Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church
St. Basil and St. Gregory were each bestowed the title “Doctor of the Church” by Pope Pius V in 1568. Doctors of the Church are canonized saints who have demonstrated exemplary holiness and have deepened the understanding of the Catholic faith. Of the 10,000 saints recognized by the Church, only 37 men and women have been named a Doctor of the Church; so, St. Basil and St. Gregory have a special place in the Church.
St. Basil and St. Gregory ministered in the early Church, in the fourth century, in what is modern day Turkey. As a young man, Basil enjoyed stimulating university life in Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens. There he met Gregory Nazianzen, a quiet, scholarly man. The two became close friends, who supported and challenged each other throughout their lives.
With input from Gregory, Basil composed a rule of life for monks, which still influences the monasteries in the Eastern Church, as well as Benedictine monks in the West. Called to a more active life of service in the Church, they left the monastic life and were ordained priests, and eventually became bishops. St. Basil became Archbishop of Caesarea and St. Gregory became Bishop of Constantinople.
As bishops, both Basil and Gregory were called upon to defend the Church from Arianism, one of the most damaging heresies: it denied the divinity of Christ. St. Basil contributed to the Nicene Creed, which states that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” also expressed as “consubstantial.” In today’s first reading, written two hundred years earlier, the Apostle John could be speaking to the Arians when he said: “Anyone who denies the Son, does not have the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.”
St. Basil and St. Gregory are Doctors of the Church because of their significant contributions to the Church’s teaching, as well as their holy lives. In contentious and polarized times much like our own, they never gave up on their deeply divided flocks. Despite St. Gregory’s dislike of conflict, he continued to dialog with people who were confused by the Arian heresy, and he is known for his sermons on the Trinity. St. Basil is also known for his preaching, as well as his love for the poor. He was a pioneer in establishing systemic responses to poverty: hospitals, soup kitchens, and guest houses.
As 2024 begins, let us draw inspiration from St. Basil and St. Gregory for the new year. We pray to love the Church as they did, so we may provide leadership in times of disunity and confusion. We pray for their courage and compassion when we find ourselves in difficult conversations.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.