Thánh Gregory thành Nazianzus (329-390)

Subject: Patristics
Professor: Trịnh Duy Suýt, S.J.
Scholastic: Nguyễn Huy Hoàng, S.J.

Opinions of the Two Natures of Jesus before the General Council of Nicea (325)

Christian doctrine, as we have now, went through a very long formation in the course of history. The starting point was Jesus Christ with all His teachings, actions and life. The apostles held this treasure and handed it down from generations to generations, directly to bishops, many among them were called “church fathers”. The treasure of faith can be found in The Creeds that were formulated by the apostles, and later by the General Council of Nicea (325). Among the articles of the Creed, the dogmas concerning the Divinity and Manhood of the Son were to face various obstacles, especially the obstacles that came from Gnosticism and Arianism. The journey to protect the Son’s dogmas was also the journey of growing of the dogmas.

In this small paper, I will try to make clear the thought of Gregory de Nazianzus concerning the two Natures of the Son, that thought had much effect on the process of formulating the Creeds in the General Council of Constantinople in 381. However, before exploring his thought, I will have an overview on the former church fathers who also involved themselves in this topic and on some false trends of thought led by leaders of Gnosticism and Arianism. All this is to serve one purpose: depicting how the dogmas of the Son came to be, grew and attained their complete form as professed at the General Council of Constantinople (381). In this process, Gregory de Nazianzus was one of the important figures in this chain.

At the dawn of the Church, Saint Pope Clement of Rome mentioned the humanity of Jesus. He did not give a theory of the two Natures; however, we can recognize that this theory became material partly through what Clement conceived. Jesus Christ was God, no one questioned about this; here Clement stressed the humanity of Jesus by saying that: “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls”[1]. At this moment, there was no heretic who questioned the Nature of Jesus Christ; hence, Clement did not have the need of clarifying anything, he just wanted to introduce to his fellow Christians a God, in Jesus Christ, of compassion who shed his blood to redeem human beings.

After Clement, there came Ignatius of Antioch who made clearer the dogma of Jesus. Thus, if Clement just mentioned the human origin of Jesus, Ignatius went further by mentioning the origin of Jesus both human and God. In the letter to the Magnesians, he wrote: “there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him”[2]. By this, he pointed that Jesus came from God, shared the same substance with God. Not to stop here, he made further his search by including the opinions of Jesus’ human nature. At the beginning of the letter to Smyrnaens, after praising the stable faith of Smyrnaens in Christ, in fact, he listed in detail Jesus’s acts that would later become dogmas, he declared that Jesus was a real human being: He had physical father and mother, anticipated all human actions, especially, bore sufferings:

“He was the Son of God, “the first-born of every creature,” God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and was of the seed of David according to the flesh, by the Virgin Mary; was baptized by John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; that He lived a life of holiness without sin, and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. From whom we also derive our being, from His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for the ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church”[3]

In these above sentences, Ignatius, on a one hand stressed Jesus’s Human Nature by listing various earthly actions that Jesus did; on the other hand, he made an agreement between the two Natures of Jesus. He is the Son of God, God the Word, and He also belonged to David’s line. There was no separation between the two Natures.

In this stream, coming after Ignatius, Justin continued to strengthen the dogmas of Jesus with the double aims: strengthening Christian’s faith and protecting the Church from heretics who just came into existence. In his argument against heretics found in Apologia I, Justin stated that: “Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race”[4].

Along with Ignatius, Justin’s argument gave a hand in attacking Gnosticism and Docétism. Gnosticism was a theological tendency that used Greek philosophy as a way to access or explain Christian doctrine. It was acceptable at the beginning; however, it went too far later by adapting the principle of dualism for explaining God’s work of creation[5]. Concerning Jesus Christ, this school of theology stated that He suddenly appeared in the fifteenth year of King Tiberius in the form of a human being. That was not a real human; accordingly, salvation was for soul, not for body because body came from matter which was product of creation God – a bad God whom Jesus came to destroy[6]. Docetism was also a heresy that denied Jesus’ human Nature. In its core, Docétists conceived that: “Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion”[7]. The two theories shared a common point that Jesus was not a human, in other words; there was no so-called Human Nature in Jesus Christ. These false theological tendencies made trouble for the church at the beginning on account of denying Jesus as a human. This was the problem that church fathers had to face; among them Justin had his voice.

One century later, there came Arius, another trouble-maker to the peace of the Church. Unlike Docetists or Dualists who questioned about Jesus’ Manhood, Arius questioned about Jesus’ Godhead. In his notions, Arius recognized that the Son, Logos, was created by the Father; that meant He had a beginning. Following that, the Son had time of non-existence and would have an end. As a result, the Son must be subordinate to the Father, He could not be equal to the Father[8]. At this point, we see that although basing his theory on Origen’s thought of Logos, Arius went so far from his former’s thought of the Godhead and Homoousius (the same substance) to the Father of Jesus Christ. However, other church fathers involved themselves as Arius’ rivals in the battle of protecting the divine doctrine concerning the Godhead of Jesus Christ. These works bore fruit with the resemblance to the General Council of Nicea in 325 in which Arius was condemned. Here is the statement about Jesus’ Godhead issued by the Council: “the Son of God was eternally generated, not created and had the same substance (Homoousius) with the Father”. As a result, Arius was condemned and excommunicated for his statement: “the Son of God was created from nothing and His substance is different from the Father”[9].

Although being condemned, Arianism still had a strong effect on the church so that the church fathers had to work hard to totally eliminate it from the church. Up to now, we see that many church fathers had involved themselves in the process of building a complete divine doctrine for the Church, especially in what concerned the Son. From the overview, we can recognize that no church father, so far, produced a theory of Jesus’s Nature in a systematical way. That was a problem while the rivals of divine doctrine were still numerous. When the Council of Nicea finished, the Church had “the Creeds” but the situation was not peaceful. Many points of divine doctrine were questioned and opposed. Among them, there could be named that of Jesus’ Nature. This time, we would see the emergence of the Cappadocian church fathers whose names are Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. They were brothers and friends. Especially, Gregory of Nazianzus gave a great contribution to the completion of divine doctrine concerning Jesus’s Natures. The search was contained in his two theological Orations on the Son. This will be the main theme in the rest of the paper, especially the content of the second Oration.

Gregory of Nazianzus’ treatment of Jesus’ Natures

Jesus’ Godhead

In his first Oration, Gregory mostly dedicated to treat Jesus’ Godhead. He tried to make clear his Divinity through two characteristics. Firstly, the Son came from the Father. This was not a kind of “creation activity”, instead, the Father “Begetteth” the Son. This act of “begetteth” was not to mention a concrete time, i.e., a beginning; moreover, it was to stress that this action had no begining, i.e. the Father begetteth the Son from eternal time, there was not “a beginning” of the Son[10]. Following that, Jesus Godhead is full and equal to the Father because He shared and communicated with the Father in the same substance, and this substance was present eternally.

To demonstrate this, the same substance (Homoousius) and the equality of Godhead, Gregory used the allegory of the Sun and the light which derived from the Sun[11]. What is the difference between the Sun and the light? How can we name the Sun without light while the Sun’s function is to light? Or how can the light appear if it does not come from the Sun? In this allegory, the Sun is the Father, and the light is the Son, the Son really came from the Father and had no beginning after the Father, the Sun, because when the Sun came to existence, at the same time, the light appeared. Surely, this was just an allegory because the Sun had a beginning; using this allegory, we just tend to use the relation between the Sun and the light which comes from the Sun. This relation helped us understand clearly how the Son was equal to the Father concerning Divinity.

These two points of Jesus’ Divinity were the main themes in the Third Oration which concerned the Divinity of Jesus. In the subsequent Oration (the Fourth), Gregory continued to make clear Jesus’ Godhead in detail in relation with His humanity, and he stressed mostly the humanity.

Jesus’ Manhood

Gregory, first of all explained the origin of Jesus’ Manhood in a spiritual way. He is from the Father, and He became man just for one reason: for our Salvation[12]. To save us, he must be a man so that we could understand his messages, and thus he did his work through the way of Incarnation. By the Incarnation, he inevitably “was in servitude to flesh and to birth and to the conditions of our life with a view to our liberation, and to that of all those who He has saved”[13]. Accordingly, Jesus really walked on this earth, he also slept, ate, sometimes felt happy or sad. All of these actions were depicted in the Gospels in which Jesus made a pilgrimage to the Egypt and then returned, lived in Nazareth, and after that engaged in a public ministry. This first argument of Nazianzus fiercely opposed to the Docétists who claimed that Jesus was not a human, what we saw him as a human is nothing other than an illusion. This argument of Gregory was also the first dimension in the twofold meaning of the term “servant” that he had addressed after being human.

Another dimension of “servant” was that he was always in obedience to the Father. By this obedience, He was called “a curse” as replacing my place – a disobedient man after the fall of Adam, and from this point, he destroyed my curse, and sin and that of the world. He would become a new Adam to lead human-kind to God, the Father[14]. Also, in this meaning of Servant, the Godhead of Jesus Christ was manifested vividly. He acted as a servant of God to bring the broken human to its completion; His work was the Father’s will. In this explicit meaning, he was subject to the Father; however, in this case, the Father was also subject to the Son because the Father’s Will was completed in the acts of the Son. For that reason, the Son’s Godhead was manifested here in a full form; in other words, this assured that Jesus Christ is true God, and equal to Father in Godhead. The subjection here, then, must be understood as a mutual-subjection, not understood in the scheme that one is superior and one inferior. By exploring the term “servant” we saw the union of the two Natures in Jesus Christ.

Gregory continued to treat of Jesus’ Manhood by depicting the way that Jesus faced the passion. Why did Jesus engage in the passion? Surely, by obedience to the Father for human sake that He did this act. In front of suffering, He showed His agony, anguish, and panic. These following words came out from his mouth: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Someone thought that this sentence manifested that He was forsaken either by the Father or by His Godhead; however, Gregory argued that these words vividly showed the fact that “He was in His own Person representing us”. At this point, we understand the reason of the Incarnation: Jesus was totally a human being, shared our human being’s conditions (without sins) to transfigure us[15]. He felt hot, cold, happy, and suffered, all kinds of emotion because He was truly human. Again, this argument was spoken apologetically, it opposed the Docétists who recognized that Jesus was not a real human, so then he did not feel any agony or suffering. His body was just an instrument in which his Godhead dwelt to carry out the mission, and then he left and this body faded away.

In this trend of arguing of Jesus Manhood, we continuously try to understand how Jesus, in one way, obeyed the Father, but in the other way, He seemed to resist His Father’s will, subsequently, we would get to know how His humanity emerged. In the Gospel according to John, we found these words which Gregory cited to his oration: “the Son came down from Heaven, not to do his own Will, but the Will of Him that sent Him”[16]. In this sentence, Gregory found out the meaning of Jesus’ obedience to the Father, the question subsequently came out was which Nature was in obedience, His Godhead or His humanity? Surely, we would say that there was an integration between the two Natures and Jesus obeyed with this integrated Person. Then, where did the resistance sometimes come out? Gregory mentioned here one of His sentences in Gethsemane: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless let not what I will but Thy Will prevail” (Matthew, 26, 39). To some, these words seemed to imply that Jesus resisted His Father Will, at least in a light nuance (meaning). This was also one of rare clues that manifested Jesus’ oscillation in carrying the mission of redemption. Surely, His Divinity would never oscillate in any circumstance, for then, the oscillation must come from humanity, and it also said of a real humanity existed in Jesus. In the above situation Jesus felt the abandonment from the Father; this time, he felt a hesitation. All these kinds of emotion are human, and proved that Jesus, although being God, was a real human, and bore all characteristics of a human being.

Another point concerning Jesus’s humanity was His knowledge; the question risen here was to which level did Jesus’ knowledge reach? We firstly recognize that by Divinity, Jesus knew everything. This was logical to the fact that He was with the Father from eternity, he knew the Father’s work of redemption and plans for every human being. He knew where this universe came from and where it will reach. Then, how can we explain the sentence that Jesus said about the time when the world will end up: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13, 32). Why did Jesus not know? Was this paradoxical to the argument that Jesus, because of a God, knows everything? Gregory stated that this response of Jesus was reasonable. The reason for this reply is that He took the shoes of a human being to speak about mystery[17]. Here again, we see the consistency in what concern the humanity of Jesus, we already got to know how He was subjected to human conditions like bearing suffering, feeling joy, and agony, and up to this point, he was subjected to ignorance – the ignorance of a human in front of divine mystery. As a human being, Jesus was like all of other people of His time, He had no knowledge not only in divine mystery but also in sciences like mathematics, physics or astronomy like us or people who came after him. Surely, he did not know the time when the world will come to an end. This was a very vivid example which proved that Jesus was an authentic human person, he came into existence with limited conditions, even that of knowledge.

The union of the two Natures in Jesus Person

We have already said much about Jesus’ humanity, this does not mean that humanity is an independent unit in Jesus. If not, we may fall into heresy as we had a chance to look over these heresies at the beginning of the paper. On the contrary, what we have just presented about Jesus’ humanity must be incorporated with what concerning Jesus’s Divinity. In other words, Jesus must be considered under the view that He was an authentic sole Person who possessed both Divinity and Humanity. In this stream, we will see how Gregory understood that union of the two Natures in Jesus Person.

We go back to the term “servant” that Jesus was entitled. In Gregory’s point of view, the term “servant” was to manifest that Jesus was a real human (under servitude of flesh conditions); however, Gregory did not stop at this level. He extended the theme to a larger scale of meaning. Servant was also to follow the Father’s will, in other words, He was the servant of God’s redemptive work. For the fulfillment of this mission, He became servant both of the flesh and of the Divinity’s will. Besides, the title of servant was also stressed on the dimension of obedience. Between the servant to God’s redemptive work and obedience to Father’s will, there was no space. All the meanings of the servant met at one point: Jesus was totally united with God the Father. From the servant to flesh to the servant to the redemptive work and then to obedience the Father’s will, there emerged a unique Jesus who carried both Natures which permitted Him to access completely into both human life and the union with God.

Also, back to the words that Jesus said in the Gethsemane and on the cross. In the garden, he asked the Father that if possible, the Father could take away the suffering cup that he was about to drink[18]; and on the cross, he cried out that why the Father abandoned him[19]. These words came out from a human, a human Jesus. However, the story did not end up there. In the garden, Jesus’ words, as some people thought, implied the fact that Jesus’ will was differentiated from that of the Father because the following words of Jesus were “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. In fact, Gregory just recognized Jesus’ words of agony as a manifestation of humanity in its chaos, the true meaning of the whole sentence “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt 26, 39) should be understood that “not to do Mine own Will, for there is none of Mine apart from, but that which is common to, Me and Thee, for as We have one Godhead, so We have one Will”[20]. In this meaning, Jesus said of his affiliation with the Father as we can see in the Gospel according to John: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me.” (John, 14, 10 – 11). In Jesus Person, his humanity had its own words; however, these words did not stand alone but informed by the Father’s will in which Jesus’ divinity stood. This meaning did not permit us to misunderstand that Jesus’s divinity controlled his humanity. His humanity had its own autonomy, it followed the divinity in all the decisions to carry out Jesus’ redemptive work by virtue of Jesus’ holiness in which his two Natures formed one unit. This unit was totally affiliated with the Father’s will.

Similarly, we should have the same way of understanding in what Jesus said on the cross as the words of a revolt. In fact, he was representing us to speak about our forsaken and despised status[21] so that He could bring us back from a wicked life. At the point that showed he was most human, we can see how his humanity united with his Godhead. He put Himself at the bottom of the wicked, this was the core of redemptive work, His words let us know that He was a real human, and was totally involved in the Incarnation – the work of the Trinitarian God. By Incarnation, He showed that He was doing, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the redemptive mission.

The union of the two Natures in Him was also manifested in his role as an Intercessor in front of the Father for human beings. In his oration, these following words of (article) Epistle to the Hebrews were sounded: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human”[22] and “For He still pleads even now as a human being for my salvation; for He still has the body which He assumed, until He makes me God by the power of His incarnation, even though He is no longer known according to the flesh”[23]. By citing these words, Gregory stated the union of Jesus’ Natures, He stood, and still stands between human beings and God to “say good things” for the sake of human beings. The most notable thing that Gregory mentioned was the status of Jesus in this act of intercession, Gregory continued his treatment that: “we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, not in the sense that he prostrates Himself for us before the Father and falls at the Father’s feet like a slave (…) for the Father does not require this, nor does the Son submit to it.”[24]. Thus, Jesus did not bend down and “ask mercy” for us as a slave, He did this act in the status of the beloved Son with full divinity while He is still human. It is only He who fully carries out this work of intercession by virtue of the union of the two Natures.

At the end of the oration, one more time, Gregory mentioned Jesus’ humanity, however, this time, the mentioning aimed at another dimension. Through the above numbers, he listed Jesus human characteristics like knowledge, emotion, the way of proceeding; this time, he came directly to Jesus human origin. “He is “Son of Man,” both on account of Adam and on account of the Virgin from whom He came – from the one as the first ancestor, from the other as His mother, both in accordance with the law of generation and apart from it”[25]. However, “The incarnate Word was born in accordance with the laws of nature, but his conception in Mary’s womb was, as a miracle, exempt from those same laws”[26]. In this point, we see once again Jesus’ divinity and human root. This was the only time, in his oration, Gregory mentioned Mary as biological mother of Jesus. On the one hand, He had a mother, on the other hand, He was human because of coming from Adam’s lineage. From this, His nativity was a miracle; however, that did not mean His human origin was ambiguous as those who belonged to Docetism claimed.

However, in this number as well, Gregory continued to state that: “He (Jesus) is “Christ,” because of His divinity. For this is the anointing of His humanity, and this anointing does not sanctify by means of an extrinsic action, as is the case with all other “anointed ones” [χριστους – christous], but by means of the presence of the Anointing One in His fullness.”[27] It seemed that in Gregory’s thought, Jesus’ Divinity dominated his humanity because it was His Godhead which anointed Manhood and made Manhood become “God”[28]. This opinion seemed to be supported by the fact that at the penultimate number of the oration, Gregory displayed and explained a lot of titles which were attributed to the Son, Jesus Christ, like Wisdom, Power, Truth, Image of God, Light, Life, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption, Resurrection, to make clear the fact that Jesus was identical with the Father in essence[29]. He was Only-Begotten, and his son-ship was the origin for the characteristics which were involved in the above titles.

Conclusion

Through a long history of the Church, the dogma concerning Jesus’ two Natures experienced an up and down journey to be confirmed and formed into dogma. The former Church Fathers firstly claimed at that time, to stress on his Humanity, and at another time, His Divinity was more stressed in accordance with various cultural, social, political and religious circumstances. It was Gregory de Nazianzus who gave a “systematical doctrine” of the Son in His two orations. In these orations, he presented how Jesus was called God and a human being through exposing the two dimension in Jesus’ Person: Godhead and Humanity in which he tried to make clear each of the dimensions and showed how the two dimensions came to be united. To fulfil this task, he first of all explained how Jesus was come from the Father in the way of “Begetteth”, not created. It was this act of Begetteth that helped us get to know why He was in the same substance (Homoousius) with the Father. After that, Gregory gradually presented how Jesus was a real human being with various characteristics like achieving a “flesh” body, having all kind of human emotions, and being bounded by the ignorance in intellectual dimension. However, it was important thing we have to have in mind that Gregory always considered the Jesus’ two Natures in their mutual relationship, not in a separated way so that through his exposing, people could draw an image of a genuine Jesus in whom the two Natures were completely united. Along with other academic searches, this search of the Natures of the Son gave a great contribution to the triumph of the General Council of Constantinople in 381[30].

[1] Clement of Rome, The first Epistle to the Corinthians, XLIX—The praise of love.

[2] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, VIII.—Caution against false doctrines.

[3] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnæans, Chapter I.—Thanks to God for your faith.

[4] Justin the Marty, The First Apology, XXIII. – The Argument.

[5] Cf. Jordan Aumann, O.P, Lịch sử linh đạo Công Giáo (Lm. Lê Hồng Đức dịch), Ấn bản thứ 4 (London: Ignatius Press/Sheed &Ward, 1994), 59.

[6] Collecting from professor’s lecture.

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docetism, making reference on 9 August 2014.

[8] Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arius#Origen_and_Arius, making reference on 9 August 2014.

[9] Lm. Aug Nguyễn Văn Trinh, Lược sử Hội Thánh Công Giáo (Lịch sử Hội Thánh Công Giáo qua 21 Công Đồng) (ĐCV Vinh-Thanh, 2013), 72.

Cf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arius#Origen_and_Arius (Origen and Arius), making reference on 9 August 2014.

[10] Cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, The Third Theological Oration, Which is the First Concerning the Son, II.

[11] Cf. Ibid, III.

[12] Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration, Which is the Second Concerning the Son, II.

[13] The Fourth Theological Oration, III.

[14] The Fourth Theological Oration, V.

[15] Ibid.

[16] John, 6, 38.

[17] Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration, XV.

[18] Cf. The Fourth Theological Oration, XII.

[19] Cf. The Fourth Theological Oration, V.

[20] The Fourth Theological Oration, XII.

[21] The Forth Theological Oration, V.

[22] Cf. 1 Timothy 2.5. Re-citing in Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration, XIV.

[23] Cf. 2 Corinthians 5.16, Re-citing in Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration, XIV.

[24] Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration, XIV.

[25] Ibid, XXI.

[26] Ibid, XXI.

[27] Ibid, XXI.

[28] Ibid, XXI.

[29] Ibid, XX.

[30] Cf. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (USA: Harper Collins Publishers, 1984), 188.