Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
St. Gregory Nazianzen
"You Have the Task to Find the True Light"
H.H. Benedict XVI
August 22, 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
During the last reflection on the great Fathers and Doctors of the
Church of this catechesis, I spoke about St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishop
of the fourth century, and today I would like to continue with the
portrait of this great teacher. Today we will summarize some of his
Reflecting on the mission that God had confided in him, St. Gregory
Nazianzen concludes: "I have been created to ascend to God with my
actions" (Oratio, 14,6 "De Pauperum Amore": PG 35,865). In fact, he put
his talent as a writer and orator at the service of God and the Church.
He wrote numerous discourses, homilies and panegyrics, many letters and
poetic works (nearly 18,000 verses!): a truly prodigious level of
He understood what the mission was that God had confided in him:
"Servant of the word, I adhere to the ministry of the word, which never
allows me to neglect this good. I appreciate and enjoy this vocation, it
gives me more joy than everything else" (Oratio 6,5: SC 405,134; cf.
The Nazianzen was a meek man, and in his life he always worked to
promote peace in the Church of his time, torn by discord and heresy.
With evangelical audacity he endeavored to overcome his shyness to
proclaim the truth of the faith. He deeply felt the desire to draw near
to God, to unite himself to him. He expresses this in his poetry, in
which he writes: "great waves of the ocean of life, tossed here and
there by the impetuous winds ... there was only one thing that I wanted,
my only treasure, consolation and oblivion of weariness, the light of
the Holy Trinity" ("Carmina [historical]" 2,1,15: PG 37, 1250ss.)
Gregory made the light of the Trinity glow, defending the faith
proclaimed in the Council of Nicea: one God in three equal and distinct
Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- "triple light that unites in
one single splendor" ("Himno vespertino: Carmina [histórica]" 2,1,32: PG
37,512). In this way, Gregory, following St. Paul (1 Corinthians 8:6),
affirms: "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are;
one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy
Spirit, in whom all things are" (Oratio 39, 12: SC 358,172).
Gregory brings Christ's full humanity to the forefront: To redeem man in
his totality of body, soul and spirit, Christ assumed all the components
of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved.
Against the heresy of Apollinaris, who assured that Jesus Christ had not
assumed a rational soul, Gregory confronts the problem in the light of
the mystery of salvation: "What had not been assumed had not been cured"
(Epistle 101, 32: SC 208,50), and if Christ had not had a "rational
intellect, how could he have been a man?"
Precisely our intellect, our reason, was in need of a relationship, an
encounter with God in Christ. Upon becoming man, Christ gave us the
possibility to become like him. The Nazianzen exhorts: "We try to be
like Christ, well Christ also made himself like us; to be like gods
through him, well he made himself man for us. He carried the worst to
give us the best" (Oratio 1,5: SC 247,78).
Mary, who gave human nature to Christ, is truly the Mother of God ("Theotókos":
cf. Epistle 101, 16: SC 208,42), and with a view to her lofty mission
was "prepurified" (Oratio 38,13: SC 358,132, presenting a type of
distant prelude to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). He proposes
Mary as a model for Christians, above all for virgins, and as an aid
that should be invoked in need (cf. Oratio 24, 11: SC 282,60-64).
Gregory reminds us that, as human persons, we need to be in solidarity
with one another. He writes: "'We, though many, are one body in Christ.'
(cf. Romans 12:5), rich and poor, slaves and freemen, healthy and sick;
and there is one head from which everything originates: Jesus Christ.
And as happens with the members of a single body, each one takes care of
each one, and everybody of everybody."
Later, referring to the sick and those suffering hardship, he concludes:
"This is the only salvation for our flesh and our soul: Charity toward
others" (Oratio 14,8 "De Pauperum Amore": PG 35,868ab).
Gregory underlines that man must imitate the goodness and love of God,
and for that he recommends: "If you are healthy and rich, alleviate the
need of the one who is sick and poor; if you have not fallen, help the
one who has fallen and lives in suffering; if you are happy, console the
one who is sad; if you are fortunate, help the one who has been bitten
"Show God your gratitude, for you are one that can do good, and not the
one that has to be helped. ... Don't be merely rich in wealth, but also
in piety; not only in gold, but also in virtue, or better yet, only in
this. Surpass the fame of your neighbor by being better than everybody;
be God for the unfortunate, imitating the mercy of God" (Oratio 14, 26
"De Pauperum Amore": PG 35,892bc).
Gregory teaches us, before all, the importance and necessity of prayer.
He affirms that "it is necessary to remind oneself of God more
frequently than one breathes" (Oratio 27,4: PG 250,78), since prayer is
the encounter of the thirst of God with our thirst. God thirsts that we
thirst for him (cf. Oratio 40,27: SC 358,260).
In prayer, we have to direct our heart to God to surrender ourselves to
him as an offering that should be purified and transformed. In prayer,
we see everything in the light of Christ, we let down our guard and we
submerge ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, nurturing the
fire of our love.
In a poem, that at the same time is a meditation on the meaning of life
and an implicit supplication to God, Gregory writes: "My soul, you have
a task -- if you want -- a great task. Thoughtfully scrutinize your
interior, your being, your destiny; where do you come from and where are
you going, try to know if it is life that you live, or if it is
"My soul, you have a task then, purify your life: Consider, please, God
and his mysteries, investigate what you were before this universe, and
what it is for you, where you came from and what will be your destiny.
This is your task then, dear soul, purify your life" ("Carmina
[historical] 2," 1,78: PG 37,1425-1426).
The holy bishop continually asks Christ for help to raise himself up and
to begin again: "I have been disappointed, dear Christ, by my
considerable presumption: From the heights I have fallen very low. But,
I raise myself up again now, because I see that I have deceived myself;
if I rely on myself too much once more, I will immediately fall again,
and the fall will be fatal" ("Carmina [historical] 2," 1,67: PG
Gregory, therefore, felt the need to draw near to God to overcome the
weariness of his own being. He experienced the urging of the soul, the
vivacity of a sensitive spirit and the instability of fleeting
happiness. For him, in the drama of a life in which the awareness of his
weakness and misery weighed heavily, the experience of the love of God
was always stronger.
You have a task -- St. Gregory says to us as well -- the task to find
the true light, to find the true measure of your life. And your life
consists in encountering God, who thirsts for our thirst.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in various
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now continue
our reflection on Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Gregory considered it his
mission to employ his learning and literary talent in the service of the
Inclined to study and prayer, he nonetheless took part in the many
controversies which followed the Council of Nicaea. Gregory forcefully
defended the Church's faith in one God in three equal and distinct
persons. He upheld the full humanity of the Incarnate Son, arguing that
Christ took on our human nature in its integrity, including a rational
soul, in order to bring us the fullness of redemption. He likewise
defended Mary's dignity as the Mother of God, her purity and her
Gregory often stresses our Christian responsibility to imitate God's
goodness and love through charity and solidarity with others, especially
the sick and those in need. He also speaks eloquently of the importance
of prayer, in which we see everything in the light of Christ, are
immersed in God's truth and inflamed by his love. The life and teaching
of Saint Gregory are a celebration of the divine love which is revealed
in Christ. Let us open our hearts to this love, which overcomes our
weakness and gives lasting joy and happiness to our lives.
I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims
present at today's Audience, especially the groups from England,
Ireland, Hungary, Sweden, Japan, Australia and the United States of
America. Upon all of you, I invoke Almighty God's blessings of joy and
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