Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330–c. 390)
GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS
Gregory of Nazianzus, the poet, theologian, and bishop, was born at Arianzum in Cappadocia. Although his parents were Christians, he enjoyed an excellent classical education at Caesarea in Palestine and at the universities of Alexandria and Athens. He was from his earliest years a close friend of the other two Cappadocians, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great. Baptized at about the age of thirty, he was ordained by his father, the local bishop—apparently against his will—and immediately fled. After his penitent return, Basil appointed him bishop of the isolated town of Sasima. However, Gregory refused to go and remained with his father at Nazianzus, staying on after his father's death in 374. After a period of monastic living he was approved as bishop of Constantinople under Emperor Theodosius, but distrust of his own administrative ability once again forced him to resign after a year. After a few years at Nazianzus, he finally retired to his estate at Arianzum and devoted his last years to writing; it was here, between 384 and 390, that he wrote his greatest poems.
Adequate study of Gregory is still hampered by the lack of a full critical edition of his works. The bulk is poetic (more than 16,000 lines). There are also 44 orations, including the important dogmatic ones (numbers 27–31, delivered in 380), and 244 authentic letters.
Gregory Nazianzen is the most literate, self-conscious stylist of the three Cappadocian Fathers, although perhaps not as profound as Gregory of Nyssa nor so immersed in ecclesiastical affairs as Basil the Great. Although he once compared philosophy to "the plagues of Egypt," his poetry shows the wide influences of all the Greek schools, and especially of the Stoic-Cynic. In morals Gregory reflects a sharply critical view of contemporary worldliness and sensuality; and his introspective poetry (especially the autobiographical "De Vita Sua") marks a new era in Christian self-awareness and is comparable to Augustine's Confessions. The bulk of his verse, however, is coldly classical and heavily didactic.
Gregory was fully aware (see Oration 20.17) of the role of speculation in theology. He contributed to Trinitarian theology by clearly defining the relations and properties of the three Persons of the Trinity. In Christology he insisted on the two distinct natures in Christ bound by a "union according to essence," copresent to each other by "circumincession"—a term later applied to the Persons of the Trinity. In developing traditional dogma, Gregory's discussion is sometimes sharper than either Basil's or Gregory of Nyssa's, although he is vague on the doctrines of hell and original sin.
works by gregory
Works. Edited by C. Clemencet and A. B. Caillau. 2 vols. Paris, 1778 and 1840. Reprinted in Patrologia Graeca, edited by J. P. Migne. Paris, 1857–1866. Vols. 35–38.
Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Christian Fathers. Series II. New York: Christian Literature, 1887–1892; Oxford, 1890–1900. Vol. VII, pp. 185–498. A translation of selected orations and letters by J. E. Swallow, with an introduction by C. G. Browne.
Five Theological Orations. Edited by A. J. Mason. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1899. Critical edition.
works on gregory
Campenhausen, Hans von. The Fathers of the Greek Church. Translated by S. Godman, 95–106. New York: Pantheon, 1959.
Pellegrino, M. La poesia di S. Gregorio Nazianzeno. Milan: Società editrice "Vita e pensiero," 1932.
Plagnieux, J. S. Sainte Gregoire de Nazianze, Théologien. Paris: Éditions franciscaines, 1951.
Quasten, Johannes. Patrology, Vol. III: The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature, 236–254. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1961.
Werhan, H. M., ed. Lexikon für Theologie und Kirke. 2nd ed., Vol. IV, 1210ff. Freiburg, 1960.
Herbert Musurillo, S.J. (1967)