Can someone explain this supposed quote by St. Gregory Nazianzan?

This quote can be found under 3C at the link below:

[St. Gregory, 4th century Bishop of Nazianzus, wrote: “A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire.”]

Some sites say it is quoted from a letter to St. Jerome.

Can anyone vouch for its authenticity and explain its context?

I can’t find it as part of any larger document on the internet, in the encyclopedia or on this Forum.

I can only find it quoted alone and used as a claim that Chistianty is some kind of deception.


You can find some remarks like it in the First Theological Oration, but clearly he doesn’t think kindly of those who use such “jargon”–in other words, he is describing his opponents, not his own procedure. He did teach that one should not lightly discuss deep theological topics in front of just everyone, but that was because people might misunderstand.

The reference is curious, since it is listed as “Hieron. ad Nep.” That would imply that it’s from a letter by Jerome to someone else (abbreviated as “Nep.”). Also, it’s quoted from an antireligious book by a French Enlightenment Deist. There doesn’t appear to be any other record of it. Volney (the French scholar in question) does seem to have been a well-regarded scholar, so I’m not going to say that the quotation is bogus. But I’m suspicious in general of these free-floating quotations with learned-sounding references that no one can actually make sense of or track down.


Well without the context of the full document one can only speculate. If taken on its own merits it could be one of two things. In the early centuries there was a concept called Oeconomy (sp?) that basically held to the premise that one educated someone with what they could currently understand or handle. It was a not uncommon educational tool in those days. More or less one instructs the uninitiated and uneducated with broad simplified concepts then move into deeper things as they are ready. Today we don’t care for these methods as people are on average much more educated well read and so are able to handle more complex conecepts up front.

It also could simply be an observation that most people are satisfied with simple and clear statements. Which is arguably true.

Again without the full document it is hard to tell what he had on his mind.

That would be a pretty good clue that it’s not an authentic quote. If anyone asserts otherwise, ask them to cite the specific source where St. Gregory allegedly said this.

A google search for that phrase yielded less that 30 hits, all of those to various messageboards and blogs, none of which are reliable primary sources.

The writings of the Church Fathers are available in many different places on the web. If this quote was even remotely historically accurate, it would have a heck of a lot more than 30 hits on google. And you could find it on places like New Advent.

OK, I think I found it. It is from Jerome’s letter 52 to Nepotian:

When teaching in church seek to call forth not plaudits but groans. Let the tears of your hearers be your glory. A presbyter’s words ought to be seasoned by his reading of scripture. Be not a declaimer or a ranter, one who gabbles without rhyme or reason; but show yourself skilled in the deep things and versed in the mysteries of God. To mouth your words and by your quickness of utterance astonish the unlettered crowd is a mark of ignorance. Assurance often explains that of which it knows nothing; and when it has convinced others imposes on itself. My teacher, Gregory of Nazianzus, when I once asked him to explain Luke’s phrase σάββατον δευτερόπρωτον, that is the second-first Sabbath, playfully evaded my request saying: I will tell you about it in church, and there, when all the people applaud me, you will be forced against your will to know what you do not know at all. For, if you alone remain silent, every one will put you down for a fool. There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation: such most admire what they fail to understand. Hear Marcus Tullius, the subject of that noble eulogy: You would have been the first of orators but for Demosthenes: he would have been the only one but for you. Hear what in his speech for Quintus Gallius he has to say about unskilled speakers and popular applause and then you will not be the sport of such illusions. What I am telling you, said he, is a recent experience of my own. One who has the name of a poet and a man of culture has written a book entitled Conversations of Poets and Philosophers. In this he represents Euripides as conversing with Menander and Socrates with Epicurus— men whose lives we know to be separated not by years but by centuries. Nevertheless he calls forth limitless applause and endless acclamations. For the theatre contains many who belong to the same school as he: like him they have never learned letters.

You can see from this that the context has been distorted. Jerome is telling Nepotian *not *to act like this, and he explicitly says that St. Gregory was joking with him, threatening to embarrass him by giving a fake explanation of the difficult passage and making everyone applaud. Certainly the text reflects a certain elitism, but no intent to deceive. If you read the letter as a whole, you’ll see that Jerome is holding up a very high standard for clerical behavior. 18th-century rationalists are not to be trusted when they report on early Christians!


Thanks Edwin for taking the time to find the original piece so the statement could be put into context. It also turned out to be an interesting read.

Thanks, you guys. I do try to do my homework, but when I’m stuck, I know I’ll get a good answer here.:slight_smile:

God bless,

Great find, Edwin! I am thoroughly impressed! Very helpful.

It wasn’t that much work. The only advantage I had is that I know Latin and thus could figure out what “Hier. ad Nep.” meant. I knew that (unless the reference was wrong or garbled somehow) it must be a letter from Jerome to someone whose name began with “Nep.” So I looked up the letters of Jerome online and quickly found the letter in question. The problem was that since Jerome was recounting something St. Gregory had said to him, and since the reference to Jerome’s letter was cryptic for English readers, people were naturally looking in Gregory’s letters rather than in Jerome’s (I did that at first as well).


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