Gregory Nazianzen: Baptism as a Polemic against Arianism

Church Father Friday is the ongoing curation of Patristic texts. These short selections from church history remind us of where we’ve been, and what God has done throughout history for the Church. I pray these excerpts are a blessing to you.

 

Gregory Nazianzen is arguably one of the most overlooked theologians by Western Christianity. Gregory’s influence in Trinitarian theology cannot be understated, after all, he was the first to declare that the Holy Spirit was consubstantial with the Father. He famously asked “What then? Is the Spirit God? Most certainly. Well then, is He Consubstantial? Yes, if He is God” (1). His theological genius resulted in him being given the moniker “The Theologian” by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The only other person given the same honor at the council was the apostle John (whom they called the Evangelist). Gregory’s works should be neither forgotten nor ignored. For today’s Church Father Friday, we are going to look at the conclusion to Gregory’s Oration Against the Arians, Or. 33.12, and how he used baptism as both a confirmation and profession of the Trinity.

AGAINST THE ARIANS

Gregory was no stranger to Arian heretics before and during his short tenure in Constantinople. Around the year 380 AD, he wrote the Oration Against the Arians (Oration 33) to denounce both Arian theology and the violent suppression of orthodoxy. Gregory charges the Arians  “When have I put a stop to psalmody with trumpets? Or mingled the sacramental blood with the blood of massacre?… What house of prayer have I made a burial place?” (2). This theological argument had been raging for more than 50 years at this point, and the battle lines were literally drawn in the City of Constantinople.

Gregory fought hard to proclaim the Trinity and bring about restoration in the church. In the close of oration 33, our focus for today, he said “the Father will not endure to be deprived of the Son, nor the Son of the Holy Ghost Yet that must happen if They are confined to time, and are created Beings, for that which is created is not God” (3) This was a common argument in the early church, anything created is by nature lower than God. And if the Son was a created being, or the Spirit an impersonal force created by divine action, then God’s immutability and very essence are undone. The Father cannot be separated from the Son, because if the Father had to gain the attribute of “Fatherhood” then He is changeable and not God (4).

But here is where Gregory’s argument gets interesting. He points to the baptismal formula of being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a key reason for all orthodox believers to denounce Arianism:

Neither will I bear to be deprived of my consecration; One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. If this be canceled, from whom shall I get a second? What say you, you who destroy Baptism or repeat it? Can a man be spiritual without the Spirit? Has he a share in the Spirit who does not honor the Spirit? Can he honor Him who is baptized into a creature and a fellow-servant? It is not so; it is not so; for all your talk. I will not play You false, O Unoriginate Father, or You O Only-begotten Word, or You O Holy Ghost. I know Whom I have confessed, and whom I have renounced, and to Whom I have joined myself. I will not allow myself, after having been taught the words of the faithful, to learn also those of the unfaithfulGregory Nazianzen (5)

To Gregory, denying the Trinity undermines the visible sign and seal of the faith, baptism. Assaulting the Trinity, for Gregory, wasn’t a mere theological disagreement confined to the realm of Theology Proper, it was an open attack on the Blessed Sacrament that he clung to as a child of God, and the Christian faith as a whole. If one holds to Arianism, they couldn’t trust in their baptism and therefore could not be truly united with the Lord.

In the closing of this Oration Gregory urges the audience to remember their baptism. He longed for them to see how it was handed down to them in the Scriptures, and that they would think about the command to have it done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Remember your confession. Into what were you baptized? The Father? Good, but still Jewish. The Son? Good, but not yet perfect. The Holy Ghost? Very good, this is perfect” (6). Baptism is vital in the Christian life and false doctrines can’t stand in the light of the Truth.

 

Oration 33 full text – https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310233.htm

 

Bibliography

1 – Gregory Nazianzen Or. 31.10

2 – Gregory Nazianzen Or. 33.3

3 – Gregory Nazianzen Or. 33.12

4 – If ever there was a time when the Father was not, then there was a time when the Son was not. If ever there was a time when the Son was not, then there was a time when the Spirit was not. If the One was from the beginning, then the Three were so too. If you throw down the One, I am bold to assert that you do not set up the other Two. For what profit is there in an imperfect Godhead? Gregory Nazianzen, Or 31.4

5 – Gregory Nazianzen Or. 33.12

6 – Ibid

 

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