Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume VII/Orations of Gregory Nazianzen/Prolegomena/The Life
Section I.—The Life.
S. Gregory Nazianzen, called by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus “The Great,” and universally known as “The Theologian” or “The Divine,” a title which he shares with S. John the Evangelist alone among the Fathers of the Church, was, like the great Basil of Cæsarea and his brother Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, by birth a Cappadocian. He was born at Arianzus, a country estate belonging to his father, in the neighbourhood of Nazianzus.
This latter, sometimes called Nazianzum, is a place quite unknown to early writers, and derives all its importance from its connection with our Saint. The Romans seem to have called it Diocæsarea. This would place it in the south-western portion of the district called Cappadocia Secunda, a sub-division of the Province, which had previously included the whole country of Cappadocia under the Prefect of Cæsarea. The Emperor Valens made the division for financial purposes about a.d. 371, and assigned Tyana as its civil Metropolis, and, as we shall see, thereby caused an ecclesiastical quarrel which had considerable effect on the life of S. Gregory. Tyana was situated at no great distance south and east of Nazianzus, which place is usually identified with some interesting ruins about eighteen miles south-east of Ak Serai, on a rocky platform at the foot of the mountains called Hassan Dagh. Amongst other ruined buildings here are the remains of three Byzantine churches of great age, but more recent than the rest of the town.
His father, who bore the same name with himself, had originally belonged to an obscure sect called Hypsistarians or Hypsistians, of whom we know little except what we learn from Gregory of Nazianzus and his namesake of Nyssa. They seem to have held a sort of syncretist doctrine, containing elements derived from heathen, Christian, and Jewish sources. They were very strict monotheists, rejecting both polytheism and the doctrine of the Trinity, and worshipping the One Supreme Being under the names of The Most High and The Almighty, and the emblems of Fire and Light, but with no external cultus; for they rejected sacrifice and every outward form of worship, holding adoration to be an exclusively interior and spiritual act. With singular inconsistency, however, they adopted the observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and the Levitical prohibition of certain kinds of food. They were but few in number, and their influence was insignificant even in Cappadocia, which was the headquarters of sect. From this form of error the elder Gregory was converted by the influence of his wife, Nonna; and soon after his conversion was consecrated to the bishopric of Nazianzus.
Nonna, the mother of our Saint, was the daughter of Christian parents, and had been very carefully brought up. Like S. John Chrysostom and S. Augustine, Gregory had the inestimable advantage of being reared at the knee of a mother of conspicuous holiness. There were three children of the marriage—a sister, Gorgonia, probably somewhat older than Gregory, who was devotedly fond of her, and a brother, Cæsarius, perhaps younger, who was a distinguished physician, and occupied a post of confidence at the Court of Constantinople. Gregory was certainly born at a late period of the life of his mother. He tells us that, like so many other holy men of whom we read both in the Bible and outside its pages, he was consecrated to God by his mother even before his birth. The precise date is uncertain. There are two lines in his poem on his own life which seem to indicate clearly that it took place after his father’s elevation to the Episcopate, or at any rate after his ordination to the Priesthood. Speaking of the great desire of the elder Gregory to see his son ordained to the Priesthood, in order that he might have him as a coadjutor and aid to his own declining years and failing strength, he gives the arguments by which the old man sought to persuade him to take upon himself a burden which he dreaded; and among them we find the father saying to the son: “You have not been yet so long in life as I have spent in sacrifice.” And though the Roman Catholic writers on the subject strain every nerve to get rid of the obvious meaning, by ingenious manipulation of the text or by far-fetched interpretations, yet the conclusion remains unshaken, and is supported also by another passage, to be cited presently, that he was at any rate born during the Priesthood of his father. He tells us that he left Athens in or about his thirtieth year, and also that the Emperor Julian was his contemporary there. Now Julian was at Athens in 355; so that we must place Gregory’s birth not earlier than 325; and if we give its natural meaning to the first passage quoted, not earlier than 330, the latest date available for his father’s consecration as Bishop. This is not inconsistent with the Athenian chronology of his life, as he certainly spent many years there, and probably did not leave the place till 357.
As soon as the children’s age permitted, Gregory and his brother Cæsarius were sent to school at Cæsarea, under the care of a good man named Carterius, who as long as he lived retained a great influence over the mind of his elder pupil. This is perhaps the same Carterius who afterwards presided over the monasteries of Antioch in Syria, and was one of the instructors of S. John Chrysostom. The following is a free rendering of one of four funeral epigrams written in later years by our Saint in honour of his old friend and tutor:
“Whither, Carterius, best beloved of friends,
O whither hast thou gone, and left me here
Alone amid the many toils of earth?
Thou who didst hold the rudder of my youth,
When in another land I learned to weigh
The words and stories of a learned age;
Thou who didst bind me to the uncarnal life.
Truly the Christ, whom thou possessest now,
Took thee unto Himself, the King thou lov’st.
O thou bright lightning of most glorious Christ,
Thou best protection of my early days,
Thou charioteer of all my younger life,
Remember now the Gregory whom erst
Thou trainedst in the ways of virtuous life,
Carterius, master of the life of grace.”
It was probably at Cæsarea that the acquaintance between Gregory and S. Basil the Great began, which was afterwards to ripen into a lifelong friendship. But their association did
not last long at this period, for Basil soon went to Constantinople to continue his education, while Gregory and his brother removed to the Palestinian Cæsarea; probably as much for the sake of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, as for the advantage of the schools of that learned resort. Cæsarius soon went on to Alexandria; but Gregory was tempted by the flourishing Palestinian school of rhetoric to remain a while and study that art. One of his fellow-students here was Euzoius, the future heresiarch. From Palestine he too went on to Alexandria, where he found his brother enjoying an excellent character, and highly distinguished among the students of the University. S. Athanasius was at this time the Bishop, and Didymus head of the famous Catechetical School; but as Gregory, though one of his orations is a panegyric on S. Athanasius, does not mention having ever met either of these two great men, we must suppose that the former was at this time suffering one of his many periods of exile—his second banishment lasted from 340 to 347. Gregory does not seem to have remained very long at Alexandria; the fascination exercised on his mind by a yet more famous seat of learning—Athens—soon drew him thither. He could not even wait for a favourable time of year, but must start at once. He took passage in the month of November in a ship bound for Ægina, with some of whose crew he was acquainted. They had a prosperous voyage until they were in sight of Cyprus, when they were assailed by a tremendous storm, and the ship, swept by the heavy seas, became waterlogged, and would not answer her helm. At the same time the violence of the sea burst the water-tanks, and the ship’s company were left in dire distress. Gregory, who was not yet baptized, was thrown into terrible distress at thus finding himself in peril of death while yet outside the Covenant of God. In earnest prayer he renewed his self-dedication, and vowed to give himself wholly to the service of God, if his life might be spared to receive Holy Baptism. He tells the story at some length and with great graphic power in his long poem on his own life, from which we subjoin a cento, and also in his oration spoken at his father’s funeral (Orat. XVIII, c. 31, p. 352 Ed. Ben.). It is, however, uncertain whether he was baptized immediately after this deliverance, or whether he waited till his return to Nazianzus. At any rate he reached Athens in safety, and shortly afterwards was joined there by Basil; when the early acquaintance which was now renewed soon deepened into an intimacy of brotherly affection, which, though often sorely tried, never grew cold in Gregory’s heart. In the funeral oration which he pronounced
over his friend, Gregory has left us a most interesting account of University life in the middle of the fourth century, of which we give a summary here, referring the reader for details to the oration itself, which will be found in the present volume. Basil’s reputation, he says, preceded him to Athens, where he was received with much enthusiasm. Many of the silliest students there are mad upon Sophists, and are divided upon the respective merits of their teachers with as much excitement as is shown by the partisans of the various chariots in the Hippodromes. And so a new-comer is laid hold of by them in this fashion. First of all, he is entertained by the first who can get hold of him—either a relation or a friend or a fellow-countryman, or a leading Sophister, who is in favour with his master, and touts for him. There he is unmercifully chaffed, and with more or less of rough horseplay, by everybody, to take down his pride; and is then escorted processionally through the streets to the Baths; after which process he is regarded as free of the students’ guild. Basil, however, through the good offices of his friend Gregory, was spared this trial of his nerves, out of respect for his great attainments; and this kind action was the beginning of their long and affectionate intimacy. Among the students, however, were a number of young Armenians, some of whom had been at school with Basil, and were very jealous of him. These young men, with the object of destroying his reputation if possible, were continually harassing him with disputations upon hard and sophistical questions. Basil was quite able to hold his own against them, but Gregory, jealous for the honour of his University, and not at first perceiving the malice of these young men, sided with them and made the conflict more equal. As soon, however, as he began to see their real purpose, he forsook them and took his stand by his friend, whose victory was thus made not only assured but easy. The young gentlemen naturally did not like this, and Gregory became, much to Basil’s distress, very unpopular among them, as they chose to regard his conduct in the matter as treason against his University, and especially against the students of his own year.
The city of Athens at this time was full of dangerous distractions for young men; feasts, theatres, assemblies, wine parties, etc. Gregory and his friend resolved to renounce all these, and to allow themselves to know only two roads—one, that which led to the Church and its holy teachers; the other, that which took them to their University lectures. Amongst other famous students of Gregory’s day was Prince Julian, afterwards the Emperor who apostatized and endeavoured to restore the ancient heathenism, and galvanize it into something like a new life. Gregory claims even at this early period to have foreseen and dreaded the result of Julian’s accession. “I had long foreseen,” he says, “how matters would be, from the time that I was with him at Athens. He had come there shortly after the violent measures against his brother, having asked permission of the Emperor to do so. He had two reasons for this sojourn—the one more honest, namely, to visit Greece and its schools, the other more secret and known only to a few persons, namely, to consult with the heathen priests and charlatans about his plans, because his wickedness was not as yet declared. Even then I made no bad guess about the man, although I am not one of those skilled in such matters; but I was made a prophet by the unevenness of his disposition and the very unsettled condition of his mind. I used these very words about him: ‘What an evil the Roman State is nourishing,’ though I prefaced them with a wish that I might prove a false prophet.”
(Orat. V. 23, 24.) Gregory must have been a long time at Athens. He seems to have gone there at about the age of eighteen, and not to have left till he was past thirty. Basil left before him and returned to Cappadocia, and as soon as he could follow he went to Constantinople, where he met his brother, who had just come there to practice as a Court Physician, but resolved to throw up his practice and return with his brother to Nazianzus. They found their parents still living and their father occupying the Episcopal Throne. From this time onward Gregory divided his time between his parents and his friend, living partly at Arianzus, and partly with Basil in Pontus, in monastic seclusion. At his Baptism, which it seems most probable took place at this period, he made a solemn vow never to swear, and to devote his whole energies and powers solely to the glory of God, and the defence and spreading of the faith. Cæsarius did not remain long in the retirement of home, but soon returned to the Capital, where a brilliant career seemed opening before him. Gregory, whose mind was strongly impressed with the dangers and temptations of a life at Court, did not altogether approve of this step, yet he does not very severely blame it. He himself, however, felt very strongly drawn to the monastic life; but as retirement from the world did not seem to him to be his vocation, he resolved to continue to live in the world, and to be a help and support to his now aged parents, and especially to his father in the duties of his Episcopate, but at the same time to live under the strictest ascetic rule. He had, however, always a secret hankering after the Solitary life, which he had once (Ep. i.) promised Basil to share with him; and he did find himself able for some years to spend part of his time with his friend in his retirement in the wilds of Pontus. They portioned out their days very carefully between prayer, meditation and study, and manual labour, on the principles laid down by Basil in a letter to his friend, which afterwards were developed into the celebrated Rule still observed by the entire body of the Religious of the Eastern Church. Retirement, he says, does not consist in the act of removal from the world in bodily presence, but in this, that we tear away the soul from those bodily influences which stir up the passions; that we give up our parental city and our father’s house, our possessions and goods, friendship and wedlock, business and profession, art and science, and everything, and are quite ready to take into our hearts nothing but the impressions of the divine teaching.
In solitude, Basil thinks, it is possible altogether to tame the passions, like wild beasts, by gentle treatment; to lull them to sleep, to disarm them. By turning away the soul from the enticements of sense, and withdrawing into one’s self for the contemplation of God and of Eternal Beauty, it is possible to raise man to a forgetfulness of natural wants, and to a spiritual freedom from care. The means to this spiritual elevation are in his view the reading of Holy Scripture, which sets before us rules of life—but especially the pictures of the lives of godly men; Prayer which draws down the Godhead to us, and makes our mind a pure abode for It; and an earnest silence, more inclined to learn than to teach, but by no means morose or unfriendly. At the same time Basil desires that the outward appearance of one who thus practises solitude shall be in keeping with his inner life; with humble downcast eye, and dishevelled hair, in dirty untidy clothes he must go about, neither lazily loitering nor passionately quick, but quietly. His garment, girt upon his loins with a belt, is to be coarse, not of a bright colour, suited for both summer and winter, close enough to keep the body warm without additional clothing; and his shoes adapted to their purpose, but without ornament. For food, let him use only the most necessary, chiefly vegetables; for drink, water—at least in health. For mealtime, which begins and ends with prayer, one hour is to be fixed. Sleep is to be short, light, and never so dead as to let the soul be open to the impressions of corrupting dreams.
They gave themselves especially to the study of Holy Scripture, and to the practice of devotional exercises. In their study their great principle was to interpret the holy writings not by their own individual judgment, but on the lines laid down for them by the authority of ancient interpreters. Of uninspired commentators they had the greatest respect for Origen, whose errors, however, they happily avoided. From his exegetical writings they compiled a book of Extracts, which they published in twenty-seven books, to which they gave the name of Philocalia, i.e., what in modern language is called a Christology. This is happily still extant, and is valuable as preserving for us many passages otherwise lost, or existing only in a Latin translation. Gregory sent a copy of this work to his friend and subsequent companion at Constantinople, Theodore, Bishop of Tyana, as an Easter gift many years afterwards, and accompanied it with a letter, in which he speaks of the work as a memorial of himself and Basil, and as intended for an aid to scholars; and begs that his friend will give a proof of its usefulness, with the help of diligence and the Holy Spirit. Socrates says that this careful study of Origen was of the greatest service to the two friends in their subsequent controversies with the Arians; for these heretics quoted him in support of their errors, but the two Fathers were enabled to confute them readily, by shewing that they were completely ignorant of the meaning of Origen’s argument.
But Gregory does not appear to have stayed long in Basil’s Monastery;—although Rufinus speaks of a sojourn of thirteen years. This cannot for chronological reasons have been a continuous stay, although it is true that Basil’s monastic life in Pontus, and Gregory’s various visits to him there extended over a period of about that length, from his first retirement in 357 to his consecration to the Episcopate in 370. It was after about three years that Gregory returned to Nazianzus (360), possibly, as Ullmann suggests, because of circumstances which had arisen at his home, which seemed to call imperatively for his presence in the interests of the peace of the Diocese, and for the assistance which he might, though a layman, be able to give to his aged Father, who had got into trouble through a piece of imprudent conduct.
The Emperor Constantius, who was an Arian, had in 359 assembled at Ariminum (the modern Rimini) a Council of 400 Western Bishops, and these, partly duped, partly compelled by the Imperial Officers, had put out a Creed, which, while acknowledging the proper Deity of the Son, and confessing Him to be Like the Father, omitted to say Like In All Points, and refused the word Consubstantial; thus, while condemning the extreme followers of Arius, favouring the views of the Semi-Arian party. At the same time another Synod, of 150 Eastern Bishops, was assembled under Court influence at Seleucia, and promulgated a similar formula. The Bishop of Nazianzus, though still as always a staunch upholder of Nicene orthodoxy, was in some way induced to attach his signature to this compromising Creed; and this action led to most important consequences. The Monks of his Diocese took the matter up with the usual earnestness of Religious, and, with several also of the Bishops, withdrew from Communion with their own Bishop. This may have been the reason for his son’s return. He induced his Father to apologize for his involuntary error and to put out an orthodox Confession, and so he healed the schism. To this period belongs his first Oration on Peace; in which, after an eloquent encomium on the Religious life, he sets forth the blessings of peace and concord, and contrasts them with the misery of discord; begging the people to be very slow indeed on this account to sever themselves from the Communion of those whom they think to be erring brethren; and thanking God for the restoration of peace. He concludes
the whole with a splendid setting forth of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Trinity, in the following terms:—
“Would to God that none of us may perish, but that we may all abide in one spirit, with one soul labouring together for the faith of the Gospel, of one mind, minding the same thing, armed with the shield of faith, girt about the loins with truth, knowing only the one war against the Evil One, and those who fight under his orders, not fearing them that kill the body but cannot lay hold of the soul; but fearing Him Who is the Lord both of soul and body; guarding the good deposit which we have received from our fathers, adoring Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, knowing the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Holy Ghost—into which Names we were baptized, in Which we have believed, under Whose banner we have been enlisted ; dividing Them before we combine Them, and combining before we divide; not receiving the Three as one Person (for They are not impersonal, or names of one Person, as though our wealth lay in Names alone and not in facts), but the Three as one Thing. For They are One, not in Person, but in Godhead, Unity adored in Trinity, and Trinity summed up in Unity; all adorable, all royal, of one throne and one glory; above the world, above time, uncreated, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscript; in Its relation to Itself known only to Itself; but to us equally venerable and adorable; Alone dwelling in the Holiest, and leaving all creatures outside and shut off, partly by the First Veil, and partly also by the Second;—by the first, the heavenly and angelic host, parted from Godhead; and by the second, we men, severed from the Angels. This let us do; let this be our mind, Brethren; and those that are otherwise minded let us look upon as diseased in regard to the truth, and as far as may be, let us take and cure them; but if they be incurable let us withdraw from them, lest we share their disease before we impart to them our own health. And the God of Peace that passeth all understanding shall be with you in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”
Gregory the Elder was now aged and infirm, and began to feel his need of a Coadjutor in his pastoral duties. So, by the great desire of the people of Nazianzus, he ordained his son to the Priesthood, much against the will of the said son. This Ordination took place at some great Festival, probably at Christmas of the year 361. Gregory the Younger was much aggrieved at this gentle violence, which even in after years he describes as an act of tyranny, and says he cannot bring himself to speak of it in other terms, though he asks pardon of the Holy Spirit for his language. Immediately after his Ordination he made his escape to Pontus, apparently reaching Basil about Epiphany, 362. Here he had time for reflection on the obedience he now owed to his father, not only as son to father, but as Priest to Bishop; and with a truer view of his duty he returned to Nazianzus, where he was present in the Church on Easter day 362, and preached his first Sermon as a Priest, in apology for his reluctance. Strange to say, though it was so great a Festival, and though the preacher was so well known and so much beloved in Nazianzus, the congregation was very small;—probably many refrained from going to Church in order to mark their feeling about Gregory’s flight to Pontus. Anyhow he felt the discourtesy keenly, and in his next sermon took occasion to reprove them severely for their inconsistency in receiving him so badly after having compelled him for their sakes to finally renounce the solitude he loved so well. Of this discourse the Abbé Benoît speaks as follows:—
“It is not very long, and it seems to us a model of the tact and art which a Minister of the Gospel ought to use in his speech when just grievances compel him to address deserved reproaches to the faithful. It would be impossible to blame with greater force, to complain with more frankness, and yet to do it in a way less offensive to the hearers. Praise, indeed, is so mingled with blame in this discourse, and there is in its tone something so earnest and affectionate, that the audience, though sharply reprimanded, not only could not take offence, but was compelled to conceive a yet greater affection and admiration for him who so reproved them.”
Gregory took the opportunity to write another very long Oration as his apology for his flight. In it he sets forth at great length his conception of the nature and responsibilities of the Priestly Office, and justifies himself both for having shrunk from such a charge, and for having so soon returned to take it up. It is very improbable that this Oration, numbered II. in the Benedictine Edition, was ever delivered vivâ voce; but it was published, and is a complete Treatise on the Priesthood, used both by S. John Chrysostom as the foundation of his Six Books on the Priesthood, and by S. Gregory the Great as the basis of his Treatise on the Pastoral Rule. It has also furnished material to many of the best Ecclesiastical writers of all ages.
Julian had now succeeded to the Empire, and had entered Constantinople in 361. He had by this time completely broken with the Church, and renounced even the outward semblance of Christianity. He persuaded Cæsarius, however, to retain his position at Court, hoping perhaps that he might succeed in perverting him. This was a matter of deep regret to his father and brother, and they felt, the latter says, obliged to keep the fact from the knowledge of his mother. Gregory wrote his brother a letter of most affectionate though earnest remonstrance; with the result that Cæsarius soon made up his mind to retire, and put his resolution in practice on the opportunity afforded by the departure of the Emperor from Constantinople to assume the direction of his campaign against the Persians. Nazianzus was not allowed to remain without attempts being made against its Christianity, for the Prefect of the Province was sent with an armed escort of considerable strength to demand possession of the Church. But the aged Bishop, supported by his son and by his people, boldly refused to comply with the Imperial commands, and there seemed such a probability of powerful resistance that the Prefect felt compelled to withdraw his force, and never came to Nazianzus again on such an errand. The Gregorys, father and son, frequently came into collision with Julian during his stay in Cappadocia on his way to Persia; and indeed it is not too much to say that the firm stand which they made on behalf of the right was, under God, the means of diverting the Emperor from his purpose of making a vehement assault upon the faith and rights of the Church in that Province. As the Abbé Benoît remarks, Julian saw that he must be careful in dealing with a province where Christian faith was such a living power, and where a simple village Bishop could dare to make so stout a stand against Imperial Authority; but he declared his intention of avenging himself upon his opponents on his return from his expedition. The Providence of God, however, interfered, and he never did return, but was defeated and killed.
In 363 or 364 Basil, like Gregory, was ordained Priest much against his will. The Bishop of Cæsarea, Metropolitan of Cappadocia, was Eusebius. He had been elected in 362 by a popular clamour, while yet only a Catechumen, and was very unwillingly consecrated by the Bishops of the Province. He felt it necessary to have at hand a Priest who by his skill in Theology would be a help to him in the controversies of the times, and he selected Basil. But for some unknown reason, possibly no more than a certain jealousy of Basil’s superior reputation and influence, within a very short time Eusebius quarrelled with him, and endeavoured to deprive him. This might easily have led to a serious schism, had Basil been a self-seeking man, but as it was, he quietly retired to his Community in Pontus, accompanied by his friend Gregory, who, however, was not able to remain long in that congenial society, as his presence was still much needed by his father. On the succession of Valens, an Arian, to the Throne of the Empire, Eusebius wrote to Gregory, entreating him to come to Cæsarea and give him the benefit of his advice. Gregory, however, respectfully declined the invitation on the grounds of his sense of the wrong which his friend had suffered, and after some correspondence he succeeded in effecting a reconciliation between the latter and his Metropolitan, in the year 365.
Cæsarius meantime had returned to the Court and had received from Valens a valuable piece of preferment in Bithynia; but in the end of 368 or beginning of 369, having been terrified by a great earthquake, during which he had been in considerable danger, he was arranging matters for his final retirement, when he was seized with illness, and very soon died, leaving all his property, which must have amounted to a considerable sum, to his brother in trust for the poor. He was buried at Nazianzus, and on the occasion of his funeral his brother preached the Sermon which is numbered VIII. in the Benedictine Edition. About the same time, but a little later, Gorgonia also departed, and he preached a funeral sermon on her too. Eusebius of Cæsarea died in 370, and Basil at once wrote an urgent letter to Gregory, begging him to come to Cæsarea, probably in order to get him elected Archbishop. Gregory, however, declined to go, and he and his father exerted themselves to the utmost of their power to procure the election of Basil; the elder Gregory writing through his son two letters, one addressed to the people of Cæsarea, the other to the Provincial Synod, urging Basil’s claims very strongly. Though ill at the time, he managed to convey himself to the Metropolis in time for the meeting of the Synod; and Basil was elected and consecrated. Gregory wrote him a letter of congratulation; not, however, a very warm one; but when troubles began to arise he spoke out with all the fervour of their early friendship in support of the Archbishop. About this time Valens divided the civil Province of Cappadocia into two, one of which had Cæsarea, the other Tyana, for its Metropolis. Anthimus, Bishop of the latter See, thereupon claimed to be ipso facto Metropolitan of the new Province, a claim which Basil strenuously resisted, as savouring of what we call Erastianism. A long dispute followed, in the course of which Basil, to assert his rights as Metropolitan, and to strengthen his own hands, erected several new Bishoprics in the disputed Province; and to one of these, Sasima, a miserable little village he consecrated his friend Gregory, almost by force. Gregory was, not unnaturally, indignant at this treatment; while Basil, whose great object had been to strengthen himself against Anthimus, took it as unkind of Gregory to be so reluctant to comply with his friend’s wishes. So the two were for a long time in very strained relations to one another. Although, however, Gregory ultimately yielded to the earnest wish of his father, and submitted to the authority of the Archbishop, yet he did not disguise his reluctance, and in the Sermons which he preached on the occasion (Or. ix. x.) he spoke very strongly on the point. Anthimus, however, occupied the village of Sasima with troops, and prevented Gregory from taking peaceable possession of his See, which it is probable he never actually administered, for his father begged him to remain at Nazianzus and continue his services as coadjutor Bishop. The contest about the Metropolitanate of Tyana went on for some time, but in the end, mainly by Gregory’s mediation, it was amicably settled. In 374 Gregory the elder died, and his wife also, and thus our Saint was set free from the charge of the diocese. He spoke a panegyric at his father’s funeral, and wrote a number of little “In Memoriam” poems to his mother’s memory; and out of respect for his father continued to administer the See of Nazianzus for about a year, making great efforts meanwhile to secure the appointment of a Bishop. But, perceiving that his efforts would be fruitless, because of the devotion of the people to himself, he at length withdrew, after a very serious illness, to Seleucia in Isauria (375,) where he lived three or four years, attached to the famous Church of S. Thecla. Very little is known of his life there; but it must have been at this period that he heard of the death of Basil, upon whom two years later in the Cathedral of Cæsarea he pronounced a splendid panegyric.
In 379 the Church at Constantinople, which for forty years had been oppressed by a succession of Arian Archbishops, and was well nigh crushed out of existence by the multitude of other heresies, Eunomian, Macedonian, Novatian, Apollinarian, etc., which Arian rule had fostered, besought the great Theologian to come to their aid. Theodosius the new Emperor, who was a fervent Catholic, backed their entreaty, as did also numerous Bishops. Gregory resisted the call for a long time; but at last he came to see that it was the will of God that he should accept the Mission, and he consented to go and fill the gap, until such time as the Catholics of the Capital might be able to elect an Archbishop.
The following account of the religious condition of Constantinople at this time is condensed from Ullmann:—
“Religious feeling like everything else had become to the idle and empty mind a subject of joke and amusement. What belonged to the theatre was brought into the Church, and what belonged to the Church into the theatre. The better Christian feelings were not seldom held up in comedies to the sneer of the multitude. Everything was so changed by the Constantinopolitans into light jesting, that earnestness was stripped of its worth by wit, and that which is holy became a subject for banter and scoffing in the refined conversation of worldly people. Yet worse was it that the unbridled delight of these men in dissipating enjoyments threatened to turn the Church into a theatre, and the Preacher into a play actor. If he would please the multitude, he must adapt himself to their taste, and entertain them amusingly in the Church. They demanded also in the preaching something that should please the ear, glittering declamation with theatrical gesticulation; and they clapped with the same pleasure the comedian in the holy place and him on the stage. And alas there were found at that period too many preachers who preferred the applause of men to their souls’ health. At this period the objects of the faith excited, particularly in Constantinople, a very universal and lively interest, which was entertained from the Court downwards, though not always in the most creditable manner; but it was in great part not the interest of the heart, but that of a hypercritical and disputatious intellect, where it was not something far lower, to which the dispute about matters of faith served only as a pretext for attaining the exterior aims of avarice or ambition. While the sanctifying and beatifying doctrines of the Gospel, which are directed to the conversion of the whole inner man were let lie quiet, everyone from the Emperor to the beggar busied himself with incredible interest about a few questions concerning which the Gospel communicates only just so much as is beneficial to the human spirit and necessary to salvation, and whose fuller expression at any rate belongs rather to the school than to practical life. But the more violently these doctrinal disputes were kindled, disturbing and dividing States, cities, and families, so much the more people lost sight of the practical essentials of Christianity; it seemed more important to maintain the Tri-unity of God than to love God with all the heart; to acknowledge the Consubstantiality of the Son, than to follow Him in humility and self-denial; to defend the Personality of the Holy Spirit, than to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, love, peace, righteousness….In addition to these religious disputes came also political struggles, namely, the hard-fought wars of the Roman Empire with the Goths; so that the Empire at large presented the picture of a sea, tossed by violent storms. But the unhappy schisms which at this time were severing Christians everywhere, shewed themselves in a particularly discouraging form in the Capital. Under the late reigns several parties had been favoured; but especially those which, though again divided among themselves by differences of opinion, yet agreed in this that they all rejected the Nicene system of doctrine. Constantius had bestowed his favour on the Arians; Julian during his short reign on all parties, at least in appearance,—to crush them all. After Jovian’s early death Valens succeeded to power in the East, and with him, even more than with Constantius, Arianism, which he not only protected, but also sought to make predominant by horrible atrocities against the friends of the Nicene Decrees. These had now been forbidden the use of all Churches and Church property, and the Arians had been put in possession of them. But Constantinople still remained the scene of ecclesiastical strifes and partizanships. Here where with a little good so much evil flowed from all three parts of the world, all opinions had their adherents; but the following parties in particular shewed themselves:—The Eunomians, professing an intellectual theology, which claimed to be able completely to explore the Being of God by logical definitions, and maintained in strict Arian fashion the Unlikeness of the Son to the Father, were very numerous in Constantinople (as is shewn by the fact that most of Gregory’s polemical utterances were directed against them), and injured earnest religious thought principally by this, that they used the doctrines of the faith exclusively as subjects for an argumentative dialectic. The Macedonians, addicted to the Semi-Arian dogma of the Like Substance, and thereby somewhat more nearly approaching the Orthodox, and distinguished besides by an estimable earnestness of demeanour, and a monk-like strictness of manner, were indeed themselves excluded by the pure Arians from the property of the Church, but were ever being abundantly multiplied, partly in Constantinople itself, partly in the neighbouring regions of the Hellespont, Thrace, Bithynia, and Phrygia. The Novatians, who even overstepped the Macedonians in the strictness of their practical principles, had somewhat earlier been on the point of uniting themselves with the Orthodox, from whom they did not differ on the chief doctrine in dispute, and with whom they found themselves under like oppression from the Arians; but the malevolent disposition of a few of the party leaders had stood in the way, and so they remained separate, and swelled the number of the opponents of Orthodoxy. Lastly the Apollinarians too began to establish themselves there. Their teaching was opposed to the acknowledgment of true and perfect Manhood in Jesus (for true Manhood lies in the reason especially); and there was at that time, as Gregory informs us, a report that an assembly of Apollinarian bishops was to be held at Constantinople, with a view of raising their teaching as to Christ into general notice, and forcing it upon the Churches.
In such a crisis Gregory came most unwillingly to the Capital. At first he lodged in the house of a relation of his own, part of which he arranged as a Chapel, and dedicated under the title Anastasia, as the place where the Catholic faith was to rise again. There he began at once to carry out the rule of the Church as to daily service, to which he added his own splendid preaching.
His constant theme was the worship of the Trinity. After two Sermons in deprecation of religious contentiousness, he preached those famous Five Orations which have won for him the title of the Theologian. To analyse these belongs to another portion of this work; it will be enough in this place to say, that after warning his audience against the frivolity with which the Arians were dragging religious subjects of the most solemn kind into the most unsuitable places and occasions, he proceeds in four magnificent discourses to set forth the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, shewing carefully the difference between Sabellian confusion of Persons and Tritheistic division of Substance. The Arians, however, persecuted him
bitterly; even, on one occasion at least, hiring an assassin to murder him; and their persecution was all the more bitter because of the wonderful success which attended Gregory’s preaching. S. Jerome, who came to Constantinople at this time, has left on record the pleasure with which he listened to and conversed with the great Defender of the Faith.
Unfortunately Gregory now let himself be taken in by a plausible adventurer named Maximus, who had come to Constantinople in the hope of obtaining the Bishopric for himself. He attached himself to Gregory and won his confidence, the latter even going so far as to deliver a panegyric upon him as a sufferer for the Faith. After a short time, however, Maximus managed to procure his own consecration secretly from some Egyptian Bishops, who during an illness of Gregory enthroned him at night in the Church. In the morning, when the people discovered what had been done, they were very indignant, and Maximus and his friends were driven out of the Church and forced to leave the City. Meanwhile the rank and fashion of Constantinople began to dislike Gregory, who would not condescend to the arts of the popular preacher, and whose simple retiring life and gentle demeanour were made matter of reproach to him. Gregory was quite willing to retire, and was only prevented from doing so by the earnest remonstrances of his friends, who solemnly assured him that if he went away the Faith would depart with him; so he consented to remain till a fitter man could be found. Late in 380 Theodosius came to Constantinople, where almost his first act was to deprive the Arians of the Churches, and to put Gregory in possession of the Cathedral of S. Sophia. The next year the great Council of Eastern Bishops, which ranks as the Second Ecumenical Council, met at the Capital, under the presidency of Meletius of Antioch. Its first care was to sanction the translation of Gregory from the See of Sasima to that of the Metropolis of the Empire, and to enthrone him in S. Sophia, and thus he became the recognised Archbishop of the Imperial City. Meletius shortly afterwards died, and Gregory assumed the Presidency of the Council. He failed in his endeavours to heal the schism which was troubling the Church of Antioch, and when the Egyptian Bishops on their arrival shewed a disposition to take up the case of Maximus, and were determined at any rate to oust Gregory from the Patriarchal Throne on the ground of a Nicene canon forbidding translations, which had virtually been rescinded by the act of the Council, he made up his mind to resign. He obtained a reluctant assent to this course from the Emperor, and then took leave of the Synod in one of the most magnificent of all his Orations, in which he gives a graphic account of his work in the Metropolis. Nectarius, Prefect of the City, who was only a catechumen, was elected in his place, and Gregory went home to Nazianzus. He administered the affairs of the Church there for a little while, and then, having procured the election of Eulalius as Bishop, he retired to Arianzus, where he passed the few remaining years of his life in seclusion, but still continued to take an active interest in the affairs of the Church. His own city was greatly disturbed by Apollinarian teachers, whose efforts to establish themselves within the Church were very persevering. Apollinarius, or as he is frequently called in the West, Apollinaris, was a Bishop of Laodicea in the latter half of the Fourth Century, and was at one time greatly respected for his learning and orthodoxy by S. Athanasius and S. Basil. He was even an instructor of S. Jerome in 374, but he seceded from the Church in the next year, owing to views which he had come to hold about the nature of our Lord; these really prepared the way for various forms of the Monophysite heresy. He fell into the error of a partial denial of our Lord’s true Humanity, attributing to Christ a human body and a human soul, but not a reasoning spirit, whose place, according to him, was supplied by the Divine Logos. This view had first appeared in 362, when it came before a Council at Alexandria. Those who were accused of holding it denied it, and expressed their sense of the absurdity of such a view, pointing out that our Lord could not be said to be really incarnate if He had no human mind; but about 369 it assumed a definite form (though even then it was not known to be the teaching of Apollinarius). Arguing from the Divinity of Christ that He cannot have had a human mind, for if He had He would have had sinful inclinations, and the one Christ would have been two persons, Apollinarius and his followers went on to maintain that the Incarnation only meant a certain converse between God and Man; and that Christ’s Body was not really born of Mary, but was a part of the Godhead converted into flesh. S. Athanasius wrote two Books against these two propositions, but did not name Apollinarius, most probably because he did not believe him to be committed to them. The fundamental error of the system was the idea that the Incarnation was, not the Union of the two Natures, but only a blending so close, that in the mind of these teachers all the Divine Attributes were transferred to the human nature, and all the human ones to the Divine, and the two were merged in one compound being.
In 377 a Roman Synod excommunicated Apollinarius and his adherents, and S. Damasus wrote a letter containing twenty-five anathemas, which he sent to Paulinus of Antioch and others. This condemnation is in almost the identical words used by S. Gregory in the first of two letters on the question which he wrote to Cledonius, a Priest of Nazianzus, and which were adopted as symbolic at the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Of these letters Canon Bright says that they belong to that class of documents of the Fourth Century which refuted by anticipation the heresies of the Fifth. Gregory affirmed True Godhead and True Manhood to be combined in the One Person of the Crucified, Who was the adorable Son, Whose Mother was the Mother of God, and Who assumed, in order to redeem it, the entire nature that fell in Adam. In his seclusion, says Mr. Crake, his sole luxuries were a garden and a fountain. He spent his last days in continual devotion. His knees were worn with kneeling, and his whole thoughts and aspirations had gone before to the long home to which he was hastening. After the manner of the Saints, he was very rigorous in his self-denial. His bed was of straw with a covering of sackcloth, and a single tunic was all the outward clothing of him who had been Bishop of Constantinople. Yet his glory was only in the Lord. “As a fish cannot swim without water, and a bird cannot fly without air, he said, so a Christian cannot advance a single step without Christ.” He died in 391, and in the same year that he passed from the roll of the earthly episcopate Augustine was ordained Priest at Hippo Regius in Africa.
Ullmann gives the following description of his character and personal appearance:
“Gregory was of middle height and somewhat pale; but his pallor became him. His hair was thick and blanched by age, his short beard and conspicuous eyebrows were thicker. On his right eye he had a scar. His manner was friendly and attractive; his conduct simple. The keynote of his inner being was piety; his soul was full of fiery strength of faith, turned to God and Christ; a lofty zeal for divine things led him all his life. This zeal manifested itself above all in a steadfast adherence to and defence of certain dogmas which that age held to be specially important; as well as in lively conflicts, not always free from partisanship, with opposing convictions; but not less in a hearty and living apprehension of practical Christianity, the establishment and enlargement of which in men’s minds was to him all important. His asceticism was overdone; it injured his health; yet it did not degenerate into hypocrisy; it was to him the means for elevating and liberating the mind, but not in and for its own sake a higher virtue. An inborn and inbred love of solitude hindered him from turning all his powers to a publicly useful activity. His seclusion did not allow him to become familiar with the knowledge of men and of the world; lacking in knowledge of men, carelessly confident, sometimes distrustful and bitter in his judgment of others, he demanded from others much, but from himself most. Susceptible of great resolves, and full of fiery zeal for all good, he was not always steadfast and persevering in carrying them out. In endurance and conflict he was noble and high-minded; in victory moderate; in prosperity humble; never flattering the great, but an ever ready helper to the oppressed and persecuted, and to the poor a loving father. The most excellent qualities were in Gregory mingled with faults; he was not quite free from vanity, he was very irritable and sensitive, but also readily forgave and cherished no grudges. He was a man feeling after holiness, and striving after the highest good, but not perfect, as no man upon earth is.”
Before leaving Constantinople he made his will, in which he bequeathed all his property to the Deacon Gregory for life, with reversion to the poor of Nazianzus.
- ἐκ δύοιν ἐναντιωτάτοιν συγκεκραμένης, ἑλληνικῆς τε καὶ νομικῆς τερατείας· ὧν αμφοτέρων τὰ μέρη φυγὼν, ἐκ μέρων συνετέθη. Τῆς μέν γὰρ τὰ εἴδωλα καὶ τὰς θυσίας ἀποπεμπόμενοι, τιμῶσι τὸ πῦρ καὶ τὰ λυχνα· τῆς δὲ τὸ σάββατον αἰδούμενοι καὶ τὰ περὶ τὰ βρώματά ἐστιν ἃ μικρολογίαν, τὴν περιτομὴν ἀτιμάζουσιν.—Or. xviii. 5.
- Carm. de vita sua, 511.
- Ib. 339.
- What time I parted from Egyptian shores, Whence I had somewhat culled of ancient lore, We weighed, and under Cyprus cut the waves In a straight course for Hellas, when there rose A mighty strife of winds, and shook the ship; And all was night; earth, seas, and darkened skies; And thunders echoed to the lightning’s shock. Whistled the rigging of the swelling sails, And bent the mast; the helm had lost its power, For none could hold it in the raging seas. The ship was filled with overwhelming waves; Mingled the shout of sailor, and the cries Of helmsman, captain, and of passenger, And those who till that fearful hour had been Unconscious of a God; for fear can teach. And, worst of all our dread impending woes, No water had we, for the ship began To labour, and the beakers soon were broke Which held our treasure of sweet water scant; And famine fought with surging and with storm To slay us. But God sent a swift release. For Punic sailors suddenly appeared, Who in their own sore terror soon perceived By our sad cries our danger, and with oars (For they were strong) came up and saved our barque And us, who now all but sea-corpses were; Like fish forsaken of their native wave, Or lamp that dies for want of nourishment. But while we all were fearing sudden death, Mine was a worse, because a secret, fear. The cleansing waters ne’er had passed on me, That slay our foe and join us to our God. This was my lamentation, this my dread. For this I stretched my hands and cried to God, And cried above the noise of surging waves, And rent my clothes, and lay in misery. But, though ye scarce believe it, yet ‘tis true, All those on whom our common danger pressed Forgot themselves, and came and prayed with me. And Thou wast then, O Christ, my great defence, Who now deliverest from the storm of life. For when no good hope dawned upon our eyes, Nor isle, nor continent, nor mountain top, Nor torch, nor star to light the mariners, Nor small nor great of earthly things appeared, What port was left for troubled sailor-folk? Despairing of all else, I look to thee; Life, breath, salvation, light, and strength to men, Who frightest, smitest, smilest, healest all, And ever weavest good from human ill. I call to mind Thy wonders of old time, By which we recognize Thy mighty hand; The sea divided—Israel’s host brought through— Their foes defeated by Thy lifted hand— And Egypt crushed by scourges, chiefs and all— Nature subdued, and walls thrown down by shout. And, adding mine to those old famous acts, Thine own, I said, am I, both erst and now; Twice shalt Thou take me for Thine own, a gift Of earth and sea, a doubly hallowed gift, By prayers of mother and by fateful sea. To Thee I live, if I escape the waves, And gain baptismal dews; and Thou wilt lose A faithful servant if Thou cast me off, E’en now Thine own disciple, in the deep; Shake off for me Thy slumber, and arise, And stay my fear. So prayed I—and the noise Of winds grew still, the surges ceased, the ship Held straight upon her course; my prayer was heard.