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Homily For Day 1 of St. John Seminar

June 10, 2019

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Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
June 10, 2019
Matins
Weinrich Seminar on St. John

Today we will hear an excerpt from Gregory Nazianzus who, along with Basil the Great and Basil’s younger brother Gregory Nyssa comprised the incomparable Cappadocian Fathers.

The victory won in Nicea in 325 AD was shaky, and only established near the end of the century by the Council of Constantinople in 371 AD and the tireless labors of these three.

Gregory’s opponents in this 27th Oration (1st Theological Oration) are the Eunomians, a party of defiant Arians, uninterested in dialogue or diplomacy, whose burning agenda was to wipe the word homoousios from living memory.

Had Gregory failed today our creed might state, “being of unlike substance with the Father”. Such would have spelled the end of the holy Christian religion on earth. But by the Lord’s word the gates of hell could not prevail against Gregory.

Speaking on the topic of theological discourse Gregory says this:

Not to everyone, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to everyone; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

Not to all men because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are approved masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified. For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun's rays.

And what is the permitted occasion? It is when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring images; like persons mixing up good writing with bad, or filth with the sweet odours of ointments. For it is necessary to be truly at leisure to know God; and when we can get a convenient season, to discern the straight road of the things divine.

And who are the permitted persons? They to whom the subject is of real concern and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theatre, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments. To such men as these idle jests and pretty contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement.

Next, on what subjects and to what extent may we philosophize? On matters within our reach, and to such an extent as the mental power and grasp of our audience may extend.

No further!

Lest, as excessively loud sounds injure the hearing, or excess of food the body, or, if you will, as excessive burdens beyond the strength injure those who bear them, or excessive rains the earth; so these too, being pressed down and over weighted by the stiffness, if I may use the expression, of the arguments should suffer loss even in respect of the strength they originally possessed.

Now I am not saying that it is not needful to remember God at all times ... I must not be misunderstood or I shall be having these nimble and quick people down upon me again. For we ought to think of God even more often than we draw our breath; and if the expression is permissible, we ought to do nothing else. Yea, I am one of those who entirely approve that Word which bids us meditate day and night, and tell at eventide and morning and noon day, and praise the Lord at every time; or, to use Moses' words “whether a man lie down, or rise up, or walk by the way,” or whatever else he be doing (Deuteronomy 6:7) — and by this recollection we are to be molded to purity. So that it is not the continual remembrance of God that I would hinder but only the talking about God; nor even that as in itself wrong but only when unseasonable; nor all teaching, but only want of moderation.

Surely not my friends and brethren (for I will still call you Brethren, though you do not behave like brothers). Let us not think so … let us not sing the Lord's song in a strange land, by which I mean before any kind of audience, strangers or kindred, hostile or friendly, kindly or the reverse, who watch what we do with over great care, and would like the spark of what is wrong in us to become a flame, and secretly kindle and fan it and raise it to heaven with their breath and make it higher than the Babylonian flame which burnt up everything around it.

For since their strength lies not in their own dogmas they hunt for it in our weak points. And therefore they apply themselves to our … misfortunes … like flies to wounds. But let us at least be no longer ignorant of ourselves, or pay too little attention to the due order in these matters.

And if it be impossible to put an end to the existing hostility let us at least agree upon this, that we will utter Mysteries under our breath, and holy things in a holy manner, and we will not cast to ears profane that which may not be uttered, nor give evidence that we possess less gravity than those who worship demons, and serve shameful fables and deeds …

But let us recognize that as in dress and diet and laughter and demeanor there is a certain decorum, so there is also in speech and silence; since among so many titles and powers of God, we pay the highest honor to The Word. Let even our disputings then be kept within bounds.

Thus far Gregory.

Let us now proceed with our prayers that we might worthily “philosophize” about God, for both leisure and opportunity are mercifully given us today, and we stand cleansed by Christ’s radiant Word.