The Farewell Apologia of St Gregory the Theologian

There is one concise, public expression of our teaching, a kind of inscription available for all to read: this people! They are authentic worshippers of the Trinity, so much so that any one of them would sooner be separated from this present life than separate one of the three from the Godhead. They think as one, praise as one, are ruled by one doctrine in their relationships to each other, to us, and to the Trinity.

To recount the details briefly: the One without beginning and the Beginning and the One who is with the Beginning are one God. Being without beginning is not the nature of the One without beginning, nor is being unbegotten; for nature is never a designation for what something is not, but for what something is. The affirmation of what is is not the denial of what is not. Nor is the Beginning kept separate from that which is without beginning by the fact that it is a Beginning: for being the Beginning is not his nature, any more than being the One without beginning is the nature of the other. These characteristics “surround” nature, but are not nature. And the One who is with the One without beginning and with the Beginning is not something else than what they are. The name of the One without beginning is “Father,” of the Beginning “Son,” of the One with the Beginning “Holy Spirit.” There is one nature for all three: God. The unity [among them] is the Father, from whom and towards whom everything else is referred, not so as to be mixed together in confusion, but so as to be contained, without time or will or power intervening to divide them. These three have caused us to exist in multiplicity, each of us being in constant tension with ourselves and with everything else. But for them, whose nature is simple and whose existence is the same, the principal characteristic is unity.

Let us abandon the twists and turns and parries of argument that are born of our competitive urge; let us neither indulge a Sabellian love of the One over against the Three, and so destroy all distinction by a false conjunction, nor take an Arian delight in the Three over against the One, and subvert unity by malicious separation. For we do not seek to exchange evil for evil; we wish only not to miss the good. These theories are the games the Evil One plays, maliciously swaying our opinions to and fro. But we walk the middle, royal road, where the experts tell us the pursuit of virtue is to be found; we believe in Father and Son and Holy Spirit, beings of the same substance and the same glory, in whom baptism reaches its perfection by word and deed (as anyone who is initiated knows), since it is a denial of atheism and a confession of divinity. So we are put into right order, as we come to know what is one in substance and indivisible adoration, and what is three in hypostases or persons—whichever you prefer. Let not those who bicker about these things disgrace themselves, as if true religion lay for us in names rather than in realities. For what are you saying, you who introduce the language of three “hypostases”? Surely you do not understand three essences by such words? I know you cry out loudly against those who suppose such an understanding, for you teach a doctrine of one and the same essence shared by the Three. And what about the “persons” Surely you are not putting together some composite thing, a unit of three characters, something completely anthropomorphic? Surely not, you cry, nor does the word “person,” whatever it means, represent God in this way. What, then, do the “hypostases” or “persons” mean for you? (For I will continue to engage you in dialogue!) “Their being three signifies that they are distinguished not in natures, but in characteristics.” Excellent! How could one agree with you more, or say the same thing, without sharing this conviction, even if one were to differ in terminology? Do you see what kind of umpire I am for you—moving away from the letter and towards the sense, just as one does with the Old Testament and the New!

But return with me once more to the same point. Let us speak and think of the Unbegotten and the Begotten and the One who Proceeds, if you will agree to let me coin some words. We no longer fear that the incorporeal will be understood in a corporeal way, as those who speak abusively of the divinity see fit to do. Let us speak of a creature as being “of God”—for that is a great thing when said of us, after all!—but never as being God. Only then will I accept that a creature is God, when I too may literally become God! This is the point: if something is God, it is not a creature, for the creature is classed with us, who are not gods. But if it is a creature, it is not God, for it began in time. And of what had a beginning: there was, when it was not! And if its non-being is older than its being, that thing does not have being in the proper sense. But if something does not have being in the proper sense, how is it God? So then, no one of the Three is a creature, nor—still worse—did any of them come into being for my sake: lest it be not merely a creature, but less valuable than we are. For if I exist for God’s glory, but this one has come into being for my sake—as the blacksmith’s tongs exist for the sake of the wagon, and the saw for the sake of the door—then I am superior, by being the cause. And to the degree that God is higher than creatures, so much is what has come to be for my sake less worthy than I am, who exist for God’s sake.

Oration 42.15-17

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2 Responses to The Farewell Apologia of St Gregory the Theologian

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Oration 42, known as the “Farewell Address,” was delivered at the church of the Holy Apostles. His audience included his fellow bishops assembled for the Council of 381, court officials, and members of his congregation of Anastasia. This passage is taken from Brian Daley’s translation of the oration.

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  2. SaintlySages says:

    His conciseness and theological precision is remarkable, especially given the early era and the many doctrinal pitfalls on the theological landscape.

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