Gregory of Nazianzus


The first Adam, progenitor of the human race, was unable to fulfil the vocation laid before him: to achieve deification and bring to God the visible world by means of spiritual and moral perfection. Having broken the commandment and fallen away from the sweetness of Paradise, he had closed the way to deification. Yet everything that the first man left undone was accomplished in his stead by God Incarnate, the Word-become-flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. He trod that path to us which we were meant to tread towards him. And if this would have been the way of humanity’s ascent, for God it was the way of humble condescension, of self-emptying (kenosis).

St Paul calls Christ the ‘second Adam’. Contrasting him with the first, he says: ‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven’ (I Cor. 15:47). This parallelism was developed by St John Chrysostom, who referred to Adam as the prototype of Christ:

Adam is the image of Christ … as the man for those who came from him, even though they did not eat of the tree, became the cause of death, then Christ for those who were born of him, although they have done no good, became the bearer of righteousness, which he gave to all of us through the Cross.

Gregory the Theologian makes a detailed comparison between Christ’s sufferings and Adam’s fall:

For each of our debts we are given to in a special way … The tree of the Cross has been given for the tree we tasted of; for our hand stretched out greedily, we have been given arms courageously extended; for our hands following their own inclination, we have been given hands nailed to the Cross; for the hand that has driven out Adam, we have been given arms uniting the ends of the earth into one. For our fall we have been given his raising up on a Cross; for our tasting of the forbidden fruit, we have been given his tasting of bile; for our death, his death; for our return to the earth, his burial.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church, 79-80.

He wrought first in the heavenly and angelic powers, and such as are first after God and around God.  For from no other source flows their perfection and their brightness, and the difficulty or impossibility of moving them to sin, but from the Holy Ghost.  And next, in the Patriarchs and Prophets, of whom the former saw Visions of God, or knew Him, and the latter also foreknew the future, having their master part moulded by the Spirit, and being associated with events that were yet future as if present, for such is the power of the Spirit.  And next in the Disciples of Christ (for I omit to mention Christ Himself, in Whom He dwelt, not as energizing, but as accompanying His Equal), and that in three ways, as they were able to receive Him, and on three occasions; before Christ was glorified by the Passion, and after He was glorified by the Resurrection; and after His Ascension, or Restoration, or whatever we ought to call it, to Heaven.  Now the first of these manifests Him—the healing of the sick and casting out of evil spirits, which could not be apart from the Spirit; and so does that breathing upon them after the Resurrection, which was clearly a divine inspiration; and so too the present distribution of the fiery tongues, which we are now commemorating.  But the first manifested Him indistinctly, the second more expressly, this present one more perfectly, since He is no longer present only in energy, but as we may say, substantially, associating with us, and dwelling in us.  For it was fitting that as the Son had lived with us in bodily form—so the Spirit too should appear in bodily form; and that after Christ had returned to His own place, He should have come down to us—Coming because He is the Lord; Sent, because He is not a rival God.  For such words no less manifest the Unanimity than they mark the separate Individuality.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 41, On Pentecost.

Now the Spirit is not brought into intimate association with the soul by local approximation.  How indeed could there be a corporeal approach to the incorporeal?  This association results from the withdrawal of the passions which, coming afterwards gradually on the soul from its friendship to the flesh, have alienated it from its close relationship with God.  Only then after a man is purified from the shame whose stain he took through his wickedness, and has come back again to his natural beauty, and as it were cleaning the Royal Image and restoring its ancient form, only thus is it possible for him to draw near to the Paraclete. And He, like the sun, will by the aid of thy purified eye show thee in Himself the image of the invisible, and in the blessed spectacle of the image thou shalt behold the unspeakable beauty of the archetype. Through His aid hearts are lifted up, the weak are held by the hand, and they who are advancing are brought to perfection. Shining upon those that are cleansed from every spot, He makes them spiritual by fellowship with Himself.  Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, highest of all, the being made God.

Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, IX, 23.

Many indeed are the wondrous happenings of that time: God hanging from a cross, the sun made dark and again flaming out; for it was fitting that creation should mourn with its creator. The temple veil rent, blood and water flowing from his side: the one as from a man, the other as from what was above man; the earth shaken, the rocks shattered because of the rock; the dead risen to bear witness to the final and universal resurrection of the dead. The happenings at the sepulcher and after the sepulcher, who can fittingly recount them? Yet no one of them can be compared to the miracle of my salvation. A few drops of blood renew the whole world, and do for all men what the rennet does for the milk: joining us and binding us together.

Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Holy Pasch, Oration 45.I, quoted in Thomas C. Oden & Christopher A. Hall (ed), Mark, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Intervarsity Press, 2005) 224.

Today is the feast of Saint Basil and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. I was going to post some thoughts on Saint Basil and the development of Cappadocian monasticism that have been going through my head, and which I’ve been intending writing on, but have not had the time and am too tired for anything serious now. Instead, I’m stealing the following poem, which the sadly missing Felix Culpa posted on Ora et Laboraa year ago, give or take some calendar differences. It’s from Father John McGuckin’s Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography, a book that is on my “to be read” list.

Of all the ancients
You I think I could live with,
(some of the time)
comfortable in you
like an old coat
sagged and fraying at the back,
(its pockets drooping with important nothings
like string, and manuscripts of poems)
perfect for watching you off your guard,
rambling round your country garden,
planting roses, not turnips,
contrary to the manual
for a sensible monk;
master of the maybe;
anxious they might take you up all wrong;
shaking your fist at an Emperor,
(once he had turned the corner
out of sight);
every foray into speech
a coasted regret.

Your heart was like a spider’s silk
swinging wildly at the slightest breeze,
too tender for this tumbling world
of mountebanks, and quacks and gobs,
but turned to hear the distant voices
of the singing stars
and marvel at the mercy of it all.

nativity

The light shines in darkness, in this life and in the flesh, and is chased by the darkness but is not overtaken by it. By this I mean the adverse power leaping up in its shamelessness against the visible Adam but encountering God and being defeated – in order that we, putting away the darkness, may draw near to the Light and may then become perfect Light, the children of perfect Light.

Gregory of Nazianzus. On the Holy Lights, Oration 39.2, quoted in John 1-10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament IVa (InterVarsity Press, 2006) 27.

A blessed Christmas to all you celebrate it tomorrow!

I’m going to take a bit of a break from blogging until next week. Well, I might post quotes if I read things that seem worth sharing, but the next chapter of Zizioulas and the various half-formed posts floating around in my head can wait awhile.

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. For just as, if a man wished to see the light of the sun, he would at any rate wipe and brighten his eye, purifying himself in some sort like what he desires, so that the eye, thus becoming light, may see the light of the sun; or as, if a man would see a city or country, he at any rate comes to the place to see it;—thus he that would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God must needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul, by his manner of living, and approach the saints themselves by imitating their works; so that, associated with them in the conduct of a common life, he may understand also what has been revealed to them by God, and thenceforth, as closely knit to them, may escape the peril of the sinners and their fire at the day of judgment, and receive what is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven, which “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man,” whatsoever things are prepared for them that live a virtuous life, and love the God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through Whom and with Whom be to the Father Himself, with the Son Himself, in the Holy Spirit, honour and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word, 57.

Some time ago a couple of blogs that I read (including Peter Gilbert and Father Gregory Jensen– there may have been another that I’ve forgotten) quoted the words of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus “Not to everyone, friends, does it belong to philosophize about God, not to everyone; the subject is not so cheap and low. And, I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.” It is an appropriate enough quote for anyone discussing theology on the internet or elsewhere, and one which I had previously also quoted elsewhere. Speech about God is not to be taken lightly. 

But – and I thought of noting this at the time but somehow never got to it – Saint Gregory also continues to discuss the conditions necessary for theological speech:

Not to all men, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified…

Now this is also rather daunting, especially for someone who is nowhere near to having been purified in soul and body. But I take comfort in his words “or at the very least are being purified”. This seems to me to be a crucial point and one that emerged strongly in my reading of Father Louth’s work. And so I could not but be struck by this last paragraph of Saint Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word which I re-read this week. For here too we see the necessary link between a dynamic process of purification and theological understanding.

I was going to title this post “Ascetical theology” but then I realised that that is precisely what I don’t mean. Ascetical theology referred – at least in the Catholic parlance of the last few centuries – to the application of theology to the life of faith and prayer. What I hear the Fathers addressing here is something more fundamental, namely, the necessity of asceticism for all theology.

This raises important questions for us today. In what ways are the passions operating in theological discourse, not only in the blogosphere, but also in academic theology and the Church? How do polarised positions feed on them? How can we unmask them and come to self-knowledge? And are we really committed to being purified so as to be able to see the light?

This is what Saint Gregory of Nazianzus has to say about Saint Athanasius:

From meditating on every book of the Old and New Testament, with a depth such as none else has applied even to one of them, he grew rich in contemplation, rich in splendour of life, combining them in wondrous sort by that golden bond which few can weave; using life as the guide of contemplation, contemplation as the seal of life.

Oration 21, 6