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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Wednesday

Memorial of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the Church

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

The Church designates the title “doctor” to a saint who has made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine through his or her research, study, or writing. Out of the 35 recognized doctors of the Church, two of them are celebrated today: Sts. Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great. Both were contemporaries in the fourth century. Gregory became the archbishop of Constantinople, and Basil was the bishop of Caesarea.  They are saints of both Eastern and Western Christianity.

Young St. Gregory was on his way to school in Athens when his ship encountered a storm at sea. He prayed to Christ and vowed that if he survived, he would dedicate his life to his service. Many people make similar promises, but Gregory followed through. He became classically trained as an orator and philosopher and infused his Hellenistic influence into the early Church.

Interestingly, among Gregory’s fellow students was his good friend St. Basil as well as the future emperor, Julian the Apostate. Gregory and Basil would team up against Julian in the future over matters of the faith until Emperor Julian’s life was cut short in a campaign against the Persians.

Gregory and Basil also worked closely together in their fight against Arianism, which took the position that Jesus, as the Son of God, was created by God. Bishop Gregory was selected as the spokesperson of 150 bishops who gathered in Constantinople in 381. In the Council meetings Gregory emphasized that Jesus did not cease to become God when he became a human person, nor did he lose any of the divine attributes when he took on human nature. Gregory asserted that Christ was fully human, including a fully human soul, and that the Holy Spirit was eternal.

St. Basil also supported the Nicene Creed positions and opposed the heresies of the early Christian Church. Basil’s ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made him a powerful advocate in the struggle for orthodoxy.

Basil’s family is extremely noteworthy. His maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr in the days prior to Emperor Constantine’s conversion. His grandmother raised Basil and his four siblings in the Christian faith–and all five of them became saints! Basil invited his brother, his widowed mother, his sister, and other like-minded disciples to join him in a communal experience of religious life. It was during this time that Basil wrote extensively on the monastic traditions and liturgy of the Eastern Church.

I think you will agree that these men who met as schoolchildren lived their lives to the full. Our hope is not to match their prodigious output of theological insights and follow them as doctors of the Church. It is, rather, to remain faithful in all the ways that our lives demand and then, through God’s grace, joyfully join them in heaven.

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.