Gregory of Nyssa on St. Paul’s intimate knowledge of his Lord, Jesus Christ, expressed in a multitude of descriptive titles for him that provides great food for Christian Meditation. The honor of sharing in Jesus’ primary title, Christ, should impel Christians to imitate him as Paul did.
No one has known Christ better than Paul, nor surpassed him in the careful example he gave of what anyone should be who bears Christ’s name.
Paul’s Imitation of Christ
So precisely did he mirror his cornerstone, the visible image of the invisible God. He goes on to speak of him as the mighty God, the head of his body, the Church, the firstborn of the new creation, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the firstborn of the dead, the eldest of many brothers; he tells us that Christ is the mediator between God and man, the only begotten Son crowned with glory and honor, the Lord of glory, the beginning of all things, the king of justice Master that he became his very image.
By a painstaking imitation, he was transformed into his model and it seemed to be no longer Paul who lived and spoke, but Christ himself. He shows his keen awareness of this grace when he refers to the Corinthians’ desire for proof that Christ was speaking in him; as he says: It is no longer I who live: it is Christ who lives in me.
Pauline Titles for Jesus Christ
Paul teaches us the power of Christ’s name when he calls him the power and wisdom of God, our peace, the unapproachable light where God dwells, our expiation and redemption, our great high priest, our paschal sacrifice, our propitiation; when he declares him to be the radiance of God’s glory, the very pattern of his nature, the creator of all ages, our spiritual food and drink, the rock and the water, the bedrock of our faith, the and of peace, the king of the whole universe, ruling a realm that has no limits.
Christians: the Honor of sharing his Name
Paul calls Christ by many other titles too numerous to recall here. Their cumulative force will give some conception of the marvelous content of the name “Christ,” revealing to us his inexpressible majesty, insofar as our minds and thought can comprehend it. Since, by the goodness of God, we who are called “Christians” have been granted the honor of sharing this name, the greatest, the highest, the most sublime of all names, it follows that each of the titles that express its meaning should be clearly reflected in us. If we are not to lie when we call ourselves “Christians,” we must bear witness to it by our way of living.
This reading on the Christian as another Christ is an excerpt from a treatise on Christian Perfection (PG 46, 254-255) by St. Gregory of Nyssa, bishop and Father of the Early Church. It appears in the Roman Office of Readings on Monday in the twelfth (12th) week in ordinary time with I Samuel 17:1-51 as the accompanying biblical reading.
For more on the apostles who founded the church in Rome, visit our Sts. Peter and Paul Library
For more on the person, mission and titles of Christ, see the JESUS section of the Crossroads Initiative Library.