May 9: Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389

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Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, loved God, the art of letters, and the human race—in that order. He was born about 330 in Nazianzus in Cappadocia (now Turkey), the son of a local bishop. He studied rhetoric in Athens with his friend Basil of Caesarea, and Julian, later to be the apostate emperor.

Gregory, together with Basil, compiled an anthology of Origen’s works, The Philokalia. Two years later, he returned to his home, a town then rent by heresies and schism. His defense of his father’s orthodoxy in the face of a violent mob brought peace to the town and prominence to Gregory.

In 361, against his will, Gregory was ordained presbyter, and settled down to live an austere, priestly life. He was not to have peace for long. Basil, in his fight against the Arian Emperor Valens, compelled Gregory to become Bishop of Sasima. According to Gregory, it was “a detestable little place without water or grass or any mark of civilization.” He felt, he said, like “a bone flung to the dogs.” His friendship with Basil suffered a severe break.

Deaths in his family, and that of his estranged friend Basil, brought Gregory himself to the point of death. He withdrew for healing.  In 379, Gregory moved to Constantinople, a new man and no longer in despair. He appeared as one afire with the love of God. His fame as a theologian rests on five sermons he delivered during this period on the doctrine of the Trinity. They are marked by clarity, strength, and a charming gaiety.

The next year, the new Emperor Theodosius entered Constantinople,  and expelled its Arian bishop and clergy. Then, on a rainy day, the crowds in the Great Church of Hagia Sophia acclaimed Gregory bishop, after a ray of sunlight suddenly shone on him. Power and position meant nothing to Gregory. After the Ecumenical Council of 381, he retired to Nazianzus where he died in 389. Among the Fathers of the Church, he alone is known as “The Divine,” “The Theologian.”


I.  Almighty God, who hast revealed to thy Church thine eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like thy bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who livest and reignest for ever and ever.  Amen.

II.  Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever.  Amen.


Psalm 37:3–6, 32–33

Wisdom 7:7–14

Ephesians 3:14–21

John 8:25–32

Preface of Trinity Sunday

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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13 thoughts on “May 9: Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389

  1. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The New Testament reading is new.

  2. Hebrew reading. The book of Wisdom is identified in some commemorations as the Wisdom of Solomon (see May 27), and elsewhere in HWHM it is identified as the book of Wisdom. Which should be used? Choose.

  3. I’m surprised the author of the bio doesn’t talk about Nazianzus’s pastoral theology, instead implying that he was a somewhat cold person (loved art more than human beings, par. 1). According to Matthew Purvis in his _Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition_, for Nazianzus the pastor is “the physician of souls”; the goal of pastoral work is “to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God” (Oration 2.22). Pastoral care is “the art of arts.” –The other author I’ve read on Nazianzus is James Kiefer, who has a very helpful and detailed history and explanation of the Arian/Athanasian controversy on the persons of the Trinity, which continues in the present day. –Purvis goes into Nazanzius’ teachings on relationship among the persons of the Trinity, paraphrasing Nazianzus: “Not being as such, but relations as communion form the ultimate ontological category by which we may apprehend the Christian doctrine of God as Holy Trinity, as three persons, one God, in which God is ‘divided without division,’ and ‘united in division’.”

    • Tried to find Matthew Purvis as I’m interested in pastoral care. Found Andrew Purves – is this the same book? Thanks.

  4. Regarding that last sentence: [Among the Fathers of the Church, he alone is known as “The Divine,” “The Theologian.” ] “He alone” is a bit deceptive. All of the early Fathers & Doctors of the Church have epithets (in the nice sense) to distinguish them. So this one is Gregory the Theologian, which among other things helps us to differentiate him from that other Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa. (Mention of the 3 Cappadocian Fathers would be helpful in this bio. Their interactions were important to the development of orthodox Trinitarian thought.) One founding pillar of the Anglican Reformation was the desire to return to the thinking of the Fathers. Well, here’s one of them. Yet this biography seems more to be a bio of Gregory’s emotional states. Really, he deserves better! Since his theological contributions were important enough for him to be dubbed “the Theologian” in both Western & Orthodox traditions and to be his sobriquet as a Doctor, there’s probably more meat to be had here. Is there a concern that patristic theology will be too difficult or abstruse for the modern reader? Surely it’s possible to come up with a reasonable summary.

    This is the last 2 paragraphs from Wikipedia’s article on Gregory: Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek- and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the “Trinitarian Theologian”. Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Along with the two brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers.

    Gregory is a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is numbered among the Doctors of the Church; in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom.

  5. If ever there were saints who should share a date, it’s the three Cappadocians: Gregory of Nyssa, his brother Basil, and their friend Gregory Nazianzus. They were close colleagues, the backgrounds to their ministries are identical, and it’s very hard to explain one without reference to the others. Plus you could quote or paraphrase this from Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Melody of Theology (I posted it on March 9, but to save some scrolling I’ll repeat it here):
    “During the fourth century of the Christian era, the Roman procuratorial province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor—like Florence in the fifteenth century or colonial Virginia in the eighteenth—became the scene for a remarkable outpouring of literary and philosophical genius, lending its name to three outstanding leaders of Christian thought, whose theological accomplishments were, and still are, classics of courageous speculation even as they represent the golden age of Greek Christian orthodoxy. . . .
    “As the heirs simultaneously of Greek learning and of Christian faith, they brought to their exposition and defense the theological and exegental insights they had inherited from the Greek patristic tradition, as well as the analytic and rhetorical skills that had come to them from the Greek philosophical tradition. . . . this combination of traditions made Cappadocian thought the intellectual fulfillment of the saying of Jesus: “Be wary as serpents, innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).”
    As Gregory Nazianzus held the senior ecclesiastical post, he probably should define the collective’s date. For a variety of reasons, I’d leave Gregory and Basil’s sister Macrina on her own date, July 17. While her story is intertwined with the Cappadocian Fathers, she can easily stand on her own. She famously devoted her life “to perpetual virginity and the pursuit of Christian perfection,” but she also found time to perfect her mother, her four brothers, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus.
    One of the great strengths of LFF was its general rule of one date, one saint. Close colleagues or those who shared a given ministry, even if separated by a generation or so – the Cappadocians, the English Tractarians (Pusey, Keble, and if absolutely necessary Newman), and the faux-Gothic architects and artists (Cram, Upjohn, and Lafarge) – can share a date effectively, but the odd couples united only by their date of death or their bishopric – Moon and Budd, Canon and Pandita Ramabai (as someone suggested May 7), Hugh and Robert Grosseteste, Cecilia and CS Lewis – are tough to handle in a short homily and should be broken up. Give the elder of the pair the date, and bump the younger saint to the next open date or an alternative one. If and when we run out of dates, we can go to a two-year calendar like the daily office lectionary.
    And furthermore, at the risk of sounding like Cato the Elder, the suffragette’s ghetto (Stanton, Bloomer, Truth, and Tubman, July 20) must be broken up. With the possible exception of Bloomer, each is worth a date of her own. For all their merit and dedication, Stanton and Bloomer must always look pale beside Truth and Tubman.

  6. I don’t know if the collect is fair game since this is a pre-existing commemoration, but I would suggest putting back the usual collect ending:

    Rite I:
    “constant in our worship of thee, Father, Son, and Holy [Ghost, ever one God]; who livest and reignest [world without end]. Amen.”

    Three points:
    1) I think the “ever one God” (as well as being the usual formula) closes with the Trinity in Unity point quite nicely, and leads into the “livest and reignest” a little more rhythmically.
    2) (I’m just more of a Ghost guy; don’t read much into that)
    3) “world without end” gets closer to the Greek collect ending that GoN would have known and used in talking about the eternity of the Triune God.

    (PS — It’s a pet peeve of mine that the Gloria Patri in the 79BCP simply omits a phrase from the Latin/Traditional GP — “in saecula saeculorum”/”world without end” so I try to get it brought back whenever possible. I simply don’t know why it got ditched: if there’s ever been a less offensive phrase in the prayer book, you’ve got me. Snakebelly Calvinists and High and Hazy ACs alike used it so I figured it was pretty solid.)

  7. Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389
    There is probably a better psalm to use, or at least one that doesn’t strip away the fundamental character and half the psalm’s conceptual content (the contrasted comeuppance of the godless). But this recension doesn’t distort the charmed fate claimed for the one who lives in accord with God’s wisdom. (Job’s friends would approve.)
    A couple of turns of phrase sound like the narrative’s author might not have been completely enamored of Gregory: “…in that order,” and the quotes about “detestable” and “flung to the dogs.” Maybe I’m just not catching the subtle spirit of charming gaity and admiration expressed. Aside from that, not withstanding helpful comments by others, the whole commemoration seems acceptable and warranted. Thank you for this one.

  8. The subtext would be much improved by being simply “Theologian”. That Gregory was a bishop is not why he is listed here.

    Line 4, sixth paragraph: was Gregory actually acclaimed as “Archbishop”? At least one source suggests that.

    Line 2, seventh paragraph: substitute “on May 9,” for “in”.

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