Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

37. Cappadocia: Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory alternated between leadership of churches in Nazianzus (Cappadocia) and the imperial capital of Constantinople and periods of retirement. This study will concentrate on his Orations 39 (“On the Holy Lights” — preached on Sunday, January 5, on the baptism of Christ) and especially 40 (“On Holy Baptism,” preached on the following day), probably in the year 380.1 The latter is the most elaborate of the exhortations to baptism of the period, expanded into a rather full theology of baptism.2 Although both sermons were delivered during his brief tenure as bishop of Constantinople (379-381), Gregory’s intellectual and spiritual formation was in Cappadocia, and their many similarities in contents to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa justify placing discussion of him at this point.

1. J. M. Szymusiak, “Pour une chronologie des discours de S. Grégoire de Nazianze,” Vigiliae Christianae 20 (1966): 183–189 (184-185).

2. Heinz Althaus, Die Heilslehre des heiligen Gregor von Nazianz (Münster: Aschendorff, 1972), pp. 153–180, on baptism as the subjective appropriation of Christ’s salvation; D. F. Winslow, “Orthodox Baptism — A Problem for Gregory of Nazianzus,” Studia patristica 14 (1976): 371–374; Everett Ferguson, “Exhortations to Baptism in the Cappadocians,” Studia patristica 32 (1997): 121–129. I use but modify for both orations the translation by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (repr. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Second Series, Vol. 7, pp. 352–377; Greek text and French translation in C. Moreschini and P. Gallay, Grégoire de Nazianze Discours 38-41, Sources chrétiennes 358 (Paris: Cerf, 1990), who consider 39 and 40 more likely to have been delivered in 381, the date given by Browne and Swallow. Althaus, p. 153, gives 380; he says that Epiphany was the name for the feast of the incarnation; when Christmas was introduced, it became Epiphany, and Gregory Nazianzus introduced the name “Lights” for the festival on January 6. Gabriele Winkler, “Die Licht-Erscheinung bei der Taufe Jesu und der Ursprung des Epiphaniefestes: Eine Untersuchung griechischer, syrischer, armenischer und lateinischer Quellen,” Oriens Christianus 78 (1994): 177–229 (pp. 221–222), notes the use of Epiphany and Theophany for the manifestations of the divinity of Jesus (at his birth and his baptism) and suggests Gregory’s name “Lights,” for the festival may go back to older conceptions of the appearance of light at Jesus’ baptism. Justin Mossay, Les fêtes de Noël et d’Épiphanie d’après les sources littéraires Cappadociennes du IVe siècle (Louvain: Abbaye du Mont César, 1965), pp. 21–30 on the names of the feasts, pp. 31–44 on their celebration, pp. 45–65 on their ideological and theological context, and p. 65 for conclusions.

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