St Gregory the Theologian: Have You Become Rich Through His Divinity?

Feast of St. Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles

Gregory_Theologian_Square_2.jpgTHE ARTIFICER of the universe, the Logos, created man as a single living creature from both elements, that is to say, from the nature of both the visible and the invisible worlds. On the one hand He took the body from already pre-existing matter, on the other He endowed it with breath from Himself, which Scripture terms the intelligent soul and the image of God (Gn. 1.27; 2.7). He set man upon the earth as a second world, a great world in a little one, as a new kind of angel, adoring God with both aspects of his twofold being, fully initiated into the visible creation but only partially into the invisible, king of all that exists on earth but subject to the King above, both earthly and heavenly, both transient and immortal, both visible and invisible, situated between greatness and lowliness, at the same time both spirit and flesh; spirit by grace, and flesh that he may be raised on high; spirit, that he may continue in existence and glorify his Benefactor, flesh, that he may suffer, and that through suffering may be reminded and chastened if he grows proud because of his greatness; a living being guided here by divine providence and then translated elsewhere; and, the greatest mystery of all, deified by turning towards God. [. . .]

This human creation He set in paradise (whatever the term “paradise” may mean), and honored him by granting him self-determination, so that the good might belong to him by virtue of his own free choice, no less than as the gift of Him who provided the seeds. He set him in paradise as a cultivator of immortal plants—perhaps by this is meant divine concepts, both of the more simple and of the more perfect kind—naked by virtue of his simplicity and his life without artifice, and bereft of any covering or protection, for that is how it was fitting that the original man should be. And He gave him law as material upon which to exercise his free will. The law was a commandment concerning the fruits which he might eat, and which kind he was not to touch. The latter, the tree of knowledge, was not planted originally with any evil intent, nor was it forbidden in a spirit of jealousy: let not the enemies of God make any such suggestion or think to imitate the serpent. On the contrary, it was good if eaten at the right time; for, as I understand it, the fruit was contemplation, which is only safely attempted by those who have attained a more perfect state. But it was not good for those at a lower stage of development, who have less control over their desire, just as mature food is not profitable for those of tender years who still need milk. But afterwards, through the envy of the devil and the temptation to which the woman succumbed because she was more vulnerable, and which she then proposed to the man because she was more persuasive—alas for my weakness! for mine is the infirmity of my first parent—he forgot the commandment which had been given to him and yielded to that bitter food. And so he became an exile at once from the tree of life and from paradise and from God through the wrong he had done, and put on the garments of skin, by which is meant perhaps the grosser flesh that is mortal and opaque; and thereupon he first experienced shame and hid from God. Yet in consequence he also made a gain in the form of death, which cuts off sin, and so prevents evil from becoming immortal. Thus the penalty becomes an act of compassion. For such is the way, I believe, that God punishes.

Initially man was corrected in many ways on account of the many sins which the root of evil put forth like shoots, for various reasons and on various occasions. He was corrected by word, by law, by prophets, by benefactions, by threats, by blows, by floods, by conflagrations, by wars, by victories, by defeats, by signs from the sky, by signs from air, from the earth, from the sea, by signs performed by men, by cities and by nations, by unforeseen changes of fortune—the purpose of all these things being to extirpate evil. Finally, a stronger medicine was necessary. . . . This was the Logos of God Himself, who exists from all eternity, who is invisible, incomprehensible and incorporeal, who is the principle from the principle, the light from the light, the source of life and immortality, who is the impress of the archetype, the unmoved seal, the exact image, the word and expression of the Father. He came to His own image, put on flesh for the sake of flesh, mingled Himself with a rational soul on account of my soul, purifying like with like, and in all things except sin He became man. He was conceived by the Virgin, who was purified in advance in both soul and body by the Spirit; for it was necessary both that childbearing should be held in honor and that virginity should be held in higher honor still. So God came forth with the humanity He had assumed, a unity from two opposites, flesh and spirit: the second of these conferred deification, the first was deified. O strange mixture! O paradoxical mingling! He who Is becomes, the Uncreated is created, and the Unlimited is limited by means of a rational soul which mediates between the divinity and the grossness of the flesh. He who is rich becomes poor, for He becomes poor through my flesh that I may become rich through His divinity. He who is full is emptied, for He is emptied of His own glory for a little that I may partake of His fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that concerns me? I partook of the image and did not preserve it; He partakes of my flesh in order that He may both save the image and immortalize the flesh. He communicates a second participation much more amazing than the first: at first He communicated to us what was superior, but now He Himself participates in what is inferior. The second action is more Godlike than the first; but for those with understanding it is more sublime.

~St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 45, On Pascha

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