Grego'rius Nazianze'nus, St.
, from his zeal in the defence of the Nicene doctrine 1
, was one of the most eminent fathers of the Greek Church.
He was born at Arianzus, a village in Cappadocia, not far from Nazianzus, the city of which his father was the bishop, and from which both father and son took the surname of Nazianzen.
There is some doubt about the date of his birth.
The statement of Suidas (s. v.
) is directly at variance with several known facts in his life.
In all probability he was born in, or very shortly before, the year 329. His mother Nonna, a zealous and devout Christian, had devoted him even in the womb to the service of God, and exerted herself to the utmost in training his infant mind to this destiny.
In that age of miracles and visions, we are not surprised to find that Gregory, while yet a boy, was visited by a dream, which excited in him the resolution, to which he was ever stedfast, to live a life of asceticism and celibacy, withdrawn from the world, and in the service of God and the church. Meanwhile, his father took the greatest care of his education in the sciences and arts. From the care of able teachers at Caesareia he proceeded to Palestine, where he studied eloquence; thence he went to Alexandria, and finally his zeal for knowledge led him to Athens, then the focus of all learning. On his voyage, the vessel encountered a tremendous storm, which excited in him great terror, because he had not yet been baptized.
The time of his arrival at Athens seems to have been about, or before A. D. 350.
He applied himself ardently to the study of language, poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, and also of physic and music. At Athens Gregory formed his friendship with Basil. [BASILIUS
] Here also he met with Julian, whose dangerous character he is said to have discerned even thus early. On the departure of Basil from Athens, in 355, Gregory would have accompanied his friend; but, at the urgent request of the whole body of students, he remained there as a teacher of rhetoric, but only till the following year, when he returned home, 356.
He now made an open profession of Christianity by receiving baptism; and, declining to exercise his powers as a rhetorician, either in the courts or in the schools, he set himself to perform his vows of dedication to the service of God.
He made a resolution, which he is said to have kept all his life, never to swear. His religion assumed the form of quietism and ascetic virtue.
It seems that he would have retired altogether from the world but for the claims which his aged parents had upon his care.
He so far, however, gratified his taste for the monastic life, as to visit his friend Basil in his retirement, and to join in his exercises of devotion, A. D. 358 or 359. [BASILIUS
] But he never became a regular monk. His fiery temper and the circumstances of the age prevailed over the resolves of his youth; and this quietist, who replies to the remonstrances of Basil on his inactivity, by the strongest aspirations for a life of fest and religious meditation (Epist.
xxxii. p. 696), became one of the most restless of mankind. (Comp. Orat.
v. p. 134.)
In the year 360 or 361, Gregory was called from his retirement to the help of his father, who, as the best means of securing his support, and probably also to prevent him from choosing the monastic life, suddenly, and without his consent, ordained him as a presbyter, probably at Christmas, 361. Gregory showed his dislike to this proceeding by immediately rejoining Basil, but the entreaties of his father and of many of the people of Nazianzus backed by the fear that he might be, like Jonah, fleeing from his duty, induced him to return home, about Easter, 362.
At that feast he preached his first sermon (Orut.
xl.), which, as it seems, he afterwards expanded into a fuller discourse, which was published but never preached (Orat.
i.), in which he defends himself against the charges that his flight from Nazianzus had occasioned, and sets forth the duties and difficulties of a Christian minister.
It is called his Apologetic Discourse.
He was now for some time engaged in the discharge of his duties as a presbyter, and in assisting his aged father in his episcopal functions, as well as in composing the differences between him and the monks of Nazianzus, the happy termination of which he celebrated in three orations. (Orat.
In the mean time Julian had succeeded to the throne of Constantius (A. D. 361), and Gregory, like his friend Basil, was soon brought into collision with the apostate emperor, from whose court he persuaded his brother Caesarius to retire. [CAESARIUS, ST.] Whether the unsupported statement of Gregory, that lie and his friend Basil were marked out as the first victims of a new general persecution on Julian's return from Persia, can be relied upon or not, it is certain that the passions of the emperor would soon have overcome his affectation of philosophy, and that his pretended indifference, but real disfavor, towards Christianity, would have broken out into a fierce persecution.
The deliverance from this danger by the fall of Julian (B. C. 363) was celebrated by Gregory in two orations against the emperor's memory (λόγοι στηλιτευτικοί
iii. and iv.), which are distinguished more for warmth of invective than either for real eloquence or Christian temper. They were never delivered.
In the year 364, when Basil was deposed by his bishop, Eusebius, Gregory again accompanied him to his retreat in Pontus, and was of great service in effecting his reconciliation with Eusebius, which took place in 365.
He also assisted Basil most powerfully against the attacks of Valens and the Arian bishops of Cappadocia. For the next five years he seems to have been occupied with his duties at Nazianzus, in the midst of domestic troubles, the illness of his parents, and the death of his brother CAESARIUS, A. D. 368 or 369. His panegyric on Caesarius is esteemed one of his best discourses. (Orat.
A few years later, A. D. 374, he lost his sister Gorgonia, for whom also he composed a panegyric. (Orat.
The election of Basil to the bishopric of Caesareia, in 370, was promoted by Gregory and his father with a zeal which passed the bounds of seemliness and prudence. One of Basil's first acts was to invite his friend to become a presbyter at Caesareia; but Gregory declined the invitation, on grounds the force of which Basil could not deny. (Orat.
xx. p. 344.)
An event soon afterwards occurred, which threatened the rupture of their friendship. Basil, as metropolitan of Cappadocia, erected a new see at the small, poor, unpleasant, and unhealthy town of Sasima, and conferred the bishopric on Gregory, A. D. 372.
The true motive of Basil seems to have been to strengthen his authority as metropolitan, by placing the person on whom he could most rely as a sort of outpost against Anthimus, the bishop of Tyana; for Sasima was very near Tyana, and was actually claimed by Anthimus as belonging to his see.
But for this very reason the appointment was the more unacceptable to Gregory, whose most cherished wish was to retire into a religious solitude, as soon as his father's death should set him free.
He gave vent to his feelings in three discourses, in which, however, he shows that his friendship for Basil prevails over his offended feelings (Orat.
v. vi. vii.), and he never assumed the functions of his episcopate. Finding him resolved not to gd to Sasima, his father, with much difficulty, prevailed upon him to share with him the bishopric of Nazianzus; and Gregory only consented upon the condition that he should be at liberty to lay down the office at his father's death. On this occasion he delivered the discourse (Orat.
viii.) entitled, Ad Patrem, quum Nazianazenae ecclesiae curam filio commisisset,
A. D. 372. To the following year are generally assigned his discourse De plaga grandinis,
on the occasion of a hailstorm which had ravaged the country round Nazianzus (Orat.
xv.), and that Ad Nazianzenos, timore Trepidantes, et Praefectum iratum
xvii.), the occasion of which seems to have been some popular commotion in the city, which the praefect was disposed to punish severely.
Gregory Nazianzen, the father, died in the year 374, at the age of almost a hundred years, and his son pronounced over him a funeral oration, at which his mother Nonna and his friend Basil were present. (Orat.
He was now anxious to perform his purpose of laying down the bishopric, but his friends prevailed on him to retain it for a time, though he never regarded himself as actually bishop of Nazianzus, but merely as a temporary occupant of the see (Epist.
xlii. p. 804, lxv. p. 824, Carm. de Vit. sua,
p. 9, Orat.
viii. p. 148).
It is therefore an error of his disciple Jerome (Vir. Illust.
117), and other writers, to speak of Gregory as bishop of Nazianzus. From a discourse delivered about this time (Orat.
ix.), we find that he was still as averse from public life, and as fond of solitary meditation, as ever.
He also began to feel the infirmities of age, which his ascetic life had brought upon him, though he was not yet fifty. From these causes, and also, it would seem, in order to compel the bishops of Cappadocia to fill up the see of Nazianzus, he at last fled to Seleuceia, the capital of Isauria (A. D. 375), where he appears to have remained till 379, but where he was still disappointed of the rest he sought; for his own ardent spirit and the claims of others compelled him still to engage in the ecclesiastical controversies which distracted the Eastern Church.
The defence of orthodoxy against the Arians seemed to rest upon him more than ever, after the death of Basil, on the 1st of January, A. D. 379, and in that year he was called from his retirement, much against his will, by the urgent request of many orthodox bishops, to Constantinople, to aid the cause of Catholicism, which, after a severe depression for forty years, there seemed hopes of reviving under the auspices of Gratian and Theodosius. At Constantinople Gregory had to maintain a conflict, not only with the Arians, but also with large bodies of Novatians, Appollinarists, and other heretics. His success was great, and not unattended by miracles. So powerful were the heretics, and so few the orthodox, that the latter had no church capable of containing the increasing numbers who came to listen to Gregory.
He was therefore obliged to gather his congregation in the house of a relation; and this originated the celebrated church of Anastasia, which was afterwards built with great splendour and sanctified by numerous miracles. Some of his discourses at Constantinople are among his extant works; the most celebrated of them are the five on the divine nature, and especially on the Godhead of Christ, in answer to the Eunomians and Macedonians, entitled Αόλοι Θεολογικοί
It cannot be said that these discourses deserve the reputation in which they were held by the ancients. They present a clear, dogmatic, uncritical statement of the Catholic faith, with ingenious replies to its opponents, in a form which has far more of the rhetoric of the schools than of real eloquence. Moreover, his perfect Nicene orthodoxy has been questioned; it is alleged that in the fifth discourse he somewhat sacrifices the unity to the trinity of the Godhead.
The success of Gregory provoked the Arians to extreme hostility: they pelted him, they desecrated his little church, and they accused him in a court of justice as a disturber of the public peace; but he bore their persecutions with patience, and, finally, many of his opponents became his hearers.
The weaker side of his character was displayed in his relations to Maximus, an ambitious hypocrite, whose apparent sanctity and zeal for orthodoxy so far imposed upon Gregory, that he pronounced a panegyrical oration upon him in his presence. (Orat.
xxiii.) Maximus soon after endeavoured, in 380, to seize the episcopal chair of Constantinople, but the people rose against him, and expelled him from the city.
This and other troubles caused Gregory to think of leaving Constantinople, but, at the entreaties of his people, he promised to remain with them till other bishops should come to take charge of them.
He retired home, however, for a short time to refresh his spirit with the solitude he loved.
In November, 380, Theodosius arrived at Constantinople, and received Gregory with the highest favour, promising him his firm support.
He compelled the Arians to give up all the churches of the city to the Catholics, and, in the midst of the imperial guards, Gregory entered the great church of Constantinople, by the side of Theodosius.
The excessive cloudiness of the day was interpreted by the Arians as a token of the Divine displeasure, but when, at the commencement of the service, the sun burst forth and filled the church with his light, all the orthodox accepted it as a sign from heaven, and called out to the emperor to make Gregory bishop of Constantinople.
The cry was with difficulty appeased for the time, and shortly afterwards Gregory was compelled to accept the office.
As the head of the orthodox party, Gregory used their victory with a healing moderation, at least according to the ideas of his time, for the suppression of the public worship of the heretics by the edicts of Theodosius was not regarded by him as an act of persecution. On the other hand, many of the Arians regarded him with the deepest enmity, and he relates a romantic story of an assassin, who came with other visitors into his room, but was conscience-stricken, and confessed his guilt: Gregory dismissed him with his benediction.
The affairs of the church were administered by him with diligence and integrity, and he paid no more court to the emperor than the etiquette of his rank required. Several of his sermons belong to the year of his patriarchate.
At the beginning of the year 381, Theodosius convoked the celebrated council of Constantinople, the second of the oecumenical councils. One of its earliest acts was to confirm Gregory in the patriarchate of Constantinople, and soon after, in consequence of the sudden death of Meletius, he became president of the council.
He soon found, however, that he had not the power to rule it.
He was too good and moderate, perhaps also too weak and indolent, to govern a general council in that age. His health also was very infirm.
He gradually withdrew himself from the sittings of the council, and showed a disposition to lay down his bishopric. His chief opponents, the Egyptian and Macedonian bishops, seized the opportunity to attack him, on the ground that he could not hold the bishopric of Constantinople, as he was already bishop of Nazianzus, and the church did not permit translations. Upon this he gladly resigned his office. His resignation was accepted without hesitation by the council and the emperor, and he took leave of the people of Constantinople in a discourse which is the noblest effort of his eloquence.
He returned to Cappadocia, and, the course of his journey leading him to Caesareia, he there delivered his admirable funeral oration upon Basil. Finding the bishopric of Nazianzus still vacant, he discharged its duties until, in the following year, 383, he found a suitable successor in his cousin Eulalius.
He now finally retired to his long-sought solitude, at his paternal estate at Arianzus, where the enjoyment of quiet philosophical meditation was mingled with the review of his past life, which he recorded in an Iambic poem.
This work breathes a spirit of contentment, derived from an approving conscience, but not unmixed with complaints of the ingratitude and disappointment which he had encountered in the discharge of duties he had never sought, and lamentations over the evil times on which he had fallen.
He draws a melancholy picture of the character of the clergy of his time, derived chiefly from his experience of the council of Constantinople.
He also wrote other poems, and several letters, in his retirement.
He died in 389 or 390.
After the account given of his life, little remains to be said of his character. His natural disposition partook of the two qualities, which are often found united, impetuosity and indolence.
The former was tempered by sincere and humble piety, and by a deep conviction of the benefits of moderation; the latter was aggravated by his notions of philosophic quietism, and by his con tinual encounters with difficulties above his strength.
He was a perfectly honest man. His mind, though highly cultivated, was of no great power. His poems are not above mediocrity, and his discourses, though sometimes really eloquent, are generally nothing more than favourable specimens of the rhetoric of the schools.
He is more earnest than Chrysostom, but not so ornamental.
He is more artificial, but also, in spirit, more attractive, than Basil. Biblical theology has gained but little from either of these writers, whose chief aim was to explain and enforce the dogmas of the Catholic church.
The works of Gregory Nazianzen are, 1. Orations or Sermons; 2. Letters; 3. Poems; 4. His Will.
The following are the most important editions of the works of Gregory Nazianzen:--An editio princeps, Basil. 1550, folio, containing the Greek text, and the lives of Gregory by Suidas, Sophronius, and Gregory the presbyter. A Latin version was published at the same place and time, in a separate volume.
2. Morell's edition, after the text of Billius, 2 vols. fol. Paris. 1609-1611
; a new and improved edition, 1630
; a careless reprint, Colon. (Lips.), 1690
3. Another edition, after Billius, by Tollius and Muratorius, Venet. 1753.
4. The Benedictine edition, of which only the first volume was published: it was commenced by Louvart, continued by Maron, and finished by Clemencet.
It contains only the discourses, preceded by an excellent life of Gregory, Paris. 1778. The discourses are placed in a new order by Clemencet.
The numbers used in this article are those of Billius.
The edition of Billius only contains a part of Gregory's poems.
The principal edition of the remainder is by Tollius, under the title of Carmina Cygnea, in his Insignia Itinerarii Italici, Traj. ad Rhen. 1696, 4to., reprinted, 1709.
Muratori further discovered several of Gregory's epigrams, which he published in his Anecdota Graeca, Patav. 1709, 4to.
These epigrams form a part of the Palatine Anthology, and are published more accurately in Jacobs's edition of the Palatine Anthology, b. viii. vol. i. pp. 539-604
; and in Boissonade's Poet. Graec. Sylloge, Paris, 1824, &c.
There are many other editions of parts of his works.
The authorities for Gregory's life, besides those already quoted, are the lives of him by Nicetas and by Gregory the presbyter, the Ecclesiastical Histories
of Socrates and Sozomen, the works of Baronius, Tillemont, Fleury, Du Pin, Lardner, Le Clerc; Cave, Hist. Lit.
vol. i. p. 246 ; Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. viii. p. 383; Schröckh, Christliche Kirchengeschichte,
vol. xiii. p. 268; Ullmann, Gregorius von Nazianz, der Theologe, ein Beitrag zur Kirchen und Dogmengeschichte des vierten Jahrhunderts,
Darmst. 1825, 8vo.; Hoffmann, Lexicon Bibliographicum Scriptorum Graecorum.