Having spent a good deal of time focused myopically on Or. 41:15-16, I decided that I should broaden my knowledge of Gregory of Nazianzus and read from some other orations.  His Greek is difficult in most places, so I proceed slowly, but I stumble often upon passages which are utterly captivating.  Since I already had the Sources Chrétiennes text on hand from my work on Or. 41, I decided to start reading Or. 38 (On the Theophany, or Nativity of Jesus), and have quickly come upon a passage I’d like to share: the first part of 38.7 (PG 36.317).  Gregory himself must have liked the passage, because he used it again in Or. 45, word for word.  In it, Gregory contemplates the nature of divinity itself, and then our own process of theosis, by which we are transformed into gods ourselves, “partaking in the divine nature” as 2 Peter 1:4 puts it.

Naturally, I managed to pick a passage that is full of text critical problems, mostly of ο/ω confusion.  They don’t affect major points of interpretation, but I do note in the Greek text where I’ve opted for a different reading from the SC text.  My translation is quite free, but do look at the Greek if possible: it’s quite lovely I promise!


God has always been, is now, and will be forever.  “Is” is the best term, however, for “has been” and “will be” are our own divisions of time, which are due to our mortal nature.  But the One who eternally Is, used this name when he revealed himself to Moses on the mountain. He comprises within himself existence itself, an existence that neither begins nor ends, a great, boundless ocean of being, which effortlessly surpasses any notion of time or natural law.  He is perceived dimly through the mind alone, and even this, though sufficient, is extremely dim.  This perception originates not from the divine being itself, but from those who surround it.  The image in the mind is formed with another’s aid into one coherent perception of reality, which then flees before complete apprehension, skirting off before the idea is fully grasped.  Thus, like a lightning-bolt, which illumines the night sky for but a fleeting moment, so this image surrounds our reasoning faculties with purifying light, but then disappears once more into darkness, leaving our minds completely cleansed. 

It seems to me that, insofar as we can perceive this image, it draws us to itself, for we can neither hope nor strive for something that is entirely beyond perception; but to the extent that the image is utterly beyond us, it invokes our wonder, and as we wonder, our desire increases, and the more we yearn for it, the more we are purified, and this purification makes us glimmer with divinity [1].   With a bit of boldness, I’d even suggest that it is at this stage, once we have been suitably transformed, that God unites himself fully with us, his gods [2], and is known fully to us, and perhaps known to the degree that he now knows us, who “know him even as we are known” (1 Cor 13:12).

[1] Grk. καθαῖρον δὲ θεοειδεῖς ἐργάζηται.  We have here a play on words, which evokes both Homer and the Gospels.  θεοειδής is a fairly common term in Homer, and means in the passive sense “godlike in appearance” or “shining like a god.”  Purification, though, reminds us of the beatitude “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8), and Gregory no doubt has this in mind too.  Adjectives of this formation in Greek are ambiguous, and can be used in the active or passive sense.  Gregory thus combines the classical and the Christian to describe another New Testament idea, that as we become like God as we behold him (cf. 1 Jn 3:2).  

[2] Cf. Ps. 82:1-6. (81:1-6 LXX).


θεὸς ἦν μὲν ἀεὶ καὶ ἔστι καὶ ἔσται · μᾶλλον δὲ « ἔστιν » ἀεί. τὸ γὰρ « ἦν » καὶ « ἔσται », τοῦ καθ᾽ἡμᾶς χρόνου τμήματα καὶ τῆς ῥευστῆς φύσεως · ὁ δὲ ὢν ἀεὶ καὶ τοῦτο αὐτὸς ἑαυτὸν ὀνομάζει, τῷ Μωϋσεῖ χρηματίζων ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους. ὅλον γὰρ ἐν ἑαυτῷ συλλαβὼν ἔχει τὸ εἶναι, μήτε ἀρξάμενον μήτε παυσόμενον, οἷόν τι πέλαγος οὐσίας ἄπειρον καὶ ἀόριστον, πᾶσαν ὑπερεκπίπτον[1] ἔννοιαν καὶ χρόνου καὶ φύσεως.[2] νῷ μόνῳ σκιαγραφούμενος, καὶ τοῦτο λίαν ἀμυδρῶς καὶ μετρίως, οὐκ ἐκ τῶν κατ᾽ αὐτόν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τῶν περὶ αὐτόν, ἄλλης ἐξ ἄλλου φαντασίας συλλεγομένης εἰς ἕν τι τῆς ἀληθείας ἴνδαλμα, πρὶν κρατηθῆναι φεῦγον καὶ πρὶν νοηθῆναι διαδιδράσκον, τοσαῦτα περιλάμπον[3] ἡμῶν τὸ ἡγεμονικόν, καὶ ταῦτα κεκαθαρμένoν, ὅσα καὶ ὄψιν ἀστραπῆς τάχος οὐχ ἱσταμένης.

ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν, ἵνα τῷ ληπτῷ μὲν ἕλκῃ πρὸς ἑαυτό — τὸ γὰρ τελέως ἄληπτον, ἀνέλπιστον καὶ ἀνεπιχείρητον — τῷ δὲ ἀλήπτῳ θαυμάζηται, θαυμαζόμενον δὲ ποθῆται πλέον, ποθούμενον δὲ καθαίρῃ, καθαῖρον δὲ θεοειδεῖς ἐργάζηται, τοιούτοις δὲ γενομένοις, ὡς οἰκείοις, ἤδη προσομιλῇ — τολμᾷ τι νεανικὸν ὁ λόγος — θεὸς θεοῖς ἑνούμενός τε καὶ γνωριζόμενος, καὶ τοσοῦτον ἴσως ὅσον ἤδη γινώσκει τοῦς γινωσκομένους.  

[1] SC reads ὑπερεκπίπτων.

[2] SC reads ‘,’ instead of ‘.’  This does result in an asyndeton, which is undesirable, but given the almost “hymnic” character of the prose here, I think it may be permitted.  

[3] SC reads περιλάμπων. Update: I’m not sure why, but I marked a difference from the SC text here even though there wasn’t one. Thanks to Gregoris in the comments for catching this. He left some very useful feedback on my textual decisions (arguing in favor of Moreschini’s text), so take a look if you’re interested in technical details.

[4] SC reads κεκαθαρμένων.  

I’ve transcribed this text directly from the SC text, which no doubt means I’ve made some typos.  If you notice something that looks off, let me know in the comments.

ἐν αὐῷ,