Gregory’s Last Years

He delivered a striking funeral oration on the third anniversary of Basil’s death -- Part 7

Following the council of 381, Gregory returned to Nazianzus. For Lent, he gave up speaking! (Newman, Historical Sketches, p. 86)

In his autobiographical poem, Gregory used some harsh words to describe his relationship with Basil. Yet, at the same time that he wrote the poem, he delivered a funeral oration full of praise for Basil on the third anniversary of Basil’s death, January 1, 382. The poem and the funeral oration are the two items from which I have extensively quoted. Gregory obviously had mixed feelings about Basil. He intensely disliked what Basil had asked him to do, yet he loved and admired him. Here’s some of what he said in the funeral oration:

Who was so pleasant in social contact, as I myself know from long experience with him? Who was so delightful in his storytelling, so penetrating in his wit, so gentle in repartee?…

But what are these things compared to his excellence in eloquence and the power of his teaching, by which he endeared himself to the ends of the earth? We are still engaged at the foot of the mountain, far from the summit…For I think that if there ever has been, or will be, a trumpet penetrating the immensity of space, or a voice of God encompassing the world, or a universal earthquake resulting from some new wonder or miracle, his voice and mind were as all of these, leaving all men as far behind and below him as we surpass irrational creatures. (Funeral Orations, paras. 64-5, p. 83)

Whenever I take [Basil’s book] Hexameron in my hands and savor its words, I am put in the presence of the Creator…When I chance upon his controversial works, I see…fire…by which wicked and criminal tongues are reduced to ashes…When I turn to his works treating of the [Holy] Spirit, I find the God I possess… (Funeral Orations, para. 67, p. 85)

I, Gregory, who am half dead and cut in two, now that our great union is sundered, drag out a painful and weary life, a natural result of my separation from him. I know not what my end shall be, now that I no longer have his guidance…My purpose is not so much…to sketch the manner of his life and propose a common model of virtue for all time, a salutary example for all the churches and all souls…, but rather to counsel you who have been thoroughly imbued with his teaching, eyes fixed on him, as though he were seeing you, and you him, that you may be perfected by the Spirit.

Come here, now, and stand about me…each giving or requiring an account of some virtue of his.
Let those of you who have supreme authority consider the lawgiver;
you public officials, the founder of the city;
you of the people, his orderliness;
you men of letters, the teacher;
you virgins, the groom;
you married people, the counselor;
you hermits, him who gave you wings;
you [monks] the judge;
you who are simple and sincere, your guide;
you contemplatives, the theologian;
you exuberant souls, the bridle;
you unfortunate, your consolation;
you elderly, your staff;
you youth, your preceptor;
you in poverty, your relief…
It seems to me also that widows should praise their protector,
orphans their father,
the poor the lover of the poor,
strangers their host,
brothers the lover of brothers,
the sick their physician…
the healthy the guardian of their health…
This is my tribute to you, Basil, from a tongue that was once most sweet to you, and from him who was your peer in rank and age…[I]f it is far below your worth and falls far short of your expectations, what must I feel, worn out with age and disease and longing for you? Yet, when a man does what he can, it is pleasing to God… (Funeral Orations, paras. 81-2, pp. 97-8)

Gregory served as bishop until 383. Then he moved to his birthplace, Arianzus, writing and giving spiritual direction until he died in 390, about age 60. His relics are at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, died in 394, about age 59.

In the next post, we’ll look at their various titles, a list of their published works, and reflect on their lives.


[Ed. note: A link to Part 6:

A link to Part 8:]


Copyright Notice:

St. Gregory Nazianzen & St. Ambrose, Funeral Orations (trans. Leo P. McCauley, S.J., et al.), vol. 22 of Fathers of the Church (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953, copyright renewed 1981),


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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