This edition of my church fathers paraphrases comes from St. Gregory Nazianzus. Gregory was born around A.D. 325, right as the Council of Nicea was in full swing. His father Gregory had been a pagan but had converted due to the influence of his wife Nonna. The elder Gregory became bishop of Nazianzus in 329 and remained at this see until 374.
St. Gregory was close friends with St. Basil, and the two of them became extremely influential in the theological developments on the late 4th century. Gregory was well-versed in rhetoric, and brought his skills to bear upon his theology. He worked especially hard in regards to pneumatology, and was among the first theologians to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit within the Godhead by employing the term procession.
In this selection, which comes from his Oration On the Theophany, Chapter 7, Gregory is contemplating the mystery of God as God is, reminding his readers that God’s nature is so far beyond created being that it is absolutely incomprehensible; the only way to approach thinking about God is to realize God’s vastness. Within this wonder is the path opened up.
Because Gregory is so eloquent, I would recommend reading the original English translation which has a fair amount of stylistic flair in and of itself.
In the deep recesses of eternity God has always been; move forward into the present and he is found to be, nor can the forgotten ages of time yet to awaken leave him behind or hide from his gaze. Far above these shackles, God simply is. For the past and the future are but scattered fragments of time which bound creation, the shoreline of a ceaselessly changing nature, tumultuous in its becoming. But in God all shadow of change flees in the radiance of eternal being, and in this respect God’s name revealed to Moses opens our eyes to his boundless light.
For God holds in himself the fullness of what being truly is- there is no place to mark a beginning in the distant past nor to discover an end in the unfathomable future, for to God these delineations are as scratchings in the sand upon which the wild and unbridled waves of the ocean of being break, stretching off unto an infinite horizon, until time and space collapse into the expanse, wrapped up in God’s utter transcendence of them all.
God can only be seen dimly, for our eyes our too weak, and our minds are too feeble. Even the loftiest conception with all the powers of reason rising in unity falls ever short, for its wings cannot carry it to the farthest star, much less to the measureless beyond, where God in his essence awaits. We can only perceive God by reflections, like faint and fading faces in dirty mirrors that help us construct a thought, only to vanish the moment they become recognizable, as the lightning flash cannot be seen in its blazing when it strikes, but leaves a flame in the eyes which lasts but a breath and then is gone.
In these whisper-like echoes we are meant to rise to God; not with wings flapping in the fury of futility against the winds to ascend the heights and bound the mountains, but in repose as the thermals lift us weightless back unto their source. The sheer mystery begins the chase, for that which is familiar is neither a quarry to pursue nor a wonder to behold. But when we consider the unknowableness of God, it makes us desire to know him, and the more we know him, the more we become like him. We become partakers of his being, and share in the mystery.
God’s nature cannot be contained, nor can it be understood. But God’s infinite-ness is the very means to comprehend him- it is the path to truly knowing God. In God’s utter being-ness there is no way in, the light is too blinding. But in this light all things are illumined, and so God is beyond our grasp but nearer than you could imagine.