Defending the Holy Spirit’s Deity: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the 4th Century -- By: Michael A. G. Haykin

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 07:3 (Fall 2003)
Article: Defending the Holy Spirit’s Deity: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the 4th Century
Author: Michael A. G. Haykin


Defending the Holy Spirit’s Deity:
Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the
Pneumatomachian Controversy of the 4th Century1

Michael A. G. Haykin

Michael A. G. Haykin is the Principal of The Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College, Toronto, and an Adjunct Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received the Th.D. from Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. Dr. Haykin is the author of numerous books and articles, including a forthcoming book on early Christian apologetics entitled The Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today (Evangelical Press).

It is curious to note that while the first book devoted to the subject of baptism was one written by the North African theologian Tertullian (fl.190–215) at the end of the second century, it was not until the middle of the ninth century that a book on the Lord’s Supper appeared. Similarly, while there are a number of books on the person and work of Christ in the early centuries of the Church, it was not until Basil of Caesarea (c.330–379) wrote his On the Holy Spirit in 375 that there was a book specifically devoted to the person of the Spirit of God.

We know more about Basil than any other Christian of the ancient Church apart from Augustine of Hippo (354-430).2 Central to our knowledge of his life is a marvelous collection of some 350 letters. Basil was born around 330 in the Roman province of Cappadocia (now central Turkey). His family was fairly well-to-do, his father, also called Basil, being a teacher of rhetoric (i.e., the art of public speaking), and his mother, Emmelia, coming from landed aristocracy. The family’s Christianity can be traced back to Basil’s paternal grandmother, Macrina, who was converted under the preaching of Gregory Thaumaturgus (c.213-270). Of Basil’s eight siblings we know the names of four: Macrina (c.327- 380), Naucratius, Peter, later the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and Gregory of Nyssa (died c.395), one of the leading theologians of the fourth century.

Basil went to school in Caesarea, as well as in Constantinople. In 350 or so, he went to study in Athens, where he became a close friend of Gregory of Nazianzus (c.329–389), who, along with Basil, and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, are known as the Cappadocian Fathers. In 356 Basil returned to Caesarea, hoping to open a school of rhetoric. His older sister Macrina, however, challenged him to give his life unreservedly to Christ. Thus it was that Basil was converted. In his own words,

I wasted nearly all of my youth in the vain labor which occupi...

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