Home  »  Volume IX: September  »  St. Gregory, Bishop

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

September 30

St. Gregory, Bishop

[Surnamed the Apostle of Armenia, 1 and the Illuminator.]  THIS apostolic man was a native of Greater Armenia, and by receiving his education at Cæsarea in Cappadocia, was there instructed in the Christian faith and baptized. He opened his heart to the lessons of eternal life with so great ardour as entirely to banish the love of the world and the concupiscence of the flesh. Having spent some years in the study of the science of salvation, and in the heroic exercise of all virtues, he was touched with a vehement desire of procuring the salvation of his countrymen. This important affair he long recommended to God by his most fervent prayers, and at length returned to Armenia, and there preached the faith of our crucified Redeemer. The zeal and heavenly spirit with which he was animated, and with which he proclaimed the great truths of eternal life, gave an irresistible force to his words; nor were miracles wanting to confirm the holy doctrine which he announced. The people flocked to him in great multitudes to receive the holy sacrament of regeneration, and to be directed in the paths of salvation. The anonymous life of our saint in Surius says, that he suffered much in this arduous employment; but that after some time Tiridates, the king of that country, embraced the faith. We are informed by Eusebius, 2 that Maximin Daia, at that time Cæsar in the East, and a violent persecutor of the church, provoked at the wonderful progress which the faith made in Armenia, invaded that country; but was repulsed with confusion. This was the first war on account of religion mentioned in history.  1
  St. Gregory was consecrated bishop by St. Leontius, bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, and continued his labours in propagating the faith over all Armenia, and among many very barbarous nations near the Caspian sea, as far as Mount Caucasus. He was called to bliss before Constantine the Great became master of the East, the Greek Menologies say by martyrdom. An anonymous panegyric of this saint, published among the works of St. Chrysostom, 3 mentions several discourses full of heavenly wisdom to have been written by him; also an exposition of faith which he gave to the Armenians. The Abbe de Villefroi informs us, that this exposition of faith and twenty-three homilies of this glorious saint are preserved in an Armenian MS. kept in the king’s library at Paris. See this saint’s life in Surius; the above-mentioned panegyrics; Le Brun sur les Liturgies, t. 3 et 4; Lequien, Oriens Christian, t. 1 et 3; Galanus, Hist. Armen. Narrat. de rebus Armen. by Combefis; and Moses Chorenensis, in his History of Armenia, l. 2, c. 88, p. 224. This history was published at London in 4to. in 1736, by William and by George Whiston, who maintain that the author lived in the fifth age; but they are certainly mistaken, for the work must be more modern. As to the life of St. Gregory the Illuminator, attributed by some to St. Chrysostom, it is apocryphal. See Stilting in vita St. Chrysost. t. 4, Sept. § 83, p. 663.  2
Note 1. The seeds of the Christian faith were sown in Armenia by the apostles St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas. (See Tillemont, t. 1, and Schroeder, Thes. Linguæ Armenicæ, p. 149.) That a christian church nourished in Armenia in the second century, is manifest from Tertullian. (Adv. Judæos, c. 7.) In the persecution raised by Dioclesian the holy bishop St. Blase and many others received the crown of martyrdom at Sebaste, others at Nicopolis, Melitene, Comana, and other places. (See Lubin Not. in Martyrol. Rom. et Lequien, Oriens Christian, t. 1, p. 425.) St. Gregory propagated the faith throughout both the Greater Armenia, situated on the east of the Euphrates, and the Lesser on the west, and baptized the king Tiridates himself. Being elected bishop, he repaired to Cæsarea in Cappadocia to receive consecration from Leontius, archbishop of that city, as is related in his life in Metaphrastes, by Agathangelus in the History of the Conversion of the Armenians, and others. From this circumstance, it became a custom for the Primate of Armenia to be consecrated by the Archbishop of Cæsarea, according to the remark of the ancient author of the Narrative of the Affairs of Armenia, published by Combefis. (Anctar. Bibl. Patr. Græc. p. 287.) Which custom is clear from St. Basil, (ep. 121, al. 195, ad Theodot. et ep. 122, alias 313, ad Pæminium, &c.) and which continued for several ages. The primates in Armenia afterwards took the title of Catholicos and Patriarch. St. Gregory ordained many other bishops, and left the Church of Armenia in the most flourishing condition.
  The Armenians, after the council of Chalcedon, fell into the Eutychian heresy, which they confirmed in a famous council at Tibena, in 554. Their reconciliations with the Catholic Church never proved of long continuance. On their errors see the council in Trullo, in 692, Can. 56, and Beverege. (not. in loc.) Also the council of Jerusalem against the Armenians, in 1143, (ed. Harduini Conc. t. 6, part 2, p. 1143,) &c. In the fourteenth age, Bartholomew the Little, a Dominican friar, was sent by Pope John XXII. with several colleagues of the same Order, to preach in Armenia. By them and their successors to this day many are maintained in the Catholic unity, and were long distinguished by the name of the United Brethren. Bartholomew being ordained bishop, left a succession of Catholic bishops to this day. The Archbishop of Naxivan, with all his dependencies has, from that time, been always a member of the Catholic faith and communion, though often exposed to persecutions under the Persian Mahometans. On the errors held by the rest of the Armenians, (whom Schroeder, in Thesaurus Linguæ Armenicæ, has in vain attempted in some degree to excuse,) see the Decree of Union made by Eugenius IV. after the council of Florence, Clemens Galanus, (Hist. Armenorum, 3 vol. folio,) Michael Lequien, the learned Dominican, (in Oriens Christian, t. 3, p. 1361,) Le Brun, (sur les Liturgies, t. 3, p. 1,) James Echard, (De Scriptor. Ord. Præd. t. 1, p. 481,) F. Antony Bremond, (in Bullar. Dominican, t. 2, p. 245,) F. Touron, (Hist. des Hom. Illustr. Pr. t. 2, p. 108,) &c. A much greater number of Syrian Eutychians, (called Jacobites, from their ringleader, James, surnamed Zanzal, and Baradat, in the seventh century,) have embraced the Catholic faith, with the Archbishop of Aleppo, and many other bishops, and live in communion with the pope. These reject the name of Jacobites, on account of its heretical author, and are usually called Syrians, or more frequently Surian Christians. [back]
Note 2. Eus. Hist. l. 9, c. 8. [back]
Note 3. S. Chrysost. Op. t. 12, p. 821, ed. Ben. [back]