St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen: Teachers of the Truth About Jesus

“Those who are learned will be as radiant as the sky in all its beauty; those who instruct the people in goodness will shine like the stars for all eternity.”   Antiphon for Canticle of Zechariah, January 2

Who was your favorite teacher growing up?  Why was he or she your favorite?  Was it because they taught you well, so that you understood the subject?  Was it because they had a dynamic personality or teaching style?  Was it because they had a personal insight into the subject they taught, so that it became more meaningful to you, more impactful for your life?

Over the course of the centuries, the Church has identified certain men and women as some of her favorite teachers.  The Church calls these men and women “Doctors of the Church” (our word “doctor” comes from the Latin “to teach”).  A Doctor of the Church is a person whose teaching has been so important, so impactful, that we understand God, our relationship with God, the Christian life or the spiritual life in a way we didn’t quite appreciate so much before he or she made it clear for us.

St. Basil and St. Gregory were such teachers.  Both were important bishops in the fourth century, Basil in Caesarea and Gregory in Constantinople and Nazianzen.  The fourth century was a time of great tumult in the Church.  Many of the faithful, and even many bishops, had adopted the teaching of Arius (c. AD 250-336), a priest of Alexandria, Egypt, who taught that Christ was a creation of the Father.  “There was a time when he was not,” was the bumper sticker theology of the Arians, referring to Jesus.  Of course, if Christ is a creature, then He is not God.  Despite being condemned at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325, Arianism remained popular and influential, especially in the East.  Basil and Gregory preached the truth of Christ’s divinity, often in the face of great opposition.

While no longer holding positions of influence in the Church today, Arianism remains quite popular among many Christians and in our secular culture.  Jesus the fully human One is much easier to deal with than Jesus the fully divine One.  Many admire Jesus as a philosopher, as a teacher of peace and love, and all-around nice guy.  They can’t imagine Jesus being mad or intolerant.  The image of God in our secular culture is one of a mean, judgmental jerk who demands that people live by his arbitrary rules that get in the way of having a good time and living a fulfilling life.  Jesus isn’t like that at all.  Jesus is tolerant of all lifestyles.  He loves everybody.  He wants nothing more than for everyone to be happy doing what makes them happy.  Jesus accepts.  He doesn’t challenge, except in challenging everyone to accept others as they are (and to leave them there).

But Jesus is God.  At least, He claimed to be.  And He backed up that claim with some pretty remarkable miracles, not least of which is the Resurrection!  Sure, you can reject those claims and those miracles, but you can’t reject them and still claim to admire Jesus as the all-around nice guy who accepts everyone as he or she is without challenging them to become more, or even to abandon the things they think are right or are important to them if they want true joy and happiness, and a life that is not only fulfilling, but eternal.  The only Jesus we know is the Jesus of the New Testament.  And, the Jesus of the New Testament is not only a Jesus Who claimed to be God, but a Jesus Who had some pretty high expectations of what people would believe about God and about Him, and of how they would live if they intended to follow Him.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).  Our world would have us belief that happiness is a life lived on our terms.  But this is the talk of the thief, who wants only to steal and kill and destroy.  True happiness is in conforming our will to the will of the Father.  At least that’s what Jesus preached.  “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).  “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and mother” (Mt. 12:50).  You can reject the idea that true happiness is in conforming our will to the will of God.  You can embrace the notion that happiness means living life on your terms.  But, you cannot do this and pretend that you admire Jesus.  Jesus is all about doing the Father’s will.  And, surprise!  God’s will is that we have a life of abundant joy!

We need teachers like Basil and Gregory today.  We need men and women who are willing to stand up for the truth of Christ’s divinity, and for what that means in how we are to live our lives in conformity to the will of God.  We need men and women who aren’t afraid to preach the truth about Jesus in the face of a culture that wants to reduce Him to a meaningless philosopher of peace and love, where peace and love mean living life on your own terms.  Will you be that teacher?

Be Christ for all.  Bring Christ to all.  See Christ in all.

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