I have posted an English translation of Gregory of Nazianzus’s Oration 38 – On the Theophany from the Nicene Post-Nicene Series. It works (and it’s public domain), but I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of either Brian Daley‘s or Nonna Verna Harrison‘s translation.
I would hazard a guess that for majority of English speakers who have heard of Gregory have heard of him only for his Theological Orations (Orations 27–31). While these are important, I have come to appreciate his so-called festal orations maybe even more, especially Oration 38. Indeed, as I worked through this Oration for my research, I began to see how in many ways Gregory recapitulates his arguments from the Theological Orations in the form of a panegyric (a speech given at a festival celebrating someone or something). It is truly remarkable how Gregory is able to articulate the same ideas in very(!) different styles.
I outline the oration in the following way:
- §1–6: Introduction (Προοίμιον)
- Here Gregory introduces his oration. Two key features of this long introduction are 1) the paradoxical nature of the incarnation, i.e., the coming together of the heavenly and earthly realms, and that for our salvation and 2) the supriority of Christian festivals over Greek festivals.
- §7–16: Narration (Διήγησις)
- §7–8: Birth (Γένος)
- A panegyric usually includes some account of lineage to demonstrate either that they came from good stock or that, despite humble beginnings, the individual accomplished much (rhetoricians can spin anything). Since Gregory thinks Jesus doesn’t have a lineage like the Greek gods he begins with a discussion on the infinite transcendent divine nature (again, remember the paradox set out in the introduction).
- §9–13: Acts (Πράξις)
- A panegyric usually focuses on the acts of the individual which demonstrate their virtue. Here Gregory takes his time describing the goodness of God in not only creating a spiritual realm (which is similar to God), but also of creating a material realm (which is other than God). Above all, God crowned creation by mixing together these two realms in humanity. Even though humanity fell, God, like a good doctor, tried every remedy possible until at last the greatest wonder of all by which we are saved: God became incarnate. “O new mixture, O paradoxical fusion!”
- §14–16: Comparison (Σύγκρισις)
- After a rousing virtuoso climax in §13, Gregory turns to answer objections—principally Eunomian objections I think—to the idea that God became incarnate. This might not properly be called a comparison, but I think he is in some ways comparing his view of God incarnate with that of those who deny it.
- §7–8: Birth (Γένος)
- §17–18: Conclusion (Ἐπίλογος)
- Here Gregory finally gets to an actual description of the birth of Christ and calls us, as is common in a panegyric to virtuous imitation.