St. Gregory the Theologian and the Literal Interpretation of Scripture

by Fr. John Whiteford

On interpreting Scripture, one must be intellectually honest about quotations.

George Demacopoulos gave another lecture at the Eagle River Institute which was recently posted on Ancient Faith Radio, and in the course of that lecture he made the following statement:

“St. Gregory the Theologian actually wrote, in one of his most famous orations on the Trinity, that a Christian who insists on a literal interpretation of Scripture, does so to mask his lack of genuine faith. Let me repeat that… St. Gregory says, quote: “a Christian who insists upon a literal interpretation of Scripture, does so to mask his lack of genuine faith”” (“Was Byzantine Christianity the Normative Orthodox Experience?: Part 2,” beginning at about the 12:20 mark).

The first time he referenced the alleged quoted, it could have been taken as if he was giving the gist of the quote, rather than an exact quote: “St. Gregory… wrote… that…” But he then repeated it, and prefaced it by saying “Quote,” which would normally only be used to preface a precise quotation. However, the actual quote bears very little resemblance to what he referenced in this lecture.

Here it is, at least as it is translated in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation:

“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” (“Oration 31, A Selected Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, series 2, vol. 7, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (New York: Christian, 1887-1900), p. 318).

For comparison, here is a more recent translation:

“Certain people, then, thinking that we have introduced the Holy Spirit as a strange or counterfeit god; are angry at us and fight very hard to defend “the letter”. But they should know that they are afraid where there is nothing to fear; 6 and I would have them clearly understand that their love for “the letter” is but a cloak for their impiety, as we shall see later on when we refute their objections to the utmost of our power” (Gregory of Nazianzus: Five Theological Orations, Translated with an introduction and notes by Dr. Stephen Reynolds, 2011, p. 98, <> )

This translation provides an interesting footnote to the phrase “the letter”:

“the letter”. I.e. of the Scriptures. Gregory does not say “the letter of the Scriptures,” because he will not concede to the opponents he now has in view that they are, in truth, faithfully interpreting the Scriptures. Cf. Oration 4, § 1 (page 71), where Gregory spoke of “difficulties and objections which were ripped from the holy Scriptures by those who profane the Bible and pervert the sense of its texts in order to win the mob to their side and confuse the way of truth.”

When you look at the actual quote, it is clear that Dr. George Demacopoulos has not even accurately presented the gist of the actual quote. St. Gregory was not attacking those

“who insist on literal interpretations,”

he was attacking those who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, who insisted on exclusively literal interpretations as a cloak for their impiety — and their impiety was not that they interpreted Scripture literally, but that they denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

It may be that when he was writing the notes to this lecture, he was referencing this by memory, and so we may charitably assume that he did not intentionally misquote the text, but the fact is, he has misquoted it, for whatever reason, and the actual quote does not even come close to justifying the assertion he made based on it.

If he had loosely said that St. Gregory the Theologian attacked those who insisted on an exclusively literal interpretation of Scripture, that would at least be a plausible take on what he is saying, but in the actual context of the quote, even that is a stretch, because he is not attacking the idea of interpreting the Scriptures literally. He is attacking their pretense of doing so, which he makes clear later on in the oration, when he says:

“But since you hold so very close to the letter (although you are contending against the letter)…” (NPNF2, Vol. 7, p. 323).

So in actual fact, St. Gregory is saying that these heretics are not even getting their literal interpretation of Scripture correct. If his point had been to attack literal interpretations per se, he would have spent a good bit of time arguing that point, and showing what a non-literal interpretation was preferable. But that is not what you find in this text.

The Fathers do not deny the legitimacy of literal interpretations of Scripture (at least ones that are no more literal than the texts are intended to be taken in), though they certainly do affirm other senses of Scripture as well. But here he is not arguing, for example, that you have to take an allegorical interpretation of Scripture to defend the Trinity — you just have to take a non-willfully-stupid interpretation of the Scriptures:

“But now the swarm of testimonies shall burst upon you from which the Deity of the Holy Ghost shall be shown to all who are not excessively stupid, or else altogether enemies to the Spirit, to be most clearly recognized in Scripture” (NPNF2, Vol. &, p. 327).

Also, when it comes to St. Gregory the Theologian’s view of Scripture, one should consider the following statement:

“We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation” (NPNF2-07 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration II: In Defence of His Flight to Pontus, and His Return, After His Ordination to the Priesthood, with an Exposition of the Character of the Priestly Office , ch. 105, p.225).

Here St. Gregory references the words of the Lord:

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17, c.f. Matthew 5:18).

St. Gregory not only affirms the verbal inerrancy Scripture, but in fact affirms every jot and tittle inerrancy (jots and tittles being the smallest strokes of a pen).

What is not obvious is what exactly is it about taking the literal sense of Scripture seriously that George Demacopoulos is objecting to? I “insist” on a literal interpretation of “Thou shalt not murder,” for example, but I also accept the more spiritual interpretations that Christ gives the commandment, and I think the Fathers of the Church would back me up both counts.

As I discussed in “Fundamental Errors: A Response to “Tradition Without Fundamentalism” by George Demacopoulos,” I suspect the issue behind this, is the question of the Church’s teachings on the subject of homosexuality (for the reasons stated in that article), though if George Demacopoulos wishes to dispute that, he need only clearly state what he believes to be the teaching of the Church on that subject. I would be happy to be corrected, if he simply affirmed that he believed that homosexual sex was inherently sinful, as opposed to arguing that somehow the literal sense of the Scriptures and canons on that subject should be reinterpreted to mean something else.



St. Gregory the Theologian and the Literal Interpretation of Scripture

To Whom Was the Blood of Christ Offered according to St. Gregory the Theologian

By St. Gregory the Theologian

More on Atonement – an Excerpt from “On Holy Pascha”, Homily 45

Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth inquiring into. To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed?

I mean the precious and renowned Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause?

If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether.

But if to the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed; and also, on what principle did the Blood of His Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him?

Rather it was on account of the Incarnation, and because humanity must be sanctified by the humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things. This is as much we will say of Christ; the greater part we shall reverence with silence.

But that brazen serpent was hung up as a remedy for the biting serpents, not as a type of Him that suffered for us, but as a contrast; and it saved those that looked upon it, not because they believed it to live, but because it was killed, and killed with it the powers that were subject to it, being destroyed as it deserved. And what is the fitting epitaph for it from us?

“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”

You are overthrown by the Cross; you are slain by Him who is the Giver of life; you are without breath, dead, without motion, even though you keep the form of a serpent lifted up on high on a pole.


Freedom and Man’s Fall


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It is important that Christians, when they speak of “human nature,” understand this expression in a biblical sense. And when they are told that “human nature does not change,” they should recognize the assertion as more Aristotelian than Christian. When God created human beings, it was precisely for the purpose of making them something more. Their destiny is not defined by human nature.

That is to say, it is not of the nature of human beings that their existence is circumscribed within a fixed and predetermined set of expectations. Unlike oak trees and the birds that nest in them, human beings are endowed with freedom of choice. The behavior of plants and animals, inasmuch as their existence is determined by native tropisms and instincts operating within a physical environment, is fairly predictable. Men are called to become something more.

Although it has become common to speak of “natural history,” the noun in this expression is used improperly. History, as this term has been understood ever since Herodotus used it this way, consists in the rational consideration of sequential events. There is no history without rational memory.

In nature—apart from human beings–there are no events. Things happen in nature, but it is not proper to call them events. An earthquake or a solar eclipse, apart from an interpretive regard by human beings, is not an event. When a landslide destroys a tree, the surviving trees do not record its demise, nor do they compose ballads to lament the tragedy. Birds, likewise, if a mighty wind should blow away their nest, do not fabricate new models, designed on better architectural principles. In nature everything remains the same.

Things human, on the other hand—the res humanae—do not remain the same, because human beings make choices. A potential for history is rooted in man’s capacity for free choice.
God gave human beings the gift of free choice—ultimately—for one purpose: so that they could freely choose Him. This purpose, however, does not change freedom into a necessity. Man’s free invitation to theosis (union with God forever) implies the possibility of damnation (the loss of God forever). Free to choose God, man is also able not to choose God.

Thus, the very gift of freedom could become the instrument of man’s Fall. The goodness God put in man, wrote Gregory the Theologian, was not a thing

“sown by nature alone (ou physei monon kataspeiromenon), but as something to be cultivated by our choice (proairesei georgoumenon).”


“movements of [man’s] self-determination go in both directions (tois ep’ ampho tou avtexsousiou kinemasin) (Orationes 2.17).”

But God could hardly have left Adam and Eve to figure this out on their own. Their choices required some concrete matter (hyle) on which to be exercised. If they were to choose wisely, they would need instruction, and this was the function of the law, or commandment, that God gave them in the Garden. God was determined, in the very act of creating free human beings, to make sure that they would always know the path to their proper destiny.

Indeed, the concept of freedom includes the imperative of law. At absolutely no point in his history—not even in Eden—has man been deprived of the guidance of “law” (45.28).  It is God’s second gift, the necessary supplement to freedom.

How, then, did it happen that man fell? Endowed with a relentless

“quest for God” (28.15),

what prompted him to deviate from the true course of his destiny?

If Gregory had followed the common attempt to find the origins of the Fall in man’s place in the “second stage of Creation” (the world of matter), he would have traced the problem to the physical side of man’s composition. In this he would have shared common ground with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Manichaeism, and other dualistic theories prevalent during the golden age of patristic theology.

However, the path to man’s Fall, Gregory believed, did not lie through what was lower in him, but in what was higher. It was in man’s spiritual and noetic nature that he deviated from his destiny. Man’s fall was not occasioned by the world of matter but through the temptation of an apostate angel, the very creature who, in the instance of their creation, most resembled God. Indeed, it was his resemblance to God, his theotes, that enticed Satan to defy God and claim equality with Him (40.10).

And Satan, after his rebellion, enticed human beings, as well, through their own divine vocation, to choose a disobedient and deviant path to their destiny.

“You shall be as gods,”

he promised Adam and Eve. This was the

“deception of the adversary” (klope antikeimenou) (22.13).


Freedom and Man’s Fall


The Truth of Orthodox Anthropology


Transfiguration plays a major role in understanding mankind, the reality and quality of freedom, and the intention of God in the creation of the Universe.

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Gregory the Theologian placed the synthetic —body and soul—quality of human existence in the larger context of the whole created order, within which he distinguished three stages. The first stage, he said, was the creation of the angels, described as a created projection of the “first light,” which is God Himself (Orationes 40.5).

These creatures are the most like God, Gregory declared, noetic spirits described in Holy Scripture as an immaterial form of fire. Indeed, so great was Gregory’s awe of the angelic nature, he confessed, that he would have thought angels incapable of falling, except that they did, in fact, fall!

Rebelling against the eternal light, they became powers of darkness and evil—in truth,

“our tempters” (38.9).

Creation’s second stage, according to Gregory, was that of the material universe, a compound of such physical elements as earth, water, and sky. Although lower than the order of angels, this physical universe was blessed with beauty, harmony, and order. Until God created human beings, however, there was nothing in the material world capable of thinking; purely material creatures are the least like—and the furthest removed from—God (38.10).

The third stage of the created order began on the sixth day of Creation, when God formed the human being in His own image and likeness. Man, the being created in this third stage, combines in his own existence the diverse qualities of the other two stages, the spiritual and the material.

Man is the only sub-angelic creature endowed with the faculties requisite for free, conscious, and sequential thought. Unlike other physical creatures, which are governed entirely by environment and instinct, human beings are able to make choices. Their deliberate decisions transcend the influences brought to bear upon them. This is what distinguishes man from the other creatures with whom he shares the earth. Thus, unique among God’s creatures, man is distinguished by a capacity for historical experience.

Indeed, the very notion of “history”—as something distinct from “nature”—is meaningless without man’s ability to choose a direction for his existence. When God created man, He created him, the Fathers declared, avtexsousios, “possessing self-determination.” This distinctly human quality, freedom of will, pertained to man’s very being from the beginning. It is presupposed in the very fact that God gave Adam and Eve a command—and, therefore, a choice whether or not to obey it—in the original Garden of his existence.

Early Christian witnesses to this thesis include the second century Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, who cited the Lord’s many commandments as proof of man’s to avtexsousion,

“self-determination” (Against the Heresies 4.37.3).

Why would the Creator have given a “law” to man unless man was able to make a choice with respect to that law? There is “no coercion in God,” Irenaeus reasoned;

“God made man self-determining (avtexsousios) from the beginning” (4.37.1).

Irenaeus went on to declare that Man’s freedom of choice is modeled on the very freedom of God,

“in whose likeness man was created” (4.37.4).

Gregory the Theologian followed Irenaeus and other Church Fathers very closely on this question. The commandment given to Adam and Eve in the Garden was not intended to limit man’s freedom but to provide him with the opportunity to use that freedom:

“[God] gave him a law as the matter (hyle) upon which to exercise his self-determination (avtexsousion) (Orationes 38.12).

Although the final purpose of their creation was not manifested until its culmination in Christ, God made human beings in order that they might seek Him, adore Him, and, by obeying Him, to be like Him and to become united to Him (39.7, 13; 45.28). In short, man was made for deification, theosis. This is the true destiny of

“the living being, placed here but transported elsewhere, and, to perfect the Mystery, destined to be deified (theoumenon) through his attraction to God” (38.11).

Gregory provides an integrated picture of the narrated historical process through which human beings, endowed with free well in their very creation, may grow to the final perfection of that endowment through theosis—likeness to God and union with God. God, who freely gives Himself to man, summons and enables man to give himself back to God. Only theosis explains man’s original endowment with freedom. For Gregory, the significance of freedom does not lie in a mere possibility among choices but in the potential for a transformed and transfigured life. Theosis is what God had in mind when He determined,

“let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”

True anthropology means deification.


Freedom and True Orthodox Anthropology

Can the Dead Repent?

zombie fear

by Fr. John Whiteford

Question: “If someone dies without repentance, is it possible for such a person to repent after death?”

Scripture, as explained by the Fathers of the Church, states that this is not possible.

Psalm 6:5 says:

“For in death there is none that is mindful of Thee, and in hades who will confess Thee?”

Commenting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom says:

“[The Prophet David is] not implying that our existence lasts only as far as this present life: perish the thought! After all, he is aware of the doctrine of the resurrection. Rather, it is that after our departure from here there would be no time for repentance. For the rich man praised God and repented, but in view of its lateness it did him no good [Luke 16:19-31]. The virgins wanted to get some oil, but no one gave any to them [Matthew 25:1-13]. So this is what this mane requests, too, for his sins to be washed away in this life so as to enjoy confidence at the tribunal of the fearsome judge” (St. John Chrysostom: Commentary on the Psalms, vol. I, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 102).

St. Jerome says:

“While you are still in this world, I beg of you to repent. Confess and give thanks to the Lord, for in this world only is he merciful. Here, he is able to be compassionate to the repentant, but because there he is judge, he is not merciful. Here, he is compassionate kindness; there, he is judge. Here, he reaches out his hand to the falling; there, he presides as judge” (Homily on Psalm 105[106], quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. VII, Craig A. Blaising and Carmen S. Hardin, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2008) p. 51).

St. Gregory the Theologian says:

“… it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing.  For as he who remembers God here is conqueror of death (as David has most excellently sung) so the departed have not in the grave confession and restoration; for God has confined life and action to this world, and to the future the scrutiny of what has been done” (On His Father’s Silence, Oration 16:7).

St. Basil the Great says:

“In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit.  The body is not divided, part being delivered to chastisement, and part let off; for when a whole has sinned it were like the old fables, and unworthy of a righteous judge, for only the half to suffer chastisement.  Nor is the soul cut in two,—that soul the whole of which possesses the sinful affection throughout, and works the wickedness in co-operation with the body. The cutting asunder, as I have observed, is the eternal separation of the soul from the Spirit.  For now, although the Spirit does not suffer admixture with the unworthy, He nevertheless does seem in a manner to be present with them that have once been sealed, awaiting the salvation which follows on their conversion; but then He will be wholly cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace.  For this reason “In Hades there is none that maketh confession; in death none that remembereth God,” because the help of the Spirit is no longer present” (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, 40).

Blessed Theodoret says:

“For this reason I beg the privilege of enjoying the cure in the present life, since I know that no cure will then be granted those departing this life with wounds, as there is no longer any room for repentance. This was exceptionally sound thinking on the part of the divine David: it is not in death but in life that one recalls God. Likewise, confession and reform do not come to the departed in Hades: God confined life and action to this life; there, however, he conducts an evaluation of performance. And in any case this is proper to to theeighth day, giving no longer opportunity for preparation by good or bad deeds to those who have arrived at it; instead, whatever works you have sown for yourself you will have occasion to reap. For this reason he obliges you to practice repentance here, there being no practice of this kind of effort in Hades. He says, in fact, “Since the opportunity coming to me for repentance was lengthy, I am afraid death may precede your mercy, there being no room for confession there — hence my request for your to be quick with your mercy.” Then he instructs the listener that along with God’s loving-kindness our effort is required, too: whether we plead weakness or confusion or God’s goodness without contributing what is ours, it is of no benefit to us” (Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Psalms, 1-72, trans. Robet C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 75).

St. Augustine says:

“”For in death there is no one that is mindful of Thee.” He knows too that now is the time for turning unto God: for when this life shall have passed away, there remaineth but a retribution of our deserts. “But in hell who shall confess to Thee?” That rich man, of whom the Lord speaks, who saw Lazarus in rest, but bewailed himself in torments, confessed in hell, yea so as to wish even to have his brethren warned, that they might keep themselves from sin, because of the punishment which is not believed to be in hell. Although therefore to no purpose, yet he confessed that those torments had deservedly lighted upon him; since he even wished his brethren to be instructed, lest they should fall into the same” (Commentary on the Psalms 6:6).

Cassiodorus says:

“This may elicit the question, why does he say that in death no-one is mindful of God, whereas then we can be made to tremble more by the imminent anger of God? But when we speak of those unmindful of God, this properly refers to the unfaithful. Isaiah said of them: For those in hell will not praise thee, nor will those who are dead bless thee. When Paul says: In the name of of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, the statement should be taken as referring only to the faithless and obstinate, who deserve to have no trust placed in their confession. So the psalmist rightly hastens to gain acquittal here, since once the sun has set nothing remains except deserved retribution. Who shall confess to thee in hell? We must mentally add “to win pardon.” Compare Solomon’s words on impious men: For they will say among themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, and the rest. Then too we know that the rich man who saw Lazarus settled in peace confessed his evil plight, but he was not heard praying for help because it is in this world that confession connotes also obtaining pardon. To help us realize that some distinction is being made in the words of the verse, in death means passing from life, whereas in hellmeans hugging the place where souls are known to endure what they have deserved. There is total denial that a confession can be made in each of these situations” (Cassiodorus:Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 1, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1990), p. 94f).

We find a very similar passage in Isaiah 38:18-19, which Cassiodorus references:

“For they that are in the grave shall not praise thee, neither shall the dead bless thee, neither shall they that are in Hades hope for thy mercy. The living shall bless thee, as I also do: for from this day shall I beget children, who shall declare thy righteousness.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria says:

“What is said in the psalm verse contains sentiments similar to this passage, “What value is there in my death if I descend into corruption? Dust will not praise you or proclaim your marvels [Psalm 29[30]:9].” In other words, once dead, and enclosed in the gates of Hades, they will cease giving praise. Nothing further could be added to what has been achieved; instead, they will remain in the condition in which they were left, and will await the time of the general judgment. So he is saying that it is the living, with the power of doing good on receipt of benefits who will bless you, as I do” (Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. II, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008), p. 300).

So here you have all of the Three Great Hierarchs, along with two great Latin Saints, St. Cyril of Alexandria (the preeminent Father of the Third Ecumenical Council), as well as two notable patristic commentators all saying essentially the same thing: the time for repentance is in this life. If you have not repented before death, it will then be too late.


The Venerable Womb of the Virgin


by St. Gregory the Theologian

Theotokos, not Christotokos.

If anyone does not consider holy Mary to be the Theotokos, then he does not accept the divinity of Christ.

… If anyone does not believe the holy Mary to be theTheotokos, he is without the Divinity. If anyone should say that Christ passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not formed in her at once in a divine and human way – divine because it was without the work of man, human because it was subject to the law of human gestation – he is equally atheistic.

… [T]he whole Adam fell by the fatal taste. Accordingly, in a human manner and beyond the human manner, in the venerable womb of the Virgin, He was shown as God and Man, uniting the two natures in one — one hidden, the other manifest to men.


Because The Lord Has Sworn An Oath


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The scene at Mount Moriah, where Abraham prepared to offer his son Isaac, has long lived in Christian memory as a source of theological reflection. Melito, a 2nd century bishop of Sardis, commented on the event at some length in a Paschal homily. In this comment we observe how easily Melito fuses Isaac’s ram with the lamb in Isaiah 53, as he describes the Passion of the Lord:

“In place of righteous Isaac, a ram appeared for slaughter, in order that Isaac might be liberated from bonds. The slaughter of this animal redeemed Isaac. In like manner, the Lord, being slain, saved us; being bound, he loosed us; being sacrificed, he redeemed us… For the Lord was a lamb, like the ram which Abraham saw caught in the bush. But this bush represented the cross, and that place represented Jerusalem, and the lamb represented the Lord bound for slaughter. . . For as a ram was he bound, it says concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, and as a lamb he was shorn, and as a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb he was crucified; and he carried the cross on his shoulders when he was-as Isaac by his father-led up to the hill to be slain.”

But Melito also perceives a point of contrast between Jesus and Isaac:

“But Christ suffered, and Isaac did not suffer: for he was a type of Christ who was going suffer (typos tou mellontos paschein Christou). Yet, even when serving only as a type of Christ, he struck men with astonishment and fear.”

Even down to particular details, Melito compares what occurred on Mount Moriah with what took place on Mount Calvary:

“For a new mystery appears (theasasthai mysterion kainon): a son led by his father to a mountain to be slain; he bound his feet and laid him on the wood of the sacrifice, preparing with care whatever was necessary to his immolation. Isaac on his part is silent, bound like a ram, not opening his mouth, nor uttering a sound with his voice. For, not afraid the knife, nor fearful before the fire, nor troubled by the prospect of suffering, he sustained bravely the character of a typos of the Lord. Accordingly there lies Isaac before us, with his feet bound like a ram, his father standing by, with the unsheathed blade in his hand, not shrinking from shedding his son’s blood.”

The scene in Genesis 22 prompted Cyprian of Carthage and John Chrysostom to speak of Abraham as a priest. Taking up this theme, Gregory the Theologian wrote,

“Abraham, the great patriarch, was justified by faith and he offered a substitute victim and the antitype of the Great Sacrifice.”

Gregory wrote of the sacrifice of Abraham,

“who gave to God, as an eager offering (prothymoteron), his only begotten, the child of promise, concerning whom the promise was at the beginning made by God, who rescued him.”

Elsewhere Gregory declared,

“Great Abraham was a patriarch, the man who offered a new sacrifice (thytes kaines thysias), by presenting to Him, who had provided it, the promised seed as a prepared offering (hiereion hetoimon), eager for slaughter.”

Augustine of Hippo was particularly impressed that the promise of Abraham’s great posterity, conveyed in the covenant in Genesis 15:5, was made the subject of a divine oath after Abraham obeyed God with respect to Isaac. The informing text on this point is in Genesis 22:16-18:

“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your one and only-blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

What chiefly distinguishes this divine pronouncement, Augustine observed, was the introduction of an oath. God has not hitherto sworn to His promise, but now He does. Augustine comments on the significance:

“In this way, after the whole burnt offering, which signifies Christ, the promise was made firm by God’s oath (iuratione Dei firmata promissio) with respect to the inclusion of the nations in the seed of Abraham. For He had often promised, but He had not sworn before (Saepe enim promiserat, sed numquam iuraverat). What is this oath of the true and truthful God except the confirmation of the promise and a kind of reprimand to unbelievers?”

On The Death & Resurrection Of Christ

by St. Gregory the Theologian

ResurrectionYesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him.

Yesterday I died with Him; today I am made alive with Him.

Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I am raised up with Him.

Let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us … ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most proper.

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us.

Let us become Divine for His sake, since for us He became Man.

He assumed the worse that He might give us the better. He became poor that by His poverty we might become rich. He accepted the form of a servant that we might win back our freedom.

He came down that we might be lifted up. He was tempted that through Him we might conquer. He was dishonored that He might glorify us. He died that He might save us. He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were thrown down through the fall of sin.

Let us give all, offer all, to Him who gave Himself a Ransom and Reconciliation for us.

We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him that we might be cleansed. We rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him. We were glorified with Him because we rose again with Him.

A few drops of Blood recreate the whole of creation!