St Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus

Gregory Theologianfrom here: In five sermons, or “Theological Orations,” St Gregory first of all defines the characteristics of a theologian, and who may theologize. Only those who are experienced can properly reason about God, those who are successful at contemplation and, most importantly, who are pure in soul and body, and utterly selfless. To reason about God properly is possible only for one who enters into it with fervor and reverence.

Explaining that God has concealed His Essence from mankind, St Gregory demonstrates that it is impossible for those in the flesh to view mental objects without a mixture of the corporeal. Talking about God in a positive sense is possible only when we become free from the external impressions of things and from their effects, when our guide, the mind, does not adhere to impure transitory images. Answering the Eunomians, who would presume to grasp God’s Essence through logical speculation, the saint declared that man perceives God when the mind and reason become godlike and divine, i.e. when the image ascends to its Archetype. (Or. 28:17). Furthermore, the example of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets and also the Apostles has demonstrated, that the Essence of God is incomprehensible for mortal man. St Gregory cited the futile sophistry of Eunomios: “God begat the Son either through His will, or contrary to will. If He begat contrary to will, then He underwent constraint. If by His will, then the Son is the Son of His intent.”

Confuting such reasoning, St Gregory points out the harm it does to man: “You yourself, who speak so thoughtlessly, were you begotten voluntarily or involuntarily by your father? If involuntarily, then your father was under the sway of some tyrant. Who? You can hardly say it was nature, for nature is tolerant of chastity. If it was voluntarily, then by a few syllables you deprive yourself of your father, for thus you are shown to be the son of Will, and not of your father” (Or. 29:6).

St Gregory then turns to Holy Scripture, with particular attention examining a place where it points out the Divine Nature of the Son of God. St Gregory’s interpretations of Holy Scripture are devoted to revealing that the divine power of the Savior was actualized even when He assumed an impaired human nature for the salvation of mankind.

The first of St Gregory’s Five Theological Orations is devoted to arguments against the Eunomians for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Closely examining everything that is said in the Gospel about the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the saint refutes the heresy of Eunomios, which rejected the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He comes to two fundamental conclusions. First, in reading Holy Scripture, it is necessary to reject blind literalism and to try and understand its spiritual sense. Second, in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit operated in a hidden way. “Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us and makes the manifestation of Himself more certain. It was not safe, as long as they did not acknowledge the divinity of the Father, to proclaim openly that of the Son; and as long as the divinity of the Son was not accepted, they could not, to express it somewhat boldly, impose on us the burden of the Holy Spirit” (Or. 31:26).

The divinity of the Holy Spirit is a sublime subject. “Look at these facts: Christ is born, the Holy Spirit is His Forerunner. Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears witness to this… Christ works miracles, the Spirit accompanies them. Christ ascends, the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? What titles appertaining to God do not apply also to Him, except for Unbegotten and Begotten? I tremble when I think of such an abundance of titles, and how many Names they blaspheme, those who revolt against the Spirit!” (Or. 31:29).

The Orations of St Gregory are not limited only to this topic. He also wrote Panegyrics on Saints, Festal Orations, two invectives against Julian the Apostate, “two pillars, on which the impiety of Julian is indelibly written for posterity,” and various orations on other topics. In all, forty-five of St Gregory’s orations have been preserved.

The letters of the saint compare favorably with his best theological works. All of them are clear, yet concise. In his poems as in all things, St Gregory focused on Christ. “If the lengthy tracts of the heretics are new Psalters at variance with David, and the pretty verses they honor are like a third testament, then we also shall sing Psalms, and begin to write much and compose poetic meters,” said the saint. Of his poetic gift the saint wrote: “I am an organ of the Lord, and sweetly… do I glorify the King, all atremble before Him.”

The fame of the Orthodox preacher spread through East and West. But the saint lived in the capital as though he still lived in the wilderness: “his food was food of the wilderness; his clothing was whatever necessary. He made visitations without pretense, and though in proximity of the court, he sought nothing from the court.”

The saint received a shock when he was ill. One whom he considered as his friend, the philosopher Maximus, was consecrated at Constantinople in St Gregory’s place. Struck by the ingratitude of Maximus, the saint decided to resign the cathedra, but his faithful flock restrained him from it. The people threw the usurper out of the city. On November 24, 380 the holy emperor Theodosius arrived in the capital and, in enforcing his decree against the heretics, the main church was returned to the Orthodox, with St Gregory making a solemn entrance. An attempt on the life of St Gregory was planned, but instead the assassin appeared before the saint with tears of repentance.

At the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, St Gregory was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople. After the death of Patriarch Meletius of Antioch, St Gregory presided at the Council. Hoping to reconcile the West with the East, he offered to recognize Paulinus as Patriarch of Antioch.

Those who had acted against St Gregory on behalf of Maximus, particularly Egyptian and Macedonian bishops, arrived late for the Council. They did not want to acknowledge the saint as Patriarch of Constantinople, since he was elected in their absence.

St Gregory decided to resign his office for the sake of peace in the Church: “Let me be as the Prophet Jonah! I was responsible for the storm, but I would sacrifice myself for the salvation of the ship. Seize me and throw me… I was not happy when I ascended the throne, and gladly would I descend it.”

After telling the emperor of his desire to quit the capital, St Gregory appeared again at the Council to deliver a farewell address (Or. 42) asking to be allowed to depart in peace.

Upon his return to his native region, St Gregory turned his attention to the incursion of Appolinarian heretics into the flock of Nazianzus, and he established the pious Eulalius there as bishop, while he himself withdrew into the solitude of Arianzos so dear to his heart. The saint, zealous for the truth of Christ continued to affirm Orthodoxy through his letters and poems, while remaining in the wilderness. He died on January 25, 389, and is honored with the title “Theologian,” also given to the holy Apostle and Evangelist John.

In his works St Gregory, like that other Theologian St John, directs everything toward the Pre-eternal Word. St John of Damascus, in the first part of his book AN EXACT EXPOSITION OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH, followed the lead of St Gregory the Theologian.

St Gregory was buried at Nazianzos. In the year 950, his holy relics were transferred to Constantinople into the church of the Holy Apostles. Later on, a portion of his relics was transferred to Rome.

In appearance, the saint was of medium height and somewhat pale. He had thick eyebrows, and a short beard(!!!). His contemporaries already called the archpastor a saint. The Orthodox Church, honors St Gregory as a second Theologian and insightful writer on the Holy Trinity.

“O glorious Father Gregory, Your knowledge has overcome the pride of false wisdom. The church is clothed with your teaching as a robe of righteousness. We your children celebrate your memory crying out: Rejoice, O father of unsurpassable wisdom!”

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3 Responses to “St Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus”

  1. CSMA Says:

    D+:
    St. Gregory has been a special saint in my life for many years. Thank you for this summary. I’ll be attending the Detroit conference as I was an Episc. priest who recently renounced Holy Orders (am a catecumen.) If you want me to tell you about the conference and how Fr. Stephen+ et al were, email me.

  2. dpc+ Says:

    CSMA: Not sure of your email address.

    I’d be delighted to communicate about the Detroit conference. I wish I were able to go!!! However, I am in the St. Stephen’s/Pitts.Theol.Sem. D.Min. program studying with the Antiochian Orthodox Church faculty and am pretty exposed to Orthodoxy (what hubris!). My question right now is not ‘whether’ but I’m trying to figure out how and when…
    Safe travel.

  3. Craig Mies Says:

    Do you know where I can find Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus’ position about when angels were created? I believe it might be in Orations 38:7. Do you know of any other church father that holds the same beliefs about the creation of angels as Gregory? Thanks!


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