The Cappadocians (Anthony Meredith)


A good, succinct intro to Cappadocian theology.  Anthony Meredith spends most of the book on Gregory of Nyssa. While Cappadocian studies have come far since he has written, he handles the primary texts well and points the student in the right direction.

While Gregory Thaumaturgos (“The Wonderworker,” A.D. 275) was not the first great Cappadocian Christians, he was the most important before the “Three.”  He was a disciple of Origen.

The Roots of Cappadocian Theology

The Cappadocians received Platonism mediated through Origen (Meredith 10).  We participate in the Good through askesis, or training.

Basil of Caesarea

While monasticism had been going strong since the days of St Anthony, with Basil it became a full-powered social force (at least outside of Egypt).  Anchoring Basil’s monachism is his theology of the Spirit, so Meredith argues (24). One of the ways the Christian tradition broke with Hellenism, especially in Basil, was the emphasis on and goodness of hard work, manual labor.

For Basil becoming like God and knowing God are strongly connected (like is known by like).  He highlights two roles of the Holy Spirit: Perfecting and life-giving. He primarily perfects rational agents by forming virtue in them (30).

Gregory of Nazianzus

“Light” is the most characteristic term Gregory uses for God (43).  This structures Gregory’s soteriology as one of enlightenment. Meredith suggests you can trace the argument from Plato’s Republic 7 and Origen’s Peri Archon 2.11 through Orations 9.2 and 27.3.

Gregory’s reliance on Origen’s view that the human soul of Christ is where the union of the divine and human natures take place is seen in Letter 101.

Gregory of Nyssa

Akoulouthia: an underlying coherent pattern.

Eros: With Gregory it becomes the human craving for God.

Unlike Arius, who didn’t want to define the divine nature, the Eunomians defined it as ingeneracy.  Different names of God = different natures.

In answering Eunomius, Gregory outlines a brilliant metaphysics. Among other things, the Good cannot be defined by its opposite (CE 1.68). From here Gregory concludes to God’s infinity.

Shoring up their achievements

The Trinity is the divine life.  The divine nature does not have an independent reality apart from the persons (105).  Meredith explains: “In the Basilian scheme each person of the Trinity can be thought of as a union of the general divine nature and an individual characteristic, sometimes referred to as a tropos hyparxeos or way of existing.  So the Father is as it were a compound of divinity + Fatherhood, and so on for the Son and Spirit” (105).

For Gregory of Nazianzus the monarchia is the key term.  Yet, it is a flexible term as he seems to mean both the Father and the unity of the Godhead (contrast Oration 42.15 with 5th Theological Oration.14).  Which is right? Probably the first. It makes more sense of Gregory’s larger project that the monarchia is the source of order and being (Meredith 107).  The only difficulty is that if pressed too hard, it would have the Father as the source of his own being!

Gregory of Nyssa: We infer the unity of being with the unity of action (109).  Interestingly, Meredith acknowledges that Gregory does not teach the filioque (110), since Gregory’s Trinity is asymmetrical.


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