Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea & Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople
Gregory and Basil were two friends bound together by their desire to promote and defend the divinity of Christ as proclaimed in the Nicene Creed. This was against the seemingly overwhelming pressure from both Church and State for the establishment of Arianism, which denied Christ’s divinity and thus the whole Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Basil was renowned for being headstrong and forceful, in comparison to his friend Gregory, who would rather spend his days in prayer and living the simple, ascetic life. Gregory’s brilliance in oratory and theological debate meant that a hidden life was virtually impossible and Basil drew him into the forefront of the controversy. Their joint persuasive eloquence convinced the first Council of Constantinople, meeting in 381, that their teaching was the truly orthodox one and the Council ratified the text of the Nicene Creed in the form it is used in the East to this day. Basil died in 379 and Gregory ten years later.
St Matthew 5. 13-19
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Our focus on SS Basil and Gregory, combined with our reading from Matthew, raise seemingly paradoxical themes of divinity and humanity; these themes might not be as paradoxical as at first appears. One shines light on the other. Our Gospel reading challenges any over-focus on Christ’s divinity and our humanity. Christ is not only divine but also human. We are not only human but also… divine? You may agree or disagree that our calling to image God is a form of divinity, that being the hands and feet of Christ implies that we are, in fact, part of God but, regardless, we are at least called to be holy. Similarly, you may agree or disagree that Jesus was, and Christ is, divine but, regardless, Christ was at least human for some time.
So let’s focus on Matthew’s words. How do they relate to the holiness of humanity and the human-ness of Christ?
Matthew asserts that we of the salt of the earth, light to the people, and our purpose is to further God’s glory. We are not merely human, but also holy. In all of our fears and frailties, desires and flesh, we share something of God, something of divinity, something of mission. Then we read that Christ has come to fulfil the law. We know that that fulfilment was, in part, a death. Jesus had to suffer and die as a human being, just like us.
Perhaps, then, we should also reconsider the divinity of our humanness. To be holy does not mean to set apart or overcome our fears, frailties, desires and flesh. Rather, it means to show that humanity is divine in as much as we love eachother not despite, but precisely because of, our diverse human identities. Who are you? Who is God in you?
Suffering Christ, help me to see you amidst the other, to touch the scars in your hands, to feel the wound in your side, to focus on your humanity, Your suffering, Your flesh, in those whom I meet, in those whom I touch, in those whom I avoid meeting, in those whom I avoid touching. Creative Spirit, help me to find the Creator in myself, and to live as part of your body on earth. Amen.
Alex Clare-Young is on his final student-minister placement at St. Columba’s with New Lendal URC, York.