Debbi Shepherd
A Family of Saints
When the need arose to choose a subject for my WIKI essay, I took my love of being Catholic to use as part in my selection process, therefore opting for a subject that is both recognized by the Church, as well as one that is endearing to me. It is not because I am Catholic that I choose to identify and lay declaration to the use and acknowledgment of saints; it is because of the importance of the Catholic Church that I choose to. Whether or not Catholic and whether or not there is a belief, the knowledge of the claim to the existence of saints is known. However, when doing research on the subject it is discovered that there are some saints that stand out more than others. One of these is not a mere single saint, but a family of saints, a family that not only lived a life of virtue, but one who would come to greatly influence Christian history; each individual representing the true idea of sainthood on his own prowess, yet providing evidence to the significance of the entire family, a significance without controversy, yet controversy and conflict exists in everything, so I am therefore giving argument that not only are saints a foremost part of Catholic Church familiarity, but this family in particular. This family of saints consist of the grandfather, the grandmother, the father, the mother, and four children, each an individual in their own right, yet representing the importance of good theological morals and the value potential of a family.
There is precious little written about the saint-grandparents and saint-parents aside from what is found in the writings about the saint-children. However, the children would more likely not be what they are had it not have been for the influences of the grandparents and parents. The first generation of this distinguished family to be addressed is St Basil and St. Macrina the Elder. Even though little is known individually, what is known is that they were not afraid of proclaiming their Christian beliefs. Even during the difficult times they still had their faith and their love of God. Both elder saints are identified as having been good spouses, good parents and good grandparents. The fact that the family consists of generations of saints is due, in part to the strong influences of this couple.
While living, both were openly dedicated to their convictions, remaining tolerant to the persecution they received because of this belief. At one point they were even forced to flee their home in search of safety, hiding in exile for nearly seven years. At another time they lost all of their property and possessions to the emperor and were left to live in complete poverty. However, their faith never wavered and they continued their trust in God to protect and to keep them strong. Once the time of persecution had subsided, they were honored as true believers, each having lived the life exemplary of a Christian. It is this faith that continues into their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. Their strong faith provides a solid foundation for this family of saints, each grandchild giving tribute to the grandparents for their loving influences. Little else is known exclusively about St. Basil; however, St. Macrina the Elder is noted to have survived her husband, living long enough to aid in the rearing of their grandchildren. She is believed to have died approximately 341 A.D. and is considered by the Catholic Church to be a patron saint of widows.
The next generation in this family of saints is St. Basil the Elder and his wife, St. Emmelia. St. Basil the Elder is born to St. Basil and St. Macrina the Elder. He is noted for his goodness and virtue. He has an excellent reputation as a good son, a good husband and a good father. The teachings of his sainted parents continue through him into his children, influencing their theological high merit. More is known about St. Emmelia. She is from a decent, affluent family. Following the death of her husband and one of her sons, Emmelia is persuaded by her eldest daughter, Macrina to make a complete change and take up the Christian way of life. She then divides the family possessions and property among her children, retaining only a small parcel of land for herself where she could live a life of a recluse. Eventually, she turned her home into a convent by opening the doors to other women who were in search of the Christian life, a life where everyone and everything is equal, shared and performed together. She taught the others that poverty is in reality riches, providing for a community of angelic women, a life unspoiled by anger, jealousy, pride and discontent. Continuing to live in this manner, Emmelia lives a long life, dying with Macrina, her eldest and Peter, her youngest by her side.
During the marriage of Basil and Emmelia they bore ten children, of which nine survived to adulthood. Together, with the help of Basil’s widowed mother, Macrina, they were to raise children whose contributions would greatly influence Christian academia. Five of their children are remembered by name and of these, four were to be canonized into sainthood: Macrina, Basil, Gregory, and Peter. Because of this, St. Emmelia is lovingly referred to as “the mother of saints.”
The first child born into the family of Basil and Emmelia is their daughter, Theela, named for St. Paul’s companion seen in a dream that Emmelia had the day she was to deliver. Even though the child’s given name is Theela, in time everyone chose to call her Macrina after her most holy grandmother. She was born approximately the year 330 A.D. and died 379 A.D. As the eldest child of ten, she was never to have an inactive moment. She was to help with the care of her younger siblings, help with the work around the family home, practice handiwork, and she student diligently in her pursuit of a superior education. She was quiet, unpretentious, and blessed with grace and great beauty. Her beauty and gentle demeanor attracted many young men of marriageable age. When she was nearing her teen years, an eligible husband from a good family was selected for her. Macrina was taken with him and joyously anticipated their future marriage. Unfortunately, a wedding was never to take place because the young man died before they could marry. Macrina treated his death as if this were the death of a spouse. Believing there is to be only one husband, she made the decision to remain true to his memory and never to marry, or to marry again, deeply believing they would be reunited in death. She was adamant in her regards to the sanctity of marriage, therefore, staking claim to the title of widow. She made the decision to devote herself to the life of a virgin in her pursuit of becoming a better Christian. She was soon to become a nun aiding her mother in the founding of a convent. Following the death of her mother, Macrina took charge of the convent giving guidance to the other women in residence. She was well respected and was to remain devout and strict with herself in all aspects of her saint-like existence. She deprived herself as a part of her goal to be a good Christian, her bed being made simply of two boards, having no personal possessions, owning nothing of earthly value, and eating only enough to sustain life. There are claims of miracles credited to her; one of healing a young woman with a misery in her eye, and another regarding the abundant amount of wheat being blessed upon their monastery even during famine.
Mcarina’s gentle character and virtuous behavior were a great influence in the lives of her siblings. She is revered for her intellectual holiness and for her work as a founder of an important monastic community. Macrina and two of her brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa became known as part of the Cappadocians. As a dedicated nun, she aided the Cappadocian Fathers by her decision to convert the family estate into a monastic abbey, providing the Fathers with a place for their medication and in-depth study into their writing of influential Christian doctrine.
The Cappadocian Fathers pursued the advancement of the development of the doctrine of the holy Trinity and the early Christian theology, while working hard to promote standards of leadership. Each of the fathers is respected for their contributions during life and revered in their sainthood. Basil the Elder and Emmelia’s first born son to survive infancy is Basil the Younger, sometimes known as Basil the Great. He played an important part in the origin of the duties assigned and expected of the monk. He went on to become the ideal bishop and spent much of his time defending the Christian faith from varying forms of heresy and visiting each parish in the diocese on a regular basis, being honest and respectful to authority as taught him by his sainted grandmother.
Basil the Younger respected the poverty stricken. For those in need of medical care he aided by organizing a hospital; he also provided during times of famine, and established a school to train the unskilled. During the times of dispute between different towns, his work was unending in his goal for peace. He was born in the year 329 A.D. and was a mere forty-nine years of age at his passing in January, 379 A.D. He was to be an honest, pious young man, staying close to the teachings of his family. He was an intellectual that became extremely proficient in his studies of grammar, philosophy, geometry, and writing, not only successful as a student at the university, but as a professor, as well. Soon he was to fall under the influence of his sister, Macrina, and would eventually give up his current way of life to life in which he gives of himself to the work God, taking up a religious life. He remains in the monastery for five years, writing. The letters of Basil were the most influential and lasting proof of his successful life's work. Some of the letters are actually dogmatic treatises, while others are more personal. The 366 letters tell the story of his tremendous work to defend the Catholic faith and protect the Church from heresy, while giving an inside look at what this devoted man was all about.
Gregory is the fifth child, and the fourth born son, only the second to survive beyond early adulthood. He is stated to be born approximately 335 A.D. and to have died near 394 A.D. In 372 A.D. he became Bishop of Nyssa, which is the region which is modern day Turkey. He is one of the three Cappadocian Fathers. Gregory was in attendance at two councils, Antioch and at the Second Ecumenical Council. He has two major contributions attributed to him. The first is his Trinity doctrine, thus, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The second of his contributions is to the claim that both God and salvation are infinite and universal, as he has stated in his spiritual theology. He was to remain unwavering in his belief of the three stages of spiritual growth: first, ignorance, then spiritual illumination, and finally the contemplation of God being the essence. Gregory had been provided with an excellent education, primarily in grammar and rhetoric, but he was to be more influenced by his training in philosophy. He was exceptionally keen of mind, with the great ability to put his thoughts into the written word, leaving a legacy of many remarkable works of dogmatic convention, as well as a variety of sermons and speeches. St. Gregory is often identified as “the Father of Fathers.”
The final saint of this generation in this family is the youngest child of ten, and the fifth son, Peter. He was born near 340 A.D. and near the time of his birth his father passed away. Influenced by his older siblings, as a young adult he would join his brother, Basil as a monastery monk, soon to become a priest and then the bishop of Sebaste by 380 A.D. He was in attendance at the second Council of Nicaea. Prior to his death in the year 391 A.D., he diligently worked to eliminate heresy and protect the Church from the denials of Arianism, eventually eliminating the religious treachery in his region.
To understand the importance of this family one must understand what a saint is. Even though early Christianity was practiced simply as a way of life for everybody, a saint is a person who is believed to have lived an exceptional life and is considered to be holy, to be of exceptional virtue because of their belief and practice in their devotion to Christ; those considered to be models of great dedication and revered worthy of veneration. A saint is also one that is more than just a believer; having been ethically and theologically virtuous, one of moral perfection, having performed confirmed miracles, with infallible certainty as to their being in heaven. They are canonized and designated as special protectors of individuals, institutions, activities, places and things, being transformed by his belief to a high level of sanctity and worthy of respect. There are four stages to achieving sainthood: 1) to be a servant of God according to the Church; 2) to be venerable as having noteworthy character; 3) beautification, which is having a miracle witnessed and attributed; 4) canonized, the final step reserved exclusively for the Pope. Because of the level of respect given these individuals, prayers will often be asked through the saint in the belief that they sit close to God. Saints do not have divine power; they simply intercede on the behalf of the living. Saints are honored, not worshipped. They are not made, they are simply recognized.
Even though it has been thought that the honor of saints did not begin until nearing the time of the separation of the Church, it actually was a significant part of the Christian practice from almost the start, beginning with martyrs and the persecuted (Catholic Online). There is wide a variety of opinions as to exactly how many saints there are, even among experts. According to the Catholic Online Website, All about Saints, “there are over 10,000 named saints and beatifications from history, the Roman Martyrology and Orthodox sources, but no definitive ‘head count’.” In another source, Reverend Alban Butler writes Lives of the Saints, published in 1756, make claim to there being 1,486 saints, and yet through a more recent editing this same work contains 2,565 saints. Yet even the Vatican’s experts on saints state there is an impossibility to know the exact number of saints, named or unnamed, due to fallible record keeping.
Finally, why is this family, in particular, so special? It is because there are few families throughout the history of Christianity where there is known as much about their Christian beliefs, their Christian practices and their Christian devotion, with historical records verifying all three generations as having canonized saints.
(Essay alone: 2548 Words)

First Selected Sources:

Beagon, Philip M. “The Cappadocian Fathers, Women and Ecclesiastical Politics.” Vigiliae Christianae 49.2 (1995): 165-179.

Gudeman, Stephen. "Saints, Symbols, and Ceremonies." American Ethnologist, 3:4 (1976) 709-729

Methuen, Charlotte. “The ‘Virgin Widow’: A Problematic Social Role for the Early Church?” The Harvard Theological Review 90.3 (1997): 285-298.

Pfister, J. Emile. “A Biographical Note: The Brothers and Sisters of St. Gregory of Nyssa.” Vigiliae Christianae 18.2 (1984): 108-113.

Bass, Diana Butler, Ph.D. A People’s History of Christianity: the Other Side of the Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 2009.

Focus: Butler takes a reversed approach to Christianity. She chooses not to take the perspective of the role as to what a good Christian is; she chooses to address her work from the point of what has happened since Jesus: schisms, doctrine fights, oppression, heresy, religious wars, witch hunts, etc. She writes of what has been happening since Jesus. She cleverly breaks her work down into periods of time to include specifics such as the Desert Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, and others that influenced the Church rather that just identifying everything as Church “history.”

What there was
What was missing
Early Christianity:
Years: 100 - 500
Christianity was practiced simply as a way of life
The doctrine, esoteric belief, eternal salvation, and specific influences and individuals
Years: 500 - 1450
Teachings of the small parish clerics and laity through carvings, paintings, stain glass windows, wood work
Vernacular literacy and actual biblical teachings
Years: 1450 - 1650
Literacy increased along with the invention of the printing press
The fact that Christianity has always been changing and not just at this point in time
Years: 1650 - 1945
Historical truth of Jesus, the Bible read as an ancient document, conflicting views in scripture
Enough education to explain the contrast between the ancient ideas and the new transformation
Years: 1945 - present
Quest for authentic Christian spirituality
Not yet known until the next acknowledged/seen change in Christianity

Implication: This book takes a simple approach to Christianity that will make it a religion of enjoyment instead of dread, with stories that strengthen a relationship with Christ. She is taking her work and separating the Christianity of the past, which has not been terribly helpful to the people, and redirecting the people to what is being discovered as the new emerging Christianity.

Geisler, Norman, Ph.D. Systematic Theology. Bloomington, Mn: Bethany House. 2005.

Focus: Geisler writes of two major sections in theology and then ends with interpretation. He has set up his work to argue that Christianity can be studied systematically, one approach at a time, listing periods, incidences, and individuals that have left marked impressions.

What it is
What it consists of
The doctrine of the Church
The Church’s origin, the nature of the Universal Church (Christ’s spiritual body of believers), the visible (local) church, the government, ordinances and ministry of the visible church, the relation of church and state
The study of the last thing (ending)
Personal eschatology, general eschatology, resurrection, final state of saved (heaven) and lost (hell), purgatory, annihilation
End pf Age
Interpretation of the Phrophets
Seven-year tribulation, rapture

Implication: Geisler writes in fact and not in feelings. He is direct and to the point as to what Christianity is about, and he lays the information out in a manner to stay on target. If a reader would like to learn specific details without opinion, Geisler’s approach is good.

Gudeman, Stephen. Saints, Symbols, and Ceremonies. American Ethnologist, 1976, 3:4. 709-729

Focus: Gudeman addresses the role of the saints, symbols and ceremonies that have been celebrated throughout the history of the Catholic Church. He writes that each is a focal point in ritual practices and holds a place of great esteem within the people of the Church. He then elaborates that even though each is of importance, a full and complete understanding of that importance has never been fully recognized.

Identifying the Purpose
The Expected Results
Saint - a human who is recognized as having been moral and theologically virtuous, having performed confirmed miracles, with infallible certainty as to being in heaven. They are canonized. They are designated as special protectors of individuals, institutions, activities, places and things.
Human - to imitate the virtue of the Saint, praise and call upon him in time of need, then giving praise to strengthen the bond and the tie between the human and God.
Saint – to intercede with Christ, and then through him, with God, giving aid and comfort to the living.
Provides and shows devotion to the Saints through veneration of images, icons and statues, ceremonial acts.
The symbolic ways of representing and honoring the Saints.
Ceremonies – represented celebrations in the liturgical year that are in the temporal cycle, feasts of God, and in the sanctoral cycle, the feasts of the Saints.
Specified days of honor and celebration are identified, usually based on cycles, intended for focused attention to God, Jesus, an event, historical mystery, or to honor a Saint.

Implication: This article identifies three very important aspects in the Celebration of the holy Church. Each of these celebrations are individual, yet become a part of a whole within the practice of Christianity dating back centuries prior to the Reformation, and then continuing in the Catholic Church into current day.

Pfister, J. Emile. A Biographical Note: The Brothers and Sisters of St. Gregory of Nyssa. Vigiliae Christianae, 1984, 108-113

Focus: Even though there are conflicting reports as to exactly how many children were actually born to the elder Basil and Emmelia, Pfister argues there are ten. He does extended research and takes great pain to support his argument based on his analysis of the minute details and verbiage of each report.

Order of Birth
Destination in Life
Macrina (the younger)
First born child and first born daughter
Unmarried, Virgin, Saint
Son (name not provided)
Second child, first son
Died in infancy
Basil (the younger)
Third child, second son, first son to reach adulthood
Bishop, Saint
Fourth child, third son
Celibate, died in early adulthood in a hunting accident
Fifth child, fourth son
Married, Bishop, Saint
Daughters (4, names not provided)
Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth
Each married successfully
Tenth child, fifth son
Bishop, Saint

Implication: This article identifies the number of siblings of St. Gregory of Nyssa, most of which left a mark in time. The article often identifies that which each sibling came to be.


All About Saints. Catholic Online. Ed. Michael Galloway, President. 2011. Orlando, Fl. <>.

Bass, Diana Butler, Ph.D. A People’s History of Christianity: the Other Side of the Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 2009.

Beagon, Philip M. The Cappadocian Fathers, Women and Ecclesiastical Politics. Vigiliae Christianae. 49:2 (1995): 165-179.

Geisler, Norman, Ph.D. Systematic Theology. Bloomington, Mn: Bethany House. 2005.

Gellman, Rabbi Marc and Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Religion For Dummies. New York, NY: Wiley. 2002.

Gudeman, Stephen. Saints, Symbols, and Ceremonies. American Ethnologist, 1976, 3:4. 709-729.

Lives of Saints. John Bruno Hare. December 2008. New York City, NY. <>.

Methuen, Charlotte. “The ‘Virgin Widow’: A Problematic Social Role for the Early Church?” The Harvard Theological Review 90:3
(1997): 285-298.

Monastery of Ascension. Fr. Hugh Feiss. 2011. Jerome, Id. <>.

Pfister, J. Emile. A Biographical Note: The Brothers and Sisters of St. Gregory of Nyssa. Vigiliae Christianae, 1984, 108-113.

Sterk, Andrea. On Basil, Moses, and the Model Bishop: The Cappadocian Legacy of Leadership. Cambridge University Press on
behalf of the American Society of Church History 67:2 (1998): 227-253.

Trigilio, Rev. John, PhD, ThD and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD. Catholicism Answer Book. Naperville, Ill: Wiley. 2007.

Trigilio, Rev. John, PhD, ThD and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD. Catholicism For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 2003.

Critique by Medieval Mysticism (Soeder): Like you, I am also Catholic and I find that the stories of saints are very fascinating. I have never heard of your family of saints but I found their story most interesting. I think it is a very powerful love for God when you do not only serve for the Lord but you also follow in the footsteps of your ancestors because of the ways that they have shown of loving God. I thought that the eldest daughter, named Theela at birth, then called Macrina was one of the most interesting saints. I liked the point that you made that she was to be married but after her fiances death she chose not to marry again. This point also makes me wonder if she really wanted to be married in the first place. maybe she wanted to remain loyal to God before she wanted to be married. These are the kind of questions I would love to go back in time ask about because since we know so little about people during the very early years after the death of Christ, it makes me wonder. I only found a few spelling errors and a couple spots where the words had been typed backwards, in such a manner that i had to reorganize the words to make the sentence more clear to my reading. Other than those few things I found you argument interesting. I do understand your argument in that saints are an important part of the Catholic Church and this family was a special attribute to the becoming and believing in saints.

Critique by Elizabeth J: I found the way in which you honored the saints through your writing to be very interesting. I am not Catholic and have a limited knowledge about the saints b. I only know of the more ‘popular’ ones so learning about St. Basil and St. Macina was very informative. The idea that the whole family was saints was almost hard to believe but very informative. The reason why I say almost hard to believe is because of human nature. There tends to be one out of the bunch that might be a little tainted. The saint family seemed like a good family with great family values that they were fortunate enough to pass down. I found it very interesting how even under hard times and persecution they stood true to their faith. That is impressive no matter what the time period. When reading your wikk,i I felt like it was a look down a family tree of saints and very informative. No matter what your religious belief may be, if any, stories about the saints can always do well for anyone. Thanks for the good read! :)