To conclude that Gregory’s asceticism was primarily a matter of the intellectual rigor and simplicity of the scholar is not to denigrate it. Even in contemporary Western society, where widest access to education is given a premium, advanced scholarship is an immensely costly and élitist business still. Those, both ancient and modern, who have never known the rigorous demands of such a focused intellectual lifestyle might more readily regard Basil’s social leveling as more authentic, but this would be to miss the chief point that Gregory was making despite all his aristocratic élitism. Such a life of dedicated reflection is not for all. It is meant for those who have the necessary intellectual sensitivity, and are ready to devote themselves to the painful asceticism of the life of theoria: a long and difficult road that customarily brings hardship, financial straightness, solitude, and simplicity in its train. Gregory knew that, and suspected what cost his chosen lifestyle would involve. It was his great misfortunate that those who have not experienced the pains of the intellectual pilgrimage have often tended to regard it as a “soft option.” To hear Gregory trying not formulate his visions of “proper” monastic life sounded to his contemporaries as simple avoidance of responsibilities, and mere dalliance with the idea of asceticism while refusing to engage with it seriously as it was offered to him in the ready-made forms of Egyptian peasant monarchism, or Armenian rigorism.

John A. McGuckin, St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (SVS: Crestwood, 2001), 98-99.

This is becoming more evident as I move into my Ph.D. studies, especially the financial part…


3 thoughts on “Gregory of Nazianzus, Educated Élites, and a Different Type of Monasticism

  1. I love this! Thanks for the McGuckin recommendation on my blog, this quote just solidifies his elevating position on my to read list. Great blog by the way! I am thinking of doing Patristics for my PhD as well, and its great to know there are blogs like this one out there to provide inspiration 🙂

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