Essay / Theology

Gregory’s New Decalogue

Gregory Nazianzus writing Gregory of Nazianzus, in his sermon on Baptism (Oration 40:65), stumbles into an interesting comparison and makes the most of it for his preaching. He is thinking of how the Christians he is about to baptize are being introduced into the great mystery that is life in Christ, and it makes him think of the way Moses went up the mountain, into the cloud, to encounter the glory of God and receive the law. Not wanting to let go of that similarity, Gregory nevertheless notices the dissimilarity: Christian baptism is not primarily the receiving of a law, but a transformation by faith. And faith, for Gregory, signifies “that which is believed,” the content of the creed.

So Gregory speaks to his baptizands as blank tablets which are about to have the faith written on them: a “new Decalogue,” a ten-point summary of the faith:

But not yet perhaps is there formed upon your soul any writing good or bad; and you want to be written upon today, and formed by us into perfection. Let us go within the cloud. Give me the tables of your heart; I will be your Moses, though this be a bold thing to say; I will write on them with the finger of God a new Decalogue. I will write on them a shorter method of salvation. And if there be any heretical or unreasoning beast, let him remain below, or he will run the risk of being stoned by the Word of truth.

1. I will baptize you and make you a disciple in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; and these Three have One common name, the Godhead. And you shall know, both by appearances and by words that you reject all ungodliness, and are united to all the Godhead.

2. Believe that all that is in the world, both all that is seen and all that is unseen, was made out of nothing by God, and is governed by the Providence of its Creator, and will receive a change to a better state.

3. Believe that evil has no substance or kingdom, either unoriginate or self-existent or created by God; but that it is our work, and the evil one’s and came upon us through our heedlessness, but not from our Creator.

4. Believe that the Son of God, the Eternal Word, Who was begotten of the Father before all time and without a body, was in these latter days for your sake made also Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary ineffably and stainlessly (for nothing can be stained where God is, and by which salvation comes), in His own Person at once entire Man and perfect God, for the sake of the entire sufferer, that He may bestow salvation on your whole being, having destroyed the whole condemnation of your sins: impassible in His Godhead, passible in that which He assumed; as much Man for your sake as you are made God for His.

5. Believe that for us sinners He was led to death; was crucified and buried, so far as to taste of death;

6. And that He rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven, that He might take you with Him who were lying low;

7. And that He will come again with His glorious Presence to judge the quick and the dead; no longer flesh, nor yet without a body, according to the laws which He alone knows of a more godlike body, that He may be seen by those who pierced Him, and on the other hand may remain as God without carnality.

8. Receive besides this the Resurrection, the Judgment and the Reward according to the righteous scales of God;

9. And believe that this will be Light to those whose mind is purified (that is, God — seen and known) proportionate to their degree of purity, which we call the Kingdom of heaven; but to those who suffer from blindness of their ruling faculty, darkness, that is estrangement from God, proportionate to their blindness here.

10. Then, in the tenth place, work for that which is good upon this foundation of dogma; for faith without works is dead, even as are works apart from faith.

This is all that may be divulged of the Sacrament, and that is not forbidden to the ear of the many. The rest you shall learn within the Church by the grace of the Holy Trinity; and those matters you shall conceal within yourself, sealed and secure.

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