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Cappadocian Fathers


Introduction

The Cappadocian Fathers are important figures in the history of the Church. They are Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus. Listed below are short biographies of these figures, as well as links to more information about them from various resources. Central to their work is the defense and definition of the doctrine of the Trinity as Canonized at the council of Constantinople in 381 AD [ W ] [ CE ] [ OW ]. It is primarily for this reason I have created this page, as it seems to be a subject often taken for granted by our non Catholic friends. It is also that these leaders of the early Church give an unmistakably Catholic witness to the Church that they are included here, their quotes offered below their biographies, depicting clearly the Church as it was in the fourth century.

Saint Basil The Great

Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great, (330 – January 1, 379) (Greek: Άγιος Βασίλειος ο Μέγας) was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian and monastic. Theologically, Basil was a supporter of the Nicene faction of the church, in opposition to Arianism on one side and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea on the other. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.

In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labor. Together with Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity. He is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity.

Quotes

Apostolic Succession

"The Cathari are schismatics; but it seemed good to the ancient authorities, I mean Cyprian and our own Firmilianus, to reject all these, Cathari, Encratites, and Hydroparastatae, by one common condemnation, because the origin of separation arose through schism, and those who had apostatized from the Church had no longer on them the grace of the Holy Spirit, for it ceased to be imparted when the continuity was broken. The first separatists had received their ordination from the Fathers, and possessed the spiritual gift by the laying on of their hands. But they who were broken off had become laymen, and, because they are no longer able to confer on others that grace of the Holy Spirit from which they themselves are fallen away, they had no authority either to baptize or to ordain. And therefore those who were from time to time baptized by them, were ordered, as though baptized by laymen, to come to the church to be purified by the Church's true baptism. Nevertheless, since it has seemed to some of those of Asia that, for the sake of management of the majority, their baptism should be accepted, let it be accepted. We must, however, perceive the iniquitous action of the Encratites…” Basil, To Amphilochius, Epistle 188:1 (A.D. 347).

Peter is the Rock

“Peter upon which rock the Lord promised that he would build his church.” Basil, In Isaias, 2:66 (A.D. 375).

The Church's Ecumenical Councils are Infallible

"[T]hat you should confess the faith put forth by our Fathers once assembled at Nicaea, that you should not omit any one of its propositions, but bear in mind that the three hundred and eighteen who met together without strife did not speak without the operation of the Holy Ghost, and not to add to that creed the statement that the Holy Ghost is a creature, nor hold communion with those who so say, to the end that the Church of God may be pure and without any evil admixture of any tare." Basil, To Cyriacus, Epistle 114 (A.D. 372).

The Church is Hierarchical

"The immediate object of my entreaty is as follows. By the old census, the clergy of God, presbyters and deacons, were left exempt" Basil, To Modestus, Epistle 104 (A.D. 372). 

"You must know that Faustus came with letters for me, from the pope, requesting that he might be ordained bishop." Basil, To Theodotus, Epistle 121 (A.D. 373).

The Church is Visible and One

"'And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountains' The house of the Lord, 'prepared on the top of the mountains,' is the church, according to the declaration of the apostle, 'Know,' he says, 'how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God' Whose foundations are on the holy mountains, for it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which the rock the Lord promised to build his church." Basil, Commentary on Isaiah, 2:66 (A.D. 375).

Scripture Must be Interpreted in Light of Church Tradition

"Now I accept no newer creed written for me by other men, nor do I venture to propound the outcome of my own intelligence, lest I make the words of true religion merely human words; but what I have been taught by the holy Fathers, that I announce to all who question me. In my Church the creed written by the holy Fathers in synod at Nicea is in use." Basil, To the Church of Antioch, Epistle 140:2 (A.D. 373).

Scripture is not subject to Private Interpretation

"To refuse to follow the Fathers, not holding their declaration of more authority than one's own opinion, is conduct worthy of blame, as being brimful of self-sufficiency." Basil, EpistleTo the Canonicae, 52:1 (A.D. 370).

"Born Again" means water Baptism

"And in what way are we saved? Plainly because we were regenerate through the grace given in our baptism." Basil, On the Spirit, 10:26 (A.D. 375).

"This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit." Basil, On the Spirit, 15:35 (A.D. 375).

Original Sin

"Little given, much gotten; by the donation of food the original sin is discharged. Just as Adam transmitted the sin by his wicked eating, we destroy that treacherous food when we cure the need and hunger." Basil, Eulogies & Sermons, Famine & Drought 8:7 (ante 379).

Confession

"It is necessary to confess our sins to those whom the dispensation of God's mysteries is entrusted." Basil, Rule Briefly Treated, 288 (A.D. 374).

Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist

"It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy body and blood of Christ. For He distinctly says, 'He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.' And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life. I, indeed, communicate four times a week, on the Lord's day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint.” Basil, To Patrician Caesaria, Epistle 93 (A.D. 372).

Purgatory

"I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with the invisible enemies, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects of sin, they are detained. If, however they are found unwounded and without stain, they are, as unconquered, brought by Christ into their rest." Basil, Homilies on the Psalms, 7:2 (ante A.D. 370).

Mary is Ever Virgin

"The friends of Christ do not tolerate hearing that the Mother of God ever ceased to be a virgin" Basil, Homily In Sanctum Christi generationem, 5 (ante A.D. 379).

Mary is the New Eve and the most Blessed among Women

"And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained to be assumed of the lump of Adam, what need was there of the Holy Virgin?" Basil, To the Sozopolitans, Epistle 261 (A.D. 377). 

Mary is our Powerful Intercessor

"O Virgin all holy, he who has said of you all that is honorable and glorious has not sinned against the truth, but remains unequal to your merit. Look down upon us from above and be propitious to us. Lead us in peace and having brought us without shame to the throne of judgment, grant us a place at the right hand of your Son, that we may borne off to heaven and sing with angels to the uncreated, consubstantial Trinity. " Basil of Seleucia, PG 85:452 (ante A.D. 459).

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Saint Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa (Greek: Ἅγιος Γρηγόριος Νύσσης; Latin: Gregorius Nyssenus; Arabic: غريغوريوس النيصي‎) (c 335 – after 394) was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity. Some historians identify Theosebia the deaconess as his wife, others hold that she, like Macrina the Younger, was also a sister of Gregory and Basil.

Gregory along with his brother Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus are known as the Cappadocian Fathers. They attempted to establish Christian philosophy as superior to Greek philosophy.

Quotes

Apostolic Succession

"The bread again is at first common bread, but when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called, and becomes, the Body of Christ. So with the sacramental oil; so with the wine: though before the benediction they are of little value, each of them, after the sanctification bestowed by the Spirit, has its several operations. The same power of the word, again, also makes the priest venerable and honourable, separated, by the new blessing bestowed upon him, from his community with the mass of men. While but yesterday he was one of the mass, one of the people, he is suddenly rendered a guide, a president, a teacher of righteousness, an instructor in hidden mysteries; and this he does without being at all changed in body or in form; but, while continuing to be in all appearance the man he was before, being, by some unseen power and grace, transformed in respect of his unseen soul to the higher condition." Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ (ante A.D. 394).

Petrine Primacy

"Which was mere to the interest of the Church at Rome, that it should at its commencement be presided over by some high-born and pompous senator, or by the fisherman Peter, who had none of this world's advantages to attract men to him?" Gregory of Nyssa, To the Church at Nicodemia, Epistle 13 (ante A.D. 394). 

The Biblical Church

“The memory of Peter, who is the head of the apostles...he is the firm and most solid rock, on which the savior built his Church.” Gregory of Nyssa, Panegyric on St. Stephen, 3 (ante A.D. 394). 

The Church's Ecumenical Councils are Infallible

"Some of the brethren whose heart is as our heart told us of the slanders that were being propagated to our detriment by those who hate peace, and privily backbite their neighbour; and have no fear of the great and terrible judgment-seat of Him Who has declared that account will be required even of idle words in that trial of our life which we must all look for: they say that the charges which are being circulated against us are such as these; that we entertain opinions opposed to those who at Nicea set forth the right and sound faith." Gregory of Nyssa, To Sebasteia, Epistle 2 (ante A.D. 394). 

The Church is Hierarchical

"To this end it is well, I think, to look out for high qualifications in your election, that he who is appointed to the Presidency may be suitable for the post. Now the Apostolic injunctions do not direct us to look to high birth, wealth, and distinction in the eyes of the world among the virtues of a Bishop." Gregory of Nyssa, To the Church at Nicodemia, Epistle 13 (ante A.D. 394). 

Scripture Must be Interpreted in Light of Church Tradition

"[S]eeing, I say, that the Church teaches this in plain language, that the Only-begotten is essentially God, very God of the essence of the very God, how ought one who opposes her decisions to overthrow the preconceived opinion... And let no one interrupt me, by saying that what we confess should also be confirmed by constructive reasoning: for it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our Fathers, handled on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them." Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 4:6 (c. A.D. 384).

Scripture is not subject to private interpretation

"Who knows not that what separates the Church from heresy is this term, 'product of creation, ' applied to the Son? Accordingly, the doctrinal difference being universally acknowledged, what would be the reasonable course for a man to take who endeavors to show that his opinions are more true than ours?" Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 4:6 (inter A.D. 380-384).

Original Sin

"Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning…through those who by their disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till life's term." Gregory of Nyssa, The Beatitudes, 6 (ante A.D. 394).

Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist

“…if a person sees bread he also, in a kind of way, looks on a human body, for by the bread being within it the bread becomes it, so also, in that other case, the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body. For that which is peculiar to all flesh is acknowledged also in the case of that flesh, namely, that that Body too was maintained by bread; which Body also by the indwelling of God the Word was transmuted to the dignity of Godhead. Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, 'is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer'; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, 'This is My Body.'” Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 37 (post A.D. 383).

“ Seeing, too, that all flesh is nourished by what is moist (for without this combination our earthly part would not continue to live), just as we support by food which is firm and solid the solid part of our body, in like manner we supplement the moist part from the kindred element; and this, when within us, by its faculty of being transmitted, is changed to blood, and especially if through the wine it receives the faculty of being transmuted into heat. Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He trans-elements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing." Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 37 (post A.D. 383).

“Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, 'is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer'; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, 'This is My Body.'” Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 37 (post A.D. 383).

Purgatory

"When he has quitted his body and the difference between virtue and vice is known he cannot approach God till the purging fire shall have cleansed the stains with which his soul was infested. That same fire in others will cancel the corruption of matter, and the propensity to evil." Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead, PG 13:445,448 (ante A.D. 394).

Mary is the New Eve and the most Blessed among Women

"It was, to divulge by the manner of His Incarnation this great secret; that purity is the only complete indication of the presence of God and of His coming, and that no one can in reality secure this for himself, unless he has altogether estranged himself from the passions of the flesh. What happened in the stainless Mary when the fullness of the Godhead which was in Christ shone out through her, that happens in every soul that leads by rule the virgin life." Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, 2 (A.D. 371). 

Mary is our Powerful Intercessor

"For it is said that he [Gregory the Wonderworker] heard the one who had appeared in womanly form exhorting John the Evangelist to explain to the young man the mystery of the true faith. John, in his turn, declared that he was completely willing to please the Mother of the Lord even in this matter and this was the one thing closest to his heart. And so the discussion coming to a close, and after they had made it quite clear and precise for him, the two disappeared from his sight." Gregory of Nyssa, On Gregory the WonderWorker (A.D. 380).

Mary is the Mother of God

"Just as, in the age of Mary the mother of God, he who had reigned from Adam to her time found, when he came to her and dashed his forces against the fruit of her virginity as against a rock, that he was shattered to pieces upon her, so in every soul which passes through this life in the flesh under the protection of virginity, the strength of death is in a manner broken and annulled, for he does not find the places upon which he may fix his sting." Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, 14 (A.D. 370).

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Saint Gregory of Nazianzus


Gregory of Nazianzus (330January 25, 389 or 390) (also known as Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen) was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained speaker and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials.

Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek- and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the "Trinitarian Theologian". Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Along with the two brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers.

Gregory is a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is numbered among the Doctors of the Church; in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom.

Quotes

Apostolic Succession

"He [St. Athanasius] is led up to the throne of Saint Mark, to succeed him in piety, no less than in office; in the latter indeed at a great distance from him, in the former, which is the genuine right of succession, following him closely. For unity in doctrine deserves unity in office; and a rival teacher sets up a rival throne; the one is a successor in reality, the other but in name. For it is not the intruder, but he whose rights are intruded upon, who is the successor, not the lawbreaker, but the lawfully appointed, not the man of contrary opinions, but the man of the same faith; if this is not what we mean by successor, he succeeds in the same sense as disease to health, darkness to light, storm to calm, and frenzy to sound sense." Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 21:8 (A.D. 380).

Peter is the Rock

“Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were exalted and deserving of choice, one is called rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the church.” Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 32:18 (A.D. 380).

The Church's Ecumenical Councils are Infallible

"And therefore, first in the holy Synod of Nicaea, the gathering of the three hundred and eighteen chosen men, united by the Holy Ghost, as far as in him lay, he [St. Athanasius] stayed the disease. Though not yet ranked among the Bishops, he held the first rank among the members of the Council, for preference was given to virtue just as much as to office." Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 21:14 (A.D. 379).

The Church is Hierarchical

"Who can test himself by the rules and standards which Paul laid down for bishops and presbyters, that they are to be temperate, sober-minded, not given to wine, no strikers, apt to teach, blameless in all things, and beyond the reach of the wicked, without finding considerable deflection from the straight line of the rules?" Gregory of Nazianzen, In Defense of his Flight, 69 (ante A.D. 389).

Original Sin

"And further, above this, we have in common reason, the Law, the Prophets, the very Sufferings of Christ, by which we were all without exception created anew, who partake of the same Adam, and were led astray by the serpent and slain by sin, and are saved by the heavenly Adam and brought back by the tree of shame to the tree of life from whence we had fallen." Gregory of Nazianzen, Against the Arians, 33:9 (A.D. 380).

Infant Baptism

"Have you an infant child? Do not let sin get any opportunity, but let him be sanctified from his childhood; from his very tenderest age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Fearest thou the Seal on account of the weakness of nature?" Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:17 (A.D. 381).

"Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified than that they should depart unsealed and uninitiated." Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:28 (A.D. 381).

We are Justified by Grace Through Faith and Works

"For when you hear, Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He saith not of him that willeth; that is, not of him that willeth only, nor of him that runneth only, but also of God. That sheweth mercy. Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. However much you may run, however much you may wrestle, yet you need one to give the crown." Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 37:13 (A.D. 383). 

Mary is our Powerful Intercessor

"Recalling these and other circumstances and imploring the Virgin Mary to bring assistance, since she, too, was a virgin and had been in danger, she entrusted herself to the remedy of fasting and sleeping on the ground." Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 24:11 (A.D. 379).

Mary is the New Eve and the most Blessed among Women

"If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is severed from the Godhead. If anyone should assert that He passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not at once divinely and humanly formed in her (divinely, because without the intervention of a man; humanly, because in accordance with the laws of gestation), he is in like manner godless." Gregory of Nazianzen, To Cledonius, Epistle 101 (A.D. 382).

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