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Gregory the Theologian

Gregory the Theologian

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Published by akimel
by Frederick W. Norris
by Frederick W. Norris

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Published by: akimel on May 28, 2012
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DOCTORES ECCLESIAEGREGORY THE THEOLOGIAN
Frederick 
W.
Norris
A group of contemporary western theologians has found GregoryNazianzen (c. 325-390) quite appealing. Among them interest is sometimes confined to a single set of sentences. There he ridicules hisopponents, the later Arians, because they tend to transfer all the aspectsof the human names used in talk about God to the very nature of God.For the Theologian, such a principle is so silly that his antagonistsmight soon claim that God is a male because in Greek he is called Godand Father, two "masculine" nouns. Consistently applied, that wouldmake the one Godhead "female" and the Holy Spirit a sterile "neuter."
1
Within feminist critiques of traditional theology, Gregory provides atraditional critique of some modern conservative positions. His contribution, however, is much wider than that. The
Theological
Orations.
Orations27-31 in Nazianzen's corpus, are a masterpiece of theology; the firstspeech sets out what a theologian should be, the second warns aboutthe limits of reason in relation to faith, the third and fourth present aclassical Christology in light of what he sees as glaring deficiencies inNeo-Arian views, and the fifth develops the doctrine of the Holy Spiritas God over against some from his own circle, the later Arians andothers. Because these five were probably given at Constantinople in the
 A group
of 
contemporarywesterntheologianshas found Gregory Nazianzenquite appealing.The
TheologicalOrations
are
a
masterpiece
of theology.
Frederick 
W.
Norris,
Emmanuel School
of Religion,
Johnson
City, Tennessee,
37601.
1.Or.31.7,
PG
36,140C-141A,
Grégoire
de Nazianze,
Discours
27-31
(Discours
théologiques),
ed. by
Paul Gallay in collaboration with Maurice Jourjon,
Sources chrétiennes
250 (Paris: Les Editions
du
Cerf,
1978), 286-288. Frederick
W.
Norris,
Faith Gives
Fullness
to
Reasoning:
TheFive Theological 
Orations
of 
Gregory
Nazianzen,
Supplements to
Vigiliae Christianae
XIII, Introduction and commentary
by Norris, translation by Lionel Wickham and Frederick Williams (Leiden: E.
J.
Brill,1991), 282.
2.
See Norris,
op. cit.
PRO
ECCLESIA
Vol.
II,
No.
4473
 
The Theologian'sown spiritual formation camethrough
repeated 
celebration of theliturgy and monastic
retreat.
 He
breathes
inworship
and breathes
out theology. Thustrinitarian
concern
and 
soteriological
interest 
are
the
atmosphere
inwhich a
theologian
must live.
summer of 380 and Gregory was the first president of the council in
381,
they offer insight into the setting of the Nicene-ConstantinopolitanCreed, the most frequently confessed creed among Christians.Or. 27 is a rare piece. It bristles with the rancor of Neo-Arian andOrthodox debate, but it soon settles into a main topic for Gregory:Christian
paideia.
His opponents have advanced their leaders too soon;they have given them conciliar responsibilities for which they were notprepared. Their leaders do not understand how important it is to liveby the sense that intellectual study and devotional meditation areinseparable. The word
theoria
includes both.
4
In Or. 28 the Theologiannotes that Moses could only see the back parts of God. Within thedeepest mystical visions Nazianzen had experienced, he barely madethat much progress. From his perspective the Neo-Arians have forsaken contemplation of Christ's full divinity within the incarnation.Even their view of God the Father has been distorted because they thinkthey can both inspect and describe the deepest aspects of God's nature.The Theologian's own spiritual formation came through repeatedcelebration of the liturgy and monastic retreat. Just before his move tobecome the pastor of the small orthodox community in Constantinople, he had spent about four years in a monastery at Seleucia wherehe might have been happy to remain. Through such discipline he wasmore fully prepared for the challenges that met him in the capital city.Or. 27 highlights both worship and monastic rigor. Furthermore, thebulk of his forty-four orations depend upon liturgy, particularly thegreat festivals of the church. He breathes in worship and breathes outtheology. Thus trinitarian concern and soteriological interest are theatmosphere in which, for
him,
a theologian must live. Submission
to
God'shumbling greatness in the midst of community is its major element.You can also sense a rather remarkable education
at
work. Gregory hadbegun his elementary studies in Cappadocia, yet as a young man hepursued further rhetorical training at Caesarea in Palestine, atAlexandria and finally at Athens. His education included not only thetechnical rhetoric of Hermogenes and others, but also the philosophicalrhetoric of Plato and Aristotle. He knew how much of human understanding was amenable to syllogisms and how much must be left tomore probablistic questioning. The Theologian was so skilled that hemay have been asked to teach rhetoric in one of the Athenian schools;
3.
Edmund Schlink,
"Die biblische
Grundlage
des Glaubensbekentnisses des
2.
ökumenischen Konzils
381,
La signification
et
l'actualité
du He conçue oecuménique pour le monde chrétien
d'aujord'hui,
Lesétudes théologiques
de
Chambesy 2 (Chambesy: Editions du
centre orthodoxe
du
patriarcat oecuménique,
1982), 139.
4.
Or. 27.3, PG 36, 13C-16B, SC 250, 76-78, Williams' translation in Norris, 218-219 andcommentary in Norris, 89.5. Or. 28.2-3, PG 36,28A-29B, SC 250,102-106, Wickhams' translation in Norris, 224-226.6. Or. 27.1-9, PG 36,12A-24A, SC 250,70-94, Williams' translation in Norris, 217-223.
474
Frederick 
W.
Norris
 
he,
however, forsook that honor in the hope of forming a small monastic community with his friend, Basil.The potential of life with Basil at Annesi in Pontus was interrupted bytheir quirky friendship, the needs of Nazianzen's aging parents andthe church's call to public ministry. The last was a milieu he did not fiteasily. Yet particularly with his invitation in early 379 to serve atConstantinople, he gathered all his talents and education to confrontsituations there. He was hoodwinked for a time by the golden boy,Maximus the Cynic, who had been sent by Christians in Alexandria toundermine his bishopric. It hurt Gregory to see how his trust was
misplaced.
But he worked through the difficulty and was ableboth to protectand
to
nourish
those
who came to the small chapel called Anastasia.In Or.
27
Nazianzen turns to his educational background and mustershis strength for polemic. He warns that all theologians must understand a common rhetorical truism found in
Aristotle:
no oration can begiven to every audience on every occasion by every speaker. Aristotleknew that;
8
each theologian should. Some aspects of theology are notamenable to the public square, certainly not, in this monk's eyes, to theprotected salons of women. The trouble with Constantinople was thattheology was common fare on the street corner, at the horse races, inplaces where liturgical awe did not penetrate and open silence did notexist. The deep resources of theology are not available for all public orprivate gatherings, particularly those where gamesmanship and chitchat dominate.Aristotle's rhetorical commonplace cuts another way. Those who claimthat they are educated theologians and do not know what should havebeen learned in initial classes on rhetoric are not only stuntedtheologians; they are also immature intellectuals. Thus when theyemploy such apparently intricate care in forming their syllogisms, theyare not to be followed because it is obvious that they are merelybeginners. The elemental logic they have mastered could be put tosome use. There are various puzzles of the philosophical schools towhich they could turn their attention. After all, young students whothink they know so much may be asked to write introductory themes.Their proud little efforts might show the deficiencies of Plato's view oideas or his ugly love of beautiful bodies, Aristotle's stilted sense of providence, the vulgar ways of the Cynics, or the oddity of the importance given to Orphic beans. Because their logical investigations are soobviously those of beginners, they might even be asked to discussresurrection, judgment or the sufferings of Christ. Evidently forGregory these matters were so often brought forward by reputable
7. Or.
27.3,
PG 36,13C-16B, SC 250,76-78, Williams' translation in Norris, 218-219.8. Aristotle,
Rhetoric
1356A.9. Or. 27.9-10, PG 36,21D-25A, SC 250,92-98, Williams' translation in Norris, 222-223.
Theologians
must 
understand acommon rhetorical
truism found in Aristotle: no
oration can be
given
to everyaudience onevery occasionby every
speaker.
The deepresources of theology are not 
available for 
all public or private
gatherings, particularly
those where
gamesmanship
and chit-chat 
dominate.
PRO ECCLESIA
Vol.
II,
No.
4475

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