Gregory was born to a wealthy pagan family in Neo-Caesarea (the capital of Pontus in Asia Minor) around 213 A.D. Little is known of his pastoral work, and his surviving theological writings are in an incomplete state. This lack of knowledge partially obscures his personality, despite his historical importance, and his immemorial title Thaumaturgus, "the wonder-worker" in Latinized Greek, casts an air of legend about him. Nevertheless, the lives of few bishops of the third century are so well authenticated; the historical references to him permit a fairly detailed reconstruction of his work.
Originally he was known as Theodore ("gift of God"), not an exclusively Christian name. He was introduced to the Christian religion at the age of fourteen, after the death of his father. He had a brother Athenodorus, and on the advice of one of their tutors, the young men were eager to study at the Berytus (Beirut), then one of the four or five famous schools in the Hellenic world. At this time, their brother-in-law was appointed assessor (legal counsel) to the Roman Governor of Palestine; the youths had therefore an occasion to act as an escort to their sister as far as Caesarea in Palestine. On arrival in that town they learned that the celebrated scholar Origen, head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, resided there. Curiosity led them to hear and converse with the master. Soon both youths forgot all about Beirut and Roman law, and gave themselves up to the great Christian teacher, who gradually won them over to Christianity.
In his panegyric on Origen, Gregory describes the method employed by that master to win the confidence and esteem of those he wished to convert; how he mingled a persuasive candour with outbursts of temper and theological argument put cleverly at once and unexpectedly. Persuasive skill rather than bare reasoning, and evident sincerity and an ardent conviction were the means Origen used to make converts. Gregory took up at first the study of philosophy; theology was afterwards added, but his mind remained always inclined to philosophical study, so much so indeed that in his youth he cherished strongly the hope of demonstrating that the Christian religion was the only true and good philosophy. For seven years he underwent the mental and moral discipline of Origen (231 to 238 or 239). There is no reason to believe that his studies were interrupted by the persecutions of Maximinus of Thrace; his alleged journey to Alexandria, at this time, may therefore be considered at least doubtful, and probably never occurred.
Before leaving Israel, Gregory delivered in presence of Origen a public farewell oration in which he returned thanks to the illustrious master he was leaving. This oration is valuable from many points of view. As a rhetorical exercise it exhibits the excellent training given by Origen, and his skill in developing literary taste and the amount of adulation then permissible towards a living person in an assembly composed mostly of Christians, and Christian in temper. It contains, moreover, much useful information concerning the youth of Gregory and his master's method of teaching. A letter of Origen refers to the departure of the two brothers, but it is not easy to determine whether it was written before or after the delivery of this oration. In it Origen exhorts his pupils to bring the intellectual treasures of the Greeks to the service of Christian philosophy, and thus imitate the Jews who employed the golden vessels of the Egyptians to adorn the Holy of Holies.
Gregory returned to Pontus with the intention of practising law. His plan, however, was again laid aside, for he was soon consecrated bishop of his native Caesarea by Phoedimus, Bishop of Amasea and metropolitan of Pontus. This fact illustrates in an interesting way the growth of the hierarchy in the primitive Church; the Christian community at Caesarea was very small, being only seventeen souls, and yet it was given a bishop. Ancient canonical documents indicate that it was possible for a community of even ten Christians to have their own bishop. When Gregory was consecrated he was forty years old, and he ruled his diocese for thirteen years.
Nothing definite is known about his methods, but he must have shown much zeal in increasing the little flock with which he began his episcopal administration. An ancient source attests to his missionary zeal by recording a curious coincidence: Gregory began with only seventeen Christians, but at his death there remained only seventeen pagans in the whole town of Caesarea. Presumably the many miracles which won for him the title of Thaumaturgus were performed during these years.
Works by Gretory Thaumaturgus
Originally printed in 1885, the ten-volume set, Ante-Nicene Fathers, brings together the work of early Christian thinkers. In particular, it brings together the writings of the early Church fathers prior to the fourth century Nicene Creed. These volumes are noteworthy for their inclusion of entire texts, and not simply fragments or excerpts from these great writings. The translations are fairly literal, providing both readers and scholars with a good approximation of the originals. This volume harmonizes various fragmentary material. It contains the work of different authors: St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Pope Dionysius of Alexandria, Sextus Julius Africanus, St. Anatolius, Pope Peter of Alexandria, and others. These writings were heavily influential on the early Church, and for good reason, as they are inspirational and encouraging. These volumes also come with many useful notes, providing the reader with new levels of understanding. Overall, Ante-Nicene Fathers, or any part of it, is a welcome addition to one's reading list.
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