The Ecumenical Legacy of the Cappadocians pp 139-157
St. Gregory of Nazianzus on the Love of the Poor (Oration 14)
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, known in the Christian East as “The Theologian,” was a phenomenally wealthy man. His family, from several generations before his birth, had belonged to the financial and political elite of Cappadocia. Gregory’s own career followed that tradition by demonstrating a lifelong involvement at the highest levels of society and church. At several instances in the course of his life, as Bernard Coulie has demonstrated,1 he turned his reflections to the moral problem posed by the possession of wealth to someone who professed to live by the Gospel that enjoined dispossession as the Royal Way for the disciple.2 Not merely was he a wealthy Christian who had to take the message of dispossession to heart: he was also a self-professed ascetic. Admittedly, he had found St. Basil the Great’s definition of “asceticism” too stringent, and in some senses too limiting, to want to follow himself. His ironic remarks, in his letters to Basil, about the monastic establishment at Annesos being too obsessed by physical labor and regimentation are well known.3 Gregory’s rejection of the Basilian ideas (partly inspired by Macrina’s monastic example, which she had learned from Eustathius of Antioch)4 were a cover for the ongoing maturation of his own idea of the best form of the “retired life.” He preferred the term sophrosyne to askesis: the quest for wisdom and sobriety taking precedence over the disciplining of the body. Not to Gregory’s taste were those wild feats of endurance that would characterize several of the Egyptian and Syrian holy men.
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