First Theological Oration- 27.1

This summer I decided to translate Gregory of Nazianzus’ First Theological Oration. I chose this piece for two reasons: 1) I want to study Gregory thought and 2) it is the shortest of the five orations. I suppose I could add that I’m interested in what Gregory says concerning appropriate ways of speaking about God, but that only came later. With only two years of Greek under my belt (Koine at that), I soon realized that tackling someone with Gregory’s rhetorical prowess would prove more difficult than I first expected. However, it has been a delightful challenge so far and I will continue translating when time allows. I consider all of what I post to be a first draft and welcome any suggestions or critiques. I will be using a digitized version of Patrologia Graeca found here and comparing the English translation found in NPNF-II.7 and a French translation I found online. I also recently found the Greek text on Google Books with textual notes that will be helpful in the future.

1. A speech concerning those who are refined in speech. And so I might begin from Scripture:

“Behold, I am against you, proud ones!”

For there are some who have itching ears and tongues (even now as I see hands also) for our words; and who rejoice in profane babbling and in opposition of knowledge falsely so-called and in strife’s about words which produces nothing useful. For so Paul–the preacher and establisher of the Word that was cut short, the disciple and teacher of the fishermen–calls all that is excessive and superfluous in speech. But these men concerning whom I speak, would that on the one hand just as they have nimble tongues and cleverness at chasing speech both noble and approved, likewise also be occupied at least a little with actions. Perhaps they might become less sophistical and acrobatic in words, absurd and opinionated–to absurdly say something about an absurd thing.

I was unsure what to do with the first sentence. It was a verbless clause, though both the English and French translations to which I am comparing translate it verbally. Maybe I am unaware of something significant, but for now I will translate it literally.

λόγος is an important word for this first section. It has three referents: 1) Gregory’s speech, 2) the Eunomian (supposed) ability at refined speech, and 3) Jesus. Gregory’s use of λόγος is rhetorically powerful. The Eunomians want Gregory’s (=neo-Nicene) response to their criticisms, but instead Gregory begins by quoting Scripture. The reference is to Jeremiah 1:31 and presents a theme that will be common throughout the treatise: the Eunomians are prideful and this is a hindrance to one’s ability to speak accurately about God. Gregory weaves 2 Timothy 3:3 thus making Paul’s critiques his own: the Eunomians care nothing of truth, but only for that which entertains. Paul, as Gregory portrays it, preached not an excessive word, but a brief one (cf. Romans 9:28). Jesus, the λόγος, was cut short which is the opposite of the Eunomian’s words. This pits the Eunomians not only against him, but against Paul and Jesus.

It is strange that he calls Paul the “disciple and teacher of the fishermen.” This expresses the already high esteem had by the apostle Paul in the Church, but it may also be a reference to the incident in Antioch recorded in Galatians 2:14.

But these men… This sentence was really difficult for me. First, in the digitized version that I am using, δοκιμωτέ ροις is a typo that should read as only one word (δοκιμωτέροις). Needless to say, trying to parse and find ροις in Liddell-Scott makes for an interesting translation. I should have compared the Arthur James Mason edition (on Google Books), but I didn’t think of it at that time.  Second, I was and still am unsure about what to do with τι καὶ. It appears twice in this last sentence and I resorted to using it as an indefinite article. I relied a lot on the English and French translation, something I wish to do less as I continue translating.

One final note. I find it ironic that the stereotypical vision of the Church Fathers tends to be similar to Gregory’s description of the Eunomians. His critique, that they pay a little attention to action, is the critique of the Early Church (cf. chapter 3 of Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You). As with the critiques of today, how much of this is actually true and how much is it an attempt to disqualify the words of the opponent by portraying them as sophists? It seems much easier to call people sophists than to actually understand their position. I cannot say if Gregory is offering a genuine critique or if he is merely demonizing, that may become clearer as I continue with my translation. The fact that Gregory says this means that he expected his audience to view the Eunomians in a bad light (assuming that Gregory was as great a rhetorician as he is thought to be). This in turn shows that the whole issue of action versus belief is not new to our generation and maybe we could learn a thing or two from those who have come before us.

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