“The Exalted Dignity of the Priesthood in St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ Oration 2”

Rev. Br. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP

“We are far too low to perform the priest’s office before God” (2.111).[1] So St. Gregory of Nazianzus insists, in Oration 2, as he provides the reasons for his hesitancy in embracing the priestly office. While he does this, he also reveals what constitutes the priesthood’s exalted dignity. As Oration 2 is one of the earliest extended treatments of the priesthood in Christian literature, and has influenced the subsequent tradition, it is worth considering what aspects of the priesthood Gregory highlights as comprising the priesthood’s excellence.[2] Yet there is a small challenge to this. Gregory’s purpose in this Oration is not to give a systematic account of the priesthood’s exalted dignity, rather the various reasons for this dignity appear somewhat haphazardly as his discourse proceeds. So instead of just proceeding through the relevant statements in the order they appear in Oration 2, we will instead categorize the relevant texts according to the three munera. This will help us achieve our more systematic purpose of discerning in what the dignity of the priesthood consists for Gregory in Oration 2.

Gregory uses various images and paradigms to speak of the nobility of the priesthood yet, more foundationally, we will claim that Gregory grounds the dignity of the priesthood in its special participation in God’s own action in the divine economy. The first section of the essay will attempt to show this. Then, we will consider how Gregory describes the priesthood’s dignity by organizing what he says on the matter according to the threefold munera: governing, teaching, and sanctifying. We will note various ways in which Gregory speaks of these matters in terms of the priest sharing in God’s action in the divine economy. To begin, however, we will consider briefly the occasion on which Gregory wrote Oration 2.

            Oration 2 is often titled “De Fuga” because it describes and offers justification for Gregory’s flight upon being ordained a priest by his father. On Christmas of 361, Gregory was ordained a priest.[3] This was against his desires for a more retired life which he had been living on his father’s estate for three years. Gregory immediately fled to Annesoi to stay for about two months with his friend St. Basil the Great. Basil seemingly helped Gregory to see that it was God’s will for him to pasture the flock at Nazianzus. Gregory returned and wished, in Oration 2, to explain his reasons for his flight and his return. Early in the Oration, he expresses two reasons for fleeing: his desire to be more devoted to the purely contemplative life and his shame over the many who became priests while being unworthy of such an office, among which he would include himself (2.7-9). It is this latter reason, and his various elaborations on this theme, that concerns us here. For, in this vein, he describes why the priesthood is so beyond him, namely, because of his own lack of virtue and skill but also because of the exalted dignity of the sacred office. So this oration provides much material on what constitutes the dignity of the priesthood, which we will now consider.      

I. The Priest as a Cooperator in the Divine Economy

            In this section we will consider the deepest foundation of the priesthood’s dignity, which our consideration of the threefold munera will highlight in differing ways. Gregory describes how the priest, in a special way, shares in God’s own action in the divine economy. We will first consider how the opening of Oration 2 suggests the theme. Second, how it is made explicit in Oration 2.3. Third, we will expand upon Christopher Beeley’s work on Oration 2.23-26, with respect to the priest and the divine economy. Fourth, we will consider how the priest’s participation in the divine economy extends even to cooperating with God in the deification of others. This marks the priesthood with an exceptional dignity.    

The beginning of Oration 2 suggests something of Gregory’s larger view of the priest’s role in the divine economy. God’s gracious dispensation of salvation is not just a past event recorded in the Scriptures, but rather God’s saving action continues into Gregory’s own time, especially through the ministry of the priest. The God who spoke in the prophets centuries ago continues to speak today. Gregory, after admitting his defeat, i.e. that his fleeing had been in vain, turns to consider God’s continuous action:

I have been defeated, and own my defeat. I subjected myself to the Lord, and prayed unto Him. Let the most blessed David supply my exordium, or rather let Him Who spoke in David, and even now yet speaks through him. For indeed the very best order of beginning every speech and action, is to begin from God, and to end in God. (2.1, emphasis added)

The God who spoke in David continues to speak. Moreover, the exitus-reditus movement of creation from God and to God is suggested by Gregory’s words. “Every speech and action, is to begin from God, and to end in God,” including the speech Gregory is just now beginning in Oration 2. This seems to suggest something of Gregory’s broader view of sacred preaching and teaching. The idea seems to be that not just the topic of God should mark the beginning and end of every speech but that the speech should flow from God’s inspiration and then terminate in God himself—i.e. the sacred discourse should lead one more deeply into the res, the reality of God himself. God moves the created order forwarded according to his plan, from the exitus of creation ex nihilo to the reditus accomplished in redemption. God gives the preacher a share in his own divine action of moving the created order—here, the rational creature—to the telos of redemption, the blessed union with God.

What I am proposing is implied in these opening words is made more explicit two paragraphs later in Oration 2.3. Here Gregory explains how the hierarchical ordering of the Body of Christ, the Church, is an act of God’s providence. God has so ordained that certain exceptional men exercise governance and so guide the church by their words and deeds:

Now, just as in the body there is one member which rules and, so to say, presides, while another is ruled over and subject; so too in the churches, God has ordained (dietaxen), according either to a law of equality, which admits of an order of merit, or to one of providence (pronoias), by which He has knit all together, that those for whom such treatment is beneficial, should be subject to pastoral care and rule, and be guided by word and deed in the path of duty; while others should be pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the church, those, I mean, who surpass the majority in virtue and nearness to God. (2.3)[4]

It belongs to God’s providence to guide his creatures to their appropriate end. He has given to the pastors and teachers of the church a share in his own providential guidance of those who are being perfected in the church. To be apt instruments, these pastors are to excel in virtue and nearness to God, but this does not undermine the fact that God is the primary agent. God’s action of guiding souls, in this case, comes by way of the priest guiding souls. The pastor’s exercise of ministry is a privileged way that God exercises his own governance of souls.

Gregory takes seriously God’s continual active role in his own priestly ministry. For instance, he speaks of his need “of still greater co-operation on the part of God” (meizonos de tēs para theou sunergias) when he, Gregory, is trying to treat the spiritual maladies of his flock against the attacks of the invisible foe hidden within each one (2.21). Gregory depends on God’s action through him because he, as a priest, is an instrument of God and the divine work of salvation. That God uses a priest in such a significant way points to the high dignity of the priesthood. In fact, this participation in the divine economy is the fundamental basis for the high dignity of the priestly office. This is especially true in this: that to which God is moving men and women is nothing less than their deification. As we will see, for Gregory, the priest’s role in this divinization of others is a cause of awe and shows the exalted nature of the priesthood.

Our basic proposal thus far is strengthened by Christopher Beeley’s work on Gregory’s pastoral theology, especially as Beeley focuses on Oration 2.23-26.[5] He posits that “for Gregory pastoral ministry is not so much a matter of technique or moral stature (though it includes these), as it is a deeply theological activity. He defines the nature of the priesthood primarily in terms of the divine economy of salvation, and he identifies its main character to be the administration of the Holy Trinity.” This last bold claim of administering the Trinity, Beeley sees primarily in terms of teaching the truth about the One and the Three, although with an assumed sacramental context as well.[6] Indeed Gregory highlights the Trinity as the crown of the subjects to be covered in Christian teaching (2.36). This presumes that when the pastor teaches about the Trinity, he is not merely speaking about an abstract topic but actually moving his hearers into a deeper communion with the Blessed Trinity, so that it is an administration of the Holy Trinity. It is in this way that pastoral ministry is a theological activity and a participation in the divine economy of salvation. For, by the priest’s pastoral ministry, God’s plan for salvation is accomplished even generations after the historical events recorded in the Scriptures occurred. Beeley finds this theme especially in Oration 2.23-26, where “Gregory describes the basic continuity that exists between the economy of salvation recorded in the Scriptures and the work of the Christian priest in the contemporary Church.”[7] We will expand on Beeley’s work here.

We have already seen how, in Oration 2.21, Gregory calls on a “still greater co-operation on the part of God” so much is the priest’s work, God’s own work in the divine economy. In Oration 2.22 Gregory then considers the end, or purpose, of the priestly office, showing that this art is much greater than a physician’s analogous art because the end is more exalted, namely deification. He then immediately links this end of the priestly ministry with the action of God in salvation history (2.23). The pastoral work of the priest in the present was included in God’s intention while the saving deeds of our redemption were accomplished in the past; “this is the wish” of the law, the prophets, and of the God-man:

But the scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in His image, if it abides, to take it by the hand, if it is in danger, to restore it, if ruined, to make Christ to dwell in the heart by the Spirit: and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon, one who belongs to the heavenly host. This is the wish of our schoolmaster the law, of the prophets who intervened between Christ and the law, of Christ who is the fulfiller and end of the spiritual law; of the emptied Godhead, of the assumed flesh, of the novel union between God and man, one consisting of two, and both in one. (2.22-23)

The antecedent in “this (touto) is the wish” is the pastoral work accomplished by the priest. The sentence earlier had covered various aspects of this pastoral work, for example: to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it, give it to God, to deify it, and bestow upon it heavenly bliss. Gregory maintains, “this is the wish” of the law, prophets, and of Christ.

Then in what follows, this pastoral work remains the antecedent in a long series of repeated “this is why” (dia touto) God accomplished such and such an aspect of his work in salvation history (2.23-25). For example: “This is why (dia touto) God was united to the flesh… This is the reason (dia touto)  for the generation and the virgin, for the manger and Bethlehem…This is why (dia touto)  Jesus was baptized, and received testimony from above, and fasted, and was tempted, and overcame him who had overcome…This is why (dia touto)  the heathen rage” (2.23-25). Finally after this extended litany of the repeated phrase “this is why,” Gregory concludes, “All these are a training from God for us, and a healing for our weakness… Of this healing we, who are set over others, are the ministers and fellow-labourers” (Tautēs ēmeis tēs therapeias hupēretai kai sunergoi)  (2.26). The antecedent all along is recalled, namely, the pastoral work accomplished by the priest, here described as healing. Priests are the ministers and fellow-laborers of this divine healing. They are given a special role in God’s saving designs and actions in the divine economy.[8]

 As we saw, this cooperation in the divine economy involves the priest in the exalted work of deification. The goal of the art of priesthood is “in short, to deify (Theon poiēsai), and bestow heavenly bliss upon, one who belongs to the heavenly host” (2.22). This makes the dignity of the priesthood the loftiest that could be found among men. In fact, for Gregory, it makes of the priest something more than human. Later in the Oration, Gregory speaks of the priest’s role in deifying others in even stronger terms. This brings him to the heights of what he says of the dignity of the priesthood. This is his justification for initially fleeing from the priestly office:

Who can mould, as clay-figures are modelled in a single day, the defender of the truth, who is to take his stand with Angels, and give glory with Archangels, and cause the sacrifice to ascend to the altar on high, and share the priesthood of Christ, and renew the creature, and set forth the image, and create inhabitants for the world above, aye and, greatest of all, be God, and make others to be God? I know Whose ministers we are, and where we are placed, and whither we are guides. I know the height of God, and the weakness of man, and, on the contrary, his power. (2.73-74)

To be God and make others to be God (Theon esomenon kai Theopoiēsonta). Although the term used, Theos, does not provide any qualification, the context does.[9] We see that it is in the context of the divine economy. “Whither we are guides” points to the goal of God’s saving work and man’s final end, involving nothing less than man’s deification. Gregory is quick to note the fundamental distinction between God and man—“I know the height of God, and the weakness of man.” Yet in God’s plan of salvation, man is to be so elevated that Gregory can also speak of “his power,” and in the exuberance of a literary flourish, of him being God. That the priest is in the middle of this infusion of divine life into souls is the source of tremendous awe for Gregory.

Gregory sees the priest as a mediator between God and man (2.91). This involves man in the divine realm. Whether Gregory describes this as being God (2.73) or being near to God (2.3), the implication on priestly life is the same: holiness is demanded. To communicate divine things to others, one needs himself to be godlike. Beeley notes, “Time and again Gregory argues that it is impossible to convey to others a good that one does not possess oneself.”[10] Gregory says in Oration 20 that to approach the priestly office, “the first requirement is to purify oneself, then to associate oneself with the One who is pure” (20.4).[11] It is then that one can convey divine things to others, because one himself is imbued with divine things. This is the primary reason for the exalted dignity of the priesthood, for Gregory. In the divine economy the priest works in a close proximity with God, and indeed God works through the priest in accomplishing his saving purposes. The work of deification, especially, marks the priest with a dignity beyond human comprehension.

II. The Governing Office

            Gregory’s writing relates to the munus of governing, especially through his use of the images of the priest as a spiritual ruler and a physician of souls. We will see in one instance where the two images overlap but normally his use of them can be distinguished. So, in this section, we will first treat of the priest as a spiritual ruler. We will place this paradigm in the context of the divine economy and then see how the exalted end to which the priest is charged to direct his flock contributes to the dignity of the priesthood for Gregory. We will then do the same for the priest as a physician of souls, noting the additional basis of dignity found in the tremendous skill needed in directing such a complex entity as a human person to spiritual health.   

The priest’s role as spiritual ruler fits into the context established above; it is a participation in the divine economy. We have already noted how it belongs to God’s providential designs to have in the Body of Christ “one member which rules and, so to say, presides, while another is ruled over and subject” (2.3). Yet in another place Gregory goes beyond the church to the more foundational level of creation. He describes the pastor’s task in terms of the creation account in Genesis, where God gives order to the formless void (Gen 1:2). In the ecclesial turmoil and disarray of his day, Gregory felt that things had returned to that original formless state and the priest was hence called to put things in order. In this way, it is as if he shares in God’s ordering of the world as the priest establishes and preserves order in his church. Gregory says, “Everything has reverted to the original state of things before the world, with its present fair order and form, came into being. The general confusion and irregularity cry for some organising hand and power [edeito tēs eidopoiou cheiros kai dunameōs]” (2.81). This organizing hand and power belongs to the call of the priest as spiritual ruler and it is a share in God’s own providential governance of the world.

Furthermore this share in the divine governance concerns not only earthly things but also heavenly things as the priest guides souls to the uttermost purpose of the divine economy, union with God. Gregory speaks of his hesitancy in receiving the priestly office because of the exalted things with which he would have to deal, “the majesty, and the height, and the dignity, and the pure natures scarce [sic] able to contain the brightness of God” (2.76). He then speaks of the greatness required of the man who would lead souls to divine union, “Such and so great is the object of our longing zeal, and such a man should he be, who prepares and conducts souls to their espousals [ton numphagōgon tōn psuchōn kai promnēstopa]” (2.77). The priest’s share in the divine economy is so exalted as to prepare and conduct souls to this divine union. Daley describes it in this way, “Ministry is a human representation of the love of God; the pastor acts as ‘best man’ in the marriage of the heart with its divine Lover, the ‘matchmaker’ between God and his earthly bride.”[12] The priest’s role extends to the loftiest purposes of the divine economy, the spiritual marriage of God and the soul.

            This exalts the office of the priest over even the greatest earthly leaders. To be worthily set over an earthly city requires the best of men, so Gregory wonders, in exasperation, how much more is required of the one who is to govern souls in relation to God. He says, “But in the case of man, hard as it is for him to learn how to submit to rule, it seems far harder to know how to rule over men, and hardest of all, with this rule of ours, which leads them by the divine law, and to God, for its risk is, in the eyes of a thoughtful man, proportionate to its height and dignity” (2.10). In governing men and women to reach God, the priestly office is imbued with an eminent height and dignity (to hupsos kai to axiōma), beyond that of the earthly ruler.

The earthly ruler that Gregory has in mind seems to be derived from Plato’s Philosopher-King.[13] Plato insists that only someone who is well-trained in philosophy is fit to rule.[14] The idea is that only those who have mastered philosophy are fit to rule others. In a similar vein, Gregory argues that it is fitting for “those who are devoted to the study of divine things, to ascend to rule from being ruled, nor does it overstep the limits laid down by philosophy” (2.5). For Gregory, in fact, Christianity is a kind of philosophy. Daley notes that, in such cases, “Gregory uses ‘philosophy’ to mean the Christian pursuit of divine wisdom through ascetical practice and the contemplative study of Scripture.”[15] Gregory feels that he himself has not yet mastered this kind of philosophy, so how can he rule? In keeping with the Philosopher-King model, Gregory describes the governance of souls in terms of philosophy, and this branch is beyond him. “One branch of philosophy is, however, too high for me, the commission to guide and govern souls—and before I have rightly learned to submit to a shepherd, or have had my soul duly cleansed” (2.78). If being a Philosopher-King of an earthly city were noble, being set over souls is so much more the noble office.

The remarkable skill needed to govern such complicated souls in so many different situations and in a fallen state is captured by Gregory with the image of the priest as a physician of souls. This image is rather pervasive throughout Oration 2 but we are concerned here with the basics of the theme as it pertains to the dignity of the priestly office. We have already seen how this perspective on the priesthood is placed by Gregory within the divine economy. The divine healing accomplished in the past events of salvation history—most notably Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—is applied to people of later generations through the ministry exercised by the priest as physician of souls.

Gregory also has much to say about the priest, as physician, by expanding upon the natural analogue of the physician of bodies. He reasons that if the role of the physician of bodies is so noble, how much more is the physician of souls? The longest extended treatment of the image of the physician in Oration 2 is in 2.16-34. He begins by noting how even if someone is free from vice and has attained great virtue that even this does not make him adequate for the priestly office. He speaks of the guidance of man in terms of being a physician of souls:

For the guiding of man, the most variable and manifold of creatures, seems to me in very deed to be the art of arts and science of sciences. Any one may recognize this, by comparing the work of the physician of souls with the treatment of the body; and noticing that, laborious as the latter is, ours is more laborious, and of more consequence, from the nature of its subject matter, the power of its science, and the object of its exercise. (2.16)

Gregory views the priestly office here as an art (technē) and science (epistēmē), and indeed as the highest art and science since it deals with the soul, which “partakes of the heavenly nobility” (tēs anōthen eugeneias metechousan) (2.17), and aims at the salvation of the soul—a soul “destined for undying chastisement or praise, for its vice or virtue” (2.28). However, Gregory describes the priesthood as the art of arts and science of sciences also because of the tremendous skill needed to treat the soul belonging to “the most variable and manifold of creatures” (2.16). The differences among human beings, their freedom, their self-deceit, and the subtlety of their spiritual condition adds a complexity here not encountered in other arts and sciences. For Gregory, what is most challenging about the priestly art is applying the precise treatment that is most suitable and appropriate for a given situation (2.28-33). Susanna Elm has described this ability of the priest to discern what is needed in each case as a “diagnostic gaze.”[16] Every physician, whether of the body or soul, needs this. For Gregory, the ability to do this is one of the most important characteristics of a good priest (2.44). And in this St. Paul excelled (2.54-5). So the priest as physician is in so dignified a role, not only because it involves such exalted heavenly things, but also because it requires such a discerning and sophisticated skill. Even considered as just another art or science, it is the most advanced of crafts. Add to this the heavenly dimension, and the nobility far surpasses every other art and science. The priest, then, as spiritual ruler and physician of souls is of immense dignity with respect to the role he plays in relation to the congregation. 

III. The Teaching Office

In the final two sections we will consider the dignity of the priest in terms of the position he has as minister of the Word and Sacrament, the munera of teaching and sanctifying. This dignity is based on the sublimity of the heavenly things he communicates through his preaching and celebration of the sacred rites but also on the skill and holiness of life required to be an apt minister.

            Gregory’s Oration 2 contains a lengthy section on the priest’s ministry of the “distribution of the word” and this theme is moreover mentioned throughout the text (2.35-51, cf. 2.71-8, 2.96-97). This is a primary task of the priest and indeed is the first of duties according to Gregory:

In regard to the distribution of the word, to mention last the first of our duties, of that divine and exalted word, which everyone now is ready to discourse upon; if anyone else boldly undertakes it and supposes it within the power of every man’s intellect, I am amazed at his intelligence, not to say his folly. To me indeed it seems no slight task, and one requiring no little spiritual power, to give in due season to each his portion of the word. (2.35)

Preaching the word is so lofty for Gregory because it is the “divine and exalted word” (tou theiou legō kai hupsēlou) that the priest speaks and expounds upon. Gregory complains that people presume to take on such an exalted task before they are ready. He humorously remarks that often those who have just gotten over their childish lisp, who do not even know all the books of the Bible, and who have just picked up a few pious sayings—from hearsay not study—think themselves ready to preach the word (2.49). Rather, for Gregory, preaching is such an exalted task that it requires a lengthy period of training, not only in learning the Scriptures but also in actually living their holy teachings. He notes how even dancers and flute-players must undergo extensive training, so how much more the preacher (2.50)? One’s way of life too needs to be conformed to God’s word, as “the pure alone can grasp Him Who is pure” (2.39). Preaching the word is a role to which one can attain only after much diligence and effort.

            Ultimately, to be an apt preacher of God’s word, the priest needs to be a theologian.[17] Daley notes, “For Gregory, being a ‘theologian’ means being a person who can speak truthfully and intelligibly about the reality of God on the basis of direct personal knowledge.”[18] Theology and preaching the word is not about abstract knowledge but about imparting a “direct personal knowledge” of the reality of God. This is all the more poignant in Gregory as he sees the priest’s teaching in terms of illumination. The priest, as preacher, is “charged with the illumination of others” (2.36). His lofty task in speaking to his congregation is “to find any form or words able to edify them all, and illuminate them with the light of knowledge” (2.39). Illumination is an important theme in Gregory. Beeley summarizes the concept in this way, “Gregory’s primary concept for God’s nature is light, and he frequently refers to the knowledge of God as illumination, or coming to share in the divine light…God’s gift of the saving knowledge of himself.”[19] Since it is ultimately God who illumines the mind with saving truth, the priest’s significant role in imparting this illumination to others shows how noble is his office. It is another way that the priest shares in God’s own action in the divine economy.

IV. The Sanctifying Office

With respect to Word and Sacrament, Gregory treats the former more fully, but this is not to say he under appreciates the latter. The relatively little Gregory says of the Eucharistic celebration in Oration 2 nevertheless highlights its sublimity and the exalted dignity of the priest who offers it. He speaks of “those mystic and elevating rites which are our greatest and most precious privilege,” (ta mustika kai anō pheronta, ho dē megiston esti tōn hēmeterōn kai timiōtaton) by which God would not be properly worshipped without the priest (2.4). To call these rites our greatest and most precious privilege is to accent the abundant blessing that this sacred office is. In a passage we have already treated, it is the priest who causes, in a secondary sense, the sacrifice to ascend to the altar of heaven: “who is to take his stand with Angels, and give glory with Archangels, and cause the sacrifice to ascend to the altar on high, and share the priesthood of Christ, and renew the creature, and set forth the image, and create inhabitants for the world above, aye and, greatest of all, be God, and make others to be God?” (2.73) The marvelous role the priest has in deifying others is tied here directly to his offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.

This mystic and elevating rite however does not only pertain to the priest’s dignity as celebrant or as the one who presides. It is not only a ceremonious dignity. What causes Gregory great hesitation and trepidation is that the priest himself is to be conformed to the mysteries celebrated in this rite. He, in his own moral life, should be a pleasing sacrifice to God in order to adequately fulfill this office in all its dignity. Gregory expresses his reserve in taking on the priesthood:

Since then I knew these things, and that no one is worthy of the mightiness of God, and the sacrifice, and priesthood, who has not first presented himself to God, a living, holy sacrifice, and set forth the reasonable, well-pleasing service, and sacrificed to God the sacrifice of praise and the contrite spirit, which is the only sacrifice required of us by the Giver of all; how could I dare to offer to Him the external sacrifice, the antitype of the great mysteries, or clothe myself with the garb and name of priest, before my hands had been consecrated by holy works…? (2.95)

Gregory’s description of what is required continues beyond this quotation but the essence is captured here. The noblest things in life call for not only admiration and reverence but the response of one’s whole life. The dignity of the priesthood, for Gregory, calls one to make himself apt for the office he exercises, or rather to be made apt for it by God. For, as Gregory is not unaware of the high dignity of the priesthood, neither is he unaware of the grace of the One who calls him. In the final remarks of this Oration in which Gregory explains his terror in accepting the priestly office, he reveals his source of hope in moving forward: “may He Himself hold me by my right hand, and guide me with His counsel, and receive me with glory, Who is a Shepherd to shepherds and a Guide to guides” (2.117). We have considered Gregory of Nazianzus’s Oration 2 and the basis for the dignity of the priesthood in his view. Most foundationally this is found in the priest’s exceptional participation in God’s own action in the divine economy. This share in God’s work is expressed by Gregory in various ways, which we have categorized in terms of the threefold munera.  Looking at this earliest full treatment of the Christian priesthood reveals something of the early Church’s high esteem for this sacred office. While the dignity is more about what God has done in the priest, it does call the priest to cooperate in God’s work and to be conformed to Christ in a life of holiness. A return to the patristic sources hence calls for a return to reverence for God’s gift of the priesthood and a return to the corresponding radical imitation of Christ the Priest.  

[1] All translations are taken from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7, trans. Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894). Throughout the text I will indicate in parentheses the oration and paragraph numbers as I have done here: 2.111.

[2] Cf. Christopher Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 237.

[3] Biographical data is taken from John A. McGuckin, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 99-102.

[4] References to the original Greek of Gregory’s text is from Gregoire de Nazianze Discours 1-3 (Sources Chretiennes, vol. 247, Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1978).

[5] In fact, it was Beeley’s emphasis on the divine economy that prompted me to see the same theme in the passages I treated above.

[6] See especially pp 266-70 of Beely’s section, “The Administration of the Holy Trinity” in Gregory on the Trinity and Knowledge of God.

[7] Ibid., 239.

[8] Beeley describes Gregory’s purpose in this passage, as follows, “He characterizes God’s saving work in the biblical covenants as the same divine training, or education (paidagōgia), and healing (iatreia) that a Christian pastor would administer in the fourth century (2.25)” (Gregory on the Trinity and Knowledge of God, 240).

[9] Elsewhere, Gregory moreover insists upon the distinction between the Creator and the creature, as Beeley notes in his treatment of divinization (Ibid., 119).

[10] Ibid., 247.

[11] Translated by Brian E. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus (London: Routledge, 2006), 100.

[12] Gregory, 55.

[13] The Republic, Book VI. For Gregory’s exposure to Plato, see McGuckin, Intellectual Biography, 57-8.

[14] The Republic, 473d.

[15] Gregory, 218. See footnote 201.

[16] Elm says of Gregory’s perspective on the matter, “Now, if such rigorous training was expected of the physician of the body, how much more then must be demanded of the physician of the soul? He, after all, must develop a science (episteme) enabling the diagnostic gaze to penetrate the souls of his patients, and to guide them towards the unity of Truth” (“The Diagnostic Gaze: Gregory of Nazianzus’ Theory of the Ideal Orthodox Priest in His Orations 6 (De Pace) and 2 (Apologia De Fuga sua),” Orthodoxie, Christianisme, Histoire, eds. S. Elm, E. Reillard and A. Romano, Rome: Ecole francaise de Rome, 2000), 95).

[17] In Oration 20, “On Theology, and the Appointment of Bishops,” Gregory assumes that the bishop will be a theologian, in the strong Eastern sense of the word. “But before one has elevated this materiality as far as possible, and has sufficiently purified one’s ears and one’s intelligence, I do not think it is safe either to accept a position of spiritual leadership or to devote oneself to theology” (Daley, Gregory, 99). 

[18] Ibid., 220. See footnote 231.

[19] Gregory on the Trinity and Knowledge of God, 104.

↑ Up