This book was a difficult read. As these orations were, most likely, sermons, I was expecting them to be far easier to understand than they were; I was expecting some sort of catechetical-like introduction to the Trinity. What I got was, in fact, far more difficult but no less profound; this is also a highly profitable read.
Nazianzus lived during a period of great theological controversy and turmoil. Although Christianity was now the official religion of the empire, it was by no means clear what the official doctrine/s of Christ and God were. There were many schools of thought on point, many of which tended in similar directions. Yet, the finer points of Incarnation and Trinity were much debated, particularly the relationship of God the Father to God the Son and, interestingly, this was not merely a matter for cloistered scholars: it was something that everyone had an opinion about and if Christianity was going to be the glue that held people together, it was going to have to figure out just what the Trinity (and by extension, the Incarnation) meant.
The Theological Orations are Gregory's attempt at working out what exactly the Trinity means. So, these works are at points highly polemical against "heretics" (whomever they were); there is no room for even an iota of untrue (or half true) doctrine. Several of the Orations are set up as Q & A sessions in which Gregory refutes certain theological positions that he sees as relegating Christ to a position below the Father and, therefore, destroying the Trinity.
Gregory makes a number of key points, the first of which is that theology is not for everyone (!): rather, it is only for those who are really open to God and willing to not merely discuss God, but also to let God defy the language that they use to discuss Him with. So, for Gregory, "negative" and "affirmative" theology are "braided" together into a seamless unity. In speaking of God, one speaks of a God that overflows our speech. Yet, what one says is, if orthdox, also objectively true.
Secondly, if one wants to speak of God - and God is One in Three persons, the Trinity - then one must speak and think *outside* of time. This is no small or easy task! Yet, if one wants to speak of the Father as being the fount of the Trinity, and also at the same time affirm the eternal existence of the Son and the Spirit, one cannot speak of "generation" in any way that is similar to how we must think of what it means "to generate", which is done in and through time. The eternal, then, is not the supra-temporal, but rather the atemporal.
It is all quite mind-defying, really. Regardless of whether or not one finds all of Gregory's arguments or all of his scriptural exegesis to be convincing (I didn't, and I doubt that anyone else will find *all* of it convincing), he says much that does not simply make one think but that also takes one outside of and beyond the limits of the mind and its linguistic articulations. It is a holding together of seemingly irreconcilable ideas: the eternal and the language of relationship, which is rooted in the temporal. Yet, such is theology. It is not confusing if one lets it open one's self up to that which is beyond all of our words. If one tries to keep something such as the Trinity - God! - *trapped* within our logic, then one is likely to be not only frustrated but also confused. This is, of course, what Gregory warns against in the first Oration: if you aren't ready to let God be God, then don't talk about God!
If you want to sit down and really wrestle with a text on the Trinity, this is a great place to go. Not only is it a classic and foundational text on the trinitarian life of God, but it *should* also open one up to a God whose life is relationship - the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - but whose relationship equally defies our rationality. I really think that there is something of a window to God here, and it is a window that is well worth looking through. Is it the whole picture? Of course not. But, it directs you to what you ought to be looking at - and that *is* what theology can *does*. Highly recommended.