1902 Encyclopedia > St Gregory of Nazianus (Theologus)

St Gregory of Nazianus
(Theologus)
One of the fathers of the Eastern Church
(c. 329 - 389/390)




ST GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, surnamed THEOLOGUS, one of the four great fathers of the Eastern Church, was born about the year 329 A.D., at or near Nazianzus, Cappadocia. His father, also named Gregory, a convert from Hypsistari-anism, had lately become bishop of the diocese ; his mother Nonna, an eminently pious woman, by whom he was dedi-cated to the service of God from his birth, appears to have exercised a powerful influence over the religious convictions of both father and son. In pursuit of a more liberal and extended culture than could be procured in the insignificant town of Nazianzus, Gregory visited successively the two Caesareas, Alexandria, and Athens, as a student of grammar, mathematics, rhetoric, and philosophy; at the last-named seat of learning, where he prolonged his stay until he had entered his thirtieth year, he enjoyed the society and friend-ship of Basil, who afterwards became the famous bishop of Caesarea ; the prince Julian, destined soon afterwards to play so prominent a part in the world's history, was also a fellow-student. Shortly after his return to his father's house at Nazianzus (about the year 360) Gregory received bap-tism, and renewed his dedication to the service of religion ; he still continued, however, for some time, and indeed more or less throughout his whole life, in a state of hesitation as to the form which that service ought to take. Strongly inclined by nature and education to a contemplative life spent among books and in the society of congenial friends, he was yet continually urged by outward circumstances, and doubtless also by some inward call, to active pastoral labour. The spirit of refined intellectual monastieism, | which clung to him through life and never ceased to struggle for the ascendency, was about that time strongly encouraged by his intercourse with Basil, who was then revelling in the exalted pleasures of his retirement in Pontus; the prepara-tion of the <j>i\oKa\ia, a sort of chrestomathy compiled by the two friends from the writings of Origeu, belongs to this period. But the events which were at that time stirring the political and ecclesiastical life of Cappadocia, and indeed of the whole Boman world, made a career of learned leisure difficult if not impossible to a man of Gregory's position I and temperament. The emperor Constantius, having by a course of artful intrigue and intimidation succeeded in thrusting a semi-Arian formula upon the Western bishops assembled at Ariminum in Italy, had next attempted to fol- j low the same course with the Eastern episcopate. The aged bishop of Nazianzus having yielded to the imperial threats, j a great storm arose among the monks of the diocese, which was only quelled by the influence of the younger Gregory, j who shortly afterwards (about 361) was ordained to the priesthood. After a vain attempt to evade his new duties and responsibilities by flight, he appears to have continued to act as a presbyter in his father's diocese without inter- j ruption for some considerable time ; and it is probable that j his two Invectives against Julian are to be assigned to this period. Subsequently (about 372), under a pressure which he somewhat resented, he allowed himself to be nominated by Basil as bishop of Sasima, a miserable little village some 32 miles from Tyana ; but he seems hardly, if at all, to have assumed the duties of this diocese, for after another interval of " flight" we find him once more (about 372-3) at Nazianzus, assisting his aged father, on whose death (374) he retired to Seleucia in Isauria for a period of some years. Meanwhile a more important field for his activities was opening up. Towards 378-9 the small and depressed : remnant of the orthodox party in Constantinople sent him an urgent summons to undertake the task of resuscitating the catholic cause, so long persecuted and borne down by the Arians of the capital. With the accession of Theodosius to the imperial throne, the prospect of success to the Nicene doctrine had dawned, if only it could find some cour-ageous and devoted champion. The fame of Gregory as a learned and eloquent disciple of Origen, and still more of Athanasius, pointed him out as such a defender ; nor could he resist the appeal made to him, although he took the step sorely against his will Once arrived in Constantinople, he laboured so zealously and well that the orthodox party speedily gathered strength; and the small apartment in which they had been accustomed to meet was soon ex-changed for a vast and celebrated church which received the significant name of Anastasia, the Church of the Resur-rection. Among the hearers of Gregory were to be found, not only churchmen like Jerome and Evagrius, but also heretics and heathens; and it says much for the sound wisdom and practical tact of the preacher that from the outset he set himself less to build up and defend a doctrinal position than to urge his flock to the cultivation of the loving Christian spirit which cherishes higher aims than mere heresy hunting or endless disputation. Doctrinal, nevertheless, he was, as is abundantly shown by the famous five discourses j on the Trinity, which earned for him the distinctive appel-lation of BeoXoycs (deoXoyia being here used in the stricter sense to designate the doctrine of Christ's divinity, as distin- j guished from oiKovop.ta, which denotes the doctrine of His incarnation). He continued to labour in the Eastern capital till the arrival of Theodosius, and the visible triumph of the orthodox cause ; the metropolitan see was then con-ferred upon him, and after the assembling oi the second oecumenical council in 381 he received consecration from Meletius. In consequence, however, of a spirit of discord and envy which had manifested itself in connexion with this promotion, he soon afterwards, in an oration, not without some bitterness of tone, resigned his dignity, and withdrew into comparative retirement. The rest of his days were spent partly at Nazianzus, where he appears still to have mixed himself in ecclesiastical affairs, and partly on his patrimonial estate at Arianzus, where he devoted himself to his favourite literary pursuits, and especially to poetical composition, until his death, which occurred in 389 or 390. His festival is celebrated in the Eastern Church on January 25th aud 30th, in the Western on 9th May (duplex).





His extant works consist of poems, epistles, and orations. The poems, which include epigrams, elegies, and an autobiographical sketch, have been frequently printed, the editio princeps being the Aldine (1504). Other editions are those of Tollius (1696) and Mura tori (1709); a volume of Carmina Selecta also has been edited by Dronke (1840). The tragedy entitled xp'vrbs niax^v usually included is certainly not genuine. Of Gregory's poetry there is not much to be said. His best energies were not devoted to it ; it was adopted in his later years as a recreation rather than as a serious pursuit ; thus it is occasionally delicate, graphic, beautiful, as could not fail to be the case with a writer of his culture and power, but it is not sustained. Of the hymns none have passed into ecclesiastical use. The letters are entitled to a higher place in literature. They are always easy and natural ; and there is nothing forced in the manner in which their acute, witty, and profound sayings are introduced. As an orator he is held to have surpassed all his contemporaries " in the purity of his words, the nobleness of his expressions, the ornaments of his discourse, the variety of his figures, the justness of his comparisons, the beauty of his reasonings, and the sublimity of his thoughts." Thus, though possessed neither of Basil's gift of government nor of Gregory of Nyssa's power of speculative thought, he worthily takes a place in that triumvirate of Cappadoeians whom the Catholic Church gratefully recognizes as having been, during the critical struggles in the latter half of the 4th century, the best defenders of its faith. The Opera Omnia were first published by Hervagius (Basel, 1550); the subsequent editions have been those of Billius (Paris, 1609, 1611 ; aucta ex interpretatione Morelli, 1630), of the Benedictines (begun in 1778, but interrupted by the French Revolution and not completed until 1840, Caillau being the final editor), and of Migne.

Scattered notices of the life of Gregory Nazianzen are to be found in the writings of Socrates. Sozomen, Theodoret, and Rufinus, as well as in his own letters and poems. The data derived from those sources do not always harmonize with the account of Suidas. The earlier modern authorities, such as Tillemont {Mem. EccL, t. ix.) and Leclerc (Bib. Univ., t. xviii.) have been made use of by Gibbon in his brief but able sketch of this father. Among recent monographs may be mentioned those of Ullmann (Gregorius von Nazianz, der Theologe, 1825; Eng. transi, by G. F. Cox, M.A., 1857), Benoit (St Grégoire de Nazianze; sa vie, ses œuvres, et son époque. 1877), and Montant (Revue critique de quelques questions historiques se rapportant à St Grégoire de Nazianze, 1879).







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