Eamonn Clark, STL
In this new weekly series, I am presenting particularly famous, controversial, helpful, or otherwise interesting homilies and writings of the Fathers. Normally, it will be small, digestible sections – but we may as well start with a full piece.
The following is a homily preached in the summer of 381 before 150 bishops and many other faithful by St. Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers. It was his last time addressing his own see of Constantinople. He had been presiding over the First Council of Constantinople, after the Council confirmed his own appointment as the city’s Patriarch (against his rival Maximus the Cynic, who had been secretly consecrated at night in the cathedral). Gregory was only Patriarch of Constantinople for a few weeks before resigning due both to bad health and because of the wake of controversy surrounding his appointment, though he had long been engaged in the theological conflicts at issue at the Council. (He would later be forced by necessity to take up another diocese, before finally being able to retire to his hometown in relative peace.) This homily (Oration 42) was his farewell – it is at once a history, an exposition of faith, a personal defense, and, of course, a good-bye. It has some lessons for us.
Constantinople had recently been the center of immense political and religious upheaval due to Eastern attempts to save Arianism through “semi-Arianism,” and, of course, it was then presently the host of the second Ecumenical Council, which had been called by the Emperor Theodosius at the request of Pope Damasus I. Constantinople was pervaded by the Arian spirit… To have one of the champions of Nicene faith become patriarch and preside over the council in Constantinople in those days would be like having Putin become governor of Mississippi.
Despite elevating Gregory being the first on the “to do” list, a large group of bishops (Egyptians and Macedonians who had arrived late) thought Gregory’s ascension to the patriarchate was illegitimate, due to Nicaea’s prohibition on bishops changing dioceses. He had been opposed by Rome (Damasus was of a similar mind on bishops moving), and he was also opposed by the Alexandrian faction, due to his Antiochene character. It is in this dramatic context that the frail saint rose up to preach one last time in the Church of Hagia Irene (pictured above).
A study of times like this help us to appreciate that our own days are not as crazy (or at least uniquely crazy) as we might think they are. (See Ecclesiastes 7:10…) As the reality of the “anti-Nicene party” of semi-Arians and even the bitter division between the “pro-Nicene parties” of Antioch and Alexandria at First Constantinople shows us, getting riled up about the significance, status, and meaning of “the Council” is pretty much par for the course, whether “the Council” refers to Nicaea I or Vatican II or pretty much anything in between.
I leave the rest to St. Gregory.
1. What do you think of our affairs, dear shepherds and fellow-shepherds: whose feet are beautiful, for you bring glad tidings of peace and of the good things with which you have come; beautiful again in our eyes, to whom you have come in season, not to convert a wandering sheep, (Matthew 18:12) but to converse with a pilgrim shepherd? What do you think of this our pilgrimage? And of its fruit, or rather of that of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) within us, (2 Timothy 1:14) by Whom we are ever moved, (Acts 17:28) and specially have now been moved, desiring to have, and perhaps having, nothing of our own? Do you of yourselves understand and perceive — and are you kindly critics of our actions? Or must we, like those from whom a reckoning is demanded as to their military command, or civil government, or administration of the exchequer, publicly and in person submit to you the accounts of our administration? Not indeed that we are ashamed of being judged, for we are ourselves judges in turn, and both with the same charity. But the law is an ancient one: for even Paul communicated to the Apostles his Gospel: (Galatians 2:2) not for the sake of ostentation, for the Spirit is far removed from all ostentation, but in order to establish his success and correct his failure, if indeed there were any such in his words or actions, as he declares when writing of himself. Since even the Spirits of the Prophets are subject to the prophets, (1 Corinthians 14:32) according to the order of the Spirit who regulates and divides all things well. And do not wonder that, while he rendered his account privately and to some, I do so publicly, and to all. For my need is greater than his, of being aided by the freedom of my censors, if I am proved to have failed in my duty, lest I should run, or have run, in vain. (Galatians 2:2) And the only possible mode of self-defense is speech in the presence of men who know the facts.
2. What then is my defense? (1 Corinthians 9:3) If it be false, you must convict me, but if true, you on behalf of whom and in whose presence I speak, must bear witness to it. For you are my defense, my witnesses, and my crown of rejoicing, (1 Thessalonians 2:19) if I also may venture to boast myself a little in the Apostle’s language. This flock was, when it was small and poor, as far as appearances went, nay, not even a flock, but a slight trace and relic of a flock, without order, or shepherd, or bounds, with neither right to pasturage, nor the defense of a fold, wandering upon the mountains and in caves and dens of the earth, (Hebrews 11:38) scattered and dispersed here and there as each one could find shelter or pasture, or could gratefully secure its own safety; like that flock which was harassed by lions, dispersed by tempest, or scattered in darkness, the lamentation of prophets who compared it to the misfortunes of Israel, (Ezekiel 31:2) given up to the Gentiles; over which we also lamented, so long as our lot was worthy of lamentation. For in very deed we also were thrust out and cast off, and scattered upon every mountain and hill, from the need of a shepherd: and a dreadful storm fell upon the Church, and fearful beasts assailed her, who do not even now, after the calm, spare us, but without being ashamed of themselves, wield a greater power than the time should allow; while a gloomy darkness, far more oppressive than the ninth plague of Egypt, the darkness which might be felt, (Exodus 10:21) enveloped and concealed everything, so that we could scarcely even see one another.
3. To speak in a more feeling strain, trusting in Him Who then forsook me, as in a Father, Abraham has been ignorant of us, Israel has acknowledged us not, but You are our Father, and unto You do we look; (Isaiah 63:16) beside You we know none else, we make mention of Your name. Therefore, says Jeremiah, I will plead with You, I will reason the cause with You. (Jeremiah 12:1) We have become as at the beginning, when Thou barest not rule (Isaiah 63:19) over us, and You have forgotten Your holy covenant, and shut up Your mercies from us. Therefore we, the worshippers of the Trinity, the perfect suppliants of the perfect Deity, became a reproach to Your Beloved, neither daring to bring down to our own level any of the things above us, nor in such wise to rise up against the godless tongues which fought against God, as to make His Majesty a fellow servant with ourselves; but, as is plain, we were delivered up on account of our other sins, and because our conduct had been unworthy of Your commandments, and we had walked after our own evil mind. For what other reason can there be for our being delivered up to the most unrighteous and wicked men of all the dwellers upon the earth? First Nebuchadnezzar afflicted us, (Jeremiah 51:34) possessed during the Christian era with an anti-Christian rage, hating Christ just because he had through Him gained salvation, and having bartered the sacred books for sacrifices to those who are no gods. He devoured me, he tore me in pieces, a slight darkness enveloped me, if I may even in my lamentation keep to the language of Scripture. If the Lord had not helped me, and righteously delivered him to the hands of the lawless, by casting him off (such are the judgments of God) to the Persians, by whom his blood was righteously shed for his unholy sheddings of blood, since in this case alone justice could not afford even to be longsuffering, my soul had shortly dwelt in the grave. The second no more kindly, if he were not even more grievous still, for while he bore the name of Christ, he was a false Christ, and at once a burden and a reproach to the Christians, for, while to obey him was ungodly, to suffer at his hands was inglorious, since they did not even seem to be wronged, nor to gain by their sufferings the glorious title of martyr, inasmuch as the truth was in this case perverted, for while they suffered as Christians, they were supposed to be punished as heretics. Alas! How rich we were in misfortunes, for the fire consumed the beauties of the world. (Joel 1:19) That which the palmerworm left did the locust eat, and that which the locust left did the caterpillar eat: then came the cankerworm, then, what next I know not, one evil springing up after another. But for what purpose should I give a tragic description of the evils of the time, and of the penalty exacted from us, or, if I must rather call it so, the testing and refining we endured? At any rate, we went through fire and water, and have attained a place of refreshment by the good pleasure of God our Saviour.
4. To return to my original starting point. This was my field, when it was small and poor, unworthy not only of God, Who has been, and is cultivating the whole world with the fair seeds and doctrines of piety, but, apparently, even of any poor and needy man of slender means. Nay it did not deserve to be called a field, requiring neither barn nor threshing-floor, and not even worthy of the sickle; with neither heap nor sheaves, or small and untimely sheaves, like those on the housetop, which do not fill the hand of the reaper, nor call forth a blessing from them which go by. Such was my field, such my harvest; great and well-eared and fat in the eyes of Him Who beholds hidden things, and becoming such a husbandman, its abundance springing from the valleys of souls well tilled with the Word: unrecognized however in public, and not collected together, but gathered in fragments, as an ear gleaned in the stubble, as gleaning-grapes in the vintage, where there is no cluster left. I think I may add, only too appropriately, I found Israel like a fig tree in the wilderness, and like one or two ripe grapes in an unripe cluster, preserved as a blessing from the Lord, (Isaiah 65:8) and a consecrated first-fruit, though small as yet and scanty, and not filling the mouth of the eater: and as an ensign on a hill, and as a beacon on a mountain, or any other solitary thing visible only to few. Such was its former poverty and dejection.
5. But since God, Who makes poor and makes rich, Who kills and makes alive; Who makes and transforms all things; Who turns night into day, (Amos 5:8) winter into spring, storm into calm, drought into abundance of rain; and often for the sake of the prayers (1 Kings 18:42) of one righteous man (James 5:16-17) sorely persecuted; Who lifts up the meek on high, and brings the ungodly down to the ground; since God said to Himself, I have surely seen the affliction of Israel; (Exodus 3:7) and they shall no longer be further vexed with clay and brick-making; and when He spoke He visited, and in His visitation He saved, and led forth His people with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, by the hand of Moses and Aaron, His chosen — what is the result, and what wonders have been wrought? Those which books and monuments contain. For besides all the wonders by the way, and that mighty roar, to speak most concisely, Joseph came into Egypt alone, (Genesis 37:28) and soon after six hundred thousand depart from Egypt. (Exodus 12:37) What more marvelous than this? What greater proof of the generosity of God, when from men without means He wills to supply the means for public affairs? And the land of promise is distributed through one who was hated, and he who was sold (Genesis 49:22) dispossesses nations, and is himself made a great nation, and that small offshoot becomes a luxuriant vine, (Hosea 10:1) so great that it reaches to the river, and is stretched out to the sea, and spreads from border to border, and hides the mountains with the height of its glory and is exalted above the cedars, even the cedars of God, whatever we are to take these mountains and cedars to be.
6. Such then was once this flock, and such it is now, so healthy and well grown, and if it be not yet in perfection, it is advancing towards it by constant increase, and I prophesy that it will advance. This is foretold me by the Holy Spirit, if I have any prophetic instinct and insight into the future. And from what has preceded I am able to be confident, and recognize this by reasoning, being the nursling of reason. For it was much more improbable that, from that condition, it should reach its present development, than that, as it now is, it should attain to the height of renown. For ever since it began to be gathered together, by Him Who quickens the dead, (Romans 4:17) bone to its bone, joint to joint, and the Spirit of life and regeneration was given to it in their dryness, (Ezekiel 37:7, 10) its entire resurrection has been, I know well, sure to be fulfilled: so that the rebellious should not exalt themselves, and that those who grasp at a shadow, or at a dream when one awakes, or at the dispersing breezes, or at the traces of a ship in the water, should not think that they have anything. Howl, firtree, for the cedar is fallen! (Zechariah 11:2) Let them be instructed by the misfortunes of others, and learn that the poor shall not always be forgotten, and that the Deity will not refrain, as Habakkuk says, from striking through the heads of the mighty ones (Habakkuk 3:13) in His fury — the Deity, Who has been struck through and impiously divided into Ruler and Ruled, in order to insult the Deity in the highest degree by degrading It, and oppress a creature by equality with Deity.
7. I seem indeed to hear that voice, from Him Who gathers together those who are broken, and welcomes the oppressed: Enlarge your cords, break forth on the right hand and on the left, drive in your stakes, spare not your curtains. (Isaiah 54:2) I have given you up, and I will help you. In a little wrath I smote you, but with everlasting mercy I will glorify you. The measure of His kindness exceeds the measure of His discipline. The former things were owing to our wickedness, the present things to the adorable Trinity: the former for our cleansing, the present for My glory, Who will glorify them that glorify Me, (1 Samuel 2:30) and I will move to jealousy them that move Me to jealousy. Behold this is sealed up with Me, and this is the indissoluble law of recompense. But you surrounded yourself with walls and tablets and richly set stones, and long porticos and galleries, and shone and sparkled with gold, which you did, in part pour forth like water, in part treasure up like sand; not knowing that better is faith, with no other roof but the sky to cover it, than impiety rolling in wealth, and that three gathered together in the Name of the Lord (Matthew 18:20) count for more with God than tens of thousands of those who deny the Godhead. Would you prefer the whole of the Canaanites to Abraham alone? or the men of Sodom to Lot? or the Midianites to Moses, (Exodus 2:15) when each of these was a pilgrim and a stranger? How do the three hundred men with Gideon, who bravely lapped, (Judges 7:5) compare with the thousands who were put to flight? Or the servants of Abraham, who scarcely exceeded them in number, with the many kings and the army of tens of thousands whom, few as they were, they overtook and defeated? (Genesis 14:14) Or how do you understand the passage that though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved? And again, I have left me seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal? This is not the case; it is not? God has not taken pleasure in numbers.
8. You count tens of thousands, God counts those who are in a state of salvation; you count the dust which is without number, I the vessels of election. For nothing is so magnificent in God’s sight as pure doctrine, and a soul perfect in all the dogmas of the truth.— For there is nothing worthy of Him Who made all things, of Him by Whom are all things, and for Whom are all things, (1 Corinthians 8:6) so that it can be given or offered to God: not merely the handiwork or means of any individual, but even if we wished to honor Him, by uniting together all the property and handiwork of all mankind. Do not I fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24) says the Lord! And what house will you build Me? Or what is the place of My rest? (Isaiah 66:1) But, since man must needs fall short of what is worthy, I ask of you, as approaching it most nearly, piety, the wealth which is common to all and equal in My eyes, wherein the poorest may, if he be noble minded, surpass the most illustrious. For this kind of glory depends upon purpose, not upon affluence. These things be well assured, I will accept at your hands. To tread My courts you shall not proceed, but the feet of the meek shall tread them, who have duly and sincerely acknowledged Me, and My only-begotten Word, and the Holy Spirit. How long will you inherit My holy Mountain? How long shall My ark be among the heathen? (1 Samuel 6:1) Now for a little longer you indulge yourselves in that which belongs to others, and gratify your desires. For as you have devised to reject Me, so will I also reject you, (Hosea 4:6) says the Lord Almighty.
9. This I seemed to hear Him say, and to see Him do, and besides, to hear Him shouting to His people, which once were few and scattered and miserable, and have now become many, and compact enough and enviable, Go through My gates Isaiah 62:10 and be enlarged. Must you always be in trouble and dwell in tents, while those who vex you rejoice exceedingly? And to the presiding Angels, for I believe, as John teaches me in his Revelation, that each Church has its guardian, Revelation 2:1 Prepare the way of My people, and cast away the stones from the way, Isaiah 62:10 that there may be no stumbling block or hindrance for the people in the divine road and entrance, now, to the temples made with hands, Acts 7:48 but soon after, to Jerusalem above, Galatians 4:26 and the Holy of holies there, which will, I know, be the end of suffering and struggle to those who here bravely travel on the way. Among whom are you also called to be Saints, Romans 1:6 a people of possession, a royal priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9 the most excellent portion of the Lord, a whole river from a drop, a heavenly lamp from a spark, a tree from a grain of mustard seed, Matthew 13:21 on which the birds come and lodge.
10. These we present to you, dear shepherds, these we offer to you, with these we welcome our friends, and guests, and fellow pilgrims. We have nothing fairer or more splendid to offer to you, for we have selected the greatest of all our possessions, that you may see that, strangers as we are, we are not in want, but though poor are making many rich. (2 Corinthians 6:10) If these things are small and unworthy of notice, I would fain learn what is greater and of more account. For, if it be no great thing to have established and strengthened with wholesome doctrines a city which is the eye of the universe, in its exceeding strength by sea and land, which is, as it were, the link between the Eastern and Western shores, in which the extremities of the world from every side meet together, and from which, as the common mart of the faith, they take their rise, a city borne here and there on the eddying currents of so many tongues, it will be long ere anything be considered great or worthy of esteem. But if it be indeed a subject for praise, allow to us some glory on this account, since we have contributed in some portion to these results which you see.
11. Lift up your eyes round about, and see, (Isaiah 60:4) thou critic of my words! See the crown which has been platted in return for the hirelings of Ephraim and the crown of insolence; see the assembly of the presbyters, honored for years and wisdom, the fair order of the deacons, who are not far from the same Spirit, the good conduct of the readers, the people’s eagerness for teaching, both of men and women, who are equally renowned for virtue: the men, whether philosophers or simple folk, being alike wise in divine things, whether rulers or ruled, being all in this respect duly under rule; whether soldiers or nobles, students or men of letters, being all soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3) of God, though in all other respects meek, ready to fight for the Spirit, all reverencing the assembly above, to which we obtain an entrance, not by the mere letter, but by the quickening Spirit, all in very deed being men of reason, and worshippers of Him Who is in truth the Word: the women, if married, being united by a Divine rather than by a carnal bond; if unwedded and free, being entirely dedicated to God; whether young or old, some honorably advancing towards old age, others eagerly striving to remain immortal, being renewed by the best of hopes.
12. To those who platted this crown — that which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, (2 Corinthians 11:17) nevertheless I will say it — I also have given assistance. Some of them are the result of my words, not of those which we have uttered at random, but of those which we have loved — nor again of those which are meretricious, though the language and manners of the harlot have been slanderously attributed to me, but of those which are most grave. Some of them are the offspring and fruit of my Spirit, as the Spirit can beget those who rise superior to the body. To this I have no doubt that those who are kindly among you, nay all of you, will testify, since I have been the husbandman of all: and my sole reward is your confession. For we neither have, nor have had, any other object. For virtue, that it may remain virtue, is without reward, its eyes fixed alone on that which is good.
13. Would you have me say something still more venturesome? Do you see the tongues of the enemy made gentle, and those who made war upon the Godhead against me tranquillized? This also is the result of our Spirit, of our husbandry. For we are not undisciplined in our exercise of discipline, nor do we hurl insults, as many do, who assail not the argument but the speaker, and sometimes strive by their invective to hide the weakness of their reasoning; as the cuttlefish are said to cast forth ink before them, in order to escape from their pursuers, or themselves to hunt others when unperceived. But we show that our warfare is in behalf of Christ by fighting as Christ, the peaceable and meek, (Matthew 11:29) Who has borne our infirmities, fought. Though peaceable, we do not injure the word of truth, by yielding a jot, to gain a reputation for reasonableness; for we do not pursue that which is good by means of ill: and we are peaceable by the legitimate character of our warfare, confined as it is to our own limits, and the rules of the Spirit. Upon these points, this is my decision, and I lay down the law for all stewards of souls and dispensers of the Word: neither to exasperate others by their harshness, nor to render them arrogant by submissiveness: but to be of good words in treating of the Word, and in neither direction to overstep the mean.
14. But you are perhaps longing for me to give an exposition of the faith, in so far as I am able. For I shall myself be sanctified by the effort of memory, and the people also will be benefited, by its special delight in such discussions, and you will fully acknowledge it — unless we are the objects of groundless envy, as the rivals, in the manifestation of the truth, of those whom we do not excel. For as, of deep waters, some in the depths are utterly hidden, some foam against any obstruction, and hesitate a while before breaking (as they promise to our ears), some do actually break; so also, of those who are professors of the Divine philosophy— setting aside the utterly misguided — some keep their piety entirely secret and hidden within themselves, some are not far from the birth pangs, avoiding impiety, yet not speaking out their piety, either from cautious reserve in their teaching, or under pressure of fear, being themselves sound, as they say, in mind, but not making sound their people, as if they had been entrusted with the government of their own souls, but not of those of others; while there are some who make public their treasure, unable to restrain themselves from giving birth to their piety, and not considering that to be salvation which saves themselves alone, without bestowing upon others the overflow of their blessings. Among these would I range myself, and all who by my side have nobly dared to confess the truth.
15. One concise proclamation of our teaching, an inscription intelligible to all, is this people, which so sincerely worships the Trinity, that it would sooner sever anyone from this life, than sever one of the three from the Godhead: of one mind, of equal zeal, and united to one another, to us and to the Trinity by unity of doctrine. Briefly to run over its details: That which is without beginning, and is the beginning, and is with the beginning, is one God. For the nature of that which is without beginning does not consist in being without beginning or being unbegotten, for the nature of anything lies, not in what it is not but in what it is. It is the assertion of what is, not the denial of what is not. And the Beginning is not, because it is a beginning, separated from that which has no beginning. For its beginning is not its nature, any more than the being without beginning is the nature of the other. For these are the accompaniments of the nature, not the nature itself. That again which is with that which has no beginning, and with the beginning, is not anything else than what they are. Now, the name of that which has no beginning is the Father, and of the Beginning the Son, and of that which is with the Beginning, the Holy Ghost, and the three have one Nature — God. And the union is the Father from Whom and to Whom the order of Persons runs its course, not so as to be confounded, but so as to be possessed, without distinction of time, of will, or of power. For these things in our case produce a plurality of individuals, since each of them is separate both from every other quality, and from every other individual possession of the same quality. But to Those who have a simple nature, and whose essence is the same, the term One belongs in its highest sense.
16. Let us then bid farewell to all contentious shiftings and balancings of the truth on either side, neither, like the Sabellians, assailing the Trinity in the interest of the Unity, and so destroying the distinction by a wicked confusion; nor, like the Arians, assailing the Unity in the interest of the Trinity, and by an impious distinction overthrowing the Oneness. For our object is not to exchange one evil for another, but to ensure our attainment of that which is good. These are the playthings of the Wicked One, who is ever swaying our fortunes towards the evil. But we, walking along the royal road which lies between the two extremes, which is the seat of the virtues, as the authorities say, believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, of one Substance and glory; in Whom also baptism has its perfection, both nominally and really you know who hast been initiated!; being a denial of atheism and a confession of Godhead; and thus we are regenerated, acknowledging the Unity in the Essence and in the undivided worship, and the Trinity in the Hypostases or Persons (which term some prefer.) And let not those who are contentious on these points utter their scandalous taunts, as if our faith depended on terms and not on realities. For what do you mean who assert the three Hypostases? Do you imply three Essences by the term? I am assured that you would loudly shout against those who do so. For you teach that the Essence of the Three is One and the same. What do you mean, who assert the Three Persons? Do you imagine a single compound sort of being, with three faces, or of an entirely human form? Perish the thought! You too will loudly reply that he who thinks thus, will never see the face of God, whatever it may be. What is the meaning of the Hypostases of the one party, of the Persons of the other, to ask this further question? That They are three, Who are distinguished not by natures, but by properties. Excellent. How could men agree and harmonize better than you do, even if there be a difference between the syllables you use? You see what a reconciler I am, bringing you back from the letter to the sense, as we do with the Old and New Testaments.
17. But, to resume: let us speak of the Unbegotten, the Begotten, and the Proceeding, if anyone likes to create names: for we shall have no fear of bodily conceptions attaching to Those who are not embodied, as the calumniators of the Godhead think. For the creature must be called God’s, and this is for us a great thing, but God never. Otherwise I shall admit that God is a creature, if I become God, in the strict sense of the term. For this is the truth. If God, He is not a creature; for the creature ranks with us who are not Gods. And if a creature, he is not God, for he had a beginning in time. And there was a time when he who had a beginning was not. And that of which non-existence was its prior condition, has not being in the strict sense of the term. And how can that, which strictly has not being, be God? Not one single one, then, of the Three is a creature, nor, what is worse, came into being for my sake; for in that case he would be not only a creature, but inferior in honor to us. For, if I am for the glory of God, and he is for my sake, as the tongs for the waggon, the saw for the door, I am his superior in causality. For in whatever degree God is superior to creatures, in the same degree is he, who came into being for my sake, inferior to me who exist for God’s sake.
18. Moreover, the Moabites and Ammonites must not even be allowed to enter (Deuteronomy 23:3) into the Church of God, I mean those sophistical, mischievous arguments which enquire curiously into the generation and inexpressible procession of God, and rashly set themselves in array against the Godhead: as if it were necessary that those things which it is beyond the power of language to set forth, must either be accessible to them alone, or else have no existence because they have not comprehended them. We however, following the Divine Scriptures, and removing out of the way of the blind the stumbling blocks contained in them, will cling to salvation, daring any and every thing rather than arrogance against God. As for the evidences, we leave them to others, since they have been set forth by many, and by ourselves also with no little care. And indeed, it would be a very shameful thing for me at this time to be gathering together proofs for what has all along been believed. For it is not the best order of things, first to teach and then to learn, even in matters which are small and of no consequence, and much more in those which are Divine and of such great importance. Nor, again, is it proper to the present occasion to explain and disentangle the difficulties of Scripture, a task requiring fuller and more careful consideration than our present purpose will allow. Such then, to sum up, is our teaching. I have entered into these details, with no intention of contending against the adversaries: for I have already often, even if it be imperfectly, fought out the question with them: but in order that I might exhibit to you the character of my teaching, that you might see whether I have not a share in the defense of your own, and do not take my stand on the same side, and opposed to the same enemies as yourselves.
19. You have now, my friends, heard the defense of my presence here: if it be deserving of praise, thanks are due for it to God, and to you who called me; if it has fallen below your expectation, I give thanks even on this behalf. For I am assured that it has not been altogether deserving of censure, and am confident that you also admit this. Have we at all made a gain 2 Corinthians 12:17 of this people? Have we consulted at all our own interests, as I see is most often the case? Have we caused any vexation to the Church? To others possibly, with whose idea that they had gained judgment against us by default, we have joined issue in our argument; but in no wise, as far as I am aware, to you. I have taken no ox of yours, 1 Kings 12:2 says the great Samuel, in his contention against Israel on the subject of the king, nor any propitiation for your souls, the Lord is witness among you, nor this, nor that, proceeding at greater length, that I may not count up every particular; but I have kept the priesthood pure and unalloyed. And if I have loved power, or the height of a throne, or to tread kings’ courts, may I never possess any distinction, or if I gain it, may I be hurled from it.
20. What then do I mean? I am no proficient in virtue without reward, having not attained to so high a degree of virtue. Give me the reward of my labors. What reward? Not that which some, prone to any suspicion would suppose, but that which it is safe for me to seek. Give me a respite from my long labors; give honor to my foreign service; elect another in my place, the one who is being eagerly sought on your behalf, someone who is clean of hands, someone who is not unskilled in voice, someone who is able to gratify you on all points, and share with you the ecclesiastical cares; for this is especially the time for such. But behold, I pray you, the condition of this body, so drained by time, by disease, by toil. What need have you of a timid and unmanly old man, who is, so to speak, dying day by day, not only in body, but even in powers of mind, who finds it difficult to enter into these details before you? Disobey not the voice of your teacher: for indeed you have never yet disobeyed it. I am weary of being charged with my gentleness. I am weary of being assailed in words and in envy by enemies, and by our own. Some aim at my breast, and are less successful in their effort, for an open enemy can be guarded against. Others lie in wait for my back, and give greater pain, for the unsuspected blow is the more fatal. If again I have been a pilot, I have been one of the most skillful; the sea has been boisterous around us, boiling about the ship, and there has been considerable uproar among the passengers, who have always been fighting about something or another, and roaring against one another and the waves. What a struggle I have had, seated at the helm, contending alike with the sea and the passengers, to bring the vessel safe to land through this double storm. Had they in every way supported me, safety would have been hardly won, and when they were opposed to me, how has it been possible to avoid making shipwreck?
21. What more need be said? But how can I bear this holy war? For there has been said to be a holy, as well as a Persian, war. How shall I unite and join together the hostile occupants of sees, and hostile pastors, and the people broken up along with, and opposed to them, as if by some chasms caused by earthquakes between neighboring and adjoining places; or as, in pestilential diseases, befalls servants and members of the family, when the sickness readily attacks in succession one after another; and besides the very quarters of the world are affected by the spirit of faction, so that East and West are arrayed on opposite sides, and bid fair to be severed in opinion no less than in position. How long are parties to be mine and yours, the old and the new, the more rational and the more spiritual, the more noble and the more ignoble, the more and the less numerous? I am ashamed of my old age, when, after being saved by Christ, I am called by the name of others.
22. I cannot bear your horse races and theatres, and this rage for rivalry in expense and party spirit. We unharness, and harness ourselves on the other side, we neigh against each other, we almost beat the air, as they do, and fling the dust towards heaven, like those which are excited; and under other masks satisfy our own rivalry, and become evil arbiters of emulation, and senseless judges of affairs. Today sharing the same thrones and opinions, if our leaders thus carry us along; tomorrow hostile alike in position and opinion, if the wind blows in the contrary direction. Amid the variations of friendship and hatred, our names also vary: and what is most terrible, we are not ashamed to set forth contrary doctrines to the same audience; nor are we constant to the same objects, being rendered different at different times by our contentiousness. They are like the ebb and flow of some narrow strait. For as when the children are at play in the midst of the market place, it would be most disgraceful and unbecoming for us to leave our household business, and join them; for children’s toys are not becoming for old age: so, when others are contending, even if I am better informed than the majority, I could not allow myself to be one of them, rather than, as I now do, enjoy the freedom of obscurity. For, besides all this, my feeling is that I do not, on most points, agree with the majority, and cannot bear to walk in the same way. Rash and stupid though it may be, such is my feeling. That which is pleasant to others causes pain to me, and I am pleased with what is painful to others. So that I should not be surprised if I were even imprisoned as a disagreeable man, and thought by most men to be out of my senses, as is said to have been the case with one of the Greek philosophers, whose moderation exposed him to the charge of madness, because he laughed at everything, since he saw that the objects of the eager pursuit of the majority were ridiculous; or even be thought full of new wine as were in later days the disciples of Christ, because they spoke with tongues, (Acts 2:4) since men knew not that it was the power of the Spirit, and not a distraction of mind.
23. Now, consider the charges laid against us. You have been ruler of the church, it is said, for so long, and favored by the course of time, and the influence of the sovereign, a most important matter. What change have we been able to notice? How many men have in days gone by used us outrageously? What sufferings have we failed to undergo? Ill-usage? Threats? Banishment? Plunder? Confiscation? The burning of priests at sea? The desecration of temples by the blood of the saints, till, instead of temples, they became charnel-houses? The public slaughter of aged Bishops, to speak more accurately, of Patriarchs? The denial of access to every place in the case of the godly alone? In fact any kind of suffering which could be mentioned? And for which of these have we requited the wrongdoers? For the wheel of fortune gave us the power of rightly treating those who so treated us, and our persecutors ought to have received a lesson. Apart from all other things, speaking only of our experiences, not to mention your own, have we not been persecuted, maltreated, driven from churches, houses, and, most terrible of all, even from the deserts? Have we not had to endure an enraged people, insolent governors, the disregard of Emperors and their decrees? What was the result? We became stronger, and our persecutors took to flight. That was actually the case. The power to requite them seemed to me a sufficient vengeance on those who had wronged us. These men thought otherwise; for they are exceedingly exact and just in requiting: and accordingly they demand what the state of things permits. What governor, they say, has been fined? What populace chastised? What ringleaders of the populace? What fear of ourselves have we been able to inspire for the future?
24. Perhaps we may be reproached, as we have been before, with the exquisite character of our table, the splendour of our apparel, the officers who precede us, our haughtiness to those who meet us. I was not aware that we ought to rival the consuls, the governors, the most illustrious generals, who have no opportunity of lavishing their incomes; or that our belly ought to hunger for the enjoyment of the goods of the poor, and to expend their necessaries on superfluities, and belch forth over the altars. I did not know that we ought to ride on splendid horses, and drive in magnificent carriages, and be preceded by a procession and surrounded by applause, and have everyone make way for us, as if we were wild beasts, and open out a passage so that our approach might be seen afar. If these sufferings have been endured, they have now passed away: Forgive me this wrong. (2 Corinthians 12:13) Elect another who will please the majority: and give me my desert, my country life, and my God, Whom alone I may have to please, and shall please by my simple life. It is a painful thing to be deprived of speeches and conferences, and public gatherings, and applause like that which now lends wings to my thoughts, and relatives, and friends and honors, and the beauty and grandeur of the city, and its brilliancy which dazzles those who look at the surface without investigating the inner nature of things; but yet not so painful as being clamored against and besmirched amid public disturbances and agitations, which trim their sails to the popular breeze. For they seek not for priests, but for orators, not for stewards of souls, but for treasurers of money, not for pure offerers of the sacrifice, but for powerful patrons. I will say a word in their defense: we have thus trained them, by becoming all things to all men, (1 Corinthians 9:22) whether to save or destroy all, I know not.
25. What say you? Are you persuaded, have you been overcome by my words? Or must I use stronger terms in order to persuade you? Yea by the Trinity Itself, Whom you and I alike worship, by our common hope, and for the sake of the unity of this people, grant me this favor; dismiss me with your prayers; let this be the proclamation of my contest; give me my certificate of retirement, as sovereigns do to their soldiers; and, if you will, with a favorable testimony, that I may enjoy the honor of it; if not, just as you please; this will make no difference to me, until God sees what my case really is. What successor then shall we elect? God will provide Himself (Genesis 22:8) a shepherd for the office, as He once provided a lamb for a burnt-offering. I only make this further request, — let him be one who is the object of envy, not the object of pity; not one who yields everything to all, but one who can on some points offer resistance for the sake of what is best: for though the one is most pleasant, the other is most profitable. So do you prepare for me your addresses of dismissal: I will now bid you farewell.
26. Farewell my Anastasia, whose name is redolent of piety: for you have raised up for us the doctrine which was in contempt: farewell, scene of our common victory, modern Shiloh, (Joshua 18:1) where the tabernacle was first fixed, after being carried about in its wanderings for forty years in the wilderness. Farewell likewise, grand and renowned temple, our new inheritance, whose greatness is now due to the Word, which once wast a Jebus, (1 Chronicles 11:4) and hast now been made by us a Jerusalem. Farewell, all you others, inferior only to this in beauty, scattered through the various parts of the city, like so many links, uniting together each your own neighborhood, which have been filled with worshippers of whose existence we had despaired, not by me, in my weakness, but by the grace which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10) Farewell, you Apostles, noble settlers here, my masters in the strife; if I have not often kept festival with you, it has been possibly due to the Satan which I, like St. Paul, (2 Corinthians 12:7) who was one of you, carry about in my body for my own profit, and which is the cause of my now leaving you. Farewell, my throne, envied and perilous height; farewell assembly of high priests, honored by the dignity and age of its priests, and all you other ministers of God round the holy table, drawing near to the God Who draws near to you. (James 4:8) Farewell, choirs of Nazarites, harmonies of the Psalter, night-long stations, venerable virgins, decorous matrons, gatherings of widows and orphans, and you eyes of the poor, turned towards God and towards me. Farewell, hospitable and Christ-loved dwellings, helpers of my infirmity. Farewell, you lovers of my discourses, in your eagerness and concourse, you pencils seen and unseen, and thou balustrade, pressed upon by those who thrust themselves forward to hear the word. Farewell, Emperors, and palace, and ministers and household of the Emperor, whether faithful or not to him, I know not, but for the most part, unfaithful to God. Clap your hands, shout aloud, extol your orator to the skies. This pestilent and garrulous tongue has ceased to speak to you. Though it will not utterly cease to speak: for it will fight with hand and ink: but for the present we have ceased to speak.
27. Farewell, mighty Christ-loving city. I will testify to the truth, though your zeal be not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2) Our separation renders us more kindly. Approach the truth: be converted at this late hour. Honor God more than you have been wont to do. It is no disgrace to change, while it is fatal to cling to evil. Farewell, East and West, for whom and against whom I have had to fight; He is witness, Who will give you peace, if but a few would imitate my retirement. For those who resign their thrones will not also lose God, but will have the seat on high, which is far more exalted and secure. Last of all, and most of all, I will cry — farewell ye Angels, guardians of this church, and of my presence and pilgrimage, since our affairs are in the hands of God. Farewell, O Trinity, my meditation, and my glory. May You be preserved by those who are here, and preserve them, my people: for they are mine, even if I have my place assigned elsewhere; and may I learn that You are ever extolled and glorified in word and conduct. My children, keep, I pray you, that which is committed to your trust. (1 Timothy 6:20) Remember my stonings. (Colossians 4:18) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
St. Gregory of Nazianzen, pray for us!
Featured image: the reconstructed Church of Hagia Irene (by Dosseman, Wikimedia Commons)