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St. Gregory the Theologian on Ransom and the Bronze Serpent

I was delighted to find this quote via the Orthodox Study Bible, though I must add to my complaints about that edition the fact that they cite church fathers by name, but without providing a reference to the particular work.  A visit to the St. Pachomius Library and then ewtn.com resolved the latter question.

The quote is from St. Gregory the Theologian’s Second Paschal Oration, XXII:


Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most
people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into.  To Whom was
that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed?  I mean
the precious and famous Blood of our God and Highpriest and Sacrifice.
We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and
receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness.  Now, since a ransom
belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this
offered, and for what cause?

If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage!  If the robber receives
ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself,
and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for
whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone

But if to the Father, I ask first, how?  For it was not by Him that we
were being oppressed; and next, On what principle did the Blood of His
Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even
Isaac, when he was being offered by his Father, but changed the
sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim?  Is it not
evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor
demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because Humanity
must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us
Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the
mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honour of the
Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things?

So much we have said of Christ; the greater part of what we might say
shall be reverenced with silence.  But that brazen serpent [Num. 21:9]
was hung up as a remedy for the biting serpents, not as a type of Him
that suffered for us, but as a contrast; and it saved those that
looked upon it, not because they believed it to live, but because it
was killed, and killed with it the powers that were subject to it,
being destroyed as it deserved.  And what is the fitting epitaph for
it from us?  "O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy
victory?"  Thou art overthrown by the Cross; thou art slain by Him who
is the Giver of life; thou art without breath, dead, without motion,
even though thou keepest the form of a serpent lifted up on high on a

There are two elements that particularly attracted me to this quote.  The OrthSB quotes the final section about the serpent, which goes well with this week’s lectionary texts.  I like the idea that it was precisely the fact that the serpent on the pole is dead that provides the healing.  He is a defeated serpent.  It would also provide some interesting context to the worship of the serpent up to Hezekiah’s time, that is until Hezekiah broke it up (2 Kings 18:4).  This differs from part of the interpretation I provided yesterday in my Numbers 21:4-9" href="index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=69&catid=2&Itemid=5" target="_blank">lectionary notes.

If you’re missing out on the eastern church fathers regarding the atonement, you are missing out on a lot.

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