In his twenty-seventh Oration, the first of the so-called “Theological Orations”–the one that deals with prolegomena, as it were, against the Eunomians–Gregory lays out his view on when, and where, and why, and to whom, and to what extent, theologians should speak. There is wisdom here, for Gregory is finely attuned to the dangerous uses to which the tongue can be put, and recognizes that there is measure and limit in everything, except God, and that we should be careful to observe it.
V. Now, I am not saying that it is not needful to remember God at all times;…I must not be misunderstood, or I shall be having these nimble and quick people down upon me again. For we ought to think of God even more often than we draw our breath; and if the expression is permissible, we ought to do nothing else. Yea, I am one of those who entirely approve that Word which bids us meditateday and night, and tell at eventide and morning and noon day, and praise the Lord at every time; or, to use Moses’ words, whether a man lie down, or rise up, or walk by the way, or whatever else he be doing Deuteronomy 6:7 — and by this recollection we are to be moulded to purity. So that it is not the continual remembrance of God that I would hinder, but only the talking about God; nor even that as in itself wrong, but only when unseasonable; nor all teaching, but only want of moderation. As of even honey repletion and satiety, though it be of honey, produce vomiting; Proverbs 25:16 and, as Solomon says and I think, there is a time for every thing, Ecclesiastes 3:1and that which is good ceases to be good if it be not done in a good way; just as a flower is quite out of season in winter, and just as aman’s dress does not become a woman, nor a woman’s a man; and as geometry is out of place in mourning, or tears at a carousal; shall we in this instance alone disregard the proper time, in a matter in which most of all due season should be respected? Surely not, my friends and brethren (for I will still call you Brethren, though you do not behave like brothers). Let us not think so nor yet, like hot tempered and hard mouthed horses, throwing off our rider Reason, and casting away Reverence, that keeps us within due limits, run far away from the turning point, but let us philosophize within our proper bounds, and not be carried away into Egypt, nor be swept down into Assyria Daniel 3:12, nor sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, by which I mean before any kind of audience, strangers or kindred, hostile or friendly, kindly or the reverse, who watch what we do with over great care, and would like the spark of what is wrong in us to become a flame, and secretly kindle and fan it and raise it to heaven with their breath and make it higher than the Babylonian flame which burnt up every thing around it. For since their strength lies not in their own dogmas, they hunt for it in our weak points. And therefore they apply themselves to our— shall I saymisfortunesorfailings?— like flies to wounds. But let us at least be no longerignorant of ourselves, or pay too little attention to the due order in these matters. And if it be impossible to put an end to the existing hostility, let us at least agree upon this, that we will utter Mysteries under our breath, and holy things in a holy manner, and we will not cast to ears profane that which may not be uttered, nor give evidence that we possess less gravity than those who worship demons, and serve shameful fables and deeds; for they would sooner give their blood to the uninitiated than certain words. But let us recognize that as in dress and diet and laughter and demeanour there is a certain decorum, so there is also in speech and silence; since among so many titles and powers of God, we pay the highest honour to The Word. Let even our disputings then be kept within bounds.
This passage brought to mind something else I just came across while re-reading the opening of Marilynne Robinson’s astounding novel Gilead, a long letter, really, from father to son. The Rev. John Ames, who is dying as he writes, confesses early on to a certain predilection toward anger, and, referring to James’ epistle, remarks on the destruction it can cause.
My mother’s father was a preacher, and my father’s father was, too, and his father before him, and before that, nobody knows, but I wouldn’t hesitate to guess. That life was second nature to them, just as it is to me. They were find people, but if there was one thing I should have learned from them and did not learn, it was to control my temper. This is wisdom I should have attained a long time ago. Even now, when a flutter of my pulse makes me think of final things, I find myself losing my temper, because a drawer sticks or because I’ve misplaced my glasses. I tell you so that you can watch for this in yourself.
A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine. Above all, mind what you say. “Behold how much wood is kindled by how small a fire, and the tongue is a fire”–that’s the truth. When my father was old he told me that very thing in a letter he sent me. Which, as it happens, I burned. I dropped it right in the stove. This surprised me a good deal more at the time than it does in retrospect. (p. 6)