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Theosebeia, a Priestly Colleague of Gregory of Nyssa

by Guest Author | April 30, 1990

The one hundred and ninety-seventh letter of Gregory of Nazianzus, addressed to Gregory of Nyssa, contains a message of consolation over the death of Theosebeia, who has apparently been his colleague in the Gospel ministry. Theosebian, ten ontos hieran kai hiereos suzugon kai homotimon kai ton megalon musterion axian. (Literally, “Theosebeia, actually the priestess and colleague of a priest and equally honored and equally worthy of the Great Sacraments.”)

Some scholars have maintained that she was Gregory’s consort rather than his colleague, but Gregory belonged to a coterie that eschewed marriage and espoused celibacy.

William Moore both translated and commented on the Greek phrase quoted above:

"Theosebeia, the fairest, the most lustrous even amidst such beauty of the adelphoi; Theosebeia, the true priestess, the yokefellow (suzugon) and the equal of a priest.” J. P. Rupp has well pointed out that the expression “yoke fellow” (suzugon), which has been insisted on as meaning “wife” may, especially in the language of Gregory Nazianzen, be equivalent to adelphos. He sees in this Theosebeia “a sister of the Cappadocian brothers.”

William Moore, “A Sketch of the Life of S. Gregory of Nyssa” Ante-Nicene Fathers, V, p. 3

Nevertheless the series in which this comment (Ante-Nicene Fathers) occurs provides a quite different translation of the letter by Gregory. The pertinent part reads:

I had started partly for the sake of seeing you after so long, and partly that I might admire your patience and philosophy (for I had heard of it) at the departure of your holy and blessed sister, as a good and perfect man, a minister of God, who knows better than any the things both of God and man; and who regards as a very light thing that which to others would be most heavy, namely to have lived with such a soul, and to send her away and store her up in the safe garners, like a shock of the threshing-floor gathered in due season, to use the words of Holy Scripture; and that in such time that she, having tasted the joys of life, escaped its sorrows through the shortness of her life; and before she had to wear mourning for you, was honored by you with that fair funeral honour which is due to such as she. I too, believe me, long to depart, if not as you do, where were much to say, yet only less than you. But what must we feel in presence of a long prevailing law of God which has now taken my Theosebeia (for I call her mine because she lived a godly life; for spiritual kindred is better than bodily), Theosebeia, the gory of the church, the adornment of Christ, the helper of our generation, the hope of woman; Theosebeia, the most beautiful and glorious among all the beauty of the Brethren, Theosebeia, truly sacred, truly consort of a priest, and of equal honor and worthy of the Great Sacraments, Theosebeia, whom all future time shall receive, resting on immortal pillars, that is, on the souls of all who have known her now, and of all who shall be hereafter. And do not wonder that I often invoke her name. For I rejoice even in the remembrance of the blessed one. Let this, in a few words, be her epitaph from me, and my word of condolence for you, though you yourself are quite able to console others in this way through your philosophy in all things. Ante-Nicene Fathers VII p. 462.