Here I translate the rest of Nicetas Heracleensis’ commentary on Gregory of Nazianzus Oration 41:15-16. Gregory’s original is dense and tightly argued, so Nicetas’s commentary is most welcome. For my translation of Gregory’s text (on which Nicetas comments here), see here. For the original Greek (both of Gregory and Nicetas), see here.
The Theologian praises even the old division of tongues, when the one language was scattered, the ungodly plot and conspiracy was undone, and God foiled their senseless attempt. The aim of those making the tower was that if there was another flood, to run to this tower and so thwart the divine wrath. Some now dare to do in a similar manner, conspiring evil together against the Spirit and building a tower of ungodliness. But the holy father marvels at this present miraculous division of tongues much more, as it proceeds from one Spirit, pouring out to the many apostles, bringing about one harmony, and restoring the harmony of godliness. For if they were speaking in different tongues about Christ and the proclamation, they were speaking like the different cords of a lyre bringing about harmony as they spoke.
The types of gifts which “require another to interpret them,” are prophecy and speaking in tongues. For prophecy requires the gift of distinguishing of spirits, and the gift of tongues requires the gift of interpretation. But the gift of prophecy and the gift of tongues are superior to those which lack other gifts to interpret and enlighten (that is, since they are complemented by discernment of spirits and interpretation of tongues). Knowing this the teacher says “to distinguish the better [gift].” For the apostles to speak in foreign languages is a type of gift that requires another gift, which is “discernment [of spirits],” in order to distinguish how it is that this gift is better and more excellent than the other gifts, since all gifts are worthy of honor.
The division of tongues which David spoke of is also good, “scatter the tongues of those who have loved words of confusion.” He speaks here against the tongues of the Pneumatomachians, who deny the divinity of the Spirit, and separate him from the Father and the Son. Thus he (Gregory) says that the the endless babble of the heretics, this plot against the Spirit, should be put down. Thus this division of tongues is fitting for those who plot and contemplate evil together.
Nicetas’s notes on Gregory are of interest. His brief discussion of the tower of Babel raises an explanation I’ve never heard: the impetus behind building the tower of Babel was to have a place to run during another flood. This had never occurred to me, but it does make good sense.
The comments on spiritual gifts are what I find most interesting, and also most difficult to follow. Essentially Nicetas says there are two gifts which require another gift for “interpreting.” One is prophecy, the other is speaking in tongues. Prophecy requires the gift of discerning of spirits, and and tongues requires the gift of interpretation. Prophecy, it seems, and tongues are both superior to other gifts that don’t have a “complement”. Gregory’s reference to “discerning the better” is a reference to “discerning the better gift.” That the apostles spoke in foreign languages is a spiritual charism that requires another (distinguishing spirits) to determine how it is that tongues is superior to the other charismata, since all of the gifts have something good in them. This section is a bit muddled though (at least for me), and I’d encourage anyone curious to look at the Greek. There are a few different ways to interpret most of it. Ι may very well revisit this in a future post.
The comments on the Psalm are a bit more straight-forward. Nicetas tells us that Gregory is referring to the Pneumatomachians, who deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This too is most likely right. Gregory is concerned in this Oration to argue for the full divinity of the Spirit, a position on which even the Nicene party was muddled. Here, he is oblique as he doesn’t want to openly attack potential allies (that is, those who accept the full divinity of the Son, but are unsure about the Holy Spirit).