The episcopal ministry of Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) came on the heels of the fierce debates about the divinity of the Son that consumed the fourth century church for nearly half a century. This conflict produced the first of the great Ecumenical Councils in the resort town of Nicaea, whose name is inscribed on the creed it gave to the Church: Nicene. That Creed as originally drafted was very precise about the nature of the Son’s relationship to the Father, but all it had to say about the Holy Spirit was the laconic “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” Now the people were pressing their bishops for a more precise teaching on the Third Person of the Trinity. Unfortunately, some were offering solutions that not only diminished the glory of the Spirit, but as far as Gregory was concerned threatened the Christian hope itself.
In dealing with the Scriptures Gregory’s opponents adamantly denied that they ever called the Spirit God in express terms, and that Gregory, by insisting on his divinity, was actually guilty of the cardinal sin for theologians: innovation. Gregory concedes that the Bible never says outright, “the Spirit is God,” but then again it never says as much about the Son either. But Gregory points out that wherever the Son is, whose divinity is not in dispute, there is the Spirit:
Look at the facts: Christ is born, the Spirit is his forerunner; Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears him witness; Christ is tempted, the Spirit leads him up; Christ performs miracles, the Spirit accompanies him; Christ ascends, the Spirit takes his place. (Oration 31.29, Theological Oration on the Spirit)
If his constant presence with Jesus the Son is not enough evidence, surely the actions we see the Spirit doing on his own clearly demonstrate his divinity. Gregory lays them all out in powerful rhetorical fashion:
the Spirit always participated in but does not participate, perfects but is not perfected, fills but is not filled, sanctifies but is not sanctified, deifies but is not deified… He is life and creates life, he is light and distributes light, he is the goodness itself and the source of goodness. He is the upright Spirit, sovereign, Lord; he sends, sets apart, builds a temple for himself, guides, acts as he wills, distributes gifts. He is the Spirit of adoption, of truth, of wisdom, of understanding, of knowledge, of piety, of counsel, of strength, of fear, as was enumerated, through whom the Father is known and the Son glorified, and by whom alone he is known. They are one common rank, one in adoration, worship, power, perfection, sanctification. (Oration 41:9, On Pentecost)
In other words, he does and acts as God alone does and acts. As far as Gregory is concerned, the Scriptures could not be clearer: the Spirit is God.
If this exegetical winning hand were not enough for Gregory, he still has his best card to play. For him, not only do the Scriptures bear clear witness to the Holy Spirit, but so does the Holy Spirit himself:
At the present time, the Spirit resides amongst us, giving us a clearer manifestation of himself than before. (Oration 31.26, Theological Oration on the Spirit)
The clearest witness of the Spirit’s divinity is the very life he lives in and among the Church itself. The Spirit is the one who unites individual Christians to the Son and by him to the divine life as a whole. This facet of salvation—fellowship with God by way of mystical union with the Father through the Son—is so thoroughly assumed by all the parties concerned that Gregory simply dares his opponents to consider how else this union would be possible if the agent of it, the Spirit, were not God. For
if he has the same rank as I have [that of a creature], how can he make me God, how can he link me with deity? (Oration 31.4, Theological Oration on the Spirit)
In other words, how could the Spirit bring believers into the divine life if he doesn’t share in that utterly transcendent life by nature himself? Moreover, the key piece of evidence that the Spirit does indeed effect mystical union with God in the believer is the transformed lives of believers themselves! Once again, Gregory demonstrates his point with his usual rhetorical flare:
The Spirit, who is most wise and most loving toward humankind, if he takes a shepherd makes him a harper subduing evil spirits by song and proclaims him king of Israel. If he takes a goatherd scraping mulberry trees, he makes him a prophet. Consider David and Amos. If he takes a youth with natural talents, he makes him a judge of elders, even beyond his years. Daniel testifies to this, who was victorious over lions in their den. If he finds fishermen, he catches them in a net for Christ, they who catch the whole world with the line of the Word. Take for me Peter and Andrew and the sons of thunder, thundering the things of the Spirit. If he finds tax collectors, he gains them as disciples and makes them merchants of souls. Matthew says this, who yesterday was a tax collector and today is an evangelist. If he finds fervent persecutors, he relocates their zeal and makes Pauls instead of Sauls and binds them to piety as much as they have been bound to evil. (Oration 41.14, On Pentecost)
All Christians share in similar transformations. Only the greatest cynic would refuse to admit as evidence the repentant and transformed lives of Christians themselves. If Christians are not in some sense different than the rest of the world, then the Church should just close up shop right here and now. Gregory knows his opponents will never grant this. They must therefore adore the Spirit as God.
By this argument, not only does Gregory clearly and powerfully demonstrate the divine nature of the Spirit, but he also provides a clear vision of who the Spirit is and what he does for the people of God. He cleanses them in baptism and invites them into the divine life by way of communion with the Son, and through him with the Father. He is the very agent of their new life in Jesus and the guarantor of their inheritance with God. So Gregory can unequivocally say about the Spirit what the Nicene Creed clearly teaches about the Son: “Is the Spirit God? Certainly. Is he of one being [with the Father]? Yes, if he is God” (Oration 31.10, Theological Oration on the Spirit). Following Gregory’s lead, the Second Ecumenical Council expanded the Spirit’s article of the Creed to the way we know it today. Now, the Spirit enables all Christians to confess with boldness “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father; with the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.” Amen.