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Gregory Nazianzen the Theologian On His Father's Silence, Because of the Plague of Hail (Oration XVI), Complete

Translated by Ch. Browne and J. Swallow.

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This Oration belongs to the year a.d. 373. A series of disasters had befallen the people of Nazianzus. A deadly cattle plague, which had devastated their herds, had been followed by a prolonged drought, and now their just ripened crops had been ruined by a storm of rain and hail. The people flocked to the church, and finding S. Gregory the elder so overwhelmed by his sense of these terrible misfortunes that he was unable to address them, implored his coadjutor to enter the pulpit. The occasion gave no time for preparation, so S. Gregory poured out his feelings in a discourse which was in the fullest sense of the words ex tempore. Its present form, however, as Benoit suggests, may be due to a later polishing of notes taken down at the time of delivery.

1. Why do you infringe upon the approved order of things? Why would you do violence to a tongue which is under obligation to the law? Why do you challenge a speech which is in subjection to the Spirit? Why, when you have excused the head, have you hastened to the feet? Why do you pass by Aaron [3048] and urge forward Eleazar? I cannot allow the fountain to be dammed up, while the rivulet runs its course; the sun to be hidden, while the star shines forth; hoar hairs to be in retirement, while youth lays down the law; wisdom to be silent, while inexperience speaks with assurance. A heavy rain is not always more useful than a gentle shower. Nay, indeed, if it be too violent, it sweeps away the earth, and increases the proportion of the farmer's loss: while a gentle fall, which sinks deep, enriches the soil, benefits the tiller and makes the corn grow to a fine crop. So the fluent speech is not more profitable than the wise. For the one, though it perhaps gave a slight pleasure, passes away, and is dispersed as soon, and with as little effect, as the air on which it struck, though it charms with its eloquence the greedy ear. But the other sinks into the mind, and opening wide its mouth, fills it [3049] with the Spirit, and, showing itself nobler than its origin, produces a rich harvest by a few syllables.

[3048] Aaron, S. Gregory the elder. Eleazar, S. Gregory Nazianzen.

[3049] Ps. lxxxi. 11.

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