Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus: Comparative Analysis of Their Doctrine of the Spirit

There was a time in church history when one of the most important doctrines, the doctrine of the Trinity, was embroiled in controversy. The early church attempted to deal with this controversy by creating The Nicene Creed. It solved many of the conflicts, but it also created new ones. I am going to be writing about one of those conflicts; that is the divinity of the Spirit. There were some groups, such as the Pneumatomachoi, who fought against the divinity of the Spirit. They taught that since the Bible is silent on this topic, then believers should be as well. By fighting against the Holy Spirit’s divinity, they hoped to undermine the Nicene Creed. It was a time of great strife and division within the church. This is the era that the three Cappadocian Fathers were born into. Basil of Caesarea, one of the so-called Cappadocian Fathers says this about this time: “What storm at sea was ever so savage as this tempest of the Churches?… We attack one another; we are overthrown by one another.”(Basil, On the Holy Spirit, 30.77)
I am going to be looking at two of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, and comparing their theology of the Holy Spirit. This is an important topic because so many historians lump all three men together, and do not take the time to look at each man as an individual. I will be joining in the conversation with such theologians as Stephen Hildebrand, Verna Harrison, Timothy McConnell, Christopher Beeley, and John Behr. These theologians have done excellent work, but to the best of my knowledge none have done a comprehensive comparison of the two men’s theologies.
The thesis of this paper is that Basil of Caesarea was arguing for the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, while Gregory of Nazianzus was arguing for his divinity. Basil taught that the Holy Spirit has the same nature as the Father and the Son. Gregory believed that was true, but he also went a step further and said that the Spirit was consubstantial with the Father and Son. Basil never said that the Spirit was God, rather he simply said that the Spirit has the divine nature. Both men had robust trinitarian theologies that included the Holy Spirit. Thus, their theologies of the Spirit had more similarities than differences. I will demonstrate this by looking at three different components of each of their theologies as pertaining to the Holy Spirit. I will look at their view of the position of the Spirit within the Trinity, their view of hermeneutics, and their view of soteriology. Finally, by comparing the two different theologies, I will demonstrate that there were more similarities between the two men, than differences.

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