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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: Of Basil of Cæsarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus.

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Chapter XXVI.—Of Basil of Cæsarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus. 640

Now Providence opposed Didymus to the Arians at Alexandria. But for the purpose of confuting them in other cities, it raised up Basil of Cæsarea and Gregory of Nazianzus; concerning these it will be reasonable to give a brief account in this place. Indeed the universally prevalent memory of the men would be enough as a token of their fame; and the extent of their knowledge is sufficiently perceptible in their writings. Since, however, the exercise of their talents was of great service to the Church, tending in a high degree to the maintenance of the catholic faith, the nature of my history obliges me to take particular notice of these two persons. If any one should compare Basil and Gregory with one another, and consider the life, morals, and virtues of each, he would find it difficult to decide to which of them he ought to assign the pre-eminence: so equally did they both appear to excel, whether you regard the rectitude of their conduct, or their deep acquaintance with Greek literature and the sacred Scriptures. In their youth they were pupils at Athens of Himerius 641 and Prohæresius, 642 the most celebrated sophists of that age: subsequently they frequented the p. 111 school of Libanius 643 at Antioch in Syria, where they cultivated rhetoric to the utmost. Having been deemed worthy of the profession of sophistry, they were urged by many of their friends to enter the profession of teaching eloquence; others would have persuaded them to practice law: but despising both these pursuits, they abandoned their former studies, and embraced the monastic life. Having had some slight taste of philosophical science from him who then taught it at Antioch, they procured Origen’s works, and drew from them the right interpretation of the sacred Scriptures; for the fame of Origen was very great and widespread throughout the whole world at that time; after a careful perusal of the writings of that great man, they contended against the Arians with manifest advantage. And when the defenders of Arianism quoted the same author in confirmation, as they imagined, of their own views, these two confuted them, and clearly proved that their opponents did not at all understand the reasoning of Origen. Indeed, although Eunomius, 644 who was then their champion, and many others on the side of the Arians were considered men of great eloquence, yet whenever they attempted to enter into controversy with Gregory and Basil, they appeared in comparison with them ignorant and illiterate. Basil being ordained to the office of deacon, was by Meletius, bishop of Antioch, from that rank elevated to the bishopric of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, which was his native country. Thither he therefore hastened, fearing lest these Arian dogmas should have infected the provinces of Pontus; and in order to counteract them, he founded several monasteries, diligently instructed the people in his own doctrines, and confirmed the faith of those whose minds were wavering. Gregory being constituted bishop of Nazianzus, 645 a small city of Cappadocia over which his own father had before presided, pursued a course similar to that which Basil took; for he went through the various cities, and strengthened the weak in faith. To Constantinople in particular he made frequent visits, and by his ministrations there, comforted and assured the orthodox believers, wherefore a short time after, by the suffrage of many bishops, he was made bishop of the church at Constantinople. When intelligence of the proceedings of these two zealous and devoted men reached the ears of the emperor Valens, he immediately ordered Basil to be brought from Cæsarea to Antioch; 646 where being arraigned before the tribunal of the prefect, that functionary asked him ‘why he would not embrace the emperor’s faith?’ Basil with much boldness condemned the errors of that creed which his sovereign countenanced, and vindicated the doctrine of the homoousion: and when the prefect threatened him with death, ‘Would,’ said Basil, ‘that I might be released from the bonds of the body for the truth’s sake.’ The prefect having exhorted him to reconsider the matter more seriously, Basil is reported to have said, ‘I am the same to-day that I shall be to-morrow: but I wish that you had not changed yourself.’ At that time, therefore, Basil remained in custody throughout the day. It happened, however, not long afterwards that Galates, the emperor’s infant son, was attacked with a dangerous malady, so that the physicians despaired of his recovery; when the empress Dominica, his mother, assured the emperor that she had been greatly disquieted in her dreams by fearful visions, which led her to believe that the child’s illness was a chastisement on account of the ill treatment of the bishop. The emperor after a little reflection sent for Basil, and in order to prove his faith said to him, ‘If the doctrine you maintain is the truth, pray that my son may not die.’ ‘If your majesty should believe as I do,’ replied Basil, ‘and the church should be unified, the child shall live.’ To these conditions the emperor would not agree: ‘God’s will concerning the child will be done then,’ said Basil; as Basil said this the emperor ordered him to be dismissed; the child, however, died shortly after. Such is an epitome of the history of these distinguished ecclesiastics, both of whom have left us many admirable works, some of which Rufinus says he has translated into Latin. Basil had two brothers, Peter and Gregory; the former of whom adopted Basil’s monastic mode of life; while the latter emulated his eloquence in teaching, and completed after his death Basil’s treatise on the Six Days’ Work, which had been left unfinished. He also pronounced at Constantinople the funeral oration of Meletius, bishop of Antioch; and many other orations of his are still extant.



For full accounts of the lives of these eminent men, see Smith and Wace, Dict. of Christ. Biog., and the sources and literature therein referred to.


Himerius, a native of Prusias (mod. Broussa) in Bithynia, flourished about 360 a.d. as a sophist under Julian the Apostate. He published various discourses, which, according to Photius, contained insidious attacks on Christianity. Cf. Eunapius, p. 153, under title Prohæresius; Photius, Bibl. Cod. 165.


Prohæresius was a native of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, and taught in Athens a short time before Libanius. Cf. Eunapius, Prohæresius, par. 129–162.


This is doubted by Valesius on the ground that Gregory in his autobiography (in verse) says that he was thirty years of age when he left Athens, where his friends wished him to stay and teach rhetoric; but if he stayed at Athens until the thirtieth year of his age, it is not likely that he could have studied with Libanius after that time. So also Rufinus, H. E. II. 9.


Cf. chap. 7 of the present book.


Rufinus (H. E. II. 9) says this. But from Gregory’s own works (Orat. VIII.) it appears that he was not made bishop of Nazianzus but assistant to his father, and on the express condition that he should not succeed his father. He was first consecrated bishop of Sasimi by Basil the Great, from thence transferred to Constantinople, but resigned that bishopric (V. 7) and retired to Nazianzus, where he remained bishop until he chose his successor there.


Sozomen (VI. 16) says that Valens came from Antioch to Cæsarea and ordered Basil to be brought before the prefect of the prætorium. This account agrees better with what both Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa say of this experience of Basil.

Next: Of Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonder-Worker).

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