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The Cappadocian Fathers and Civic Patriotism

  • Thomas A. Kopecek (a1)


In a recent article I argued that the famous Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century were by birth members of the eastern empire's municipal aristocracy, the so-called curial class. Libanius of Antioch, himself born of a curial family, indicates that this social class was characterized by three traditional values: civic patriotism, devotion to Greek paideia and a strong sense of the importance of family ties and tradition. The purpose of the present essay is to focus on the first and most important component of the threcfold “curial ideal” —that is, civic patriotism — and to investigate the extent to which this value of the social circles to which the Fathers belonged influenced their thought and action as clerics. Although Gregory of Nyssa, the youngest of the Cappadocian Fathers, was not at all immune to the influence of other curial values, our sources reveal little effect of civic patriotism upon his clerical activity. Therefore our study will concentrate on the older Cappadocians, Bishop Gregory the Elder of Nazianzus, his son Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus and Bishop Basil of Caesarea.



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1. “The Social Class of the Cappadocian Fathers,” Church History 42 (1973): 453466.

2. See Libanius, Orr. 11:133–141 and 14:5–8.

3. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 18:1217; see also Gallay, Paul, La Vie de Saint Grégoire de Nazianze (Paris and Lyon, 1943), pp. 2324.

4. On the date of Gregory the Elder's death, see Gallay, , La Vie de Saint Grégoire, p. 124.

6. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 18:39.

5. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Anth. Pal. 8:15.

7. Gregory the Younger clearly believed the church to be very beautiful. In a letter written to a governor of Cappadocia in A.D. 382 he speaks of “our love for its beauty” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Ep. 141).

8. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 18:39.

10. Ibid.: “When there was a need of a priest, he provided one [that is, his son Gregory the Younger] at his own expense (oikothen).”

11. Gregory the Younger administered these estates for his father during the late 350s A.D. See Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Carm. 2:1:1, 143164,Carm. 2:1:11, 265ff. and 312ff, and Carm. 2:1:3, 910, and compare Fleury, E., Hellénisme et Christianisme: Saint Grégoire de Nazianze et Son Temps (Paris, 1930), p. 103.

12. Jones, A. H. M., The Greek City: From Alexander to Justinian (Oxford, 1940), p. 236.

13. Chrysostom, Dio, Soph. 40: 10.

14. Aristides, Aelius, Or. 26: 9799 quoted by Jones, , The Greek City, p. 249.

15. Compare Jones, , The Greek City, p. 736.

16. Ibid., pp. 236–237 and 248–250. Compare Dill, Samuel, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (Cleveland and New York, 1956), pp. 222228, especially pp. 226227.

17. See Libanius, , Orr. 11:133138, 14: 7–8, and so on.

18. Petit, Paul, Libanius et la Vie Municipale à Antioche au IVe Siècle après J.-C. (Paris,1955), pp. 314320; Jones, , The Greek City, p. 256.

19. Petit, p. 318.

20. Codex Theodosianus 15:1:3, 1417, 2021, 28, 31.

21. On the great expansion of the ranks of the honorati in the fourth century, see Jones, A. H. M.. The Later Roman Empire: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey (Norman, Oklahoma, 1964), pp. 526528. On the fact that the overwhelming majority of the new honorati were former curials, see ibid., pp. 546ff.

22. Petit p. 345, has gathered from the writings of Libanius the names of no less than twelve provincial governors who were from curial families.

23. Ibid., p. 332.

24. For the date, see Gallay, , La Vie de Saint Grégoire, p. 123, with n.5.

25. Fleury, p. 253.

26. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 17:13.

27. Ibid. 17:9.

28. I follow the literary analysis offered by Bernardi, Jean, La Prédication des Pères Cappadociens: Le Précateur et Son Auditoire (Paris, 1968), p. 122.

29. Fleury, p. 255.

30. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Ep. 141:5.

31. Fleury, p. 353.

32. See Gaflay, , LaVie de Saint Grégoire p. 222: “Dans une lettre écrite an nom de ses compatriotes (Lettre 141), Gregoire plaida leur cause.”

33. See ibid., pp. 13–16.

34. Gallay, Paul, ed. and trans., Saint Grégoire de Nazianze: Lettres (Paris, 1964 and 1967), 2:31 n. 3.

35. In a short, personal note to Olympius (Gregory of Nazianzus, Ep. 142) which Gregory seems to have sent after his lengthy formal letter, the bishop appeals to the governor's Christianity somewhat more directly than in Ep. 141. We may conjecture that the earlier letter's patriotic arguments had not been as successful as Gregory had hoped.

36. Although Basil's paternal ancestors were from Pontus, his maternal ancestors were Cappadocians (Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 43:3). Some of Basil's relatives still lived in Caesarea in the 370s A.D. (see Basil, , Ep. 137). In fact, one of his uncles was a Cappadocian cleric (see Basil, , Epp. 5860) and another was a lower-ranking Cappadocian cleric before Basil raised him to the episcopal see of Satala in Armenia Minor (Basil, , Epp. 102103 and 122). Compare, in addition, Basil, , Epp. 51, 104 and perhaps also 1.

37. Basil, , Epp. 7476.

38. For a discussion of the curial displacements involved in the provincial division, see my article, “Curial Displacements and Flight in Later Fourth Century Cappadocia,” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (forthcoming).

39. Basil, Ep. 74: “épéstilan oûn opeigontes hēmâs hoi polîtai.” Since evidence in Libanius indicates that the expression “hoi polîtai” could be used to refer specifically to curials (see Petit, p. 25) and since Basil seems to have used it in this sense in his Ep. 15, we may presume that it was the curials who wrote to Basil Moreover, not only was th curia the only citizen body which could have sent a group letter but also the curials. as has been mentioned in our preceding paragraph, were the people most directly affected by the emperor's action.

40. Basil, , Ep. 76.

41. Jones, , Later Roman Empire, pp. 880881.

42. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Epp. 4750. Compare Gallay, , La Vie de Saint Grégoire, pp. 106107.

43. Basil, , Ep. 76.

44. Hauser-Meury, Marie-Madeleine, Prosopographie zu den Schriften Gregors von Nazianz (Bonn, 1960), p. 117.

45. Basil, , Epp. 75 and 76.

46. Basil, Ep. 76.

47. Ibid.

48. Basil, , Ep. 75.

49. Basil, , Epp. 85, 88, 104 and 110.

50. Basil, , Ep, 83. The allusion to the division occurs when Basil writes, “… it is possible to set upright our fatherland now completely dashed to the ground.”

51. Basil, , Ep. 88. For a discussion of the historical context of this letter, see my essay, “Curial Displacements,” Historia (forthcoming).

52. A. H. M. Jones defines the negotiatores as those who made their living “by buying and selling or by charging fees” and cites evidence which reveals that this included craftsmen, merchants, moneylenders, fishermen, market gardeners and even prostitutes. See Jones, , Later Roman Empire, p. 431, with n. 52 of p. 1178.

53. Hinted at in the first sentence of Basil, , Ep. 88.

54. See ibid.

55. The curials had been relieved of this responsibility a mere ten years earlier, in A.D. 362. See Codex Theodosianus 13:1:4 of March 13, 362.

56. Basil, , Ep. 88.

57. Basil, , Ep. 28.

58. Deferrari, Roy J., Saint Basil: The Letters (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1928), 2:149 n. 1.

59. Gregory, of Nazainzus, , Or. 43:4451; Gregory, of Nyssa, , Contra Eunomium in Werner Jaeger, ed., Gregorii Nysseni Opera (Leiden, 1952) 1:6270 = PG 45:288–293; Basil, , Ep. 79, and so on.

60. The calumniators' explanation is hardly plausible, though it occasionally crops up in modern secondary sources. A. H. M. Jones' remark is to the point, “If he [Valens] had merely wished to injure Basil, he could have found much more summary methods of doing so,” The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (2d rev. ed., Oxford, 1971), p. 184.

61. Basil, , Ep. 94.

62. Elias was appointed after the provincial division. Therasius was the governor at the time of the division. See Basil, , Ep. 77.

63. Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 43:63. Joining the curials in their support of Basil were the Caesarean lower classes. When on one occasion after the provincial division the vicarius of the civil diocese of Pontica had threatened Basil with bodily harm, Basil was vigorously supported by the Caesareans who worked in the imperial small-arms factory and the imperial weaving-sheds. They took to the streets armed with whatever tool they had in hand in order to protect their bishop—and were joined by the women of the lower class (Gregory, of Nazianzus, , Or. 43:57). It is interesting to note in passing that the workers employed in such imperial establishments as small-arms factories, weaving- sheds and mints tended to be rather rabid Christians, as is clear from passages in the historians Sozomen and Ammianus Marcellinus which relate to the time of Emperor Julian (see Sozomen, , Hist. Eccles. 5:15 and Marcellinus, Ammianus, Res Gestae 22:11:9.

64. Theodoret, , Ep. 81.

65. See, for example, the discussions in Coster, Charles Henry, “Christianity and the Invasions: Synesius of Cyrene,” Late Roman Studies (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968), pp. 218268, especially pp. 248–249 and pp. 254–255; see also Coster, , “Synesius, a curialis of the Time of the Emperor Aracius,” Late Roman Studies, pp. 145182, especially pp. 169172.

66. Jones, , Later Roman Empire, p. 766.

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