Gregory of Nyssa discourses on the power of the Word:

“Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby. For this holy altar, too, by which I stand, is stone, ordinary in its nature, nowise different from the other slabs of stone that build our houses and adorn our pavements; but seeing that it was consecrated to the service of God, and received the benediction, it is a holy table, an altar undefiled, no longer touched by the hands of all, but of the priests alone, and that with reverence. The bread again is at first [or “up to a certain point of time”] common bread, but when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called, and becomes, the Body of Christ. So with the sacramental oil; so with the wine: though before the benediction they are of little value, each of them, after the sanctification bestowed by the Spirit, has its several operation. The same power of the word, again, also makes the priest venerable and honourable, separated, by the new blessing bestowed upon him, from his community with the mass of men. While but yesterday he was one of the mass, one of the people, he is suddenly rendered a guide, a president, a teacher of righteousness, an instructor in hidden mysteries; and this he does [that is, “these functions he fulfils”] without being at all changed in body or in form; but, while continuing to be in all appearance the man he was before, being, by some unseen power and grace, transformed in respect of his unseen soul to the higher condition. And so there are many things, which if you consider you will see that their appearance is contemptible, but the things they accomplish are mighty…” (from On the Baptism of Christ)

I think it’s fascinating that Gregory includes the pastor here. The pastor is someone special, not because of who he is individually or because of anything about his person, but because of the Word which he brings. To my mind, that is exactly correct. The man is nothing, but the office he holds, and the Word he brings, is everything.

Gregory also correctly teaches here that the Word is the central and important thing in the Sacraments, not the physical elements themselves — although those must be present in order for there to be a Sacrament. Without the Word, Holy Baptism is just plain water for washing and the Holy Supper is mere ordinary bread and wine.

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