Surnamed by the Eastern Church "Theologus." He was born A. D. 325, the son of Gregory, bishop of Nazianzus, and of Nonna, a holy woman, by whom he was devoted to the service of God from his infancy. After a preliminary training at Csesarea of Cappadocia, he studied successively at Caesarea in Palestine, at Alexandria, and at Athens, acquiring a finished classical education. In Athens he became intimately associated with Basil in a friendship which proved life-long. He also had for a fellow-student Julian, afterward the apostate emperor. Having completed his studies, he became perplexed over the choice between a life of activity and one of retirement, a question upon which he seems always to have remained perplexed. Few men ever filled the place of Gregory, in the eyes of the world, who had such divided interests. We never wonder that Basil won the surname of the Great, for he had one sole aim. He gave himself to the monastic life, but he ever used his asceticism as a means to the one end of becoming a more efficient bishop. With Gregory, however, there was a painful hesitation. He never could quite forget himself in monastic contemplation the wants of the world were too apparent, and conscience was too keen for that; nor could he throw himself with abandon into the work of the world for that he was too self-conscious. The first public betrayal of this spirit was in his running away from Nazianzus, where he had been ordained as an assistant to his father, into a monastic retreat, whence after a little he returned and made a public defense of his vacillating course. Later he permitted himself, under pressure, to be consecrated bishop of Sasima, a small town in Basil's diocese, but never undertook the duties of his charge, preferring to remain with his father at Nazianzus. At his father's death, A. D. 374, he retired into Seleucia, where, some four years later, he received an invitation to undertake the care of the little remnant of orthodox (Trinitarian) Christians in Constantinople. It was an opportune work for Gregory. A man of versatile talents, an orator of consummate eloquence, he went to the capital of the Christian world, as the champion of a truth, just upon the eve of a political revolution, which was to restore to that truth the patronage of the state. Then, too, the Arian intellectual movement, which was in the nature of things temporary, had now spent its strength; and, among a people ever ready to bow before the rising fortunes of an idea or of a prince, it only needed a brave spirit and an eloquent tongue to crystallize the accumulated truths of half a century of controversy and stamp them indelibly upon the popular mind. That spirit and eloquence were Gregory's. The little congregation, gathering first in a private house, swelled to fill a magnificent church, called Anastasia; and, upon the coming of the Emperor Theodosius, Gregory was preferred to the place of archbishop, which dignity was confirmed to him by the Council of Constantinople. Hardly is he upon the throne, however, when his characteristic hesitation appears. Owing to some perplexities which had arisen over the see of Antioch, he suddenly pleads a desire to retire from his responsible position, and asks the council to grant him leave. Too easily for his pride, they granted his request, and, regretting sadly the scenes of his glory, he retired to Nazianzus and spent most of his remaining days in quiet upon his country estate. He died A. D. 389.
Of all the Church fathers, Gregory was the most versatile in his talents. Theologian, poet, orator, bishop, he took high rank as each; but his superlative merit was as an orator. Earnest, sincere, impassioned, his discourses were yet the studied productions of the finished rhetorician. Sensitive to praise or blame, never quite able to forget Gregory, he would seem never to have neglected cateful preparation for each several oratorical effort. The "Discourses on Theology" are to Basil's "Sermons on the Hexameron" preached after the hasty preparation of a morning as a finished treatise to the spontaneous outflow of a full mind. But Gregory's art of speech was art of that consummate order to which only the few attain; and while Chrysostom will ever rank as the great preacher of the early Church, Gregory must be placed by his side as the ecclesiastical orator. Including the eulogies, forty-four of his discourses are extant, of which we give account of a few of the most important.
Five Discourses on Theology.
In these discourses, delivered in Constantinople shortly before the second general council, it has been said that Gregory, in a few pages and a few hours, summarized and closed the controversy of a century. They were his master efforts in the defense of the Nicene faith, and won for him his title of Theologian. Together they form a complete treatise upon the Trinity. The first is upon the use to be made of divine truth, and is especially directed against the current habit of even the multitude of arguing upon the most august mysteries of religion at all times and in all places. Only the few, it is here claimed, are fitted to discuss the nature of the divine essence, and even they should so choose time and place as to speak with profound reverence. The second treats of the mystery of the divine essence, an awful theme before which the speaker recoils, as if, like Moses, he were penetrating the cloud to have intercourse with God. "Would at least that some Aaron might offer himself as a companion of my ascent, and might stand near me, even if himself without the cloud! For souls the most elevated are able neither to express nor to comprehend perfectly what God is. It is doubtful if celestial intelligences are able by their own unaided powers. We know that there is a God. Our eyes and our reason tell us that there is a creative and preserving cause called God, as the sound of a lyre reveals to us a maker and a performer. That is all. What is this God? Of what essence is He? We know not; his nature escapes us. We know that the first cause is not corporeal; but such negation is not definition.
"No more are we able to say where God is. If we say nowhere, I ask how can he exist? If he is somewhere, he is surely in all things or above all things. If he is in all, he is contained, which is impossible for the Infinite. If he is above all, where is he? Must there not then be a limit which separates all things from what is above all? This limit constitutes a place. He is then in a place, and we are again in the same difficulty. Besides, where was he before the world existed? All is impenetrable mystery."
The nature of the divine essence is then above all conception by human intelligence. It is, moreover, well that it is so. For 1. We shall esteem this knowledge more highly when it is given to us. 2. We should, perhaps, lose ourselves through pride, like Lucifer, if it were given us too soon. 3. The certainty of one day attaining it sustains us, in the trials and combats of this life, of which it will be the just and worthy recompense.
The cause of the impotence of our soul to attain, here below, to the perfect knowledge of the Supreme Being is above all the body which is united to it, and which prevents it from rising sufficiently above things sensible.
God, to accommodate himself to our weakness, has in Holy Scripture called himself Spirit, Fire, Light, Love, Wisdom, Justice, Knowledge, Word. But all these names suggest only comparisons or images drawn from created things. The soul exhausts itself in vain, seeking to comprehend the nature of the Infinite, as it is in itself. It yields before the task, and, unable to seize it, is forced to come back again toward created beings. Thus, either through a deplorable bewilderment which causes idolatry, it makes gods of these, or it makes use of them as steps to lift itself to the knowledge of God the creator, the ordainer, and preserver of all things. That is all that it is given to man to comprehend of God here below. The saints themselves, who have seen God, have not seen him in his essence, but only in form.
Far from being surprised at this, we should reflect that the nature even of created beings and their mode of existence are equally involved in mystery. Gregory then shows this by a detailed examination of the nature of man, animals, plants, the elements, the stars, and celestial spirits.
In the third and fourth discourses Gregory enters into the heart of the great subject of the Trinity: There is only one God, who is the sole monarch of the universe; but this God is not limited to a single person. He is three distinct persons, having the same essence, the same nature, an equal dignity, and always united by concord of will, by community of action, and by a perpetual aspiration toward unity. The Father, who is not begotten, begets the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. This generation and procession are eternal. The manner of the divine generation is and ought to be impenetrable. Man can not understand his own, much less can he comprehend the divine, generation. Angels even do not know the manner thereof.
Having met and refuted objections of the Arians, Gregory brings forward the passages of Scripture establishing the divinity of the Son and those representing him as inferior to the Father; and by tracing rapidly the principal features of the life of Christ, shows that they apply to his double nature. Ten principal texts are especially treated, and the expositions given have since been generally received and employed by defenders of the Catholic faith. As to the names to be given to God, the Supreme Being is indeed ineffable, and the name which he has given to himself is that which least defines his nature, namely, 'I am that I am,' or simply, He who is. Yet each of the divine persons has a particular name, namely, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Son has various names applicable to him as God from all eternity, and others appropriate only by reason of his incarnation.
Discourse five is upon the Holy Spirit: Our adversaries, even those most moderate in regard to the Son, say, Whence do you bring to us this strange God, of whom the Scriptures do not speak? Let them reject him if they will, but I will take the most conspicuous place and proclaim the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and will apply the same expressions to the three persons of the Trinity. If there were a time when the Father did not exist, it was when the Son existed not; and if there were a time when the Son did not exist, it was when the Holy Spirit existed not. But if the unity existed at the beginning, so also existed the three persons. The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is neither a divine attribute nor an accident, but a person, and that this person is not a creature but a God. As to any seeming obscurity of Scripture, he says that the Old Testament speaks clearly about the divinity of the Father and less clearly of the divinity of the Son; the New Testament teaches with precision the divinity of the Son, but is less precise as to the divinity of the Holy Spirit. And it was well that it should be so, for, first, the spirit of man was too feeble to support all at once so much light; and, secondly, it was better that the divinity of the Holy Spirit should be clearly proclaimed only after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Assurances of this truth were thus given in the great miracles on the day of Pentecost.
On the Dignity of the Priesthood.
This discourse was prepared as a personal apology of Gregory for his flight into solitude after he had been called to the priesthood; but his grasp of the theme made it a grand treatise upon the duties and dignity of the priesthood. He had not fled, he said, from insensibility to duty. It is true that, in the Church, some are to be pastors and teachers, those namely who are superior to the rest, as the mind to the body; nor should this order be neglected. Let no one absurdly suppose that I coveted a higher rank. I was won by a love of that retirement in which the soul may become as a mirror reflecting divine rays. Besides, unworthy men are rushing into the ministry led by ambition. Then I thought of the difficulty of governing men, which is so much greater than the leading of flocks. It is so difficult for men to obey, how much more difficult is it to command men, especially in divine matters, in which the greater the authority committed to one the greater is his peril! Nothing is easier than to have one's bad examples followed; but how rarely goodness draws to virtue! A little wormwood will make bitter a great deal of honey, but much honey will not sweeten the wormwood. Nor is one fitted for the ministry by simply being himself free from evil. One must not only depart from evil but must do good, and a pastor is guilty if he does not day by day approach a higher perfection. He must lead his flock with tenderness, not with constraint and violence. But even with all virtue, I do not see how one can undertake without fear such a leadership. For, to rule men, the most variable of all animals, seems to me the art of arts, the science of sciences. This appears when we compare the curing of souls with the curing of bodies. The aim of the physician is to give health to a body destined to corruption, a health which is ever uncertain and is an indifferent possession. Over against this is the aim to give wings to the soul, to draw it away from the world and give it to God, to preserve the divine image, yet remaining, or succor it in peril, or to recall it, being lapsed, to its pristine state, to admit Christ through the Holy Spirit to the domicile of the breast, and, to sum up all, to make God and give supernal blessedness to him who is of the supernal order. Unto this end tended the law and the prophets, and the consummation and end of the spiritual law, Christ. For this purpose have all the mysteries of God been revealed. Therefore the generation, the Virgin, Bethlehem, the choir of angels, the shepherds, the magi, the baptism, the temptation, the ministry, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection. And of this medicine we are ministers who are placed over others. The great diversities among men increase the task of this ministry. Our principal duty is the proclaiming of the divine word. All think themselves fitted for this, and I wonder at their temerity, not to say folly; for it seems to me to demand rare talents. For it is necessary to speak of all doctrines, above all of what should be believed of the august and blessed Trinity. Herein is peril; lest, on the one hand, in speaking against many gods, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost sink into mere names, and on the other, speaking of these distinctions, we give an idea of three distinct and foreign subsistences. There is need of other things to make such discourse effective, namely, a mind illumined by God's Spirit and a talent for speech on the part of the preacher, and docility and purity of heart on the part of the audience. And what shall I say of those who preach from a thirst for glory or a desire of power? of the ignorant who, like swine, tread the holy doctrine under their feet? and of those who, having no certain opinions, follow the thought of the hour and are as the blind leading the blind? What various talents should not he have who must lead different minds each by its own suitable method! And who is sufficient unto these things? Among the Hebrews, the reading of certain Scriptures was wisely allowed only to those of a fixed age. But among us there is no limit to those who may learn and teach, and many who are wise only in their own eyes assume to instruct.
Let us take example from the Apostle Paul. Passing by his sufferings, and persecutions, and labors for his own support, what shall I say of the tribulations of his mind in behalf of the churches? of his entire devotion, his burning zeal, his willingness to be accursed for his brethren's sake? of how, after Christ, he was the first in self-sacrifice for the salvation of men? Such as unworthily assume the place of pastors incur the denunciations of the prophets of old against the false prophets. Who, therefore, shall rashly give himself to this work? Shall one wholly unfitted allow himself to be at the head of a flock of Jesus Christ? I tremble at the danger to which he thereby exposes himself.
Notwithstanding all this, Gregory declares that he has returned to his pastorate, led by love for his fellow townsmen, by the need which his parents have of him, by the perils of disobedience, and especially by the example of Jonah.
Farewell to the Church at Constantinople,
In this address, delivered before the fathers of the second General Council, Gregory gives an account of his administration of the Constantinopolitan church, and of the condition in which he found and in which he was now leaving it. He sets forth the faith which he had preached, protests his disinterestedness, and asks permission to retire. Following is his peroration:
"What say you? Have we by these words persuaded you and conquered? Or is there need of words more urgent? Nay, then, by the Trinity whom we and you adore, by our common hopes, grant to us this favor, dismiss us with your prayers....With these last words I salute you. Farewell, Anastasia, named for thy piety; for thou didst rescue to us the faith until then despised, thou seal of our common triumphs, thou new Shiloh in which first we rested the ark which had wandered forty years in the desert. And thou, this great and glorious temple,* thou new inheritance, having thy present grandeur from the Word, which, once a Jebus, we have made a Jerusalem. And you sacred edifices which rank next after this in beauty, and which, scattered throughout the various parts of the city, bind them together as so many bands, you which beyond all hope we, not of ourselves but by God's grace, have filled.
* The Church of St. Sophia.
"Farewell apostles, glorious colony, my masters in the contest. If I have not often celebrated your feasts, perhaps it is because, like your Paul, I have for my good a messenger of Satan in my body, by which I am now separated from you. Farewell, O throne, enviable and perilous seat; assembly of pontiffs; priests, venerable in majesty as in years; and all these ministers before the altar who draw near to God, who draws near to us. Farewell, choir of Nazarenes, harmonies of the psalms, nocturnal stations, sanctity of virgins, modesty of women, companies of widows and orphans, eyes of the poor turned toward God and toward me. Farewell homes friendly to the stranger and to Christ, and helpers in my infirmity. Farewell you who have loved my words, gathering crowds and styles [for writing down his words], seen and unseen, and barriers forced by those eager for my words. Farewell, O sovereigns, palace, courtiers, faithful perhaps to the sovereign I know not but unfaithful chiefly to God. Clap your hands, cry aloud, raise aloft your orator. That tongue depraved and loquacious to you is silenced; but it will not be silent altogether, it will combat through hand and pen. As to the rest we are now silent.
"Farewell great city, friendly to Christ for I will heed the truth but whose zeal is not according to knowledge; the separation makes us more friendly. Come to the truth; even thus late be converted; honor God more than in the past. Change brings no shame, but continuance in evil is fatal. Farewell, Orient and Occident, for whom and with whom I have contended. He is witness who makes you at peace, whether any will imitate my conduct. For those will not lose God who renounce their thrones, but will have a seat above far more exalted and secure than these. Finally and before all I cry, Farewell, angel protectors of this church, and of my sojourn and my departure, so only as my affairs be in God's hands.
"Farewell, O Trinity, my care and my glory. Be safe among them and keep them safe, my people for they are mine, though I am directed in a different way and announce to me that thou art in every way exalted and glorified by word and act. Children, keep that which I have confided to you; remember my strivings. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!"
PANEGYRICS AND EULOGIES.
Not least noteworthy among the addresses of the preachers of this age were their panegyrics of the martyrs and their eulogies upon the recently dead. No longer, like the pagan orators, commemorating virtues which had ceased to be, but celebrating the careers of those who now looked down upon them from glory, they rose to a warmth of address, a sense of sympathy with the dead in which the noblest of pagan eulogies are lacking, and which lifts their Christian eloquence above that of the most faultless of classical eulogies.
We have eulogies of Gregory pronounced upon his father, brother, and sister, and upon Athanasius and Basil. In these he seems to recognize the continued interest and influence of the departed in and upon the affairs of this world.
Eulogy of Gregory the Elder.
Addressing Basil, who is present as his friend and as the metropolitan of the Nazianzene Church, Gregory calls upon him to assure the flock that their good pastor is still present in their midst, leading them in the sacred pasture, marching at their head, knowing his sheep and known by them; that, if not seen in a sensible manner, he is with them spiritually, fighting for his flock against the wolves and robbers who would turn them away from the holy doctrine. He is assuredly the more able to do this now by his prayers than formerly by his doctrines, as he is the nearer to God, and freed from the trammels of the body.
The people, he says, will be too happy in finding as a successor, not indeed the equal of their pastor, but one who is not too much his inferior. After sketching the career of his father, recounting his virtues, and affirming that God had honored his piety by extraordinary signs, Gregory thus apostrophizes him: "Make me to know in what glory thou art, what light surrounds thee, and receive into the same tabernacle, after a little, thy wife, and the children whose funerals thou hast before prepared, and myself, either suffering no longer, or for a brief time, the ills of this life."
He closes with these words to his mother, Nonna: "The nature of God and of man, O mother, is not the same; or, rather, of beings divine and earthly. Theirs and that of their belongings is changeless, immortal, for firm are the things of the firm. But what of ours? It is fleeting and corruptible, and liable to constant change. Life and death, though they seem so opposite, revolve around one another and give place to one another. The former, beginning in the corruption of the mother, passing on through the corruption which is ever around us, comes to an end in corruption at the dissolution of life. The latter, which frees from present evils, and frequently leads to life supernal, I know not whether it is properly called death, which is, in name rather than in its nature, fearful. And how absurdly we seem to be affected who dread those things which should be the least deprecated, and cling to what should be feared as the rather desirable! One thing is life, to anticipate life. One thing is sin: for it is the destruction of the soul. Other things of which we think so much are waking visions, making sport of realities, delusions, spectres of the mind. If, O mother, we fix upon these things, we shall not think too highly of life, nor be too much cast down by death. What so great misfortune, then, do we suffer, if we attain to the true life; if, freed from the vicissitudes, the deceits, the disgusts, and the exactions of this shameful tribute, with things stable, not fleeting, we become lesser lights revolving around that great light? But does the separation pain thee? Let the hope of reunion delight thee!...You have lost sons in the vigor of manhood, full of life, and you have borne it with as much of courage as of wisdom. To-day, as you have witnessed the yielding of a body borne down under the weight of years, and which was surviving itself, although the vigor of his soul still kept each of the senses intact, show yourself equally firm. You have no one to take care of you? Have you not always your Isaac, who has been left to you to take the place to you of all the rest? Alas! how slight the domestic services which you are able to receive from my zeal! I ask of you something more important: your maternal benediction, the help of your prayers for the coming emancipation. Does such advice make you uneasy? I do not blame you. It is the same that you have been the first to give to all those who, in the course of the long life which you have lived, have loved so much to be ruled by your counsels. It is not, then, to you that they are addressed, to you the wisest of women; I present them to all afflicted hearts. Mortals, let us not forget that those for whom we have to weep were mortals."
The peculiar genius of Gregory is seen in his letters, of which we have two hundred and forty-three. Here appear that eloquence and versatility upon which rest his claims to celebrity. We prize Basil's letters chiefly for their historical value. Gregory's merit a literary rank beside the letters of Cicero and Pliny. Their subjects are of a wide range; they are written in an excellent style, and, besides the erudition which they reveal, they breathe a certain air of delicacy and politeness, of grace and sweetness, which always charms. A single example must suffice.
Letter to Thecla.
(On the death of her brother Sacerdos).
"In spite of my age and feebleness, I incline to come to your piety, to see you and at the same time congratulate you upon the firmness worthy of a philosopher which you have displayed in regard to your blessed brother. I say blessed, for I have no doubt as to this. But, having been prevented from coming to you, I am compelled to have recourse to a letter to address to you some philosophical words upon your situation.
"Who, then, gave to us the illustrious Sacerdos, that worthy servant of God who is such to-day as in the past? God. Where is he now? Near to God. I see too that it is not without pleasure that he has escaped from envy and struggles with the spirit of evil. And whence did we come? Was it not from the same source? Whither are we going? Is it not to the same Master? Yes, without doubt, and let us be able to do so with the same assurance. Worshipers of the same God, we have been upon the earth, and we shall go from it in the same manner, after having suffered here some little things little at least in comparison with the hopes of the other life and these little things we perhaps suffer only that we may learn to appreciate the happiness. That father, mother, and brother, who have gone before us, what are they? A succession of travelers who deserve our praises. Thecla, the servant of God, who holds the first rank among good people, will soon follow them, after having tarried a little long enough to honor the dead, and to become to many persons a model of philosophy in this respect. Let us, then, praise that Power always immutable, and accept his decisions with sentiments more elevated than those of the vulgar.
"For the present, receive these lines in place of my visit, and cherish these thoughts, although you may yourself find better ones. If, besides, it shall be granted me in person to see you and those who are with you, my thanks to my Benefactor shall be more abundant."
Gregory was the first of the Greek Christian poets to approach, even if at some distance, the poets of antiquity. Most of his poems were written during the leisure of his closing years. They more than suggest to us the Alexandrian professional poets, but, on the other hand, let it be said, first, that no writer of verses ever surpassed Gregory in that elegant culture and that experience of the vicissitudes of life which are fitted to equip a poet; and, secondly, that Gregory was not without the true poetic fire. Alexandria could only produce elegant forms; for the old faiths were decayed, and no Muse spoke through her polished measures. But behind Gregory, heir of the Alexandrian and Athenian culture, was Christianity. New emotions, of which the old poets never dreamed, were now awaiting utterance, and Gregory so voiced them as to create a new order of poetry, that of religious meditation or philosophic reverie. A distinguished critic has said: "It was in the new forms of a contemplative poetry, in that grieving of a man over himself, in that melancolie intinte so little known to the ancient poets, that the Christian imagination was especially to contend with them without disadvantage. There, out of it, was born that poety which modern satiety seeks, the poetry of reflection which penetrates to man's heart, describes his most intimate thoughts and vaguest longings." Not all of Gregory's modern successors in this department of poetry have uttered so well the Christian hopes, and fears, and sorrows. Certainly no one else deserves recognition as the father of our modern poets, who analyze our feelings and reveal us to ourselves, as does Gregory.
His verses numbered thirty thousand. Modern editors have classified them as1. Dogmatical; 2. Moral; 3. Personal poems; 4. Epistolary; 5. Epitaphs; 6. Epigrams. The dogmatical poems, numbering thirty-eight, are in part metrical theses on the great mysteries of the faith, part pieces to aid in the memory of Scripture, and in part hymns and prayers. An admirer has likened Gregory to Dante in his importation from theological science into poetry of grand and exalted ideas, which would never have been reached by the unaided imagination. Following is a translation of one of the hymns:
Hymn to God.
"O Being above all beings! for how else may we rightly celebrate thee? How can tongue praise thee? for thou art speakable by no tongue. How can mind comprehend thee? for thou art comprehensible by no mind. Alone thou art ineffable; since thou hast brought forth whatever speaks. Alone thou art incomprehensible; since thou hast brought forth whatever thinks. All things, speaking and silent, celebrate thee. All things, rational and irrational, do thee homage. The common desires and pangs of all are around thee; to thee are raised all prayers. Thee do all who comprehend thy being celebrate with one accord in silent canticles. In thee alone all things abide. To thee at once do all things move. Thou art the end of all, the only, the all, and none of these: not the only, not the all. Having all names, how shall I designate thee, who alone canst not be named? What celestial mind shall penetrate the veils above the clouds? Be propitious to us, Being above all beings, for how else may we rightly celebrate thee?"
There are forty of the moral poems. Their evident aim is to show the vanity of worldly things, and detach men's hearts from the world; to combat vice and celebrate virtue; and to fix moral truths in the soul. Several of the longest are devoted to the praises of virginity, the most celebrated of these being a hexameter of seven hundred and thirty-two verses. A dialogue in the earlier part of this poem holds high discourse of time "When black night beclouded all," and "light first was," by the decree of the blessed Christ; and when the Father, praising the work of the Son, announces his will to create man. The theme soon descends to the commonplace; but so truly sublime is the atmosphere of this opening, that a critic, by no means flattering to Gregory's poetry as a whole, has questioned whether even Milton and Michael Angelo did not draw inspiration from this dialogue.
It is in his personal poems that Gregory is most original and interesting. We have ninety-nine of these poems, ranging from an autobiography of 1,949 verses to epitaphs of a few lines. The collection is like a journal in which the poet recounts all his varying impressions, and lays his soul bare to the world; being in this respect a prototype of the "Confessions" of Augustine. We are happy in having a rendering of one of these poems by Mrs. Browning, from which we take the following:
To his Soul and Body.
What wilt thou possess or be?
0 my soul, I ask of thee.
What of great, or what of small,
Counted precious therewithal?
Be it only rare, and want it,
I am ready, soul, to grant it.
Wilt thou choose to have and hold
Lydian Gyges' charm of old,
So to rule us with a ring,
Turning round the jeweled thing,
Hidden by its face concealed,
And revealed by its revealed?
Or preferrest Midas' fate
He who died in golden state
All things being changed to gold?
Of a golden hunger dying,
Through a surfeit of "would I"-ing.
Wilt have jewels brightly cold,
Or may fertile acres please?
Or the sheep of many a fold,
Camels, oxen, for the wold?
Nay! I will not give thee these!
These to take thou hast not will,
These to give I have not skill;
Since I cast earth's cares abroad,
That day when I turned to God.
. . . .
What then wouldst thou, if thy mood
Choose not these? what wilt thou be,
O my soul? a deity?
A God before the face of God,
Standing glorious in his glories,
Choral in his angels' chorus?
Go! upon thy wing arise,
Plumed by quick energies,
Mount in circles up the skies;
And I will bless thy winged passion,
Help with words thine exaltation,
And, like a bird of rapid feather,
Outlaunch thee, soul, upon the ether.
But thou, O fleshly nature, say,
Thou with odors from the clay,
Since thy presence I must have,
As a lady with a slave,
What wouldst thou possess or be
That thy breath may stay with thee?
Nay! I owe thee naught beside,
Though thine hands be open wide.
Would a table suit thy wishes,
Fragrant with sweet oils and dishes
Wrought to subtile niceness? where
Stringed music strokes the air,
And blithe hand-clappings, and the smooth
Fine postures of the tender youth,
And virgins wheeling through the dance,
With an unveiled countenance
Joys for drinkers, who love shame,
And the maddening wine-cup's flame.
Wilt thou such, howe'er decried?
Take them and a rope beside!
Nay! this boon I give instead
Unto friend insatiated:
May some rocky house receive thee,
Self-roofed, to conceal thee chiefly;
Or if labor there must lurk,
Be it by a short day's work!
And for garment, camel's-hair,
As the righteous clothed were,
And thus I speak to mortals low
Living for the hour, and o'er
Its shadows, seeing nothing more;
But for those of nobler bearing,
Who live more worthily of wearing
A portion of the heavenly nature
To low estate of clayey creature,
See, I bring the beggar's meed,
Nutriment beyond the need!
Oh, beholder of the Lord,
Prove on me the flaming sword!
Be mine husbandman, to nourish
Holy plants, that words may flourish
Of which mine enemy would spoil me,
Using pleasurehood to foil me!
Lead me closer to the tree
Of all life's eternity;
Which, as I have pondered, is
The knowledge of God's greatnesses:
Light of One, and shine of Three,
Unto whom all things that be
Flow and tend!
Many of these personal poems of Gregory have been published under the title of "Songs of the Swan."
The epistolary poems are seven in number, the three addressed to Hellenius, to Olympiade, and to Nemesius, being especially remarkable for their
The extant epitaphs number one hundred and twenty-nine. They always express some profoundly moral and Christian thought, and many of them have been called petits chefs-d'oeuvre of grace and sentiment.
We have ninety-four short poems classed as epigrams, though not all of them would conform to the strict requirements of that title. Many of them are directed against sins prevailing among the clergy. They are thought to have been mostly written in the author's early life.
Go to the Tables of Contents of The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers
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