Also known as: Gregory the Theologian, Gregory the Divine
Gregory Nazianzus was born ca. 325 in Arianzus, Asia Minor, to a wealthy family. His father, St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder, and his mother, St. Nonna, were converts to Christianity; his father was bishop of Nazianzus and his sister was St. Gorgonia. Gregory and his brother Caesarius were sent to a school in Caesarea in Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) headed by Carterius, later a tutor to St. John Chrysostom. At school Gregory met Basil and formed a lasting and influential friendship with him. Gregory continued his studies in Palestine, where he learned rhetoric under Thespesius, and in Alexandria, where St. Athanasius was bishop in exile. Going on to Athens, Gregory reunited with Basil, and the two studied rhetoric under Himerius and Proaeresius, two famous teachers. Gregory remained in Athens for about 10 years, and left at age 30 to return home via Constantinople. In Nazianzus, Gregory was undecided whether to pursue a career in law or rhetoric, or to enter a monastic life. He consulted Basil, and for two or three years joined his friend in a monastic community that Basil established at Neocaesarea in Pontus. He helped Basil to compile his rule. In 361 Gregory returned home to find a heretical father. He steered him back to orthodoxy, but was ordained a priest only at the behest of his father and against his own wishes. During the next several years, Basil was embroiled in political maneuverings with Emperor Valens, and established a new see at Sasima. He asked Gregory to become his first bishop there. Gregory agreed, but disliked the job and soon left it to return to Nazianzus and become coadjutor to his father. As a result, a permanent rift was created in his friendship with Basil. Gregory’s parents died in 374. He gave away most of his inheritance to the poor, keeping for himself only a small plot of land. He declined to succeed his father as bishop, and in 375 withdrew to a monastery in Seleuci to live in solitude for three years. Basil died in 379, but Gregory’s poor health prevented him from going to his friend or attending the funeral. He wrote poems commemorating the saint. The same year, Gregory found his monastic peace shattered by politics. Theodosius was named the Eastern emperor, and he prevailed upon Gregory to come to Constantinople and campaign against the heretics there. Gregory established the Anatasia, a chapel in a private home, where he developed and delivered some of his greatest oratorical works in the face of hostile persecution. In 380, Theodosius banished the Arian bishop of Constantinople and placed Gregory in his stead. But a few months later in 381, Gregory was opposed by a general council of bishops. He resigned in June 381 and returned to Nazianzus. There he found the Church in poor condition, and reluctantly took over its administration. Poor health forced him to leave, and he went to Arianzus to spend the rest of his life in retirement at the tiny piece of land he had retained from his inheritance. During his last years, Gregory produced most of his poetical works. The date of his death is not known, but probably falls in 389 or 390. He was buried in his family vault; his body is said to have given off a sweet odor. St. Jerome, who was influenced by Gregory, said that the saint wrote 30,000 verses of poetry. If the figure is accurate, only about one-third have survived. Gregory also composed numerous epistles, sermons and orations. Of his orations, best-known are his five “Theological Discourses” written while in Constantinople. He is called one of the three “Cappadocian Fathers,” with SS. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa.