BASIL THE GREAT AND GREGORY NAZIANZEN,
BISHOPS AND DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH
– RICHARD P. McBRIEN-
Basil, bishop of Caesarea, and Gregory, bishop of Constantinople, were two of the three famous Cappadocian Fathers. Their writings and sermons effectively put an end to Arianism, a fourth century heresy that denied the divinity of Christ, referring to him instead as the greatest of creatures.
Basil, also known as “the Great” (ca. 330–79), was born in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Cappadocia. One of nine children, he came from a distinguished and pious family. His father and mother, his sister, his two brothers, and his grandmother are all venerated as saints. Basil was educated first at home by his father and grandmother and then in Constantinople and Athens, where he befriended Gregory of Nazianzus. In 359 he and Gregory joined an ascetic community in Pontus, where Basil developed his monastic Rules, which were later to infl uence all of Western monasticism; the longer Rule emphasizes community life, liturgical prayer, and manual work.
With great reluctance on his part, Basil was ordained a priest (presbyter) ca. 362 for the diocese of Caesarea. His bishop later summoned him to the see city to lend support against the persecution waged against the Church by the Arian emperor Valens (364–80) and specifi cally to 14 the pocket guide to the saints rebut the teachings of the Arians. Basil led relief efforts during a famine in 368, distributing his own inheritance to the poor. He was elected bishop in 370. Basil’s episcopal ministry continued to emphasize aid to the poor, but it also drew him inevitably into direct controversy with the Arians and also with the Pneumatomachians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. His writings provided solid defenses of the teachings of the Council of Nicaea (325) and anticipated the teaching of the Council of Constantinople (381) on the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Basil died on January 1, 379, at the relatively young age of forty-nine.
Gregory Nazianzen, also known as Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 329–90) and as Gregory the Theologian, was the son of the bishop of Nazianzus in Cappadocia. Like Basil, Gregory came from a family of saints: his father, mother, sister, and brother. He was broadly educated in Chris tian writings and in Greek philosophy in Caesarea, Alexandria, and Athens, where he began a deep but sometimes troubled friendship with Basil.
Soon after the death of the Arian emperor in 380, bishops of various neighboring dioceses appealed to Gregory to help restore the beleaguered Chris tian community at Constantinople. It had been under Arian rule for over thirty years, and orthodox Chris tians lacked even a church for worship. Gregory, now bent over with age, accepted under protest. Here, he preached famous sermons on the Trinity and, in the process, earned the surname “the Theologian.” Named bishop of Constantinople, he played a prominent part in the Council of Constantinople (381), which confirmed his teaching on the divinity of the Holy Spirit.