Podcast episode

Episode 162: Father Sergey Trostyanskiy on the Cappadocian Fathers, Part I

[Our connection was a bit glitchy for this interview, which took place between Devon and Bogotá, Colombia.]

We are delighted to speak with Father Sergey Trostyanskiy, a man who knows a thing or two about the Cappadocian fathers, a group of fourth-century Christian intellectuals from the eastern Roman empire who put an indelible mark on Orthodox theology and on Christian mysticism and canonical esotericism. It’s a long and in-depth historical interview, and takes us down many a byway.

Some of the topics discussed include:

  •  Some of the historical background relevant to the Cappadocians, including the ongoing ructions of the Arian/Trinitarian conflicts of the fourth century and the problems posed by the reign of Julian (who, incidentally, may have attended school with Gregory Nazianzus),
  • A brief profile of Gregory Nazianzus, an intellectual and rhetor of such a high standing that his flock forcibly ordained him and made him bishop of Constantinople, and who became a major force for Trinitarianism, asceticism, and Platonising metaphysics expressed through classicising poetry,
  • The First Family of Orthodox theology, asceticism, and mystical thought, made up of Macrina the Younger (the ‘Cappadocian Mother’) and her younger brothers Basil of Cæsarea and Gregory of Nyssa, all three of them intellectual powerhouses of a new approach to theology encompassing Platonising metaphysics, experimental ascetic practices, and Origenistic hermeneutics of scripture,
  • Some history of the Second Origenist Controversy in the church, which was big news for all our guys, as they all rely on Origen as an absolutely foundational teacher, and the compilation by Basil and Gregory Nazianzus of the textual corpus known as the Philokalia (the ‘Love of the Beautiful’), a canonical wellspring of spiritual writing from the early church including much Origen, but Origen minus anything too objectionable in fourth-century eyes,
  • The question of Origen’s doctrine of apocatastasis and universal salvation among the Cappadocians; Basil rejects universal salvation on familiar ethical grounds (and possibly because, as the bishop of a prominent town engaged in the theological disputes of the day, he has no choice but to tow the line), while Gregory of Nyssa argues for universal salvation based on the finiteness of any conceivable sin in the face of god’s infinite goodness (and also maybe because, as the bishop of an obscure town in the Cappadocian hinterlands, he could get away with more abstruse speculations),
  • Theiosis or ‘divinisation’ in Cappadocian thought; we discuss the Orthodox teaching, highly developed along Platonist/Origenist lines in the Cappadocians, whereby human beings participate in the divinity without exactly becoming god in essentia,
  • And finally the ‘mysticism’ of the Cappadocian fathers. One aspect of this mysticism is enacted liturgically (a theme we shall see again in the Pseudo-Dionysius). One aspect is a theoretical insistence on god’s ineffability and inconceivability, with the attendant apophatic strictures on speaking of god’s nature. We don’t know who god is.

Interview Bio:

The Rev. Dr. Sergey Trostyanskiy is rector of St. Gregory the Theologian Eastern Orthodox Church. He has taught theology and philosophy at Union Theological Seminary, General Theological Seminary, Marist College and The City University of New York. He is the former chair of the Institute for Studies in Eastern Christianity at Union Seminary. He has published a number of books and articles; recent publications include “The Eschatological Thought of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa” in (2021) Hilary Marlow, Karla Pollmann and Helen Van Noorden, Eschatology in Antiquity and “Units, Limits and the Order of Nature: Basil the Great’s Theory of Time and Creation” in (2021) Studia Patristica.

Works Cited in this Episode:


The works of Gregory of Nyssa have been edited by Ekkehard Mühlenberg and Giulio Maspero for Brill in a massive edition-project, the Gregorii Nysseni Opera. If you are a member of a participating institution, you can access them online.

Plato Theætetus on assimilation to the divine as far as possible: Theæt. 176b.


V.K. McCarthy. From Their Lips. Voices of Early Christian Women. Gorgias Press, Piscataway, NJ, 2021.

John Anthony McGuckin. St. Gregory of Nazianzus: an Intellectual Biography. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 2001.

Recommended Reading:

Kevin Corrigan. Evagrius and Gregory: Mind, Soul and Body in the 4th Century. Ashgate, Farnham, 2009.

John Anthony McGuckin. St. Gregory of Nazianzus: an Intellectual Biography. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 2001.

Martin R. P. McGuire and Roy J. Deferrari, editors. Saint Basil, the Letters, volume 1 of Loeb Classical Library. W. Heinemann, London, 1926.

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli. The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena, volume 120 of Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae. Brill, Leiden/Boston, MA, 2013.

John Rist. On the Platonism of Gregory of Nyssa. Hermathena, (169):121–51, Winter 2000.

Sergey Trostyanskiy. St. Basil the Great’s Philosophy of Time: A Historical Perspective. Forum Philosophicum, 22(2):219–46, 2017.

Idem. Units, Limits and the Order of Nature: Basil the Great’s Theory of Time and Creation. Studia Patristica, CXV:261–81, 2021.


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