What did Gregory of Naizanzus—the original president of the Council of Constantinople 381, later given the epithet “The Theologian” and the second most quoted source after the Bible in the Byzantine empire—think of the submission of the Son to the Father? In Oration 30 (the Fourth Theological Oration), Gregory’s second oration on the Son given in Constantinople during the summer of 380 before he was made Bishop of the city by Theodsius, Gregory responds to various Scriptural objections raised by the Eunomians. To be honest, it’s not his most exciting oration as it is mostly concerned with quick answers to Eunomian objections, but it provides a good window into the kinds of exegetical arguments Gregory makes. Here is the Greek which is taken from Patralogia Graeca 36 and an English translation from Browne and Swallow’s translation in the Nicene, Post-Nicene Fathers series 2 volume 7. These are not the most up-to-date sources, but they are public domain. If able, the reader should consult Sources Chrétiennes volume 250 (Grégoire de Naizanze: Discours 27–31 [Discours Théologiques]) pages 232–238 and the English translation by Lionel Wickham in St. Gregory of Nazianzus: On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two letters to Cledonius (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002).

ΛΟΓΟΣ ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΚΟΣ ΤΕΤΑΡΤΟΣ ΠΕΡΙ ΥΙΟΥ (De filio [PG 36, 108–112]) Oration 30.5–6 (Gregory Nazianzen. [1894]. Select Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen. In P. Schaff & H. Wace [Eds.], C. G. Browne & J. E. Swallow [Trans.], S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen [Vol. 7, pp. 311–312]. New York: Christian Literature Company).
5 Τούτῳ σύναπτε καὶ τὴν ὑποταγήν, ἣν ὑποτάσσεις τῷ πατρὶ τὸν υἱόν. τί, λέγεις, ὡς νῦν οὐχ ὑποτεταγμένου; δεῖται δὲ ὅλως ὑπο ταγῆναι θεῷ θεὸς ὤν; ὡς περὶ λῃστοῦ τινός, ἢ ἀντιθέου, ποιῇ τὸν λόγον. ἀλλ’ οὕτω σκόπει· ὅτι ὥσπερ κατάρα ἤκουσε δι’ ἐμὲ ὁ τὴν ἐμὴν λύων κατάραν· καὶ ἁμαρτία ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου· καὶ Ἀδὰμ ἀντὶ τοῦ παλαιοῦ γίνεται νέος· οὕτω καὶ τὸ ἐμὸν ἀνυπό τακτον ἑαυτοῦ ποιεῖται, ὡς κεφαλὴ τοῦ παντὸς σώματος. ἕως μὲν οὖν ἀνυπότακτος ἐγὼ καὶ στασιώδης, τῇ τε ἀρνήσει τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοῖς πάθεσιν, ἀνυπότακτος τὸ κατ’ ἐμὲ καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς λέγεται. ὅταν δὲ ὑποταγῇ αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, –ὑποταγήσεται δὲ καὶ τῇ ἐπι γνώσει καὶ τῇ μεταποιήσει, –τότε καὶ αὐτὸς τὴν ὑποταγὴν πεπλή ρωκε, προσάγων ἐμὲ τὸν σεσωσμένον. τοῦτο γὰρ ἡ ὑποταγὴ Χριστοῦ, κατά γε τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον, ἡ τοῦ πατρικοῦ θελήματος πλήρωσις. ὑποτάσσει δὲ καὶ υἱὸς πατρί, καὶ υἱῷ πατήρ· ὁ μὲν ἐνεργῶν, ὁ δὲ εὐδοκῶν, ὃ καὶ πρότερον εἴπομεν. καὶ οὕτω τὸ ὑποτεταγμένον ὁ ὑποτάξας θεῷ παρίστησιν, ἑαυτοῦ ποιούμενος τὸ ἡμέτερον.

τοιοῦτον εἶναί μοι φαίνεται καὶ τό· Ὁ θεός, ὁ θεός μου, πρόσχες μοι, ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές με; οὐ γὰρ αὐτὸς ἐγκαταλέλειπται, ἢ ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός, ἢ ὑπὸ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ θεότητος, ὃ δοκεῖ τισίν, ὡς ἂν φοβουμένης τὸ πάθος, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο συστελλομένης ἀπὸ τοῦ πάσχοντος. τίς γὰρ ἢ γεννηθῆναι κάτω τὴν ἀρχήν, ἢ ἐπὶ τὸν σταυρὸν ἀνελθεῖν ἠνάγκασεν; ἐν ἑαυτῷ δέ, ὅπερ εἶπον, τυποῖ τὸ ἡμέτερον. ἡμεῖς γὰρ ἦμεν οἱ ἐγκαταλελειμμένοι καὶ παρεωραμένοι πρότερον, εἶτα νῦν προσειλημμένοι καὶ σεσωσμένοι τοῖς τοῦ ἀπαθοῦς πάθεσιν· ὥσπερ καὶ τὴν ἀφροσύνην ἡμῶν καὶ τὸ πλημμελὲς οἰκειούμενος τὰ ἑξῆς διὰ τοῦ ψαλμοῦ φησίν· ἐπειδὴ προδήλως εἰς Χριστὸν ὁ εἰκοστὸς πρῶτος ψαλμὸς ἀναφέρεται.

6 Τῆς δὲ αὐτῆς ἔχεται θεωρίας καὶ τὸ μαθεῖν αὐτὸν τὴν ὑπακοὴν ἐξ ὧν ἔπαθεν, ἥ τε κραυγή, καὶ τὰ δάκρυα, καὶ τὸ ἱκετεῦσαι, καὶ τὸ εἰσακουσθῆναι, καὶ τὸ εὐλαβές. ἃ δραματουργεῖται καὶ πλέκεται θαυμασίως ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν. ὡς μὲν γὰρ λόγος, οὔτε ὑπήκοος ἦν, οὔτε ἀνήκοος. τῶν γὰρ ὑπὸ χεῖρα ταῦτα, καὶ τῶν δευτέρων, τὸ μὲν τῶν εὐγνωμονεστέρων, τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀξίων κολάσεως. ὡς δὲ δούλου μορφή, συγκαταβαίνει τοῖς ὁμοδούλοις καὶ δούλοις, καὶ μορφοῦται τὸ ἀλλότριον, ὅλον ἐν ἑαυτῷ ἐμὲ φέρων μετὰ τῶν ἐμῶν, ἵνα ἐν ἑαυτῷ δαπανήσῃ τὸ χεῖρον, ὡς κηρὸν πῦρ, ἢ ὡς ἀτμίδα γῆς ἥλιος, κἀγὼ μεταλάβω τῶν ἐκείνου διὰ τὴν σύγκρασιν. διὰ τοῦτο ἔργῳ τιμᾷ τὴν ὑπακοήν, καὶ πειρᾶται ταύτης ἐκ τοῦ παθεῖν. οὐ γὰρ ἱκανὸν ἡ διάθεσις, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἡμῖν, εἰ μὴ καὶ διὰ τῶν πραγμάτων χωρήσαι μεν. ἔργον γὰρ ἀπόδειξις διαθέσεως. οὐ χεῖρον δὲ ἴσως κἀκεῖνο ὑπολαβεῖν, ὅτι δοκιμάζει τὴν ἡμετέραν ὑπακοήν, καὶ πάντα μετρεῖ τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ πάθεσι τέχνῃ φιλανθρωπίας, ὥστε ἔχειν εἰδέναι τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ τὰ ἡμέτερα, καὶ πόσον μὲν ἀπαιτούμεθα, πόσον δὲ συγχω ρούμεθα, λογιζομένης μετὰ τοῦ πάσχειν καὶ τῆς ἀσθενείας. εἰ γὰρ τὸ φῶς ἐδιώχθη διὰ τὸ πρόβλημα, φαῖνον ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, τῷ βίῳ τούτῳ, ὑπὸ τῆς ἄλλης σκοτίας, τοῦ πονηροῦ λέγω καὶ τοῦ πει ραστοῦ, τὸ σκότος πόσον, ὡς ἀσθενέστερον; καὶ τί θαυμαστόν, εἰ ἐκείνου διαφυγόντος παντάπασιν ἡμεῖς ποσῶς καὶ καταληφθείη μεν; μεῖζον γὰρ ἐκείνῳ τὸ διωχθῆναι, ἤπερ ἡμῖν τὸ καταληφθῆναι, παρὰ τοῖς ὀρθῶς ταῦτα λογιζομένοις. ἔτι δὲ προσθήσω τοῖς εἰρη μένοις ἐκεῖνο, ἐνθυμηθεὶς τό· Ἐν ᾧ γὰρ πέπονθεν αὐτὸς πειρα σθείς, δύναται τοῖς πειραζομένοις βοηθῆσαι, σαφῶς πρὸς τὴν αὐτὴν φέρον διάνοιαν. ἔσται δὲ ὁ θεὸς τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς ἀποκαταστάσεως· οὐχ ὁ πατήρ, πάντως εἰς αὐτὸν ἀναλυθέντος τοῦ υἱοῦ, ὥσπερ εἰς πυρὰν μεγάλην λαμπάδος πρὸς καιρὸν ἀποσπασθείσης, εἶτα συναφθείσης, –μηδὲ γὰρ Σαβέλλιοι τῷ ῥητῷ τούτῳ παραφθειρέσθωσαν, –ἀλλ’ ὅλος θεός, ὅταν μηκέτι πολλὰ ὦμεν, ὥσπερ νῦν τοῖς κινήμασι καὶ τοῖς πάθεσιν, οὐδὲν ὅλως θεοῦ, ἢ ὀλίγον, ἐν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς φέροντες, ἀλλ’ ὅλοι θεοειδεῖς, ὅλου θεοῦ χωρητικοὶ καὶ μόνου. τοῦτο γὰρ ἡ τελείωσις, πρὸς ἣν σπεύδομεν· τεκμηριοῖ δὲ μάλιστα Παῦλος αὐτός. ὃ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα περὶ θεοῦ φησὶν ἀορίστως, ἀλλαχοῦ σαφῶς περιορίζει Χριστῷ. τί λέγων; Ὅπου οὐκ ἔνι Ἕλλην, οὐδὲ Ἰουδαῖος, περιτομὴ καὶἀκροβυστία, βάρβαρος, Σκύθης, δοῦλος, ἐλεύθερος· ἀλλὰ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἐν πᾶσι Χριστός.

V. Take, in the next place, the subjection by which you subject the Son to the Father. What, you say, is He not now subject, or must He, if He is God, be subject to God? You are fashioning your argument as if it concerned some robber, or some hostile deity. But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God. For this, according to my view, is the subjection of Christ; namely, the fulfilling of the Father’s Will. But as the Son subjects all to the Father, so does the Father to the Son; the One by His Work, the Other by His good pleasure, as we have already said. And thus He Who subjects presents to God that which he has subjected, making our condition His own.

Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His Sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?) But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ.

VI. The same consideration applies to another passage, “He learnt obedience by the things which He suffered,” and to His “strong crying and tears,” and His “Entreaties,” and His “being heard,” and His “Reverence,” all of which He wonderfully wrought out, like a drama whose plot was devised on our behalf. For in His character of the Word He was neither obedient nor disobedient. For such expressions belong to servants, and inferiors, and the one applies to the better sort of them, while the other belongs to those who deserve punishment. But, in the character of the Form of a Servant, He condescends to His fellow servants, nay, to His servants, and takes upon Him a strange form, bearing all me and mine in Himself, that in Himself He may exhaust the bad, as fire does wax, or as the sun does the mists of earth; and that I may partake of His nature by the blending. Thus He honours obedience by His action, and proves it experimentally by His Passion. For to possess the disposition is not enough, just as it would not be enough for us, unless we also proved it by our acts; for action is the proof of disposition.

And perhaps it would not be wrong to assume this also, that by the art of His love for man He gauges our obedience, and measures all by comparison with His own Sufferings, so that He may know our condition by His own, and how much is demanded of us, and how much we yield, taking into the account, along with our environment, our weakness also. For if the Light shining through the veil upon the darkness, that is upon this life, was persecuted by the other darkness (I mean, the Evil   [p 312]  One and the Tempter), how much more will the darkness be persecuted, as being weaker than it? And what marvel is it, that though He entirely escaped, we have been, at any rate in part, overtaken? For it is a more wonderful thing that He should have been chased than that we should have been captured;—at least to the minds of all who reason aright on the subject. I will add yet another passage to those I have mentioned, because I think that it clearly tends to the same sense. I mean “In that He hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.” But God will be all in all in the time of restitution; not in the sense that the Father alone will Be; and the Son be wholly resolved into Him, like a torch into a great pyre, from which it was reft away for a little space, and then put back (for I would not have even the Sabellians injured by such an expression); but the entire Godhead when we shall be no longer divided (as we now are by movements and passions), and containing nothing at all of God, or very little, but shall be entirely like.

I want to make three brief observations about this passage.

First, Gregory reads the activities of Christ in the economy of salvation  in terms of their soteriological import, namely Christ as our representative. Why was the Son submissive? Because we were not submissive, so he was submissive on our behalf and presents that submission to the Father. Gregory makes very clear that he doesn’t think the acts of submission are to be read back into the life of the Trinity: “For in His character of the Word He was neither obedient nor disobedient. For such expressions belong to servants, and inferiors, and the one applies to the better sort of them, while the other belongs to those who deserve punishment.”

Secondly, along these same lines, it seems that Gregory views all the acts of the Son in the economy of salvation as acts of the same kind. So, being submissive is the same as, for example, when he is called “cursed” or “sin.” As he says, “But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body.” So, in as much as one would not read “curse” or “sin” back into the divine life, so too one must not read—on Gregory’s account—acts of submission back into the divine life. These are all, connected to my first point, soteriological acts. As Gregory says elsewhere, these acts demonstrate the divine love for humankind—φιλανθρωπία (philanthrōpia) (see Oration 38.13–15). The answer to the question “Why is Christ submissive” is never “because it is a peculiar feature of his nature [or even hypostasis] to be submissive”. It is always because “God so loved the world…”

Thirdly, Gregory interprets the possibility of future submission of the Son to God the Father in terms of Paul’s statement in terms of Colossians 3:11, though the Browne and Swallow translation is wholly inadequate at this point as it doesn’t even attempt to render what is clearly in the Greek. Here is Wickham’s translation: “What he [Paul] predicates of ‘God’ without further specification in this passage [1 Corinthians 15:28], he elsewhere assigns clearly to Christ. I quote: ‘Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all in all.'” (Wickham, On God and Christ, 98). That is, Gregory reads 1 Corinthians 15:28 in light of Colossians 3:11. He seems to think that there would be a contradiction between the passages unless they are read with the same subject. In 1 Corinthians 15:28, the subject is “God” unqualified, but in Colossians 3:11, Christ is specified as the one who will be all in all. So, Gregory concludes, this cannot mean that in the future the Son will be submissive to the Father, but that all will be all in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (NB: this is why it is good to 1) know Greek and 2) read up-to-date translations!)

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2 thoughts on “Gregory of Nazianzus on the Submission of the Son

  1. “Gregory makes very clear that he doesn’t think the acts of submission are to be read back into the life of the Trinity”

    You are absolutely right. I am glad to hear the orthodox perspective being treated in the United States.

    There is a distinction here by Gregory of Nazianzus between the economy of the Trinity, as actions transmitted to the world for soteriological purposes, and the life of the Trinity as it is, as it exists eternally.

    Thank you,
    Ioannis Sarigiannidis

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