In the first Theological Oration, Gregory of Nazianzus remarks that we often have our priorities misplaced. We consider “rivalry of speech and endless talking” to be more important than all else. Where we should have a definite and decided concern for Christian character, we instead grant a pass for all kinds of vice as long as we believe that someone is part of our faction, is on our side. For Gregory, this is evidence of a lack of self-control. We have a hunger for words and for talk, and will not be sated. Instead of bringing our passions under control, we grant unbridled license to our tongues.
There is a warning here that we need to heed (present company most of all). We ought not to make such an easy distinction and division between character and what we might call team-spirit, considering the former of little account as long as the latter is in place. That is not the position of the New Testament, nor of the Church at its best throughout history.
But when we have put away from the conversation those who are strangers to it, and sent the great legion Luke 8:31 on its way to the abyss into the herd of swine, the next thing is to look to ourselves, and polish our theological self to beauty like a statue. The first point to be considered is— What is this great rivalry of speech and endless talking? What is this new disease of insatiability? Why have we tied our hands and armed our tongues? We do not praise either hospitality, or brotherly love, or conjugal affection, or virginity; nor do we admire liberality to the poor, or the chanting of Psalms, or nightlong vigils, or tears. We do not keep under the body by fasting, or go forth to God by prayer; nor do we subject the worse to the better— I mean the dust to the spirit— as they would do who form a justjudgment of our composite nature; we do not make our life a preparation for death; nor do we make ourselves masters of our passions, mindful of our heavenly nobility; nor tame our anger when it swells and rages, nor our pride that brings to a fall, nor unreasonable grief, nor unchastened pleasure, nor meretricious laughter, nor undisciplined eyes, nor insatiable ears, nor excessive talk, nor absurd thoughts, nor anything of the occasions which the Evil One gets against us from sources within ourselves; bringing upon us the death that comes through the windows, Jeremiah 9:21 as Holy Scripture says; that is, through the senses. Nay we do the very opposite, and have given liberty to the passions of others, as kings give releases from service in honour of a victory, only on condition that they incline to our side, and make their assault upon God more boldly, or more impiously. And we give them an evil reward for a thing which is not good, license of tongue for their impiety. (Oration 27.7)
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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