Saints from Saintly Families

January 2, 2020 – Memorial of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen

Read about these two saints whose memorial the Church celebrates today – both came from families in which both parents and several siblings were also saints!

Sts. Basil and Gregory were childhood friends who both came from saintly families. They grew up to defend the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity at a crucial time in the development of the Church’s understanding of these mysteries.

Basil was born in 330 as one of 10 children to a noble family in what is now Turkey. Both of his parents were saints (St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia) and four of his siblings became saints as well. Even his grandmother was a saint!

As a young man, Basil was known for organizing food relief for those suffering from famine, and would even set aside his rank to work in the kitchen. He was well-educated, and he opened a school and practiced as a lawyer. He became famous for his rhetorical skills but was tempted by pride because of the attention his orations drew. He responded by selling all he owned to become a priest and monk.

He founded a monastery and wrote down instructions on community life, which have become famous and especially important in guiding religious communities in the east. He continued to found monasteries and was ordained bishop of Caesarea (in modern Israel) in 370, where he led for seven years until his death. He was very active in his leadership and was known for his eloquence, wisdom, and sincere love of others.

From his youth, Basil was friends with Gregory of Nazianzus, another brilliant thinker and orator. Gregory also had saintly parents (St. Gregory the Elder and St. Nonna), and two of his siblings also became saints.

Gregory followed a similar career path as Basil—he was ordained a priest, even though he yearned for the life of a monk. He was ordained a bishop by his friend, Basil, and made important contributions in the way the Church understands God, especially the mystery of the Trinity.

Basil and Gregory were defining figures as the early Church sought to figure out just how to describe Jesus as fully human and fully divine. They helped the Church articulate this mystery and refute persistent strains of thought that would emphasize one aspect of Jesus’ nature over another. Both were largely responsible for safeguarding the faith that has guided the Church for thousands of years. Their doctrinal contributions are codified in the Nicene Creed we recite at Mass.

Both Basil and Gregory were declared doctors of the Church, a title given to 36 saints who are known for elucidating the faith by their words or example. Their relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica, and their images are captured in stained glass windows there.

Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, friends and scholars who defended the faith—pray for us!


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