[Book Review] On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius


St. Gregory of Nazianzus. On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius. NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2022. 144 pp. $18 [Kindle]

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The general content of this compilation of Gregory’s five orations and two letters defends the consubstantiality of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. During late antiquity, Christianity struggled with all the challenges from Arianism, Gnosticism, and the various forms of both heresies. How significant, then and now, are the works of Gregory of Nazianzus in dealing with these heresies?

In this specific volume—a compilation of The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, Gregory lines up the essentiality of theological purification or theological humility, the incomprehensibility of God through the human mind, and the “full Godhead and consubstantiality” (11) of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. The contextual purpose of writing these orations and letters is to counter the arguments of the Eunomians, who rejected the homoousios of the Son with Father and the Spirit’s divinity.

Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the Theologian, is one of the Cappadocian Fathers, with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory, the author of Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, mainly contributed to the revision and fortification of the Nicene Creed in AD 381, now known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. His influence and brief presiding fortified the deity of Jesus Christ, the hypostatic union of Christ’s nature, and the thought of consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit. Regarding pastoral ministry, his father compelled him to become a presbyter in Nazianzus to assist. Later, Gregory became the bishop of Constantinople, which had great significance during the Byzantine period. His exceptional gift in oratory, knowledge of Hellenistic philosophy, and logical reasoning made Gregory prominent in his time as one of the champions of Trinitarian theology. Further, Gregory is the great defender of the theological idea, perichoresis—unity and equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in authority and nature.*

Lionel Wickham, the translator of this volume, gave a succinct description of the work. The first oration “rebukes” (11-12) the claims of Eunomians, determines the right place and time for theological debates, and the “to look at ourselves and to smooth the theologian in us” (18). The second focuses on the transcendence of God and “the incomprehensibility of deity to the human mind and its totally unimaginable grandeur” (28). Gregory contrasted with the argument of Eunomians and other philosophers that human reason can fully comprehend who God is.

The third and fourth orations, including the two letters, defend Christ’s deity—having a human “soul and mind” (12, 76, 108). Moreover, due to the newer forms of Arianism—Eunomians and Apollinarianism—Gregory reinforced the Nicene Creed of AD 325 through thorough biblical exegesis, poetic oratory, and logical arguments were necessary.[1] The fifth oration is that the Holy Spirit is fully God and “as consubstantial with the Father and Son” (13).

Evaluating the whole volume, initially, Gregory sounds like the Apostles warning the churches in Rome, Crete, and regions in Near-East Asia of the false teachers penetrating and corrupting the purity of the apostles’ teaching—simply perversion of the gospel.[2] Gregory is fluent in Hellenistic philosophers, mythology, and culture. His argumentative method is deductive reasoning, in which logical syllogism permeates the theological orations given in this work (46). Gregory’s theological method is didactical, progressively deducing his opponent’s claim and refuting it. Biblical exegesis and proof-texts (56-59, 98-99) theologically wrap up his philosophical and rhetorical arguments in the last part of his orations.

As the editor claims, as well as am, Gregory achieves the defense of the Son and Spirit’s full Godhead nature—without division, mixture, and hierarchy. Despite his bold words when he argues, theological and pastoral humility reflects in his writing. As he humbly noted that his earthly trinitarian analogies were inadequate, which led him to entirely depend on the revealed Word of God (99-100).

Overall, Gregory’s handling of his natural flow of biblical references, including apocryphal books, and carefulness of philosophical citations are notable. The work itself is both systematic and biblical theology. This volume of Gregory can be a primary source for theological method, trinitarian theology, and a good start for patristic studies. Finally, being a bishop, he exemplifies the balance of a pastor and theologian “who always engages with his congregation” (12). Gregory’s work assures and guides his readers to worship the Trinity (98)—developing theological doctrines to doxology. He stated, “To the best of my powers I will persuade all men to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the single Godhead and power, because to him belong all glory, honor, and might for ever and ever” (100-101).

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Written and reviewed for the SYSTH 7104 – Theological Methodology seminar of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell III on August 18, 2022, at SWBTS.

[1] Point taken that Gregory wrote and preached the orations in AD 379/380, and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed was AD 381. The Theological Orations were significant in dealing with the ambiguity of the first edition of the Nicene Creed of AD 325.

[2] Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 1:10-16; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 John 7-11; 3 John.

*Dr. Malcolm Yarnell noted that the theological idea of perichoresis was greatly used by Gregory the Theologian in a Christological perspective, but it was at the time of John of Damascus (7th century) when the term was fully applied in a trinitarian sense.

Image from Icon of St. Gregory the Theologian Fresco from Kariye Camii, Istanbul, Turkey [Wikipedia]


Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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