Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea
Saint Gregory the Miracle-Worker
14th century icon
Bishop and Confessor
|Born||c. AD 213|
Neocaesarea, Pontus, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)
|Died||c. AD 270|
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
Eastern Orthodox Church
|Attributes||Bishop driving demons out of a temple; presenting a bishop's mitre to Saint Alexander the Charcoal Burner|
|Patronage||against earthquakes, desperate causes, floods, forgotten causes, impossible causes, lost causes|
Gregory Thaumaturgus or Gregory the Miracle-Worker (Ancient Greek: ? , Gr?górios ho Thaumatourgós; Latin: Gregorius Thaumaturgus; c. 213 - 270), also known as Gregory of Neocaesarea, was a Christian bishop of the 3rd century. He has been canonized as a saint in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Gregory was born around AD 213 to a wealthy pagan family in Neocaesarea (modern Niksar, then the capital of the area of Pontus in Asia Minor). 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 Nevertheless, the lives of few bishops of the third century are so well authenticated; the historical references to him permit a fairly detailed reconstruction of his work.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 in 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 Palestine, 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 Neocaesarea by Phoedimus, Bishop of Amasea and metropolitan of Pontus.[failed verification] 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.
Sources on the life, teaching, and actions of Gregory Thaumaturgus are all more or less open to criticism. Besides the details given by Gregory himself, there are four other sources of information, according to Kötschau all derived from oral tradition; indeed, the differences between them force the conclusion that they cannot all be derived from one common written source. They are:
Drawing on family traditions and a knowledge of the neighbourhood, the account by Gregory of Nyssa is more reliably historical than other known versions of the Thaumaturge's life. By the time of Rufinus (ca. 400), the original story was becoming confused; the Syriac account is at times obscure and contradictory. Even the life by Gregory of Nyssa exhibits a legendary element, though the facts were supplied to the writer by his grandmother, St. Macrina the Elder. He relates that before his episcopal consecration Gregory retired from Neocaesarea into a solitude, and was favoured by an apparition of the Blessed Virgin and John the Apostle, and that the latter dictated to him a creed or formula of Christian faith, of which the autograph existed at Neocaesarea when the biography was being written. The creed itself is important for the history of Christian doctrine.
Gregory of Nyssa describes at length the miracles that gained for the Bishop of Caesarea the title of Thaumaturgus. It is clear that Gregory's influence must have been considerable, and his miraculous power undoubted. It might have been expected that Gregory's name would appear among those who took part in the First Council of Antioch against Paul of Samosata; probably he took part also in the second council held there against the same heresiarch, for the letter of that council is signed by a bishop named Theodore, which had been originally Gregory's name. To attract the people to the festivals in honour of the martyrs, Gregory organized profane amusements that might appeal to pagans, who were accustomed to religious ceremonies that combined solemnity with pleasure and merrymaking.
Thomas Allin (writer on Universalism) claimed Gregory as a Universalist in 1899, but without any specific source evidence other than his friendship with Origen.