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Gregory Nazianzen the Theologian On the Holy Lights (Oration XXXIX), Complete

Translated by Ch. Browne and J. Swallow.

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III. Is there any such among the shadowy purifications of the Law, aiding as it did with temporary sprinklings, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean; [3915] or do the gentiles celebrate any such thing in their mysteries, every ceremony and mystery of which to me is nonsense, and a dark invention of demons, and a figment of an unhappy mind, aided by time, and hidden by fable? For what they worship as true, they veil as mythical. But if these things are true, they ought not to be called myths, but to be proved not to be shameful; [3916] and if they are false, they ought not to be objects of wonder; nor ought people so inconsiderately to hold the most contrary opinions about the same thing, as if they were playing in the market-place with boys or really ill-disposed men, not engaged in discussion with men of sense, and worshippers of the Word, though despisers of this artificial plausibility.

IV. We are not concerned in these mysteries with birth of Zeus and thefts of the Cretan Tyrant [3917] (though the Greeks may be displeased at such a title for him), nor with the name of Curetes, and the armed dances, which were to hide the wailings of a weeping god, that he might escape from his father's hate. For indeed it would be a strange thing that he who was swallowed as a stone should be made to weep as a child. [3918] Nor are we concerned with Phrygian mutilations and flutes and Corybantes, [3919] and all the ravings of men concerning Rhea, consecrating people to the mother of the gods, and being initiated into such ceremonies as befit the mother of such gods as these. Nor have we any carrying away of the Maiden, [3920] nor wandering of Demeter, nor her intimacy with Celei and Triptolemi and Dragons; nor her doings and sufferings...for I am ashamed to bring into daylight that ceremony of the night, and to make a sacred mystery of obscenity. Eleusis knows these things, and so do those who are eyewitnesses of what is there guarded by silence, and well worthy of it. Nor is our commemoration one of Dionysus, and the thigh that travailed with an incomplete birth, as before a head had travailed with another; [3921] nor of the hermaphrodite god, nor a chorus of the drunken and enervated host; nor of the folly of the Thebans which honours him; nor the thunderbolt of Semele which they adore. Nor is it the harlot mysteries of Aphrodite, who, as they themselves admit, was basely born and basely honoured; nor have we here Phalli and Ithyphalli, [3922] shameful both in form and action; nor Taurian massacres of strangers; [3923] nor blood of Laconian youths shed upon the altars, as they scourged themselves with the whips; [3924] and in this case alone use their courage badly, who honour a goddess, and her a virgin. For these same people both honour effeminacy, and worship boldness.

[3915] This is the same word which in S. John i. 5., is rendered by "comprehend."

[3916] Heb. vii. 13.

[3917] I.e. Zeus, who was said by some to be a deified man, once tyrant of Crete, where his tomb was shown.

[3918] The allusion is to the birth of Zeus. Kronos the Titan, father of the gods, was the husband of Rhea, who bore him children. But an oracle having declared that Kronos should be dethroned by his children, he swallowed them immediately after they were born. Rhea, however, on the birth of Zeus, aided by the Curetes, a wild band of Cretan Priests, concealed the child, and substituted a stone, which Kronos swallowed in his haste without perceiving the difference. The stone made him very sick, and he vomited forth the children whom he had previously swallowed; and by them and Zeus the prophecy was fulfilled. Kronos was deposed and imprisoned in Tartarus.

[3919] There was a temple of Rhea in Phrygia, in which at her festivals people mutilated themselves to do her honour. The flutes alluded to served to turn the thoughts of the sufferers from the pain of the operation. The Corybantes were the ministers of the goddess, who led the wild orgies of her worship. It is believed that there is an allusion to this practice of self-mutilation in Galat. v. 12. So at least S. Jerome, S. Ambrose, and all the Greek Fathers take the passage. S. Thomas Aquinas, understanding the word in the same sense, applies it mystically; and Estius, who here follows Erasmus, refers the "cutting off" merely to excommunication, a sense which he calls "Apostolico sensu dignior," though why "dignior" it is not easy to see. Yet he acknowledges that those who interpret it literally do so "non immerito."

[3920] The mythus of the Rape of Persephone and its consequences.

[3921] Dionysus was said to have been born from the thigh of Zeus, as Athene to have sprung full-grown and armed at all points from his head.

[3922] These myths and practices are too shameful to be described.

[3923] See the Iphigenia In Tauris of Euripides.

[3924] It was a custom of the Spartans that at their great festival of Artemis the youths who were just coming of age (Ephebi) should scourge themselves cruelly on her altar in honour of the goddess, and to prove their manhood.

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