GREGORY was born of saintly parents in c. 329, and was the chosen friend of St. Basil. They studied together at Athens, turned at the same time from the fairest worldly prospects, and for some years lived together in seclusion, self-discipline, and toil. Gregory was raised, almost by force, to the priesthood; and was in time made Bishop of Nazianzum by St. Basil, who had become Archbishop of Cæsarea.
When he was fifty years old, he was chosen, for his rare gifts and his conciliatory disposition, to be Patriarch of Constantinople, then distracted and laid waste by Arian and other heretics. In that city he labored with wonderful success, so much so that history knows him as “The Trinitarian Theologian.”
The Arians were so irritated at the decay of their heresy that they pursued the Saint with outrage, calumny, and violence, and at length resolved to take away his life. For this purpose they chose a resolute young man, who readily undertook the sacrilegious commission. But God did not allow him to carry it out. He was touched with remorse, and cast himself at the Saint’s feet, avowing his sinful intent. St. Gregory at once forgave him, treated him with all kindness, and received him amongst his friends, to the wonder and edification of the whole city, and to the confusion of the heretics, whose crime had served only as a foil to the virtue of the Saint.
St. Jerome boasts that he had sat at his feet, and calls him his master and his catechist in Holy Scripture. But his lowliness, his austerities, the insignificance of his person, and above all his very success, drew down on him the hatred of the enemies of the Faith. He was persecuted by the magistrates, stoned by the rabble, and thwarted and deserted even by his brother bishops. During the second General Council he resigned his see, hoping thus to restore peace to the tormented city, and retired to his native town, where he died in 390. He was a graceful poet, a preacher at once eloquent and solid; and as a champion of the Faith so well equipped, so strenuous, and so exact, that he is called St. Gregory the Theologian. In 1568 he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.
Reflection.—”We must overcome our enemies,” said St. Gregory, “by gentleness; win them over by forbearance. Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by our wrath. Let us not at once wither the fig-tree, from which a more skilful gardener may yet entice fruit.”
He also said this: “God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.”