Doctors of the Church: St. Gregory of Nazianzus

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Gregory the Theologian, by Aidan Hart

The next Doctor of the Church on our list is another Cappadocian Father, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and yes, his name is as difficult to say as it is to spell! Not only did he grow up close to St. Basil, but they were actually very good friends. The two of them first met at Caesarea, where they studied philosophy and rhetoric together, but as St. Gregory travelled the world to continue his studies, he went to Athens, where they met up again! Basil and Gregory did more than just hang out and talk shop; theirs was a truly holy friendship. St. Gregory once wrote about his friend Basil, “This was our competition: not who was first, but who allowed the other to be first.”

St. Gregory was a man who liked solitude and quiet, where he could think, write, and pray. Among his works are De Sacerdotio (on the priesthood), 249 theological letters, and over 17,000 verses of poetry! Later in life, he would write De Vita Sua, the story of his own life and spiritual journey.

As much as Gregory loved silence, he knew it wouldn’t last forever. He was reluctant to study for the priesthood because he knew it would likely lead to his becoming bishop, but eventually he was ordained a priest by his father (you don’t hear that every day!), before his friend Basil consecrated him the bishop of Sasima (in Turkey) in 371.

The most famous contribution of his life came at the Council of Constantinople in 379. St. Gregory was named Bishop of Constantinople and led the Nicaean delegation, the minority group of bishops who were faithful to the Church’s teaching from the Council of Nicaea. The Council of Constantinople had the daunting task of dealing with both Neo-Arianism (which said that Christ was human, but not totally divine) and Apollonarianism (which said that Christ was divine, but not totally human). Yikes!

But truly, this challenge was where St. Gregory shown the brightest. He gave five theological orations (similar to an extended homily), which emphasized that Jesus was both fully human, and fully divine, a concept that would become known as the hypostatic union at later Councils. Whereas his opponents were arguing that Jesus took on some of the qualities of being a human, but not all of them, Gregory asserted that Jesus had to take on all parts of our human nature in order to heal us, restore us, and save us. In one oration, he proclaimed, “What has not been assumed [by Jesus] has not been healed.”

At the conclusion of the Council, St. Gregory resigned his post and returned to Nazianzus, where he lived out the rest of his life in solitude and peace. St. Gregory died in 390, and truly gives us an example of faithfulness and service!

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