“Not to everyone, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God” (First Theological Oration, pt. 3). These are the words that St. Gregory of Nazianzus speaks to his congregation at the forefront of a series of orations that he gave regarding true theology; the subject of the Trinity. He makes this statement over and against the Eunomians who had been making claims that it was possible to know the essence of God and St. Gregory specifically has them in mind when he declares that theology is not for everyone. Not only is it not for everyone it is also not appropriate, “before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits” (FTO, pt. 3).
Who is it then that theology is permissible? For St. Gregory it is only for those who have begun to purify themselves and have been freed from bodily disturbances who are able to enjoy the necessary internal stillness which is required to contemplate God, “it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are past masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified” (FTO, pt. 3). There is no division between ascetic struggle and theology for St. Gregory since theology is not merely the intellectual contemplation of God but is properly the knowledge of God acquired through personal experience; as expressed by the maxim of Evagrius Ponticus, “If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian” (Chapters on Prayer, ch. 60). St. Gregory himself has been styled, in the Eastern tradition, the ‘theologian’ due to the profound experiences of God that he wrote about (see, for example, pt. 3 in the Second Theological Oration). The second requirement for a person to be permitted to theologize is that the subject needs to be of a real concern to them and, “not [for] they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip…to men such as these, idle jests and petty contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement” (STO, pt. 3). Theology is the highest and most profound of all human activities and shouldn’t be taken lightly; those who treat it as any other common subject debase it. Those who are devoid of any purity through ascetical struggle and speak on theological topics as if they are speaking about any common subject must not be permitted to theologize for, “the subject is not so cheap and low” (FTO, pt. 3), to be discussed by such who haven’t struggled and prepared themselves to be fit to theologize.
St. Gregory also notes what are the permissible occasions to theologize as well as what are the permissible topics to theologize on. Just as it is necessary for a person to have begun the life of purification before embarking on theological contemplation so it is the necessary condition for such a person to have reached a degree of internal stillness and silence before he may theologize, “when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexation or erring images…for it is necessary to be truly at leisure to know God” (FTO, pt. 3). To be able to experience, or to ‘know’, God is it necessary that the body be in a condition which is freed from the movements of various passions which can blur and disturb the heart. Here we can see quite explicitly the connection between ascetical purification and theology in the thought of St. Gregory and how true theology cannot be divorced from the life of purification. When addressing which topics are appropriate to theologize on St. Gregory says that only those, “matters within our reach, and to such an extent as the mental power and grasp of our audience may extend” (FTO, pt. 4). It seems that St. Gregory has in mind here the Eunomians and their belief that the essence of God may be comprehended. The following four theological orations present what St. Gregory believes to be the extent that God may be known and comprehended. He also notes that the audience must be taken into consideration. While he may have had a deeper comprehension of God due to his advance in ascetical struggle and theological contemplation he recognizes that any discourse about God must be suited to the level of the listeners for their own sake, “no further, lest, as excessively loud sounds injure the hearing..these too [theological discourse], being pressed down and over weighted by the stiffness, if I may use the expression, of the arguments, should suffer loss even in respect of the strength they originally possessed” (FTO, pt. 4). Theological teaching which lies beyond the grasp of the audience, despite the strength of the teaching, will injure the hearers.
In everything that St. Gregory has presented it is abundantly clear that theology proper is only appropriate for a very select number of people. With all the necessary requirements he lists as to what kind of person can theologize, what conditions are necessary, what topics are permissible, and to whom it can be delivered he emphatically declares what he says plainly, that it doesn’t belong to everyone to be a theologian. This does not mean, however, that all reflection on God is limited to a select few. When it comes to prayer, the remembrance of God, and moderate teachings about Him this is permissible for all, “I am not saying that it is not needful to remember God at all times;…I must not be misrepresented…For we ought to think of God even more 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 meditate day and night, and tell at eventide and morning and noonday, 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 – and by this recollection we are to be molded to purity” (FTO, pt. 5). Everyone should keep in their mind the remembrance of God and should continually praise Him in all that they do and through this continual recollection of God men will actually begin the purification process which is necessary to lead up towards theological contemplation. It seems that prayer, praise, and the continual remembrance of God is the foundational spiritual activity open to everyone which also serves as the means towards purification which opens up theological contemplation. Even for these people who are in this entry level it is not forbidden to talk about God or to be taught about Him but only what is appropriate based upon their grasp and only in moderation, “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 unreasonable; nor all teaching, but only want of moderation” (FTO, pt. 5). He brings up the fact that even honey, which is good for a person, when consumed in too large a quantity produces vomiting and that there is a time for everything, so for the talking about God and the teaching about Him has a proper time and requires moderation.
We can see in the thought of St. Gregory that the continual remembrance of God is absolutely necessary for everyone along with moderate teaching and talking about Him when reasonable. This, along with ascetical struggle, form the means towards the purification which is a necessary condition is preparing one to be a theologian. So for St. Gregory theology isn’t for everyone but the continual remembrance of God is.