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E01831: Gregory of Nyssa in his Second Encomium on *Stephen the First Martyr (S00030), written in 386, refers to the feasts of Stephen, and of the Apostles *Peter (S00036), *James (S00108), and *John (S00042), probably celebrated on 26 and 27 December. Composed in Greek in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor).

online resource
posted on 02.09.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Gregory of Nyssa, Encomium On Stephen II (CPG 3187, BHG 1655)

(pages after Lendle 1990)

(97) ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΥ ΝΥΣΣΗΣ ΕΤΕΡΟΝ ΕΓΚΩΜΙΟΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΑΓΙΟΝ ΣΤΕΦΑΝΟΝ ΤΟΝ ΠΡΩΤΟΜΑΡΤΥΡΑ

Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, Second Encomium on the Holy Stephen, the Protomartyr

Ἐπεδήμησε Χριστὸς τῷ κόσμῳ εἰς σωτηρίαν καὶ μετ᾽ αὐτὸν ἐβλάστησαν οἱ καρποὶ τῆς ἐκκλησίας. ἔλαμψεν ὁ μάρτυς τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ συνέλαμψαν οἱ μάρτυρες τῆς μεγάλης οἰκονομίας. ἠκολούθησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ διδασκάλῳ τοῖς κυριακοῖς ἴχνεσιν ὁδεύοντες· μετὰ Χριστὸν οἱ χριστοφόροι· μετὰ τὸν ἥλιον τῆς δικαιοσύνης οἱ φωστῆρες τῆς οἰκουμένης. καὶ πρῶτος μὲν ἡμῖν ὁ Στέφανος ἤνθησεν, οὐκ ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαϊκῶν ἀκανθῶν πλακείς, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τῆς ἐκκλησιαστικῆς εὐθηνίας πρῶτος καρπὸς τῷ κυρίῳ προσενεχθείς. Ἰουδαῖοι μὲν γὰρ στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν πλέξαντες τῇ κεφαλῇ τοῦ σωτῆρος ἐπέθηκαν, ἀξίους τῆς κακῆς γεωργίας αὐτῶν τοὺς καρποὺς ἐπιδειξάμενοι τῷ δεσπότῃ τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος, ὡς διὰ τῆς προφητείας προανεφώνει λέγων· Ἀμπελὼν κυρίου Σαβαὼθ οἶκος τοῦ Ἰσραήλ ἐστι καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος Ἰούδα νεόφυτον ἠγαπημένον. ἔμεινα τοῦ ποιῆσαι σταφυλήν, ἐποίησε δὲ ἀκάνθας. οἱ δὲ τῆς εὐαγγελικῆς ἀληθείας ἐργάται πρῶτον προοίμιον εὐσεβείας καὶ πρώτην ἀπαρχὴν τῆς γεωργίας Στέφανον τὸν ἅγιον ἄνδρα προσφέρουσι τῷ δεσπότῃ, οἷα δή τινα στέφανον ἀληθῶς ἐκ πολλῶν καὶ διαφόρων ἀρετῶν συνηρμοσμένον. [….]

‘Christ sojourned in the world for salvation, and after Him sprouted the fruit of the Church: there shone the Witness of Truth, and with Him shone the witnesses of the great dispensation. The disciples followed the Master, abiding by the dominical footprints. After Christ, those bearing Christ; after the Sun of Righteousness, the luminaries of the world. And first bloomed for us Stephen, the ‘Crown’ [in Greek, the name Stephanos means ‘crown/wreath’], not plaited of Jewish thorns, but offered to the Lord as the first fruit of the harvest of the Church. Because the Jews plaited a crown of thorns and placed it onto the head of the Saviour, presenting a worthy fruit of their bad tillage to the Lord of the vineyard, as He reveals in the prophecy, saying: For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the man of Judah his pleasant plant. I looked that it should bring forth grapes, but it brought forth thorns (Isaiah 5:4, 7 [Septuagint]). Yet the labourers of the truth of the gospel offer to the Lord, as the first prelude of their piety and first fruit of their tillage, Stephen the holy man, truly like a crown composed of many and various virtues […].’

(97-98) The author refers to the work of Stephen in philanthropy and teaching. Before recounting his trial and martyrdom, he explains why he refers to Stephen on the feast of the apostles by the following words:

(98. 19-26)

δεῖ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὕτω παραδραμόντας τῷ πρωτομάρτυρι τὴν ὀφειλομένην ἀποδοῦναι, ἣν χθὲς ἀποπληρῶσαι τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ σώματος οὐκ ἐπέτρεψε, καὶ σήμερον τοῖς ἁγίοις ἀποστόλοις τὴν οἰκείαν μνήμην ἀποπληρῶσαι. πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ οὐχ ἡμέραις οὐδὲ χρόνοις τὰ τῶν ἁγίων ἐγκώμια περιορίζεται· Εἰς μνημόσυνον γάρ, φησίν, αἰώνιον ἔσται δίκαιος· ἔπειτα δέ, οἷς οὐ διαιρεῖται τὰ τῆς γνώμης. οὔτε τοίνυν μάρτυρες ἄνευ ἀποστόλων οὔτε πάλιν ἀπόστολοι χωρὶς ἐκείνων. διδάσκαλοι μὲν γὰρ μαρτύρων ἀπόστολοι· εἰκόνες δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οἱ μάρτυρες.

Indeed, we have to go through this quickly, and pay the homage we owe to the Protomartyr, which the frailty of our body did not permit us to fulfil yesterday, and today we need to accomplish his commemoration alongside that of the Holy Apostles. Above all, however, praises for the saints cannot not be confined to days or times. For he says, the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance (Ps. 111 [112]. 6). Besides, there is no division in their disposition: there can be namely no martyrs without apostles nor apostles without them. For the apostles are tutors of the martyrs, and the martyrs images of the apostles. (…)

(99-100)There follows an account of the trial and martyrdom of Stephen as described in Acts. Then Gregory passes to the subject of the three apostles:

(100. 11 - 101. 8)

ἀλλ᾽ ὁ μὲν Στέφανος οὕτω τὸν καλὸν ἀγωνισάμενος ἀγῶνα τὸν ἐν οὐρανοῖς κλῆρον ἐδέξατο. τῷ Στεφάνῳ δὲ τούτῳ πάντες ἐξαίφνης οἱ τίμιοι λίθοι συνεπλάκησαν, οἱ θειότατοι τῶν εὐαγγελίων κήρυκες, μεθ᾽ οὓς οἱ μάρτυρες, καὶ μετ᾽ αὐτοὺς πάλιν οἱ σωτηρίῳ ἀρετῇ διαλάμψαντες· προηγουμένως δὲ οἱ ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος μνημονευόμενοι πολὺ καὶ λαμπρὸν ἀπαστράπτοντες τὸ κάλλος τῆς εὐσεβείας, λέγω δὴ Πέτρος καὶ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης, οἱ καὶ τῆς ἀποστολικῆς ἁρμονίας ἔξαρχοι καὶ τῆς ἐκκλησιαστικῆς εὐδοξίας στέφανοι. οὐκ ἀφίσταμαι γὰρ τῆς τοῦ Στεφάνου προσηγορίας· ἀλλὰ πολλάκις καὶ μυριάκις λέγων ἔτι διψῶν ἐπαναλαμβάνω. Στεφάνου γὰρ κόρος οὐκ ἔστι τοῖς τὸ μακάριον τέλος τῶν στεφάνων ἐκδεχομένοις. οὐκοῦν, εἰ δεῖ φιλαλήθως εἰπεῖν, ἀπὸ Στεφάνου πάλιν στεφάνοις εὐωχοῦμεν καὶ κοινωνοῦμεν αὐτῶν ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐπειδήπερ ἐλπίζομεν κοινωνεῖν καὶ μένειν, καὶ συνδοξάσομεν· βεβαιούσης γὰρ τῆς ἐπαγγελίας ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεως πολυπλασιάζεται.

Πάλιν δὲ ἡμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἡ ἀπόλαυσις, τῷ τὴν κυριακὴν τῆς ἀναστάσεως ἡμέραν συλλάμψαι τῇ μνήμῃ τῶν μαρτύρων. ἐν ταύτῃ γὰρ προηγουμένως ἡμῶν τὰς διανοίας κατηύγασεν ὁ φωτισμὸς τῆς δόξης τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἐν ᾗ τὰς σωτηρίους ἀκτῖνας τῆς δικαιοσύνης ἀνθήσας τὸ μὲν σκότος τῆς ἀσεβείας ἠφάνισε, τὰς δὲ ψυχὰς τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τῆς ἀληθείας ἐλάμπρυνε.

'But Stephen (‘the Crown’) fought the good fight like that, and received his lot in heaven. And into this ‘Crown’ were swiftly entwined all the other precious stones: the most divine heralds of the gospels, and after them the martyrs, and, after them, those who shone by their saving virtue. Above all, the men presently commemorated and shining by the great and bright splendour of their piety: I mean Peter, James, and John, the chiefs of the apostolic company and name. I am not departing from the subject of Stephen, but keep saying it many and thousands of times, and yet still thirst for it and repeat: those who welcome the blessed end of the crowns can never have enough of Stephen, ‘the Crown’! Thus, to say the truth, after Stephen (‘the Crown’), again in crowns we rejoice and in their memory we join, precisely because it is in their company that we hope to be and remain, and will worship together! Because by the confirmation of the covenant is the fellowship of the faith multiplied.

Once again, brethren, we have the enjoyment of good things, as the memory of the martyrs shines together with the dominical day of Resurrection. For earlier this day, the light of the glory of Christ’s gospel illuminated our minds, as it radiated the saving rays of righteousness, eliminated the darkness of impiety, and brightened our souls by the knowledge of truth. (……)’

(101) Christ rose like a sun, but his light did not hide the other lights and stars of the saints, prophets, and apostles. (102) John the Baptist is allegorically described as a burning lamp in the Scriptures, while Christ’s apostles are luminaries illuminating the entire world. The chief among them were Peter, James, and John, whose martyrdoms are commemorated on this day. The author refers to the crucifixion of Peter and the decapitation of James. The part referring to John is corrupt, but it seems to just be arguing that he may be counted among the martyrs despite the fact that his death was not violent. (103) The author argues that Peter, James, and John were the most important disciples, because only they are allowed by Jesus to be present at his most important moments, namely the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and his last prayer at Gethsemane. Yet it is no man’s task to make distinctions among the saints. (104-105) Although focusing on Peter, James, and John, the feast is in fact dedicated to all the apostles. One truly honours their memory by imitating their ways.

Text: Lendle 1990
Translation and summary: E. Rizos

History

Evidence ID

E01831

Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 John the Evangelist : S00042 James the Apostle, son of Zebedee, ob. 1st c. : S00108 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source

Πέτρος Ἰωάννης Ἰάκωβος Στέφανος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

386

Evidence not after

386

Activity not before

386

Activity not after

386

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nȳsa

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

Nȳsa Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Source

Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372 ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage on philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. On the manuscript tradition of this oration, see: Heil, Cavarnos, and Lendle 1990, ccxvii-ccxviii (O. Lendle), and http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/4817/

Discussion

The Second Encomium on Stephen by Gregory of Nyssa consists of two parts. The first half (97.1-101.1: Ἐπεδήμησε Χριστὸς τῷ κόσμῳ [……] τῆς πίστεως πολυπλασιάζεται) is the overdue conclusion of an unfinished oration on the feast of Stephen, the First Martyr, which the author reportedly failed to finish one day earlier (26 December). The second (101.2-105.28: Πάλιν δὲ ἡμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἡ ἀπόλαυσις [……] ᾧ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν.) refers to the feast of the day, namely the festival of the Apostles *Peter, *James, and *John (27 December). Gregory informs us that the latter fell on a Sunday, which allows us to date the text to AD 386 (Daniélou 1955, 367-368). Jean Daniélou believed that the Second Encomium on Stephen was delivered one day after his First Encomium on Stephen, but that is less than certain. In any case, Gregory’s oration On the Birth of Christ, his two Encomia On Stephen and the one On Basil of Caesarea are crucial testimonies of the early formation of the feasts of Christmastide, as celebrated in Cappadocia in the 380s. The feasts of the four apostles Peter, James, John, and Paul, following that of the Protomartyr Stephen, seem to have been an important part of Christmastide in the 4th century (for a discussion of the feast of Stephen and its connection with Christmas, see E01830). Their order seems to have been liable to local variations: the Syriac Martyrology records John and James on 27, and Peter and Paul on 28 December; the Hieronymian Martyrology records John and James on 27, but omits Peter and Paul, for whom it records their Roman feast six months later, on 29 June. In our text, Gregory of Nyssa seems to suggest that his church celebrated Peter, James, and John together, perhaps on 27 December. He does not mention Paul, but he refers to his feast in his Encomium on Basil of Caesarea. It seems that Paul had a separate feast, perhaps on 28 December. The Calendar of Oxyrhynchus (dating from AD 535), records the feast of Peter and Paul on 28 December, but it omits John, James and Stephen (see E000164). In his Encomium on Basil of Caesarea (E01808), Gregory refers to the feasts of Christmas, Stephen, and the Apostles as the ‘festivities of the year’ (αἱ πανηγύρεις τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ). This may mean that this block of four consecutive festal days was understood as a New Year celebration, and they are indeed the feasts which open both the Syriac and Hieronymian Martyrologies. They may have been the Christian response to the pagan festivities of winter solstice and the kalends of January. The reasons for placing these feasts in late December are unrelated to the historical dates of these figures’ deaths, since they are not mentioned by any of the canonical or apocryphal New Testament texts. Our text shows that the memory of these New Testament martyrs and apostles was linked to that of the birth of Christ, as the events and figures marking the start of the life of the Christian Church. It is unknown when and where this set of feasts was first established. Like the feast of Stephen, those of the Apostles may date from the initial establishment of the festivities of Christmas and Epiphany, and the adoption of a fixed solar calendar of more or less universal use by the Christians. Another interesting aspect is the emphasis of the feast on Peter, James, John, and Paul. Gregory is careful to stress that the day in fact is dedicated to all the apostles, and not to the leading ones only, but he also explains why Peter, James, and John have a special position. The idea of the special primacy of this group, based on their central role in the gospels, seems to have been broadly accepted, as suggested by a phrase ascribed by Eusebius of Caesarea to Clement of Alexandria (Ecclesiastical History, 2.1.3-4, quoted in E00173). The three apostles were also figures of a special local interest for Rome (Peter), Jerusalem (James), and Ephesos (John). Could this feast pay homage to these elder centres of Christianity? Finally, one may wonder if the celebration of Peter and Paul in December was an exclusively Eastern custom or if it was known in Rome and the West, where their feast-day seems to have been established on 29 June in the mid-third century. Unlike the feast of Stephen, whose feast has remained a part of Christmastide in most Christian traditions down to our days, the December feasts of the Apostles proved to be less durable. The Byzantine Church abolished them altogether, since none of them appears in the Synaxarion of Constantinople. In the West, the feast of John on 27 December survived in the Roman Church, while a feast of James on 30 December was kept by the Mozarabic Church.

Bibliography

Text: Heil, G., J. P. Cavarnos, and O. Lendle, eds. Gregorii Nysseni Opera X.1: Gregorii Nysseni Sermones Ii. Leiden: Brill, 1990, 107-134 (O. Lendle). Further reading: Bernardi, J. La prédication des pères Cappadociens, Paris : Université de Paris, 1968, 290-294. Botte, B. Les origins de la Noël et de l’Epiphanie, Louvain : Abbaye du Mont César, 1932. Comings, J. B. Aspects of the Liturgical Year in Cappadocia (325-430). Patristic Studies. New York: Peter Lang, 2005, 61-120. Daniélou, J. (1955), ‘Chronologie des sermons de Grégoire de Nysse’, Revue des Sciences Religieuses 29.4, 346-372. Mossay, J. Les fetes de Noël et d’Epiphanie d’après les sources littéraires Cappadociennes du IVe siècle, Louvain : Abbaye du Mont César, 1965 (esp. 17-20, 62-65). Roll, S. K. Toward the Origins of Christmas, Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995. Limberis, V., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Voicu, S. J. ‘Feste di apostoli a la fine di Dicembre.’ Studi sull’ Oriente Cristiano 8.2 (2002), 47-77. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H., “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P., ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

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