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Gregory of Naziansus

(2 posts)

An Early Church Mother

Thursday··2018·08·30
Councils may convene and compose creeds, but heresy marches on. Though the Council of Nicaea clarified the church’s teaching on the divinity of Christ, Trinitarian orthodoxy remained under attack. Arianism had not gone away, nor had the Pneumatomachians, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379–395) convened the Council of Constantinople in 381. The work of the council is summarized in the Constantinople Creed, which reiterates the deity of Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets.” The primary leader of the council was Gregory of Nazianzus (330–385). He was born to Christian parents; Gregory, his father, had been a heretic, but was converted through the witness of his wife, Nonna. Of his mother, he wrote, She was a wife according to the mind of Solomon; in all things subject to her husband according to the laws of marriage, not ashamed to be his teacher and his leader in true religion. She solved the difficult problem of uniting a higher culture, especially in knowledge of divine things and strict exercise of devotion, with the practical care of her household. If she was active in her house, she seemed to know nothing of the exercises of religion; if she occupied herself with God and His worship, she seemed to be a stranger to every earthly occupation: she was whole in everything. Experiences had instilled into her unbounded confidence in the effects of believing prayer; therefore she was most diligent in supplications, and by prayer overcame even the deepest feelings of grief over her own and others” sufferings. She had by this means attained such control over her spirit, that in every sorrow she encountered, she never uttered a plaintive tone before she had thanked God. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 181–182.

Monergist Father: Gregory of Naziansus

Friday··2018·08·31
Of Gregory, Steve Lawson writes, “like others of his time, he did not grasp [the doctrines of grace] in a systematic way.” Still, the sovereignty of God and monergistic salvation are apparent in his writings. Gregory was a strong believer in God’s absolute sovereignty over the affairs of men, world events, and eternal destinies. In affirming the doctrine of providence, he writes, “Believe that the whole universe, all that is visible and all that is invisible, was brought into being out of nothing by God and is governed by the Providence of its Creator, and will receive a change to a better condition.” Here he asserted that God controls all that He created. In a prayer in his eulogy for his brother Caesarius, he likewise addressed God with these words: “O Lord and Maker of all things, and specially of this our frame! O God and Father and Pilot of men who are Yours! O Lord of life and death! O Judge and Benefactor of our souls! O Maker and Transformer in due time of all things by Your designing Word, according to the knowledge of the depth of Your wisdom and providence!” These statements affirm the truth of God’s supreme reign over the world. . . . Gregory believed that the minds of fallen men are imprisoned in sin, a spiritual state that prevents them from understanding divine truth. Concerning this bondage, Gregory states, “For in no other way does the coarseness of a material body and a captive mind come to comprehension of God except by being helped.” Fallen men’s minds are so enslaved they cannot know God by their own initiative or intellect. . . . Gregory understood that believers were chosen by God before time began. Looking beyond the large numbers of people merely attending church, he affirms that salvation belongs to a chosen remnant: “God does not delight in numbers! ‘You count your tens of thousands, but God counts those who will be saved; you the immeasurable grains of sand but, I the vessels of election.” Gregory taught that the names of believers in Christ were recorded before they believed. He writes: “Perhaps you have heard . . . of a certain book of the living, and of a book of them that are not to be saved, where we shall all be written, or rather are already written.” This book of life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:12) contains the names of all the saved; their names were written there long ago. Thus, election precedes faith. . . . No unconverted person, Gregory affirmed, can see or enter God’s kingdom apart from the new birth. Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit who works this regeneration; no human being can cause himself to be born again. Gregory writes: “The divine Spirit created me, and the breath of the Almighty taught me; and again, ‘You will send forth Your Spirit and they will be created, and you will renew the face of the earth.’ He also fashions the spiritual rebirth. Be persuaded by the text: ‘Nobody can see the kingdom or receive it unless he has been born from above by the Spirit, unless he has been purified from his earlier birth.’” Gregory was clear that the Spirit is the sole Author of regeneration. . . . Commenting on Romans 9:16, Gregory argued that no man can choose what is right apart from the gift of the mercy of God. In other words, apart from sovereign grace, man cannot exercise his will to believe on Christ. He writes: For when you hear, Not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy, I counsel you to think the same. For since there are some who are so proud of their successes that they attribute all to themselves and nothing to Him that made them and gave them wisdom and supplied them with good; such are taught by this word that even to wish well needs help from God; or rather that even to choose what is right is divine and a gift of the mercy of God. For it is necessary both that we should be our own masters and also that our salvation should be of God. This is why He says not of him that wills; that is, not of him that wills only, nor of him that runs only, but also of God. . . . Next; since to will also is from God, he has attributed the whole to God with reason. However much you may run, however much you may wrestle, yet you need one to give the crown. This statement gives the proper prominence to the priority of the divine will in the regeneration of elect sinners. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 186–190.

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