Athanasius and the Three Cappadocian Fathers

St. Gregory     of Nyssa    (335 – 394 a.d.)
St. Athanasius           (296 – 373 a.d.)

St. Basil the Great       (330 – 379 a.d.)

St. Gregory of          Nazenzen            (329 – 390 a.d.)

     The  Cappadocian Fathers

St. Gregory of Nazienzen

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Basil the Great



The Council of Nicaea really did not propose a formula for the divinity of the Holy Spirit mostly because the Arius issue did not challenge the Holy Spirit’s divinity although it did imply that the Spirit was not coeternal with the Father and the Son.  Also, the thinking on the divinity of the Spirit had not yet been fully developed and formulated.  The Church had always baptized “In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28: 9), but the relationship of the Spirit within the Trinity was not a universally constructed expression, although the Spirit’s divinity was always believed.  The original Nicene Creed barely mentioned the Holy Spirit at all.  The Spirit was pretty much an afterthought in the original Creed.

After the Council of Nicaea St. Athanasius began such reflection and, as a result, is considered to be the “Father of Pneumatology”, or theology of the Holy Spirit.  But it was the three “Cappadocian Fathers”, St. Basil the Great , his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend St. Gregory of Nazienzen who completed the work that St. Athanasius began.

The Cappadocians were theologians who were instrumental, along with St. Athanasius, in further rallying the orthodox Christian teaching of the Trinity against the polytheism of Arianism.  After the Council of Constantinople rivalry among bishops and theologians, not to mention the intrusion of the emperor into Church affairs, prevented Arianism’s final defeat.  But with Gregory Nazienzus leading the Council of Constantinople it affirmed the divinity of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit is coeternal with the Father and the Son, that the Spirit was homoousios with the Father and the Son.  And so the Christian concept of God was expressed in terms that became accepted throughout Christianity. Thus the Christian concept of God as “Three persons, one essence” became more completely and officially articulated.

The First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople 381 a.d.

Constantinople I 381 a.d.


Although the Council of Nicaea did not settle once and for all the controversy of the relationship of the Father and the Son.  Deeper reflection on the Spirit by the Cappadocians led the Church to adopting their explanation of the Trinity at the Council of Constantinople.  There Church reaffirmed the Nicene Creed, and added reflection on the divinity of the Spirit, pretty much expressing it in the Creed the way we do today.   It is the official way of expressing the Christian concept of God while avoiding any explanation that would amount to polytheism.

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