Question: "Who was Gregory of Nazianzus?"
Answer: Gregory of Nazianzus (330–389) was one of the Cappadocian Fathers, along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nazianzus was a religious hermit, theologian, and defender of orthodoxy. He was born in Arianzus, which is a small village near Nazianzus, a town in the territory or modern-day western Turkey. He was born to deeply spiritual parents, and his father was the bishop of Nazianzus.
Gregory studied at various centers of learning (Caesarea, Alexandria, and Athens) and received a classical and religious education. However, he determined to become a religious hermit. His father prevailed upon him instead to use his talents as a church leader. Gregory relented and accepted ordination but then later regretted the decision and entered a monastery anyway.
Even though a hermit, Gregory did get involved in church affairs. At Nicaea, he supported the view championed by Athanasius that Jesus is fully divine, and he continued to vigorously defend this view against the Arians after the council was over.
Emperor Theodosius named Gregory of Nazianzus as bishop of Constantinople. The bishop at that time had been an Arian, and the Emperor wanted to replace him. Shortly thereafter, the Council of Constantinople was convened. Among other things, the council was supposed to officially recognize Gregory as bishop; however, part-way through the deliberations, he withdrew his name. Gregory may have withdrawn in part because it was never his desire to become bishop—and he also suffered from poor health—but Gregory’s stated reason for withdrawing was that he felt that by taking the position he would antagonize his theological foes and cause further breaks within the church. His hope was for reunification and unity. Although Gregory refused theological compromise, he saw that compromise in other ways could be helpful.
Upon his return to Nazianzus, Gregory found the church there filled with false teaching. He attempted to correct this and to find a bishop who could turn the situation around. Unable to find anyone, he eventually consented to occupy the post himself. He preached vigorously, using his considerable gifts as an orator, but he soon had to resign due to poor health. He died a few years later. Gregory, along with the other two Cappadocian Fathers, is considered a saint by both the Eastern and Western churches.
It seems that all Gregory ever wanted to do was to live a life of quiet solitude and contemplation, but the needs of the church forced him into positions in which he was uncomfortable and possibly ill-suited. He is to be commended for answering the call to meet the needs of the church even though he would have preferred to not get involved. When so many church leaders today seem to seek the limelight, Gregory is a refreshing contrast.