John the Evangelist, the writer of the fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation, earns the title The Theologian due to his impassioned insistence on the divinity of Christ as the Logos, the Word of God. While St. Peter, in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke confesses Jesus to be the Christ, the “Son of the Living God,” the Gospel of St. John identifies the Christ, the Son of God, with the Word of God, confessing Him to be with God since the beginning. St. John’s Gospel provided the textual basis to refute many of the early Christian heresies which did not fully accept the divinity of Jesus Christ as the Word of God. It is for this unwavering confession of Christ as the Divine Word of God that many later patristic writers and theologians often simply quote the Gospel of John by referring to “the Theologian.”
Among Armenian Christians, there is only one other person to earn the epithet “The Theologian”: St. Gregory of Nazianzus, known as Gregory the Theologian, Ս. Գրիգոր Աստուածաբան. A great orator and rhetorician of the fourth century, he earned this great honor largely through what have become known as The Five Theological Orations, a series of sermons delivered in Constantinople defending the orthodox faith declared at Nicaea against the host of heretical ideas that had sprung up in the imperial capital. In addition to these orations, Gregory Nazianzus wrote and preached other important orations, including a funeral oration for his friend St. Basil the Great, wrote many letters to eminent ecclesiastics of his time, and was the author of beautiful and inspiring theological poetry. Translated early into Armenian, probably after the first burst of translation following the creation of the alphabet by St. Mesrob Mashdotz but before the sixth century school of translation known as the Hellenizing School, St. Gregory the Theologian, staunch defender of the faith, is a paragon of orthodoxy, literary exemplar, and timeless source for Armenian Christianity.
Born between 325 and 330 near Nazianzus in the southwest portion of Cappadocia, today in central Turkey, at the country estate of his father, also named Gregory, Gregory was brought up as a Christian by his mother Nonna, though he was not baptized until much later in life. He was sent to Caesarea, the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop and a major center of learning, where he most likely first met and befriended St. Basil of Caesarea, also known as St. Basil the Great. Each continuing his education in a different place, they went their separate ways for the time being, but the two remained friends and colleagues until Basil’s death, the occasion for one of St. Gregory’s most famous orations. Together with St. Basil’s brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, the three are known as the Cappadocian Fathers, some of the most important sources of early Christian thinking. From Caesarea, Gregory the Theologian went to the other Caesarea, in Palestine, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. From Palestine, he went to Alexandria, and while St. Athanasius was technically bishop at the time, it seems likely that Athanasius was actually in exile, for Gregory’s oration on St. Athanasius does not include familiar details. Finally, Gregory left Alexandria to study at Athens, where Basil later joined him.
It was at Athens that Gregory the Theologian mastered the art of classical rhetoric, of persuasive speaking and writing, the skill that made his orations into sources not only of Christian thought, but of rhetoric and Greek. In the Middle Ages, Gregory’s works were used as grammatical and rhetorical exercises. He also studied classical philosophy which he put to the service of Christian thinking, another one of his major legacies. After over a decade in Athens, he travelled to Constantinople, met his brother there, and they returned home together. By this time, Basil was already back in Cappadocia, and the two together spent some time in monastic solitude. Eventually, however, both friends were reluctant priests and hierarchs: Gregory was baptized and later ordained to help his father, who was then Bishop of Nazianzus. The younger Gregory was ordained in 361 but felt that he had been pressured into the ordination, calling it a tyranny and escaping to again join Basil at his monastery. However, Basil convinced him to return in obedience and to help his father. His flight and reluctance are the topic of his long Second Oration, probably never actually delivered out loud, which became one of the most important descriptions of the role and duties of the priest ever written and a source for generations of thinkers who returned his to Gregory’s insights.
|The Five Theological Orations||From the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary Press Series Popular Patristics, these five orations delivered in Constantinople earned Gregory the epithet “the Theologian.” One of the great defenses of orthodox Trinitarian theology.|
|Sancti Gregorii Nazianzeni opera : versio armeniaca||The Armenian version of three of Gregory’s orations, including the famous Second Oration on the priesthood. Many of Gregory’s orations were translated into Armenian, but Orations 2, 12, and 9 were often collected together into a single book. In Armenian and French.|
|Mayr tsʿutsʿak dzeṛagratsʿ Srbotsʿ Hakobeantsʿ||Bishop Norayr Pogharyan’s invaluable catalogue of the manuscripts at the Sts. James Monastery in Jerusalem. The catalogue demonstrates the central importance of St. Gregory the Theologian for Armenian Christianity. In Armenian.|
Once ordained, Gregory was almost immediately caught up in the debates of his day. He helped his father restore peace to the local community and the father and son together helped Basil to be elected as Metropolitan Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. To strengthen his see, Basil then had Gregory consecrated as the Bishop of a small town called Sasima. Gregory, who had lived in Alexandria, Athens, and Constantinople, described Sasima as “a miserable little village” and resented Basil’s appointment of him. During this time. Gregory wrote and delivered some of his most famous funeral orations, for his father, his mother, and later, for his friend Basil. In 379, Gregory was convinced to go to Constantinople, which had been under the control of Arian factions, one of the most influential heretical movements of the time, as we say last week. Shortly after arriving, he preached what became known as the Five Theological Orations, a brilliant defense of Trinitarian theology. It was directed in large part against the Eunomian heresy, named for a fourth century teacher Eunomius who taught that since the Father begot and the Son was begotten, that they were unlike in substance, a denial of the doctrine that God the Father and God the Son are homoousios, “of the same substance” which was agreed upon at the Council of Nicaea.
In 380, Gregory became the recognized Archbishop of Constantinople, the Patriarch of the imperial city. This occurred in the first days of the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, because the Council of Nicaea had forbidden the transfer of bishops between sees. After the death of Meletius of Antioch, Gregory led the Council of Constantinople. Due to the politics that surfaced during the Council, Gregory resigned from his post both as the head of the council and as Archbishop of Constantinople. He returned to Nazianzus where he lived out his days, dying in 391.
Gregory the Theologian’s influence on subsequent Christian thinking was enormous. In addition to his doctrinal defense of the Trinity in The Five Theological Orations, his description of the role of the priest in his Second Oration was a major source for later Christian thinkers, Armenians among them. Yet it was perhaps in his style that Gregory Nazianzus was most influential. Writing in multiple genres—orations, letters, and even poetry—Gregory used the tools of classical learning in the defense of Christianity. While others before him had done this, his mastery of the rhetorical tools of Greek learning reigned supreme. For Armenians, he was one of the first writers translated into Armenian who would have demonstrated this classical mastery. Many of his orations were translated before the advent of the so-called Hellenizing School, which translated philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, as well as the foundational grammatical text of Dionysus Thrax into Armenian. Yet before these explicit texts of classical education were available in Armenian, the orations and poetry of Gregory the Theologian were already important sources for Armenian Christian thought!
|Viravor artsiwě S. Grigor Asdvatsaban (patmakan kensagrut‘yun)||“The Wounded Eagle,” a biography of St. Gregory the Theologian, provides a detailed look at his life. In Armenian.|
|On God and Man: The Theological Poetry of St. Gregory Nazianzus||Selections of the theological poetry of St. Gregory the Theologian, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.|
|Denys de Thrace et les commentateurs arméniens||By the great nineteenth and twentieth century Armenologist Nicholas Adontz, a study of the Ars Grammatica of Dionysius Thrax and its influence on Armenian knowledge. In French.|
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