Gregory of Nazianzus – Oration on the Holy Spirit

January 25, 2016 — Leave a comment



The Fifth Theological Oration
On the Holy Spirit

Gregory of Nazianzus

Parts XXI – XXV


XXI.  Over and over again you turn upon us the silence of Scripture. But that it is not a strange doctrine, nor an afterthought, but acknowledged and plainly set forth both by the ancients and many of our own day, is already demonstrated by many persons who have treated of this subject, and who have handled the Holy Scriptures, not with indifference or as a mere pastime, but have gone beneath the letter and looked into the inner meaning, and have been deemed worthy to see the hidden beauty, and have been irradiated by the light of knowledge.  We, however in our turn will briefly prove it as far as may be, in order not to seem to be over-curious or improperly ambitious, building on another’s foundation.  But since the fact, that Scripture does not very clearly or very often write Him God in express words (as it does first the Father and afterwards the Son), becomes to you an occasion of blasphemy and of this excessive wordiness and impiety, we will release you from this inconvenience by a short discussion of things and names, and especially of their use in Holy Scripture.


XXII.  Some things have no existence, but are spoken of; others which do exist are not spoken of; some neither exist nor are spoken of, and some both exist and are spoken of.  Do you ask me for proof of this?  I am ready to give it.  According to Scripture God sleeps and is awake, is angry, walks, has the Cherubim for His Throne.  And yet when did He become liable to passion, and have you ever heard that God has a body? This then is, though not really fact, a figure of speech.  For we have given names according to our own comprehension from our own attributes to those of God.  His remaining silent apart from us, and as it were not caring for us, for reasons known to Himself, is what we call His sleeping; for our own sleep is such a state of inactivity.  And again, His sudden turning to do us good is the waking up; for waking is the dissolution of sleep, as visitation is of turning away.  And when He punishes, we say He is angry; for so it is with us, punishment is the result of anger.  And His working, now here now there, we call walking; for walking is change from one place to another.  His resting among the Holy Hosts, and as it were loving to dwell among them, is His sitting and being enthroned; this, too, from ourselves, for God rests nowhere as He does upon the Saints.  His swiftness of moving is called flying, and His watchful care is called His Face, and his giving and bestowing is His hand; and, in a word, every other of the powers or activities of God has depicted for us some other corporeal one.


XXIII.  Again, where do you get your Unbegotten and Unoriginate, those two citadels of your position, or we our Immortal?  Show me these in so many words, or we shall either set them aside, or erase them as not contained in Scripture; and you are slain by your own principle, the names you rely on being overthrown, and therewith the wall of refuge in which you trusted.  Is it not evident that they are due to passages which imply them, though the words do not actually occur?  What are these passages?–I am the first, and I am the last, and before Me there was no God, neither shall there be after Me. For all that depends on that Am makes for my side, for it has neither beginning nor ending.  When you accept this, that nothing is before Him, and that He has not an older Cause, you have implicitly given Him the titles Unbegotten and Unoriginate.  And to say that He has no end of Being is to call Him Immortal and Indestructible.  The first pairs, then, that I referred to are accounted for thus.  But what are the things which neither exist in fact nor are said?  That God is evil; that a sphere is square; that the past is present; that man is not a compound being. Have you ever known a man of such stupidity as to venture either to think or to assert any such thing?  It remains to  show what are the things which exist, both in fact and in language.  God, Man, Angel, Judgment, Vanity (viz., such arguments as yours), and the subversion of faith and emptying of the mystery.


XXIV.  Since, then, there is so much difference in terms and things, why are you such a slave to the letter, and a partisan of the Jewish wisdom, and a follower of syllables at the expense of facts?  But if, when you said twice five or twice seven, I concluded from your words that you meant Ten or Fourteen; or if, when you spoke of a rational and mortal animal, that you meant Man, should you think me to be talking nonsense?  Surely not, because I should be merely repeating your own meaning; for words do not belong more to the speaker of them than to him who called them forth.  As, then, in this case, I should have been looking, not so much at the terms used, as at the thoughts they were meant to convey; so neither, if I found something else either not at all or not clearly expressed in the Words of Scripture to be included in the meaning, should I avoid giving it utterance, out of fear of your sophistical trick about terms.  In this way, then, we shall hold our own against the semi-orthodox–among whom I may not count you.  For since you deny the Titles of the Son, which are so many and so clear, it is quite evident that even if you learnt a great many more and clearer ones you would not be moved to reverence.  But now I will take up the argument again a little way further back, and  show you, though you are so clever, the reason for this entire system of secrecy.


XXV.  There have been in the whole period of the duration of the world two conspicuous changes of men’s lives, which are also called two Testaments, or, on account of the wide fame of the matter, two Earthquakes; the one from idols to the Law, the other from the Law to the Gospel.  And we are taught in the Gospel of a third earthquake, namely, from this Earth to that which cannot be shaken or moved. Now the two Testaments are alike in this respect, that the change was not made on a sudden, nor at the first movement of the endeavor.  Why not (for this is a point on which we must have information)?  That no violence might be done to us, but that we might be moved by persuasion.  For nothing that is involuntary is durable; like streams or trees which are kept back by force.  But that which is voluntary is more durable and safe.  The former is due to one who uses force, the latter is ours; the one is due to the gentleness of God, the other to a tyrannical authority.  Wherefore God did not think it behoved Him to benefit the unwilling, but to do good to the willing.  And therefore like a Tutor or Physician He partly removes and partly condones ancestral habits, conceding some little of what tended to pleasure, just as medical men do with their patients, that their medicine may be taken, being artfully blended with what is nice.  For it is no very easy matter to change from those habits which custom and use have made honorable.  For instance, the first cut off the idol, but left the sacrifices; the second, while it destroyed the sacrifices did not forbid circumcision. Then, when once men had submitted to the curtailment, they also yielded that which had been conceded to them; in the first instance the sacrifices, in the second circumcision; and became instead of Gentiles, Jews, and instead of Jews, Christians, being beguiled into the Gospel by gradual changes. Paul is a proof of this; for having at one time administered circumcision, and submitted to legal purification, he advanced till he could say, and I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? His former conduct belonged to the temporary dispensation, his latter to maturity.


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