Wednesday, August 22, 2007

General Audience: Gregory of Nazianzen


(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

~translated by Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the series of portraits of the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church which I have been seeking to offer in these catecheses, I spoke last time about St. Gregory Nazianzene, bishop of the fourth century, and today, I wish to complete this portrait of a great teacher. Today we will try to look at some of his teachings.

Reflecting on the mission that God had entrusted to him, St. Gregory concluded: "I was created to ascend towards God through my actions" Oratio 14,6 de pauperum amore: PG 35,865).

Indeed, he placed his talents as writer and orator in the service of God and the Church. He wrote numerous discourses, homilies and panegyrics, as well as letters and poetic works (almost 18,000!) - a truly prodigious activity.

He understood that this was the mission entrusted to him by God: "Servant of the Word, I adhere to the ministry of the Word, and may I never neglect this good. I appreciate this vocation and I am happy about it - I get more joy out of it than all other things put together" (Oratio 6,5: SC 405,134; cfr anche Oratio 4,10).

The Nazianzene was a gentle man, and in his life, he always sought to carry out works of peace in the Church of his time, which was torn apart by discords and heresies. With evangelical daring, he tried to overcome his own timidity in order to proclaim the truth of the faith.

He felt profoundly the desire to be closer to God, to unite himself with him, as he expressed in a poem: in "the great tides of the sea of life/ tossed here and there by impetuous winds/.../only one thing is dear to me: my only wealth,/comfort and relief from all efforts-/the light of the Holy Trinity" (Carmina [historica] 2,1,15: PG 37,1250ss).

Gregory brought out the splendor of the Trinity, defending the faith proclaimed by the Council of Nicaea: one God in three equal and distinct Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - "triple Light which comes together in single splendor" (Inno vespertino: Carmina [historica] 2,1,32: PG 37,512).

Thus, St. Gregory always said, quoting from St. Paul (1 Cor 8,6)" "For us, there is one God, the Father, from whom everything is; one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom everything is; and one Holy Spirit, in whom everything is" (Oratio 39,12: SC 358,172).

Gregory highlighted the full humanity of Christ: to redeem man in his totality of body, soul and spirit, Christ took on all the components of human nature, for otherwise, man could not be redeemed.

Against the heresy of Apollinarius, who claimed that Jesus Christ had not taken on a rational spirit, Gregory looked at the question in the light of the mystery of salvation: "What has not been taken on has not been healed" (Ep. 101,32: SC 208,50), and if Christ had not been "endowed with a rational intellect, how could he have become man?" (Ep. 101,34: SC 208,50).

It was our intellect, our reason, which needed and needs a relationship, an encounter, with God in Christ. In becoming man, Christ gave us the possibility to become like him. The Nazianzene exhorts: "Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ himself became one of us: so let us be gods through him, in the same way that He himself became man for our sake. He took on the worst on himself in order to give the best of himself"(Oratio 1,5: SC 247,78).

Mary, who gave Christ his human nature, is the true Mother of God (Theotókos: cfr Ep. 101,16: SC 208,42), and because of her supreme mission she was 'pre-purified'(Oratio 38,13: SC 358,132, like a distant prelude to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). Mary is proposed as a model for Christians, especially for virgins, and as a helper to invoke in need (cfr Oratio 24,11: SC 282,60-64).

Gregory reminds us that, as human beings, we should be brotherly towards each other. He writes: "We are all just one in the Lord" (cfr Rm 12,5) - rich and poor, slaves and freemen, healthy and sick; and only one is the head from which everything comes: Jesus Christ. And just as the members of a body do, each must be concerned with the rest, and all about everyone."

Then, referring to the sick and persons in difficulty, he concludes: "This is the only salvation for our body and our soul: charity towards them" (Oratio 14,8 de pauperum amore: PG 35,868ab).

Gregory underscores that man should imitate the goodness and love of God and therefore urges, "If you are healthy and rich, relieve the need of whoever is sick and poor; if you have not fallen, go to the aid of those who have fallen and who live in suffering; if you are happy, console those who are sad; if you are fortunate, help those who are in the grip of misfortune. Give God proof that you acknowledge him, that you are one of those who can do good to others and not one who needs to be helped...Be rich not only with material goods but also with piety - not only with gold, but with virtue, or better still, with virtue alone. Relieve the hunger of your neighbor, showing yourself the best of all. Render God to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God" (Oratio 14,26 de pauperum amore: PG 35,892bc).

Above all, Gregory teaches us the importance and the need for prayer. He says that "it is necessary to remember God more often even than we draw breath" (Oratio 27,4: PG 250,78), because prayer is the encounter between God's thirst and ours. "God has thirst that we have thirst of Him" (cfr Oratio 40, 27: SC 358,260).

In prayer, we should address our heart to God, offering it to him to be purified and transformed. In prayer, we see everything in the light of Christ, we drop our masks, and we immerse ourselves in truth and in listening to God, feeding the fires of love.

In a poem which was also a meditation on the purpose of life and an implicit invocation of God, Gregory wrote: "You have a task, my soul/A great task, if you will./Examine yourself seriously,/Your being, and your destiny;/where you come from and where you should go;/Seek to know if that which you live is life/ or if there is something more./ You have a task, my soul:/Therefore, purify your life:/Consider God and his mysteries,/what was before this universe/ and what that means for you-/where did you come from and what is your destiny?/ That is your task, my soul:/Therefore, purify your life. (Carmina [historica] 2,1,78: PG 37,1425-1426).

Continually the holy bishop asked the help of Christ to help him arise and continue with his journey: "I have been disappointed, oh my Christ,/for having presumed too much;/ from the heights I have fallen very low./But raise me up again because I see/that I deceived myself;/If I should once again trust only in myself,/I will quickly fall, and the fall will be fatal" (Carmina [historica] 2,1,67: PG 37,1408).

Gregory therefore felt the need to come close to God in order to overcome the fatigue of his own ego. He experienced the impulse of the soul, the liveliness of a sensitive spirit and the instability of ephemeral happiness.

For him, in a life weighed on by awareness of his own weakness and misery, the experience of God's love always had the upper hand.

"You have a task, my soul," St. Gregory tells us, as well, "the task of finding true light, the true summit of your life. And your life is to encounter God, who has thirst of our thirst."

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