17 Nov Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop, Confessor
Today is the feast day of Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus. Ora pro nobis.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Gregory, bishop of Neo-Caesarea in Pontus, was born in that city, of rich but heathen parents. He is called Thaumaturgus, or Worker of Wonders, on account of the many and great miracles which he wrought during his life. Gregory was naturally inclined to be good, and was filled with an intense desire to gain knowledge; therefore, on coming to riper years, he went to Caesarea in Palestine, and thence to Alexandria, to study the liberal arts. The reading of heathen books disgusted him with paganism; for he learned by it how weak and unstable its doctrines are; and at the same time, becoming acquainted with the true faith by reading some Christian books, he began highly to esteem Christianity.
He led a blameless life and especially abhorred the vice of unchastity, so general among the heathens. This displeased some of his fellow students, and they persuaded a wicked woman, to ask him, in the presence of many others, the money that he had promised her. This was done at the moment when Gregory, in the presence of a great crowd of people, was disputing on some subject with some other learned men. All were startled at the woman’s words, as they had never heard anything wrong of Gregory. The latter best knew his own innocence, but would neither talk to the woman, nor allow himself to be disturbed in his disputation. He quietly requested one of his friends to give her as much money as she demanded; but she had hardly got it, when the Evil One took possession of her, and tormented her so that she howled terribly, made a public confession of her wickedness and begged Gregory’s pardon. The young man, although he had not received holy baptism, called with confidence on the God of the Christians and relieved the possessed. Thus did the Almighty save Gregory, and bring the wickedness of his enemies to shame. This incited him anew not to delay any longer to embrace Christianity.
After he had been baptized, he endeavored to live in accordance with the promises he had made, and to conform his actions entirely to the maxims of the Christian faith. He continued his studies for several years, and then returned to his home, where he passed his time in solitude, prayer and meditation. To those who visited him he spoke rarely of other things than the blindness of idolatry, the truth of the Christian faith, the beauty of virtue, and the horror of vice, which caused him to be highly esteemed by the inhabitants of the city, although most of them were heathens. Phasdimus, bishop of Amasea, informed of this, resolved to consecrate Gregory bishop of Neo-Caesarea. The humble servant of the Lord endeavored to avoid this honor by flight; but Phaedimus was firm in his resolution and declared Gregory, in the presence of all the people, bishop of the city, and thus silenced all further objections. At that time, there were only seventeen Christians in the city and all the other inhabitants were idolaters.
Before the new bishop commenced his functions, he retired for several days into solitude, where he prayed to God to bestow upon him, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, the grace to lead his small flock in the right path, and to increase its small number by converting the heathen. During his prayers the Virgin Mother appeared to him, in the night, accompanied by St. John, whom she commanded to instruct Gregory, how to conduct himself and to teach others. Having received these instructions, St. Gregory left his solitude, comforted and strengthened, and began to labor for the conversion of the heathens. The miracles he wrought had the happiest results. Before he entered the city, he was obliged to take shelter, with his companion, in the most celebrated heathen temple, where Satan, speaking through the idols, answered various questions. Gregory passed the whole night in prayer, and, making the sign of the cross over the whole building, he drove Satan away. When the chief of the idolatrous priests came, on the following day, with his sacrifice, he heard before the temple a terrible howling of the devils, who lamented that, driven away by Gregory, they could not return into their old dwelling. The heathens ran after the bishop and complained of what he had done. Gregory improved the opportunity, to explain to them the power of the Christian God, in whose name he had driven away Satan and his legions, but could also force him to return. Of this the heathen priest desired a proof. Gregory wrote on the tablet the word ” Enter,” gave it to the idolatrous priest, and told him to lay it on the Altar, and then, he added, the devils will be obliged to return to the temple, in the name of Jesus. The heathen did as he was told, and as all happened as the bishop had said, he recognized the power of the Christian God, was converted with his wife and children, and received holy baptism.
This first conversion was daily followed by others. As the number of the Christians greatly increased in this manner, the Saint resolved to build a church. The place was selected, but a high mountain prevented him from giving the building the dimensions he desired. In this emergency, the bishop had recourse to prayer, and the mountain, by the power of God, retired, in the presence of a multitude of heathens and Christians, as far back as was needed. This and many other miracles which the Saint almost daily wrought, had such influence over the minds of the pagans, that they came in crowds to be baptized, and in all their troubles they asked his advice. The river Lycus, which flowed by the city, was frequently so swollen, that the surrounding fields were overflowed, with great damage. Some of the sufferers came and asked the bishop to help them. Going with them, he first prayed; then he stuck his staff into the ground near the bank of the river. The staff took root immediately, and since that time, the river has never overstepped the place thus marked. Two brothers quarreled on account of a pond abounding in fishes. Each desired to be the possessor of it, and they became so embittered, that they intended to kill each other. Gregory succeeded several times in calming them, but on seeing that this never lasted long, he prayed to God to end the contention, and in the same night, the whole pond so thoroughly dried up, that neither water nor fishes were to be seen. In this manner, peace was restored between the brothers.
How highly the Saint was esteemed for these and other miracles can easily be supposed, although he endeavored to decline all honors, by ascribing his wonders to a holy relic which he always carried with him. But the more he fled from human praise, the more was he venerated and loved. Still there were some who disliked him and who even dared to mock him. Among these were two Jews, one of whom, pretending to be dead, laid himself down in a place where the Saint was to pass. The other remained standing there also, and when Gregory came, he began to weep and lament for his dear dead friend, begging the Saint to give him an alms to enable him to bury him. The intention of these deceivers was to deride the bishop on account of his miracles, and to make others laugh at him. Gregory, who had no money with him, gave the man his cloak and went on. Rejoiced at having thus deceived the Saint, the man called his pretended dead companion, telling him to rise ; but found, to his horror, that the man was really dead. Many volumes would hardly suffice to contain all the miracles wrought by the holy man on the possessed and the sick, and to recount the labors he undertook to propagate the true faith.
After a long, well spent and holy life, he felt, at last, that his end was approaching, and visiting once more his whole diocese, he redoubled his zeal in instructing his flock, admonished all to constancy, and endeavored to practice more good works then ever before. Soon after, he fell sick, and ended his days by a happy death. Shortly before closing his eyes, he asked if there were yet some in the city who had not received holy baptism. ” Seventeen,” was the answer. The Saint, already in his agony, raised his eyes to heaven and said: ” Thanks and praise to God ! When I took possession of my See, I found only seventeen Christians. May God preserve all in the true faith, and give to all infidels, in the whole world, the light of the Savior’s divine Word!” The death of St. Gregory took place in the seventieth year of his age, and the 270th of the Christian Era. (1)
It is to be noted here that our sources of information as to the life, teaching, and actions of Gregory Thaumaturgus are all more or less open to criticism. Besides the details given us by Gregory himself, and of which we have already spoken, there are four other sources of information, all, according to Kötschau, 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:
- Life and Panegyric of Gregory by St. Gregory of Nyssa (P.G., XLVI, col. 893 sqq.);
- Historia Miraculorum, by Russinus;
- an account in Syriac of the great actions of Blessed Gregory (sixth century manuscript);
- St. Basil, De Spirtu Sancto.
Patronage: against earthquakes, desperate causes, floods, forgotten causes, impossible causes, lost causes.
Image: Gregory Thaumaturgus. (9)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff
Gregory’s writings were first edited by Voss (Mainz, 1604) and are in P.G., X. For the Tractatus ad Theopompum see DE LAGARDE, Aanlecta Syriaca (Londond, 1858), 46-64; and PITRA, Analecta Sacra (Paris, 1883), IV. See also RYSSEL, Gregorius Thaumaturgus, sein Leben, und seine Schriften (Leipzig, 1880); KOTSCHAU, Des Gregorios Thaumaturgos Dankrede an Origenes (Frieburg, 1894); BARDENHEWER, Patrology, tr. SHAHAN (St. Louis, 1908), 170-175. For an English version of the literary remains of Gregory see Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York, 1896), VI, 9-74.; cf. also REYNOLDS in Dict. Chr. Biog., s.v. Greorius (3).