Century IV, Chapter XXIV

CHAP. XXIV.
GREGORY NAZIANZEN.

He was born at Arianzum, an obscure village belonging to Nazianzum in Cappadocia, and came into

Chap- the world about the time of the Nicene council#. , X*IV- . His father, of the same name, a person of rank, had been brought up among a particular sect, most resembling the Samaritans, who professed a mixture of Judaism and Paganism. To this opinion, as it had been the religion of his family, Gregory the elder was in early life extremely devoted. But marrying a lady of rank, and of sincere Christian piety, he was gradually induced to attend to the doctrines of the Gospel. Her prayers and persuasions were equally ardent. Gregory the elder dreaming one night, that he sung that passage, " I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord," and feeling an uncommon pleasure on the occasion, informed his wife of the circumstance, who exhorted him to comply with the call of God to his soul. And soon after, Leontius, bishop of Caesarea, coming to Nazianzum, in his way to the council of Nice, Gregory the elder was encouraged and assisted by him, and then received from the bishop of Nazianzum catechetical instruction, and the ordinance of baptism.

Nazianzum itself had but newly received Christianity. The bishop who baptized Gregory the elder, was the first of its pastors, and died soou after. A long vacancy took place, and the town was overrun with ignorance and vice. Gregory the elder at length was appointed to the see, which he filled for forty-five years with great success among the people. His son, Gregory the younger, the famous Gregory, usually called Gregory Nazianzen, making uncommon advances in learning, in several seminaries, went to Athens, to complete his education. During the voyage, a remarkable providence

* Though I have consulted Socrates and Sozoinen, yet the account of Cave is so full and circumstantial, and so well supported by original authorities, that I shall have little occasion to do any thing more than to abridge the life of Gregory, written by the latter, except to avail myself of the industry of Du Pin, when I make a few remarks on the works of this Father.

was made subservient to his conversion. A storm suddenly arose, and the vessel was for several days in imminent danger. Gregory lamented his want of baptism and of serious Christianity, and with vehement prayers devoted himself to God to be his for ever, if he would be pleased to spare his life at that time. When he had finished his prayer, the tempest ceased, and the ship was securely conducted to her port.

His acquaintance with Basil at Athens has been mentioned. Here also he conversed with Julian the apostate, and, with that intuitive penetration into character, which seems a peculiar gift of some minds, he foretold what a curse he would one day prove. See, said he, what a pest the Roman empire nourishes in its bowels! Yet Julian, at that time, had done nothing to justify such suspicions. He attended Christian forms ; nor was he naturally savage or inhuman. The penetrating eye of Gregory discerned, however, the embryo of the apostate and the scorner, in his bold and fearless spirit of disputation, and in his presumptuous curiosity;— tempers in youth, which, if strong and predominant, and accompanied with quickness of parts, without special grace, seldom fail to produce remarkable fruits of impiety in maturer age, and are rather cherished than damped by sobriety of manners and intenseness of application. Pride converts every specious virtue into nourishment for herself; and Satan knows no agent in the world so proper as pride for the promotion of his kingdom of darkness.

After his baptism, he felt himself strongly inclined to the ascetic life, but was, though reluctant, made a presbyter by his father. The old man, better versed in prayer than disputation, was once imposed on, by Arian subtleties, to communicate with that sect, while he took them to be what they were not, but was recovered from the snare by the arguments of his more learned son. The latter, after giving way

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Chap, for a time to the monastic spirit of solitude, was XX1Y-, prevailed on at length to return to Nazianzum, and to employ himself in a manner more worthy of a Christian, by assisting his aged father in his pastoral cares.

His friend Basil offering him the bishopric of Sasima, in his diocese of Caesarea, and the place being very mean and obscure, the pride of Gregory was hurt, and for some time a coolness subsisted between the two friends, both of whom appear not to have possessed, in any great degree, the humble simplicity of better times. Their fondness for Platonism, and their accurate acquaintance with secular learning, had doubtless no tendency to supply the defects of their Christian views of doctrine.

Gregory rejecting the offer of Sasima, continued to assist his father, and had then an opportunity of enforcing a Christian duty, constantly allowed to be such in the primitive times, namely submission to the higher powers, as well as to give the most excellent advice to the governor of Nazianzum—to use his power with moderation. Some civil tumults and broils at that place furnished him with this occasion.

His father dying near a hundred years old, and his mother soon after, both of them persons of uncommon piety, Gregory was induced to go to Constantinople. Here, under the emperor Valens, Arianism was at its height, and Gregory preached to a few Christians in a sort of conventicle; but, growing popular and successful, he was at last appointed bishop ; and at length, under Theodosius, he was confirmed in the charge. It proved, however, extremely uneasy to him, notwithstanding the kindness of the emperor. His liberality and integrity were indeed admirable, and his private life and manners were most exemplary. But the weakness of his body, the irritability of his temper, and his extreme deficiency in talents for government, rendered him, notwithstanding the just renown of Cent. his incomparable oratory, unfit for so public a . IV' station.

The Gospel was, however, adorned by his virtues, and particularly, by the meekness with which he forgave a person who had been suborned to murder him, and who, having been baffled in his purpose by Providence, came to him in agony of conscience, and confessed his intentions.

While he was at Constantinople, the famous council was held there for the settlement of the peace of the church; during the course of which, Gregory, a man of tried honesty, but void of political refinement, found himself so much opposed by those who envied him, and his best designs so much misconstrued, that he entreated Theodosius to accept his resignation. His farewell sermon, in which fie reminded his audience of what God had done by him from his first preaching among them, when he was attacked with stones by the Arians, is a masterpiece of eloquence, and moved the passions of the audience exceedingly. There is in it too great a show of eloquence, and too little of the Gospel of Christ.

A second synod being held at Constantinople, Gregory, disgusted with the treatment he had met with in the first, and being also afflicted with a very infirm state of health, refused to come, and expressed himself with unbecoming acrimony against councils in general. However, he exerted himself sincerely to promote unity in the church, and was unbounded in his liberality to the poor. In his time he was looked on as an admirable theologian. And indeed, in justness of taste, eloquence and secular learning, he was inferior to few; and these shining qualities, Gregory in an age more contentious than simple with respect die*> to religion, procured him an admiration for Chris- A- Dtian knowledge above his deserts. He died in the 389year 389, in his own country.

Chap. His principal writings are his sermons. The first Xx- - j of them describes the difficulties and importance of the pastoral office, blames the forwardness of many to undertake it, and describes himself confounded under a sense of his insufficiency. In two other discourses he inveighs against Julian in a manner that discovers more of the orator than of the Christian. In another discourse, he endeavours to reconcile the minds of the people of Nazianzum to the payment of taxes. He observes, that Jesus Christ came into the world at a time when a tax was levied, to show that God is present at such scenes ; that he was made man, anddid himself pay taxes, to comfort those who were in bondage, and to teach them to bear it patiently; that by thus abasing himself he taught kings to treat their subjects with moderation; that tribute was a consequence of the first sin, because war, the cause of tribute, was the consequence of sin, and a just punishment of God.

His warm and pathetic addresses to deceased saints were evidently little else than mere strokes of oratory. They were accompanied with the expression of a doubt, whether the saints understood what he said. He seems, however, to have strengthened the growing superstition, and encouraged that worship of saints, which he certainly did not intend, in the manner in which it was afterwards practised. Unguarded passages of this sort occur in other writers of these times, none of whom really designed to inculcate idolatry.

In another discourse, he protests against the too common practice of delaying baptism, which, from the example of Constantine, had grown very fashionable, for reasons equally corrupt and superstitious. Men lived in sin as long as they thought they could safely, and deferred baptism till their near approach to death, under a groundless hope of w ashing away all their guilt at once. He presses the baptism of infants, and refutes the vain pretences of those who Cent. followed the fashionable notions. , IV

His poems demonstrate a rich vein of genius and a sensibility of mind. Nor is there wanting a true spirit of piety. In the fifty-eighth are some excellent reflections on the falsehood of mere human virtue, the necessity of divine grace through Jesus Christ, and of an humble confidence in it, and the danger of perishing through pride and vain glory. An humility of this sort was evidently at the bottom of Gregory's religion; but I much doubt whether his less learned parents did not understand it, practically, much better than he. Mankind are naturally more favourable to gifts than to graces, and even good men are but too ready to suppose there is much of the latter, wherever there appears an abundance of the former.

Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus, was not inferior to Epiphamany in this century for unfeigned purity of faith and "bout*"" manners. But the particulars of his life are for the A. D. most part uninteresting. It is proper, however, to ^20, mention his zeal in tearing a painted curtain which elected he saw in a place of public worship. This seems Cyprus hi at once a proof of his detestation of images and pic- 366, tures in religion, and also of the weak beginnings of died in that superstition in the fourth century. In this 4°3place let us not omit to observe his very laudable spirit of beneficence. Numbers from all parts sent him large sums to distribute to the needy, in confidence of his charity and integrity. His steward one day informed him, that his stock was nearly exhausted, and blamed his profuse liberality; but he continued still as liberal as before, till all was gone; when he received suddenly from a stranger a large bag of gold. Another story deserves to be recorded as a monument of Divine Providence, the rather, as it seems extremely well authenticated*. Two

• Sozom. B. VII. c. 27.

beggars agreeing to impose on him, one feigned himself dead, the other begged of Epiphanius to supply the expenses of his companion's funeral. Epiphanius granted the request; the beggar on the departure of the bishop desired his companion to rise ; but the man was really dead !—To sport with the servants of God, and to abuse their kindness, is to provoke God himself, as the bishop told the survivor.