Life of Moses (Gregory of Nyssa)

This is a crash-course in Patristic allegory. We might wince at some of his connections, but Nyssa never rejects the literal meaning.

“No good has a limit in its own nature, but is limited by the presence of its opposite” (Nyssa 5).

Within God there is no opposite. So far so good. But is God limited by what is not God? I don’t think that is what Gregory means, since farther down the page he says “This good [God] has no limit–the participant’s desire itself necessarily has no stopping place, but stretches out with the limitless.”

The climax to Nyssa’s narrative is Moses’s meeting with God on the mountain. Our knowledge of God is like the circumference of a circle. That outside the circumference is what we do not know. As our knowledge grows, so does that which we don’t know about God. As the circle gets bigger, so does the area where the circle touches “not-knowledge.” In heaven, the soul is always moving towards God, yet because God will always be “beyond” the soul in heaven, the soul will always be growing. Every limit involves an essence beyond it. This means the soul can only rest in the infinite. Knowledge by representation takes us right to the limit. One can never be face-to-face with God because that would place the knower “opposite” to God, and anything opposite to the good is evil. Therefore, in order to see God we must see “the back parts of God.”

We must follow the back-parts to the Good/God. We can’t see him by seeing opposite to him, for anything opposite to the Good is evil

Presence and Thought (Balthasar)

Von Balthasar’s Argument: our being is rooted in time and is a “becoming in infinity,” or creaturely infinity. This doesn’t mean the creature is infinite, but has the capacity for endless growth. Since we can never fully “grasp” God, “there arises Being itself” (von Balthasar 22). Out failure to grasp it conceptually brings “a feeling of presence” (Gregory In Cant. II; 1, 1001 B).

There are two infinities for Gregory. One is the infinity proper of God, which can never be applied to the creature. The other is the “infinity of growth in man.” In heaven, the soul is always moving towards God, yet because God will always be “beyond” the soul in heaven, the soul will always be growing. The self “perpetually surpasses the self” (Balthasar 45).

Spirit and Matter

This section is hard. Throughout this chapter von Balthasar will say things like “sensory knowledge is the foundation of spiritual knowledge.” As it stands, besides the statement being laughably false; no early Christian (or pagan) thinker would have said something like that. So he must mean something else. What I think he means is that the divisions between spirit and matter become so porous that they can be switched. We can almost speak of a materialization of the soul (which Balthasar says explains ghosts in cemeteries–those people who had given themselves over to matter).

Our knowledge is rooted in time and “the creature can never go outside itself by means of a comprehensive knowledge” (Gregory, Contra Eunomius 12; II, 1064 CD). We know the logos of a thing by an ascensional movement towards the logos (Balthasar 93). It is ana-logical (upward-to-the-logos).

Every limit involves an essence beyond it (98). This means the soul can only rest in the infinite. Knowledge by representation takes us right to the limit. One can never be face-to-face with God because that would place the knower “opposite” to God, and anything opposite to the good is evil (102). Therefore, in order to see God we must see “the back parts of God.”

Gregory sees our knowing God as imaging God and he sometimes sees the image as an active mirror, “whose interior activity is entirely ‘surface’” (115). Indeed, “image-mirror-life” are the three terms that “designate the whole created medium that allows the soul to see God” (116).

Balthasar has the interesting suggestion that Gregory rejected the distinction between image and likeness, since image for Gregory was dynamic (117-118).

The Incarnation reconciles the opposites and contraries of human nature. Becoming, to be sure, is contrary to Being, but it is not negatively so anymore. Now, notes Balthasar, we can summarize this book in three points:

1) The immediate communication between God and man is now rendered accessible (147).
2) This fact is a social fact; our nature is “common.”
3) This dynamism requires a free response on man’s part.

This is a rich and learned work. Von Balthasar captures the nuances of Gregory’s thought. Some passages are exquisite in their beauty.

Key Terms

Spacing: the exterior limit–finite being’s being “enveloped” by the infinite. It is the receptacle of the material being (29ff). Spacing is the mode of creaturely being. It is the same thing as diastesis/diastema.

Time: a progress by alteration (31). It is a tension directed towards its end but always within “the bounding limit” of spacing.

Concrete universal: priority of genus over individual (65).

Epinoia: subjective representation which does not reach the essence of a thing (91). It is an “inventive approach to the unknown.” It is the middle term between dominance and ignorance.

Dianoia: human intelligence in its entirety; no distinction between inferior and superior reason.

Ontological kinship: the middle term and link between representation and motion (115

The Unity of Christ (Beeley)

THE GREAT MASTER: ORIGEN

Alexandria Egypt was the crossroads of the world (Dio Chrysostom).  Alexandrian Christianity had rather diverse beginnings.

First Principles: “Origen’s presentation of his doctrinal system here is arguably the most influential single theological project in all of Christian tradition outside of the canonical Scriptures” (Beeley 11).

Christ and Cosmology

words of Christ include “the whole of Scripture” (13).  

“Origen encourages readers to move beyond the human Christ.”

  • dualist view of the cosmos: the physical and sensible world seen as radically impermanent compared to the intellectual sphere. God and the saints inhabit a spiritual world in contrast to the physical world (15).  

Origen’s dualist cosmology came at a certain cost:  it determined how he spoke about Christ.

  • he notes that Christ has two natures, but places these two natures within a Platonic, dualist cosmology.

Divinity and Distinctness

  • our source of knowledge: epinoiai; conceptions.  
  • For Origen a hypostasis is a distinctly existing thing; a concrete entity or being (Cm. John. 10.212).  
  • On the Son’s being:  ousia meant something different for Origen than it did for Nicea.  For Origen this suggested a diminution from the Father’s being.  “Being” suggests the actual existence of a thing, so for two things to share the same being is to be the same thing.

The Image of God

  • The Son has many epinoiai in contrast with the Father’s simplicity.  The Father cannot be directly describable because of his simplicity. Only the Christ, who becomes many things, can image the Father’s simplicity.  The Son is mediator between God and creation, not as an intermediary of being, but in the Son’s way of being divine.

Incarnation: Image Revealed

  • The human soul of Jesus bridges the gap between God’s divinity and Christ’s humanity. In fact, Origen must hold to trichotomy as the only way to bridge the gap. 

FOURTH CENTURY AUTHORITIES

Eusebius of Caesarea

Origen was regarded by some as an accurate transmitter of the rule of faith (51).  ++

Economia

  • God’s ordered dealings with creation, which culminate in the Incarnation.
    • Eus. wants to maintain that Christ is “divine” and older than creation.  Therefore, the Christian faith is really ancient.
  • “theology:” confession of the divinity of Christ.  It is the interpretation of economia (64).
    • Christ’s manner of existence is two-fold
      • He is known to be God by those who believe.
      • Yet he put on human existence capable of suffering.
    • Beeley maintains that Eus. does not see Christ’s generation in any temporal sense (67).  
      • Christ is divine not as an independent deity (one god among others), but as the direct result of his specific relatinship with God the Father.

Does Eusebius hold to a hierarchy of being ala Middle Platonism?

  • To be sure he does say the Son is the bond between creation and God.  But this may be an overly literal reading of his texts. 

Is Eusebius a Semi-Arian??

  • Beeley argues that Eusebius uses temporal prepositions devoid of temporal meaning (91).  He is concerned to use “biblical, rather than philosophical” terms to stress the Son’s transcendence over creation.
  • Eusebius uses a sequential language to underscore our theological epistemology:  we must remember the “causal ordering of the divine generation…Eusebius’s language preserves the economic basis of theological knowing with respect to the inner structure of the Trinity, resisting the leap to an artififical, abstract conceptuality of pure eternity” (92).  

Christology:  Martyrdom leads to political triumph.

  • Eusebius’s understanding of matyrdom “is far from an abstract concern.  It is initially tied up with the surrounding Greco-Roman society in wys that call on Christians to witness to Christ with their bodies as much as with their minds” (96).

NICEA AND ATHANASIUS

Both Arius and Alexander departed from Origen:

  • Arius in denying the Son’s consubstantiality
  • Alexander in denying that the Son was generated from the Father’s will (116).

Alexander’s modifications:

  • Son always exists from the Father..  The Greek term aei denotes nonsequentiality (116);  

Athanasius I

  • Christ’s identity as the eternal Word of God. 
    • Logos idea: Word is truly of or from the Father (128).  
    • Principle of existence or means of God’s providence (C. Gent. 29, 42, 46). 
  • Salvation Through Incarnation
    • Our need to overcome death and mortality (Inc. 10).  Overcome this by participating in the Word (Inc. 4-5, 11).  
    • Our natural state is “corruption towards non-being” (Inc. 4, 7).  
    • Christ’s death reverses all of this
  • The Word versus its Flesh
    • highly dualist conception of Christ (Beeley 133).   Distingishes between the human body and the Word. 
    • Divine word did not suffer at all when it was born/died (Inc. 17).  
    • The Word used the body as an instrument (Inc. 20).  
  • Dualist Cosmology and Anthropology
    • strong distinction between intelligible and sensible realms (C. Gent 10).  
    • Radical division between being and nonbeing. 
    • God is known by works, but we can’t know his essence.  This raises a tension:  how can the Word reveal itself through his bodily acts yet deny any knowledge of God’s essence (136)?  
  • Conclusions:
    • Logos Christology is dualist.
    • Absolute impassibility of the Word.

Athanasius II: The Orations Against the Arians

Per Marcellus of Ancyra, the human Christ will eventually cease to be in the eternal kingdom; this is probably why the Creed says “His kingdom will have no end” (144).  

  • Rhetorical strategy:  mean
  • The Image of God
    • This is a new development in his works.  
    • Christ is the image and form of divinity.
      • He reveals the divinity of the Father, the brightness of the Father’s light.
      • The Father sees himself in this image (Prov. 8:30; C. Ar. 1.20; 2.82).
    • If Image, then fully divine
    • Language of mediation:  
      • denies the “Word” is a mediator of divinity to creatures, except in Incarnate form (C. Ar. 1.59: 2.31).  
      • If God requires a mediator, then wouldn’t the mediator require a mediator, and so on ad infinitum? (C. Ar. 2.26). 
    • Is God’s will distinct from his being?
      • C. Ar. 1.29; 3.62
  • The Incarnation
    • Christ’s human experiences were not the experiences of the WOrd, but of his human flesh alone (C. Ar. 1.41).  
    • Beeley argues Athanasius’s debt to Marcellus (154). 
    • The communicatio idiomatum is strictly verbal (155; cf. C. Ar. 3.32; 41).
    • It is hard for Athanasius to say that Jesus developed (Luke 2:52).  
  • Technical terminology
    • emphasis on strict oneness between Word and Father (follows Origen).  
    • metaphysics:  real problem with Arian term “originate” is that it means the Word was created in time and ex nihilo (Decr. 16).  
    • homousion as generic: relationship b/t father and son–common nature shared by derivation; relationship b/t all humans of one class (Ep. Serap. 2.8-9).

Athanasius III: The Late WOrks 

CAPPADOCIANS

  • Homoian debate
  • Apollinarius
    • Despite his problems in truncating Jesus’s soul, he raises a valid point: what is Christ’s “acting principle?”  Traditional ontology and psychology would have said “the soul.”  If Jesus had two souls, per Apollinarius, then which one is the “acting” one?
  • Gregory of Nazianzus
    • Views Christ’s identity in dynamic, narrative terms (Beeley 185)
    • the very nature of human existence is a dynamic movement towards God rooted in our creation and oriented towards consummation (185).  By anchoring theosis in the goodness of human creation, Gregory avoids most of the pitfalls associated with this doctrine.
      • Christ is the means of our restoration.
      • Xp effects our divinization in and through himself.
      • He uses language of “mixture” (mixis), “union” (henosis), and “blending” (krasis). in regards to the divinity and humanity in Christ.  
        • Not a crass mixture, though.  Gregory isn’t too clear on this point.
    • Biblical interpretation:  Gregory’s understanding of perichoresis is to emphasize the difference b/t intra-Trinitarian relations and the union of God with humanity (Beeley 189, cf. Ep. 101.20-21).  
      • communicatio is true at the level of Christ’s being.  Christ did not merely operate (energein) by grace, but was and is joined together with human existence in his being (Ep. 101.22).  Here is a huge advance over Athanasius’s dualism. 
      • His method preserves the unity of Christ and, pace Athanasius, does not see the humanity as a separate existence.
    • The suffering of God.  incorporation of human suffering into the divine life (not simply divine being;  he is not abandoning impassibility, but seeing God’s being as life).  
    • Through the knowledge of Christ as “God made visible,” Christians are divinized and elevated through faith (Beeley 194; cf. Or. 29.18-19).
  • Gregory of Nyssa
    • he embraced Greek philosophy more than did Basil or Nazianzus.
    • Against Eunomius
      • Nyssa focuses on the language of creation.
      • For the most part Gregory does not represent an advance on the Nazianzen.   Per the communicatio he repeats both Ath. and Naz., “the lowly statements apply to the Servant; the honors to the master’ (Beeley 208; cf. C. Eun. 3.3.65-66).  
        • the divinity participated in Christ’s passion by serving as the active principle against the passivity of the flesh (210).  
    • Against Apollinaris
      • Here Gregory’s dualist Christology almost comes apart (see his references to a drop of wine in the sea; Christ not coming again bodily, but in the Father’s glory–Antirrh. 230).

THE CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOXY

Augustine and the West

  • Hilary of Poitiers
    • Transition point between East and West.
    • “carries forward a revitalized Eusebian tradition…Origen” (226).  
    • “The Trinity”
      • The Son’s generation is closely tied with role as unique revealer of the Father.
      • Distinction between Father-Son relationship and Creator-creature relationship.
      • The Son is image of the Father’s substance; distinct but not dissimilar.
      • One God because one principle (Trin. 5.10; 7.32).
    • Hilary’s weak points:
      • Jesus did not have the same kind of humanity as us (10.23), 
      • Did not believe Jesus possessed a corruptible human substance.
      • This “froze his Christology in a particular dualist position” (Beeley 230).
  • Ambrose of Milan
    • He indirectly corrected Hilary’s project.
    • echoes Nazianzus that Christ’s divine identity need not conflict with his human.
    • The Word died a human death, not a divine one (Inc. 5.36).
    • Divine mediation:  not only reconciles us to God but positively convey’s divine nature to us (Inc. 4.23).
  • Augustine’s early Christology
    • Consciously adopted the “one persona, duabas naturas” (concept).
    • Strongly unitive Christology
    • Christ is the crucial link between the divine love and the love we show others.
    • Totus Christus
    • Augustine’s use of “two personae” is not meant to be dualist: “he uses the term to mean something like a literary persona or voice” (Beeley 240).
  • Augustine’s Mature Christology
    • Christ’s humanity is humanity of the divine Son; he is divinely human.
    • Augustine’s project, while deficient in many respects, does constitute an advance in one key area:  he ties in the juridical aspect. (Trin. 4.19).
  • Augustine’s Late Christology
    • Christ’s introduces “healing into the death of the flesh” by the hidden and mysterious power of the divine decree.
    • Christ’s mediation is his divine-human identity.  
      • The nature of divine mediation is not to wield absolute power but to extend oneself in love and justice (Civ Dei. 9.16-17).

CYRIL, LEO, and CHALCEDON

  • Cyril of Alexandria
    • His major influence, argues Beeley (258), was not Athanasius but Gregory Nazianzen.
      • His use of “Hypostatic union” at this point is not strictly technical.
      • The Word is united with human flesh as a single hypostasis.  Union is “the concurrence into one reality (en) of the things united” (Un. Chr. 3.62/ Ep. Eulog. 64).  
      • “The one nature”
  • Leo of Rome
    • we see the language of “both natures acting.”  This is a very definite–though often unnoticed–move away from Cyril.   Natures do not act.  Persons do.
    • Beeley openly states that “Leo’s position is essentially the same as Nestorius” (Beeley 276).
    • Chalcedon bypasses the earlier narrative dynamics of Gregory and Cyril (economy of salvation) and moves into technical language (282).

POST-CHALCEDONIAN CHRISTOLOGY

  • Leontius of Byzantium
    • all natures are hypostasized but need not have multiple hypostases. 
    • the hypostatic characteristic of every nature is not the same as the nature itself.
      • a nature is a general category; hypostasis a specific one. A hypostasis exists in itself, whereas a nature can only exist in a hypostasis.
      • The problem is that this leads to a generic definition of the Trinity
      • The hypostasis is seen as a principle of individuation.  
      • His connection of the two natures suggest they exist within a kind of netrual space, rather than in the Son of God (291). 
  • Constantinople II
  • Maximus the Confessor
    • Did he misunderstand Gregory?  Gregory sees the Trinity as a monad moving to a dyad and ending in a triad (Or. 23.8).  Maximus resists this meaning and says Gregory is speaking of creation (Quaest. 105; Ambig. 1).
    • Places himself in a narrative understanding of Christology.
    • The wills work together in this way: The divine Son wills all that Christ does.  He is the ultimate subject of all of Christ’s works.   But Jesus also had a natural human will–whether or not to follow and obey the divine will.
    • Jesus’s will is not gnomic (300ff). It does not wander or subject itself to wavering human condition.
  • John of Damascus
    • He differs with Maximus’s approach in several respects:  he does not begin with Nazianzen but as a committed Chalcedonian he filters the fathers through that standpoint.
    • He relies heavily on Leontius.
    • Even though Jesus’s humanity is divinized, Damascene emphasizes that it was God who became man, not man becoming God.

Observations

Beeley shows how the old Antiochene/Alexandrian divide breaks down at key moments (272).

On the Soul and Resurrection (Gregory of Nyssa)

St Gregory of Nyssa. On the Soul and Resurrection. ed. Catherine Roth. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993.

The problem: The soul is either material or immaterial.  If material, it is dissolved with the body. If immaterial, it cannot be contained in the elements of the universe (Roth 15). And if everything has elements, and the soul does not, then the soul cannot be anywhere.

To what degree was Gregory a Platonist?  Let’s ignore the question and highlight just one part: While Plato said the body was a prison, Gregory changes body for “flesh” (sarx), giving it a more biblical feel.

Goal:  To provide Gregory comfort in Basil’s death

The proper view of the soul promotes virtue (Cross Reference to Schaff edition, Nyssa 431).

Nyssa anticipates Leibniz’s law of the identity of indiscernibles:  (x)(y)[(x=y)—>(P)(Px<–>Py)]. In other words, if the soul is something other than these elements, then it isn’t identical with them.

The God-World Relation

God encompasses all things (432).  Indeed, there is a “universal harmony” allowing for “measured intervals.” In fact, “man is a little world in himself and contains all the elements which go to complete the universe” (433).

What is the Soul?

“The soul is an essence created, and living, and intellectual, transmitting from itself to an organized and sentient body the power of living” (433).

Nyssa and his interlocutor bring up analogies between soul, mind, and God (436ff). He does not identify the three but says “one thing is like another.” Prototype and Image.  Despite his reputation, Nyssa rejects the Platonic metaphor of the chariot, choosing rather the “divine axiom that there is no excellence in the soul which is not a property as well of the Divine nature.  For he who declares the soul to be God’s likeness asserts that anything foreign to HIm is outside the limits of the soul (439).

The Condition of the Soul After Death

Hades is the transition to the Unseen world. Macrina is quick to point out that when we say a soul is “in” Hades we do not mean so spatially. In discussing how the soul will be reunited with the body (e.g., the elements), Gregory suggests that the soul is “stationed like a guard over its own” (Roth 68).  That might explain the phenomenon of ghosts, but it doesn’t do justice to the souls being in Abraham’s bosom. Gregory (or Macrina) is aware of that challenge and points out that whatever else is true in the parable, it can’t be about corporeal bodies (since the body is in the tomb).  The gulf, then, is not a physical chasm, but a “barrier which prevents incompatible things from coming together” (70).  It couldn’t be a physical chasm for the obvious fact that a bodiless spirit could easily fly across it!

The Purification of the Soul

Gregory notes that souls that are too attached to fleshly desires retain the form of the flesh after their passing. This might explain the idea of why ghosts resemble their former lives (76).

Macrina divides the souls faculties accordingly: the godlike power is that of contemplation (77).  Indeed, “the accurate likeness of the Divine consists in our soul’s imitation of the superior Nature” (78).

Why is Purification Painful?

It’s painful to remove physical attachments from the soul.  But the nature of virtue should spur us onward.  Gregory notes that “all freedom is one in nature” and “Virtue has no master. Therefore, everything free will be in virtue, for that which is free also has no master” (86).

Transmigration of Souls

Gregory has to cut reincarnation off at the pass, since it seems his Platonic dialogue is moving in that direction. Macrina points out that by going to lower matter in order to be raised up, reincarnation has to have matter purifying the soul.

The Origin of the Soul

Gregory holds to creationism as opposed to traducianism (98).

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ed. McGuckin)

cGuckin, John. ed. We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ Ancient Christian Doctrines, volume 2. Downers Grove, IL: IntervarsityPress, 2009.

John McGuckin gives us an outstanding, yea even world-class compendium of Patristic Christology. It nicely succeeds the first volume in the series. McGuckin notes a set of “ciphers” that explain the theology behind the Nicene Creed:

“‘Christ’ becomes a cipher by which the Fathers consider the corpus of Scripture as a proleptic description of the Incarnation” (McGuckin 10).
“The image of Light from Light inspired whole generations of patristic theologians across many centuries, who saw it as a vivid cipher of the divine unity and harmony of action” (49).
The ‘coming down’ (katabasis) was a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Old Testament, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize his presence in the desert” (96). It is God’s self-revelation and his compassionate stooping down to mankind.
“The Logos is not merely ultimate Truth but also the perfect beauty of God” (xxi).

We Believe in One Lord

Gregory of Nazianzus: “…the Father who experiences through the Son nothing corporeal, since he is Mind” (Poema Arcana 1.25-34).

Gregory of Nyssa: “that while we confess the invariable character of the [divine] nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause (to aition) and that which is caused (aitiaton), by which alone we apprehend that one person is distinguished from another” (On Not Three Gods).

Jesus Christ

Ephrem the Syrian: “The letter yodh of Jesus, our King, is queen of all the numbers” (Hymns on the Nativity 27.13-16).

The Only Son of God

A key element in this treatment is St Basil’s Letter 236, where he outlines how to gloss ousia and hypostasis. Thus, Basil:

The distinction between οὐσία and ὑ πόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear….Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons.

Gregory of Nazianzus: The Son is related to the Father as Word is to Mind….This follows from his passionless generation and from the union, and is part of his revelatory function” (Oration 30.20).

Eternally Begotten of the Father

Gregory of Nyssa: [as] the existence of the Son is not marked by intervals of time and the infinitude of his life flows back from before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, he is properly addressed with the title of eternal” (Against Eunomius 1.42).

Origen: [The Son is generated from the Father] as an act of will proceeds from the mind without cutting off a part of the mind” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

Gregory of Nyssa: “The idea of cause differentiates the persons of the Holy Trinity, declaring that one exists without cause and another is of the Cause….but in speaking of cause and of the cause, we do not by these words denote nature….but we indicate difference in the manner of existence” (On Not Three Gods).

Gregory of Nyssa: The Characteristics of the Father’s person (hypostasis) cannot be transferred to the Son or the Spirit, no, on the other hand, can that of the Son be accommodated to one of the others” (On The Lord’s Prayer 3).

True God from True God

Clement of Alexandria alludes to “Cthonic daimons” against whom the Christian faith wars (58 n. 40).

Begotten not Made

Athanasius: He is the proper Word of the Father, and we cannot, therefore, suppose any will existing before him, since he is the Father’s living counsel and power….By the act of will by which the Son is willed by the Father, the Son himself loves and wills and honors the Father” (Against the Arians 3.63, 66).

Of One Being With the Father

Basil: community of ousia is taken to mean an identical principle of being (Against Eunomius 1.19).

For Us

Gregory of Nazianzus: “….in order that I too might be made God so far as he is made man” (Oration 29.19).

And for our salvation

Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a living, human being” (Adv. Haer. 4.20.6).

He came down

Ephrem the Syrian: “The scattered symbols you have gathered from the Torah towards your beauty, and you set forth the prototypes in your gospel as well as powers and signs from nature….The types have come to an end, but the allusions persist. The flash of the symbols has been swallowed up by your rays” (Hymns on Virginity 28.2-5).

By the Power of the Holy Spirit

Cyril of Alexandria: For though the Holy Spirit has a personal existence (hypostasis) of his own and is conceived of by himself, he he is not therefore alien from the Son. For he is called the Spirit of Truth, and Christ is the truth, and he is poured forth from him just as he is also from God the father” (3rd Letter to Nestorius).

Cyril of Alexandria: “For the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father but also belongs to the Son” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 11).

He Became Incarnate

Cyril of Jerusalem: “Let us never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ. Others may want to hide it, but you should mark it on your forehead, so that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away” (Catechetical Lectures 4.14)

From the Virgin Mary

Gregory of Nazianzus: “Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the mother of God is out of touch with the Godhead” (Letter 101.5)

And was made man

Athanasius: “He became man, and did not come into a man” (Against the Arians 3.30; here Athanasius rebuts the Aristotelian container notion of space).

Theodoret of Cyr: “For even though souls are immortal, they are not immutable but constantly undergo many changes” (Letter 146).

Key terminology

Ousia: nature or being

Cause: the proprium of being the uncaused Cause is the unique attribute of the Father (3 n7).

Idiomata: personal characteristics (25 n7).

Hans Boersma: The Metaphysics of Music

A Harmonious Reading of the Psalms

The church fathers saw a direct, almost physical analogy between the harmony of music, which represented an almost mathematical metaphysics, and the harmony of the Psalms. As Boersma notes, “Music, therefore, has the ability to make one grow in virtue and heal the emotions; music tunes people and makes them more harmonious” (132).

Ancient man knew that music was based on objective laws. Musical pitches are related by simple mathematical ratios of whole numbers (136). Plato noted “that God created the intellectual reality of the world soul with proportions of double intervals (1, 2, 4, 8) and of triple intervals (1, 3, 9, 27)….separating a portion of the whole and then doubling and tripling it, so as to arrive at a series of seven terms (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 27)” (136). This means the cosmos was created at harmonious intervals.

Music, therefore, participates in this cosmic order. The church fathers were keen on this. The Word of God even recapitulated the great musician himself: “The Word of God introduces something altogether new; he is the New Song, whose music, like that of David, chases the demons and heals us of our wickedness” (140).

If the Psalms are true music, and if music represents a rational cosmic order, then singing (chanting) and living these psalms puts us “in line with the order of the universe” (142).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Skopos of the Psalter

The aim of the Psalter is the blessedness of the virtuous life (154).  From here Gregory traces an ascent (anabasis) to that goal.  This blessedness will imitate the harmony of the universe. Psalm 42:1 forms the second part of the Psalter and it mentions the soul that thirsts for God.  Psalm 73 describes the one who is now able to discern justice and “participate in divine judgment” (155). In Psalm 90 we approach the boundary between divine and human natures. The climax arrives on a mountain peak in Psalm 107.  It is the recapitulation of human salvation.

The Cappadocians (Anthony Meredith)

thaumaturge

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.

Boersma notes, 2: A Literal Reading

See Notes 1.

This chapter explores how Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine interpreted Genesis with an eye towards a literal interpretation.  It’s important in the sense that those who don’t know Patristics will say the Fathers (or Boersma) shunned a literal reading.  They didn’t.  Still, some of their conclusions are….odd.  I am only going to highlight some key aspects of Gregory’s reading as they relate to his overall metaphysics.

On the Making of Man

Genesis 1:27.  The first part of the verse refers to the universal essence of man (which Boersma elsewhere argued that “man” is  God’s foreknowledge of the fullness of all human beings at the end time (Boersma 32). This culminates in the eschaton.  This lets Gregory take Galatians 3:28 in the following: since there is no male or female in Christ, and Christ is the universal, the prototype, the image of God, then the universal man is neither male or female.

Strong stuff, and we will take issue with it later. The main problem is that Genesis 1:28 implies that sexual activity will take place regardless of the fall.

Ancient readers relished verbal associations in the text (39). Phrases like “tree of Life” or “Wisdom” were “trigger-loaded.”  This is like a non-Satanic version of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (how it should have been, before it was corrupted by the Deep State).

 

Microcosm and Mediator (Lars Thunberg)

Key terms in St Maximus

Diaphora: it is the difference that safeguards the variations and unity within creation

Diairesis: division; Diaphora does not necessarily imply diairesis.  Christ has diaphora, but not diairesis. Diaresis is never constitutive of creation.  Man as mediator is called to annihilate the divisions on the moral level but never the diaphora on the ontological level.

Diastasis/Diastema: distance and separation.  Maximus uses diastema in a spatial sense.  Since all created entities are moved, they have diastema.  Diasteme is with motion.

  • Diastasis means that since God has established history, he has marked out a distance to himself.
  • Diastasis stands in a particular relationship to stasis, rest.

Diastole: expansion, distinction.  All of created ousia moves, because movement is endemic to creation.  The movement of diastole goes from the most general to the more differentiated species. The movement of sustole goes in the opposite direction.  

  • In both cases movement comes to a limit.
  • Universals and particulars:  there is nothing more particular than that which is made particular by God; there is nothing more universal than the fact that all is created.
  • Diastole is the movement of God’s condescension in creation.
  • Sustole is very close to deification.  

Creation because of God’s Will

The Logoi

  • the principles of differentiated creation, pre-existent in God.
  • the logoi manifest a general law:  always and in all God’s Word and God wills to effect the mystery of his embodiment (Thunberg 65; [=Amb. 7, 1084CD])

The concept of Providence

  •  Five modes of contemplation
    • substance
    • motion
      • the natural movements, positive self-determination of each being.
    • difference
    • mixture
    • position

Creation by the Word

The Logoi of Creation

  • logos tou eu einai: the principle of motion for each being (Thunberg 74 [=Amb 7, 1084B].
  • logoi gegonoton/ontown/phuseos: not only define essence, but the coming into existence of a thing
  • The logoi preexist in God, who keeps them all together.

The Logoi are held together by the Logos

Creation and Motion

  • Maximus’s triad of genesis/kinesis/stasis rebuts the Origenist problem of a pre-eternal fall. There cannot be a motion to fall before creation (genesis) because genesis introduces motion.
  • Thus, Maximus breaks the back of Hellenism.  There is no longer any idea of successive falls  and endless generations (Thunberg 81 n217).

Maximus on substance

    • substance: ousia.  Maximus can speak of ousia as a generic category of created being or something closer to “nature.”
      • category of creation; hence, God is above being.
      • characterized by limitations, so it has a contrary (non-being)

 

  • ousia and einai are not quite identical, the latter seems to connote existence
  • ousia needs to be realized in self-fulfilment.

 

  • The concept of nature: reduced to the sphere of universals.
    • connected with the idea of “motion” and defined by its dynamic element (88).

Maximus’s Anthropology in General

Constitution and Position of Man

In order to combat Origenism, Maximus holds to the indispensable unity of body and soul.  He is not saying, pace modern Christian materialists, that the soul cannot exist without the body, but that the soul cannot pre-exist without the body.

For Gregory of Nyssa, a fall into the material world would not purify the soul, but would lead to successive falls leading to the soul’s destruction.  Maximus agrees but takes it a step further: the pre-existence of souls gives the body a negative and punitive function. God is forced to create because of evil.

Human Trichotomy

For Gregory of Nyssa, man’s nous is an aspect of the soul (108). It is the higher capacity of the soul.

Image and Likeness

Image is to likeness as potency is to act.  They ultimately refer to the same reality.

Microcosm and Mediator

Man is the natural link between creation and this will allow him to reintegrate the fallen aspects of creation.

Man mediates among the five divisions:

  1. Created and Uncreated Nature
  2. Intelligible and Sensible
  3. Heaven and Earth
  4. Paradise and the world (both under the sphere of earth)
  5. Man and Woman

 

 

A Patristic Linkstorm

05-St-Gregory-Nazianzus-764x1024

This is a database (or will be) of my references to the church fathers.  People ask me, “So what should I read?”  This might help.

Getting the Trinity Right

Barrett, Matthew.  Simply Trinity.  The best book on the Trinity.

Erickson, Millard.  Who’s Tampering with the Trinity.

Giles, Kevin. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity.

Torrance, Thomas. One Being: Three Persons

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Set

Ephrem the Syrian.  Lyrically beautiful but hard to read without some understanding of the Syriac mindset.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies.  Bailey links to this edition. I understand that AH is hard to read through, but books III-V are just too important to condense.  However, it is very difficult to find an accessible edition, so I will go with that version.

Athanasius, Contra Arianos.  Everyone links to On the Incarnation.  I admit it is important, but it’s not that important and it is nowhere near as good as CA.  Unfortunately, you have to go to the Schaff edition to find an accessible version.

Origen.  On First Principles.  Yes, you have to be careful reading Origen, but he is just too important to dismiss.  I am aware of the 5th Council’s anathemas, but they aren’t part of the council itself (and are morally and historically suspect).  Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a Gregory or a Maximus without an Origen.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity.  A so-called “Western” take on the Trinity before the Augustinian revolution.  This volume is expensive, but you can find the Schaff edition online somewhere.

John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith.

Popular Patristics Paperbacks

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ. Read this before anything else.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  Festal Orations.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Man.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching.

Four Desert Fathers.

Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures on the Sacraments

John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood.

Maximus the Confessor, The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.  Read this at least three times.  It is the most important book on this list.

Maximus the Confessor, Two Hundred Chapters of Theology.

Basil, On the Holy Spirit.

BasilOn Social Justice.

Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice.

Basil, on Fasting and Feasting.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons.

John of Damascus, Three Treatises on Divine Images.

Melito of Sardis, On Pascha.

Ancient Christian Texts

Severian and Bede on Genesis 1-3.

Andrew of Caesarea on Revelation.

Ancient Christian Doctrines

We Believe in One God, ed. Bray.

And in One Lord Jesus Christ, ed. McGuckin.

Athanasius

Anatolios, Khaled.  Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought.  Probably the best text on working out the God-world relationship in Athanasius.  He tries to rescue Athanasius from the charge of of “instrumentalizing Christ’s humanity,” but I am not sure he succeeds.

Williams, Rowan.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Kind of limited and scope and Williams tends to see Barth and Bonhoeffer as the Athanasiuses of our day, but his handling of ancient philosophy is masterful.

Gwynn, David.  The Eusebians: The Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the ‘Arian Controversy.’

Augustine

Ayres, Lewis.  Augustine.   Good read.  I think he downplays any neo-platonic elements, but certainly will be a standard text.

Nicea

Ayres, Lewis.  Nicea and its Legacy. Ayres has a tendency to use “simplicity” (aplosis) as a univocal term among the fathers, when it clearly isn’t.  Notwithstanding, this will end up being the standard work in the field.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in the Patristic Tradition.  Tries to rehabilitate Origen somewhat; a fantastic read.  Limited in scope, though.  Origen and the immediate aftermath get a lot of attention.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Beeley, Christopher.  Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light .  Hit or miss.  But outstanding discussio on Gregory’s usage of “cause” and “monarchia.”  In fact, the best treatment on that in the English language, period.  I have his essay on this if you want it.

McGuckin, John.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.

Gregory of Nyssa

Boersma, Hans.  Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa.

Radde-Galwitz, Andrew.  Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity.  The best patristic book on divine simplicity.

Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses.

Barnes, Michel. The Power of God: Dynamis in Gregory of Nyssa.

Von Balthasar, Hans urs. Presence and Thought.

Origen

de Lubac, Henri.  History and Spirit.

Cyril

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  One of the best texts on Cyril.  Period.

Gavrilyuk, Paul. Suffering of the Impassible God: Dialectics of the Patristic Tradition.  Excellent discussions.  His goal is to close the gap between Cyril and modern critics of Cyril..  Not sure he succeeds.

Maximus the Confessor

Cooper, Adam.  The Body in St. Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified.  Great discussion of Maximus’s “Five Divisions” and their subsequent unities.

Bathrellos, Demetrios.  The Byzantine Christ.  The best discussion on Maximus the Confessor.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Cosmic Liturgy: Maximus.   Great section dealing with terms like hypostasis.  He tries to make Maximus a hard-line neo-Chalcedonian.  Other scholars have thoroughly attacked Balthasar on this point.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Presence and Thought.

Thunberg, Lars.  Microcosm and Mediator.   Encyclopedic work on Maximus.  No original ideas here, but an outstanding summary of the Nyssa-Maximus tradition.

Loudonikos, Nikolaos.  A Eucharistic Ontology.  My favorite work on Maximus.

Barnes, Michel.  Dunamis in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. The best discussion on what Gregory means by energy and power.

Tollefsen, Torstein.  The Christocentric Cosmology of Maximus the Confessor.

Torononen, Melchisidec. Union and Distinction in Maximus the Confessor.

Survey Texts

McGuckin, John.  A History of Christianity.

Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity.