May 9, 2020: ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN
May 9, 2020: ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN, BISHOP, CONFESSOR, AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
Let us celebrate the praises of the prince of Pontiffs, the great Doctor of the Church of Christ, the loud pealing organ, the well-tuned harp, the harmonious and sweet-sounding lute; and let us thus sing: Hail, O abyss of divine grace! Hail, Gregory, Father of fathers, whose spirit sublimely soared in heavenly thoughts!
O God, who didst give to thy people blessed Gregory, for a minister of eternal salvation; grant we beseech thee, that he who was the instructor of our life here on earth, may in heaven become our intercessor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Side by side with Athanasius, a second Doctor of the Church comes forward, at this glad Season, offering to the Risen Jesus the tribute of his learning and eloquence. It is Gregory of Nazianzam,—the friend of Basil; the great Orator; the admirable Poet, whose style combines energy of thought with a remarkable richness and ease of expression; the one among all the Gregories who has merited and received the glorious name of Theologian, on account of the soundness of his teachings, the sublimity of his ideas, and the magnificence of his diction. Holy Church exults at being able to offer us so grand a Saint during Easter Time, for no one has spoken more eloquently than he on the Mystery of the Pasch. Let us listen to the commencement of his second Sermon for Easter; and then judge for ourselves.
“I will stand upon my watch, says the admirable Prophet Habacuc (Hab, ii. 1). I, also, on this day, will imitate him; I will stand on the power and knowledge granted me by the favour of the Holy Ghost, that I may consider and know what is to be seen, and what will be told unto me. And I stood and I watched: and lo! a man ascending to the clouds; and he was of exceeding high stature, and his face was the face of an Angel, and his garment was dazzling as a flash of lightning. And he lifted up his hand towards the East, and cried out with a loud voice. His voice was as the voice of a trumpet, and around him stood, as it were, a multitude of the heavenly host, and he said: ‘To-day is salvation given to both the visible and the invisible world. Christ hath risen from the dead: do ye also rise. Christ hath returned to himself: do ye also return. Christ hath freed himself from the Tomb: be ye set free from the bonds of sin. The gates of hell are opened, and death is crushed; the old Adam is laid aside, and the new one is created. Oh! if there be a new creature formed in Christ, be ye made new!’
“Thus did he speak. Then did the other Angels repeat the Hymn they first sang when Christ was born on this earth, and appeared to us men: Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth, in men of good will! I join my voice with them, and speak these things to you:—oh! that I could have an Angel's voice, to make myself heard throughout the whole earth!
“It is the Pasch of the Lord! the Pasch!—in honour of the Trinity, I say it a third time: the Pasch! This is our Feast of Feasts, our Solemnity of Solemnities. It is as far above all the rest,—not only of those which are human and earthly, but of those even which belong to Christ and are celebrated on his account,—yea, it as far surpasses them all, as the sun surpasses the stars. Commencing with yesterday, how grand was the Day, with its torches and lights! * * But how grander and brighter is all on this morning! Yesterday's light was but the harbinger of the great Light that was to rise; it was but as foretaste of the joy that was to be given to us. But to-day, we are celebrating the Resurrection itself, not merely in hope, but as actually risen, and drawing the whole earth to itself.”
This is a sample of the fervid eloquence, wherewith our Saint preached the Mysteries of Faith. He was a man of retirement and contemplation. The troubles of the world, in which he had been compelled to live, damped his spirits; the duplicity and wickedness of men fretted his noble heart; and leaving to another the perilous honour of the See of Constantinople, which he had reluctantly accepted a very short time previously,—he flew back to his dear solitude, there to enjoy his God and the study of holy things. And yet, during the short period of his Episcopal government, notwithstanding all the obstacles that stood in his way, he confirmed the Faith that had been shaken, and left behind him a track of light, which continued even to the time when St. John Chrysostom was chosen to fill the troubled Chair of Byzantium.
The holy Liturgy thus speaks to us of the virtues and actions of this great Saint.
Gregory, a Cappadocian nobleman, surnamed the Theologian, on account of his extraordinary learning in the sacred sciences, was born at Nazianzum in Cappadocia. He, together with St. Basil, went through a complete course of studies at Athens; after which, he applied himself to the study of the Sacred Scriptures. The two friends retired to a monastery, where they spent several years over the Scripture, interpreting it not according to their own views, but by the sense and authority of the earlier Fathers. Owing to their reputation for learning and virtue, they were called to the ministry of preaching the Gospel, and became the spiritual Fathers of many souls.
After Gregory had returned home, he was made Bishop of Sasima, and afterwards administered the Church of Nazianzum. Being called, later on, to govern the Church of Constantinople, which was infected with heresy, he converted it to the Catholic Faith. This success, far from gaining him everyone's love, excited the envy of a great many. This caused a great division among the Bishops, which led the Saint to resign his See. He said to them those words of the Prophet: “If this tempest be stirred up on my account, cast me into the sea, that you may cease to be tossed.” Whereupon he returned to Nazianzum; and, having got Eulalius made Bishop of that Church, he devoted his whole time to the contemplation of divine things, and to the writing treatises upon them.
He wrote much, both in prose and verse; and in all, there is admirable piety and eloquence. In the opinion of learned and holy men, there is nothing to be found in his writings which is not conformable to true piety and Catholic truth, or which anyone could reasonably call in question. He was a most vigorous defender of the Consubstantiality of the Son of God. No one ever led a more saintly life than he; no one was to be compared to him for eloquence. He led the life of a monk, spending his whole time in solitude, occupied in writing and reading. Having reached a venerable old age, he died during the reign of the emperor Theodosius, and entered into the blessed life of heaven.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Gregory Nazianzen, pray for us.