Our devotion today, on the commemoration of Basil and the two Gregorys, comes from History of Theology, Fourth Revised Edition.
Those who carried on Athanasius’ work, and who did more than anyone else to give the doctrine of the Trinity its final form, were the so-called “Three Cappadocians.”
Basil the Great (d. 379, archbishop of Caesarea) was the chief architect of the so-called proto-Nicene theology, which finally conquered Arianism. His younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa (d. about 394), developed the same orthodox point of view in a rather more speculative manner, and Gregory of Nazianzus (d. about 390) interpreted this in a rhetorical way in his Orationes.
It was largely due to the influence of the three Cappadocians that the Nicene theology finally won out as the true mediating position between Arianism and modalism. Furthermore, the basis of future developments in Eastern theology was prepared at this time. The three Cappadocians were more specifically “Eastern” in their theology than was Athanasius. This is to be seen, for example, in the fact that they interpreted Athanasius in the spirit of Origen, as well as in the fact that they associated the Nicene orthodoxy with ideas from the older Alexandrian school of thought.
While Athanasius strongly emphasized the idea of the “one substance” and proceeded from that point in his description of the Trinity, the Cappadocians proceeded from the idea of the “three distinct Persons” and developed a terminology which was descriptive of both unity and trinity. In so doing, they accepted the earlier Greek theology which conceived of the three Persons as different levels in the Divine Being (Origen).
When asked what it is that distinguishes the three persons of the Trinity, the Cappadocians answered by referring to the relationship which exists between them. The Father is not generated; the Son is generated of the Father; the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, 25, 16). That which characterizes the Persons in relation to one another was also described with reference to the divine activity: the Father is the source, the Son is the one who carries out the work, and the Spirit is the one who brings it to completion (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, 28, 1).
Devotional reading is adapted from History of Theology, Fourth Revised Edition, pages 84–85 © 1968, 2007 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
We praise You, God; Your name we bless
And worship You in humbleness;
From day to day we glorify
The everlasting God on high.
Of Your great glory do we sing,
And to Your throne our thanks we bring.
Hymn text is LSB 948:2 © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.