Some ink (some virtual) has been spilled on novelist Ms Rice announcing that she has “left the Church” but not left Christ. Recently I have been reading and studying the five theological orations by St. Gregory the Theologian (also known as St. Gregory of Nazianzus where he was Bishop for a time). These orations (or homilies) in an important sense define what it means to be an orthodox Christian today. In the time just prior to the convening of the 2nd Ecumenical council in Constantinople, the majority of those in the area and expected in attendance were (roughly speaking) Arian in sympathy. St. Gregory just before this council gave in short succession, just outside the city, a series of 5 orations and the matter was settled in the cause of orthodoxy. And for the following 800 or so years, these lectures were the primary pedagogical examples of the art of rhetoric for those studying the art of the rhetor in the Eastern Roman world. An American analogy might be Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, after which the case for the Civil war was arguably settled and subsequently this has been a speech studied by debators and rhetors as a jewel of the art.

What does this have to do with Ms Rice and her disillusionment with the earthly Church? Her situation came to mind when I read this (from the 1st homily of this set, which is Oration #27 in oeuvre of St. Gregory). He wrote (spoke):

Such is the situation: this infection [to much bitter disputation and argument over theological detail] is unchecked and intolerable; “the great mystery” of our faith is in danger becoming a mere social accomplishment. [emphasis mine]

Later in that homily he writes (speaking again against bitter theological quarrels):
But first we must consider: what is this disorder of the tongue that leads us to compete in garrulity? what is this alarming disease, this appetite that can never be sated? Why do we keep our hands bound and out tongues armed?

Do we commend hospitality? Do we admire brotherly love, wifely affection, virginity, feeding the poor, singing psalms, night-long vigils, penitence? Do we mortify the body with fasting? Do we through prayer, take up our abode with God? Do we subordinate the inferior element in us to the better —- I mean, the dust to the spirit, as we should if we have returned the right verdict on the alloy of the two which is our nature? Do we make life a meditation of death? Do we establish our mastery over our passions, mindful of the nobility of our second birth? ...

So, what might this have to do with Ms Rice? Well, it might be said that her disappointment with the Church was that it wasn’t good enough as a social accomplishment. If that is all we are, we might as well quit it just as she did.

But, it might be offered, in the Church’s defense, that to complain of the failings of others and their tarnished social accomplishments is something like fretting about the log in my brother’s eye. Recall 1st Timothy 1:15.

The orations can be found in this small paperback: On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius

Articles by Mark Olson

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