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Gregory Nazianzen the Theologian On the Great Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (Oration XXI), Complete

Translated by Ch. Browne and J. Swallow.

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The reference in S:22 to "the Council which sat first at Seleucia...and afterwards at this mighty city," leaves no room for doubting that the Oration was delivered at Constantinople. Further local colour is found in the allusions of S:5. We are assured by the panegyric on S. Cyprian (Orat. xxiv. 1) that it was already the custom of the Church of Constantinople to observe annual festivals in honour of the Saints: and at present two days are kept by the Eastern Church, viz., Jan. 18th, as the day of the actual death of S. Athanasius, and May 2d, in memory of the translation of his remains to the church of S. Sophia at Constantinople. Probably, therefore, this Oration was delivered on the former day, on which Assemani holds that S. Athanasius died. Papebroke and (with some hesitation) Dr. Bright pronounce in favour of May 2d. Tillemont supposes that a.d. 379 is the year of its delivery; in which case it must have been very shortly after S. Gregory's arrival in the city. Since, however, no allusion is made to this, it seems, on the whole, more likely that it should be assigned to a.d. 380. The sermon takes high rank, even among S. Gregory's discourses, as the model of an ecclesiastical panegyric. It lacks, however, the charm of personal affection and intimate acquaintance with the inner life, which is characteristic of the orations concerned with his own relatives and friends.

1. In praising Athanasius, I shall be praising virtue. To speak of him and to praise virtue are identical, because he had, or, to speak more truly, has embraced virtue in its entirety. For all who have lived according to God still live unto God, though they have departed hence. For this reason, God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, since He is the God, not of the dead, but of the living. [3272] Again, in praising virtue, I shall be praising God, who gives virtue to men and lifts them up, or lifts them up again, to Himself by the enlightenment which is akin to Himself. [3273] For many and great as are our blessings—none can say how many and how great—which we have and shall have from God, this is the greatest and kindliest of all, our inclination and relationship to Him. For God is to intelligible things what the sun is to the things of sense. The one lightens the visible, the other the invisible, world. The one makes our bodily eyes to see the sun, the other makes our intellectual natures to see God. And, as that, which bestows on the things which see and are seen the power of seeing and being seen, is itself the most beautiful of visible things; so God, who creates, for those who think, and that which is thought of, the power of thinking and being thought of, is Himself the highest of the objects of thought, in Whom every desire finds its bourne, beyond Whom it can no further go. For not even the most philosophic, the most piercing, the most curious intellect has, or can ever have, a more exalted object. For this is the utmost of things desirable, and they who arrive at it find an entire rest from speculation.

[3272] S. Matt. xxii. 32.

[3273] 1 John i. 5.

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