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2. God’s Method of Persuasion

IN THE history of religion there have been two revolutions, called the two Testaments or, by St. Paul, “tremors of the earth.” In the first man passed from idolatry to the Law, and in the second from the Law to the Gospel. And now we proclaim a third cataclysm, the transference from the present order to that beyond, where there can be no further change or disturbance.

One element the two Testaments have in common. They were established without any abrupt or instantaneous transformation.

It is well to realize the reason for this. God did not wish us to be coerced, but persuaded. For that which is not voluntary is not enduring, as we may see by comparison with the forceful repression of a stream or a plant. On the other hand, a transformation under-taken voluntarily is more lasting, more surely grounded. Coercion is the work of an external and tyrannical power, but choice is our own and is, consonant with the goodness of God.

God, then, did not desire us to conform to the good under compulsion, but to choose the good. Hence, in the manner of one instructing children or tending the sick, he withdrew some of our traditional practices while condoning others, yielding to us on some small point to keep us happy. . . . For it is not easy to abandon customs which long usage has invested with dignity and veneration…

The Old Testament unambiguously proclaimed the Father, the Son more obscurely; the New Testament gave full revelation of the Son, but put forward more tentatively the divinity of the Holy Ghost. But today the Holy Spirit is resident and active in our midst, giving us a clearer manifestation of his nature.

For it would have been misleading to proclaim decisively the divinity of the Son at a time when that of the Father was not openly admitted, or to add that of the Holy Ghost before the Son had been fully recognized, as an additional burden to our intellects, if I may use so bold an expression. We might, as children given food beyond their power of assimilation, or as men of weak sight turning their gaze upon the sun, have imperilled what here and now lay within our grasp. It was more lifting that by piecemeal additions and, in the words of David, by gradual advance from splendor to splendor, the full radiance of the Trinity should come to shine upon us.

ST. GREGORY OF NAZIANZEN (ca. 380)