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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXX

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXX.—The Pupils of Origen.

While Origen was carrying on his customary duties in Cæsarea, many pupils came to him not only from the vicinity, but also from other countries. Among these Theodorus, the same that was distinguished among the bishops of our day under the name of Gregory, 2020 and his brother p. 276 Athenodorus, 2021 we know to have been especially celebrated. Finding them deeply interested in Greek and Roman learning, he infused into them a love of philosophy, and led them to exchange their old zeal for the study of divinity. Remaining with him five years, they made such progress in divine things, that although they were still young, both of them were honored with a bishopric in the churches of Pontus.



Our sources for a knowledge of the life of Gregory, who is known as Gregory Thaumaturgus (“wonder-worker”), are numerous, but not all of them reliable. He is mentioned by Eusebius here and in Bk. VII. chaps. 14 and 28, and a brief account of his life and writings is given by Jerome (de vir. ill. chap. 65), who adds some particulars not mentioned by Eusebius. There is also extant Gregory’s Panegyrical Oration in praise of Origen, which contains an outline of the earlier years of his life. Gregory of Nyssa about a century later wrote a life of Gregory Thaumaturgus, which is still extant, but which is full of marvelous stories, and contains little that is trustworthy. Gregory’s fame was very great among his contemporaries and succeeding generations, and many of the Fathers have left brief accounts of him, or references to him which it is not necessary to mention here. He was a native of Neo-Cæsarea in Pontus (according to Gregory Nyssa), the same city of which he was afterward bishop, was of wealthy parentage, and began the study of law when quite young (see his own Orat. Paneg. chap. 5). Coming to Cæsarea, in Palestine, on his way to Berytus, where he and his brother Athenodorus were to attend a school of law, he met Origen, and was so attracted by him that he and his brother remained in Cæsarea five years (according to Eusebius and Jerome) and studied logic, physics, mathematics, ethics, Greek philosophy, and theology with him (see his Orat). At the end of this time the brothers returned to Pontus, and afterwards were made bishops, Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea, his native place; Athenodorus of some unknown city (Eusebius here and in VII. 14 and 28 says only that they were both bishops of churches in Pontus). Of the remarkable events connected with the ordination of Gregory, which are told by Gregory of Nyssa, it is not necessary to speak here. He was a prominent scholar and writer, and a man universally beloved and respected for his deep piety and his commanding ability, but his fame rested chiefly upon the reports of his miracle-working, which were widespread. The prodigies told of him are numerous and marvelous. Eusebius is silent about this side of his career (whether because of ignorance or incredulity we cannot tell, but the latter seems most probable), but Jerome refers to his fame as a miracle-worker, Gregory of Nyssa’s Vita, is full of it, and Basil and other later writers dwell upon it. What the foundation for all these traditions was we do not know. He was a famous missionary, and seems to have been remarkably successful in converting the pagans of his diocese, which was almost wholly heathen when he became bishop. This great missionary success may have given rise to the tales of supernatural power, some cause above the ordinary being assumed by the common people as necessary to account for such results. Miracles and other supernatural phenomena were quite commonly assumed in those days as causes of conversions—especially if the conversions themselves were in any way remarkable (cf. e.g. the close of the anonymous Dialogue with Herbanus, a Jew). Not only the miracles, but also many other events reported in Gregory of Nyssa’s Vita, must be regarded as unfounded; e.g. the account of a long period of study in Alexandria of which our more reliable sources contain no trace. The veneration in which Gregory held Origen is clear enough from his panegyric, and the great regard which Origen cherished for Gregory is revealed in his epistle to the latter, written soon after Gregory’s arrival in Neo-Cæsarea, and still preserved in the Philocalia, chap. 13. The works of Gregory known to us are his Panegyrical Oration in praise of Origen, delivered in the presence of the latter and of a great multitude before Gregory’s departure from Cæsarea, and still extant; a paraphrase of the book of Ecclesiastes, mentioned by Jerome (l.c.), and likewise extant; several epistles referred to by Jerome (l.c.), only one of which, his so-called Canonical Epistle, addressed to an anonymous bishop of Pontus, is still preserved; and finally a trinitarian creed, or confession of faith, which is given by Gregory of Nyssa in his Vita, and whose genuineness has been warmly disputed (e.g. by Lardner, Works, II. p. 634 sq.); but since Caspari’s defense of it in his Gesch. d. Taufsymbols und der Glaubensregel, its authenticity may be regarded as established. These four writings, together with some works falsely ascribed to Gregory, are translated in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Am. ed., Vol. VI. p. 1–80. Original Greek in Migne’s Patr. Gr. X. 983–1343. See also Ryssel’s Gregorius Thaumaturgus. Sein Leben und seine Schriften; Leipzig, 1880. Ryssel gives (p. 65–79) a German translation of two hitherto unknown Syriac writings of Gregory, one on the equality of Father, Son, and Spirit, and the other on the passibility and impassibility of God. Gregory’s dates cannot be fixed with exactness; but as he cannot have seen Origen in Cæsarea until after 231, and was very young when he met him there, he must have been born as late as the second decade of the third century. As he was with Origen at least five years, he can hardly have taken his farewell of him until after the persecution of Maximinus (i.e. after 238), for we cannot suppose that he pronounced his panegyrical oration during that persecution. He speaks in the first chapter of that oration of not having delivered an oration for eight years, and this is commonly supposed to imply that it was eight years since he had begun to study with Origen, in which case the oration must be put as late as 239, and it must be assumed, if Eusebius’ five years are accepted as accurate, that he was absent for some three years during that period (perhaps while the persecution was going on). But the eight years cannot be pressed in this connection, for it is quite possible that they may have been reckoned from an earlier time, perhaps from the time when he began the study of law, which was before he met Origin (see Panegyr. chaps. 1 and 5). If we were to suppose the order followed by Eusebius strictly chronological, we should have to put Gregory’s acquaintance with Origen into the reign of Gordian (238–244). The truth is, the matter cannot be decided. He is said by Gregory of Nyssa to have retired into concealment during the persecution of Decius, and to have returned to his charge again after its close. He was present with his brother Athenodorus at one of the councils called to consider the case of Paul of Samosata (see Bk. VII. chap. 28), but was not present at the final one at which Paul was condemned (see ibid. chaps. 29 and 30, and note 2 on the latter chapter). This one was held about 265 (see ibid. chap. 29, note 1), and hence it is likely that Gregory was dead before that date.


Athenodorus is known to us only as the brother of Gregory and bishop of some church or churches in Pontus (see Bk. VII. chaps. 14 and 28).

Next: Chapter XXXI