The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology
Weird Wild Web
Gregory of Nazianzus
Theological Orations of Gregory of Nazianzus (Mike Bone, 1998)
The Theological Orations of
Gregory of Nazianzus
Mike Bone, 1998
The following are chapter summaries from the five theological
orations of Gregory of Nazianzus, a series of doctrinal sermons preached by the Nazianzan
in Constantinople some time during the year 380. According to Hardys introduction,
"they are the platfrom of the orthodox cause at the moment when it is fighting on
equal terms with the Eunomians and Macedonians of Constantinople." (121) The former
were extreme Arians who professed to know all about God and the latter were Arians
who questioned the deity of the Holy Spirit. (117)
Notes taken from Gregory of Nazianzus, Theological Orations, edited by Edward R.
Hardy, Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,
1954), pp. 128-214.
Hardy, for his part, used the translation prepared by Charles Gordon Browne and James
Edward Swallow for the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Volume VII, published in
1894, pp. 185-498.
Theological Oration I
- Nazianzus accused his opponents of sophistry and said they should pay more attention to
actions than arguments.
- They pick and choose propositions to wrestle, bother people and trivialize
"our great mystery."
- There are proper settings in which to philosophize about God. Those who are purified
(ethically/intellectually) by meditation may do so when not pressed by either inner or
- We may philosophize only about what is not beyond our capacity to consider.
- Remembrance of God should be constant, but talk of God should only be done when
appropriate. (Makes use of Platonic image of the chariot and its horses and refers to the
- Christians should not argue philosophy of God before pagans/ungodly for fear of helping
them resist Christianity.
- This wrangling among believers distracts the church from works of love. (As in
Platos Phaedo, Naz. said life should be a preparation for death.)
- There are two distinct types of conduct and purpose. The first leads to eternal
destruction and includes arguments and speculations. The second, narrow way leads to life
- Naz. opposed indiscriminate teaching and inflated claims to knowledge. He called
incessant speech a disease and urged that it be put to good use, i.e., arguing against
pagan dogma or philosophizing on harmless points of Christian doctrine. God, however,
should be off limits to those who are so afflicted.
Theological Oration II
- Now prepared, we can consider God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
- Such contemplation is as dangerous as entering the cloud on Sinai when God
gave the law to Moses. (Naz. gave an allegorical interpretation of Ex. 19) He described
his discourse as being, like the law engraved on both sides of the stone (Ex. 32:15),
"partly visible, and partly hidden."
- The contemplative Christian can, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, see only the
hinter parts of God, i.e., "the nature, which at last even reaches us," the
economy of God, though Naz. doesnt use the term here. This would be true even of the
most exalted, angelic nature as well.
- Citing Platos Timaeus, Naz. considered it impossible to define God in
words. Further, he thought it impossible even to conceive the divine nature, in part
because "the thick covering of the flesh" is an obstacle.
- God is "incomprehensible and illimitable," though not "as to the fact of
his being, but as to its nature." (cf. Aquinas)
- In creation, we see that God exists as "the efficient and maintaining cause of all
things." But even such evidence of the eye and of the law of nature does not comprise
a proof for Gods existence.
- The follies reason leads to in attempting to conceive what the Deity is are shown in
considering the spatiality of divine being. That is, whether God is a body or immaterial,
- whether God contains or is contained or partly each and whether God "moves"
- God certainly is incorporeal, but, as a term of negation, this tells us only what God is
not and not what God is. Other such terms are unbegotten, unoriginate, unchanging,
incorruptible. One "pursuing the nature of the self-existent" must at some point
say concisely what that nature is.
- We may also inquire after the locus of God. Problems arise such as "no place is...
free from circumscription," not even the entirety of all places (circumscribed by
"the universal, which contains the particular.") The locus above all
places would be logically indistinguishable from the universe of places. What limit
establishes transcendence? Certainly not place. Could it be comprehension?
- The preceding set of arguments ad absurdum was to show that "the divine
nature cannot be apprehended by human reason." This is not because God is jealous of
the divine secrets, because God is "passionless and only good."
- Rather, whatever knowledge we have of God comes by great effort (moral as much as
intellectual) in order that we might be able to appreciate it and possibly as a hindrance
to pride. Regardless, it is a fact that "this darkness of the body," this
"denseness of carnal nature" comes between us and God. "It is quite
impracticable for those who are in the body to be conversant with objects of pure thought
apart altogether from bodily objects" (cf. Aquinas teaching on the necessity of
the phantasm in knowing).
- We use names for the divine nature. Yet every name is always associated with a concept
of something within our experience and, as such, imports created features into our
conception of God. Further, even if we were able to distill such features from our
concepts, the problem arises of how these names can all belong properly to the divine
nature when God is and must be absolutely simple. (This was Aquinas problem in Summa
Theologica I, as per Fr. Lucien Richard.)
"Every rational nature longs for God and for the first cause, but is unable to grasp
him." This longing resolves itself either into idolatry or into a mysticism that both
affirms and negates: "through the beauty and order of visible things to attain to
that which is above sight; but not to suffer the loss of God through the magnificence of
- Even idolatry eventually becomes an alienated idolatry as time separates the initial
idolatrous constellation from "usage ... held to be law."
- Many projected their passions onto their idols and "deified their passions."
Such ones, in spite of the grace of reason, "have set up the worse as the
better." Nazianzus attributed this to the deceit of "the evil one" who
"laid hold of their desire in its wandering in search of God."
- Reason, by things visible, leads to what gives being to such things. The order of
creation leads us to its artificer. The origin of reason/Logos both within us and within
the universe cannot be accidental without making any order at all inexplicable.
- Though the nature and essence of God are undiscoverable in this life, Nazianzus thought
we would know them in the afterlife. Revelation through scripture is superior to reason,
but gives only a "relative superiority" of knowledge of God in this life, not
- The patriarchs Enoch, Noah and Abraham had no absolute knowledge of God, but each
"was approved because he worshipped as far as he comprehended." Not even Jacob,
who wrestled with God, "comprehended the whole nature or the pure sight of God."
- Regarding prophets of the old and new testaments, none of these "ever stood before
the council and essence of God..., or saw, or proclaimed the nature of God."
- Since Pauls visit to the third heaven was ineffable, we too should be silent about
such things. The most apt thing Paul said in this regard was that "we know in part
and we prophesy in part."
- In pursuing the nature of God (the "self-existent") we keep running into
obstacles. "The subject of God is more hard to come at ... as it is more perfect than
- A paraphrase in part of Psalm 139 starts this section off. It is a hymn of wonder at the
miracle of life,
- the variety of life,
- the natural knowledge of irrational creatures,
- the plants,
- the sea,
- the sky,
- heavenly bodies,
- the sun and the moon,
- and even "the intellectual and celestial creation," that is, angelic beings.
The point of all this: "Even the secondary natures surpass the power of our
intellect." How much more, then, does the primary nature, the divine.
Theological Oration III
- Introduction. The plan is to present his own position first (chapt. 2) and then to show
how the opponents position is false (chapt. 3ff).
- Of the three views of the divine, viz. anarchia, polyarchia and monarchia,
Naz. claimed the last, though without limiting it to one person. He advocated a plurality
consisting of "an equality of nature, and a union of mind and a convergence of its
elements to unity... so that though numerically distinct there is no severance of
essence." Specifically, he described the persons of the trinity as follows. "The
Father is the begetter and the emitter; without passion, of course, and without reference
to time, and not in a corporeal manner. The Son is the begotten, and the Holy Ghost is the
emission." This generation is not an involuntary overflow, perhaps referring to
- Re: time of generation. The "when" of this generation is indeterminate in that
it took place beyond the sphere of time. "There never was a time when [the Father]
was not" nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit. The Father has causal, but not temporal
priority. "The sources of time are not subject to time."
- Re: passion in generation. This generation was passionless, that is, incorporeal.
Creation is one of those things we attribute to God that carries with it creaturely
connotations, that is, we think of creation in a "bodily sense." Both the
physical (born of a virgin) and spiritual (begotten of the Father) generation of the Son
differs from ours.
- The terms "father" and "son" belong to God in an absolute sense, but
it is not so with us, since we can be both parent and child simultaneously. Any argument
that the Sons generation took place in time cannot be based on the grammatical
tenses used in scripture.
- Re: role of will in generation. An involuntary generation is a concept that does not fit
the divine, but a voluntary generation would make the Son "a son of will" and,
thus, not of the Father properly. Nazianzus turned this argument back to its basis in
human generation to show its absurdity. He also used the analogy of the divine will in
creation, affirming that that will does not create a barrier between Creator and creature.
Recognizing a distinction between the act of willing and the one who wills, Nazianzus
pointed out that in terms of a human will, which may or may not be successful, "the
thing willed is not the child of will." For God, however, the will and the deed are
identical, that is, the will to generate is generation.
- Reductio ad absurdum argument whether Gods will to be Father preceded
Gods being Father.
- Re: how the Son was begotten. We dont even know how humans are begotten, and even
if we did, such would not tell us directly of divine generation. To refuse credence to
whatever one cannot explain would rule out believing in much that exists. "The
begetting of God must be honored by silence."
- Re: potential existence of the begotten. This pertains only to such as can potentially
be and not be, e.g., "Levi in the loins of Abraham." In the case of the Son,
"to be begotten ... is concurrent with to be." The
question contains a logical absurdity along the lines of the assertion, "I am now
telling a lie."
- Re: the Son being of the same nature as the Father. How can the unbegotten be the same
as the begotten? Nazianzus would agree that the uncreated and the created cannot share the
same nature. Looking at the physical/biological basis for our metaphor, however, it is
evident how unbegotten and begotten share the same nature, since to do so is the very
definition of the parent-child relationship. Nazianzus applied a distinction between terms
(which do differ in the case of parent and child) and those to whom the terms apply (which
are of the same nature, whether human or divine.)
- Nazianzus expanded his argument by reminding his audience that unbegotten, even if it
applied properly only to the divine (but cf. the creation of Adam), is a negative term and
as such cannot properly define a nature. Rather, being begotten is an additional glory for
the Son who already has the glory of being unoriginate from the Father.
- The begotten-unbegotten distinction lies outside the essence of divinity. Such would
belong to the "personality" (idiotes) of a divine person. The term
"unbegotten" cannot be synonymous with "god" since the latter is a
relative term, i.e., requires another term for its definition, and the former is absolute.
- Re: generation as either ceasing or unceasing. If it is unceasing, divine generation is
perpetually incomplete, an idea incompatible with deity. If it ceases, when will it cease
and what then of the Son? Further, the opponents argued, what ceases must have begun.
Nazianzus equated this to saying that what begins must end and then adduced two examples
of where such does not obtain, that is, the human soul and angelic nature. Against his
opponents ambiguous use of the term "god" for the Son, Nazianzus asserted
that "whatever shares the definition has also a right to the name," where
definition is the description of a nature or essence.
- His opponents claimed to use a term ambiguously, but properly, as for example, the term
"dog" refers both to a dog on the land and to the dogfish. Nazianzus answered
that in such a case, there is no comparison of value as there is when "god" is
said of both the Father and the Son without granting divine worship to the latter.
- Nazianzus position was that the Father is greater than the Son in respect of being
the cause, a detail belonging not to the divine nature but to the "individual."
He identified his opponents logical fallacy as "arguing from a conditioned to
an unconditioned use of a term," that is, using the word "greater" in
respect of the Fathers nature viewed as a cause (conditioned use) and then arguing
that in every instance the Fathers nature viewed in itself (unconditioned use) is
greater than the Sons.
- His opponents claimed that "Father" names either an essence or an action and
that, therefore, the Son is less than the Father as either difference or as effect.
Nazianzus proposed a way out of this false dilemma: "It is the name of the relation
in which the Father stands to the Son, and the Son to the Father." As depicting a
relation, the names "father" and "son" denote an identity of nature
between the begetter and the begotten for God as they do for humans.
- Nazianzus then moved on to state his case from scripture, e.g., using John 1:1ff to say
"there never was a time when he was without the Word, or when he was not the
- He then drew attention to his opponents case from scripture. All scripture that
seems to support the Arian position, according to Nazianzus, can be explained in terms of
the following principle. "What is lofty you are to apply to the Godhead, ... but all
that is lowly to the composite condition of him who ... was made man."
- Re: the Sons dual nature, "what he was he continued to be; what he was not he
took to himself." For example, the Son is both uncaused and caused. The Son is
uncaused in that he shares the unoriginate divine nature which he receives from the
Father. The Son is caused in that, taking on human nature, he was born of a virgin. [Note:
We are saved because the Son "took upon him [our] denser nature, having converse with
the flesh by means of mind." Thus, the Son deified our humanity "in order that I
too might be made God so far as he is made man." (cf. Athansius On the Incarnation)]
- Many more examples of how to apply this principle. [Note: Christs baptism was in
order to "sanctify the element of water."]
- "Faith is that which completes our arguments."
Theological Oration IV
- Introduction: The purpose of this oration was to give a brief exposition of those
passages alluded to in the previous oration, that is, those passages of scripture that
seemed to support the Arian position. [Note: Christ was "God made capable of
- Nazianzus used Prov. 8:22 to exemplify his hermeneutical principle that
"Whatever we find joined with a cause we are to refer to the manhood, but all that is
absolute and unoriginate we are to reckon to the account of his Godhead."
- Re: "servant" as applied to Christ. In Christ we find the form of God mingled
with the form of a servant. In this way, our humanity is intermingled with God and, thus
- Re: passages that imply a duration to Christs reign. Such are not indicative of
limit since they do not exclude what comes after, but rather posit conditions under which
our relation to Christ as king and judge changes.
- Re: subjection of Son to Father. Nazianzus defined it as "the fulfilling of the
Fathers will." By taking on humanitys disobedience and rebellion, the Son
overcomes it in submission to the Father. The cry of dereliction on the cross was not due
to the withdrawal of either the Father or "his own Godhead," but of his humanity
- Re: Heb. 5:7f "He learned obedience." The Word is beyond obedience or
disobedience, but Christ took on himself a "strange form," i.e., our humanity,
in order to "exhaust the bad [in it], as fire does wax." This blending also
allows us to partake of Christs nature, i.e., divinity. In the "time of
restitution," we will be "entirely like God."
- Re: John 14:28 "greater" and John 20:17 "my God and your God." But
we also have the word "equal" in scripture and this counters
"greater." Nazianzus resolution of this discrepancy was to say, "The
greater refers to the origination while the equal belongs to the
- The "my God" is spoken from the visible Word, i.e., the human nature of
Christ, just as "Father" is spoken from the invisible Word. These two names are
joined by Christ because of the union of two natures in Christ.
- Re: scriptures that refer to the Son receiving life, judgment, etc. from the Father.
Again, the seemingly subordinationist term "receive" refers to the human nature.
- Re: John 5:19. Nazianzus interpreted by parsing various meanings of "can" and
- This use of "cannot" in John 5:19 refers to "the absolutely impossible
and inadmissible," that is, that the Son do anything different from the Father. The
doing of both Father and Son is identical in respect of authority. "The Father
impressed the ideas of these same actions, and the Word brings them to pass."
- Re: John 6:38, doing the will of the sender. The Son has no special will of his own,
apart from that of the Father. One Godhead means one divine will.
- Re: John 17:3 and Mark 10:18. These sentences both "proceed upon the basis of a
- Re: Hebrews 7:25. This intercession is not demeaning. By Christs sufferings as a
human, Christ as Logos persuades God to be patient. "For he still pleads even now as
man for my salvation; for he continues to wear the body which he assumed, until he make me
God by the power of his incarnation."
- Re: Mark 13:32, the Son knoweth not the day nor the hour. "We are to understand the
ignorance ... by attributing it to the manhood and not to the Godhead."
- Follow-up argument. The Son only knows by virtue of the shared divine nature. "Not
even the Son knows the day or hour otherwise than as the Father does."
- This starts a new section in the oration: the exposition of the Sons titles from
scripture. Before the exposition, however, Nazanzius issued a caveat. "The Deity
cannot be expressed in words. But we sketch him by his attributtes, and so obtain a
certain faint and feeble and partial idea concerning him."
- Ex. 3 "He who is" is the most strictly appropriate name for the divine nature.
This natures being is absolute. "Being is in its proper sense peculiar to God,
and belongs to him entirely."
- Divine titles are divided into those that connote authority and those that connote world
governance. Of the latter, there are those titles that refer to the Son prior to the
incarnation and those that belong properly to the incarnation. All of these titles are
common to the Godhead, but "the proper name of the unoriginate is Father,
... of the unoriginately begotten is Son, ... of the unbegottenly proceeding
... is the Holy Ghost."
- Names of the Son proper.
- Son: "because he is identical with the Father in essence." The manner of this
sonship is peculiar to the Son.
- Word: "because he is related to the Father as word to mind."
- Wisdom: "the knowledge of things divine and human."
- Power: "sustainer of all created things."
- Truth: "as being in nature one."
- Image: "the living reproduction of the living one."
- Righteousness [Note: the soul should rule the body.]
- Redemption: "because he sets us free who were held captive under sin, giving
himself a ransom for us, the sacrifice to make expiation for the world."
- The above names are common to the dual nature in Christ. The following apply properly to
- man: "that by himself he may sanctify humanity."
- son of man: related to us through Adam and the virgin
- Christ: the annointing of his humanity by divinity
- the way
- the door
- the shepherd
- the sheep/lamb: "as the victim"
- the high priest
"Walk through [these titles of the Son] that are lofty in a godlike manner; those
that belong to the body in a manner suitable to them; ... that thou mayest become a
Theological Oration V
- What of the Holy Spirit?
- Nazianzus left it to others to develop the scriptural basis for affirming the
Holy Spirit as God.
- He began by showing that the name which belongs to the Trinity fits the Holy Spirit,
specifically, the true light that lights every one that comes into the world (John 1:9;
14:16). He described the doctrine of Trinity in terms of this light: "out of light
[the Father], light [the Son], in light [the Spirit]."
- Both "holy" and "spirit" are characteristics that make Godhead
complete. If the Holy Spirit is not God, "how can he make me God, or join me with the
- The Sadducees denied the Holy Spirit. Greek philosophers called him "mind of the
world" or "external mind." Various Christian positions are that the Holy
Spirit is activity, creature, God, or they take some neutral position on who or what the
Holy Spirit is.
- Ignoring the first two sets, Nazianzus addressed Christians in this way: "The Holy
Ghost must certainly be conceived of either as ... self-existent or as ... in
another." The former position sees the Holy Spirit as substance, the latter as
accident. If accident, the simplest and clearest description of the Holy Spirit would be
as an "activity of God," that is, as effected and ceasing once effected rather
than as effecting. This, however, contradicts scripture. If substance, the Holy Spirit is
either creature of God or God. If the former, "how are we made perfect in him?"
- Nazianzus showed how syllogisms applied to relations within the Trinity result in
absurdities, particularly the syllogism that followed from "either the Holy Spirit is
begotten or unbegotten."
- Nazianzus rejected this distinction as a false dilemma. Based on John 15:26, Nazianzus
affirmed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and "is between the unbegotten
and the begotten." This procession is as much a mystery as the generation of the Son.
- Re: the Son and the Holy Spirit. "The difference of manifestation, ... or rather of
their mutual relations one to another, has caused the difference of their names."
Being unbegotten or begotten or proceeding gives names to persons of the Trinity
"that the distinction of the three persons may be preserved in the one nature and
dignity of the Godhead." Another formulation of this is that "the three are one
in Godhead, and the one three in properties."
- The Holy Spirit is God and consubstantial with God. Every attempt to explain this in
terms of creaturely reality is bound to fail. Nazianzus took a stab at it anyway, using
the model of human generation in the archetypal family.
- Adam was created out of dust and Eve out of a fragment of Adam. Seth was begotten of
both Adam and Eve. Each of the three persons was distinguished from the others and yet
there was only one nature.
- What precedence is there for according the Spirit divine honors? "It is the Spirit
in whom we worship, and in whom we pray. Therefore to adore or to pray to the Spirit seems
to me to be simply himself offering prayer or adoration to himself." No problem
- Nazianzus addressed the issue of how this is not tritheism or a plurality of principles,
especially against those who accept the Son as one with the Father but not the Holy
Spirit. How such persons answered the charge of being ditheists would also answer the
charge of tritheism.
- Another image for the Trinity is that the persons are like three suns yielding one light
- This is not like Greek polytheism, the sophisticated version of which recognized one
Godhead behind the plurality of gods. Such a position is handled using the analogy of many
humans, but one humanity. This is a "unity which is only conceivable in
thought," where the individuals vary over time and in disposition and even in power.
- "But each of these Persons possesses unity, not less with that which is united to
it than with itself, by reason of the identity of essence and power."
- Nazianzus then addressed his opponents principle that "things of one essence
are counted together, but those which are not consubstantial are reckoned one by
one." This meant that three could only be predicated of what is absolutely identical
in nature. Anything else cannot be counted with other things.
- This is a blatantly ridiculous position that might be suited to grammarians, but not to
persons seeking truth. Nazianzus claimed to be old-fashioned enough "as to use
three of that number of thing, even if they are of a different nature, and to
use one and one and one in a different way of so many units, even if they are united in
- Nazanzius asked his opponents whether, if they reckon three of something only when that
three all have the same nature, scripture was wrong to refer to Spirit, water and blood as
all three bearing witness (cf. I John 5:8). He proceeded to reduce the argument from
connumeration ad absurdum.
- Nazianzus rejected the argument from the silence of scripture by "a short
discussion of things and names, and especially of their use in Holy Scripture."
- Described what figures of speech are and how they appear in scripture.
- We get such extra-biblical words as "unoriginate," "unbegotten" and
"immortal" all from the same place, that is, from passages that imply them.
- Words always require interpretation and always belong equally to speaker and audience.
- Continuing to address the argument from silence, Nazianzus offered an explanation why
the deity of the Holy Spirit was not expressly set forth in scripture. He described two
epochal events in human history that he likened to earthquakes. These are the transition
from idolatry to the law and then from the law to the gospel. In each of the two
transitions, the change was relatively gradual so as to be more permanent, based as it was
on persuasion rather than force. In each transition, God allowed the survival of certain
elements from the preceding epoch, e.g., "the first cut off the idol, but left
sacrifice; 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 ... and became instead of Gentiles, Jews, and instead of Jews,
- Theology proceeds in reverse order, adding rather than taking away elements at each
transition. "The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more
obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the deity of the Spirit. Now the
Spirit himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of
- Referring to John 14:12, 26, Nazianzus claimed that one of the things the Spirit would
teach us is his own deity.
- Nazianzus again asked how, if the Holy Spirit is not to be worshipped, he can deify us
by baptism? His answer is, he cant! "From the Spirit comes our new birth."
- Finally, against the argument from silence, Nazianzus claimed that scripture is not
silent in the titles it ascribes to the Holy Spirit, i.e., titles that connote deity. He
gave a laundry list of such, including "the Creator-spirit, who by baptism and by
resurrection creates anew," and the Spirit "that deifies; that perfects so as
even to anticipate baptism."
- Wrap up.
- Nazianzus closed this oration by offering some possible models for the triune nature of
God. Among others he listed:
source (eye) - fountain - river
- sun - ray - light
All of these models, however, are unsatisfactory in some way. "Finally, then, it
seems best to me to let the images and the shadows go."
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