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Ѯe Meaning of History
THE MEANI NG OF HI S TORY: I NS I GHTS FROM
S T GREGORY THE THEOLOGI AN' S EXI S TENTI AL
Associate Lecturer in Church History
St Andrew´s Greek Orthodox Ѯeological College
PhD Candidate in Ancient History, Macquarie University
In an endeavour to address what has oѫen been viewed as the meaningless
fux of history in some contemporary (secular) historiographical trends, this
paper will attempt to demonstrate that an existential metanarrative of history
- a totalising or all-encompassing interpretive framework with experiential
import - can be found in the writings of the fourth century Cappadocian
father of the Church, St Gregory the Ѯeologian (d. 390). Although neither
method can claim exclusivity, our goal is to demonstrate that the theological
interpretation of history
elicited from the works of St Gregory is just as
valid as any secular approach, revealing aspects that have been obscured by
the sceptic and even nihilistic outcomes of some contemporary theories of
history (especially in light of the ¨death" of the theological metanarrative).
Aѫer briefy enunciating the concept of the metanarrative and the void leѫ
in contemporary historiography by its widespread neglect, this paper will
begin with an analysis of chapters 23 and 26 of St Gregory's Fiѫh Ѯeological
Oration in order to elicit the characteristics of the theological metanarrative
contained therein. It will then interpret these features within the framework
of chapters 10-13 of his Oration 38, before concluding with the assertion
that, for St Gregory, Jesus Christ represents the purpose and fnal goal of his
existential metanarrative of history. To this end, the conclusion will attempt
to reiterate the signifcant contribution that this author believes St Gregory's
metanarrative can make to contemporary historiography.
One should not expect to fnd in this article any ecclesiastical (or, denominational) history
per se; for the latter is usually written along the lines of the positivist/empiricist tradition that
still pervades much contemporary historiography. Instead, I have attempted to articulate a
theological or patristic approach towards history based on St Gregory's works and presented
in the form of a metanarrative. Instead I have attempted, in the form of a metanarrative, to
articulate a theological or patristic approach towards history based on St Gregory's works.
Ϛϡ Colloquium 43/1 2011
Ĭ Ğĭ ĭĢ ħĠ ĭġĞ ĩĚīĚĦĞĭĞ īĬ ğ Ĩī ĭġĞ ĦĞĭĚħĚīīĚĭĢ įĞ
Ěħĝ ĭġĞ ĩīĨěĥ Ğ Ħ Ĩğ ĦĨĝĞ īħ ġĢ Ĭ ĭĨīĢ ĨĠīĚĩġĲ
According to narratologists John Stephens and Robyn McCallum, a
metanarrative can be defned as ¨a global or totalizing cultural narrative
schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience."
words, a metanarrative is a universal (or, all encompassing) interpretive
framework that seeks to give meaning to what we know and what we
experience. It is therefore existential, as it informs who we are as human
persons, and can be used across a range of disciplines, including literature,
history, philosophy, and theology. Although contributed only recently by
post-modernism, the metanarrative is just a new word for an old idea. Ѯis
can be inferred from the frst book of the Greco-Roman historian Polybius
(d. 118 BC). Inspired by the expansion of the Roman state, which he believed
was eĒectuated by Fate or Tyche, he stated:
[.] nobody else among our contemporaries has set out to write a general
history; certainly if they had done so I should have far less incentive to
make the attempt myself. But as it is I notice that while various historians
deal with isolated wars and certain of the subjects connected with them,
nobody, so far as I am aware, has made any eĒort to examine the general
and comprehensive economy of those things that come to be, when and
whence they move, and how they have come to be consummated.
Polybius' interpretive method seems to be one of the earliest examples
of a conscious attempt at a metanarrative in historiography. Conditioned
by his examination of ¨the general and comprehensive economy" of those
things that move and come to be, he avoids what he calls an episodical or
particularist approach to history; instead oĒering his metanarrative for
John Stephens and Robyn McCallum, Retelling Stories, Framing Culture. Traditional Story and
Metanarratives in Children´s Literature (New York: Routledge, 1998), 6. I would like to thank
Rev Dr Doru Costache for suggesting the concept of the metanarrative as an elegant means of
expressing this totalising/universal approach to history.
I have taken the liberty of retranslating the latter part to conform to the original Greek as found
in Polybius, Ѯe Histories. Books I-2, in Loeb Classical Library (trans. W. R. Paton, revised by
F. W. Walbank and Christian Habicht; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,
2010), 10. Ѯroughout this article, I will refer to the primary sources in the original Greek,
especially those edited in pertinent editions of the Patrologia Graeca. However, as a rule, in the
body of the text I will reproduce the available English translations. Where a specifc phrase or
passage is to be analysed further, I have contributed my own translation in order to bring out
the relevant nuances.
ϚϢ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
the pedagogical formation of his readers
- ¨for the practical benefts and
the pleasures that the reading of history aĒords."
In this way, Polybius'
metanarrative has existential implications for both himself and the reader.
Not to be confused with the philosophical movement of the same
name, the term ¨existential" relates to questions arising from humankind's
multifaceted experience and purpose. Our application of this concept to
the historical metanarrative is in fact legitimated by the nineteenth century
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's assertion that it is the task of the
historian to stand ¨at the past, moved by the passion, which is the passionate
sense for becoming - i.e. wonder."
As with Polybius, who aērms that
the writing of history as movement and becoming is both formative and
pleasurable, Kierkegaard observes that history is also the realm of becoming,
within which the historian, in his approach to what comes to be, is himself
moved by a sense of passionate wonder. Moreover, we saw that Polybius was
not only interested in history as movement and becoming, but also in its
consummation; a concept that contains within itself the notion of a telos - a
goal or end towards which all of history is oriented. Kierkegaard also speaks
of a telos to history, which lies both beyond and behind its progress.
words, the driving force or impetus of the historical process of becoming,
that which makes things move, is also the goal towards which all things
are directed. Interpreted from a Christian perspective, the telos of history
simultaneously constitutes its underlying reason or its logos, and this logos is
to be identifed with the Logos incarnate, the God-man Jesus Christ.
Ѯese concepts - movement, becoming, logos and telos - will be
employed consistently throughout this article in order to adequately convey
St Gregory's nuanced historical vision, which we will turn to in the second
part. For now we must turn to the main challenge that this paper seeks to
address, namely, that contemporary historiography has been for the most
part deprived of existential signifcance via the death of the metanarrative
- specifcally as interpreted from the vantage point of theology. Ѯere is,
Polybius, Ѯe Rise of the Roman Empire, 41.
Polybius, Ѯe Rise of the Roman Empire, 43.
Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs (trans. M. G. Piety; New York:
Oxford University Press, 2009), 147.
Concerning the notion of history as a process of movement and becoming, Kierkegaard wrote
that ¨in all such progress there is in every moment a pause (here, wonder stands in pausa and
waits for becoming), which is the pause of becoming and possibility, precisely because its telos
lies outside itself. If only one way is possible, then the telos is not outside, but in the progress
itself, indeed behind it, as in the case of the progress of immanence." Kierkegaard, Repetition
and Philosophical Crumbs, 147. Transliterations appear in the original text in Greek.
ϛϙ Colloquium 43/1 2011
of course, irony in the fact that the same philosophical movement that
contributed the terminus technicus of the metanarrative is also in some ways
responsible for depriving it of existential signifcance. I refer of course to
post-modernism, which is characterised by a rejection of the unifed or all-
encompassing systems of thought - theological or otherwise - that shaped
Western modes of thinking up until the Enlightenment and the advent of
modernity. Ѯough a very fexible and therefore stimulating framework,
post-modernism has been principally defned by Jean-François Lyotard
- one of the movement's foremost exponents - as ¨incredulity towards
Keith Jenkins, an advocate of applying post-modernist
thought to the interpretation of the historical past and the writing of history
(or historiography, which he distinguishes),
gives an adequate exposition of
Lyotard's rather absolutist assertion in his famous work Rethinking History.
He aērms that:
'incredulity towards metanarratives' means that those great structuring
(metaphysical) stories which have given meaning(s) to western
developments have been drained of vitality. Aѫer the nineteenth-century
announcements of the death of God (the theological metanarrative), the
death of secular surrogates has occurred.
Here, Jenkins refers not only to the death of theological metanarratives
(and, in this case, it is more accurate to use the plural) in a post-modern
framework, but also to the death of secular interpretive frameworks that
claimed to be all encompassing or universal in scope; secular interpretive
frameworks that specifcally addressed the process of history (Marxist,
As a result, the metanarrative has been tragically very oѫen
ignored across the plethora of investigative disciplines: post-modernism
being one of the very few philosophical trends which has actively engaged
with the concept in both positive and negative ways.
Jenkins goes on to make a rather general claim that ¨scepticism or,
more strongly, nihilism, just do now provide the dominant, underlying
Jean-François Lyotard, Ѯe Post-Modern Condition. A Report on Knowledge, in Ѯeory and
History of Literature, vol. 10, (trans. GeoĒ Bennington and Brian Massumi; Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.
Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (New York: Routledge, 2007), 7.
Jenkins, Re-thinking History, 71-72.
Jenkins, Re-thinking History, 72.
ϛϚ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
intellectual presuppositions of 'our times'."
Ѯe extent of the dissolution
of the metanarrative interpreted theologically and the resulting nihilism
can be traced throughout some of the major historiographical works of the
twentieth century. Writing in 1960, a period conditioned by ¨the picture of
following the Second World War, E. H. Carr's Vhat is
History: - which constitutes one of the classic primers for historical theory
- still (though, very infrequently) engaged with theology. Quick to espouse
his personal belief in the complete separation of what he called divine and
Carr aērmed, on the one hand, that the former erects a
standard outside of history which contradicts its very essence as a process of
and, on the other, that if the world were to hypothetically 'end'
as ostensibly 'predicted' - that history would relapse into theology, ¨that is
to say, a study not of human achievement but of the divine purpose."
Ѯat this ¨incredulity towards theology" has evolved into widespread
neglect of its signifcance as a possible interpretive prism (or metanarrative)
for the fux of history can be deduced from some more recent historiographical
works, such as Jenkins' aforementioned monograph which summarises the
Christian approach to history in an ironic manner,
and also (and perhaps
more pertinently) from the ongoing confict between the positivist (or
empiricist) approach to history and the revisionist approaches put forward
by some post-modern thinkers. In the mid-1990s, the late historical theorist
Arthur Marwick (representing, however unconsciously, the positivist or
empiricist tradition) lashed out against post-modernists, who he had rather
clumsily described as putting forward a ¨metaphysical" approach to history
that likened it more to literature than the hard sciences (which is inconsistent
given that, etymologically, the word ¨historiography" derives from the Greek
word for narration - historiographia).
Much of Marwick's ire was directed
Jenkins, Re-thinking History, 76.
E. H. Carr, Vhat is History? (ed. R. W. Davies; Victoria, Australia: Penguin Group, 2008), 4.
Carr, Vhat is History?, 74-73.
Carr, Vhat is History?, 83.
Carr, Vhat is History?, 124-23.
Discussing the pursuit for truth in historical study, a truth which he believes is ultimately
unattainable, Jenkins summarises the Christian position, amongst others, as follows: ¨Also
crucial are Christian arguments that the word of God was the word of Truth, and that knowing
him was knowing Truth; that Christianity provides criteria for judging everything and everyone
on the scales of right and wrong." Jenkins, Re-thinking History, 33.
Marwick identifes metaphysics with idle speculation. Arthur Marwick, ¨Two Approaches to
Historical Study: Ѯe Metaphysical (including 'Postmodernism') and the Historical,"journal of
Contemporary History 30 (1993): 19, 24.
ϛϛ Colloquium 43/1 2011
against Hayden White, perhaps one of the most erudite historical theorists
of the late twentieth century, whose defnition of history as a series of events
that are then organised and explained (which he distinguishes as ¨chronicle"
and ¨narrative history")
conveniently lends itself to a metanarrational
In both Marwick's critique of the post-modernists and
the two thinkers enunciated the various disciplines with
which history can positively engage. Ѯese include, sociology, economics,
anthropology, ethnography, etc. (with the latter obviously mentioning
philosophy) - but there is no mention of theology.
Ѯe lack of interest
in theology is reiterated in Beverly Southgate's summary of the ¨Marwick
versus White" debate where she delineates the importance of ¨metahistory"
(similar to the metanarrative) as concerned with the foundations of the
discipline, which can be conceptual, philosophical, political or linguistic.
Once again there is no mention of theology, and even today this signifcant
interpretive tool, if not neglected altogether, is - in many of the specialist
histories addressing theological issues - treated as mere superstition.
Ѯis overwhelming neglect of theology or the theological metanarrative
has been analogous with another closely related phenomenon - a growing
perception of the meaninglessness of the historical continuum per se. For
although it is true for authors such as White and Jenkins that history as
a construct can in fact be meaningful for particular peoples/cultures/
Marwick, ¨Two Approaches to Historical Study,"19.
In his seminal work, Metahistory. Ѯe Historical Imagination in ^ineteenth Century Europe,
Hayden White puts forward the following interpretive method in his preface: ¨[histories] contain
a deep structural content which is generally poetic, and specifcally linguistic in nature, and
which serves the precritically accepted paradigm of what a distinctively 'historical' explanation
should be. Ѯis paradigm functions as the 'metahistorical' element in all historical works that
are more comprehensive in scope than the monograph or archival report." Hayden White,
Metahistory. Ѯe Historical Imagination in ^ineteenth Century Europe (Baltimore, Maryland:
Ѯe Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), ix. Here, White is actually delineating the concept
of the metanarrative interpreted from the perspective of the linguistic constructions inhering
within any given historical work.
Hayden White, ¨Response to Arthur Marwick,"journal of Contemporary History 30 (1993):
See White, ¨Response to Arthur Marwick," 233, and also Marwick, ¨Two Approaches to
Historical Study," 22.
Beverly Southgate, ¨History and Metahistory: Marwick versus White," journal of
Contemporary History 31 (1996): 209.
Ѯis is refected in Warren Treadgold's recent work Ѯe Early Byzantine Historians, which
exhibits a general skepticism towards the signifcance of hagiography in a Byzantine context.
Warren Treadgold, Ѯe Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010),
ϛϜ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
ethnic groups depending on their respective interpretations, much
modern historiography nevertheless remains deprived of any sense of
movement or becoming, and their corollaries, the logos that facilitates
movement and the telos that functions as both the logos and the end goal
of the process of becoming, have become reproachable chimeras. As a
result, nihilism, cynicism and atheism abound.
It is my suggestion that
modern historiography can beneft from the metanarrative, especially when
interpreted within the discipline of theology or patristics - what we can
call a patristic approach to history. Indeed, the theological metanarrative,
interpreted existentially, can oĒer a possible solution to this experiential
dilemma in the writing of history insofar as it puts forward a totalising
account that reaches to the core of the human experience throughout the ages.
Ѯis totalising approach, characteristic of the ancient disposition towards
(as we have seen with reference to Polybius), also conditioned the
mind (and hence, the method) of St Gregory the Ѯeologian. Ѯat we can
fnd some features of such an existential metanarrative in his Fiѫh Ѯeological
Oration will be the object of the next section of this paper.
Ĭ ĨĦĞ ĜġĚīĚĜĭĞ īĢ Ĭ ĭĢ ĜĬ Ĩğ Ĭ ĭ ĠīĞ ĠĨīĲ' Ĭ
ĦĞĭĚħĚīīĚĭĢ įĞ Ģ ħ ĭġĞ ğ Ģ ğ ĭġ ĭġĞ Ĩĥ ĨĠĢ ĜĚĥ Ĩī ĚĭĢ Ĩħ
At the beginning of the twenty-fѫh chapter of his Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration,
St Gregory aērms that ¨there have been two transformations of life
manifested out of the entire age (tou pantos aiǢnos)."
In his Hexaèmeron,
A few quotes will suēce to indicate that many historians have been aware of the chaotic fux
of history since the death of the metanarrative, leading to the manifestation of such cynical
or nihilistic attitudes in their works. Carr, for example, whilst claiming to be an ¨optimist,"
sums up what he believes to be the erroneous approaches of some of his contemporaries before
hypothetically responding: ¨I shall look out on a world in tumult and a world in travail, and
shall answer in the well-worn words of a great scientist: 'And yet - it moves'." Carr, Vhat is
History?, 136. So, presumably, Carr acknowledged the inexorable chaos that is history, and,
it may be inferred, took comfort in the fact that this chaos would remain inexorable. And
again, more recently, Beverly Southgate in her brief summary of the Marwick versus White
debate states that the historian ¨has to make sense of the past, imposing order on the chaos by
deliberate exclusion." Southgate, ¨History and Metahistory: Marwick versus White," 212.
For more information on the holistic approach to history characterising the ancient, medieval
and early modern worldviews, see Michel Foucault, Ѯe Order of Ѯings. An Archaeology of the
Human Sciences (Norfolk, Great Britain: Routledge, 2008), 401-403.
PG 36, 160D. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration (Oration 31): On the Holy Spirit 23, in St Gregory of
^azianzus. On God and Christ. Ѯe Five Ѯeological Orations and the Two Letters to Cledonius,
Popular Patristics Series 23 (trans. Frederick Williams; ed. John Behr; Crestwood, NY: St
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2002), 136. From this point onwards, each reference to the available
ϛϝ Colloquium 43/1 2011
St Basil the Great (d. 379) - a contemporary and friend of St Gregory -
identifes the one day of creation (hǉmera mia) mentioned in the Septuagint
translation of Genesis with the recapitulation of all history, a summary that
he analogously refers to as the aiǢn or age.
It is clear that St Gregory is
here attempting a similar all-encompassing approach to history with his
statement tou pantos aiǢnos, which literally refers to ¨the entire age" but
can be understood as ¨history in its entirety." We have seen that this macro
or universal approach is a characteristic of the metanarrative insofar as it
attempts to give a comprehensive account of the historical drama and the
persons and events that it includes. St Gregory then goes on to clarify that
the two life-changing transformations ¨are called two 'covenants,' and, so
famous was the business involved, two 'earthquakes' (susmoi gǉs)"
Ѯe frst [covenant or shaking] was the transition from idols to the Law;
the second, from Law to the Gospel. Ѯe Gospel also tells of the third
¨earthquake," the change from this present state of things to what lies
unmoved, unshaken, beyond.
Ѯe frst covenant is that which was inaugurated by God's disclosure of
the Law to the prophet Moses, and the second by the revelation of God in
the person of Jesus Christ.
Ѯe frst is enshrined in the Old Testament,
English translations of patristic texts will appear directly aѫer the PG original and will include
frstly the title followed by the number of the chapter and then the page.
See PG 29, 48B-32B. Hexaèmeron 2.8 in Exegetical Homilies, Ѯe Fathers of the Church Series,
vol 46 (trans. Agnes Clare Way; Washington D.C: Ѯe Catholic University of America Press,
2003), 33-36. For St Basil, the hǉmera mia represents both the origin and climax of creation,
thereby recapitulating within itself all of history from beginning to end as metaphorically
illustrated by the creation narrative of Genesis. For a detailed analysis of this recapitulation of
history, as well as the relationship between hǉmera mia and the aiǢn or ¨age," see Mario Baghos,
¨St Basil's Eschatological Vision: Aspects of the Recapitulation of History and the Eighth Day,"
Phronema 23, St Basil the Great. History, Ѯeology and Perennial Signifcance (2010): 90-91.
PG 36, 160D. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23, 136.
PG 36, 160D. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23, 136.
Although earthquakes feature oѫen in the scriptures, Fr Georges Florovsky, in his exposition
of the gradual stages of revelation, includes a translation of the above text (see footnote 3)
within which he brackets a possible antecedent for St Gregory's use of this theme, citing Haggai
2:7: ¨I will shake (susseisǢ - LXX) heaven and earth, sea and land, and all nations, and the
treasure of all nations will come hither." Georges Florovsky, Ѯe Collected Vorks, Volume
7. Ѯe Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century (trans. C. Edmunds; ed. R. S. Haugh; Vaduz:
Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1987), 127.
ϛϞ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
the second in the New. Notice that in his clarifcation of these covenantal
transformations - which are not without experiential relevance insofar as
they impact upon the worship and belief of the people of God, however
interpreted - St Gregory is not interested in episodical events; just
those events/experiences that have resulted in a transformation of life.
Transformation, however, involves a process of becoming. In this case,
¨becoming" can be interpreted as an existential movement away from idols
- which is paganism - into the Law - which is Judaism - and fnally from
the Law to the Christian Gospel. But our present state is also conditioned
by movement and becoming insofar as we anticipate a fnal metastasis into
that which is unshaken and unmoved - i.e. the eschatological state.
historical process of becoming, therefore, contains logos within its telos,
manifesting a rational orientation as it unfolds towards its fnal purpose. We
will return to this eschatological dimension towards the end of the paper.
Suēce it to state for the moment that the eschaton, according to St Gregory,
will be inaugurated by a third and fnal earthquake, an event which, if taken
at face value, would seem to lend itself to an apocalyptic interpretation - a
sudden and chaotic disruption of the historical continuum. St Gregory
avoids this with reference to the two ¨earthquakes" or covenants that have
already taken place:
An identical feature occurs in both covenants. Ѯe feature: Ѯey were
not suddenly changed, even at the frst moment the changes were put in
hand. We need to know why. It was so that we should be persuaded, not
Far from resulting in chaos or confusion, for the Ѯeologian the
earthquakes are positive metaphors serving to reinforce God's gradual
transfguration of the historical process for our sakes through the covenants.
Ѯe earthquakes signify both a rupture with an existing state and a tangible
change in composition that is precisely analogous to metanoia, an ¨earth-
shattering" change of mind.
Ѯis nuance is emphatically expressed
by humanity's transition from idols to the Law, and from the Law to the
For more on the nature of eschatology, see Baghos, ¨St Basil's Eschatological Vision: Aspects
of the Recapitulation of History and the Eighth Day," 83-87.
Specifcally in section three where I attempt to frame the Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration within
PG 36, 161A. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23, 136.
G.W.H. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), 833.
ϛϟ Colloquium 43/1 2011
Gospel. St Gregory then gives the reasons why the transition from one
covenant to another occurred gradually rather than suddenly, aērming
that the covenants are an outcome of God's pedagogical concern. If God
applied force then our internal resolve would be unspontaneous and thus
impermanent. Instead, God preferred that ¨the issue should be ours"
we respond to his call freely and without coercion. Moreover, God acts like a
doctor or schoolmaster in removing from us certain unnecessary ritualistic
burdens. Ѯe Ѯeologian declares:
Ѯe frst change cut away idols but allowed sacrifces to remain; the second
stripped away sacrifces but did not forbid circumcision. Ѯen, when people
had been reconciled to the withdrawal, they agreed to let go what had
been leѫ them as a concession. Under the frst covenant that concession
was sacrifce, and they became Jews instead of Gentiles; under the second,
circumcision - and they became Christians instead of Jews, brought
round gradually, bit by bit, to the Gospel. Paul shall convince you here. He
progressed from circumcising and keeping ceremonial cleansings to the
point of declaring, ¨But if I, brethren, preach circumcision, why am I still
being persecuted: [Gal 3:11]" His earlier conduct was an accommodation
to circumstance; his later conduct belonged to the full truth.
Ѯe gradual changing of the mind of God's people represented by the
covenantal earthquakes is thus concretely manifested in the successive
concessions made by God; concessions which were necessary in order
to wean humanity from idolatry and the Law and for their change in
disposition to be sincere and wilful. And these concessions can be viewed
as somehow exemplifed on a personal level in the evolution of St Paul's
disposition towards circumcision, a ritual that, if undertaken, necessitates
the observance of the entire Law. Ѯe verse from Galatians 3:11 above is
preceded by a brief argument against the need for circumcision, a practice
that the Apostle would have in fact advocated before his conversion to the
Gospel, but certainly not thereaѫer.
His remarks are thus to be interpreted
as a rhetorical response to false allegations of adherence to circumcision and
hence the Law; a response cleverly quoted by St Gregory in his attempt to
PG 36, 161A. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23, 136.
PG 36, 161B. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23, 136-37.
F.F. Bruce, Ѯe Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. A Commentary on the Greek Text (Exeter:
Paternoster Press, 1982), 236-37.
ϛϠ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
demonstrate the dramatic change in attitude by the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Ѯis change can be interpreted as a 'metanoic' transformation associated with
the second covenantal earthquake from the Law to the Gospel, illustrating
the existential signifcance of the dramatic movement from one covenant
to the next, a movement summed up in St Paul's personal experience of
So far, we have seen that St Gregory described these covenantal earthquakes
as having marked two important existential changes through omissions or
negations relating to ritualistic practices. In the beginning of chapter 26,
however, he goes on to illustrate their most positive dimension, aērming
that the ¨growth towards perfection"
facilitated by them occurred through
additions - additions which the saint states took place with reference to
the doctrine or revelation of God as it unfolded in the historical interim
between the Old and New covenants. Here, God's revelation is associated
with existential growth culminating in perfection. St Gregory writes:
In this way, the old covenant made clear proclamation of the Father, a less
defnite one of the Son. Ѯe new covenant made the Son manifest and gave
us a glimpse of the Spirit's Godhead. At the present time, the Spirit resides
amongst us, giving us a clearer manifestation of himself than before. It was
dangerous for the Son to be preached openly when the Godhead of the
Father was still unacknowledged. It was dangerous, too, for the Holy Spirit
to be made (and here I use a rather rash expression) an extra burden,
when the Son had not yet been received.
It is thus made clear that the two covenants have a dual eĒect - to
gradually strip away false beliefs and practices and to manifest the truth
concerning God as Trinity. Ѯe frst covenant, established through the
PG 36, 161C. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 26, 137. Ѯis ¨growth towards perfection" can be
understood as tantamount to deifcation or theosis. According to Norman Russell, the saint
placed a great emphasis on an imitation of Christ to be understood not as adherence to an
external model, but as an internal reshaping through the sacraments and the philosophical life
that allows human beings ¨to transcend their earthly limitations, with the result that they are
transformed [.]." Amongst St Gregory's favourite expressions to describe this transformation
is the word theosis, the frequency of which is recorded by Russell as part of his attempt to
illustrate that, for the saint, deifcation had already occurred with the incarnation, and all that
remained was ¨the believer's appropriation of this by accepting baptism and struggling to live
the moral life." Normal Russell, Ѯe Doctrine of Deifcation in the Greek Patristic Tradition (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 214-13, 223.
PG 36, 161C. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 26, 137.
ϛϡ Colloquium 43/1 2011
Mosaic Law, discredited idolatry and ¨made clear proclamation of God as
Father," and the new or second covenant ¨made the Son manifest and gave
us a glimpse of the Spirit's Godhead." St Gregory states that, in revealing
himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God pedagogically considers the
ability of humanity to cope with this self-disclosure. Indeed, God's self-
disclosure can result in another type of metanoia or ¨change of mind" on
behalf of the people to whom he discloses himself; for it is only when the
Father was acknowledged by those to whom he chose to reveal himself
that the Son was subsequently revealed, and likewise with the Spirit, who
was only acknowledged once the Son had been fully received. As with the
gradual concessions that he permitted regarding ritualistic practices, God
reveals himself in stages, lest humans endanger themselves (presumably
through incredulity or misinterpretation), jeopardising what is within their
powers to grasp, as happens, says St Gregory, ¨to those encumbered with
a diet too strong for them or who gaze at sunlight with eyes too feeble for
Ѯat God did fnally reveal his true existence as three persons, and that
this was not only received on a conceptual basis but lived experientially is
attested to by the saint:
No, God meant it to be by piecemeal additions, ¨ascents" as David called
them, by progress and advance from glory to glory, that the light of the
Trinity should shine upon more illustrious souls. Ѯis was, I believe, the
motive for the Spirit's dwelling permanently in the disciples (kai tois
mathǉtais katà meros epidǉmei)
in gradual stages proportionate to their
PG 36, 161C. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 26, 137.
Kilian McDonnell designates God's gradual self-disclosure as a ¨progressive revelation." He
bases this assertion on an ostensible remark by St Gregory in chapter 26 of his Fiѫh Ѯeological
Oration that there occurred a ¨progress of the doctrine of God." Kilian McDonnell, Ѯe
Other Hand of God. Ѯe Holy Spirit as the Universal Touch and Goal (Collegeville, Minnesota:
Liturgical Press, 2003), 143. However, any word resembling the notion of dogma or doctrine
is missing from the original text (see PG 36, 161C). Behr is more than likely correct when
he asserts that the saint ¨is not advancing a theory of the 'development of doctrine.' Ѯere
are no new doctrinal facts to be introduced in addition to the gospel, at some subsequent
historical stage. Rather, there is an increasing comprehension of the truths that it contains, as
the contemplative theologian advances in maturity of understanding." John Behr, Formation of
Christian Ѯeology, Volume 2. Ѯe ^icene Faith, Part 2 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary
Press, 2004), 368. In other words, the ¨faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints"
(Jude 1:3) undergoes no inherent change; what changes is our understanding in a manner
consonant with the ¨growth towards perfection" mentioned above.
PG 36, 164A. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 26, 137. Ѯe available English translation reads ¨Ѯis
was, I believe, the motive for the Spirit's making his home in the disciples" (italics added). Ѯis
ϛϢ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
capacity to receive him - at the outset of the gospel when he performs
miracles, aѫer the Passion when he is breathed into the disciples, aѫer the
Ascension when he appears in fery tongues. He was gradually revealed
by Jesus also, as you too can substantiate by a more careful reading. ¨I
will ask the Father," he says, ¨and he will send you another Comforter, the
Spirit of Truth" - intending that the Spirit should not appear to be a rival
God and spokesman of another power. Later he says: ¨He will send him in
my name" - leaving out ¨I will ask" but retaining ¨He will send." Later on
he says: ¨I shall send" - indicating the Son's own rank; and later: ¨He will
come" - indicating the Spirit's power.
Ѯus, for St Gregory, the entire historical process - the metanarrational
¨entire age" - advances on a conceptually distinguishable macro and micro
level. On a macro level, it moves from one covenantal earthquake to another
- from the revelation of the Father with a glimpse of the Son, to the revelation
of the Son with a glimpse of the Spirit. Ѯis movement is associated with
a dual process of becoming insofar as God pedagogically weans humanity
from false practices and beliefs to a gradual acquiescence of his true existence
as three persons - as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, Jesus unveils the
Spirit's Godhead in stages proportionate to his disciples' acceptance of him
as the Son of God; moving from a request to the Father to send him, to an
¨objective" aērmation of his being sent by the Father in the Son's name,
culminating in a dual promise that he himself will send the Spirit and that
the Spirit will in fact come. It is therefore clear that this stripping away of
falsities ¨through omissions" and revelation of the truth ¨through additions"
is an existential process, but that this process of becoming occurs in a much
more profound manner is articulated by St Gregory when he aērms that,
on a micro level, the progress of the revelation of God is refected by the
Apostles themselves, within whom the Spirit dwelt permanently, ¨but in
gradual stages proportionate to their capacity to receive him." Ѯese gradual
stages were analogous to the Son's earthly ministry and unfolded through
the Apostolic witness of Christ's earliest miracles to his breathing the Spirit
on them aѫer his Resurrection and, fnally, to the Spirit's alighting in fames
upon their heads at Pentecost. For the Ѯeologian, this Apostolic experience
of the Spirit radiantly manifests ¨growth towards perfection" or theosis.
does not suēciently convey the meaning of the original Greek, which I have attempted to
render more accurately above.
PG 36, 162C-164B. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 26, 137-38.
For more on St Gregory's perception of theosis, see Torstein Ѯeodor Tollefsen, ¨Ѯeosis
Ϝϙ Colloquium 43/1 2011
this growth is not yet complete but awaits its consummation at the eschaton
- the fnal term of the historical process - is illustrated by St Gregory in
his Oration 38 On the ^ativity, a text which not only provides a glimpse
into the saint's eschatology, but also contributes the proper framework for
interpreting the characteristics of his metanarrative.
ğ īĚĦĢ ħĠ ĭġĞ ğ Ģ ğ ĭġ ĭġĞ Ĩĥ ĨĠĢ ĜĚĥ ĨīĚĭĢ Ĩħ İĢ ĭġĢ ħ
ĨīĚĭĢ Ĩħ Ϝϡ
Putting forward a two-stage theory of the creation of the spiritual and
material realms inspired by Platonic cosmology in his Oration 38.10, the saint
expounds upon the creation of the human being as a sort of recapitulation of
this process, a blending or mixing of the intelligible and material realms in
a single ¨second world" (deuteron kosmon),
what we can call a microcosm
Both the creation of the spiritual and material realms
(with the former preceding the latter) and their mystical synthesis in the
human being were undertaken, aērms St Gregory in chapter 11, by the
Demiurge Logos (dǉmiourgou Logou),
who is the Son of God the Father.
Ѯe saint goes on to aērm that the human being contains something of
the divine in its spiritual-earthly constitution and, whilst educated in the
here-and-now, ¨is transferred elsewhere, and to complete the mystery,
deifed through inclination towards God."
Relating this process to himself,
St Gregory implies that the light and truth experienced in the here-and-now
are bearing him towards what we can describe as a defnite end or telos,
which he goes on to explicate as an experience of ¨the radiance of God,
which is worthy of the one who has bound me (to fesh) and will release
me and hereaѫer will bind me in a higher manner."
Ѯis is an allusion to
the fnal resurrection of the body at the eschaton or the last things by ¨the
according to Gregory," in Gregory of ^azianzus. Images and Refections (eds. Jostein Bortnes
and Tomas Hägg; Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006), 237-70.
See PG 36, 321B. Oration 38. On the ^ativity 10 in Festal Orations. Saint Gregory of ^azianzus,
Popular Patristics Series 36 (trans. Nonna Verna Harrison; Crestwood NY: St Vladimir's
Seminary Press, 2008), 67.
Tracing the antecedents of the microcosm as it appears in the thought of St Maximus the
Confessor, Lars Ѯunberg identifes St Gregory's use of the term in Oration 28.22 (PG 36, 37A).
See Lars Ѯunberg, Microcosm and Mediator. Ѯe Ѯeological Anthropology of Maximus the
Confessor, Second Edition (Chicago & La Salle: Open Court, 1993), 133.
PG 36, 321C. Oration 38 11, 68.
PG 36, 324A. Oration 38 11, 68-69.
PG 36, 324AB. Oration 38 11, 69.
ϜϚ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
one who has bound" the Ѯeologian - i.e. the Demiurge Logos, Jesus Christ
- and can be related to St Gregory's aērmation above that the eschaton
will be precipitated by a third earthquake that has yet to take place but
which will mark ¨the change from this present state of things to what lies
unmoved, unshaken, beyond."
In other words, the universal telos of the
historical process or advancement of the age fnds its concrete realisation in
the human persons who are resurrected on the last day - a representation of
the fnal stage of the historical process of becoming.
St Gregory seems to perceive the ¨entire age" as having been inaugurated
with the creation of the worlds by God the Logos before moving in a sort
of continuum from the frst covenantal earthquake to the second - which is
the present state within which we anticipate the third and fnal earthquake
that will translate the cosmos into an unshaken, unmoved mode of being.
Indeed, the saint stipulates that the Demiurge Logos both initiates the
historical process through his creation of the spiritual and material realms
and implies that - in a manner consistent with the eschatological teaching
of the early Church - the same Demiurge Logos, the God-man Jesus Christ,
will return to 'bind him in a higher manner,' that is, to transfgure both the
saint and, by extension, the entire created cosmos at the eschaton - the third
and fnal earthquake.
We stated in our frst section that the telos of history - the end to which
it is geared - is also its logos, and that from a Christian perspective this
logos or reason is to be identifed with none other than the Word of God
incarnate, Jesus Christ. Ѯis we have now confrmed was in fact St Gregory's
position. However, if Christ, as St Gregory aērms, stands at the beginning
and end of the ¨entire age" as both creator and consummator, then he indeed
simultaneously constitutes the logos and the telos of the historical process
insofar as it begins and ends with him.
Contrary to the reductionist
presentation of the early Church as establishing (and henceforth solely
preoccupied with) a linear conception of history tracing its origins to the
creation of the world based on a literal interpretation of the Old Testament
book of Genesis (Anno Mundi) or, alternately, to the birth of Jesus (Anno
Domini), here we see a cycle that begins and ends with Christ. However,
even this cyclical projection might be insuēcient, because although it has
Christ as its frst and last point of reference, it does not quite account for
PG 36, 160D. Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23, 136.
A mode of being that transcends history as we have come to know and experience it.
See Revelation 22:12-13.
Ϝϛ Colloquium 43/1 2011
his presence in the interim, i.e. that process of movement and becoming
illustrated above. Oration 38 seems to allude to some of the above-
mentioned characteristics of the Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration, whilst bringing
out varying nuances and giving a more comprehensive depiction of St
Gregory's theological metanarrative. Acting as an interpretive framework for
the above-mentioned chapters of the Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration, Oration 38
reinforces the fact that, for the Ѯeologian, the presence of Jesus permeates
the entire historical continuum from alpha to omega.
Aѫer situating Christ - the Demiurge Logos - on either end of the
historical spectrum in chapter 11, St Gregory moves to an allegorical
interpretation of the paradisal experience of the frst human being and the
fall in chapter 12. Describing the paradisal vegetation as ¨divine thoughts,"
the saint asserts that the frst human (Adam) was called to cultivate these
through contemplation, with the ordinance - delineated in pedagogical
terms - to abstain from contemplating the tree of knowledge. Ѯe tree
could only be possessed at the right time in Adam's spiritual development
or maturation, ¨just as adult food is not useful for those who are still tender
and in need of milk."
Indeed, there is a parallel here with the self-disclosure
of God's existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mediated to post-lapsarian
humans in gradual stages (corresponding to the transition from the idols to
the Law, and the Law to the Gospel mentioned above) out of a pedagogical
concern for our welfare.
As the saint continues his exposition, he mentions the roles of the devil and
Eve who, in their persuasion of Adam, made him forget the commandment
given so that he ¨yielded to the bitter taste"
of the fruit. He then makes it
clear that, despite this tragic failure of ¨becoming," even the banishment
from paradise has a positive dimension,
And at once he came to be banished from the tree of life and from paradise
and from God because of the evil . He gained a certain advantage from
this; death is also the cutting oĒ of sin, that evil might not be immortal, so
the punishment becomes love for humankind. For thus, I am persuaded,
PG 36, 324B. Oration 38 12, 69.
PG 36, 324C. Oration 38 12, 69.
PG 36, 324C. Oration 38 12, 70.
Ѯis is symbolised by the transition from the contemplation of divine thoughts to
thoughtlessness through hasty consumption (and thence from life to death).
PG 36, 324CD. Oration 38 12, 70.
ϜϜ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
Here, the punishment for the transgression or sin (where sin is
commensurable with evil) of the frst human is not death. Instead, death
becomes advantageous to humans insofar as it curtails the perpetuation
of evil. For St Gregory, the frst human was punished with a love for
humankind, which he clarifes a little further down in the passage as ¨the
transfer of worship from Creator to creatures"
- in other words, idolatry,
¨the last and frst of all evils."
Concluding his discussion on the fall and the problem of evil mentioned
above, St Gregory continues with a two-stage divine pedagogy of history
that seems to ft into the metanarrational scheme expounded at length in
the second section of this paper. He begins chapter 13 of his Oration 38 with
the following exposition:
Ѯe human being was frst educated in many ways (Pollois de paideutheis
corresponding to the many sins that sprouted from the root
of evil for diĒerent reasons and at diĒerent times; by word, law, prophets,
benefts, threats, blows, foods, confagrations, wars, victories, defeats;
signs from heaven, signs from the air, from earth, from sea; unexpected
changes in men, cities, nations; by all this God sought zealously to wipe
out evil. At the end a stronger remedy was necessary for more dreadful
diseases: murders of each other, adulteries, false oaths, lusts for men, and
the last and frst of all evils, idolatry and the transfer of worship from
Creator to creatures. Since these things required a greater help, they also
obtained something greater. It was the Word of God himself, the one
who is before the ages, the invisible, the ungraspable, the incorporeal, the
Principle from the Principle, the light from the light, the source of life and
immortality, the imprint of the archetypal beauty, the undistorted image,
the defnition and explanation of his Father.
Ѯis exposition puts forward a scheme that was common amongst
the saint's peers, most notably St Basil.
In this scheme, suĒerings or
punishments, mentioned above as issuing forth from the ¨punitive" love of
PG 36, 323A. Oration 38 13, 70.
PG 36, 323A. Oration 38 13, 70.
PG 36, 323A. Oration 38 13, 70-71.
PG 36, 323AB. Oration 38 13, 70-71.
See PG 31, 337C. Homily Explaining that God is ^ot the Cause of Evil 3, in On the Human
Condition, Popular Patristics Series 30 (trans. Nonna Verna Harrison; Crestwood NY: St
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003), 71.
Ϝϝ Colloquium 43/1 2011
humankind or creatures, resulted in the sprouting of many sins that were
addressed by God in diĒerent historical epochs according to the various
circumstances and manifested especially in the Old Testament. Ѯe list of
remedies for this evil - oscillating between positive and negative (i.e. word,
law, prophets, benefts vis-à-vis threats, blows, foods, confagrations, etc.)
- are not contextualised by St Gregory. Instead, he only briefy refers to
them in an attempt to convey that they constitute the means by which God
sought to rid the world of evil. Most importantly, St Gregory prefgures the
entire discussion by aērming that this process is nevertheless educational
or pedagogical; a process which, on account of our vehement obstinacy,
¨required a greater help" - i.e. the Word or Logos of God himself, who, by
way of inference, we can confdently assert taught us the precepts of virtue
and truth directly and without hindrance.
Applying - in a very basic way - the principal of intertextuality with
reference to these Gregorian texts, we observe an explicit thematic
correlation between chapters 11, 12, and especially chapter 13 of Oration
38 and St Gregory's discussion in chapter 23 of his Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration
of history as an existential movement from one covenantal earthquake
to another: from the idols to the Law, and from the Law to the Gospel.
Although in that oration the saint expounds upon the characteristics of
what we have called his metanarrative - his view of those signifcant events
that mark ¨the entire age" or ¨history in its entirety" - we were not given an
insight into their precipitating factors, or, more specifcally, into why it is
that God acts pedagogically in history in such a way (something which both
orations maintain). In Oration 38.12-13 we observe that for St Gregory,
humanity was punished aѫer the fall with a love of creatures and idolatry.
Ѯerefore, there is an implicit connection between the frst characteristic of
the metanarrative expounded in chapter 23 of the Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration
- the transition from the idols to the Law - and idolatry as the summit of all
post-lapsarian evils mentioned in Oration 38.13. Indeed, in this chapter the
Law numbers amongst many inter-related responses by God, including his
prophets, his word, etc., all of which were implemented in order to curtail the
evils that have their root in idolatry. And the parallels do not end there. We
saw with reference to the Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration 23-6 that the transition
from the idols to the Law had a dual eĒect: God was gradually disclosing his
true existence as three persons and weaning his people away from idolatry.
When interpreted via the lens of Oration 38.13, we observe that this process
was part of a more complex endeavour to wipe out the evil that sprouted
from idolatry. Ѯe same can be said about the transition from the Law to
ϜϞ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
the Gospel mentioned in the Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration. Interpreting this
transition through the prism of Oration 38.13, we see that as these evils
- ¨murders of each other, adulteries, false oaths, etc" - continued to persist
under the Law, a greater remedy was needed; the incarnation of the Word
of God, the fountainhead of the Gospel and, as we shall now attempt to
elucidate, the cornerstone of St Gregory's existential metanarrative.
For St Gregory, therefore, history can be viewed as the domain within
which God attempts to curtail evil in various ways until it fnally becomes
necessary that the Word or Logos of God - the imprint, undistorted image,
and explanation of God the Father - enter into history by assuming humanity
in the person of Jesus Christ. Having briefy articulated the relationship of
the Son and Logos to the Father in chapter 13 of Oration 38 - what we
can call a frst-stage Christology (on the level of ¨theology") - St Gregory
continues with an explication of the mystery of the incarnation, which is his
(on the level of ¨economy"):
He [the Word] approaches his own image and bears fesh because of
my fesh and mingles himself with a rational soul because of my soul,
purifying like by like. And in all things he becomes a human, except sin.
He was conceived by the Virgin, who was purifed beforehand in both soul
and fesh by the Spirit, for it was necessary that procreation be honored
and that virginity be honored more. He comes forth, God with what he
assumed, one from two opposites, fesh and spirit, the one deifying and
the other deifed. O the new mixture! O the paradoxical blending! He who
is comes into being, and the uncreated is created, and the uncontained is
contained, through the intervention of the rational soul, which mediates
between the divinity and the coarseness of the fesh. Ѯe one who enriches
becomes poor; he is made poor in my fesh, that I may be enriched
through his divinity. Ѯe full one empties himself; for he empties himself
of his own glory for a short time, that I may participate in his fullness.
Indeed, this seems to constitute a more robust exposition of the paradoxical nature of the
incarnation that the saint already outlines in chapter 2. PG 36, 313AC. Oration 38 2, 62.
Ѯere is a conceptual distinction in the Cappadocians, employed consistently by St Gregory
in his corpus, between theologia and oikonomia. Ѯe former pertains to the contemplation of
God as he reveals himself to his creation, and the latter, related to the frst, concerns God's
relationship with the created order. For more information, see Christopher A. Beeley, Gregory
of ^azianzus on the Trinity and Knowledge of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008),
194-93. Second-stage Christology, insofar as it relates to the Word incarnate, therefore
represents the summit of God's ¨economic" relationship with his creation.
Ϝϟ Colloquium 43/1 2011
What is the wealth of his goodness: What is the mystery concerning me:
I participated in the [divine] image and I did not keep it; he participates in
my fesh both to save the image and to make the fesh immortal. He shares
with us a second communion, much more paradoxical than the frst; then
he gave us a share in what is superior, now he shares in what is inferior.
In a profound refection upon the mystery of the convergence of humanity
and divinity in Christ's person, St Gregory declares that the pre-existent
Logos in his assumption of a body and a rational soul, became, with the
exception of sin, in all things his own image, i.e. a human person. Aērming
the virgin birth, he expresses wonder at the creation of the uncreated and
the circumscription of the uncircumscribable - at the ineĒable reality of the
God-man and the deifcation of the human fesh that he assumed. But all of
this was done, the Ѯeologian continues, for the sake of humanity that had
gone astray through evil, and so the greatest expression of God's pedagogical
concern for his creation is manifested in the Word's embodiment in Christ
Jesus, which St Gregory relates to himself. By emptying ¨himself of his own
glory" the incarnation of the Word of God has existential implications
for both the saint and for humanity in its entirety; a humanity which is
recapitulated into the God-man.
Ѯe intimate reciprocity between Christ
and St Gregory is then interpreted on a broader scale when the saint aērms
that with his incarnation Jesus has shared with us - that is, humanity in
general - a second communion, the frst being that which was eĒected with
the creation of the worlds;
¨then he gave us a share in what is superior, now
he shares in what is inferior."
Ѯe kenotic outpouring of the Word represents both the nadir of God's
interaction with us and the zenith of our deifcation in him; a deifcation
which in section one of this paper we saw was expressed by the characteristics
of St Gregory's metanarrative - from idolatry to the Law and from the Law to
At the end of that section, we hinted that the process of theosis
PG 36, 323BD. Oration 38 13, 71.
It seems as though St Gregory is depicting himself as representative of the entire human
race that is recapitulated into Christ in the incarnation. For more information on the deifying
eĒects of the incarnation for humanity in the thought of the Ѯeologian, see Kenneth Paul
Wesche, ¨Ѯe Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Ѯought of Gregory of Nazianzus,"
St Vladimir´s Ѯeological Quarterly 28 (1984): 83-98.
St Gregory delineates this frst communion with reference to the creation of both the spiritual
and material realms and of the human being as their microcosm. PG 36, 321A-324A. Oration
38 10-11, 67-68.
McDonnell attempts to emphasise the Spirit's role in St Gregory's exposition of God's gradual
ϜϠ Baghos. Ѯe Meaning of History
- discussed with reference to the Apostles at Pentecost - begins in the here-
and-now but will not be consummated until the eschaton, the third and fnal
earthquake. Exploring the subject of the eschaton at the beginning of section
three, we noticed that in Oration 38.11, St Gregory exclaims that the same
Demiurge Logos who created the worlds will one day return to transfgure
them permanently and ¨bind him in a higher manner" - a reference to the
general resurrection. From this we deduced St Gregory's belief that Jesus,
the Word of God incarnate, frames either end of the historical continuum
as ¨the Alpha and the Omega, the frst and the last, the beginning and the
end" (Rev 22:12-13). However, in light of his discussion on the incarnation
in chapter 13 above, it is clear that for the Ѯeologian history both orbits
around and is permeated by Christ who stands metaphorically at its ¨centre."
Christ is therefore not only both the logos and telos of the historical process
of movement and becoming, he is also its axis, around which 'history in its
entirety' is ordered and made whole.
ĜĨħĜĥĮĬ Ģ Ĩħ
It is the author's conviction that this existential metanarrative of history,
comprising themes elicited from St Gregory's orations - some of which are
paradigmatic across the plethora of patristic literature - can be of service
to contemporary historiography by oĒering alternative, theological insights
into the fux of history; a fux which, as we have seen, has the potential
of becoming indecipherable and even chaotic outside of some positive
interpretive tool, abandoning us to the sceptic and nihilistic view that
conditions so much of today's historical writing. Assessing ¨the entire age" or
¨history in its entirety" in chapter 23 of his Fiѫh Ѯeological Oration through
the lens of Oration 38, it is clear that St Gregory embellishes a view of history
which is both richly nuanced and existentially signifcant. It is St Gregory's
conviction that God has deigned to reveal himself, a revelation which he
self-disclosure through the covenants. However, on more than one occasion he refers to Jesus'
ascension as his ¨departure," aѫer which the deity of both the Son and the Spirit is received in
a manner proportionate to the believer's capacity (illustrated in section 2 of this paper). His
language is misleading, especially in light of our lengthy refection on the fact that Christ, as
the logos and telos of the historical continuum and the alpha and omega of all that is, permeates
¨history in its entirety" - meaning that he never in fact 'departed' in the frst place. McDonnell,
Ѯe Other Hand of God. Ѯe Holy Spirit as the Universal Touch and Goal, 143-44.
Standing at the beginning, the end, and at an indefnite ¨middle" of the historical continuum,
Jesus represents what in traditional societies is known as the axis mundi or ¨centre of the world."
For more on this concept, see Mircea Eliade, Ѯe Sacred and the Profane. Ѯe ^ature of Religion
(trans. W. R. Trask, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1939), 33-37.
Ϝϡ Colloquium 43/1 2011
symbolically describes as taking the form of two great earthquakes; ruptures
in belief and practice that eĒectuated, frstly, the transition or movement of
God's people from the worship of pagan idols to adherence to the Mosaic
Law, and secondly, the transition from the Law to the Christian Gospel. Ѯis
weaning process was accompanied by a positive revelation of God's true
existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a revelation that fnds its existential
locus in the incarnation of the Son. For St Gregory, Jesus Christ frames either
end of the historical spectrum as the Demiurge Logos who has fashioned
the worlds and, subsequently, the human being as a microcosm. Indeed, it
is this same Demiurge Logos who will return to permanently refashion all
things at the eschaton. As such, Jesus represents both the logos and telos of the
historical process. But far from depicting a linear view of history with Christ
at either end, the saint deliberately pinpoints the convergence of humanity
and divinity in Christ's person at the incarnation, the signifcance of which
(as both a remedy to evil and as opening up the potential for deifcation)
places Christ metaphorically at the centre of the historical process. As the
axis around which all of history turns, fnds meaning and is sanctifed,
Christ permeates the entire historical continuum, securing the possibility of
our deifcation. Infusing the historical continuum with a sense of existential
meaning and purpose, it is clear that for St Gregory the key to experiencing,
understanding and writing history can be found in the hands of him who
holds ¨the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev 1:18), the life-giving Demiurge
Logos of God - Jesus Christ.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the following persons for their insightful
suggestions relating to both the content and style of my article: Rev Dr Doru Costache
(SAGOTC, Sydney), Prof Adrian Marinescu (LMU, München), Dr Bronwen Neil (UNE,
Armidale), and Dr Ken Parry (Macquarie University).
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