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(LifeSiteNews) — Side by side with Athanasius, a second Doctor of the Church comes forward, at this glad season, offering to the risen Jesus the tribute of his learning and eloquence.

It is Gregory of Nazianzen, the friend of Basil; the great orator; the admirable poet, whose style combines energy of thought with a remarkable richness and ease of expression; the one among all the Gregories who has merited and received the glorious name of theologian, on account of the soundness of his teachings, the sublimity of his ideas, and the magnificence of his diction.

Holy Church exults at being able to offer us so grand a saint during Easter time, for no one has spoken more eloquently than he on the mystery of the Pasch. Let us listen to the commencement of his second sermon for Easter; and then judge for ourselves.

‘I will stand upon my watch,’ says the admirable Prophet Habakkuk. (Habakkuk 2:1) I, also, on this day, will imitate him; I will stand on the power and knowledge granted me by the favor of the Holy Ghost, that I may consider and know what is to be seen, and what will be told unto me. And I stood and I watched; and lo! a man ascending to the clouds; and he was of exceeding high stature, and his face was the face of an angel, and his garment was dazzling as a flash of lightning. And he lifted up his hand towards the East, and cried out with a loud voice. His voice was as the voice of a trumpet, and around him stood, as it were, a multitude of the heavenly host, and he said: ‘Today is salvation given to both the visible and the invisible world. Christ hath risen from the dead: do ye also rise. Christ hath returned to himself: do ye also return. Christ hath freed himself from the tomb: be ye set free from the bonds of sin. The gates of hell are opened, and death is crushed; and old Adam is laid aside, and the new one is created. Oh! if there be a new creature formed in Christ, be ye made new!’

Thus did he speak. Then did the other Angels repeat the Hymn they first sang when Christ was born on this earth and appeared to us men: Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth, in men of good will! I join my voice with them, and speak these things to you – oh! that I could have an angel’s voice, to make myself heard throughout the whole earth!

It is the Pasch of the Lord! the Pasch! In honor of the Trinity, I say it a third time: the Pasch! This is our feast of feasts, our solemnity of solemnities. It is as far above all the rest – not only of those which are human and earthly, but of those even which belong to Christ and are celebrated on his account – yes, it as far surpasses them all, as the sun surpasses the stars.

Commencing with yesterday, how grand was the day, with its torches and lights!… But how grander and brighter is all on this morning! Yesterday’s light was but the harbinger of the great Light that was to rise; it was but as foretaste of the joy that was to be given to us. But today, we are celebrating the resurrection itself, not merely in hope, but as actually risen, and drawing the whole earth to itself.

This is a sample of the fervid eloquence, wherewith our saint preached the mysteries of faith. He was a man of retirement and contemplation. The troubles of the world, in which he had been compelled to live, damped his spirits; the duplicity and wickedness of men fretted his noble heart; and leaving to another the perilous honor of the See of Constantinople, which he had reluctantly accepted a very short time previously – he flew back to his dear solitude, there to enjoy his God and the study of holy things.

And yet, during the short period of his episcopal government, notwithstanding all the obstacles that stood in his way, he confirmed the faith that had been shaken, and left behind him a track of light which continued even to the time when St. John Chrysostom was chosen to fill the troubled Chair of Byzantium.

The holy liturgy thus speaks to us of the virtues and actions of this great saint.

Gregory, a Cappadocian nobleman, surnamed the theologian, on account of his extraordinary learning in the sacred sciences, was born at Nazianzum in Cappadocia. He went through a complete course of studies at Athens together with St. Basil, after which he applied himself to the study of the Sacred Scriptures. The two friends retired to a monastery, where they spent several years over the Scripture, interpreting it not according to their own views, but by the mind and authority of the earlier Fathers.

Owing to their reputation for learning and virtue, they were called to the ministry of preaching the Gospel, and became the spiritual fathers of many souls.

After Gregory had returned home, he was made Bishop of Sasima, and afterwards administered the Church of Nazianzum. Being called, later on, to govern the Church of Constantinople, which was infected with heresy, he converted it to the Catholic faith. This success, far from gaining him everyone’s love, excited the envy of a great many. This caused a great division among the bishops, which led the saint to resign his See.

He said to them those words of the prophet: ‘If this tempest be stirred up on my account, cast me into the sea, that you may cease to be tossed.’ Whereupon he returned to Nazianzum; and, having got Eulalius made Bishop of that church, he devoted his whole time to the contemplation of divine things, and to the writing treatises upon them.

He wrote much, both in prose and verse; and in all, there is admirable piety and eloquence. In the opinion of learned and holy men, there is nothing to be found in his writings which is not conformable to true piety and Catholic truth, or which anyone could reasonably call in question.

He was a most vigorous defender of the consubstantiality of the Son of God. No one ever led a more saintly life than he; no one was to be compared to him for eloquence. He led the life of a monk, spending his whole time in solitude, occupied in writing and reading. Having reached a venerable old age, he died during the reign of the emperor Theodosius, and entered into the blessed life of heaven.

The Greek Church, in her Menæa, gives the following magnificent encomium of St. Gregory of Nazianzen.

1st HYMN
(Die XXV. Januarii.)

Let us celebrate the praises of the prince of Pontiffs, the great Doctor of the Church of Christ, the loud pealing organ, the well-tuned harp, the harmonious and sweet-sounding lute; and let us thus sing: Hail, O abyss of divine grace! Hail, Gregory, Father of fathers, whose spirit sublimely soared in heavenly thoughts!

With what hymns and canticles shall we praise thee, who wast as an angel, leading on earth a superhuman life? Thou wast the herald of the Word of God, the friend of the chaste virgin, companion of the apostolic choir, the glorious ornament of the martyrs and saints, the fervent adorer of the Eternal Trinity. O most holy and most worthy priest!

O ye faithful! Let us, assembled now together, honor, in sacred hymns, the prince of pontiffs, the glory of patriarchs, the interpreter of the dogmas and thoughts of Christ, the most sublime mind; let us thus address him: Hail, fount of theology, river of wisdom, and source of the knowledge of divine things! Hail, most bright star, that enlightenest the whole world by thy doctrine! Hail, powerful defender of piety, and generous opponent of impiety!

Thou, O father Gregory, didst wisely shun the dangers and snares of the flesh: and, ascending to the midst of heaven on a chariot of four virtues, thou soaredst to beauty ineffable. Now art thou replete with it; thou rejoicest in it, and obtainest for us peace and great mercy.

Opening thy mouth to receive the Word of God, thou didst draw in the spirit of wisdom; and, full of grace, thou soundest forth the divine dogmas, O thrice blessed Gregory! Initiated into angelic powers, thou didst preach the triple and undivided light. Illumined, therefore, by thy sublime teachings, we adore the Trinity, in which we confess one Godhead, that thus we may obtain the salvation of our souls.

Thou, O divinely inspired Gregory, didst, with thy tongue of fire, burn to nought the captious formulas of the heretics that fought against the Lord. Thou didst appear as a man with lips divine, speaking, in the spirit, the wondrous work of God, and showing us, in thy writings, the one same power and substance of the hidden and mysterious Trinity. Thou, as a triple sunlight, didst enlighten this terrestrial globe; and now thou ceaselessly intercedest for our souls.

Hail, river of God, ever full of the waters of grace, and gladdening the whole city of Christ the King with thy sublime words and teachings! Hail, torrent of delight, exhaustless sea, faithful and just guardian of doctrine, most vigorous defender of the Trinity, organ of the Holy Spirit, mind ever watchful, tongue harmonious that explainest the profound mysteries of the Scriptures! Pray now to Christ, that He grant His great mercy unto our souls.

Thou didst ascend the mount of virtues, renouncing all things earthly, and holding no fellowship with dead works. There thou didst receive the tables written with God’s own hand, the most pure dogmas of thy theology, wherein thou teachest us heavenly mysteries, O most wise Gregory.

Thou didst loved the Wisdom of God and the beauty of His words; thou didst prize them above all the pleasures of earth. Therefore, O most blessed one, did the Lord wonderfully adorn thee with a diadem of graces, and choose thee as His own theologian.

That thou mightest brightly enlighten thy mind with the light of the adorable Trinity, thou, O father, didst polish it, making it spotless by thy perfect profession of every virtue, as a new and freshly formed mirror. The divine reflections fell upon thee, and thou wast an image most like unto God.

Thou wast as a second Samuel given by God, yea, given to God, before thy conception, most blessed one! Thou wast adorned with prudence and temperance, and wast beautified with the most holy robe of the pontificate, O father! as a mediator between the Creator and creature.

Thou puttest thy venerable lips to the cup of Wisdom, O father Gregory, drawing thence a divine stream of theology, and distributing it abundantly to the faithful, and, by the same, repelling the torrent of heresies, which was laying waste the land, and was teeming with blasphemy. For in thee, the Holy Ghost found a steersman, who drove back and quelled the bold attacks of the impious, which raged like furious storms of wind: thou didst proclaim the Trinity in Unity of substance.

Let us, the sheep of the Church, celebrate, in holy hymns, the harp of the Holy Spirit, the scythe of heresy, the favorite of the orthodox, the second disciple that leans on Jesus’ breast, the contemplator of the Word, the wise arch-pastor and let us thus address him: Thou, O Gregory, art the good shepherd, delivering thyself up for us, as did Christ our master. Now thou art joyously exulting together with Paul, and art interceding for our souls.

We salute thee, O glorious Doctor of the Church, on whom both East and West have conferred the title of theologian! Illumined by the rays of the glorious Trinity, thou gavest us to share in the light thus imparted to thee – and a brighter was never granted to mortal eye.

In thee was verified that saying of our Savior: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) The purity of thy soul prepared thee to receive the divine light, and thy inspired pen has transmitted to thy fellow men something of thine own soul’s enraptured knowledge. Obtain for us the gift of faith, which puts the creature in communication with its God; obtain for us the gift of understanding, which makes the creature relish what it believes.

The object of all thy labors was to guard the faithful against the seductive wiles of heresy, by putting before them the magnificence of the divine dogmas. Oh! pray for us, that we may avoid the snares of false doctrines, and have our eye ever fixed on the ineffable light of the mysteries of faith; for as St. Peter tells us, “it is as a lamp in a dark place, that shineth until the day dawn, and until the Day-Star arise in our hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

There now seems to be a gleam of hope for the East, that has been, for so many long ages, a prey to error and slavery. Great changes are preparing for the unfortunate Byzantium, and politicians are studying how to profit by the crisis, and make her the prey of their respective governments. Canst thou forget the city of which thou wast once the pastor, and where thy name is still held in veneration? Oh! help her to throw off the shackles of schism and heresy.

Her being a slave to the infidel is the punishment of her having revolted against the Vicar of Christ; this yoke seems about to be broken; pray, O Gregory, that the more dangerous and humiliating one of error and schism may also be broken. A movement of return to the truth has already begun to show itself. Whole provinces are awakening to a knowledge of their misery, and are casting a look of hope towards the common Mother of all churches, who opens her arms to receive them.

Aid this long-desired conversion by thy prayers. Both East and West honor thee as one of the sublimest preachers of divine truth; obtain, by thy powerful intercession, that East and West may be once more united in the one fold, and under the one shepherd, before our risen Jesus returns to our earth to separate the cockle from the good seed, and lead back to heaven the Church, His Spouse and our mother, out of whose pale there is no salvation.

Help us, during this season, to contemplate the glories of our dearest resuscitated. Oh! for something of the holy enthusiasm for this Pasch, which inebriated thee with its joys, and inspired thee with such glowing eloquence! Jesus, the conqueror of death, was the object of thy fervent affections even from thy childhood; and when old age came, thy heart beat with love for Him.

Pray for us, that we too may persevere in His service; that His divine mysteries may ever be our grandest joy; that this year’s Pasch may ever abide in our souls; that the renovation it has brought us may be visible in the rest of our lives; and that it may, in each successive year of its return, find us attentive and eager to receive its graces, until the eternal Easter comes with its endless joy!

This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.