Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fr Cantalamessa on St Gregory of Nazianzen

Here is the second of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa’s 2012 Lenten homilies, preached before the Papal Household last Friday. 

Not too many years ago, there were theological proposals that, despite the profound differences between them, had a common scheme as background, sometimes clear, sometimes implicit. The scheme is extremely simple because it is reductive. The two greatest mysteries of our faith are the Trinity and the Incarnation: God is One and Triune; Jesus Christ is God and man. In the proposals I referred to, this nucleus was articulated thus: God is one, and Jesus Christ is man: the divinity of Christ collapses and with it, the Trinity. 

The result of this process is that one ends by accepting tacitly and hypocritically the existence of two faiths, and two different Christianities, which have nothing in common except the name: the Christianity of the Creed of the Church, of joint ecumenical declarations in which, with the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol, one continues to profess faith in the Trinity and in the full divinity of Christ, and the Christianity of a wide strata of culture, also exegetic and theological, in which these same truths are ignored or interpreted in a wholly different way. 

In such a climate, how opportune it is to revisit the Fathers of the Church, not only to know the content of the dogma in its nascent state, but even more so to rediscover the vital unity between professed faith and lived faith, between the “thing” and its “enunciation.” For the Fathers, the Trinity and the unity of God, the duality of the natures and the unity of the person of Christ were not truths to be decided at table or discussed in books in dialogue with other books; they were vital realities. Paraphrasing a phrase that circulates in sports environments, we can say that such truths were not questions of life or death for them, they were much more! 

1. Gregory of Nazianzen, Singer of the Trinity 

The giant on whose shoulders we wish to climb today is Saint Gregory of Nazianzen; the horizon we wish to scrutinize with him is the Trinity. His is the grandiose picture that shows the unfolding of the revelation of the Trinity in the history and the pedagogy of God who reveals itself in it. The Old Testament, he writes, proclaims openly the existence of the Father and begins to proclaim, in a veiled manner, that of the Son. The New Testament proclaims the Son openly and begins to reveal the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Now, in the Church, the Spirit grants us distinctly his manifestation and the glory of the Blessed Trinity is confessed. God has measured out his manifestation, adapting it to the times and the receptive capacity of men. 

This threefold division has nothing to do with the thesis, known under the name of Gioacchino da Fiore, of the three different periods: that of the Father, in the Old Testament, that of the Son in the New and that of the Spirit in the Church. Saint Gregory’s distinction refers to the order of the manifestation, not of the being or acting of the Three Persons, who are present and act together throughout the span of time. 

In the Tradition, Saint Gregory of Nazianzen has received the appellative “the Theologian” (ho Theologos), precisely because of his contribution to the clarification of the Trinitarian dogma. His merit is to have given Trinitarian orthodoxy its perfect formulation, with phrases destined to become common patrimony of theology. The pseudo-Athanasian symbol “Quicumque,” composed about a century later, owes not a little to Gregory of Nazianzen. Here are some of his crystalline formulas: “He was, and was, and was: but was only one.

"He was light and light and light: but only one light.    Continue reading . . .


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