Saint Gregory Nazianzen|
"Administrator of Theology"
The fifth on our list of Doctors of the Church, is Saint Gregory Nazianzen. He is not to be confused with his father Saint Gregory Nazianzen the Elder who converted to Christianity and with his wife Saint Nonna sired three children who became saints. Young Gregory's brother Caesarius and sister Gorgonia. Strong, saintly stock indeed.
Gregory the son was born in 329 in the city of Nazianzus in Cappadocia. It was inevitable in such a holy family where his father was the Bishop of the city that Gregory would follow in his footsteps. His journey began at an early age in studies at Caesarea where he met the holy man who would become his life-long friend, next week's Doctor of the Church Saint Basil. Both men went on to study together in Athens along with another who would eventually turn when he became the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. Both Gregory and Basil went on to eventually be ordained priests. While still in preparation in 359 young Gregory returned to Nazianzus to help his father. But the younger was frustrated by the administration duties that took up so much time, time away from his prayer life and spiritual matters and so, despite his father's protests, he joined St. Basil in Pontus on the Iris River in what is today Turkey. There they spent two years living a solitary, hermetic life. However, with his father turning 80, Gregory realized, despite his disdain and ineptitude for administrator duties, he needed to be back in Nazianzus for his father's sake and his father's flock.
In 362, even though he did not feel worthy, he was ordained a priest by his saintly father. Basil, meantime, had been ordained a year later, but in 365 he joined Gregory in Nazianzus to combat the fierce heresy of Arianism which plagued the Church greatly in the fourth century as we see with the first eleven Doctors of the Church. Basil became a bishop first, replacing the Arian bishop in Caesarea where he became archbishop and, in 372 Basil consecrated Gregory as the new Bishop of Sasima, a new diocese Basil had created to combat the heavy Arian influence. Civil strife was rife throughout the region. To Basil's chagrin, his friend remained in Nazianzus to help his father as coadjutor bishop rather than taking his place in Sasima. Upon his father's death in 374, Gregory succeeded his father but sought another bishop to replace him because again the duties of administration so bogged down his mission to the people. The weight of the job and the Arian persecutions practically crushed him a year after Gregory the Elder's death and, close to a mental collapse, he retired to the Island of Selecia in Isauria where he spent five years in prayer and study, writing defenses of Orthodoxy and brilliant treatises on the Council of Nicaea and on the Blessed Virgin Mary
Late in 379, with the death of the Emperor Valens, Gregory was not only invited out of exile, but made the Patriarch of Constantinople because of his spiritual gifts and honesty. These gifts translated to many conversions which only infuriated Arian die-hards more. They sought every means possible to discredit him from personal verbal and physical attacks to slander. They even sent one man to trap him but he was so touched by Gregory's holiness that he repented of his act before Gregory and, rather than being banished as he expected, Gregory forgave him and took him in as a friend. There were many who were inspired by Gregory's simple sanctity including a young man who would become Saint Jerome. Gregory's many acts of kindness moved many back to orthodoxy, only further agitating the died-in-the-wool apostates who remained stubborn to the end, hating and plotting against Gregory.
Another great cross was losing his close friend Saint Basil who died in 379. Both men worked closely in compiling material from the early historian Origen, they titled Philocalia. Among the great works by the man called "The Church's Theologian" or the "Administrator of Theology" were Five Theological Orations a compilation of many of his great sermons as well as his poem De vita sua.
A gifted speaker imbued with the Holy Ghost, Gregory's humility and austerity moved many to return to orthodoxy and, in 380, the Emperor Theodosius, who himself had converted, declared that all Arians must submit or be exiled from Constantinople. Many did convert, many, too, chose to leave. There were also those who, despite the Emperor's proclamation, chose to incite from within, stirring up controversy that called into question the validity of Gregory's elevation as Patriarch and this was an issue at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. For the good of the Church in restoring orthodoxy and because he was not cut out to be an administrator of temporal things, but of Theology, Gregory resigned his see at the Council. He returned to Nazianzen where he spent the last eight years of his life in joyful prayer and holiness, passing to his Heavenly reward in 389.
Upon his death, a sweet odor of sanctity emanated from his corpse. Many believe it was God's way of signifying how sweet Gregory had served the Triune Divinity throughout his life. There were also accounts of healing through his intercession and reports of many conversions from praying at his tomb. Today, his remains no longer reside in Cappadocia, but in Rome where he is rightfully entombed in St. Peter's Basilica. His feast day is next week, May 9th in the Traditional calendar. In the new his feast has been moved to January 2nd.
Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis]
May 9, 2007
volume 18, no. 129
Doctors of the Church