January 2nd is the date the Roman Calendar marks off for two of the three Capadocian Fathers. It’s always interested me that these three great men are always given their due and the holy St. Macrina is somehow excluded from the crowd in certain circles. No worries, though, as she gets her own day in July.
Let me explain.
Among the controversies that arose in the early Christian Church were issues pertaining to our understanding of Trinitarian theology. While it was certainly true that Christians were trinitarian from the start (professing a belief in One God in Three Divine Persons) our understanding of that Trinity was, necessarily, limited, to say the least. OK, let’s be honest here. Our understanding of the Blessed Trinity was almost non-existent.
Christ Jesus revealed Himself to be Son of the Father, calling Himself so several times in the Gospel. He revealed that He and the Father are one and the “before Abraham was, I AM”, claiming equality with the Father. Great. With me so far? OK, the early followers of the WAY (that’s how Christians first identified themselves) clearly believed int he divinity of Jesus. Throughout the New Testament they reference Him as LORD, a title reserved for God alone. We could get into the whole “Son of Man”, “Son of David”, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” list which would further prove my point.
Even though He poured out His Spirit upon them and instructed them to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, there was still a bit of confusion. For instance, in Acts 19:2, Paul asks the following of a group of Christians:
He said to them, “Did you receive the holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered him, “We have never even heard that there is a holy Spirit.”
Good one, Paul. So let’s get back to these Capadocian Fathers. By the fourth century, the theology was being worked out nicely but not without its own drama. In 325 a dude named Arius (a bishop, actually) began teaching that Jesus was not divine. The rest of the bishops met at Nicaea to condemn him and in setting the record straight devised a creed which is still used by Christians today. Except, in its original form it ended with the words “We believe also in the Holy Spirit.” Period. That’s where these fellows come in.
Gregory of Nazianzus, and the brothers Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great contributed a great deal to the actual theology behind our understanding of the Holy Spirit. Ironically, I’m not even going to get into any of it because I’d be writing forever. I will say this, though. For some reason we celebrate the first Gregory along with the Basil and Basil’s brother, Gregory, on his own. So yes, as confusing as it sounds, the Ss. Gregory and Basil celebrated today are brothers but not in the sibling sense although one of the two is brothers with another saint. To be honest, Basil and Gregory (the one from Nyssa, not the Nazianzene) had a sister, St. Macrina the Younger, who also contributed to the mix. Further complicating things, several of their immediate family are also venerated as saints.
If you can figure out this family tree, let me know.