LISTEN: The Great Cappadocians, Part 9: Gregory of Nazianzus (The History of Christianity Podcast #141 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #141, titled, “The Great Cappadocians (Part 9): Gregory of Nazianzus.”

Our Scripture for today is Galatians 3:27-29 which reads: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from John of the Cross. He said: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you remember Christ crucified and be silent.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Great Cappadocians (Part 9): Gregory of Nazianzus” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

A few months later, the emperor called a council that gathered at Constantinople and over which Gregory presided, as bishop of the city. This task was not to his liking, for he said that the bishops behaved like a swarm of hornets. When some of his opponents pointed out that he was already bishop of another place, and that therefore he could not be bishop of Constantinople, Gregory promptly resigned the position he had never sought. Nectarius, the civil governor of Constantinople, was elected bishop in his stead, and occupied that position with relative distinction until he was succeeded by John Chrysostom, to whom we shall return.

As for Gregory, he returned to his homeland, where he spent his time composing hymns and devoting himself to his pastoral duties. When he heard that Theodosius planned to call another council and asked him to preside over it, he flatly refused. He lived away from all civil and ecclesiastical pomp until he died when he was some sixty years old.

The Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the doctrine of Nicea regarding the divinity of the Son, and added that the same ought to be said about the Holy Spirit. Thus, it was this council that definitively proclaimed the doctrine of the Trinity. Its decisions, and the theology reflected in them, were in large measure the result of the work of the Cappadocian Fathers. In this regard, their main contribution was in clarifying the difference between ousia (“essence”) and hypostasis–a word that literally means “substance” but which the Cappadocians defined as the translation of the Latin persona. Thus, the Latin West and the Greek East came to agree on a common formula: one essence–or ousia–in three persons–or hypostases.

It is difficult for us today to understand the vehemence with which people in the fourth century debated such matters, and we tend therefore to discount them as the heated lucubrations of overzealous theologians. But we should not dismiss the matter so easily. That the debate profoundly touched people’s lives is indicated in Gregory of Nazianzus’s comment, that one could not even get one’s shoes repaired without getting into a discussion regarding whether the Son was homoousios or homoiousios to the Father. At the other end of the social spectrum, for fifty years after the Council of Nicea most emperors embraced the Arian cause and staunchly opposed the Nicene. What was at stake was much more than idle speculation. Ultimately, the issue was, can God truly be present in a carpenter executed by the empire as a criminal, or is God more like the emperor on his throne? One should not wonder, then, that so many emperors preferred the Arian view. Eventually, a compromise was reached whereby the Carpenter was declared to be truly divine, but was now represented much more often as the exalted Pantokrator–the exalted emperor sitting on a throne and ruling the entire world–than as a carpenter.

Next time, we will begin looking at “Ambrose of Milan (Part 1): An Unexpected Election.”

Let’s pray.

—PRAYER—

Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.