St Gregory of Nazianzus’ Oration on Holy Baptism (381 AD) follows the Oration on the “Holy Lights” which was preached on the Festival of the Epiphany 381. The Festival of Epiphany, to this day, is that of the Baptism of Jesus.
The name “Holy Lights,” is derived from Baptism, which was often then called Illumination, in reference to which name lighted torches or candles were carried by the neophytes.
The Festival lasted two days, the second being devoted to the conferring of the Sacrament. Thus we find two Orations belonging to the Festival. In the first he emphasizes the Feast and the Mystery of our Lord’s Baptism commemorated; in the second Oration, delivered next day, he focuses on the Sacrament of Baptism and its spiritual effects.
Interestingly, in the (preceding) Oration on the Holy Lights, Gregory enumerates five different kinds of Baptism:
- The figurative Baptism of Israel by Moses in the cloud and in the Sea.
- The preparatory Baptism of repentance ministered by S. John the Baptist.
- The spiritual Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost given us by our Lord.
- The glorious Baptism of Martyrdom.
- The painful Baptism of Penance.
He then prepares the catechumens by enumerating 10 articles of the Faith:
- The Trinity
- God the Father almighty created heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible
- God did not create evil
- The Incarnation of the Eternal Word of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and the hypostatic union
- His crucifixion, death and burial
- His bodily resurrection
- His ascension
- His bodily second coming
- The Last Judgment, with proportionate rewards and punishments [not just simple heaven and hell]
- The necessity of good works, for “faith without works is dead, even as are works apart from faith.” [no consideration of forensic imputation, which does not appear in Christian theology until the 16h century].
If I yet worshiped a creature, or were baptized into a creature, I should not be made divine, nor have changed my first birth . . . I protest before God and the elect Angels, be thou baptized in this faith . . . let us hasten your salvation. The Spirit is eager, the Consecrator is ready, the Gift is prepared . . .
I will baptize you and make you a disciple in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; and These Three have One common name, the Godhead. . . .
Believe that all that is in the world, both all that is seen and all that is unseen, was made out of nothing by God, and is governed by the Providence of its Creator, and will receive a change to a better state.
Believe that evil has no substance or kingdom, either unoriginate or self-existent or created by God; but that it is our work, and the evil one’s, and came upon us through our heedlessness, but not from our Creator.
Believe that the Son of God, the Eternal Word, Who was begotten of the Father before all time and without body, was in these latter days for your sake made also Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary ineffably and stainlessly (for nothing can be stained where God is, and by which salvation comes), in His own Person at once entire Man and perfect God, for the sake of the entire sufferer, that He may bestow salvation on your whole being, having destroyed the whole condemnation of your sins: impassible in His Godhead, passible in that which He assumed; as much Man for your sake as you are made God for His.
Believe that for us sinners He was led to death; was crucified and buried, so far as to taste of death; and that He rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven, that He might take you with Him who were lying low; and that He will come again with His glorious Presence to judge the quick and the dead; no longer flesh, nor yet without a body, according to the laws which He alone knows of a more godlike body, that He may be seen by those who pierced Him, and on the other hand may remain as God without carnality.
Receive besides this the Resurrection, the Judgment and the Reward according to the righteous scales of God; and believe that this will be Light to those whose mind is purified (that is, God—seen and known) proportionate to their degree of purity, which we call the Kingdom of heaven; but to those who suffer from blindness of their ruling faculty, darkness, that is estrangement from God, proportionate to their blindness here.
Then, in the tenth place, work that which is good upon this foundation of dogma; for faith without works is dead, even as are works apart from faith.
This is all that may be divulged of the Sacrament, and that is not forbidden to the ear of the many. The rest you shall learn within the Church by the grace of the Holy Trinity; and those matters you shall conceal within yourself, sealed and secure.
– Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration on Holy Baptism (Preached at Constantinople, Jan. 6, 381), XLII-XLV.