|Saint Gregory of Nazianzus|
St Gregory the Theologian: fresco from Kariye Camii, Istanbul, Turkey
|Theologian, Doctor of the Church, Holy Hierarch|
|Born||329 in Arianzum, Cappadocia|
|Died||January 25, 389 in Arianzum, Cappadocia|
|Venerated in||Eastern and Western Christianity|
|Major shrine||Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in the Fanar|
|Feast||January 2 for Western Churches; January 25 for Eastern Churches; traditional Catholics observe the pre-Vatican II feast day of May 9|
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (329–January 25, 389 C.E.), also known as Saint Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen, was a fourth century C.E. Christian poet, orator, and theologian, who, quite against his will and temperament, was appointed bishop of Constantinople. In this role, Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology in both the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking worlds, and he is remembered as the "Trinitarian Theologian." Given the prevalence of Arianism throughout Eastern Christendom at the time of his appointment, he (along with Athanasius of Alexandria) was instrumental in defining and defending the understanding of God forwarded by the Council of Nicea. Futher, much of his theological work was so central to the development of Christian dogma that it continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.
The promulgation of his (at times contested) theological perspectives was aided by the fact that Gregory was widely considered one of the most accomplished rhetorical stylists of the patristic age. As a classically trained speaker and philosopher he infused Hellenic styles and approaches (in terms of poetry and oratory) into the early church, establishing a paradigm that Byzantine theologians and church officials would continue to follow to the present day.
Gregory is honored as a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church, he is 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 of Caesarea and John Chrysostom. Along with two brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers—a coterie of saints whose shared perspectives on theology and piety were formative in shaping the early church.
At some point in 329 C.E., Gregory was born in Arianzus (near Nazianzus in southwest Cappadocia) to Gregory and Nonna. Gregory's father was a recent convert to Christianity (ca. 325 C.E.), whose relatively neophytic status did not prevent him from being consecrated bishop of Nazianzus in 328 or 329.
As his parents were wealthy landowners, Gregory was afforded the luxury of a formal education. The young Gregory and his brother, Caesarius, first studied at home with their uncle Amphylokhios. Given the obvious rhetorical and scholastic aptitude of the youth, Gregory was sent on to study advanced rhetoric and philosophy in Nazianzus, Caesarea, Alexandria and Athens. While in Athens, he developed a close friendship with fellow student Saint Basil of Caesarea and also made the acquaintance of Julian, a future Roman emperor whose rejection of Christianity would eventually earn him the moniker "Julian the Apostate". During his scholastic efforts in the Greek capital, Gregory studied under many of the most famed rhetoricians of the day, most notably Himerius and Proaeresius. Upon finishing his education, he also taught rhetoric in Athens for a short time.
After extensive prayer, personal reflection, and consultation with friends (most notably Basil of Caesarea), Gregory decided that he wanted to follow the examples of Saint Anthony and Saint Pachomius—abjuring his worldly life in favor of ascetic devotion to Christ. These plans were scuttled when Gregory returned home in 356, as his aging father required his aid in ministering to the congregation at Nazianzus. Though the young saint resented his father's pressure to choose between priestly services and a solitary existence, calling it an "act of tyranny," he was torn between his own desires and his sense of filial piety. Leaving home after a few days, he met his friend Basil at Neocæsarea, in Pontus, where the two (intermittently) lived as ascetics for several years. The two scholastic monks used this time to prepare an extensive commentary and redaction of the works of Origen.
In an extant letter from the period (ca. 357-358), Gregory vented his frustrations to Basil:
Despite his misgivings, Gregory finally returned home in 361, where he was unwillingly ordained by his father. Surveying the local religious climate, Gregory found the local Christian community split by theological differences and his father accused of heresy by local monks. The various rifts were, over time, alleviated by Gregory, whose combination of personal diplomacy, theologically-astute sermons and powerful oratory gradually united the parish.
On the religio-political spectrum, Emperor Julian (the erstwhile schoolmate of both Gregory and Basil) began to encourage the resumption of "pagan" religious practices and invited exiled bishops back to their congregations, both of which were seen as an indirect assault against Christianity. In response to the emperor's rejection of the Christian faith, Gregory composed his Invectives Against Julian between 362 and 363. Disparaging the emperor's morals and intellect, the Invectives assert that Christianity will overcome imperfect rulers such as Julian through love and patience. This process, as described by Gregory, is seen as a public manifestation of the process of deification (theosis), which leads to a spiritual elevation and mystical union with God.  Appalled at being pilloried by critics throughout the empire, Julian resolved in late 362 to vigorously prosecute Gregory and other outspoken Christians; 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 the Arian heresy, 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. The two religious comrades then entered a period of close fraternal cooperation as they participated in a great rhetorical contest that pitted the "orthodox" Caesarean church against an influx 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 Cappadocian Caesarea in 370. Gregory, by nature more retiring, approached this possibility with more temerity.
Soon after Basil's consecration as bishop, the Emperor Valens, who was uncomfortable with the saint's influence, divided his episcopate into two sees. In order to retain his hold on this power, Basil appointed Gregory as the Bishop of Sasima (the newly created see) in 372. The ambitions of Gregory's father to have his son rise in the church hierarchy and the insistence of his friend Basil convinced Gregory to accept this position, in spite of his reservations. Describing his new bishopric, Gregory lamented that it was nothing more than an "utterly dreadful, pokey little hole; a paltry horse-stop on the main road...devoid of water, vegetation, or the company of gentlemen...this was my Church of Sasima!" He made little effort to administer his new diocese, complaining to Basil he preferred instead to pursue a contemplative life. 
By late 372, Gregory abandoned this post upon hearing word that his dying father required aid in the administration of his diocese at Nazianzus. He commented upon the resumption of his former duties in an eloquent oration to his congregation:
Despite the familial necessity of taking over his father's post, it strained his relationship with Basil, who insisted that Gregory return to the bishopric at Sasima. Gregory retorted that he had no intention to continue to play the role of pawn to advance Basil's interests. This unfortunate episode led to the creation of a rift between the two companions, one that continued until Basil's death in 379 C.E. 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 considerable inheritance to the needy, he lived an ascetic existence, devoted to meditation, theological scholarship, and ministering to his congregation. 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 12 memorial poems dedicated to the memory of his departed friend.
Though it would not have seemed likely at the time, the contributions of the retiring monk to the work of the church were far from over. With the death of Emperor Valens died in 378, the throne of the Roman Empire was succeeded by Theodosius I, a steadfast supporter of Nicene orthodoxy. This was a highly promising regime change for those who wished to purge Constantinople (and, indirectly, all of Christendom) of Arian and Apollinarian domination. Given this supportive atmosphere, 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:
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 secretly allied with Peter, bishop of Alexandria, had engineered this deception in an attempt to seize Gregory's power and have himself consecrated 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 fractious, as Gregory's position was still unofficial and Arian priests occupied many important churches. Fortunately for the aging cleric, this dissension was formally settled in his favor following the arrival of the emperor Theodosius in 380. The emperor, determined to eliminate Arianism, expelled Bishop Demophilus and enthroned Gregory as bishop of Constantinople in his place.
Unsatisfied with these piecemeal reforms, Theodosius wanted to further unify the entire empire behind the orthodox position and decided to convene a church council to resolve matters of faith and discipline. Gregory was of similar mind, wishing to unify Christianity. In the spring of 381, the Emperor convened the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, which was attended by 150 Eastern bishops. After the presiding bishop, Meletius of Antioch, Gregory was selected to lead the Council. Hoping to reconcile the West with the East, he offered to recognize Paulinus as Patriarch of Antioch. The Egyptian and Macedonian bishops who had supported Maximus's consecration, arrived late for the Council. Once there, they refused to recognize Gregory's position as head of the church of Constantinople, arguing that his transfer from the See of Sasima was canonically illegitimate.
Gregory was physically exhausted and worried that he was losing the confidence of the bishops and the emperor. Rather than press his case and risk further division, he decided to resign his office: "Let me be as the Prophet Jonah! I was responsible for the storm, but I would sacrifice myself for the salvation of the ship. Seize me and throw me... I was not happy when I ascended the throne, and gladly would I descend it." He stunned the Council with his surprise resignation and then delivered a dramatic speech to Theodosius asking to be released from his offices. The emperor, moved by his words, applauded, commended his labor and granted his resignation. The Council asked him to appear once more for a farewell ritual and celebratory orations. Gregory used this occasion to deliver a final address (Or. 42) and then departed. In this address, he passionately described the church's emergence from the shadow of persecution and spoke with hope concerning the future of the faith:
Returning to his homeland of Cappadocia, Gregory once again resumed his position as bishop of Nazianzus. He spent the next year combating the local Appolinarian heretics and struggling with periodic illness. He also began composing De Vita Sua, his autobiographical poem.  By the end of 383, he found himself too feeble to cope with his episcopal duties as a result of recurring health problems. As a result, Gregory established Eulalius (his well-loved cousin) as bishop of Nazianzus and withdrew into the solitude of Arianzum, where he dwelt in a small cottage on what remained of his family's estate. After enjoying five peaceful years of retirement, where he occupied himself with prayer and poetic composition, he died January 25, 389. Some of his reflections during the period of his senescence are recorded in a surviving poem, whose note of wistful futility echoes the Book of Ecclesiastes:
Throughout his life Gregory faced stark choices. Should he pursue studies as a rhetor or philosopher? Would a monastic life be more appropriate than public ministry? Was it better to blaze his own path or follow the course mapped for him by his father and Basil? Gregory's writings illuminate the conflicts that both tormented and motivated him. Biographers suggest that it was this dialectic that defined him, forged his character and inspired his search for meaning and truth.
Gregory's most significant theological contributions arose from his defense of the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity. In contrast to the Arian and Apollonarian heresies common in his day, 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. Conversely, Gregory also asserted that Christ was fully human, including a full human soul, as he argues that this was essential to the redemption of humanity:
Finally, he proclaimed the continued temporal activity 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.
Though the issues surrounding the Spirit were only addressed in one third of his Theological Orations, he is especially noted for his contributions to the field of pneumatology (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 ontological nature of the Paraclete.
Apart from his magisterial theological discourses, Gregory is seen as one of the most important early Christian orators and "men of letters," whose epistles, discourses and poetry continue to be revered for their depth and insight.
Gregory's great nephew Nichobulos served as his literary executor, preserving and editing many of his writings. Seeing their evident merit, Eulalius (bishop of Nazianzus and cousin to the saint), published several of Gregory's more noteworthy works in 391. As word of their theological profundity spread, his writings began to be translated into Latin, a project first embarked upon by Rufinius in 400 C.E.. Once accessible to the mass of Christians, Gregory's works came to exert profound influence on doctrinal and theological thought (both Eastern and Western). His orations were decreed to be authoritative by the Council of Ephesus in 431, and by 451 he was designated Theologus ("Theologian") by the Council of Chalcedon,—a title previously reserved for John the Apostle. Though his influence waned in medieval European Catholicism, he was (and continues to be) widely quoted by Eastern Orthodox theologians, who regard him as a staunch and passionate defender of the Christian faith.
As mentioned above, his most notable contributions (which are recognized throughout Christendom) are to the development and formalization of Trinitarian theology. Paul Tillich, a world-renowned twentieth century theologian, credits Greogory of Nazianzus for having "created the definitive formulae for the doctrine of the trinity".
Following his death, Saint Gregory's body was buried at Nazianzus. Due in large part to his exalted status within early Christianity, his relics were transferred to Constantinople in 950, where they were enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles. However, this was not the end of the saint's posthumous perigrinations, as a large portion of his remains were stolen during the sacking of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204. When the invading forces returned to Western Europe, these mortal remnants were delivered to Rome, where they were held for the next eight hundred years.
On November 27, 2004, those relics (along with the remains of John Chrysostom), were returned to Istanbul by Pope John Paul II, with the Vatican retaining a small portion of each. They are now in a place of honor at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in the Phanar.
All links retrieved July 17, 2017.
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