Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Gregory’s homilies on the Lord’s Prayer belong to the early Christian tradition of reflecting on the meaning, manner, and efficacy of prayer, especially the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. The homilies on the Beatitudes belong to the tradition of spiritual ascent and the ladder of perfection, which are featured prominently in the Christian ascetic tradition. Both sets are also important witnesses to the Christian patristic tradition of spiritual, allegorical, and often mystical interpretation of Scripture.

These homilies are products of the ongoing blending of Hellenic natural philosophy with biblical revelation in the early Christian centuries. Gregory exemplifies the ways that many Church Fathers, educated in the Greco-Roman intellectual tradition, made use of the concepts and language of secular culture to present Christianity not only as understandable within the Hellenic tradition as well as through Judaism but also as the solution to problems unsolved by Greek philosophy. Chief among these is the doctrine of the Incarnation, which gave humanity the means of recovering the glories of its own nature made in God’s image but rendered useless by sin.

Also visible in Gregory are elements of the Christian tradition undistorted by the Augustinian determinism that had dominated the West. Gregory urges his audience, for example, to realize this latent dignity when approaching the Lord in prayer as Father and to act on that realization. Gregory also reminds his audience of the fundamental freedom of the human soul despite its entrapment in a corrupt world. For Gregory, the fires of Hell must be the result of one’s own choice to separate oneself from God. They are not the result of anything God has done. Gregory’s understanding of human excellence (arete) and his notion of the meaning of blessed (makarios) show the skillful blending of Greek and Hebraic concepts.