to place Basil on the side of the “Filioque”. The dogmatic writings were edited separately by Goldhorn, in his “S. Basilii Opera Dogmatica Selecta” (Leipzig, 1854). The On the Holy Spirit, was translated into English by Johnston (Oxford, 1892); by Lewis in the Christian Classic Series (1888); and by Jackson (op. cit.).
These include nine homilies “On the Hexaemeron” and thirteen (Maran) genuine homilies on particular Psalms. A lengthy commentary on the first sixteen chapters of Isaias is of doubtful authenticity (Jackson), though by a contemporary hand. A commentary on Job has disappeared. “The Hexaemeron” was highly admired by Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. xliii, no. 67). It is translated entire by Jackson (op. cit.). The homilies on the Psalms are moral and hortatory rather than strictly exegetical. In interpreting the Scripture, Basil uses both the literal and the allegorical methods, but favours the literal system of Antioch. His second homily contains a denunciation of usury which has become famous.
Twenty-four sermons, doctrinal, moral, and panegyrical in character, are looked upon as generally genuine, certain critical difficulties, however, remaining still unsolved. Eight of these sermons were translated into Latin by Rufinus. The discourses place Basil among the very greatest of Christian preachers and evince his special gift for preaching upon the responsibilities of wealth. The most noteworthy in the collection are the homilies on the rich (vi and vii) copied by St. Ambrose (De Nabuthe Jez., v, 21-24), and the homily (xxii) on the study of pagan literature. The latter was edited by Fremion (Paris, 1819, with French translation), Sommer (Paris, 1894), Bach (Münster, 1900), and Maloney (New York, 1901). With regard to Basil’s style and his success as a preacher much has been written. (Cf. Villemain, “Tableau d’éloq. Chrét. au IVe siècle”, Paris, 1891; Fialon, “Etude Litt. sur St. B.”, Paris, 1861); Roux, “Etude sur la prédication de B. le Grand”, Strasburg, 1867; Croiset, “Hist. de la litt. Grecque”, Paris, 1899.)
Moral and ascetical
This group contains much of spurious or doubtful origin. Probably authentic are the latter two of the three prefatory treatises, and the five treatises: “Morals”, “On the Judgment of God”, “On Faith”, “The Longer Monastic Rules”, “The Shorter Monastic Rules”. The twenty-foursermons on morals are a cento of extracts from the writings of Basil made by Simeon Metaphrastes. Concerning the authenticity of the Rules there has been a good deal of discussion. As is plain from these treatises and from the homilies that touch upon ascetical or moral subjects, St. Basil was particularly felicitous in the field of spiritual instruction.
The extant letters of Basil are 366 in number, two-thirds of them belonging to the period of his episcopate. The so-called “Canonical Epistles” have been assailed as spurious, but are almost surely genuine. The correspondence with Julian and with Libanius is probably apocryphal; the correspondence with Apollinarus is uncertain. All of the 366 letters are translated in the “Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”. Some of the letters are really dogmatic treatises, and others are apologetic replies to personal attacks. In general they are very useful for their revelation of the saint’s character and for the pictures of his age which they offer.
A so-called “Liturgy of St. Basil” exists in Greek and in Coptic. It goes back at least to the sixth century, but its connexion with Basil has been a matter of critical discussion (Brightman, “Liturgies, Eastern and Western”, Oxford, 1896, I; Probst, “Die Liturgie des vierten Jahrhunderts und deren Reform”, Münster, 1893, 377-412).
Editions of St. Basil
The editio princeps of the original text of the extant works of Basil appeared at Basle, 1551, and the first complete Latin translation at Rome, 1515 (autograph manuscript in the British Museum). The best edition is that of the Maurist Benedictines, Garnier and Maran (Paris, 1721-30), republished with appendixes by Migne (P.G., XXIX-XXXII). For fragments attributed to Basil with more or less certainty, and edited by Matthaei, Mai, Pitra, and others, see Bardenhewer, “Patrologie” (Freiburg, 1901), 247. Portions of letters recently discovered in Egyptian papyri were published by H. Landwehr, “Grieschische Handschriften aus Fayûm”, in “Philologus”, XLIII (1884).
GREG. NAZ., Prationes, especially xliii; IDEM, Epistolae; Carm. de vitá suâ; GREG. NYSS., Vita Macrinae; IDEM, Or. in laudem fratris Basilii; IDEM, Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book I; SOCRATES, Church History IV.26 and VI.3; SOZOMEN, Church History VI.26 and VII.15-17, 22; RUFINUS, Hist. Eccl., II, ix; THEODORET, Church History IV.19; PHILOSTORGIUS, Hist. Eccl., VIII, xi-xiii; EPHILEM SYRUS, Encomium in Bas., ap. COTELIER, Mon. Eccl. Gr., II; JEROME, De Vir. Illust., cxvi. The Vita Basilii by AMPHILOCHIUS is a forgery of about the ninth century. NEWMAN, Church of the Fathers, I-III
St. Gregory of Nyssa
Date of birth unknown; died after 385 or 386. He belongs to the group known as the “Cappadocian Fathers”, a title which reveals at once his birthplace in Asia Minor and his intellectual characteristics. Gregory was born of a deeply religious family, not very rich in worldly goods, to which circumstances he probably owed the pious training of his youth. His mother Emmelia was a martyr’s daughter; two of his brothers, Basil of Cæsarea and Peter of Sebaste, became bishops like himself; his eldest sister, Macrina, became a model of piety and is honoured as a saint. Another brother, Naucratius, a lawyer, inclined to a life of asceticism, but died too young to realize his desires. A letter of Gregory to his younger brother, Peter, exhibits the feelings of lively gratitude which both cherished for their elder brother Basil, whom Gregory calls “our father and our master”. Probably, therefore, the difference in years between them was such as to have enabled Basil to supervise the education of his younger brothers. Basil’s training was an antidote to the lessons of the pagan schools, wherein, as we know from a letter of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa spent some time, very probably in his early youth, for it is certain that while still a youth Gregory exercised the ecclesiastical office of rector. His family, it would seem, had endeavoured to turn his thoughts towards the Church, for when the young man chose a secular career and began the study of rhetoric, Basil remonstrated with him long and earnestly; when he had failed he called on Gregory’s friends to influence him against that objectionable secular calling. It was all in vain; moreover, it would seem that the young man married. There exists a letter addressed to him by Gregory of Nazianzus condoling with him on the loss of one Theosebeia, who must have been his wife, and with whom he continued to live, as with a sister, even after he became bishop. This is also evident from his treatise “De virginitate”.
Some think that Gregory spent a certain time in retreat before his consecration as bishop, but we have no proof of the fact. His extant letters make no mention of such retirement from the world. Nor are we better informed of the circumstances of hiselection to the See of Nyssa, a little town on the banks of the Halys, along the road between Cæsarea and Ancyra. According to Gregory of Nazianzus it was Basil who performed the episcopal consecration of his brother, before he himself had taken possession of the See of Sozima; which would place the beginning of Gregory of Nyssa’s episcopate about 371. Was this brusque change in Gregory’s career the result of a sudden vocation? St. Basil tells us that it was necessary to overcome his brother’s repugnance, before he accepted the office of bishop. But this does not help us to an answer, as the episcopal charge in that day was beset with many dangers. Moreover in the fourth century, and even later, it was not uncommon to express dislike of theepiscopal honour, and to fly from the prospect of election. The fugitives, however, were usually discovered and brought back, and the consecration took place when a show of resistance had saved the candidate’s humility. Whether it was so in Gregory’s case, or whether he really did feel his own unfitness, we do not know. In any case, St. Basil seems to have regretted at times the constraint thus put on his brother, now removed from his influence; in his letters he complains of Gregory’s naive and clumsy interference with his (Basil’s) business. To Basil the synod called in 372 by Gregory at Ancyra seemed the ruin of his own labours. In 375 Gregory seemed to him decidedly incapable of ruling a Church. At the same time he had but faint praise for Gregory’s zeal for souls.
On arriving in his see Gregory had to face great difficulties. His sudden elevation may have turned against him some who had hoped for the office themselves. It would appear that one of the courtiers of Emperor Valens had solicited the see either for himself or one of his friends. When Demosthenes, Governor of Pontus, convened an assembly of Eastern bishops, a certain Philocares, at one of its sessions, accused Gregory of wasting church property, and of irregularity in his election to the episcopate, whereupon Demosthenes ordered the Bishop of Nyssa to be seized and brought before him. Gregory at first allowed himself to be led away by his captors, then losing heart and discouraged by the cold and brutal treatment he met with, he took an opportunity of escape and reached a place of safety. ASynod of Nyssa (376) deposed him, and he was reduced to wander from town to town, until the death of Valens in 378. The new emperor, Gratian, published an edict of tolerance, and Gregory returned to his see, where he was received with joy. A few months after this (January, 379) his brother Basil died; whereupon an era of activity began for Gregory. In 379 he assisted at the Council of Antioch which had been summoned because of the Meletian schism. Soon after this, it is supposed, he visited Palestine. There is reason for believing that he was sent officially to remedy the disorders of the Church of Arabia. But possibly his journey did not take place till after the Council of Constantinople in 381, convened by Emperor Theodosius for the welfare of religion in that city. It asserted the faith of Nicæa, and tried to put an end to Arianism and Pneumatism in the East. This council was not looked on as an important one at the time; even those present at it seldom refer to it in their writings. Gregory himself, though he assisted at the council, mentions it only casually in his funeral oration over Meletius of Antioch, who died during the course of this assembly.
An edict of Theodosius (30 July, 381; Cod. Theod., LXVI, tit. I., L. 3) having appointed certain episcopal sees as centres of Catholic communion in the East, Helladius of Cæsarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Otreius of Melitene were chosen to fill them. At Constantinople Gregory gave evidence on two occasions of his talent as an orator; he delivered the discourse at the enthronization of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, also the aforesaid oration over Meletius of Antioch. It is very probable that Gregory was present at another Council of Constantinople in 383; his “Oratio de deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti” seems to confirm this. In 385 or 386 he preached the funeral sermon over the imperial Princess Pulcheria, and shortly afterwards over Empress Flaccilla. A little later we meet him again at Constantinople, on which occasion his counsel was sought for the repression of ecclesiastical disorders in Arabia; he then disappears from history, and probably did not long survive this journey. From the above it will be seen that his life is little known to us. It is difficult to outline clearly his personality, while his writings contain too many flights of eloquence to permit final judgment on his real character.
Most of his writings treat of the Sacred Scriptures. He was an ardent admirer of Origen, and applied constantly the latter’s principles of hermeneutics. Gregory is ever in quest of allegorical interpretations and mystical meanings hidden away beneath the literal sense of texts. As a rule, however, the “great Cappadocians” tried to eliminate this tendency. His “Treatise on the Work of the Six Days” follows St. Basil’s Hexæmeron. Another work, “On the Creation of Man”, deals with the work of the Sixth Day, and contains some curious anatomical details; it was translated into Latin by Dionysius Exiguus. His account of Moses as legislator offers much fine-spun allegorizing, and the same is true of his “Explanation of the Titles of the Psalms”. In a brief tractate on the witch of Endor he says that the woman did not see Samuel, but only a demon, who put on the figure of the prophet. Besides a homily on the sixth Psalm, he wrote eight homilies on Ecclesiastes, in which he taught that the soul should rise above the senses, and that true peace is only to be found in contempt of worldly greatness. He is also the author of fifteen homilies on the Canticle of Canticles (the union of the soul with its Creator), five very eloquent homilies on the Lord’s Prayer, and eight highly rhetorical homilies on the Beatitudes.
In theology Gregory shows himself more original and more at ease. Yet his originality is purely in manner, since he added little that is new. His diction, however,offers many felicitous and pleasing allusions, suggested probably by his mystical turn of mind. These grave studies were taken up by him late in life, hence he follows step by step the teaching of St. Basil and of St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Like them he defends the unity of the Divine nature and the trinity of Persons; where he loses their guidance, our confidence in him tends to decrease. In his teaching on the Eucharist he appears really original; his Christological doctrine, however, is based entirely on Origen and St. Athanasius. The most important of his theological writings is his large “Catechesis”, or “Oratio Catechetica”, an argumentative defence in forty chapters of Catholic teaching as against Jews, heathens, and heretics. The most extensive of his extant works is his refutation of Eunomius in twelve books, a defence of St. Basil against that heretic, and also of the Nicene Creed against Arianism; this work is of capital importance in the history of the Arian controversy. He also wrote two works against Apollinaris of Laodicea, in refutation of the false doctrines of that writer, viz. that the body of Christ descended from heaven, and that in Christ, the Divine Word acted as the rational soul. Among the works of Gregory are certain “Opuscula” on the Trinity addressed to Ablabius, the tribune Simplicius, and Eustathius of Sebaste. He wrote also against Arius and Sabellius, and against the Macedonians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit; the latter work he never finished. In the “De anima et resurrectione” we have a dialogue between Gregory and his deceased sister, Macrina; it treats of death, resurrection, and our last end. He defends human liberty against the fatalism of the astrologers in a work “On Fate”, and in his treatise “On Children”, dedicated to Hieros, Prefect of Cappadocia, he undertook to explain why Providence permits the premature death of children.
He wrote also on Christian life and conduct, e.g. “On the meaning of the Christian name or profession”, addressed to Harmonius, and “On Perfection and what manner of man the Christian should be”, dedicated to the monk Olympius. For the monks, he wrote a work on the Divine purpose in creation. His admirable book “On Virginity”, written about 370, was composed to strengthen in all who read it the desire for a life of perfect virtue.
Sermons and homilies
Gregory wrote also many sermons and homilies, some of which we have already mentioned; others of importance are his panegyric on St. Basil, and his sermons on the Divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
A few of his letters (twenty-six) have survived; two of them offer a peculiar interest owing to the severity of his strictures on contemporary pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
For a discussion of his peculiar doctrine concerning the general restoration (Apocatastasis) to divine favour of all sinful creatures at the end of time, i.e. the temporary nature of the pains of hell, see the articles APOCATASTASIS and MIVART. The theory of interpolation of the writings of Gregory and of Origen, sustained among others by Vincenzi (below), seems, in this respect at least, both useless and gratuitous (Bardenhewer).
The writings of Gregory are best collected in P.G., XLIV-XLVI. There is no critical edition as yet, though one was begun by FORBES and OEHLER (Burntisland, 1855, 61); of another edition planned by Oehler, only one volume appeared (Halle, 1865). The best of the earlier editions is that of FRONTO DUCÆUS (Paris, 1615). Cf. VINCENZI, In Gregorii Nysseni et Origenis scripta et doctrinam nova recensio, etc. (Rome, 1864-69); BAUER, Die Trostreden des Gregorios von Nyssa in ihrem Verhältniss zur antiken Rhetorik (Marburg, 1892); BOUËDRON, Doctrines philosophiques de Saint Grégoire de Nysse (Nantes, 1861); KOCH, Das mystische Schauen beim hl. Gr. v. Nyssa in Theol. Quartalschrift (1898), LXXX, 397-420; DIEKAMP, Die Gotteslehre des hl. Gregor von Nyssa: ein Beitrag zur Dogmengesch. der patristischen Zeit (Münster, 1897); WEISS, Die Erziehungslehre der Kappadozier (Freiburg, 1903); HILT, St. Gregorii episcopi Nysseni doctrina de angelis exposita (Freiburg, 1860); KRAMPF, Der Urzustand des Menschen nach der Lehre des hl. Gregor von Nyssa, eine dogmatisch-patristische Studie (Würzburg, 1889); REICHE, Die kunstlerischen Elemente in der Welt und Lebens-Anschauung des Gregor von Nyssa (Jena, 1897); and on the large Catechesis (logos katechetikos ho megas), generally known as Oratio Catechetica, see SRAWLEY in Journal of Theol. Studies (1902), III, 421-8, also his new edition of the Oratio (Cambridge, 1903). For an English version of several works of Gregory see Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series (New York, 1893), II, v; and for a German version of some works, HAYD in the Kemptener Bibliothek der Kirchenväter (1874).
St. Gregory of Nazianzus
Doctor of the Church, born at Arianzus, in Asia Minor, c. 325; died at the same place, 389. He was son — one of three children — of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus (329-374), in the south-west of Cappadocia, and of Nonna, a daughter of Christian parents. The saint’s father was originally a member of the heretical sect of the Hypsistarii, or Hypsistiani, and was converted to Catholicity by the influence of his pious wife. His two sons, who seem to have been born between the dates of their father’s priestly ordination and episcopal consecration, were sent to a famous school at Caesarea, capital of Cappadocia, and educated by Carterius, probably the same one who was afterwards tutor of St. John Chrysostom. Here commenced the friendship between Basil and Gregory which intimately affected both their lives, as well as the development of the theology of their age. From Caesarea in Cappadocia Gregory proceeded to Caesarea in Palestine, where he studied rhetoric under Thespesius; and thence to Alexandria, of which Athanasius was then bishop, through at the time in exile. Setting out by sea from Alexandria to Athens, Gregory was all but lost in a great storm, and some of his biographers infer — though the fact is not certain — that when in danger of death he and his companions received the rite of baptism. He had certainly not been baptized in infancy, though dedicated to God by his pious mother; but there is some authority for believing that he received the sacrament, not on his voyage to Athens, but on his return to Nazianzus some years later. At Athens Gregory and Basil, who had parted at Caesarea, met again, renewed their youthful friendship, and studied rhetoric together under the famous teachers Himerius and Proaeresius. Among their fellow students was Julian, afterwards known as the Apostate, whose real character Gregory asserts that he had even then discerned and thoroughly distrusted him. The saint’s studies at Athens (which Basil left before his friend) extended over some ten years; and when he departed in 356 for his native province, visiting Constantinople on his way home, he was about thirty years of age.
Arrived at Nazianzus, where his parents were now advanced in age, Gregory, who had by this time firmly resolved to devoted his life and talents to God, anxiously considered the plan of his future career. To a young man of his high attainments a distinguished secular career was open, either that of a lawyer or of a professor of rhetoric; but his yearnings were for the monastic or ascetic life, though this did not seem compatible either with the Scripture studies in which he was deeply interested, or with his filial duties at home. As was natural, he consulted his beloved friend Basil in his perplexity as to his future; and he has left us in his own writings an extremely interesting narrative of their intercourse at this time, and of their common resolve (based on somewhat different motives, according to the decided differences in their characters) to quit the world for the service of God alone. Basil retired to Pontus to lead the life of a hermit; but finding that Gregory could not join him there, came and settled first at Tiberina (near Gregory’s own home), then at Neocæsarea, in Pontus, where he lived in holy seclusion for some years, and gathered round him a brotherhood of cenobites, among whom his friend Gregory was for a time included. After a sojourn here for two or three years, during which Gregory edited, with Basil some of the exegetical works of Origen, and also helped his friend in the compilation of his famous rules, Gregory returned to Nazianzus, leaving with regret the peaceful hermitage where he and Basil (as he recalled in their subsequent correspondence) had spent such a pleasant time in the labour both of hands and of heads. On his return home Gregory was instrumental in bringing back to orthodoxy his father who, perhaps partly in ignorance, had subscribed the heretical creed of Rimini; and the aged bishop, desiring his son’s presence and support, overruled his scrupulous shrinking from the priesthood, and forced him to accept ordination (probably at Christmas, 361). Wounded and grieved at the pressure put upon him, Gregory fled back to his solitude, and to the company of St. Basil; but after some weeks’ reflection returned to Nazianzus, where he preached his first sermon on Easter Sunday, and afterward wrote the remarkable apologetic oration, which is really a treatise on the priestly office, the foundation of Chrysostom’s “De Sacerdotio”, of Gregory the Great’s “Cura Pastoris”, and of countless subsequent writings on the same subject.
During the next few years Gregory’s life at Nazianzus was saddened by the deaths of his brother Caesarius and his sister Gorgonia, at whose funerals he preached two of his most eloquent orations, which are still extant. About this time Basil was made bishop of Caesarea and Metropolitan of Cappadocia, and soon afterwards the Emperor Valens, who was jealous of Basil’s influence, divided Cappadocia into two provinces. Basil continued to claim ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as before, over the whole province, but this was disputed by Anthimus, Bishop of Tyana, the chief city of New Cappadocia. To strengthen his position Basil founded a new see at Sasima, resolved to have Gregory as its first bishop, and accordingly had him consecrated, though greatly against his will. Gregory, however, was set against Sasima from the first; he thought himself utterly unsuited to the place, and the place to him; and it was not long before he abandoned his diocese and returned to Nazianzus as coadjutor to his father. This episode in Gregory’s life was unhappily the cause of an estrangement between Basil and himself which was never altogether removed; and there is no extant record of any correspondence between them subsequent to Gregory’s leaving Sasima. Meanwhile he occupied himself sedulously with his duties as coadjutor to his aged father, who died early in 374, his wife Nonna soon following him to the grave. Gregory, who was now left without family ties, devoted to the poor the large fortune which he had inherited, keeping for himself only a small piece of land at Arianzus. He continued to administer the diocese for about two years, refusing, however, to become the bishop, and continually urging the appointment of a successor to his father. At the end of 375 he withdrew to a monastery at Seleuci, living there in solitude for some three years, and preparing (though he knew it not) for what was to be the crowning work of his life. About the end of this period Basil died. Gregory’s own state of health prevented his being present either at the deathbed or funeral; but he wrote a letter of condolence to Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, and composed twelve beautiful memorial poems or epitaphs to his departed friend.
Three weeks after Basil’s death, Theodosius was advanced by the Emperor Gratian to the dignity of Emperor of the East. Constantinople, the seat of his empire, had been for the space of about thirty years (since the death of the saintly and martyred Bishop Paul) practically given over too Arianism, with an Arian prelate, Demophilus, enthroned at St. Sophia’s. The remnant of persecuted Catholics, without either church or pastor, applied to Gregory to come and place himself at their head and organize their scattered forces; and many bishops supported the demand. After much hesitation he gave his consent, proceeded to Constantinople early in the year 379, and began his mission in a private house which he describes as “the new Shiloh where the Ark was fixed”, and as “an Anastasia, the scene of the resurrection of the faith”. Not only the faithful Catholics, but many heretics gathered in the humble chapel of the Anastasia, attracted by Gregory’s sanctity, learning and eloquence; and it was in this chapel that he delivered the five wonderful discourses on the faith of Nicaea — unfolding the doctrine of the Trinity while safeguarding the Unity of the Godhead — which gained for him, alone of all Christian teachers except the Apostle St. John, the special title of Theologus or the Divine. He also delivered at this time the eloquent panegyrics on St. Cyprian, St. Athanasius, and the Machabees, which are among his finest oratorical works. Meanwhile he found himself exposed to persecution of every kind from without, and was actually attacked in his own chapel, whilst baptizing his Easter neophytes, by a hostile mob of Arians from St. Sophia’s, among them being Arian monks and infuriated women. He was saddened, too, by dissensions among his own little flock, some of whom openly charged him with holding Tritheistic errors. St. Jerome became about this time his pupil and disciple, and tells us in glowing language how much he owed to his erudite and eloquent teacher. Gregory was consoled by the approval of Peter, Patriarch of Constantinople (Duchesne’s opinion, that the patriarch was from the first jealous or suspicious of the Cappadocian bishop’s influence in Constantinople, does not seem sufficiently supported by evidence), and Peter appears to have been desirous to see him appointed to the bishopric of the capital of the East. Gregory, however, unfortunately allowed himself to be imposed upon by a plausible adventurer called Hero, or Maximus, who came to Constantinople from Alexandria in the guise (long hair, white robe, and staff) of a Cynic, and professed to be a convert to Christianity, and an ardent admirer of Gregory’s sermons. Gregory entertained him hospitably, gave him his complete confidence, and pronounced a public panegyric on him in his presence. Maximus’s intrigues to obtain the bishopric for himself found support in various quarters, including Alexandria, which the patriarch Peter, for what reason precisely it is not known, had turned against Gregory; and certain Egyptian bishops deputed by Peter, suddenly, and at night, consecrated and enthroned Maximus as Catholic Bishop of Constantinople, while Gregory was confined to bed by illness. Gregory’s friends, however, rallied round him, and Maximus had to fly from Constantinople. The Emperor Theodosius, to whom he had recourse, refused to recognize any bishop other than Gregory, and Maximus retired in disgrace to Alexandria.
Theodosius received Christian baptism early in 380, at Thessalonica, and immediately addressed an edict to his subjects at Constantinople, commanding them to adhere to the faith taught by St. Peter, and professed by the Roman pontiff, which alone deserved to be called Catholic. In November, the emperor entered the city and called on Demophilus, the Arian bishop, to subscribe to the Nicene creed: but he refused to do so, and was banished from Constantinople. Theodosius determined that Gregory should be bishop of the new Catholic see, and himself accompanied him to St. Sophia’s, where he was enthroned in presence of an immense crowd, who manifested their feelings by hand-clappings and other signs of joy. Constantinople was now restored to Catholic unity; the emperor, by a new edict, gave back all the churches to Catholic use; Arians and other heretics were forbidden to hold public assemblies; and the name of Catholic was restricted to adherents of the orthodox and Catholic faith.
Gregory had hardly settled down to the work of administration of the Diocese of Constantinople, when Theodosius carried out his long-cherished purpose of summoning thither a general council of the Eastern Church. One hundred and fifty bishops met in council, in May, 381, the object of the assembly being, as Socrates plainly states, to confirm the faith of Nicaea, and to appoint a bishop for Constantinople (see THE FIRST COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE). Among the bishops present were thirty-six holding semi-Arian or Macedonian opinions; and neither the arguments of the orthodox prelates nor the eloquence of Gregory, who preached at Pentecost, in St. Sophia’s, on the subject of the Holy Spirit, availed to persuade them to sign the orthodox creed. As to the appointment of the bishopric, the confirmation of Gregory to the see could only be a matter of form. The orthodox bishops were all in favor, and the objection (urged by the Egyptian and Macedonian prelates who joined the council later) that his translation from one see to another was in opposition to a canon of the Nicene council was obviously unfounded. The fact was well known that Gregory had never, after his forced consecration at the instance of Basil, entered into possession of the See of Sasima, and that he had later exercised his episcopal functions at Nazianzus, not as bishop of that diocese, but merely as coadjutor of his father. Gregory succeeded Meletius as president of the council, which found itself at once called on to deal with the difficult question of appointing a successor to the deceased bishop. There had been an understanding between the two orthodox parties at Antioch, of which Meletius and Paulinus had been respectively bishops that the survivor of either should succeed as sole bishop. Paulinus, however, was a prelate of Western origin and creation, and the Eastern bishops assembled at Constantinople declined to recognize him. In vain did Gregory urge, for the sake of peace, the retention of Paulinus in the see for the remainder of his life, already fare advanced; the Fathers of the council refused to listen to his advice, and resolved that Meletius should be succeeded by an Oriental priest. “It was in the East that Christ was born”, was one of the arguments they put forward; and Gregory’s retort, “Yes, and it was in the East that he was put to death”, did not shake their decision. Flavian, a priest of Antioch, was elected to the vacant see; and Gregory, who relates that the only result of his appeal was “a cry like that of a flock of jackdaws” while the younger members of the council “attacked him like a swarm of wasps”, quitted the council, and left also his official residence, close to the church of the Holy Apostles.
Gregory had now come to the conclusion that not only the opposition and disappointment which he had met with in the council, but also his continued state of ill-health, justified, and indeed necessitated, his resignation of the See of Constantinople, which he had held for only a few months. He appeared again before the council, intimated that he was ready to be another Jonas to pacify the troubled waves, and that all he desired was rest from his labours, and leisure to prepare for death. The Fathers made no protest against this announcement, which some among them doubtless heard with secret satisfaction; and Gregory at once sought and obtained from the emperor permission to resign his see. In June, 381, he preached a farewell sermon before the council and in presence of an overflowing congregation. The peroration of this discourse is of singular and touching beauty, and unsurpassed even among his many eloquent orations. Very soon after its delivery he leftConstantinople (Nectarius, a native of Cilicia, being chosen to succeed him in the bishopric), and retired to his old home at Nazianzus. His two extant letters addressed to Nectarius at his time are noteworthy as affording evidence, by their spirit and tone, that he was actuated by no other feelings than those of interested goodwill towards the diocese of which he was resigning the care, and towards his successor in the episcopal charge. On his return to Nazianzus, Gregory found the Church there in a miserable condition, being overrun with the erroneous teaching of Apollinaris the Younger, who had seceded from the Catholic communion a few years previously, and died shortly after Gregory himself. Gregory’s anxiety was now to find a learned and zealous bishop who would be able to stem the flood of heresy which was threatening to overwhelm the Christian Church in that place. All his efforts were at first unsuccessful, and he consented at length with much reluctance to take over the administration of the diocese himself. He combated for a time, with his usual eloquence and as much energy as remained to him, the false teaching of the adversaries of the Church; but he felt himself too broken in health to continue the active work of the episcopate, and wrote to the Archbishop of Tyana urgently appealing to him to provide for the appointment of another bishop. His request was granted, and his cousin Eulalius, a priest of holy life to whom he was much attached, was duly appointed to the See of Nazianzus. This was toward the end of the year 383, and Gregory, happy in seeing the care of the diocese entrusted to a man after his own heart, immediately withdrew to Arianzus, the scene of his birth and his childhood, where he spent the remaining years of his life in retirement, and in the literary labours, which were so much more congenial to his character than the harassing work of ecclesiastical administration in those stormy and troubled times.
Looking back on Gregory’s career, it is difficult not to feel that from the day when he was compelled to accept priestly orders, until that which saw him return from Constantinople to Nazianzus to end his life in retirement and obscurity, he seemed constantly to be placed, through no initiative of his own, in positions apparently unsuited to his disposition and temperament, and not really calculated to call for the exercise of the most remarkable and attractivequalities of his mind and heart. Affectionate and tender by nature, of highly sensitive temperament, simple and humble, lively and cheerful by disposition, yet liable to despondency and irritability, constitutionally timid, and somewhat deficient, as it seemed, both in decision ofcharacter and in self-control, he was very human, very lovable, very gifted — yet not, one might be inclined to think, naturally adapted to play the remarkable part which he did during the period preceding and following the opening of the Council of Constantinople. He entered on his difficult and arduous work in that city within a few months of the death of Basil, the beloved friend of his youth; and Newman, in his appreciation of Gregory’s character and career, suggests the striking thought that it was his friend’s lofty and heroic spirit which had entered into him, and inspired him to take the active and important part which fell to his lot in the work of re-establishing the orthodox and Catholic faith in the eastern capital of the empire. It did, in truth, seem to be rather with the firmness and intrepidity, the high resolve and unflinching perseverance, characteristic of Basil, than in his own proper character, that of a gentle, fastidious, retiring, timorous, peace-loving saint and scholar, that he sounded the war-trumpet during those anxious and turbulent months, in the very stronghold and headquarters of militant heresy, utterly regardless to the actual and pressing danger to his safety, and even his life which never ceased to menace him. “May we together receive”, he said at the conclusion of the wonderful discourse which he pronounced on his departed friend, on his return to Asia from Constantinople, “the reward of the warfare which we have waged, which we have endured.” It is impossible to doubt, reading the intimate details which he has himself given us of his long friendship with, and deep admiration of, Basil, that the spirit of his early and well-loved friend had to a great extent moulded and informed his own sensitive and impressionable personality and that it was this, under God, which nerved and inspired him, after a life of what seemed, externally, one almost of failure, to co-operate in the mighty task of overthrowing the monstrous heresy which had so long devastated the greater part of Christendom, and bringing about at length the pacification of the Eastern Church.
During the six years of life which remained to him after his final retirement to his birth-place, Gregory composed, in all probability, the greater part of the copious poetical works which have come down to us. These include a valuable autobiographical poem of nearly 2000 lines, which forms, of course, one of the most important sources of information for the facts of his life; about a hundred other shorter poems relating to his past career; and a large number of epitaphs, epigrams, andepistles to well-known people of the day. Many of his later personal poems refer to the continuous illness and severe sufferings, both physical andspiritual, which assailed him during his last years, and doubtless assisted to perfect him in those saintly qualities which had never been wanting to him, rudely shaken though he had been by the trails and buffetings of his life. In the tiny plot of ground at Arianzus, all (as has already been said) that remained to him of his rich inheritance, he wrote and meditated, as he tells, by a fountain near which there was a shady walk, his favourite resort. Here, too, he received occasional visits from intimate friends, as well as sometimes from strangers attracted to hisretreat by his reputation for sanctity and learning; and here he peacefully breathed his last. The exact date of his death is unknown, but from a passage in Jerome (De Script. Eccl.) it may be assigned, with tolerable certainty, to the year 389 or 390.
Some account must now be given of Gregory’s voluminous writings, and of his reputation as an orator and a theologian, on which, more than on anything else, rests his fame as one of the greatest lights of the Eastern Church. His works naturally fall under three heads, namely his poems, his epistles, and his orations. Much, though by no means all, of what he wrote has been preserved, and has been frequently published, the editio princeps of the poems being the Aldine (1504), while the first edition of his collected works appeared in Paris in 1609-11. The Bodleian catalogue contains more than thirty folio pages enumerating various editions of Gregory’s works, of which the best and most complete are the Benedictine edition (two folio volumes, begun in 1778, finished in 1840), and the edition of Migne (four volumes XXXV – XXXVIII, in P.G., Paris, 1857 – 1862).
These, as already stated, comprise autobiographical verses, epigrams, epitaphs and epistles. The epigrams have been translated by Thomas Drant (London, 1568), the epitaphs by Boyd (London, 1826), while other poems have been gracefully and charmingly paraphrased by Newman in his “Church of the Fathers”. Jerome and Suidas say that Gregory wrote more than 30,000 verses; if this is not an exaggeration, fully two-thirds of them have been lost. Very different estimates have been formed of the value of his poetry, the greater part of which was written in advanced years, and perhaps rather as a relaxation from the cares and troubles oflife than as a serious pursuit. Delicate, graphic, and flowing as are many of his verses, and giving ample evidence of the cultured and gifted intellect which produced them, they cannot be held to parallel (the comparison would be an unfair one, had not many of them been written expressly to supersede and take the place of the work of heathen writers) the great creations of the classic Greek poets. Yet Villemain, no mean critic, places the poems in the front rank of Gregory’s compositions, and thinks so highly of them that he maintains that the writer ought to be called, pre-eminently, not so much the theologian of the East as “the poet of Eastern Christendom”.
These, by common consent, belong to the finest literary productions of Gregory’s age. All that are extant are finished compositions; and that the writer excelled in this kind of composition is shown from one of them (Ep. ccix, toNicobulus) in which he enlarges with admirable good sense on the rules by which all letter-writers should be guided. It was at the request of Nicobulus, who believed, and rightly, that these letters contained much of permanent interest and value, that Gregory prepared and edited the collection containing the greater number of them which has come down to us. Many of them are perfect models of epistolary style — short, clear, couched in admirably chosen language, and in turn witty and profound, playful, affectionate and acute.
Both in his own time, and by the general verdict of posterity, Gregory was recognized as one of the very foremost orators who have ever adorned the Christian Church. Trained in the finest rhetorical schools of his age, he did more than justice to his distinguished teachers; and while boasting or vainglory was foreign to his nature, he frankly acknowledged his consciousness of his remarkable oratorical gifts, and his satisfaction at having been enabled to cultivate them fully in his youth. Basil and Gregory, it has been said, were the pioneers of Christian eloquence, modeled on, and inspired by, the noble and sustained oratory of Demosthenes and Cicero, and calculated to move and impress the most cultured and critical audiences of the age. Only comparatively few of the numerous orations delivered by Gregory have been preserved to us, consisting of discourses spoken by him on widely different occasions, but all marked by the same loftyqualities. Faults they have, of course: lengthy digressions, excessive ornament, strained antithesis, laboured metaphors, and occasional over-violence of invective. But theirmerits are far greater than their defects, and no one can read them without being struck by the noble phraseology, perfect command of the purest Greek, high imaginative powers, lucidity and incisiveness of thought, fiery zeal and transparent sincerity of intention, by which they are distinguished. Hardly any of Gregory’s extant sermons are direct expositions of Scripture, and they have for this reason been adversely criticized. Bossuet, however, points out with perfect truth that many of these discourses are really nothing but skillful interweaving of Scriptural texts, a profound knowledge of which is evident from every line of them.
Gregory’s claims to rank as one of the greatest theologians of the early Church are based, apart from his reputation among his contemporaries, and the verdict of history in his regard, chiefly on the five great “Theological Discourses” which he delivered at Constantinople in the course of the year 380. In estimating the scope and value of these famous utterances, it is necessary to remember what was the religious condition of Constantinople when Gregory, at the urgent instance of Basil, of many other bishops, and of the sorely-tried Catholics of the Eastern capital, went thither to undertake the spiritual charge of the faithful. It was less as an administrator, or an organizer, than as a man of saintly life and of oratorical gifts famous throughout the Eastern Church, that Gregory was asked, and consented, to undertake his difficult mission; and he had to exercise those gifts in combating not one but numerous heresies which had been dividing and desolating Constantinople for many years. Arianism in every form and degree, incipient, moderate, and extreme, was of course the great enemy, but Gregory had also to wage war against the Apollinarian teaching, which denied the humanity of Christ, as well as against the contrary tendency — later developed into Nestorianism — which distinguished between the Son of Mary and the Son of God as two distinct and separate personalities.
A saint first, and a theologian afterwards, Gregory in one of his early sermons at the Anastasia insisted on the principle of reverence in treating of the mysteries of faith (a principle entirely ignored by his Arian opponents), and also on the purity of life and example which all who dealt with these high matters must show forth if their teaching was to be effectual. In the first and second of the five discourses he develops these two principles at some length, urging in language of wonderful beauty and force thenecessity for all who would know God aright to lead a supernatural life, and to approach so sublime a study with a mind pure and free from sin. The third discourse (on the Son) is devoted to a defence of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, and a demonstration of its consonance with the primitive doctrine of the Unity of God. The eternal existence of the Son and Spirit are insisted on, together with their dependence on the Father as origin or principle; and the Divinity of the Son is argued from Scripture against the Arians, whose misunderstanding of various Scripture texts is exposed and confuted. In the fourth discourse, on the same subject, the union of the Godhead and Manhood in Christ Incarnate is set forth and luminously proved from Scripture and reason. The fifth and final discourse (on the Holy Spirit) is directed partly against the Macedonian heresy, which denied altogether the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, and also against those who reduced the Third Person of the Trinity to a mere impersonal energy of the Father. Gregory, in reply to the contention that the Divinity of the Spirit is not expressed in Scripture, quotes and comments on several passages which teach the doctrine by implication, adding that the full manifestation of this great truth was intended to be gradual, following on the revelation of the Divinity of the Son. It is to be noted that Gregory nowhere formulates the doctrine of the Double Procession, although in his luminous exposition of the Trinitarian doctrine there are many passages which seem to anticipate the fuller teaching of the Quicumque vult. No summary, not even a faithful verbal translation, can give any adequate idea of the combined subtlety and lucidity of thought, and rare beauty of expression, of these wonderful discourses, in which, as one of hisFrench critics truly observes, Gregory “has summed up and closed the controversy of a whole century”. The best evidence of their value and power lies in the fact that for fourteen centuries they have been a mine whence the greatest theologians of Christendom have drawn treasures of wisdom to illustrate and support their own teaching on the deepest mysteries of the Catholic Faith.
Acta SS.; Lives prefixed to MIGNE, P.G. (1857) XXXV, 147-303; Lives of the Saints collected from Authentick Records (1729), II; BARONIUS, De Vita Greg. Nazianz. (Rome, 1760); DUCHESNE, Hist. Eccl., ed. BRIGHT (Oxford, 1893), 195, 201, etc.; ULLMAN, Gregorius v. Nazianz der Theologe (Gotha, 1867), tr. COX (Londone, 1851); BENOIT, Saint Greg. de Nazianze (Paris, 1876); BAUDUER, Vie de S. Greg. de Nazianze (Lyons, 1827); WATKINS in Dict. Christ. Biog., s.v. Gregorius Nazianzenus; FLEURY, Hist. Ecclesiastique (Paris, 1840), II, Bk. XVIII; DE BROGLIE, L’église et l’Empire Romain au IV siecle (Paris, 1866), V; NEWMAN, The arians of the Fourth Century (London, 1854), 214-227; IDEM, Church of the Fathers in Historical Sketches; BRIGHT, The Age of the Fathers (London, 1903), I, 408-461; PUSEY, The Councils of the Church A.D. 31 – A.D. 381 (Oxford, 1857), 276-323; HORE, Eighteen Centuries of the Orthodox Greek Church (London, 1899), 162, 164, 168, etc; TILLEMONT, Mem. Hist. Eccles., IX; MASON, Five Theolog. Discourses of Greg. of Nazianz. (Cambridge, 1899).