1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gregory, St, of Nazianzus
GREGORY, ST, OF NAZIANZUS (329–389), surnamed Theologus, one of the four great fathers of the Eastern Church, was born about the year A.D. 329, at or near Nazianzus, Cappadocia. His father, also named Gregory, had lately become bishop of the diocese; his mother, Nonna, exercised a powerful influence over the religious convictions of both father and son. Gregory visited successively the two Caesareas, Alexandria and Athens, as a student of grammar, mathematics, rhetoric and philosophy; at Athens he had for fellow-students Basil (q.v.), who afterwards became bishop of Caesarea, and Julian, afterwards emperor. Shortly after his return to his father’s house at Nazianzus (about the year 360) Gregory received baptism. He resolved to give himself to the service of religion; but for some time, and indeed more or less throughout his whole life, was 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 continually urged by outward circumstances, as well as by an inward call, to active pastoral labour. The spirit of refined intellectual monasticism, which clung to him through life and never ceased to struggle for the ascendancy, was about this time strongly encouraged by his intercourse with Basil, who induced him to share the exalted pleasures of his retirement in Pontus. To this period belongs the preparation of the Φιλοκαλία, a sort of chrestomathy compiled by the two friends from the writings of Origen. But the events which were stirring the political and ecclesiastical life of Cappadocia, and indeed of the whole Roman world, made a career of learned leisure difficult if not impossible to a man of Gregory’s position and temperament. The emperor Constantius, having by intrigue and intimidation succeeded in thrusting a semi-Arian formula upon the Western bishops assembled at Ariminum in Italy, had next attempted to follow the same course with the Eastern episcopate. The aged bishop of Nazianzus having yielded to the imperial threats, a great storm arose among the monks of the diocese, which was only quelled by the influence of the younger Gregory, 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 interruption for some considerable time; and it is probable that 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 m. 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 372–373) 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 378–379 the small and depressed remnant of the orthodox party in Constantinople sent him an urgent summons to undertake the task of resuscitating their 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 courageous 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 reluctantly. 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 exchanged for a vast and celebrated church which received the significant name of Anastasia, the Church of the Resurrection. Among the hearers of Gregory were to be found, not only churchmen like Jerome and Evagrius, but also heretics and pagans; and it says much for the sound wisdom and practical tact of the preacher that 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 on the Trinity, which earned for him the distinctive appellation of θεολόγος. These orations are the finest exposition of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity as conceived by the orthodox teachers of the East, and they were directed especially against the Eunomians and Macedonians. “There is perhaps no single book in Greek patristic literature to which the student who desires to gain an exact and comprehensive view of Greek theology can be more confidently referred.” With the arrival of Theodosius in 380 came the visible triumph of the orthodox cause; the metropolitan see was then conferred upon Gregory, and after the assembling of the second ecumenical 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 resigned his dignity and withdrew into comparative retirement. The rest of his days were spent partly at Nazianzus in ecclesiastical affairs, and partly on his neighbouring patrimonial estate at Arianzus, where he followed his favourite literary pursuits, especially poetical composition, until his death, which occurred in 389 or 390. His festival is celebrated in the Eastern Church on the 25th and 30th of January, in the Western on the 9th of 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 Muratori (1709); a volume of Carmina selecta also has been edited by Dronke (1840). The tragedy entitled Χριστὸς πἀσχων usually included is certainly not genuine. Gregory’s poetry did not absorb his best energies; it was adopted in his later years as a recreation rather than as a serious pursuit; thus it is occasionally delicate, graphic, beautiful, 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. Those to Basil introduce us to the story of a most romantic friendship, those to Cledonius have theological value for their bearing on the Apollinarian controversy. As an orator he was so facile, vigorous and persuasive, that men forgot his small stature and emaciated countenance. Forty-five orations are extant. Gregory was less an independent theologian than an interpreter. He was influenced by Athanasius in his Christology, by Origen in his anthropology, for, though teaching original sin and deriving human mortality from the Fall, he insists on the ability of the human will to choose the good and to co-operate in the work of salvation with the will of God. 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 Cappadocians 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. The Theological Orations (edited by A. J. Mason) were published separately at Cambridge in 1899.
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 these 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.), were used by Gibbon. See also C. Ullmann, Gregorius von Nazianz, der Theologe (1825; Eng. trans. by G. F. Coxe, M.A., 1857); A. Bénoit, St Grégoire de Nazianze; sa vie, ses œuvres, et son époque (1877); Montaut, Revue critique de quelques questions historiques se rapportant à St Grégoire de Nazianze (1879); F. W. Farrar, Lives of the Fathers, i. 491-582, and F. Loofs in Hauck-Herzog’s Realencyk. für prot. Theologie, vii. 138.