St Gregory Nazianzen and the Holy Spirit (part 1)

In 372 St Gregory was ordained a bishop by his old friend and bishop of Caesarea, St Basil the Great. Basil intended Gregory to be the new bishop of the town of Sasima; but for various reasons, political and personal, Gregory never assumed episcopal responsibilities in Sasima. In late 372 he returned home to Nazianzus and became bishop coadjutor alongside his father. In his first episcopal homily in Nazianzus, Gregory announces the dedication of his ministry to the Holy Spirit, who had filled his soul at his ordination:

I opened my mouth and drew in the Spirit. To that Spirit I dedicate my entirety, and my very self: all my deeds, my discourse, my contemplation and my silence. Only let him have me, and lead me and move me—hand, mind, and voice. Take them wherever he wishes, wherever is right, and stop them moving what ever is unfitting. I am the divine instrument, a rational instrument, tuned and played by that master musician the Spirit. … I shall open and close the door of my self to that Supreme Mind, to the Word, and to the Spirit, who are all of one nature and Godhead. (Or 12.1)

Gregory closes his homily with these words:

Such is my speech to you men. It is uttered in all simplicity and good will, for it is the inner secret of my mind. And may whatever will be for our mutual benefit, as the Spirit guides all our affairs, be that which shall win the day (for once again my discourse comes back to the same point). To Him I have given my self even as my head was anointed with the oil of perfection; in the Almighty Father, and in the Only Begotten Word, and in the Holy Spirit who is God. For how long shall we keep hidden the lamp under the bushel-measure? or begrudge others his perfect Godhead? when it is surely necessary to set it out on the lampstand so as to illuminate all the churches, and every soul, and indeed the whole fullness of the wide world; no more by metaphors; no more by intellectual shadow play; let us speak out quite openly now. For this indeed is the most perfect exposition of Theology for those who have been accounted worthy of this grace in the same Christ Jesus our Lord. (12.6)

Christopher Beeley notes that this is the earliest example in the writings of the Church Fathers where the Holy Spirit is explicitly referred to as “God.” In the late 350s St Athanasius had argued in his Letters to Serapion that the Holy Spirit is fully divine. He even spoke of the Spirit as “the same as the one God in substance” (1.27.3); but he avoided naming the Spirit “God.” St Basil displayed the same reticence in his On the Holy Spirit, composed two years after Gregory’s oration. I do not know when Gregory became convinced that it was proper, and indeed mandatory, that the Holy Spirit be named and identified as God; but after his ordination he clearly he understands his vocation as bishop, a bishop who has been enlightened. taught, and deified by the Spirit, to lead the Church into the confession of the consubstantiality of the Spirit with the Father. The time for equivocation is over. Gregory stands before the Church as mystagogue and theologian. He will speak the truth that even the followers of Nicaea had been reluctant to speak. Seven years later St Gregory will be called to Constantinople and will boldly fulfill his promise.

In May 380 Gregory delivered a homily welcoming sailors from Egypt (Oration 34). These sailors, perhaps under the command of the Patriarch of Alexandria, had begun attending the Holy Mysteries at the little church of the Anastasia. The purpose of the oration is to demonstrate that he and Alexandria are united in the catholic faith (see John McGuckin, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, pp. 269-272).

Like Sts Athanasius and Basil, Gregory asserts the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature, or as he puts it, between dominion and servitude. God alone is Lord. To be created is to necessarily be given the position of servant or slave. God is “creative, and originating, and unchangeable”; God is above time. Creatures are mutable, measurable, and subject to time (34.8-9). The eternal God “subsists in Three Greatest, namely, the Cause, the Creator, and the Perfecter; I mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who are neither so separated from one another as to be divided in nature [Arianism], nor so contracted as to be circumscribed by a single person [Sabellianism]” (34.8). Gregory will not allow the possibility of an intermediary divine entity. Hence he insists that it is insufficient to simply identify the Spirit as “divine.” Here he breaks with Basil. The Spirit must be named “God” in full hypostatic reality. Each divine person possesses all the divine attributes. “All that the Father has belongs likewise to the Son, except Causality; and all that is the Son’s belongs also to the Spirit, except His Sonship” (34.10). (I am still waiting for Gregory to complete the sentence—”and all that is the Spirit’s belongs also to the Father and the Son, except the procession.”) If someone can demonstrate that either the Son or Spirit does not share equally in the divine essence, he says, he will concede the argument, “though we lose our God” (34.10).

Gregory then proceeds to advance one of his critical arguments for the divinity of the Spirit:

I cannot bear to be unenlightened after my Enlightenment, by marking with a different stamp any of the Three into Whom I was baptized; and thus to be indeed buried in the water, and initiated not into Regeneration, but into death. I cannot believe that I am saved by one who is my equal. If the Holy Ghost is not God, let Him first be made God, and then let Him deify me His equal. But now what deceit this is on the part of grace, or rather of the givers of grace, to believe in God and to come away godless; by one set of questions and confessions leading to another set of conclusions. Alas for this fair fame, if after the Laver I am blackened, if I am to see those who are not yet cleansed brighter than myself; if I am cheated by the heresy of my Baptizer; if I seek for the stronger Spirit and find Him not. Give me a second Font before you think evil of the first. Why do you grudge me a complete regeneration? Why do you make me, who am the Temple of the Holy Ghost as of God, the habitation of a creature? Why do you honour part of what belongs to me, and dishonour part, judging falsely of the Godhead, to cut me off from the Gift, or rather to cut me in two by the gift? Either honour the Whole, or dishonour the Whole, O new Theologian, that, if you are wicked, you may at any rate be consistent with yourself, and not judge unequally of an equal nature. (34.11-12).

If the Holy Spirit is not God, then the baptized do not participate by grace in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then the baptized are indwelt not by deity but by a creature, and how can a creature save sinners? If the Holy Spirit is not God, then holy baptism is baptism not into divinity and eternal life but into death. As St Gregory memorably asks in Oration 31, “If he has the same rank as I have, how can he make me God, how can he link me with deity?” (31.4).

(Go to Part 2)

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