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Saint Gregory of Nazianzus

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus


Gregory of Nazianzus was born in Nazianzus, Cappadocia (present-day Turkey), in 329 AD. He was the son of Gregory the Elder, a bishop recently converted to Christianity thanks to his wife Nonna. He had an older sister, Gorgonia, and a younger brother, Cesarius.

He grew up in a privileged environment, which enabled him to receive a very good education: as a child, he was sent to a prestigious school in the capital, in Caesarea, where he met Basil of Caesarea. As a young adult, he went to Alexandria, then to Athens to pursue his higher education. During a trip between the two cities, his boat was caught in a storm. He vowed to God to be baptized and to dedicate his life to him if he survived. After this episode, Gregory finds his friend Basil of Caesarea at the Academy of Athens, and the two would then develop a sincere friendship during their studies together. One of their comrades was the future emperor Julian, with whom Gregory would enter into conflict in the future.


Gregory, aged 30, was promoted to professor of rhetoric at the Academy in Athens and returned home in 358. His father asked him to take over Arianze's family property. It is around this time that Gregory and Basil seem to have been baptized. In the same year, Basil returned from travels and founded a small monastic community in Anisa. Gregory wished to join him, citing an old promise, but it wasn’t possible.

Gregory nevertheless visited his friend several times in his monastery. Gregory assisted Basil of Caesarea in the drafting of the moral and ascetic rules which are the basis of the monastic legislation of the Orthodox Church.

His father urged him to become a priest towards the end of 361, which he saw as "a terrible storm," and his friend Basil persuaded him to accept priesthood. He then decided to return in 362 and, at Easter, he gave the "Apologetics” speech, defending his journey and developing his conception of the priesthood.

The presbyterate of Gregory of Nazianzus was constituted largely by the administration of the diocese by his father Gregory the Elder. This period is marked by the advent of the Emperor Julien Aui in 362, who promulgated an edict which forbade Christians to teach any secular material. Gregory of Nazianzus then vehemently opposed Emperor Julien in two famous speeches.

Some time later, his father Gregory the Elder signed an act of homoiousius faith, which was rejected by the cenobitic communities of his clergy. A schism within the diocese. Gregory of Nazianzus helped to pacify the situation through his role in the administration of the bishopric. Basil of Caesarea, who enjoyed great influence among the cenobites of the province, helped to calm disputes.

Gregory gradually assumed the unofficial role of vicar general of Nazianzus in 363. At the same time, Basil had a similar relationship of disagreement with the bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, which led him to retire to his monastery. Gregory wrote encouraging him to return to his task, despite the difficulty of their relationship. Cesarius was a doctor in the service of the Emperor Julien and Gregory wrote to him to ask him to give up his court life. Cesarius then decided to return to Nazianzus in the same year that the emperor died and was replaced by Jovien. Cesarius returned to the new emperor who treats him as a friend. His successor, Valens, gave him an important treasury charge.

Cesarius and his sister Gorgonia died in 369. Gregory dedicated two panegyrics to them, in which he defines what holiness meant to him.

In 370, Bishop Eusebius was dying and Basil wanted to replace him at the head of the diocese of Caesarea, seeking the help of Gregory. Expecting a refusal, Basil wrote to him saying that he needed him and that he was dying. Gregory inferred on the way that Basil was not ill when he saw bishops going to Caesarea to prepare the succession of Eusebius. He then felt betrayed and turned around. Gregory the Elder sent a letter in his name to Caesarea to promote the election of Basil. In spite of his old age, he moved to Caesarea in order to influence the election. Basil then became bishop of the city that gave him his name.

Arianism and the Symbol of Nicaea

Different theological orders opposed each other at this time, such as the tenants of Arianism against the supporters of the Nicene Creed, concerning the nature of the subordination of the Son to the Father. Gregory and Basil were part of the latter group.The Roman Empire had been divided in two since the death of Jovian in 364. In the West reigned Valentinian I, in the East his brother Valens, who favored Arianism.

In 370, Valens, the Co-Emperor of the East, decided to divide Cappadocia into two homonymous provinces, making Tyana the capital of the second Cappadocia, in order to be able to better control the regions of the Roman Empire, but also to promote Arianism in a region where Basil of Caesarea defended the orthodoxy of Nicaea. The bishop of Tyane thus became an independent from Basil.

The economic resources of Caesarea were diminished, and some of the bishops previously under the responsibility of the bishop of Caesarea were no longer under his influence. This had the effect of promoting Arianism, with the establishment of bishops who supported it.

Basil refused to recognize the new province and continued to appoint its bishops. In 372, he proposed that Gregory ordain him bishop of Sasima. Despite the reluctance of the theologian, who had not yet abandoned any anachoretic vocation, he accepted in the name of their friendship. However, the Arian bishop of Tyane, Anthime, prevented him from taking possession of his episcopal seat.

Following this episode, Gregory was disgusted and accused Basile of having appointed him as part of a power struggle. He withdrew into the desert, categorically refusing to return to Sasima. He finally decided to return to Nazianzus, following the order of his father. The fact that he was unable to take his episcopal seat made him the first auxiliary bishop in the history of the Church.

After the death of his father in 374, Gregory considered himself free of any obligation. He retired to Seleukia, more than 500 kilometers from Nazianzus. He led a cenobitic life there for four years. He retired, however, as a result of the changes in government that affected the Eastern Empire in 378: After Valens was killed, Theodosius I became the new emperor. A delegation from Constantinople, sent by his cousin Theodosia, informed him of the changes in situations and then asked him to reach Constantinople, in order to participate in the struggles for influence that took place there. After having asked Basil for advice, probably when he visited him in Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus went to the capital at the end of the year.

1 January 379, Basil of Caesarea died: Over a period of two and a half years, Gregory wrote most of his theological writings.

Gregory was invited to Constantinople after the death of Valens in 378 to participate in a council. He then settled with his cousin Theodosia, married to a member of one of the largest families in Constantinople. Gregory was at the head of a Christian community faithful to the first Council of Nicaea, while the city was led by the Arian bishop Demophilus. Gregory of Nazianzus's influence gradually grew during 379 and 380.

He taught a group of students as soon as he arrived and at the beginning of the council, defended the faith in a Trinitarian God defined by the First Council of Nicaea of 325, called into question by Arianism. His preaching, however, was limited, as the majority of the churches are controlled by the Arians.

Professions of faith were stated publicly. During Easter 379, Gregory was accused of heresy and was violently expelled during a Divine Liturgy. This expulsion marked the division between the proponents of Arianism and the proponents of the Nicaean Creed. He asks in his writings that the reader remember his stonings: "I was received with stones, as others are received with flowers." He was also charged with murder, and was judged before a court. As a result of this aggression, he wanted to flee Constantinople. He claimed, however, to have been convinced to remain by the faithful "O, Father, by abandoning us, you cast out the Trinity"

At the beginning of the year 380, the emperor Theodosius the Great fell seriously ill. He decided to be baptized and chose the profession of faith of the first Council of Nicaea. His baptism radically changed the relationship between the proponents of Arianism and those of the Council of Nicaea. As early as February 380, Theodosius decided to follow the faith of Nicaea by publishing the edict of Thessaloniki, which made Christianity and the creed of the First Council of Nicaea the official religion of the Roman Empire. Gregory was then more and more listened to, and he received episcopal insignia, being recognized as bishop of Constantinople. During this period, Gregory wrote five speeches called Theological Discourse, one of his masterpieces on the Trinity.

Gregory then met Maximus, a philosopher of Alexandria. Maximus earned Gregory's trust and left to represent him to the clergy of Alexandria. There he met Peter, the bishop of Alexandria, and, supported by him, betrayed Gregory by being ordained bishop of Constantinople by Egyptian bishops. He returned to Constantinople and sought to take the episcopal seat. The attempt failed, but caused Gregory a real trauma, about which he wrote several Speeches.

Bishop of Constantinople

In November 380, Emperor Theodosius I arrived in Constantinople. He summoned Gregory of Nazianzus and asked him to replace the Demophilic bishop at the head of Constantinople. On November 26, 380, all the clergy who did not accept the Nicine Creed were considered heretical. On November 27, 380, Gregory of Nazianzus was installed by Emperor Theodosius I, bishop of Constantinople. This appointment is not without problem, Gregory of Nazianzus was consecrated bishop of Sasima and therefore had no right to be bishop of another place, in accordance with one of the canons of the Council of Nicaea. His appointment by the emperor is considered by many to be illegitimate.

The feast of the Epiphany was the occasion for Gregory to make his longest homily on the Trinity. He saught to promote the baptism of children, preaching that all Christians should be baptized regardless of their age. During a homily concerning marriage, he pled for changes in the legislation of adultery. which condemned only women, and he asks that the rules be the same for men. He asked that parental authority be reserved not only for men, but also for women.

Theodosius I decided to convene the second council in the history of Christianity in May 381. The first Council of Constantinople, more restricted than the Council of Nicaea (no Latin bishop was invited), was intended to restore the faith proclaimed by the symbol of Nicaea. At the same time, Gregory fell ill and drew up a will.

The Bishop of Constantinople naturally presided over the Council. Nevertheless, the failure to respect the canons of the Council of Nicaea, which affirmed that one has no right to be a bishop of a place other than that for which one has been ordained, was a problem. Under the impetus of Theodosius, Gregory of Nazianzus was officially appointed bishop of Constantinople. A few days later, Meletios died and Gregory was appointed president in his place.

He nevertheless encountered strong opposition within the council he presided over. He did not obtain the support of the delegation from Alexandria, which ordained Maximus as bishop of Constantinople. He also dealt with health problems. Gregory denounced the council in his writings

The Council of Nicaea had failed to speak of the divine nature of the Holy Spirit; at the first Council of Constantinople, this question was debated among the bishops, and Gregory of Nazianzus wanted us to recognize the divine nature of the Holy Spirit. His doctrinal position was based on homoiousius (consubstantiality of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). At the Council, the bishops used another formula, the ekporeuomenon (expression according to which the Holy Spirit emerges from the Father), a minimalist vision, which could be weakened by some Arian theologians. However, even if the exact formula promoted by Gregory was not consecrated, the Council of Constantinople openly recognized the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Faced with the impossibility of influencing the fathers of the council further, and because of the opposition to his appointment as bishop of Constantinople, as well as his way of carrying out his role, Gregory of Nazianzus decided to resign from the council in 381. As he left, he wrote a virulent speech against the members of the Council of Constantinople:

"I did not know that we had to compete with consuls, prefects and generals... I didn't know that I had to take from the poor to live in luxury and good food... and bring the smell of feasts to the altars! ”

Following his resignation from the council, he decided to return to Nazianzus in 381. He seemed to be spending some time resting. He then directed the diocese of Nazianzus on an interim basis, not yet having a bishop.

He wrote the eulogy of Basil of Caesarea, which was both a praise of his late friend and a real plea for the episcopal office. Gregory praised the education and knowledge of Basil, protesting against the ignorant and the blind who limit themselves to moral education.

Gregory of Nazianzus took advantage of this period to write a great deal.The Council of Constantinople continued in 382 and 383, but Gregory refused to participate while advising his friends for the continuation of the council. He clearly perceived the importance of the theology of Apollinarianism of Laodicea, a debate in writing, and drew the attention of his successor at Constantinople to the problems that apollinarianism might pose. He used clear formulas that would later be taken up by the orthodox canons, affirming the nature of the second person of the Trinity that there is only one Son having two natures: that of God made man and that of man made divine. :

He wrote three Theological Letters, poems, and his autobiography. He rewrote his other writings and speeches. From 389 on, he retired from all active life in Arianzum. He wrote speeches 44 and 45, then died in 390.

The work of Saint Gregory

Gregory of Nanzianzus's philosophy

The many speeches and texts by St. Gregory are a window into his deep spirituality, but also into the first centuries of Christianity, when it was essential to define its exact foundations. The conflicts that result from the differences between the Arianism movement and the proponents of the Nicene symbol, for example, mark the beginning of a branch of Christianity, where St Gregory sought to defend and explain the role of the Holy Trinity in his writings and homilies.

Poems, Theological Letters

Prayer beyond Saint Gregory of Nazianzus

“O you beyond all, what can you call yourself by another name?
 What anthem can sing to you?
 There's no word for you. What mind do you have?
 No intelligence can conceive of you. Alone, you are ineffable; everything that is said has come out of you.
 Alone, you are unknowable; everything that thinks has come out of you.
 All beings celebrate you, those who speak and those who are silent.
 All beings pay homage to you, those who think like those who do not.
 The universal desire, the groaning of all yearns for you.
 Everything that exists pleases you and to you all being who knows how to read your universe brings up a hymn of silence.
 Everything that remains, remains in you alone.
 The movement of the universe is sweeping through you.
 Of all beings, you are the end, you are unique.
 You are each and you are none.
 You are not a lonely being, You are not the whole thing: You have all the names, what will I call you?
 You alone who cannot be named;
 what heavenly spirit can penetrate the clouds that veil the sky itself?
 Have mercy, O Thou, the beyond of all;
 what shall I call thee by another name? Amen.”

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