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26 - The Cappadocians

from A - LITERARY GUIDE

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Frances Young
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
Lewis Ayres
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
Andrew Louth
Affiliation:
University of Durham
Augustine Casiday
Affiliation:
University of Durham
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Summary

The grouping together of Basil of Caesarea, with his friend, Gregory of Naziazus, and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, as the ‘Cappadocian Fathers’(originally the ‘great Cappadocians’) is a product of modern scholars, who have regarded as significant the family links, geographicallocality andcommon theological commitment they perceived in them. It is not a traditional designation: the three Fathers of the fourth century singled out by the Church as ‘universal teachers’ (οικουμενικoì δiδάσκαλoi) are Basil ‘the Great’, Gregory ‘the Theologian’ (i.e., Nazianzen), and John ‘of the Golden Mouth’ (or Chrysostom), celebrated together on 30 January. We should perhaps pause before linking the ‘Cappadocians’ too closely together: they had individual minds, although the courses of their lives were undoubtedly interwoven.

Basil and his friend, Gregory of Nazianzen, were probably of like age, both born in 329 or 330, the sons of well-off, land-owning families. Their friendship went back to their studies together in Athens in the early 350s. They were both highly accomplished rhetors, skilled in the literary Greek of the classical period. Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger brother, born perhaps in the late 330s, was no less accomplished, though he seems not to have followed him to Athens, but owed his rhetorical training directly to his elder brother. Basil and his friend Gregory were soon drawn to the ascetic life, and in 356, after completing his studies at Athens, Basil went on a tour of monastic settlements in Coele-Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt. On his return he was baptized and retired to his family estate at Annisa in Pontus (near the confluence of the rivers Iris and Lycos) where he joined his mother, Emmelia, and his sister, Macrina, in their life of asceticism. From here he wrote to Gregory Nazianzen, inviting him to join him.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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