Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Gregory Nazianzen

Jesus fasted for forty days and nights.

We must not expect baptism to free us from the temptations of our persecutor. The body that concealed him made even the Word of God a target for the enemy; his assumption of a visible form made even the invisible light an object of attack.

Nevertheless, since we have at hand the means of overcoming our enemy, we must have no fear of the struggle. Flaunt in his face the water and the Spirit. In them will be extinguished all the flaming darts of the evil one.

Suppose the tempter makes us feel the pinch of poverty, as he did even to Christ, and taking advantage of our hunger, talks of turning stones into bread: we must not be taken in by him, but let him learn what he has still not grasped. Refute him with the word of life, with the word that is the bread sent down from heaven and that gives life to the world.

He may try to ensnare us through our vanity, as he tried to ensnare Christ when he set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said: “Prove your divinity: throw yourself down.” Let us beware of succumbing to pride, for the tempter will by no means stop at one success.

He is never satisfied and is always pursuing us. Often he beguiles us with something good and useful, but its end is always evil. That is simply his method of waging war.

We also know how well-versed the devil is in Scripture. When Christ answered the temptation to turn stones into bread with a rebuke from Scripture beginning: “It is written,” the devil countered with the same words, tempting Christ to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. “For it is written,” he quoted, “he will give his angels charge of you, and on their hands they will bear you up.”

O past master of all evil, why suppress the verse that follows? You did not finish the quotation, but I know full well what it means: that we shall tread on you as on an adder or a cobra; protected by the Trinity, we shall trample on you as on serpents or scorpions.

If the tempter tries to overthrow us through our greed, showing us at one glance all the kingdoms of the world—as if they belonged to him—and demanding that we fall down and worship him, we should despise him, for we know him to be a penniless impostor.

Strong in our baptism, each of us can say: “I too am made in the image of God, but unlike you, I have not yet become an outcast from heaven through my pride. I have put on Christ; by my baptism I have become one with him. It is you that should fall prostrate before me.”

At these words he can only surrender and retire in shame; as he retreated before Christ, the light of the world, so will he depart from those illumined by that light.

Such are the gifts conferred by baptism on those who understand its power; such the rich banquet it lays before those who hunger for the things of the Spirit.

(Homily 40, 10: PG 36, 370-371)

Gregory Nazianzen (329-389) was one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers. Desiring a retired, contemplative life, he became a monk, but in about 362 his father, the bishop of Nazianzus, ordained him priest against his will, and ten years later he was raised to the episcopate by his friend Saint Basil. In 379 Gregory was called to Constantinople, where his preaching helped to restore the Nicene faith and led to its final acceptance by the Council of Constantinople in 381. To the “Five Theological Orations” preached at Constantinople Gregory owes his title, “The Theologian.”

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson