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After the races, or the theater, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments

April 7, 2009

Vladimir Kharlamov observes,

Theology in the fourth century, perhaps like sports today, appears to have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue, to the degree that Gregory of Nazianzus lamented that people would discuss theological issues “after the races, or the theater, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments.”*

Here is Gregory’s citation in a bit fuller context, which I tend to think may have some merit to it:

Not to every one, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

Not to all men, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified.  For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun’s rays.  And what is the permitted occasion?  It is when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring images; like persons mixing up good writing with bad, or filth with the sweet odours of unguents.  For it is necessary to be truly at leisure to know God; and when we can get a convenient season, to discern the straight road of the things divine.  And who are the permitted persons?  They to whom the subject is of real concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theatre, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments.  To such men as these, idle jests and pretty contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement.

*Citing Or. 27.3, PG 36:16, NPNF² 7:285, “Rhetorical Application ofTheosis” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung, eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 116.

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