Democracy of the Dead – Gregory of Nyssa

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”  

To honor that sentiment and to stave off an easy chronological snobbery, today’s post comes straight from the mouths (or pens) of men and women who have died in the faith.

From Gregory of Nyssa

Cross by George Wharton JamesOur good Master, Jesus Christ, bestowed on us a partnership in his revered name, so that we get our name from no other person connected with us, and if one happens to be rich and well-born or of lowly origin and poor, or if one has some distinction from his business or position, all such conditions are of no avail because the one authoritative name for those believing in him is that of Christian.

…As this astute perceiver of particular goods says, “Do you seek a proof of the Christ who speaks in me? and “It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me.”

This man knew the significance of the name of Christ for us, saying that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  And he called him peace, and light inaccessible in whom God dwells, and sanctification and redemption and great high priest and Passover, and a propitiation” of souls, “the brightness of glory and image of substance,” and “maker of the world, and spiritual food, and spiritual drink and spiritual rock, waterfoundation of faith, and cornerstone and image of the invisible God, and great God, and head of the body of the Church, and the firstborn of every creature, firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, firstborn from the dead, firstborn among many brothers and mediator between God and humanity, and only begotten Son and crowned with glory and honor, and lord of glory and beginning of being speaking thus of him who is the beginning, king of justice and king of peace and ineffable king of all, having the power of the kingdom, and many other such things that are not easily enumerated.

When all of these phrases are put next to each other, each one of the terms makes its own contribution to a revelation of what is signified by being named after Christ, and each provides for us a certain emphasis.  To the extent that we take these concepts into our souls, they are all indications of the unspeakable greatness of the gift for us. However, since the rank of kingship underlies all worth and power and rule, by this title the royal power of Christ is authoritatively and primarily indicated (for the anointing of kingship, as we learn in the historical books, comes first), and all the force of the other titles depends on that of royalty.  For this reason, the person who knows the separate elements included under it also knows the power encompassing these elements. 

But it is the kingship itself that declares what that title of Christ means.  Therefore, since, thanks to our good Master, we are sharers of the greatest and the most divine and the first of names, those honored by the name of Christ being called Christians, it is necessary that there be seen in us also all of the connotations of this name, so that the title be not a misnomer in our case but that our life be a testimony of it.  Being something does not result from being called something.  The underlying nature, whatever it happens to be, is discovered through the meaning attached to the name.

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