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E00887: Gregory of Nazianzus in his Oration 24, On *Cyprian (martyr of Carthage, S00411), of 379/380, refers to a prayer to *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), as a virgin saint protecting a virgin. It is the earliest recorded attestation of a prayer to her. Written in Greek at Constantinople.

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posted on 24.11.2015, 00:00 by pnowakowski
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 24, On Cyprian (CPG 3010.24; BHG 0457)

For a summary and discussion of the whole text, see E00886

The author recounts the story of the pious Christian girl who repelled the attempts of the magician Cyprian to seduce her by his magic.

10. (.........) Πάντων ἀπογνοῦσα τῶν ἄλλων, ἐπὶ τὸν Θεὸν καταφεύγει, καὶ προστάτην ποιεῖται κατὰ τοῦ μισητοῦ πόθου τὸν ἑαυτῆς νυμφίον, ὃς καὶ Σωσάνναν ἐῤῥύσατο, καὶ Θέκλαν διέσωσεν· τὴν μὲν ἀπὸ πικρῶν πρεσβυτέρων, τὴν δὲ ἀπὸ τυράννου μνηστῆρος, καὶ τυραννικωτέρου πατρός. Τίνα τοῦτον; Χριστὸν, ὃς καὶ πνεύμασιν ἐπιτιμᾷ καὶ κουφίζει βαπτιζομένους καὶ πεζεύει πέλαγος καὶ λεγεῶνα πνευμάτων τῷ βυθῷ δίδωσι· καὶ ῥύεται μὲν ἐκ λάκκου δίκαιον λέουσι προτεθέντα βορὰν, καὶ χειρῶν ἐκτάσει τοὺς θῆρας νικήσαντα· ῥύεται δὲ ὑπὸ κήτους καταποθέντα φυγάδα προφήτην, κἀν τοῖς σπλάγχνοις τὴν πίστιν διασωσάμενον· σώζει δὲ Ἀσσυρίους ἐν φλογὶ παῖδας, ἀγγέλῳ τὴν φλόγα καταψύξας καὶ τοῖς τρισὶ παραζεύξας τὸν τέταρτον.

11. Ταῦτα καὶ πλείω τούτων ἐπιφημίζουσα καὶ τὴν Παρθένον Μαρίαν ἱκετεύουσα βοηθῆσαι παρθένῳ κινδυνευούσῃ, τὸ τῆς νηστείας καὶ χαμευνίας προβάλλεται φάρμακον (......)

’10. (……) Having given up hope in everything else, she seeks refuge with God and takes as champion against this loathsome infatuation her own Bridegroom, who once also rescued Susanna and saved Thecla: the former from the cruel elders, the latter from a tyrannical suitor and an even more tyrannical father. Who might this be? Christ, who rebukes spirits and buoys up those drowning, and walks on the sea, and consigns a legion of spirits to the deep; him who rescues from the den a righteous man who was thrown to be devoured by the lions, but he vanquished the beasts by stretching out his hands; him who rescues the fugitive prophet who was swallowed by a whale, yet maintained his faith even in its belly; him who preserves the Assyrian youths in the flame, quenching the fire by an angel and adding him as fourth to the their three.

11. Invoking these and many other things, and beseeching the Virgin Mary to help a virgin in distress, she takes refuge in the regimen of fasting and sleeping on the ground (......)’

Text:
Mossay and Lafontaine 1981, 40-85.

Translation:
Vinson 2003, 142-156 (modified).

History

Evidence ID

E00887

Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source

Μαρία

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

379

Evidence not after

380

Activity not before

300

Activity not after

380

Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Constantinople

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nazianzus

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops

Source

Gregory was born in c. 330 to a wealthy Christian family in Cappadocia. He was educated at Nazianzos, Kaisareia/Caesarea, Athens, and Alexandria, and in 361 he returned to Nazianzos where he was ordained priest by his father, Gregory the Elder, who was bishop of Nazianzos. He was ordained bishop of Sasima in Cappadocia by Basil of Caesarea in 372, but stayed in Nazianzos, administering the local community after the death of his father. After retreating as a monk in Isauria for some years, he moved to Constantinople in 379, in order to lead the struggle for the return of the city to Nicene Orthodoxy. Two years later, the Arians were ousted by the emperor Theodosius I, and Gregory became bishop of Constantinople. In 381, he convened the Council of Constantinople, at the end of which he resigned his throne and retired to Cappadocia where he died in 390. Oration 24 was given in 379 or 380, during Gregory’s ministry as pastor of the dissident Nicene community of Constantinople, which was based at the church of Anastasia. On the manuscript tradition and editions of the text, see Mossay and Lafontaine 1981, and: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/7672/

Discussion

This passage comes from Gregory’s sermon on Cyprian, which seems to be paraphrasing an early version of the legend of *Kyprianos and *Ioustina (E00886, E01163, E01164, E01165). It is the earliest known attestation of a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary. Here the author recounts the distress of the pious Christian girl (she is not named as Justina in our text), as she is pursued by the sorcerer Cyprian who attempts to seduce her by magic. The author presents her as saying a prayer of a typically 4th-century formulation, which invokes the help of Christ by a long anamnesis (commemoration) of biblical episodes. These are the miracles of Christ, Daniel in the lions’ den, and the Three Hebrew Youths in the Furnace. Prayers of this format were common during the 4th century in both Greek and Latin (e.g. the memorial prayers known as commendatio animae, on which see C. B. Tkacz, ‘Commendatio Animae’, in A. Kazhdan [ed.], Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford, 1991, 488). They invoked the help of Christ by commemorating biblical episodes exemplifying the mercy of God. This liturgical language seems also to have had an impact on the Christian Art of the time, since the biblical episodes mentioned here are commonly depicted in the catacombs, on sarcophagi and gold-glass during the 4th century. It is most likely that this section reflects the actual phrasing of Gregory’s source text. This is particularly important, since none of the extant texts of the legend of Kyprianos and Ioustina seems to contain such a section, suggesting that the source-text of Gregory represented a substantially different version of the narrative. At the end of the commemorative prayer, there is a direct invocation to the Virgin Mary, thus turning the whole into a supplication to both Christ and his mother. It is less than clear whether the Marian prayer can be ascribed to Gregory’s source text or to his own hand. In any case, this is the earliest recorded prayer to Mary. It is crucial that the prayer addresses directly only Christ and her – none of the other figures mentioned in the anamnesis. Her help here, however, seems to be solicited based on the fact that she is a virgin like the supplicant girl, thus invoking what may be understood as specialised power. Mary’s cult is usually thought to have taken off no earlier than the 5th century, and only after her special acknowledgment as Mother of God (Θεοτόκος/Theotokos) by the 1st Council of Ephesus. This passage, however, shows that she was invoked already in the late 4th century. One may stress the fact that she is named as the Virgin Mary (Παρθένος Μαρία/ Parthenos Maria) and not yet as the ‘Mother of God’ (Θεοτόκος).

Bibliography

Text, Translation and Bibliography: Mossay, J., and Lafontaine, G., Grégoire de Nazianze, Discours 24-26 (Sources chrétiennes 284; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1981), 9-85. English Translation and bibliography: Vinson, M.P., St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Select Orations (Fathers of the Church 107; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 142-156. Further reading: Delehaye, H., “Cyprien d'Antioche et Cyprien de Carthage,” Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 314-332, esp. 330. Sabattini, T.A., "S. Cipriano nella tradizione agiografica," Rivista di Studi Classici, 21:2 (1973), 181-204.

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