Thought for the Day – 2 January – The Memorial of St Basil the Great (329-379) and St Gregory of Nazianzen (330-390) Fathers & Doctors of the Church – On Friendship “We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit.”
St Gregory of Nazianzen
On 2 January the Roman Catholic Church honours the memory of two friends from an area of what is now Turkey that was called Cappadocia. These men began their friendship while away at school and later became bishops who were the backbone of Catholic Orthodoxy during a period of doctrinal struggle and confusion. Gregory presided over the 2nd ecumenical council, held at Constantinople, whose great achievement was the completion of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that the Catholic Church recites each Sunday and the definition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. These Cappadocian Fathers, both Fathers and Doctors of the Church, proved to be some of the most influential Christian teachers of all time, honoured by both East and West, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Gregory here shares some memories of their friendship.
“Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.
I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.
What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honour than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.
Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognised that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
The same hope inspired us – the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.”
Learning of these two great Doctors of the Church, St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nazianzen and their lifelong friendship, their collaboration, most especially against the battle against Arianism, cannot help but call to our minds a similar and immensely brilliant collaboration and personal friendship, which yielded endless fruit for the life of the Church.
Do you know of whom I speak? Of course – St Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI – one already in the Halls of Heaven and raised to the Community of our Saints. Both these great modern fathers are “Doctors” of the Church – whether yet recognised officially or not and the one blessedly still with us is a saint amongst the faithful.
Sts Basil and Gregory Pray for us! St John Paul, Pray for us! Beloved Papa Benedict continue to keep us all in your prayers. Pray that our friendships may be as Godly as yours was!