Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gregory of Nazianzus

also known as Saint Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen, was a 4th century Christian bishop of Constantinople. Gregory is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained speaker and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine ecclesiastics. He is remembered as the "Trinitarian Theologian," since many of his homilies refer to the nature of the Holy Trinity and the one essence of the Godhead.

Gregory was born in Arianzus, near Nazianzus, in southwest Cappadocia. His parents, Gregory and Nonna, were wealthy land-owners. In 325 Nonna converted her husband to Christianity; he was subsequently consecrated bishop of Nazianzus in 328 or 329. The young Gregory and his brother, Caesarius, first studied at home with his uncle Amphylokhios. Later he studied advanced rhetoric and philosophy in Nazianzus, Caesarea Cappadocia, Alexandria and Athens.

While at Athens, he developed a close friendship with fellow student Saint Basil of Caesarea, he and Basil compiled an anthology, called the PHILOKALIA, of the works of the great (but somewhat erratic) Alexandrian theologian, philosopher, and scholar of the previous century, Origen.

Gregory also made the acquaintance of Julian, the later emperor who would become known as Julian the Apostate. In Athens Gregory studied under the famous rhetoricians Himerius and Proaeresius. Upon finishing his education, he also taught rhetoric in Athens for a short time.

In 361, Gregory returned to Nazianzus and was ordained a presbyter by his father, who wanted him to assist with caring for local Christians. The younger Gregory, who had been considering a monastic existence, resented his father's decision to force a decision between priestly services and a solitary existence, calling it an "act of tyranny". Leaving home after a few days, he met his friend Basil at Annesoi, where the two lived as ascetics. However, Basil urged him to return home to assist his father, which he did for the next year. Arriving at Nazianzus, Gregory found the local Christian community split by theological differences and his father accused of heresy by local monks. Gregory helped to heal the division through a combination of personal diplomacy and oratory.

By this time Emperor Julian had publicly come out in opposition to Christianity. In response to the emperor's denial 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 the public manifestation of the process of deification (theosis), which leads to a spiritual elevation and mystical union with God. Julian resolved in late 362 to vigorously prosecute Gregory and his other Christian critics; 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 (Maritima). The two friends then entered a period of close fraternal cooperation as they participated in a great rhetorical contest of the Caesarean church precipitated by the arrival 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 Caesarea in Cappadocia in 370.

Faced with a rival Arian bishop at Tyana, Basil undertook to consolidate his position by maneuvering Gregory into the position of Bishop of Sasima, Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Sasima in 372 by Basil. This was a see newly created by Basil in order to strengthen his position in his dispute with Anthimus, bishop of Tyana. 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 despite his reservations. Gregory would later refer to his episcopal ordination as forced upon him by his strong-willed father and Basil. Describing his new bishopric, Gregory lamented how 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
felt "like a bone flung to dogs." He refused to reside at Sasima. Basil accused him of shirking his duty. He accused Basil of making him a pawn in ecclesiastical politics. Their friendship suffered a severe breach, which took some time to heal. Gregory suffered a breakdown and retired to recuperate.

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 inheritance to the needy, he lived an austere existence.

Valens died in 378. The succession of Theodosius I, a steadfast supporter of Nicene orthodoxy, was good news to those who wished to purge Constantinople of Arian and Apollinarian domination. 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.

Gregory went to Constantinople to preach, for 30 years the Orthodox had no Church there, so Gregory converted his own house there into a church and held services in it. There he preached the Five Theological Orations for which he is best known, a series of five sermons on the Trinity and in defense of the deity of Christ. People flocked to hear him preach, and the city was largely won over to the Athanasian (Trinitarian, catholic, orthodox) position by his powers of persuasion. The following year, he was consecrated bishop of Constantinople. He presided at the Council of Constantinple in 381, which confirmed the Athanasian position of the earlier Council of Nicea in 325. Having accomplished what he believed to be his mission at Constantinople, and heartily sick of ecclesiastical politics, Gregory resigned and retired to his home town of Nazianzus, where he died in 389.

Gregory Of Nazianzus - 9 May - Bishop, Theologian and Doctor of the Church

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY, everlasting God, whose servant Gregory steadfastly confessed thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to be Very God and Very Man: Grant that we may hold fast to this faith, and evermore magnify his holy Name; through the sane thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle - Wisdom 7:7-14

I CALLED upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her before sceptres and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither compared I unto her any precious stone, because all gold in respect of her is as a little sand, and silver shall be counted as clay before her. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for the light that cometh from her never goeth out. All good things together came to me with her, and innumerable riches in her hands. And I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom goeth before them: and I knew not that she was the mother of them. I learned diligently, and do communicate her liberally: I do not hide her riches. For she is a treasure unto men that never faileth: which they that use become the friends of God, being commended for the gifts that come from learning.

The Gospel - St. John 8:25-32

THEN said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

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