Some time in the autumn of 379, Gregory of Nazianzus answered the summons issued by the Synod of Antioch to take up residence in Constantinople.
His job description was clear: to promote the Nicene faith in a city given over to Arianism. Gregory soon established the Church of the Resurrection and, within a year, preached a series of sermons we know as his “Five Theological Orations.”
Oration 29–the “third” theological oration–is devoted to the identity and action of the Son of God, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an able and eloquent presentation and defense of orthodox Christology. It also provides ample material for meditation on this Good Friday.
Near the end of Oration 29, Gregory engages in an extended discourse on the beautiful and paradoxical nature of Christ’s suffering and death as the God-man, which I cite below. In order to fully appreciate the beauty and power of this section of Gregory’s sermon, it is helpful to note a couple of features that characterize his preaching of Christ. First, his discourse is attentive to the fact that Jesus is “one Lord” and therefore that everything he did and suffered on our behalf was performed by one saving subject. The one who suffered death for us on the cross is the same one who conquered death in his death for us on the cross, etc. Second, his discourse is attentive to the fact that this “one Lord” is at one and the same time fully God and fully man and therefore that everything he did and suffered on our behalf reflects the twofold character of his theanthropic (i.e., divine and human) person.
Without further comment, I commend to you Gregory of Nazianzus on the crucifixion of the God-man:
“He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but he redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price of his own blood. As a sheep he is led to the slaughter, but he is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb he is silent, yet he is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but he heals every disease and infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life he restores us; yea, he saves even the robber crucified with him; yea, he wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is sweetness and altogether desired. He lays down his life, but he has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but he gives life, and by his death destroys death.”
This article first appeared on Reformation 21