Christ has been born for us: come, let us adore him.
Year: A(I). Psalm week: 2. Liturgical Colour: White.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Gregory Nazianzen (329 - 390)
Gregory Nazianzen, “Gregory of Nazianzus”, was the son of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus, a Christian convert. (Nazianzus is a small town in Cappadocia, now the village of Nenizi in the Turkish province of Aksaray).
The culture of the Hellenic world means that a religion is not merely something to be lived: it also has to make sense. It has to work not only in practice, but in theory as well. Despite the passionate anti-Greek reaction of the Reformation, we are still, in this sense, all Greeks today. Take the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. Some people reject it because it sounds like polytheism. Instead, they make Jesus not God but something created by God – either a supremely favoured man or some kind of intermediate being. The Arians had such a view, and so does the Koran. Or they make Jesus only God, not man, relegating the intense humanity of the Passion to the status of a mere performance, a show put on by God through phantoms and angels rather than something utterly real and of eternal significance. Both these responses show a general feature of heresies, which is that they simplify the richness of orthodoxy and flatten it into a shadow of itself. “Simpler” may well mean “more easily acceptable”, but that is not the same as “true”. One could simplify quantum physics and get rid of its paradoxes until there is no metaphysical weirdness for anyone to object to – that might well make more people happy, but it would not be true.
The three men we call “the Cappadocian Fathers” were active after the Council of Nicaea, working to formulate Trinitarian doctrine precisely and, in particular, to pin down the meaning and role of the least humanly comprehensible member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. St Basil of Caesarea, “St Basil the Great”, was the leader and organizer; Gregory of Nazianzus was the thinker, the orator, the poet, pushed into administrative and episcopal roles by circumstances and by Basil; and Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger brother, although not a great stylist, was the most gifted of the three as a philosopher and theologian. Together, the Cappadocian Fathers hammered out the doctrine of the Trinity like blacksmiths forging a piece of metal by hammer-blows into its perfect, destined shape. They were champions – and successful champions – of orthodoxy against Arianism, a battle that had to be conducted as much on the worldly and political plane as on the philosophical and theological one. The sciences ought not to have to work like this, but all of them, at one time or other in their history, do.
It is a relief to us as readers to note, after all this, that St Gregory of Nazianzus, as well as receiving the title of Doctor of the Church, is acknowledged as the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age, and that this “style” does not adopt the over-ripe excesses of some late-imperial rhetoric (Augustine can get carried away in this direction sometimes, and Cassiodorus, in the sixth century, spends altogether too much of his time there). Gregory’s Second Readings do sound almost operatic at times, but the grandeur of the style does not exist for its own sake but comes from the splendour of its subject-matter. It is possible to be carried away by it, and enjoyable, even, to let that happen; but underlying the experience there is always a sense of being carried away in the direction of somewhere definite and somewhere worthwhile.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)
|Isaiah 11:1-3 ©
A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is his delight.
|Noon reading (Sext)
|Isaiah 42:1 ©
Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations.
|Afternoon reading (None)
|Isaiah 49:6 ©
It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.