St. Gregory The Theologian And The Incarnation

St. Gregory The Theologian And The Incarnation October 3, 2023

PawełS: St. Gregory The Theologian Statue Basilica, Dobre Miasto, Poland / Wikimedia Commons

The incarnation reveals to us new ways to understand and deal with the world. God became human for many reasons, among which, was to teach us, not through divine commands and condemnations, but by example. It is easy to be judgmental and claim that we are loving sinners by trying to have them stop sinning. Even if that were the case, which it often is not, most who hear such condemnation shrug it off and ignore it. Others will actively resist it, and as an act of defiance, will actively embrace doing what they are told not to do. Thus, those who go around judging others, instead of following the example of God in the incarnation, make things worse, not better. St. Gregory the Theologian learned the truth of this, and after doing so, told Palladius the same thing:

This is a new style of correction: since I didn’t restrain my tongue with quietude when I was speaking, I have learned to keep silent, training like with like. This is also Christ’s law [cf. Rom 3:20; 28; Gal 2:16] since he does not purify us by issuing laws, he tames the human being with humanity according to the great beneficence of his ministration for us.[1]

God became human, that is, a part of creation, to take on the burden of humanity, and with it, the burden of sin. He joined himself in solidarity with sinners, embracing them with love, so that he could take on the consequences of sin upon himself, and in this way, purify humanity. Jesus gave us the example of how we should deal with sin. Love, not judgment and condemnation, especially judgment and condemnation based upon some sort of legalistic demand, is what brings people around. Humanity is “tamed” or purified through God’s love. The greatness of that love is manifested in God’s kenotic embrace of humility, where God became one of us, living and engaging us as one of us, using a human voice instead of embracing divine authority and using it to issue commands. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, the eschaton became immanent instead of staying dualistic apart from temporal existence. In that humility, the Word often engaged silence, and so, as St Gregory learned, it is often best to embrace silence and help people through action, through love, than it is to embrace the tongue and let issue forth its condemnations.

Of course, St. Gregory was not saying no words should ever be used; after all, he wrote his letter to Palladius with words. What he learned, and what we should learn, is that words are to be used sparingly, and they must be said in compassion, with love. They must resonate with the actions of the one who speaks, and they must clearly show the compassionate love which inspires them; without such a basis, they will not be effective. Christ’s love for others, healing them, taking care of them and their needs, being with them even when others thought he should not be, was felt by those who listened to him. This is why they found his words to be credible. “The agreeable person is also compassionate; the compassionate is also genuine; the genuine is also reliable in counsel.” [2]  While Jesus preaching included words which warned against great evils, evils which needed to be corrected, he did not do so legalistically, creating, as it were, more laws to follow, thinking through such declarations, through the creation of more laws, people would be led away from sin. Jesus promoted freedom through grace, not dominance through laws. In him, it can be said, was the justice which others needed, and so it was by joining with him, such as through baptism, we come to have that justice ourselves; it is not something which we can attain all by ourselves, which is a necessary precondition for legalism to be valid. And so, he opened himself up in solidarity with creation, showing us the way of true justice:

The unique Just Man, who was of himself personally perfected and needed no “right of justice” in society, was one who was God before he became man. In him was all righteousness and justice, but we can lay hold of his righteousness not as individuals but only collectively, with the whole universe. Without this solidarity the human principle cannot hold its own and keep its independence in the face of surrounding “nature,” and the divinization of mankind becomes impossible. Only man as a collective body can avoid being swamped by the life of nature, can  oppose it, and turn himself towards God, and for the renewal of mankind Christianity has to penetrate it in both its personal and social aspects, the bond between God and man has to be individual and collective. [3]

The transformation of the world through Christianity, the deification of the world by grace, is not attainable by legalism, by trying to create more and more laws to follow. Such thinking will only make things much more difficult for everyone. It is not, of course, some sort of antinomianism, thinking that evil, being nothing, will merely die off on its own, and so there is nothing we should do. It is the way of love, where Christians are to follow the example of Christ, reaching out to others in solidarity, sharing love and compassion, so that the grace they have can be shared with others, so that through such grace, others will be freed to develop the good they have within them. This means, as Gregory understood, we will often have to silence ourselves if our words would otherwise go against the spirit of love. It might not be easy, and even when we recognize this, we will likely find ourselves falling for bad habits and not doing as we know we should, but it is the way we have been shown by Christ himself, and what we must struggle to attain if we want to be like Christ.

[1] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nazianzus’s Letter Collection. Trans. Bradley K. Storin (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019),79  [To Palladius, Ep. 110].

[2] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nazianzus’s Letter Collection, 85 [To Eudocius, Ep. 216].

[3] Vladimir Solovyey, God, Man & The Church. The Spiritual Foundations Of Life. Trans. Donald Attwater (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2016), 108.



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