Fourth Century Oratory and Epistolography,
as represented by the Cappadocian Fathers

Introduction to the Page

Two families of Cappadocia provided, from the 350s to the late fourth century, some significant representatives of Christianity collectively known as the 'Cappadocian Fathers.' The brothers Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, together with their, but especially Basil's, friend Gregory of Nazianzus, remain the best known bishops of the period between Athanasius and John Chrysostom in the East, and eclipsing in their fame even the bishops of Rome; Ambrose of Milan is perhaps the only contemporary whose name is as well-known. Like the others mentioned here, with the exception of Athanasius, the Cappadocians were classically trained in rhetoric and other branches of late antique education; their speeches can therefore serve as examples of the genre in this period. Because all three were also bishops involved in the governance of fourth-century Christianity, their speeches, as well as their letters, are useful evidence for Christian politics in this period; this is especially true because Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil were more than once violently upset with each other on such issues, though they managed to remain, beneath it all, close friends.

Other Reading

Brown, P. Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity. Towards a Christian Empire. Madison, 1992.
Pelikan, J. Christianity and Classical Culture. The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism. New Haven, 1993.
Rousseau, P. Basil of Caesarea. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1994.
Ruether, R.R. Gregory of Nazianzus. Rhetor and Philosopher. Oxford, 1969.

The texts available by following the links are, except where otherwise noted, drawn from the various volumes of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Electronically scanned versions of these are available at a number of places on the World Wide Web; the translations themselves are in the public domain, but the electronic texts retain such elements as the original page numbers of the print edition and footnote numbers, though the notes themselves are not always in evidence. Though one must be grateful for the existence of these electronic versions, the texts also contain omissions, spelling errors and other little annoyances. Several Internet sites offer versions of some of the texts in various stages of correction of the originals; occasionally, even, the footnotes have been restored. I have chosen to offer versions where the original pagination and note references have been removed entirely, since these are not likely to be of any use to readers of the electronic texts. I have also removed section and/or paragraph numbers within texts or portions of texts if the electronic text records them inconsistently; I hope one day to restore them, for ease of citation, but for the moment, readers will need to consult the print version for detailed citation or use the larger divisions. Following my practice in other texts, I have thought it advisable to present larger units of text with internal links rather than a larger number of smaller units. Thus, a single file offers several letters, for example, not one, unless only one is being made available.

J. Vanderspoel, Department of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, University of Calgary

Texts Available for this topic

Gregory of Nazianzus

Basil of Caesarea

Gregory of Nyssa

Map of eastern Asia Minor
Detailed map of Cappadocia

Family trees

To the more detailed study (available only to U of C users)

The Bishop, The Orator, The Philosopher. Basil and Gregory in Christian Service

 List of Texts available on this site

Last modified 23 February 1998