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Faith of Our Fathers: Gregory Nazianzus on Christ as Our Representative in Psalm 22

23 November, 2009
Gregory Nazianzus

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Gregory Nazianzus (330–389/90) was one of the Cappadocians, who were instrumental in the success of the Nicene Creed and the articulation of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Gregory was also a very passionate proclaimer of the gospel of the redeeming grace of this God in Christ by the Spirit. In this passage, Gregory explains how we must understand that Psalm 22 is a Psalm prayed by Christ on the cross (Matt 27:46), not because he himself was a sinner or deserved his Father’s displeasure, but because he took upon himself our guilt and sin and punishment, bearing it all so that we would never have to. Jesus cried out those words, and suffered in the depths of his humanity all they stood for, on our behalf and in our place. Gregory says it better:

But look at [Psalm 22] in this manner: that as for my sake he was called a curse, who destroyed my curse; and was called sin, who takes away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old; just so he makes my disobedience his own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account….Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was not he who was forsaken either by the Father, or by his own Godhead,  as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from him in his sufferings (for who compelled him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the cross?). But as I said, he was in his own person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the sufferings of him who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, he makes his own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the 22nd Psalm refers to Christ. (Theological Orations 4.5)

Oh, the Lord grant that we would read our Bibles like Gregory was here!

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One Comment
  1. Darren permalink
    24 November, 2009 10:57 pm

    Thanks for this. Amidst the exasperating excess that is St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, I confess to experiencing a momentary thrill as I stood by the sepulcher of Gregory Nazianzus, someone I could appreciate as a father in the faith (although most of his bones had actually been returned to the Eastern Patriarchate). Lost the camera I took the picture with… maybe a reminder not to set up my own private practice of saint veneration ;b

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