Who was Gregory of Nazianzus?
Gregory of Nazianzus also known as Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen, was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained orator and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials.
Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of the doctrine of the Trinity among both Greek- and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the "Trinitarian Theologian". Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Along with the brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers. Gregory is a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is numbered among the Doctors of the Church; in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom.
Early Life of Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory was born in the family estate of Karbala outside the village of Arianzus, near Nazianzus, in southwest Cappadocia. His parents, Gregory and Nonna, were wealthy land-owners. In AD 325 Nonna converted her husband (an hypsistarian) to Christianity; he was subsequently ordained as bishop of Nazianzus in 328 or 329.
The young Gregory and his brother, Caesarius, first studied at home with their uncle Amphylokhios. Gregory went on to study advanced rhetoric and philosophy in Nazianzus, Caesarea, Alexandria and Athens. On the way to Athens his ship encountered a violent storm, and the terrified Gregory prayed to Christ that if he would deliver him, he would dedicate his life to His service.
While at Athens, he developed a close friendship with his fellow student Basil of Caesarea and also made the acquaintance of Flavius Claudius Julianus, who would later become the emperor known as Julian the Apostate. In Athens, Gregory studied under the famous rhetoricians Himerius and Proaeresius. Upon finishing his education, he taught rhetoric in Athens for a short time.
The Priesthood of Gregory of Nazianzus
In 361 Gregory returned to Nazianzus and was ordained a presbyter by his father, who wanted him to assist with caring for local Christians. The younger Gregory, who had been considering a monastic existence, resented his father's decision to force him to choose between priestly services and a solitary existence, calling it an "act of tyranny". Leaving home after a few days, he met his friend Basil at Annesoi, where the two lived as ascetics.
However, Basil urged him to return home to assist his father, which he did for the next year. Arriving at Nazianzus, Gregory found the local Christian community split by theological differences and his father accused of heresy by local monks. Gregory helped to heal the division through a combination of personal diplomacy and oratory.
By this time Emperor Julian had publicly declared himself in opposition to Christianity. In response to the emperor's rejection of the Christian faith, Gregory composed his Invectives Against Julian between 362 and 363. Invectives asserts that Christianity will overcome imperfect rulers such as Julian through love and patience. This process as described by Gregory is the public manifestation of the process of deification (theosis), which leads to a spiritual elevation and mystical union with God.
Julian resolved, in late 362, to vigorously prosecute Gregory and his other Christian critics; however, the emperor perished the following year during a campaign against the Persians. With the death of the emperor, Gregory and the Eastern churches were no longer under the threat of persecution, as the new emperor Jovian was an avowed Christian and supporter of the church. Gregory spent the next few years combating Arianism, which threatened to divide the region of Cappadocia. In this tense environment, Gregory interceded on behalf of his friend Basil with Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (Maritima). The two friends then entered a period of close fraternal cooperation as they participated in a great rhetorical contest of the Caesarean church precipitated by the arrival of accomplished Arian theologians and rhetors.
In the subsequent public debates, presided over by agents of the Emperor Valens, Gregory and Basil emerged triumphant. This success confirmed for both Gregory and Basil that their futures lay in administration of the Church. Basil, who had long displayed inclinations to the episcopacy, was elected bishop of the see of Caesarea in Cappadocia in 370. By late 372 Gregory returned to Nazianzus to assist his dying father with the administration of his diocese. This strained his relationship with Basil, who insisted that Gregory resume his post at Sasima. Gregory retorted that he had no intention to continue to play the role of pawn to advance Basil's interests. He instead focused his attention on his new duties as co-adjutor of Nazianzus. It was here that Gregory preached the first of his great episcopal orations.
Following the deaths of his mother and father in 374, Gregory continued to administer the Diocese of Nazianzus but refused to be named bishop. Donating most of his inheritance to the needy, he lived an austere existence. At the end of 375 he withdrew to a monastery at Seleukia, living there for three years. Near the end of this period his friend Basil died. Although Gregory's health did not permit him to attend the funeral, he wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to Basil's brother, Gregory of Nyssa and composed twelve memorial poems dedicated to the memory of his departed friend.
Gregory of Nazianzus at Constantinople
Emperor Valens died in 378. The accession of Theodosius I, a steadfast supporter of Nicene orthodoxy, was good news to those who wished to purge Constantinople of Arian and Apollinarian domination. The exiled Nicene party gradually returned to the city. From his deathbed, Basil reminded them of Gregory's capabilities and likely recommended his friend to champion the trinitarian cause in Constantinople.
In 379, the Antioch synod and its archbishop, Meletios, asked Gregory to go to Constantinople to lead a theological campaign to win over that city to Nicene orthodoxy. After much hesitation, Gregory agreed. His cousin Theodosia offered him a villa for his residence; Gregory immediately transformed much of it into a church, naming it Anastasia, "a scene for the resurrection of the faith". From this little chapel he delivered five powerful discourses on Nicene doctrine, explaining the nature of the Trinity and the unity of the Godhead. Refuting the Eunomion denial of the Holy Spirit's divinity, Gregory offered this argument:
Look at these facts: Christ is born, the Holy Spirit is His Forerunner. Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears witness to this ... Christ works miracles, the Spirit accompanies them. Christ ascends, the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? What titles appertaining to God do not apply also to Him, except for Unbegotten and Begotten? I tremble when I think of such an abundance of titles, and how many Names they blaspheme, those who revolt against the Spirit!
Gregory's homilies were well received and attracted ever-growing crowds to Anastasia. Fearing his popularity, his opponents decided to strike. On the vigil of Easter in 379, an Arian mob burst into his church during worship services, wounding Gregory and killing another bishop. Escaping the mob, Gregory next found himself betrayed by his erstwhile friend, the philosopher Maximus the Cynic. Maximus, who was in secret alliance with Peter, bishop of Alexandria, attempted to seize Gregory's position and have himself ordained bishop of Constantinople.
Shocked, Gregory decided to resign his office, but the faction faithful to him induced him to stay and ejected Maximus. However, the episode left him embarrassed and exposed him to criticism as a provincial simpleton unable to cope with intrigues of the imperial city.
Affairs in Constantinople remained confused as Gregory's position was still unofficial and Arian priests occupied many important churches. The arrival of the emperor Theodosius in 380 settled matters in Gregory's favor. The emperor, determined to eliminate Arianism, expelled Bishop Demophilus. Gregory was subsequently enthroned as bishop of Constantinople at the Basilica of the Apostles, replacing Demophilus.
The Legacy of Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory's most significant theological contributions arose from his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. He is especially noted for his contributions to the field of pneumatology—that is, theology concerning the nature of the Holy Spirit. In this regard, Gregory is the first to use the idea of procession to describe the relationship between the Spirit and the Godhead: "The Holy Spirit is truly Spirit, coming forth from the Father indeed but not after the manner of the Son, for it is not by generation but by procession, since I must coin a word for the sake of clearness."
Although Gregory does not fully develop the concept, the idea of procession would shape most later thought about the Holy Spirit. He emphasized that Jesus did not cease to be God when he became a man, nor did he lose any of his divine attributes when he took on human nature. Furthermore, Gregory asserted that Christ was fully human, including a full human soul. He also proclaimed the eternality of the Holy Spirit, saying that the Holy Spirit's actions were somewhat hidden in the Old Testament but much clearer since the ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost.
In contrast to the Neo-Arian belief that the Son is ahomoios, or "unlike" the Father, and with the Semi-Arian assertion that the Son is homoiousios, or "like" the Father, Gregory and his fellow Cappadocians maintained the Nicaean doctrine of homoousia, or consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. The Cappadocian Fathers asserted that God's nature is unknowable to man; helped to develop the framework of hypostases, or three persons united in a single Godhead; illustrated how Jesus is the eikon of the Father; and explained the concept of theosis, the belief that all Christians can be assimilated with God in "imitation of the incarnate Son as the divine model."
Some of Gregory's theological writings suggest that, like his friend Gregory of Nyssa, he may have supported some form of the doctrine of apocatastasis, the belief that God will bring all of creation into harmony with the Kingdom of Heaven. This led some late-nineteenth century Christian universalists, notably J. W. Hanson and Philip Schaff, to describe Gregory's theology as universalist. This view of Gregory is also held by some modern theologians, such as John Sachs who said that Gregory had "leanings" toward apocatastasis, but in a "cautious, undogmatic" way. However, it is not clear or universally accepted that Gregory held to the doctrine of apocatastasis.
Apart from the several theological discourses, Gregory was also one of the most important early Christian men of letters, a very accomplished orator, perhaps one of the greatest of his time, and also a very prolific poet, writing several poems with theological and moral matter and some with biographical content, about himself and about his friends (one short poem, "Eis ta Emmetra", actually lays down some rules for the composition of poetry).The Feast Day of Gregory of Nazianzus
In the Western churches Gregory's feast day is on January 2.
The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate two feast days in honor of Gregory: January 25 as his primary feast and January 30, known as the feast of the Three Great Hierarchs, which commemorates him along with John Chrysoston and Basil of Caesarea.
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