Yesterday, Aug. 22, the Holy Father continued his reflection on Gregory Nazianzen. Here’s the Zenit translation:
During the last reflection on the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church of this catechesis, I spoke about St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishop of the fourth century, and today I would like to continue with the portrait of this great teacher. Today we will summarize some of his teachings.
Reflecting on the mission that God had confided in him, St. Gregory Nazianzen concludes: “I have been created to ascend to God with my actions” (Oratio, 14,6 “De Pauperum Amore”: PG 35,865). In fact, he put his talent as a writer and orator at the service of God and the Church. He wrote numerous discourses, homilies and panegyrics, many letters and poetic works (nearly 18,000 verses!): a truly prodigious level of activity.
He understood what the mission was that God had confided in him: “Servant of the word, I adhere to the ministry of the word, which never allows me to neglect this good. I appreciate and enjoy this vocation, it gives me more joy than everything else” (Oratio 6,5: SC 405,134; cf. Oratio 4,10).
The Nazianzen was a meek man, and in his life he always worked to promote peace in the Church of his time, torn by discord and heresy. With evangelical audacity he endeavored to overcome his shyness to proclaim the truth of the faith. He deeply felt the desire to draw near to God, to unite himself to him. He expresses this in his poetry, in which he writes: “great waves of the ocean of life, tossed here and there by the impetuous winds … there was only one thing that I wanted, my only treasure, consolation and oblivion of weariness, the light of the Holy Trinity” (“Carmina [historical]” 2,1,15: PG 37, 1250ss.)
Gregory made the light of the Trinity glow, defending the faith proclaimed in the Council of Nicea: one God in three equal and distinct Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — “triple light that unites in one single splendor” (“Himno vespertino: Carmina [histórica]” 2,1,32: PG 37,512). In this way, Gregory, following St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:6), affirms: “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are; one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit, in whom all things are” (Oratio 39, 12: SC 358,172).
Gregory brings Christ’s full humanity to the forefront: To redeem man in his totality of body, soul and spirit, Christ assumed all the components of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved.
Against the heresy of Apollinaris, who assured that Jesus Christ had not assumed a rational soul, Gregory confronts the problem in the light of the mystery of salvation: “What had not been assumed had not been cured” (Epistle 101, 32: SC 208,50), and if Christ had not had a “rational intellect, how could he have been a man?”
Precisely our intellect, our reason, was in need of a relationship, an encounter with God in Christ. Upon becoming man, Christ gave us the possibility to become like him. The Nazianzen exhorts: “We try to be like Christ, well Christ also made himself like us; to be like gods through him, well he made himself man for us. He carried the worst to give us the best” (Oratio 1,5: SC 247,78).
Mary, who gave human nature to Christ, is truly the Mother of God (“Theotókos”: cf. Epistle 101, 16: SC 208,42), and with a view to her lofty mission was “prepurified” (Oratio 38,13: SC 358,132, presenting a type of distant prelude to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). He proposes Mary as a model for Christians, above all for virgins, and as an aid that should be invoked in need (cf. Oratio 24, 11: SC 282,60-64).
Gregory reminds us that, as human persons, we need to be in solidarity with one another. He writes: “‘We, though many, are one body in Christ.’ (cf. Romans 12:5), rich and poor, slaves and freemen, healthy and sick; and there is one head from which everything originates: Jesus Christ. And as happens with the members of a single body, each one takes care of each one, and everybody of everybody.”
Later, referring to the sick and those suffering hardship, he concludes: “This is the only salvation for our flesh and our soul: Charity toward others” (Oratio 14,8 “De Pauperum Amore”: PG 35,868ab).
Gregory underlines that man must imitate the goodness and love of God, and for that he recommends: “If you are healthy and rich, alleviate the need of the one who is sick and poor; if you have not fallen, help the one who has fallen and lives in suffering; if you are happy, console the one who is sad; if you are fortunate, help the one who has been bitten by misfortune.
“Show God your gratitude, for you are one that can do good, and not the one that has to be helped. … Don’t be merely rich in wealth, but also in piety; not only in gold, but also in virtue, or better yet, only in this. Surpass the fame of your neighbor by being better than everybody; be God for the unfortunate, imitating the mercy of God” (Oratio 14, 26 “De Pauperum Amore”: PG 35,892bc).
Gregory teaches us, before all, the importance and necessity of prayer. He affirms that “it is necessary to remind oneself of God more frequently than one breathes” (Oratio 27,4: PG 250,78), since prayer is the encounter of the thirst of God with our thirst. God thirsts that we thirst for him (cf. Oratio 40,27: SC 358,260).
In prayer, we have to direct our heart to God to surrender ourselves to him as an offering that should be purified and transformed. In prayer, we see everything in the light of Christ, we let down our guard and we submerge ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, nurturing the fire of our love.
In a poem, that at the same time is a meditation on the meaning of life and an implicit supplication to God, Gregory writes: “My soul, you have a task — if you want — a great task. Thoughtfully scrutinize your interior, your being, your destiny; where do you come from and where are you going, try to know if it is life that you live, or if it is something more.
“My soul, you have a task then, purify your life: Consider, please, God and his mysteries, investigate what you were before this universe, and what it is for you, where you came from and what will be your destiny. This is your task then, dear soul, purify your life” (“Carmina [historical] 2,” 1,78: PG 37,1425-1426).
The holy bishop continually asks Christ for help to raise himself up and to begin again: “I have been disappointed, dear Christ, by my considerable presumption: From the heights I have fallen very low. But, I raise myself up again now, because I see that I have deceived myself; if I rely on myself too much once more, I will immediately fall again, and the fall will be fatal” (“Carmina [historical] 2,” 1,67: PG 37,1408).
Gregory, therefore, felt the need to draw near to God to overcome the weariness of his own being. He experienced the urging of the soul, the vivacity of a sensitive spirit and the instability of fleeting happiness. For him, in the drama of a life in which the awareness of his weakness and misery weighed heavily, the experience of the love of God was always stronger.
You have a task — St. Gregory says to us as well — the task to find the true light, to find the true measure of your life. And your life consists in encountering God, who thirsts for our thirst.