On The Holy Lights – Part 2

by St. Gregory Nazianzus “the Theologian”

Our father among the saints Gregory the Theologian , also known as Gregory of Nazianzus (though that name more appropriately refers to his father) and Gregory the Younger, was a great Father and Teacher of the Church. He was a close friend of St. Basil the Great.  He was one of the great Cappodocean Fathers, and is one of only three saints given the title “Theologian” in all of Orthodox hagiography and theology.

XI. And now, having purified the theater by what has been said, let us discourse a little about the Festival, and join in celebrating this Feast with festal and pious souls. And, since the chief point of the Festival is the remembrance of God, let us call God to mind. For I think that the sound of those who keep Festival There, where is the dwelling of all the Blissful, is nothing else than this, the hymns and praises of God, sung by all who are counted worthy of that City. Let none be astonished if what I have to say contains some things that I have said before; for not only will I utter the same words, but I shall speak of the same subjects, trembling both in tongue and mind and thought when I speak of God for you too, that you may share this laudable and blessed feeling.

And when I speak of God you must be illumined at once by one flash of light and by three. Three in Individualities or Hypostases, if any prefer so to call them, or persons, for we will not quarrel about names so long as the syllables amount to the same meaning; but One in respect of the Substance–that is, the Godhead. For they are divided without division, if I may so say; and they are united in division. For the Godhead is one in three, and the three are one, in whom the Godhead is, or to speak more accurately, Who are the Godhead. Excesses and defects we will omit, neither making the Unity a confusion, nor the division a separation.

We would keep equally far from the confusion of Sabellius and from the division of Arius, which are evils diametrically opposed, yet equal in their wickedness. For what need is there heretically to fuse God together, or to cut Him up into inequality?

XII. For to us there is but One God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and One Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things; and One Holy Spirit, in Whom are all things; yet these words, of, by, in, whom, do not denote a difference of nature (for if this were the case, the three prepositions, or the order of the three names would never be altered), but they characterize the personalities of a nature which is one and unconfused. And this is proved by the fact that They are again collected into one, if you will read–not carelessly–this other passage of the same Apostle,

“Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory forever, Amen.”

The Father is Father, and is Unoriginate, for He is of no one; the Son is Son, and is not unoriginate, for He is of the Father. But if you take the word Origin in a temporal sense, He too is Unoriginate, for He is the Maker of Time, and is not subject to Time. The Holy Spirit is truly Spirit, coming forth from the Father indeed, but not after the manner of the Son, for it is not by Generation but by Procession (since I must coin a word for the sake of clearness); for neither did the Father cease to be Unbegotten because of His begetting something, nor the Son to be begotten because He is of the Unbegotten (how could that be?), nor is the Spirit changed into Father or Son because He proceeds, or because He is God–though the ungodly do not believe it. For Personality is unchangeable; else how could Personality remain, if it were changeable, and could be removed from one to another?

But they who make “Unbegotten” and “Begotten” natures of equivocal gods would perhaps make Adam and Seth differ in nature, since the former was not born of flesh (for he was created), but the latter was born of Adam and Eve. There is then One God in Three, and These Three are One, as we have said.

XIII. Since then these things are so, or rather since This is so; and His Adoration ought not to be rendered only by Beings above, but there ought to be also worshipers on earth, that all things may be filled with the glory of God (forasmuch as they are filled with God Himself); therefore man was created and honored with the hand(a) and Image of God. But to despise man, when by the envy of the Devil and the bitter taste of sin he was pitiably severed from God his Maker–this was not in the Nature of God. What then was done, and what is the great Mystery that concerns us? An innovation is made upon nature, and God is made Man.

“He that rides upon the Heaven of Heavens in the East”

of His own glory and Majesty, is glorified in the West of our meanness and lowliness. And the Son of God deigns to become and to be called Son of Man; not changing what He was (for It is unchangeable); but assuming what He was not (for He is full of love to man), that the Incomprehensible might be comprehended, conversing with us through the mediation of the Flesh as through a veil; since it was not possible for that nature which is subject to birth and decay to endure His unveiled Godhead.

Therefore the Unmingled is mingled; and not only is God mingled with birth and Spirit with flesh, and the Eternal with time, and the Uncircumscribed with measure; but also Generation with Virginity, and dishonor with Him who is higher than all honor; He who is impassible with Suffering, and the Immortal with the corruptible.

For since that Deceiver thought that he was unconquerable in his malice, after he had cheated us with the hope of becoming gods, he was himself cheated by God’s assumption of our nature; so that in attacking Adam as he thought, he should really meet with God, and thus the new Adam should save the old, and the condemnation of the flesh should be abolished, death being slain by flesh.

XIV. At His birth we duly kept Festival, both I, the leader of the Feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world.

With the Star we ran, and with the Magi we worshiped, and with the Shepherds we were illuminated, and with the Angels we glorified Him, and with Simeon we took Him up in our arms, and with Anna the aged and chaste we made our responsive confession. And thanks be to Him who came to His own in the guise of a stranger, because He glorified the stranger.

Now, we come to another action of Christ, and another mystery. I cannot restrain my pleasure; I am rapt into God.

Almost like John I proclaim good tidings; for though I be not a Forerunner, yet am I from the desert. Christ is illumined, let us shine forth with Him. Christ is baptized, let us descend with Him that we may also ascend with Him. Jesus is baptized; but we must attentively consider not only this but also some other points. Who is He, and by whom is He baptized, and at what time?

He is the All-pure; and He is baptized by John; and the time is the beginning of His miracles. What are we to learn and to be taught by this? To purify ourselves first; to be lowly minded; and to preach only in maturity both of spiritual and bodily stature.

The first has a word especially for those who rush to Baptism off hand, and without due preparation, or providing for the stability of the Baptismal Grace by the disposition of their minds to good. For since Grace contains remission of the past (for it is a grace), it is on that account more worthy of reverence, that we return not to the same vomit again. The second speaks to those who rebel against the Stewards of this Mystery, if they are their superiors in rank. The third is for those who are confident in their youth, and think that any time is the right one to teach or to preside.

Jesus is purified, and dost thou despise purification? … and by John, and dost thou rise up against thy herald? … and at thirty years of age, and dost thou before thy beard has grown presume to teach the aged, or believe that thou teaches them, though thou be not reverend on account of thine age, or even perhaps for thy character? But here it may be said, Daniel, and this or that other, were judges in their youth, and examples are on your tongues; for every wrongdoer is prepared to defend himself. But I reply that that which is rare is not the law of the Church.

For one swallow does not make a summer, nor one line a geometrician, nor one voyage a sailor.

XV. But John baptizes, Jesus comes to Him … perhaps to sanctify the Baptist himself, but certainly to bury the whole of the old Adam in the water; and before this and for the sake of this, to sanctify Jordan; for as He is Spirit and Flesh, so He consecrates us by Spirit and water. John will not receive Him; Jesus contends.

“I have need to be baptized of Thee”

says the Voice to the Word, the Friend to the Bridegroom; he that is above all among them that are born of women, to Him Who is the Firstborn of every creature; he that leaped in the womb, to Him Who was adored in the womb; he who was and is to be the Forerunner to Him Who was and is to be manifested.

“I have need to be baptized of Thee;”

add to this

“and for Thee;”

for he knew that he would be baptized by Martyrdom, or, like Peter, that he would be cleansed not only as to his feet. “And comest Thou to me?” This also was prophetic; for he knew that after Herod would come the madness of Pilate, and so that when he had gone before Christ would follow him. But what saith Jesus? “Suffer it to be so now,” for this is the time of His Incarnation; for He knew that yet a little while and He should baptize the Baptist. And what is the “Fan?” The Purification. And what is the “Fire?” The consuming of the chaff, and the heat of the Spirit. And what the “Axe?”

The excision of the soul which is incurable even after the dung. And what the Sword? The cutting of the Word, which separates the worse from the better, and makes a division between the faithful and the unbeliever; and stirs up the son and the daughter and the bride against the father and the mother and the mother in law, the young and fresh against the old and shadowy. And what is the Latchet of the shoe, which thou John who baptizes Jesus may not loose?  You who are of the desert, and have no food, the new Elijah, the more than Prophet, inasmuch as you saw Him of Whom you did prophesy, you Mediator of the Old and New Testaments.

What is this? Perhaps the Message of the Advent, and the Incarnation, of which not the least point may be loosed, I say not by those who are yet carnal and babes in Christ, but not even by those who are like John in spirit.

XVI. But further–Jesus goes up out of the water … for with Himself He car ties up the world … and sees the heaven opened which Adam had shut against himself and all his posterity, as the gates of Paradise by the flaming sword. And the Spirit bears witness to His Godhead, for he descends upon One that is like Him, as does the Voice from Heaven (for He to Whom the witness is borne came from thence), and like a Dove, for He honors the Body (for this also was God, through its union with God) by being seen in a bodily form; and moreover, the Dove has from distant ages been wont to proclaim the end of the Deluge.

But if you are to judge of Godhead by bulk and weight, and the Spirit seems to you a small thing because He came in the form of a Dove, O man of contemptible littleness of thought concerning the greatest of things, you must also to be consistent despise the Kingdom of Heaven, because it is compared to a grain of mustard seed; and you must exalt the adversary above the Majesty of Jesus, because he is called a great Mountain, and Leviathan and King of that which lives in the water, whereas Christ is called the Lamb, and the Pearl, and the Drop and similar names.

XVII. Now, since our Festival is of Baptism, and we must endure a little hardness with Him Who for our sake took form, and was baptized, and was crucified; let us speak about the different kinds of Baptism, that we may come out thence purified. Moses baptized but it was in water, and before that in the cloud and in the sea. This was typical as Paul saith;the Sea of the water, and the Cloud of the Spirit; the Manna, of the Bread of Life; the Drink, of the Divine Drink. John also baptized; but this was not like the baptism of the Jews, for it was not only in water, but also

“unto repentance.”

Still it was not wholly spiritual, for he does not add

“And in the Spirit.”

Jesus also baptized, but in the Spirit. This is the perfect Baptism. And how is He not God, if I may digress a little, by whom you too are made God? I know also a Fourth Baptism–that by Martyrdom and blood, which also Christ himself underwent:–and this one is far more august than all the others, inasmuch as it cannot be defiled by after-stains. Yes, and I know of a Fifth also, which is that of tears, and is much more laborious, received by him who washes his bed every night and his couch with tears; whose bruises stink through his wickedness; and who goes mourning and of a sad countenance; who imitates the repentance of Manasseh and the humiliation of the Ninevites upon which God had mercy; who utters the words of the Publican in the Temple, and is justified rather than the stiff-necked Pharisee; who like the Canaanite woman bends down and asks for mercy and crumbs, the food of a dog that is very hungry.

XVIII. I, however, for I confess myself to be a man,–that is to say, an animal shifty and of a changeable nature,–both eagerly receive this Baptism, and worship Him Who has given it me, and impart it to others; and by shewing mercy make provision for mercy. For I know that I too am compassed with infirmity, and that with what measure I mete it shall be measured to me again. But what do you say, O new Pharisee pure in title but not in intention, who discharges upon us the sentiments of Novatus, though thou shares the same infirmities? Will you not give any place to weeping? Will you shed no tear? Mayest thou not meet with a Judge like thyself? Are you not ashamed by the mercy of Jesus, Who took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses; Who came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; Who will have mercy rather than sacrifice; who forgives sins till seventy times seven.

How blessed would your exaltation be if it really were purity, not pride, making laws above the reach of men, and destroying improvement by despair. For both are alike evil, indulgence not regulated by prudence, and condemnation that will never forgive; the one because it relaxes all reins, the other because it strangles by its severity. Shew me your purity, and I will approve your boldness. But as it is, I fear that being full of sores you will render them incurable.

Will you not admit even David’s repentance, to whom his penitence preserved even the gift of prophecy? nor the great Peter himself, who fell into human weakness at the Passion of our Savior? Yet Jesus received him, and by the threefold question and confession healed the threefold denial. Or will you even refuse to admit that he was made perfect by blood (for your folly goes even as far as that)? Or the transgressor at Corinth? But Paul confirmed love towards him when he saw his amendment, and gives the reason,

“that such an one be not swallowed up by overmuch sorrow,”

being overwhelmed by the excess of the punishment. And will you refuse to grant liberty of marriage to young widows on account of the liability of their age to fall? Paul ventured to do so; but of course you can teach him; for you have been caught up to the Fourth heaven, and to another Paradise, and have heard words more unspeakable, and comprehend a larger circle in your Gospel.

XIX. But these sins were not after Baptism, you will say. Where is your proof? Either prove it–or refrain from condemning; and if there be any doubt, let charity prevail. But Novatus, you say, would not receive those who lapsed in the persecution. What do you mean by this? If they were unrepentant he was right; I too would refuse to receive those who either would not stoop at all or not sufficiently, and who would refuse to make their amendment counterbalance their sin; and when I do receive them, I will assign them their proper place;(a) but if he refused those who wore themselves away with weeping, I will not imitate him.

And why should Novatus’s want of charity be a rule for me? He never punished covetousness, which is a second idolatry; but he condemned fornication as though he himself were not flesh and body. What say you? Are we convincing you by these words? Come and stand here on our side, that is, on the side of humanity. Let us magnify the Lord together. Let none of you, even though he has much confidence in himself, dare to say, Touch me not for I am pure, and who is so pure as I?

Give us too a share in your brightness. But perhaps we are not convincing you? Then we will weep for you. Let these men then if they will, follow our way, which is Christ’s way; but if they will not, let them go their own. Perhaps in it they will be baptized with Fire, in that last Baptism which is more painful and longer, which devours wood like grass, and consumes the stubble of every evil.

XX. But let us venerate today the Baptism of Christ; and let us keep the feast well, not in pampering the belly, but rejoicing in spirit. And how shall we luxuriate?

“Wash you, make you clean.”

If you be scarlet with sin and less bloody, be made white as snow; if ye be red, and men bathed in blood, yet be ye brought to the whiteness of wool. Anyhow be purified, and you shall be clean (for God rejoices in nothing so much as in the amendment and salvation of man, on whose behalf is every discourse and every Sacrament), that you may be like lights in the world, a quickening force to all other men; that you may stand as perfect lights beside That great Light, and may learn the mystery of the illumination of Heaven, enlightened by the Trinity more purely and clearly, of Which even now you are receiving in a measure the One Ray from the One Godhead in Christ Jesus our Lord; to Whom be the glory and the might for ever and ever. Amen.

About admin