[Christ] was praying while being baptized, while going down into the water and coming up, teaching through His actions that it is not only necessary for the priest performing the sacrament to pray, but the person being initiated must do the same at every sacred rite. If it happens that the priest is more perfect in virtue and sends up more ardent prayers, grace passes through him to the one receiving the sacrament, but if the latter is more worthy and prays with greater zeal, God Who wants to have mercy — O how inexpressible is His kindness! — does not refuse to give grace through him to the person performing the rite; which is obviously what happened now in the case of John, as he afterwards testified, saying, “Of His fullness have all we received” (Jn. 1:16). (Homily 60.11, On the Holy Feast of Theophany)
I post this is for discussion and not as a preface to a planned debate. I just would like to know what is your view of this unique saying by St. Gregory? St. Symeon the New Theologion also says similar things when he says that the grace to bind and loose departed first from the episcopate, then the priesthood and then was granted to the charismatic monastics of his day. Even the authority to perform the Mysteries had departed from many in the priesthood due to unworthiness according to St. Symeon:
For these [the clergy] are allowed only to celebrate the sacraments [hierourgein] -- and I think myself that even this does not apply to many of them, lest they be burned up entirely by this service who are themselves but straw! Rather, this grace is given alone to as many as there are among priest and bishops and monks who have been numbered with Christ's disciples on account of purity of life. (Letter on Confession)
Bp. Golitzin and Metropolitan Alfeyev (both St. Symeon scholars) claim that Orthodoxy never fully accepted the Augustinian response against the Donatists, e.g. personal worth has nothing to do with the performance of the Mysteries, only valid ordination does. Golitizin says St. Symeon has fallen into a serious error (even using the word "heresy"), whereas Alfeyev believes his views to be within the wide latitude of Orthodoxy and not even in error.
The first quote by St. Gregory is ambiguous. You have similar quotes by Pope St. Gelasius in the late 5th century, in which he says something like, "And how shall the Holy Ghost come to consecrate the Mystery if the priest is wicked?" Yet, he had definitely condemned Donatism, as it was still actively being opposed by him and others in North Africa. So, what does his quote mean? If you read the context, it is speaking almost as if, the Spirit shall come, though, how can he come, though he does, for such wicked men!
The second quote by St. Symeon can be interpreted in various ways. I'd have to look at everything to read it.
The quote by St. Gregory seems almost like Grace could be interpreted not as the Mysteriological Grace of the Sacraments, but as a sort of blessing. However, if a man, an adult, or man of reason, and not a child with no right use of their faculties (like infants, etc), is going to be baptized, but, he has no Faith, he is a secret atheist, or such, it would make sense that though all is done, the man is against God, and God will not forcibly regenerate a man being baptized who does not in reality have even an inclination toward Christ. This does not mean we have to have 'great faith', but, at least 'some faith', at least to want to follow Christ and the teachings of His, and not be an infidel, to say God regenerates in Baptism those adults who do not believe in Him, is to say He destroys man's freedom and without man knowing it!
For these [the clergy] are allowed only to celebrate the sacraments [hierourgein] -- and I think myself that even this does not apply to many of them, lest they be burned up entirely by this service who are themselves but straw! Rather, this grace is given alone to as many as there are among priest and bishops and monks who have been numbered with Christ's disciples on account of purity of life.
What does he mean, "does not apply"? Do they not or do they? In the Pedalion, there is a note which quotes St. Symeon as stating that many clergy did not celebrate the Mysteries for fear that lighting from heaven would strike them down. He states many withdrew from the priesthood due to some secret sins they confessed in Confession. The Grace St. Symeon speaks of, on the other hand, could very well be, for lack of a better word, a Grace of Blessing. Yet, we see this all the time. An object is objective holy and blessed, even though a man may not take advantage of it (holy water, etc).
Many thanks for your comments. I was actually thinking along your lines but your comments substantiated and clarified my own thoughts. Still, I do think that many Fathers held to a more complex view than the "Augustinian" view (the Augustinian view is definitely accepted within the Church). I wouldn't even try to explain what they mean fully by these quotes.
Yes, the issue with quotes like these is you can find things that look 'iffy' in certain Fathers, but, they only 'look so', and are due to something that really doesn't relate, necessarily to what we think it is.
The response of St. Augustine to the Donatists, in that he was teaching that the efficacy of the acts of the Priesthood do not depend upon the personal holiness of the individual holder of the Priesthood (as long as such a priest does what the Church does) is more than simply "St. Augustine's theory". St. Optatus of Milevis had the same response to the Donatists in the years before St. Augustine (St. Optatus battled the Donatists before St. Augustine came around). Even before this, I believe a Synod in Rome in 313 under Pope Miltiades found against them. Furthermore, the Council of Carthage held in 419 which was confirmed by the Eastern Emperors and acknowledged by the Bishops decreed, once again, against the Donatists, and the canons of this Council received approbation by the Synod of Trullo, and thus represent the official doctrine of the Church on this matter. So, although St. Augustine was the most prominent critic of them, it is simply more than 'his doctrine', as the view he represents on the matter (the holiness of a priest does not affect the efficacy of the Mysteries) was substantially the same as embraced by the Church before, during, and after.
The Fathers held universal substantial agreement on the point that a sinful priest of the Orthodox Church can still celebrate true Mysteries, since, in reality, the Priesthood belongs to Christ and it is the Holy Ghost Who works through this.