Gregory Nazianzus on the Pursuit of Wisdom

A rich, but very busy semester has cut into the frequency of my blog postings this year.  However, a spring “snow day” here in Manitoba has provided me with the opportunity to share a quote from the 4th century Church Father Gregory Nazianzus.  I was lecturing on the Cappadocian Fathers last week in my “Reading with the Fathers” class and we will be discussing Gregory’s “Defense of His Flight to Pontus,” as well as his “Last Farewell” (delivered at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.) this coming week.

The following excerpt from Gregory’s “Defense” has something to say to our contemporary church culture in the great majority of its manifestations which seems intent on continually lowering the bar of discipleship:

“Now, if we were to speak gently to one of them, advancing, as follows, step by step in argument: ‘Tell me, my good sir, do you call dancing anything, and flute-playing?’ ‘Certainly,’ they would say. ‘What then of wisdom and being wise, which we venture to
define as a knowledge of things divine and human?’ This also they will admit. ‘Are then these accomplishments better than and superior to wisdom, or wisdom by far better than these?’ ‘Better even than all things,’ I know well that they will say. Up to this point they are judicious. ‘Well, dancing and flute-playing require to be taught and learnt, a process which takes time, and much toil in the sweat of the brow, and sometimes the payment of fees, and entreaties for initiation, and long absence from home, and all else which must be done and borne for the acquisition of experience: but as for wisdom, which is chief of all things, and holds in her embrace everything which is good, so that even God himself prefers this title to all the names which He is called; are we to suppose that it is a matter of such slight consequence, and so accessible, that we need but wish, and we would be wise?'”1

The oration, which is one of the great theological treatises on the spiritual realities of pastoral ministry,  can be read here.

  1. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 2, para. 50.

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