January 25, 389, Arianzum, Cappadocia
Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in the Fanar
Doctor of the Church, born at Arianzus, in Asia Minor, c. 325; died at the same place, 389. He was son -- one of three children -- of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus (329-374), in the south-west of Cappadocia, and of Nonna, a daughter of Christian parents. The saint's father was originally a member of the heretical sect of the Hypsistarii, or Hypsistiani, and was converted to Catholicity by the influence of his pious wife. His two sons, who seem to have been born between the dates of their father's priestly ordination and episcopal consecration, were sent to a famous school at Caesarea, capital of Cappadocia, and educated by Carterius, probably the same one who was afterwards tutor of St. John Chrysostom. Here commenced the friendship between Basil and Gregory which intimately affected both their lives, as well as the development of the theology of their age. From Caesarea in Cappadocia Gregory proceeded to Caesarea in Palestine, where he studied rhetoric under Thespesius; and thence to Alexandria, of which Athanasius was then bishop, through at the time in exile. Setting out by sea from Alexandria to Athens, Gregory was all but lost in a great storm, and some of his biographers infer -- though the fact is not certain -- that when in danger of death he and his companions received the rite of baptism. He had certainly not been baptized in infancy, though dedicated to God by his pious mother; but there is some authority for believing that he received the sacrament, not on his voyage to Athens, but on his return to Nazianzus some years later. At Athens Gregory and Basil, who had parted at Caesarea, met again, renewed their youthful friendship, and studied rhetoric together under the famous teachers Himerius and Proaeresius. Among their fellow students was Julian, afterwards known as the Apostate, whose real character Gregory asserts that he had even then discerned and thoroughly distrusted him. The saint's studies at Athens (which Basil left before his friend) extended over some ten years; and when he departed in 356 for his native province, visiting Constantinople on his way home, he was about thirty years of age. (Biography continues below video)
O All-Transcendent God
(and what other name could describe you?),
what words can hymn Your praises?
No word does You justice.
What mind can probe Your secret?
No mind can encompass You.
You are alone beyond the power of speech,
yet all that we speak stems from You.
You are alone beyond the power of thought,
yet all that we can conceive springs from You.
All things proclaim You,
those endowed with reason and those bereft of it.
All the expectation and pain of the world coalesces in You.
All things utter a prayer to You,
a silent hymn composed by You.
You sustain everything that exists,
and all things move together to Your orders.
You are the goal of all that exists.
You are one and You are all,
yet You are none of the things that exist,
neither a part nor the whole.
You can avail Yourself of any name;
how shall I call You,
the only unnameable?
Arrived at Nazianzus, where his parents were now advanced in age, Gregory, who had by this time firmly resolved to devote his life and talents to God, anxiously considered the plan of his future career. To a young man of his high attainments a distinguished secular career was open, either that of a lawyer or of a professor of rhetoric; but his yearnings were for the monastic or ascetic life, though this did not seem compatible either with the Scripture studies in which he was deeply interested, or with his filial duties at home. As was natural, he consulted his beloved friend Basil in his perplexity as to his future; and he has left us in his own writings an extremely interesting narrative of their intercourse at this time, and of their common resolve (based on somewhat different motives, according to the decided differences in their characters) to quit the world for the service of God alone. Basil retired to Pontus to lead the life of a hermit; but finding that Gregory could not join him there, came and settled first at Tiberina (near Gregory's own home), then at Neocæsarea, in Pontus, where he lived in holy seclusion for some years, and gathered round him a brotherhood of cenobites, among whom his friend Gregory was for a time included. After a sojourn here for two or three years, during which Gregory edited, with Basil some of the exegetical works of Origen, and also helped his friend in the compilation of his famous rules, Gregory returned to Nazianzus, leaving with regret the peaceful hermitage where he and Basil (as he recalled in their subsequent correspondence) had spent such a pleasant time in the labour both of hands and of heads. On his return home Gregory was instrumental in bringing back to orthodoxy his father who, perhaps partly in ignorance, had subscribed the heretical creed of Rimini; and the aged bishop, desiring his son's presence and support, overruled his scrupulous shrinking from the priesthood, and forced him to accept ordination (probably at Christmas, 361). Wounded and grieved at the pressure put upon him, Gregory fled back to his solitude, and to the company of St. Basil; but after some weeks' reflection returned to Nazianzus, where he preached his first sermon on Easter Sunday, and afterward wrote the remarkable apologetic oration, which is really a treatise on the priestly office, the foundation of Chrysostom's "De Sacerdotio", of Gregory the Great's "Cura Pastoris", and of countless subsequent writings on the same subject.