Gregory of Nazianzus – Oration on the Holy Spirit

January 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

 

GregoryNazianzus

Today is the Feast Day (in the Eastern tradition of the Church) for Gregory of Nazianzus, who died on this date in 390.

Gregory of Nazianzus ( c. 329 – 25 January 390), also known as Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen, was a 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople, and theologician. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained orator and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials.

Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek- and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the “Trinitarian Theologian”. Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Along with the brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers.

Gregory is a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is numbered among the Doctors of the Church; in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with Basil the Great and John Chrysostom.

He is also one of only three men in the life of the Orthodox Church who have been officially designated “Theologian” by epithet,the other two being St. John the Theologian (the Evangelist), and St. Symeon the New Theologian. (via Wikipedia)

[ Read a brief biography from The Catholic Encyclopedia ]

As Gregory’s greatest contribution to theology was likely his work on the Holy Spirit, we are pleased to offer here, his Oration on the Holy Spirit.

The Fifth Theological Oration
On the Holy Spirit

Gregory of Nazianzus

Parts I – V

I. Such then is the account of the Son, and in this manner He has escaped those who would stone Him, passing through the midst of them. For the Word is not stoned, but casts stones when He pleases; and uses a sling against wild beasts–that is, words–approaching the Mount in an unholy way. But, they go on, what have you to say about the Holy Ghost?  From whence are you bringing in upon us this strange God, of Whom Scripture is silent?  And even they who keep within bounds as to the Son speak thus.  And just as we find in the case of roads and rivers, that they split off from one another and join again, so it happens also in this case, through the superabundance of impiety, that people who differ in all other respects have here some points of agreement, so that you never can tell for certain either where they are of one mind, or where they are in conflict.

 

II. Now the subject of the Holy Spirit presents a special difficulty, not only because when these men have become weary in their disputations concerning the Son, they struggle with greater heat against the Spirit (for it seems to be absolutely necessary for them to have some object on which to give expression to their impiety, or life would appear to them no longer worth living), but further because we ourselves also, being worn out by the multitude of their questions, are in something of the same condition with men who have lost their appetite; who having taken a dislike to some particular kind of food, shrink from all food; so we in like manner have an aversion from all discussions. Yet may the Spirit grant it to us, and then the discourse will proceed, and God will be glorified.  Well then, we will leave to others who have worked upon this subject for us as well as for themselves, as we have worked upon it for them, the task of examining carefully and distinguishing in how many senses the word Spirit or the word Holy is used and understood in Holy Scripture, with the evidence suitable to such an enquiry; and of  showing how besides these the combination of the two words–I mean, Holy Spirit–is used in a peculiar sense; but we will apply ourselves to the remainder of the subject.

 

III.  They then who are angry with us on the ground that we are bringing in a strange or interpolated God, viz.:–the Holy Ghost, and who fight so very hard for the letter, should know that they are afraid where no fear is; and I would have them clearly understand that their love for the letter is but a cloak for their impiety, as shall be  shown later on, when we refute their objections to the utmost of our power.  But we have so much confidence in the Deity of the Spirit Whom we adore, that we will begin our teaching concerning His Godhead by fitting to Him the Names which belong to the Trinity, even though some persons may think us too bold.  The Father was the True Light which lightens every man coming into the world.  The Son was the True Light which lightens every man coming into the world.  The Other Comforter was the True Light which lightens every man coming into the world. Was and Was and Was, but Was One Thing.  Light thrice repeated; but One Light and One God.  This was what David represented to himself long before when he said, In Thy Light shall we see Light. And now we have both seen and proclaim concisely and simply the doctrine of God the Trinity, comprehending out of Light (the Father), Light (the Son), in Light (the Holy Ghost).  He that rejects it, let him reject it; and he that doeth iniquity, let him do iniquity; we proclaim that which we have understood.  We will get us up into a high mountain, and will shout, if we be not heard, below; we will exalt the Spirit; we will not be afraid; or if we are afraid, it shall be of keeping silence, not of proclaiming.

 

IV. If ever there was a time when the Father was not, then there was a time when the Son was not. If ever there was a time when the Son was not, then there was a time when the Spirit was not.  If the One was from the beginning, then the Three were so too.  If you throw down the One, I am bold to assert that you do not set up the other Two.  For what profit is there in an imperfect Godhead?  Or rather, what Godhead can there be if It is not perfect?  And how can that be perfect which lacks something of perfection?  And surely there is something lacking if it hath not the Holy, and how would it have this if it were without the Spirit?  For either holiness is something different from Him, and if so let someone tell me what it is conceived to be; or if it is the same, how is it not from the beginning, as if it were better for God to be at one time imperfect and apart from the Spirit?  If He is not from the beginning, He is in the same rank with myself, even though a little before me; for we are both parted from Godhead by time.  If He is in the same rank with myself, how can He make me God, or join me with Godhead?

 

V. Or rather, let me reason with you about Him from a somewhat earlier point, for we have already discussed the Trinity. The Sadducees altogether denied the existence of the Holy Spirit, just as they did that of Angels and the Resurrection; rejecting, I know not upon what ground, the important testimonies concerning Him in the Old Testament. And of the Greeks those who are more inclined to speak of God, and who approach nearest to us, have formed some conception of Him, as it seems to me, though they have differed as to His Name, and have addressed Him as the Mind of the World, or the External Mind, and the like.  But of the wise men amongst ourselves, some have conceived of him as an Activity, some as a Creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call Him, out of reverence for Scripture, they say, as though it did not make the matter clear either way.  And therefore they neither worship Him nor treat Him with dishonor, but take up a neutral position, or rather a very miserable one, with respect to Him.  And of those who consider Him to be God, some are orthodox in mind only, while others venture to be so with the lips also.  And I have heard of some who are even more clever, and measure Deity; and these agree with us that there are Three Conceptions; but they have separated these from one another so completely as to make one of them infinite both in essence and power, and the second in power but not in essence, and the third circumscribed in both; thus imitating in another way those who call them the Creator, the Co-operator, and the Minister, and consider that the same order and dignity which belongs to these names is also a sequence in the facts.

 

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