Cappadocia, a Roman province from 17 c.e., became Christianized in the second century c.e. Cappadocia was a rural province, and its capital Mazica, later called Caesarea, was its only major city.
Characteristic of theology in Cappadocia was the early influence of Origen on the third-century Cappadocian church leaders Alexander (after 212 c.e., bishop of Jerusalem and a friend of Origen) and Firmilian, the bishop of Caesarea (230–269 c.e.).
Origen himself escaped to Cappadocia during the persecution of Maximinus Thrax (235–238 c.e.). His impact remained present in the work of the Cappadocian writers Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus.
Basil became bishop of Caesarea in 370 c.e., having studied rhetoric and other disciplines at home in Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens. In Athens he met Gregory Nazianzus, who would become a lifelong friend and ally against the neo-Arian writers Eunomius and Aetius.
From a tour of the Christian monasteries in the Near East after 355 c.e., he gained his lifelong devotion to the ascetic life and concern for monastics. This experience and encouragement from his sister Macrina, who sometimes is spoken of as “the fourth Cappadocian theologian,” persuaded him to be baptized. As successor of Eusebius of Caesarea, Basil was active in theological, political, and ecclesiastical conflicts.
His fight against the neo-Arians gained him the opposition of the Arian emperor Valens (364–378 c.e.), who divided the province of Cappadocia in two. A struggle with the Arian bishop Anthimus of Tyana over the control of churches in this new province ensued. Basil ordained his brother Gregory to the see of Nyssa (nominally now under Anthimus’s control).
Unsuccessfully he also attempted to ordain Gregory Nazianzus to the see of Sasima. Basil was also embroiled in a controversy with the Arian bishop Eustathius of Sebaste, who had mentored Basil. Basil died in 379, leaving the resolution of the neo-Arian crisis to the two Cappadocian Gregories.
Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa (c. 331–395 c.e.) assumed the mantle of the struggle against the neo-Arians after Basil’s death. His theological position was critical at the Council of Constantinople (381).
There the anti-Arian emperor Theodosius I declared communion with Gregory one of the conditions for orthodoxy. Gregory traveled to Arabia and Jerusalem to mediate ecclesiastical disputes.
His writings addressed questions of the Trinitarian controversies (Against Eunomius, Ad Petrum, Refutatio confessionis Eunomii) and argued against the Christology of Apollinaris (Ad Theophilum, Adversus Apollinaristas, Antirheticus adversus Apollinarem). He composed a hagiobiography of his sister, the Life of Macrina. His theology owes much to Platonism, Neoplatonism, and Origen.
His writings assert both the full divinity and the full humanity of Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth, although in opposition to Origen and Neoplatonism he rejected the preexistence of souls. His writings exhibited great influence on the thought of speculative theologians such as john damascene, Gregory Palamas, and Duns Scotus.
Basil and Gregory’s friend, Gregory Nazianzus (c. 329–390), was bishop of Constantinople (379–381) and represented the imperial city at the Council of Constantinople.
Gregory’s opponents among the Alexandrian and Macedonian bishops objected to his appointment to Constantinople, and Gregory, citing poor health, returned to Nazianzus. He was eventually persuaded to become bishop of that city (Basil had appointed him as auxiliary bishop earlier).
In 384 he left Nazianzus and returned to his family estate in Arianzus, where he devoted himself to writing until his death in 390. Gregory’s Orations are among his most important works, most of which were delivered for festivals.
As a theologian, Gregory opposed the assumptions of the Eunomians that language was a God-given system, that names were the only way of access to the essence of the thing named, and that statements about God’s essence were a matter of logical inference.
Gregory contended that God is known only insofar as he has revealed himself to humanity. Like the other Cappadocians, Gregory expressed the single nature of the Trinitarian Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the full humanity and divinity of Christ.
Gregory maintained that the Son of God became human so that human beings could participate in God’s divinity. Gregory’s other writings include a collection of his letters, which he assembled before his death.