Gregory Nazianzen – Oration 37

On the Words of the Gospel, “When had Jesus finisished these sayings,” etc Matt 19:1

I. Jesus Who Chose The Fishermen, Himself also useth a net, and changeth place for place. Why? Not only that He may gain more of those who love God by His visitation; but also, as it seems to me, that He may hallow more places. To the Jews He becomes as a Jew that He may gain the Jews; to them that are under the Law as under the Law, that He may redeem them that are under the Law; to the weak as weak, that He may save the weak. He is made all things to all men that He may gain all. Why do I say, All things to all men? For even that which Paul could not endure to say of himself I find that the Savior suffered. For He is made not only a Jew, and not only doth He take to Himself all monstrous and vile names, but even that which is most monstrous of all, even very sin and very curse; not that He it such, but He is called so. For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law? But it is in order that He may carry His display of humility even to this extent, and form us to that humility which is the producer of exaltation. As I said then, He is made a Fisherman; He condescendeth to all; He casteth the net; He endureth all things, that He may draw up the fish from the depths, that is, Man who is swimming in the unsettled and bitter waves of life.

II. Therefore now also, when He had finished these sayings He departed from Galilee and came into the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan; He dwelleth well in Galilee, in order that the people which sat in darkness may see great Light. He removeth to Judea in order that He may persuade people to rise up from the Letter and to follow the Spirit. He teacheth, now on a mountain; now He discourseth on a plain; now He passeth over into a ship; now He rebuketh the surges. And perhaps He goes to sleep, in order that He may bless sleep also; perhaps He is tired that He may hallow weariness also; perhaps He weeps that He may make tears blessed. He removeth from place to place, Who is not contained in any place; the timeless, the bodiless, the uncircumscript, the same Who was and is; Who was both above time, and came under time, and was invisible and is seen. He was in the beginning and was with God, and was God. The word Was occurs the third time to be confirmed by number. What He was He laid aside; what He was not He assumed; not that He became two, but He deigned to be One made out of the two. For both are God, that which assumed, and that which was assumed; two Natures meeting in One, not two Sons (let us not give a false account of the blending). He who is such and so great — but what has befallen me? I have fallen into human language. For how can So Great be said of the Absolute, and how can That which is without quantity be called Such? But pardon the word, for I am speaking of the greatest things with a limited instrument. And That great and long-suffering and formless and bodiless Nature will endure this, namely, my words as if of a body, and weaker than the truth. For if He condescended to Flesh, He will also endure such language.

III. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there, where the multitude was greater. If He had abode upon His own eminence, if He had not condescended to infirmity, if He had remained what He was, keeping Himself unapproachable and incomprehensible, a few perhaps would have followed Him — perhaps not even a few, possibly only Moses — and He only so far as to see with difficulty the Back Parts of God. For He penetrated the cloud, either being placed outside the weight of the body or being withdrawn from his senses; for how could he have gazed upon the subtlety, or the incorporeity, or I know not how one should call it, of God, being incorporate and using material eyes? But inasmuch as He strips Himself for us, inasmuch as He comes down (and I speak of an exinanition, as it were, a laying aside and a diminution of His glory), He becomes by this comprehensible,

IV. And pardon me meanwhile that I again suffer a human affection. I am filled with indignation and grief for my Christ (and would that you might sympathize with me) when I see my Christ dishonored on this account on which He most merited honor. He on this account to be dishonored, tell me, that for you He was humble? Is He therefore a Creature, because He careth for the creature? Is He therefore subject to time, because He watches over those who are subject to time Nay, He beareth all things, He endureth all things. And what marvel? He put up with blows, He bore spittings, He tasted gall for my taste. And even now He bears to be stoned, not only by those who deal despite-fully with Him, but also by ourselves who seem to reverence Him. For to use corporeal names when discoursing of the incorporeal is perhaps the part of those who deal despitefully and stone Him; but pardon, I say again to our infirmity, for I do not willingly stone Him; but having no other words to use, we use what we have. Thou art called the Word, and Thou art above Word; Thou art above Light, yet art named Light; Thou art called Fire not as perceptible to sense, but because Thou purgest light and worthless matter; a Sword, because Thou severest the worse from the better; a Fan, because Thou purgest the threshing-floor, and blowest away all that is light and windy, and layest up in the garner above all that is weighty and full; an Axe, because Thou cuttest down the worthless fig-tree, after long patience, because Thou cuttest away the roots of wickedness; the Door, because Thou bringest in; the Way, because we go straight; the Sheep, because Thou art the Sacrifice; the High Priest, because Thou offerest the Body the Son, because Thou art of the Father. Again I stir men’s tongues; again some men rave against Christ, or rather against me, who have been deemed worthy to be a herald of the Word. I am like John, The Voice of one crying in the wilderness — a wilderness that once was dry, but now is only too populous.

V. But, as I was saying, to return to my argument; for this reason great multitudes followed Him, because He condescended to our infirmities. What next? The Pharisees also, it says, came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Again the Pharisees tempt Him; again they who read the Law do not know the Law; again they who are expounders of the Law need others to teach them. It was not enough that Sadducees should tempt Him concerning the Resurrection, and Lawyers question Him about perfection, and the Herodians about the poll-tax, and others about authority; but some one must also ask about Marriage at Him who cannot be tempted, the Creator of wedlock, Him who from the First Cause made this whole race of mankind. And He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female? He knoweth how to solve some of their questions and to bridle others. When He is asked, By what authority doest thou these things? He Himself, because of the utter ignorance of those who asked Him, replies with another question; The baptism of John, was it from Heaven or of men? He on both sides entangles His questioners, so that we also are able, following the example of Christ, sometimes to check those who argue with us over-officiously, and with still more absurd questions to solve the absurdity of their questions. For we too are wise in vanity at times, if I may boast of the things of folly. But when He sees a question that calls for reasoning, then He does not deem His questioners unworthy of prudent answers.

VI. The question which you have put seems to me to do honor to chastity, and to demand a kind reply. Chastity, in respect of which I see that the majority of men are ill-disposed, and that their laws are unequal and irregular. For what was the reason why they restrained the woman, but indulged the man, and that a woman who practices evil against her husband’s bed is an adulteress, and the penalties of the law for this are very severe; but if the husband commits fornication against his wife, he has no account to give? I do not accept this legislation; I do not approve this custom. They who made the Law were men, and therefore their legislation is hard on women, since they have placed children also under the authority of their fathers, while leaving the weaker sex uncared for. God doth not so; but saith Honor thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee; and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. Similarly He gave honor to good and punishment to evil. And, The blessing of a father strengtheneth the houses of children, but the curse of a mother uprooteth the foundations. See the equality of the legislation. There is one Maker of man and woman; one debt is owed by children to both their parents.

VII. How then dost thou demand Chastity, while thou dost not thyself observe it? How dost thou demand that which thou dost not give? How, though thou art equally a body, dost thou legislate unequally? If thou enquire into the worse — The Woman Sinned, and so did Adam. The serpent deceived them both; and one was not found to be the stronger and the other the weaker. But dost thou consider the better? Christ saves both by His Passion. Was He made flesh for the Man? So He was also for the woman. Did He die for the Man? The Woman also is saved by His death. He is called of the seed of David; and so perhaps you think the Man is honored; but He is born of a Virgin, and this is on the Woman’s side. They two, He says, shall be one Flesh; so let the one flesh have equal honor.” And Paul legislates for chastity by His example. How, and in what way? This Sacrament is great, he says, But I speak concerning Christ and the Church. It is well for the wife to reverence Christ through her husband: and it is well for the husband not to dishonor the Church through his wife. Let the wife, he says, see that she reverence her husband, for so she does Christ; but also he bids the husband cherish his wife, for so Christ does the Church. Let us, then, give further consideration to this saying.

VIII. Churn milk and it will be butter; examine this and perhaps you may find something more nourishing in it. For I think that the Word here seems to deprecate second marriage. For, if there were two Christs, there may be two husbands or two wives; but if Christ is One, one Head of the Church, let there be also one flesh, and let a second be rejected; and if it hinder the second what is to be said for a third? The first is law, the second is indulgence, the third is transgression, and anything beyond this is swinish, such as has not even many examples of its wickedness. Now the Law grants divorce for every cause; but Christ not for every cause; but He allows only separation from the whore; and in all other things He commands patience. He allows to put away the fornicatress, because she corrupts the offspring; but in all other matters let us be patient and endure; or rather be ye enduring and patient, as many as have received the yoke of matrimony. If you see lines or marks upon her, take away her ornaments; if a hasty tongue, restrain it; if a meretricious laugh, make it modest; if immoderate expenditure or drink, reduce it; if unseasonable going out, shackle it; if a lofty eye, chastise it. It is uncertain which is in danger, the separator or the separated. Let thy fountain of water, it says, be only thine own, and let no stranger share it with thee; and, let the colt of thy favors and the stag of thy love company with thee; do thou then take care not to be a strange river, nor to please others better than thine own wife. But if thou be carried elsewhere, then thou makest a law of lewdness for thy partner also. Thus saith the Savior.

IX. But what of the Pharisees? To them this word seems harsh. Yes, for they are also displeased at other noble words — both the older Pharisees, and the Pharisees of the present day. For it is not only race, but disposition also that makes a Pharisee. Thus also I reckon as an Assyrian or an Egyptian him who is ranged among these by his character. What then say the Pharisees? If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. Is it only now, O Pharisee, that thou understandest this, It is not good to marry? Didst thou not know it before when thou sawest widowhoods, and orphanhoods, and untimely deaths, and mourning succeeding to shouting, and funerals coming upon weddings, and childlessness, and all the comedy or tragedy that is connected with this? Either is most appropriate language. It is good to marry; I too admit it, for marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled. It is good for the temperate, not for those who are insatiable, and who desire to give more than due honor to the flesh. When marriage is only marriage and conjunction and the desire for a succession of children, marriage is honorable, for it brings into the world more to please God. But when it kindles matter, and surrounds us with thorns, and as it were discovers the way of vice, then I too say, It is not good to marry.

X. Marriage is honorable; but I cannot say that it is more lofty than virginity; for virginity were no great thing if it were not better than a good thing. Do not however be angry, ye women that are subject to the yoke. We must obey God rather than man. But be ye bound together, both virgins and wives, and be one in the Lord, and each others’ adornment. There would be no celibate if there were no marriage. For whence would the virgin have passed into this life? Marriage would not have been venerable unless it had borne virgin fruit to God and to life. Honor thou also thy mother, of whom thou wast born. Honor thou also her who is of a mother and is a mother. A mother she is not, but a Bride of Christ she is. The visible beauty is not hidden, but that which is unseen is visible to God. All the glory of the King’s Daughter is within, clothed with golden fringes, embroidered whether by actions or by contemplation. And she who is under the yoke, let her also in some degree be Christ’s; and the virgin altogether Christ’s. Let the one be not entirely chained to the world, and let the other not belong to the world at all. For that which is a part to the yoked, is to the virgin all in all. Hast thou chosen the life of Angels? Art thou ranked among the unyoked? Sink not down to the flesh; sink not down to matter; be not wedded to matter, while otherwise thou remainest unwedded. A lascivious eye guardeth not virginity; a meretricious tongue mingles with the Evil One; feet that walk disorderly accuse of disease or danger. Let the mind also be virgin; let it not rove about; let it not wander; let it not carry in itself forms of evil things (for the form is a part of harlotry); let it not make idols in its soul of hateful things.

XI.  But He said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. Do you see the sublimity of the matter? It is found to be nearly incomprehensible. For surely it is more than carnal that that which is born of flesh should not beget to the flesh. Surely it is Angelic that she who is bound to flesh should live not according to flesh, but be loftier than her nature. The flesh bound her to the world, but reason led her up to God. The flesh weighed her down, but reason gave her wings; the flesh bound her, but desire loosed her. With thy whole soul, O Virgin, be intent upon God (I give this same injunction to men and to women); and do not take the same view in other respects of what is honorable as the mass of men do; of family, of wealth, of throne, of dynasty, of that beauty which shews itself in complexion and composition of members, the plaything of time and disease. If thou hast poured out upon God the whole of thy love; if thou hast not two objects of desire, both the passing and the abiding, both the visible and the invisible, then thou hast been so pierced by the arrow of election, and hast so learned the beauty of the Bridegroom, that thou too canst say with the bridal drama and song, thou art sweetness and altogether loveliness.

XII. You see how streams confined in lead pipes, through being much compressed and carried to one point, often so far depart from the nature of water that that which is pushed from behind will often flow constantly upwards. So if thou confine thy desire, and be wholly joined to God, thou wilt not fall downward; thou wilt not be dissipated; thou wilt remain entirely Christ’s, until thou see Christ thy Bridegroom. Keep thyself unapproachable, both in word and work and life, and thought and action. From all sides the Evil One interferes with thee; he spies thee everywhere, where he may strike, where wound thee; let him not find anything bared and ready to his stroke. The purer he sees thee, the more he strives to stain thee, for the stains on a shining garment are more conspicuous. Let not eye draw eye, nor laughter, nor familiarity night, lest night bring destruction. For that which is gradually drawn away and stolen, works a mischief which is unperceived at the time, but yet attains to the consummation of wickedness.

XIII. All men, He saith, cannot receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. When you hear this, It is given, do not understand it in a heretical fashion, and bring in differences of nature, the earthly and the spiritual and the mixed. For there are people so evilly disposed as to think that some men are of an utterly ruined nature, and some of a nature which is saved, and that others are of such a disposition as their will may lead them to, either to the better, or to the worse. For that men may have a certain aptitude, one more, another less, I too admit; but not that this aptitude alone suffices for perfection, but that it is reason which calls this out, that nature may proceed to action, just as fire is produced when a flint is struck with iron. When you hear To whom it is given, add, And it is given to those who are called and to those who incline that way. For when you hear, Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He saith not of him that willeth; that is, not of him that willeth only, nor of him that runneth only, but also of God. That sheweth mercy. Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. However much you may run, however much you may wrestle, yet you need one to give the crown. Except the Lord build the house, they labored in vain that built it: Except the Lord keep the city, in vain they watched that keep it. I know, He says, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the victory to the fighters, nor the harbors to the good sailors; but to God it belongs both to work victory, and to bring the baroque safe to port.

XIV. In another place it is also said and understood, and perhaps it is necessary that I should add it as follows to what has already been said, in order that I may impart to you also my wealth. The Mother of the Sons of Zebedee, in an impulse of parental affection, asked a thing in ignorance of the measure of what she was asking, but pardonably, through the excess of her love and of the kindness due to her children. For there is nothing more affectionate than a Mother, — and I speak of this that I may lay down a law for honoring Mothers. Their mother, then, asked Jesus that they might sit, the one on His right hand, the other on his left. But what saith the Savior? He first asks if they can drink the Cup Which He Himself was about to drink; and when this was professed, and the Savior accepted the profession (for He knew that they were being perfected by the same, or rather that they would be perfected thereby); what saith He? “They shall drink the cup; but to sit on My right hand and on My left — it is not Mine, He saith, to give this, but to whom it hath been given.” Is then the ruling mind nothing? Nothing the labor? Nothing the reasoning? Nothing the philosophy? Nothing the fasting? Nothing the vigils, the sleeping on the ground, the shedding floods of tears? Is it for nothing of these, but in accordance with some election by lot, that a Jeremias is sanctified, and others are estranged from the womb?

XV. I fear lest some monstrous reasoning may come in, as of the soul having lived elsewhere, and then having been bound to this body, and that it is from that other life that some receive the gift of prophecy, and others are condemned, namely, those who lived badly. But since such a conception is too absurd, and contrary to the traditions of the Church (others if they like may play with such doctrines, but it is unsafe for us to play with them); we must in this place too add to the words “To whom it hath been given,” this, “who are worthy;” who have not only received this character from the Father, but have given it to themselves.

XVI. For there are eunuchs which were made eunuchs from their mother’ s womb, etc. I should very much like to be able to say something bold about eunuchs. Be not proud, ye who are eunuchs by nature. For, in point of self-restraint, this is perhaps unwilling. For it has not come to the test, nor has your self-restraint been proved by trial. For the good which is by nature is not a subject of merit; that which is the result of purpose is laudable. What merit has fire for burning, for it is its nature to burn? What merit has water for falling, a property given to it by its Maker? What thanks does the snow get for its coldness, or the sun for its shining? — It shines even if it does not wish. Claim merit if you please by willing the better things. You will claim it if, being carnal, you make yourself spiritual; if, while drawn down by the leaden flesh, you receive wings from reason; if though lowly born, you are found to be heavenly; if while chained down to the flesh, you shew yourself superior to the flesh.

XVII. Since then, natural chastity is not meritorious, I demand something else from the eunuchs. Do not go a whoring in respect of the Godhead. Having been wedded to Christ, do not dishonor Christ. Being perfected by the spirit, do not make the Spirit your own equal. If I yet pleased men, says Paul, I should not be the servant of Christ. If I worshipped a creature, I should not be called a Christian. For why is Christianity precious? Is it not that Christ is God, unless my mingling with Him in love is a mere human passion? And yet I honor Peter, but I am not called a Petrine; and Paul, but have never been called a Pauline. I cannot allow myself to be named after a man, who am born of God. So then, if it is because you believe Him to be God that you are called a Christian, may you ever be so called, and may you remain in both the name and the thing; but if you are called from Christ only because you have an affection for Him, you attribute no more to him than other names which are given from some practice or fact.

XVIII. Consider those men who are devoted to horse racing. They are named after the colors and the sides on which they have placed themselves. You know the names without my mentioning them. If it is thus that you have got the name of Christian, the mere title is a very small thing even though you pride yourself upon it. But if it is because you believe Him to be God, shew your faith by your works. If the Son is a creature, even now also you are worshipping the creature instead of the Creator. If the Holy Ghost is a creature, you are baptized in vain, and are only sound on two sides, or rather not even on them; but on one you are altogether in danger. Imagine the Trinity to be a single pearl, alike on all sides and equally glistening. If any part of the pearl be injured; the whole beauty of the stone is gone. So when you dishonor the Son in order to honor the Father, He does not accept your honor. The Father doth not glory in the dishonor of the Son. If a wise Son maketh a glad Father, how much more doth the honor of the Son become that of the Father! And if you also accept this saying, My Son, glory not in the dishonor of thy Father, similarly the Father doth not glory in the Son’s dishonor. If you dishonor the Holy Ghost, the Son receiveth not your honor. For though He be not of the Father in the same way as the Son, yet He is of the same Father. Either honor the whole or dishonor the whole, so as to have a consistent mind. I cannot accept your half piety. I would have you altogether pious, but in the way that I desire. Pardon my affection: I am grieved even for those who hate me. You were one of my members, even though you are now cut off: perhaps you will again become a member; and therefore I speak kindly. Thus much for the sake of the Eunuchs, that they may be chaste in respect of the Godhead.

XIX. For it is not only bodily sin which is called fornication and adultery, but any sin you have committed, and especially transgression against that which is divine. Perhaps you ask how we can prove this: — They went a whoring, it says, with their own inventions. Do you see an impudent act of fornication? And again, They committed adultery in the wood. See you a kind of adulterous religion? Do not then commit spiritual adultery, while keeping your bodies chaste. Do not shew that it is unwillingly you are chaste in body, by not being chaste where you can commit fornication. Why have you done your impiety? Why are you hurried to vice, so that it is all one to call a man a Eunuch or a villain? Place yourselves on the side of men, and, even though so late, have some manly thoughts. Avoid the women’s apartments; do not let the disgrace of proclamation be added to the disgrace of the name. Would you have us persevere a little longer in this discourse, or are you tired with what we have said? Nay, by what follows let even the eunuchs be honored. For the word is one of praise.

XX. There are, He says, some eunuchs which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. I think that the discourse would sever itself from the body, and represent higher things by bodily figures; for to stop the meaning at bodily eunuchs would be small and very weak, and unworthy of the Word; and we must understand in addition something worthy of the Spirit. Some, then, seem by nature to incline to good. And when I speak of nature, I am not slighting free will, but supposing both — an aptitude for good, and that which brings the natural aptitude to effect. And there are others whom reason cleanses, by cutting them off from the passions. These I imagine to be meant by those whom men have made Eunuchs, when the word of teaching distinguishing the better from the worse and rejecting the one and commanding the other (like the verse, Depart from evil and do good), works spiritual chastity. This sort of making eunuchs I approve; and I highly praise both teachers and taught, that the one have nobly effected, and the other still more nobly endured, the cutting off.

XXI. And there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. Others, too, who have not met with teachers, have been laudable teachers to themselves. No father nor mother, no Priest or Bishop, nor any of those commissioned to teach, taught you your duty; but by moving reason in yourself and by kindling the spark of good by your free will, you made yourself a eunuch, and acquired such a habit of virtue that impulse to vice became almost an impossibility to you. Therefore I praise this kind of Eunuch-making also, and perhaps even above the others. He that is able to receive it let him receive it. Choose which part you will; either follow the Teacher or be your own teacher. One thing alone is shameful — that the passions be not extirpated. It matters not how they are extirpated. The teacher is God’s creature; and you also have the same origin; and whether the teacher grasp this grace, or the good be your own — it is equally good.

XXII. Only let us cut ourselves off from passion, test any root of bitterness springing up trouble us; only let us follow the image; only let us reverence our Archetype. Cut off the bodily passions; cut off also the spiritual. For by how much the soul is more precious than the body, by so much more precious is it to cleanse the soul than the body. And if cleansing of the body be a praiseworthy act, see, I pray you, how much greater and higher is that of the soul. Cut away the Arian impiety; cut away the false opinion of Sabellius; do not join more than is right, or wrongly sever; do not either confuse the Three Persons into One, or make Three diversities of Nature. The One is praiseworthy if rightly understood; and the Three when rightly divided, when the division is of Persons, not of Godhead.

XXIII. I enact this for Laymen too, and I enjoin it also upon all Priests, and upon those commissioned to rule. Come to the aid of the Word, all of you to whom God has given power to aid. It is a great thing to check murder, to punish adultery, to chastise theft; much more to establish piety by law, and to bestow sound doctrine. My word will not be able to do as much in fighting for the Holy Trinity as your Edict, if you will bridle the ill disposed, if you will help the persecuted, if you will check the slayers, and prevent people from being slain. I am speaking not merely of bodily but of spiritual slaughter. For all sin is the death of the soul. Here let my discourse end.

XXIV. But it remains that I speak a prayer for those who are assembled. Husbands alike and wives, rulers and ruled, old men, and young men, and maidens, every sort of age, bear ye every loss whether of money or of body, but one thing alone do not endure — to lose the Godhead. I adore the Father, I adore the Son, I adore the Holy Ghost; or rather We adore them; I, who am speaking, before all and after all and with all, in the same Christ our Lord, to whom be the glory and the might for ever. Amen.