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E01235: Gregory of Nazianzus composes in 379/380 his Oration 21, On *Athanasius (bishop of Alexandria, ob. 373, S00294), which he delivers during a memorial service held by the then dissident Nicene congregation of Constantinople. He compares Athanasius with biblical figures and martyrs, and invokes his intercession on behalf of the church. Written in Greek at Constantinople.

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posted on 31.03.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 21, On Athanasius of Alexandria (CPG 3010.21; BHG 186)

ΛΟΓΟΣ ΚΑ’
Εἰς τὸν μέγαν Ἀθανάσιον ἐπίσκοπον Ἀλεξανδρείας.

Oration 21
On Athanasius the Great, bishop of Alexandria

1. Ἀθανάσιον ἐπαινῶν, ἀρετὴν ἐπαινέσομαι· ταὐτὸν γὰρ ἐκεῖνόν τε ἐπαινεῖν καὶ ἀρετὴν ὅτι πᾶσαν ἐν ἑαυτῷ συλλαβὼν εἶχε τὴν ἀρετὴν ἤ, τό γε ἀληθέστερον εἰπεῖν, ἔχει· Θεῷ γὰρ ζῶσι πάντες οἱ κατὰ Θεὸν ζήσαντες, κἂν ἐνθένδε ἀπαλλαγῶσι. Καθ’ ὃ καὶ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ ἀκούει Θεὸς, ὁ Θεὸς, ὡς οὐ νεκρῶν Θεὸς, ἀλλὰ ζώντων. (……)

‘1. In praising Athanasius, I shall be praising virtue. For it is the same thing to speak of him and to praise virtue, since he possessed virtue in its entirety, or rather he possesses it, to speak more truly: for all who have lived according to God still live in God, even if they depart hence: this is why God is called God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for he is not a God of dead men, but one of the living [Matthew 22:32]. (……)’

(2.) God is the ultimate source of true virtue which exalts all men, but very few are those who have managed to defeat the flesh and the material world and be in contact with God. (3.) These were few men in history, namely the Patriarchs, Prophets and Judges of Old Testament, John the Baptist, the Apostles of Christ, and men who excelled by their miracles and martyrdom. (4.) One of them was Athanasius who emerged equal or close to these figures, by his manifold virtue.

5. Πάντα μὲν δὴ τὰ ἐκείνου λέγειν τε καὶ θαυμάζειν μακρότερον ἂν εἴη τυχὸν, ἢ κατὰ τὴν παροῦσαν ὁρμὴν τοῦ λόγου καὶ ἱστορίας ἔργον, οὐκ εὐφημίας· ἃ καὶ ἰδίᾳ παραδοῦναι γραφῇ παίδευμά τε καὶ ἥδυσμα τοῖς εἰς ὕστερον, εὐχῆς ἔργον ἐμοὶ, ὥσπερ ὃν ἐκεῖνος Ἀντωνίου τοῦ θείου βίον συνέγραφε, τοῦ μοναδικοῦ βίου νομοθεσίαν, ἐν πλάσματι διηγήσεως. Ὀλίγα δὲ ἐκ πολλῶν τῶν ἐκείνου διεξελθόντες, καὶ ὅσα σχεδιάζει ἡμῖν νῦν ἡ μνήμη ὡς γνωριμώτερα, ἵνα τόν τε ἡμέτερον ἀφοσιωσώμεθα πόθον, καὶ τῇ πανηγύρει τὸ εἰκὸς ἐκπληρώσωμεν, τὰ πλείω τοῖς εἰδόσι παρήσομεν. Οὐδὲ γὰρ ἄλλως ὅσιον, οὐδὲ ἀσφαλὲς, ἀσεβῶν μὲν βίους τιμᾶσθαι ταῖς μνήμαις, τοὺς δὲ εὐσεβείᾳ διενεγκόντας, σιωπῇ παραπέμψασθαι· καὶ ταῦτα ἐν πόλει, ἣν μόλις ἂν καὶ πολλὰ τῆς ἀρετῆς ὑποδείγματα σώσειεν, ὥσπερ τοὺς ἱππικοὺς καὶ τὰ θέατρα, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ θεῖα παίζουσαν.

5. ‘To tell his full story and praise would take much longer than the present occasion of my talk permits, and would be a subject for a book rather than a panegyric. For me it would be highly desirable to commit these things to a special book for the pleasure and instruction of posterity, just like the life of the divine Antony, which he wrote providing a rule for monastic life in the guise of a narrative account. Yet we shall recount only of few of the many things concerning him, as much as our memory currently preserves in greater clarity, so as to both express our own devotion, and fulfil what is necessary for this festival, and we shall leave the greatest part of the story to be said by those who know it. For it is neither right nor safe to celebrate the lives of impious men with memorials, while commending to silence those who lived in piety, and that in a city which even a multitude of examples of virtue would hardly be able to rescue, making sport, as it does, of divine matters just like horse-races and shows!’
(.....)

(7) Athanasius was trained in both Christian and pagan letters, and was ordained. (8) He was elected bishop of Alexandria by the vote of the people, becoming a worthy successor of the Apostle Mark, unlike others who imposed themselves by violence. (9) His ministry was accordingly blameless, unlike that of unworthy clerics. His virtues are manifold. (10-11) He embodies the image of Christ the archpriest and the characteristics of the good bishop described by Paul in Hebrews 4.14, and 1 Timothy 3. 1-7, 4-6. Gregory calls upon all to join him in praising Athanasius for his various virtues. (12-13) There was a time when orthodox theology flourished, without unnecessary philosophical elaborations, until Arius introduced his garrulous madness, and was followed by many, but not Athanasius, whose Trinitarian doctrine opposed both Arius and Sabellius. (14) Still a priest, he participates and excels at the Council of Nicaea. (15-18) The episcopal throne of Alexandria is usurped by two calamitous figures, Gregory of Cappadocia (338-339) and George of Cappadocia (357-361). (19) Athanasius joins the monastic movement in Egypt, which he reconciles with the Church, demonstrating that asceticism is necessary for the clergy, and that sacramental life is necessary for the monks. (20) He is therefore greatly respected by the monks who offer him their protection against men seeking to arrest him. (21-25) Exploiting his absence, Athanasius’ rivals prevail in Egypt and Syria and gain the favour of the emperor and the notables of Alexandria. They convoke councils at Seleucia of Isauria and Constantinople, which establish the heretical doctrine, and the whole Church is shaken by unrest. (26-29) Athanasius’ rival dies violently during a riot in Alexandria, and Athanasius returns triumphant to the city. His return is the greatest gathering of a crowd remembered. (30-31) On his return, Athanasius administers the church peacefully, sparing his own enemies. He cleanses the clergy from heretics, and brings peace among the various factions. The true doctrine of the Trinity prevails again. (32-33) Under Julian the Apostate, Athanasius is exiled again. Julian’s successor, Jovian, seeks to be informed about the Nicene faith in its many divisions, and Athanasius prevails as its best exponent. (34-36) He is revered in both East and West, and helps to harmonise Western and Eastern theology, overcoming superficial problems of linguistic interpretation. (35) Recapitulation of Athanasius’ praise. The oration closes as follows:

37. Ζήσας δὲ οὕτω καὶ παιδευθεὶς καὶ παιδεύσας, ὥστε ὅρον μὲν ἐπισκοπῆς εἶναι τὸν ἐκείνου βίον καὶ τρόπον, νόμον δὲ ὀρθοδοξίας τὰ ἐκείνου δόγματα, τίνα μισθὸν τῆς εὐσεβείας κομίζεται; οὐδὲ γὰρ τοῦτο παριδεῖν ἄξιον. Ἐν γήρᾳ καλῷ καταλύει τὸν βίον, καὶ προστίθεται τοῖς πατράσιν αὐτοῦ, πατριάρχαις, καὶ προφήταις, καὶ ἀποστόλοις, καὶ μάρτυσι, τοῖς ὑπὲρ τῆς ἀληθείας ἠγωνισμένοις. Καὶ, ἵνα εἴπω τινὰ βραχὺν ἐπιτάφιον, τιμᾶται τῶν εἰσοδίων τιμῶν τὴν ἐξόδιον πολυτελεστέραν, πολλὰ μὲν κινήσας δάκρυα, μείζονα δὲ τῶν ὁρωμένων τὴν περὶ αὐτοῦ δόξαν ταῖς ἁπάντων διανοίαις ἐναποθέμενος. Ἀλλ’, ὦ φίλη καὶ ἱερὰ κεφαλὴ, ὁ καὶ λόγου καὶ σιωπῆς μέτρα, μετὰ τῶν ἄλλων σου καλῶν, διαφερόντως τιμήσας, ἡμῖν μὲν ἐνταῦθα στήσαις τὸν λόγον, εἰ καὶ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐνδεέστερον, ἀλλὰ τοῦ γε πρὸς δύναμιν οὐ λειπόμενον· αὐτὸς δὲ ἄνωθεν ἡμᾶς ἐποπτεύοις ἵλεως, καὶ τὸν λαὸν τόνδε διεξάγοις τέλειον τελείας τῆς Τριάδος προσκυνητὴν, τῆς ἐν Πατρὶ, καὶ Υἱῷ, καὶ ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι θεωρουμένης καὶ σεβομένης· καὶ ἡμᾶς, εἰ μὲν εἰρηνικῶς, κατέχοις καὶ συμποιμαίνοις· εἰ δὲ πολεμικῶς, ἐπανάγοις ἢ προσλαμβάνοις, καὶ στήσαις μετὰ σεαυτοῦ καὶ τῶν οἷος σὺ, κἂν μέγα ᾖ τὸ αἰτούμενον, ἐν αὐτῷ Χριστῷ τῷ Κυρίῳ ἡμῶν· ᾧ πᾶσα δόξα, τιμὴ, καὶ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. Ἀμήν.

‘37. His life, training and teaching were such that his living and ways have become a model for the episcopate, and his teachings a law for orthodoxy. And what reward did he win for his piety? Indeed, it is not right to pass that by. He closed his life in a good old age, and was gathered to his fathers, the Patriarchs, and Prophets, and Apostles, and Martyrs, who have contended for the truth. And, to say a few words on his burial, the honours he received at his departure surpassed even those of his arrival from exile. He triggered many tears, but even greater than these external expressions was the glory he stored up in the minds of all. Now, dear and hallowed figure who, among your other virtues, particularly honoured the due proportions of speech and silence, do stand our discourse here: if inferior to the truth, at least it has not fallen short of what our abilities permit. And may you watch upon us from above propitiously, and lead this people to be a perfect worshipper of the Trinity in its perfection: contemplated and venerated in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As for ourselves, if our lot be one of peace, may you keep and aid us in our pastoral ministry; but should it be one of fighting, may you take us up or welcome us and set us together with yourself and those like you – a great thing to ask though it is!– in the same Christ, our Lord, to whom be all glory, honour, and power for ever. Amen.’

Text: Mossay and Lafontaine 1980
Translation: E. Rizos
Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

Categories

Keywords

History

Evidence ID

E01235

Saint Name

Athanasios, bishop of Alexandria, ob. 373 : S00294

Saint Name in Source

Ἀθανάσιος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

379

Evidence not after

381

Activity not before

379

Activity not after

381

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

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 21 belongs to Gregory’s Constantinopolitan period, and was probably composed and delived in 379 or 380, very probably during a memorial service held for Athanasius on the anniversary of his death (2 May 373). On the manuscript tradition of this oration, see Mossay and Lafontaine 1980, 103-109 and: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/7589/

Discussion

This sermon was probably given during a service held by the dissident Nicene community of Constantinople, worshipping at the Church of Anastasia, on the anniversary of the death of Athanasius (2 May 373) in 379. It is an important testimony for the establishment of a regular festival in the memory of a Church Father remembered as a champion of Orthodoxy, rather than as a martyr, and celebrated beyond his own city or province within a few years after his death. The celebration of the memory of Athanasius signifies the impact of current ecclesiastical conflicts upon the formation of the memory of the Church and the cult of its saints, which was now gradually extended towards including proponents of Orthodoxy alongside biblical figures and martyrs. The author expresses his certainty that Athanasius is in heaven and invokes his intercession specifically to uphold orthodoxy. Notably, Gregory also addresses an invocation at the end of his eulogy for Basil of Caesarea (see E01177). The sermon follows at first sight the structure of a eulogy, except for the fact that Gregory did not know Athanasius in person, and had no written hagiography to inform his account. He expresses his wish to see a biography being written for his hero, much like the biography of Antony by Athanasius himself (see E00631, E01236). His account is mostly an outline of the general context of Athanasius’ life, and of the Arian controversy in the 4th century. Interestingly, Gregory is aware of the fact that his congregation includes people who know more about the Alexandrian bishop than he does himself (§ 5). Gregory’s congregation certainly included Egyptian Christians residing or visiting Constantinople, as it is demonstrated by his Oration 34 which was given before a congregation of Egyptian sailors who had arrived at Constantinople with the fleet of the annona civica in 379/380. The oration states that there is a festival (πανήγυρις/panegyris) for Athanasius, perhaps meant to be a regular celebration like the memorials of martyrs. It is very probable that this feast was established by Gregory shortly after his arrival at Constantinople, serving as a programmatic statement about his intentions: Gregory declares to his community and further afield that his mission is to champion Nicene Orthodoxy in its Athanasian definition. This was politically and personally expedient for him. Gregory was personally convinced that the Christology of Athanasius of Alexandria was the only way forward for the Nicene party. By this, he differentiated himself from other prominent neo-Nicenes in Anatolia and Syria, like Basil of Caesarea and Meletios of Antioch (360-381). Yet, despite the disagreement, these men were his closest friends and allies, and it was with their support that he was sent to start his mission in Constantinople, while he had virtually no contacts with the Church of Alexandria and its bishop, Peter II (373-381), brother and successor of Athanasius. As relations between the Nicene communities of Alexandria and Antioch were strained, Gregory attempted to position himself in the political and doctrinal landscape of his time. At the local level, Gregory also needed the support of the Egyptians of Constantinople, who were apparently influenced by the bishop of Alexandria, and there was a clear danger of schism within the already small Nicene group of the capital. The Egyptians were unlikely to trust a fellow countryman of the two infamous rival bishops of Athanasius (Gregory of Cappadocia and George of Cappadocia), so Gregory was obliged to denounce them as publicly as possible, and to express his own devotion to Athanasius. Thus, in the closing paragraph of the text, where the author places his mission under the protection and patronage of Athanasius, invoking his intercession and help to lead the Nicene congregation of Constantinople to the path of Trinitarian Orthodoxy, to assist Gregory in his ministry, if he succeeds in becoming bishop of Constantinople, or to welcome him in Heaven, if his mission ends up in martyrdom. (‘And may you watch upon us from above propitiously, and lead this people to be a perfect worshipper of the Trinity in its perfection: contemplated and venerated in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As for ourselves, if our lot be one of peace, may you keep and aid us in our pastoral ministry; but should it be one of fighting, may you take us up or welcome us and set us together with yourself and those like you’).

Bibliography

Text and French translation: Mossay, J., and Lafontaine, G., Grégoire de Nazianze, Discours 20-23 (Sources chrétiennes 270; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1980), 86-193. English Translation: Schaff, P., and Wace, H. (eds.), A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series. Vol. 7 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 269-280. Further reading: Bernardi, J., La prédication des pères Cappadociens (Université de Paris, Sorbonne, 1968). Daley, B.E., Gregory of Nazianzus (The Early Church Fathers; London: Routledge, 2006). McGuckin, J.A., St Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001). Gwynn, D.M., Athanasius of Alexandria: Bishop, Theologian, Ascetic, Father (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Licence

Exports

Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

Categories

Keywords

Licence

Exports