The Cappadocians – Molded by a Woman’s Touch


Faithful Through the Ages

The Cappadocians – Molded by a Woman’s
Touch
============================================
The Cappadocian
Fathers, as they later came to be known, were brothers Basil
and Gregory and
Gregory Nazianzen, all from Cappadocia, a region in central
Turkey.
Recognized for their monastic leadership, they were also astute
theologians. The term Cappadocians, however, is more fitting than Cappadocian
Fathers because it captures three generations of a family, both women and men.
The
grandmother of Basil and Gregory was Macrina the Elder, who fled
persecution
only to be left widowed and impoverished. Yet she ministered to
those who
were even more needy and was canonized as the patron saint
of
widows.

One of Macrina’s sons was Basil (the elder), who had nine
children, five of
whom were designated as saints. Macrina (the younger) (324
– 379), named for
her grandmother, was the older sister who had a profound
influence on her
siblings as well as on her mother.

Macrina the
Younger had chosen a life of asceticism after her fiancé died, and
she treated her servants as sisters and equals. She later joined with Basil to
form a convent in conjunction with his monastery. The most celebrated of
the
Cappadocians, he is recognized as Basil the Great (329 – 379), Father
of
Eastern Monasticism. Setting aside worldly aspirations and touring
monasteries
in Egypt, Basil returned to Cappadocia, where he established a
monastery. His
“Longer Rules” and “Shorter Rules” are still used today, and
all monks in the
Eastern church are Basilian monks. Basil viewed monastic
life as one of
service to those in need, setting the example by selling his
family’s estate
for famine relief and calling on other wealthy landholders to
do likewise. He
worked in the kitchen and dispersed provisions alongside
ordinary monks,
distributing food freely to any in need, regardless of
ethnicity.

Basil had a flare for words and is remembered particularly for
“The Six Days,”
his series of nine sermons on creation that display the
beauty of God’s
natural wonders. In 370 he was named bishop of Caesarea,
pitting him against
Emperor Valens, an Arian. When he died in 379, the entire
population of
Caesarea—Christians, Jews, and pagans—is said to have followed
his funeral
cortege with weeping.

Basil’s younger brother Gregory of
Nyssa (335 – 394) did not enter the
monastery and may have been married to
Theosebia, a much-heralded deaconess in
the church at Nyssa, where Gregory
served as bishop. His writing set the stage
for the Eastern church’s focus on
apophatic theology, which emphasizes that
God is ultimately unknowable. While
strongly defending the doctrine of the
Trinity, he insisted that God is
infinite and transcendent and thus beyond our
understanding. The true way to
God is through darkness.

Gregory Nazianzen (c. 325—389), the third of the
Cappadocian Fathers, was a
close associate and friend of Basil and Gregory of
Nyssa. His mother was
instrumental in converting her husband, Gregory, who
subsequently became
bishop of Nazianzus. Young Gregory accused his father of
tyranny and left
home, only to later return and work with his father in the
church.

Gregory later gave away his wealth and entered a monastery. On
his own
deathbed, Basil, not a man to hold grudges, recommended his friend
Gregory to
a post as the leading theologian in Constantinople with the hope
that he would
defeat Arianism. As such, Gregory’s tenure in Constantinople
was anything but
peaceful. The city was deeply divided, but he began drawing
crowds with his
powerful preaching. His “Five Theological Orations,”
defending the Trinity and
the deity of Christ, were aimed at
Arians.

Arian opponents stormed his church in 379 during the Easter
vigil, killing one
bishop and wounding Gregory. Matters improved when
Theodosius ascended the
throne and vowed to rid the East of Arians once and
for all. Gregory was
elected bishop of Constantinople to replace the Arian
bishop dismissed by the
emperor, but his problems were far from over. Accused
of attaining his
position illegally, he resigned: “Let me be as the Prophet
Jonah! I was
responsible for the storm. . . . Seize me and throw me.” The
emperor accepted
his resignation, and Gregory returned to Cappadocia where
his ministry began.

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