Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we look at the third (and sometimes overlooked) Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 9th of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Let’s talk about younger brothers. Specifically younger brothers of famous people- we might call them the “Frank Stallone All-Stars.”

  • Frank Stallone- Sylvester’s younger brother
  • Luke Hemsworth- his brothers Liam and Chris have been in Avengers and The Hunger Games.
  • Frankie Jonas- there are 4 Jonas Brothers!
  • Ashlee Simpson (google her name and “lip sync SNL”)
  • And then sometimes a younger sibling catches up:
  • Casey Affleck became a famous actor
  • Eli Manning won 2 Super Bowls
  • Kieran Culkin has outdone his famous brother Macauley.

And in the world of Church history, we get Gregory of Nyssa- the little brother of Basil the Great. And to add to it, Basil had a best friend called Gregory, such that their little brother has historically been underappreciated.

Let’s look at Gregory of Nyssa- the third of the Cappadocian Fathers.

We don’t know his exact dates- but he was born in modern-day Turkey around 335. It is thought that he died on this, the 9th of March (possibly) in 395.

He is a “Cappadocian Father,” which means he is revered as a Church Father in the Eastern Church. But his 4th-century work was so critical for our understanding of the Trinity that he is celebrated across denominations (he has at least six feast days on the calendars of different churches)

We don’t know a lot about Gregory- he didn’t write much about his life. As a younger sibling, we know that he caused a stir when he went into secular work. His older brother Basil and his older sister Macrina were making names for themselves in the church.

Gregory had some spiritual crisis in the 360s but was eventually brought back into the church- possibly by his brother Basil.

As Basil was dealing with Trinitarian issues and Arians, he needed as many allies as he could get. He appointed his brother the bishop at Nyssa.

[Remember the context of their lives is post-Nicea and right around the Council of Constantinople- so the nature of Jesus as man and God are the primary questions at hand]

It doesn’t seem like he was a very able administrator, and he was accused of abusing his office by his Arian detractors. They deposed him in 376. In 378 and 9, he lost both his sister Macrina and his brother Basil. However, in the same year, Emperor Valens, who was partial to Arianism, died, and Gregory could go back to his position at Nyssa.

In these last years, Gregory began to make a name for himself, separate from his brother. He did this in his mystical writings and is credited as a father of early mysticism. His brother Basil had laid out the rule of life for monks (like Benedict did in the West), but Gregory wrote to the monks to explain how the rules bring them into the imitation of Christ.

He appealed to Divine simplicity when he believed other theologians were confusing the members of the Godhead. Divine Simplicity is the idea that “all that is in God is God.” Please don’t make him multiple. Thus, the son is God, and so is the Holy Spirit. Trinitarian theology (which has been surprisingly static across the centuries) owes a lot to Gregory.

His use of Origen and his doctrine of sort-of universalism give us what may be a helpful example. Origen was condemned for his overuse of allegory. Gregory loved Origen’s creativity and wrote that he was interested in some of his ideas but did not buy his thought whole. His doctrine on the final state of all people affirms that there is punishment for sin both here and in the next life- but that eventually, Christ will draw all people to himself. Why wasn’t he condemned those who would later affirm the Athanasian Creed?

One reason is that he was careful to affirm orthodox positions while asking questions and posing possibilities. His lack of dogmatizing and his place in the Eastern church have given us a distance so that we can engage with his ideas and feel free to pick through what might be wheat in the chaff.

This defender (and source) of early Trinitarian doctrine, early mystic, and sly theologian was a younger brother who eventually joined his brother and friend as a leading theological voice in the East- we remember Gregory of Nyssa on the anniversary of his death on this day in 395.

The Last word for today comes from 1 Corinthians 15:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a fan of Frank Stallone- especially his song Bad Nite from Sylvester’s movie about arm wrestling (One the Top). He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a little brother himself- I know my sister Lisa has listened to this show- hey Lisa! I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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