Sunday, October 25, 2009

Notes on St. Gregory the Theologian's "On Himself and the Bishops"

Thursday, September 17, 2009
Notes for
St. Gregory the Theologian's "On Himself and the Bishops"
Maybe he should imitate Christ and bear his sufferings patiently without a violent backlash of harsh words, so he can receive a greater reward – but somebody needs to condemn their wicked conduct – the bishops, whose fate is left to the final purging fire [1 Corinthians 3], are soul-destroying assassins (&mis-kree-uhnts) – not going to name names & violate privacy – leopards and lions are gentle compared to bad bishops – these wolves in sheep’s clothing have dignity of office but not the grace to do good works -

Cynical attitude: workers do not profit from their work; Gregory ascetic but the bad bishops worldly, yet they are successful & considered virtuous
The "upright" but anonymous Basil (with others) convinced him by all sorts of prayers and protestations to become the bishop of the minuscule Sasima – couldn't help but accept the appointment, or else he would sin by pride – totally unprepared, despite rumors, to rule at Sasima
His only faults over the last three years have been his toleration of the bad bishops and his exhausting anxiety
Early ministry 115-135
He instilled Trinitarian orthodoxy and living faith (charity) in the residents, as people in Rome knew (e.g., Emperor St. Theodosius [Theo-doh-shee-uss] the Great, commemorated January 17) – these great people who knew him well blame his opponents, not him
Resignation 136-175
Thrace, northeastern Greece, area of Thessalonica
Envious bishops exiled him just for being moderate in his outlook, but he accepted it because he, as the good wheat, would rather be separate from the tares
Snobbery (according to the footnote): he discredits them, explaining their iniquity in the context of their low backgrounds (social status) – they are immature in that they haven't yet graduated/separated themselves from their past careers – plenty of ad hominem attacks (dung beetles)
What a bishop is 176-191
Bishop “should be the very best” so they can be firm in the faith and protect/shepherd and not forfeit many souls; implies that his enemy bishops are from among the very worst
Apostles as Bishops 192-261
Counterargument: saintly apostles were bishops who converted many by their preaching, but they came from inferior backgrounds
A simple-minded man (without secular education) living in absolute poverty can be a bishop of angelic virtue
Real deal: the apostles wrote things upon which there are numerous commentaries, things which Gregory has to work very hard to understand
Ignorant bishops are venomous serpents
Well-formed, Candid Speakers
Composition is twofold: thought & expression (be straightforward with simple language rather than flowery without substance)
If you can’t even begin to explain the mysteries of the faith at all, you are blind and not worthy to be a bishop
The bishops collectively constitute a den of thieves – hard enough to achieve theosis with good role models who succeeded the apostles, and even worse when the bishops are evil
Hasty Choice 371-394
Bishops chosen not based on any credentials or merit, but the sole fact that they are willing to rule
Level of dignity does not correspond to the training/experience/testing the bishop had –
Examples 395-453
Former lawyer sins against chastity and sobriety by partying with dirty dancers and drinking too much wine – contrast Simon Peter with Simon Magnus
Ex-publican or ex-soldier now sins against justice by his hoarding and misappropriation of funds
Some bestowal of grace in the enthronement ceremony
Haggai (not Micah as Gregory mistakenly said) teaches us that it is easier to do evil than good: sanctified meat does not purify the things it touches, and profane things make common the holy things they touch
The bishops will scandalize unbelievers if they set a bad example, because unbelievers measure the quality of religious faith by good reputation alone
Is Grace Sufficient? 541-574
Cause for great concern when the flock is holier than the shepherd
The Good Shepherd 576-609
Bishops’ Fashions

Nectarios (pronounce it Spanish-style) – first member of the senatorial committee to become bishop of Constantinople – no background in the Church – Gregory says he became bishop because he’s a politician – oftentimes he rants towards Nectarios
Gregory comes from the kind of money (rather than role) of the senatorial class (not actually a senatorial person, but he was indeed an aristocrat)
Assassination attempts from Arian mobs who threw stones at him and destroyed the altar of the churches at which he was preaching

In Pre-Constantinian Church (all bishops are ascetic), two criteria: (1) willing to accept martyrdom as a bishop; (2) sufficient education to be able to teach & convert (they knew the traditions)
4th century (total upheaval in the system): St. Constantine the Great makes the position of bishop a coveted position (all the upper classes want to become bishops)
unanticipated consequence of St. Constantine’s policy: mass conversions to monasticism -
post-Constantinian: split into the old Roman spirituality, and the ________
St. Gregory the Theologians wants to bring the two traditions back together, and he does this by arguing that the most qualified person for the episcopate is someone with the aristocratic background of wealth, privilege, and education (a fundamentally classist society), and only that aristocrat who has abandoned all these privileges
So Gregory critiques the non-aristocrats, and the aristocrats who are not ascetic
Beginning in the 4th century, a tradition began to circulate that celibacy was required for being a bishop – he, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, and ______ are responsible for this tradition
People identified as saints tend to fit the profile

Cappadocian Fathers said that although rebaptism of Arians was theologically accurate, it was pastorally ineffective – instead they should have them recite the Nicene Creed
Ejected because he was too moderate with the Arians, bc he insisted so strenuously that homoousios be predicated of the Holy Spirit, and bc he did not play the political games
He thought he could outmaneuver them by announcing he would resign, but they called his bluff and forced him to resign in order to save his honor
Council of Chalcedon – person and essence redefined as categories – homoousios extended to the Spirit then, but not actually inserted into the Creed
Intention when it was written was to follow the advice of Basil in on the Holy Spirit: it is too contentious to insert, if we do, we will
His theology was why he was an ascetic
St. Gregory the Theologian is an utter perfectionist, which is why his writings are so beautiful

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