Intertextuality and Philosophy (Not) as a Way of Life

Ran across an example of Gregory re-using old material in a new context. This case is particularly interesting because the first example comes from one of his earliest works written in 362 during his (first) flight, while the second is usually dated during his time in Constantinople, around 380. A large section is identical (red text), but I’ve also identified a few minor stylistic changes (orange text), and where the texts differ completely (blue text). It is interesting that the second half of each excerpt addresses the issue of philosophy. The first, however, does so mostly to criticize those who are neglect the philosophical life, while the second actually outlines the nature of the philosophical enterprise, which is said to be the contemplation of higher realities. Not, it is worth noting, just as a “way of life”, but as a way of life and an intellectual activity.

Oration 2.7 (Pontus, 362) Oration 20.1 (Constantinople, 380)
Οὐδὲν γὰρ ἐδόκει μοι τοιοῦτον οἷον μύσαντα τὰς αἰσθήσεις, ἔξω σαρκὸς καὶ κόσμου γενόμενον, εἰς ἑαυτὸν συστραφέντα, μηδενὸς τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων προσαπτόμενον, ὅτι μὴ πᾶσα ἀνάγκη, ἑαυτῷ προσλαλοῦντα καὶ τῷ Θεῷ, ζῇν ὑπὲρ τὰ ὁρώμενα, καὶ τὰς θείας ἐμφάσεις ἀεὶ καθαρὰς ἐν ἑαυτῷ φέρειν ἀμιγεῖς τῶν κάτω χαρακτήρων καὶ πλανωμένων, ὄντως ἔσοπτρον ἀκηλίδωτον Θεοῦ καὶ τῶν θείων καὶ ὂν καὶ ἀεὶ γινόμενον, φωτὶ προσλαμβάνοντα φῶς, καὶ ἀμαυροτέρῳ τρανότερον, ἤδη τὸ τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος ἀγαθὸν ταῖς ἐλπίσι καρπούμενον, καὶ συμπεριπολεῖν ἀγγέλοις, ἔτι ὑπὲρ γῆς ὄντα καταλιπόντα τὴν γῆν, καὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος ἄνω τιθέμενον. Εἴ τις ὑμῶν τούτῳ τῷ ἔρωτι κάτοχος, οἶδεν ὃ λέγω, καὶ τῷ τότε πάθει συγγνώσεται· τοὺς γὰρ πολλοὺς οὐδ’ ἂν πείσαιμι λέγων ἴσως, ὅσοις καὶ ἐν γέλωτι τὸ πρᾶγμα δοκεῖ, κακῶς διατεθεῖσιν εἴτε ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας αὐτῶν ἀνοίας, εἴτε ὑπὸ τῶν ἀναξίων τοῦ ἐπαγγέλματος· οἳ πράγματι καλῷ κακὸν περιτεθείκασιν ὄνομα, τῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ τὴν κενοδοξίαν, συνεργὸν λαβόντες τὸν φθόνον καὶ τὴν τῶν πολλῶν κακίαν πρὸς τὸ χεῖρον οὖσαν ἑτοιμοτέραν· ἵν’ ἕν γέ τι πάντως αὐτοῖς ἁμαρτάνηται, ἢ τὸ κακὸν ἐνεργούμενον, ἢ τὸ καλὸν ἀπιστούμενον. Οὐδὲν γάρ μοι δοκεῖ τοιοῦτον, οἷον μύσαντα τὰς αἰσθήσεις, ἔξω σαρκὸς καὶ κόσμου γενόμενον, μηδενὸς τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων προσαπτόμενον, ὅτι μὴ πᾶσα ἀνάγκη, ἑαυτῷ προσλαλοῦντα καὶ τῷ Θεῷ, ζῇν ὑπὲρ τὰ ὁρώμενα, καὶ ἀεὶ τὰς θείας ἐμφάσεις καθαρὰς ἐν ἑαυτῷ φέρειν ἀμιγεῖς τῶν κάτω χαρακτήρων καὶ πλανωμένων, οἷον ἔσοπτρον ἀκηλίδωτον Θεοῦ καὶ τῶν θείων, καὶ ὂν, καὶ ἀεὶ γινόμενον, φωτὶ προσλαμβάνοντα φῶς, καὶ ἀμαυροτέρῳ τρανότερον, μέχρις ἂν πρὸς τὴν πηγὴν ἔλθωμεν τῶν τῇδε ἀπαυγασμάτων, καὶ τύχωμεν τοῦ μακαρίου τέλους, λυθέντων τῶν ἐσόπτρων τῇ ἀληθείᾳ· ὡς μόλις ἄν τις ἑαυτὸν, ἢ μακρᾷ φιλοσοφίᾳ παιδαγωγήσας, καὶ ἀποῤῥηγνὺς κατὰ μικρὸν τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς εὐγενὲς, καὶ φωτοειδὲς, τοῦ ταπεινοῦ καὶ σκότῳ συνεζευγμένου, ἢ Θεοῦ τυχὼν ἵλεω, ἢ καὶ ἄμφω ταῦτα, καὶ μελέτην ὅτι μάλιστα ποιούμενος ἄνω βλέπειν, τῆς κατασπώσης ὕλης ἐπικρατήσειε. Πρὶν δὲ ταύτην ὑπερσχεῖν, ὅση δύναμις, καὶ ἀνακαθᾶραι ἱκανῶς τά τε ὦτα καὶ τὴν διάνοιαν, ἢ ψυχῆς ἐπιστασίαν δέξασθαι, ἢ θεολογίᾳ προσβαλεῖν, οὐκ ἀσφαλὲς εἶναι γινώσκω.
“For nothing seemed to me so desirable as to close the doors of my senses, and, escaping from the flesh and the world, collected within myself, having no further connection than was absolutely necessary with human affairs, and speaking to myself and to God to live superior to visible things, ever preserving in myself the divine impressions pure and unmixed with the erring tokens of this lower world, and both being, and constantly growing more and more to be, a real unspotted mirror of God and divine things, as light is added to light, and what was still dark grew clearer, enjoying already by hope the blessings of the world to come, roaming about with the angels, even now being above the earth by having forsaken it, and stationed on high by the Spirit. If any of you has been possessed by this longing, he knows what I mean and will sympathise with my feelings at that time. For, perhaps, I ought not to expect to persuade most people by what I say, since they are unhappily disposed to laugh at such things, either from their own thoughtlessness, or from the influence of men unworthy of the promise, who have bestowed upon that which is good an evil name, calling philosophy nonsense, aided by envy and the evil tendencies of the mob, who are ever inclined to grow worse: so that they are constantly occupied with one of two sins, either the commission of evil, or the discrediting of good.” (NPNF 7, p. 206) “Nothing appeals to me more than, by blocking out my senses, severing all ties with the flesh and the world, placing myself beyond the reach of human concerns except for the unavoidable, and communing with myself and with God, to live the life that transcends visible nature, ever containing within myself the reflections of the divine, their purity unclouded by the false images here below, and be and ever come to be a spotless mirror, as it were, of God and the divine, capturing light with light and the brighter through the more dim until we reach the fount of those rays that penetrate human existence and we finally attain the blessed goal, our mirror shattered by the reality of truth. For whether one were to pursue the study of philosophy in depth and gradually dissociate the noble and luminous element of the soul from the slough of darkness to which it is tied, or were to meet with a propitious God, or were successful in both respects and were to devote himself wholeheartedly to the contemplation of reality on high, it would only be with difficulty that he could gain mastery over the world of matter that drags him down. But before we rise above it as far as possible and sufficiently purify our ears and minds, I think it is dangerous either to accept the responsibility for other souls or to take up theology.” (Martha Vinson, St. Gregory of Nazianzus: Select Orations, 107–8).

Gregory of Nazianzus on the Submission of the Son

What did Gregory of Naizanzus—the original president of the Council of Constantinople 381, later given the epithet “The Theologian” and the second most quoted source after the Bible in the Byzantine empire—think of the submission of the Son to the Father? In Oration 30 (the Fourth Theological Oration), Gregory’s second oration on the Son given in Constantinople during the summer of 380 before he was made Bishop of the city by Theodsius, Gregory responds to various Scriptural objections raised by the Eunomians. To be honest, it’s not his most exciting oration as it is mostly concerned with quick answers to Eunomian objections, but it provides a good window into the kinds of exegetical arguments Gregory makes. Here is the Greek which is taken from Patralogia Graeca 36 and an English translation from Browne and Swallow’s translation in the Nicene, Post-Nicene Fathers series 2 volume 7. These are not the most up-to-date sources, but they are public domain. If able, the reader should consult Sources Chrétiennes volume 250 (Grégoire de Naizanze: Discours 27–31 [Discours Théologiques]) pages 232–238 and the English translation by Lionel Wickham in St. Gregory of Nazianzus: On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two letters to Cledonius (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002).

ΛΟΓΟΣ ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΚΟΣ ΤΕΤΑΡΤΟΣ ΠΕΡΙ ΥΙΟΥ (De filio [PG 36, 108–112]) Oration 30.5–6 (Gregory Nazianzen. [1894]. Select Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen. In P. Schaff & H. Wace [Eds.], C. G. Browne & J. E. Swallow [Trans.], S. Cyril of Jerusalem, S. Gregory Nazianzen [Vol. 7, pp. 311–312]. New York: Christian Literature Company).
5 Τούτῳ σύναπτε καὶ τὴν ὑποταγήν, ἣν ὑποτάσσεις τῷ πατρὶ τὸν υἱόν. τί, λέγεις, ὡς νῦν οὐχ ὑποτεταγμένου; δεῖται δὲ ὅλως ὑπο ταγῆναι θεῷ θεὸς ὤν; ὡς περὶ λῃστοῦ τινός, ἢ ἀντιθέου, ποιῇ τὸν λόγον. ἀλλ’ οὕτω σκόπει· ὅτι ὥσπερ κατάρα ἤκουσε δι’ ἐμὲ ὁ τὴν ἐμὴν λύων κατάραν· καὶ ἁμαρτία ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου· καὶ Ἀδὰμ ἀντὶ τοῦ παλαιοῦ γίνεται νέος· οὕτω καὶ τὸ ἐμὸν ἀνυπό τακτον ἑαυτοῦ ποιεῖται, ὡς κεφαλὴ τοῦ παντὸς σώματος. ἕως μὲν οὖν ἀνυπότακτος ἐγὼ καὶ στασιώδης, τῇ τε ἀρνήσει τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοῖς πάθεσιν, ἀνυπότακτος τὸ κατ’ ἐμὲ καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς λέγεται. ὅταν δὲ ὑποταγῇ αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, –ὑποταγήσεται δὲ καὶ τῇ ἐπι γνώσει καὶ τῇ μεταποιήσει, –τότε καὶ αὐτὸς τὴν ὑποταγὴν πεπλή ρωκε, προσάγων ἐμὲ τὸν σεσωσμένον. τοῦτο γὰρ ἡ ὑποταγὴ Χριστοῦ, κατά γε τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον, ἡ τοῦ πατρικοῦ θελήματος πλήρωσις. ὑποτάσσει δὲ καὶ υἱὸς πατρί, καὶ υἱῷ πατήρ· ὁ μὲν ἐνεργῶν, ὁ δὲ εὐδοκῶν, ὃ καὶ πρότερον εἴπομεν. καὶ οὕτω τὸ ὑποτεταγμένον ὁ ὑποτάξας θεῷ παρίστησιν, ἑαυτοῦ ποιούμενος τὸ ἡμέτερον.

τοιοῦτον εἶναί μοι φαίνεται καὶ τό· Ὁ θεός, ὁ θεός μου, πρόσχες μοι, ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές με; οὐ γὰρ αὐτὸς ἐγκαταλέλειπται, ἢ ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός, ἢ ὑπὸ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ θεότητος, ὃ δοκεῖ τισίν, ὡς ἂν φοβουμένης τὸ πάθος, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο συστελλομένης ἀπὸ τοῦ πάσχοντος. τίς γὰρ ἢ γεννηθῆναι κάτω τὴν ἀρχήν, ἢ ἐπὶ τὸν σταυρὸν ἀνελθεῖν ἠνάγκασεν; ἐν ἑαυτῷ δέ, ὅπερ εἶπον, τυποῖ τὸ ἡμέτερον. ἡμεῖς γὰρ ἦμεν οἱ ἐγκαταλελειμμένοι καὶ παρεωραμένοι πρότερον, εἶτα νῦν προσειλημμένοι καὶ σεσωσμένοι τοῖς τοῦ ἀπαθοῦς πάθεσιν· ὥσπερ καὶ τὴν ἀφροσύνην ἡμῶν καὶ τὸ πλημμελὲς οἰκειούμενος τὰ ἑξῆς διὰ τοῦ ψαλμοῦ φησίν· ἐπειδὴ προδήλως εἰς Χριστὸν ὁ εἰκοστὸς πρῶτος ψαλμὸς ἀναφέρεται.

6 Τῆς δὲ αὐτῆς ἔχεται θεωρίας καὶ τὸ μαθεῖν αὐτὸν τὴν ὑπακοὴν ἐξ ὧν ἔπαθεν, ἥ τε κραυγή, καὶ τὰ δάκρυα, καὶ τὸ ἱκετεῦσαι, καὶ τὸ εἰσακουσθῆναι, καὶ τὸ εὐλαβές. ἃ δραματουργεῖται καὶ πλέκεται θαυμασίως ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν. ὡς μὲν γὰρ λόγος, οὔτε ὑπήκοος ἦν, οὔτε ἀνήκοος. τῶν γὰρ ὑπὸ χεῖρα ταῦτα, καὶ τῶν δευτέρων, τὸ μὲν τῶν εὐγνωμονεστέρων, τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀξίων κολάσεως. ὡς δὲ δούλου μορφή, συγκαταβαίνει τοῖς ὁμοδούλοις καὶ δούλοις, καὶ μορφοῦται τὸ ἀλλότριον, ὅλον ἐν ἑαυτῷ ἐμὲ φέρων μετὰ τῶν ἐμῶν, ἵνα ἐν ἑαυτῷ δαπανήσῃ τὸ χεῖρον, ὡς κηρὸν πῦρ, ἢ ὡς ἀτμίδα γῆς ἥλιος, κἀγὼ μεταλάβω τῶν ἐκείνου διὰ τὴν σύγκρασιν. διὰ τοῦτο ἔργῳ τιμᾷ τὴν ὑπακοήν, καὶ πειρᾶται ταύτης ἐκ τοῦ παθεῖν. οὐ γὰρ ἱκανὸν ἡ διάθεσις, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ἡμῖν, εἰ μὴ καὶ διὰ τῶν πραγμάτων χωρήσαι μεν. ἔργον γὰρ ἀπόδειξις διαθέσεως. οὐ χεῖρον δὲ ἴσως κἀκεῖνο ὑπολαβεῖν, ὅτι δοκιμάζει τὴν ἡμετέραν ὑπακοήν, καὶ πάντα μετρεῖ τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ πάθεσι τέχνῃ φιλανθρωπίας, ὥστε ἔχειν εἰδέναι τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ τὰ ἡμέτερα, καὶ πόσον μὲν ἀπαιτούμεθα, πόσον δὲ συγχω ρούμεθα, λογιζομένης μετὰ τοῦ πάσχειν καὶ τῆς ἀσθενείας. εἰ γὰρ τὸ φῶς ἐδιώχθη διὰ τὸ πρόβλημα, φαῖνον ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ, τῷ βίῳ τούτῳ, ὑπὸ τῆς ἄλλης σκοτίας, τοῦ πονηροῦ λέγω καὶ τοῦ πει ραστοῦ, τὸ σκότος πόσον, ὡς ἀσθενέστερον; καὶ τί θαυμαστόν, εἰ ἐκείνου διαφυγόντος παντάπασιν ἡμεῖς ποσῶς καὶ καταληφθείη μεν; μεῖζον γὰρ ἐκείνῳ τὸ διωχθῆναι, ἤπερ ἡμῖν τὸ καταληφθῆναι, παρὰ τοῖς ὀρθῶς ταῦτα λογιζομένοις. ἔτι δὲ προσθήσω τοῖς εἰρη μένοις ἐκεῖνο, ἐνθυμηθεὶς τό· Ἐν ᾧ γὰρ πέπονθεν αὐτὸς πειρα σθείς, δύναται τοῖς πειραζομένοις βοηθῆσαι, σαφῶς πρὸς τὴν αὐτὴν φέρον διάνοιαν. ἔσται δὲ ὁ θεὸς τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς ἀποκαταστάσεως· οὐχ ὁ πατήρ, πάντως εἰς αὐτὸν ἀναλυθέντος τοῦ υἱοῦ, ὥσπερ εἰς πυρὰν μεγάλην λαμπάδος πρὸς καιρὸν ἀποσπασθείσης, εἶτα συναφθείσης, –μηδὲ γὰρ Σαβέλλιοι τῷ ῥητῷ τούτῳ παραφθειρέσθωσαν, –ἀλλ’ ὅλος θεός, ὅταν μηκέτι πολλὰ ὦμεν, ὥσπερ νῦν τοῖς κινήμασι καὶ τοῖς πάθεσιν, οὐδὲν ὅλως θεοῦ, ἢ ὀλίγον, ἐν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς φέροντες, ἀλλ’ ὅλοι θεοειδεῖς, ὅλου θεοῦ χωρητικοὶ καὶ μόνου. τοῦτο γὰρ ἡ τελείωσις, πρὸς ἣν σπεύδομεν· τεκμηριοῖ δὲ μάλιστα Παῦλος αὐτός. ὃ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα περὶ θεοῦ φησὶν ἀορίστως, ἀλλαχοῦ σαφῶς περιορίζει Χριστῷ. τί λέγων; Ὅπου οὐκ ἔνι Ἕλλην, οὐδὲ Ἰουδαῖος, περιτομὴ καὶἀκροβυστία, βάρβαρος, Σκύθης, δοῦλος, ἐλεύθερος· ἀλλὰ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἐν πᾶσι Χριστός.

V. Take, in the next place, the subjection by which you subject the Son to the Father. What, you say, is He not now subject, or must He, if He is God, be subject to God? You are fashioning your argument as if it concerned some robber, or some hostile deity. But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God. For this, according to my view, is the subjection of Christ; namely, the fulfilling of the Father’s Will. But as the Son subjects all to the Father, so does the Father to the Son; the One by His Work, the Other by His good pleasure, as we have already said. And thus He Who subjects presents to God that which he has subjected, making our condition His own.

Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His Sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?) But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ.

VI. The same consideration applies to another passage, “He learnt obedience by the things which He suffered,” and to His “strong crying and tears,” and His “Entreaties,” and His “being heard,” and His “Reverence,” all of which He wonderfully wrought out, like a drama whose plot was devised on our behalf. For in His character of the Word He was neither obedient nor disobedient. For such expressions belong to servants, and inferiors, and the one applies to the better sort of them, while the other belongs to those who deserve punishment. But, in the character of the Form of a Servant, He condescends to His fellow servants, nay, to His servants, and takes upon Him a strange form, bearing all me and mine in Himself, that in Himself He may exhaust the bad, as fire does wax, or as the sun does the mists of earth; and that I may partake of His nature by the blending. Thus He honours obedience by His action, and proves it experimentally by His Passion. For to possess the disposition is not enough, just as it would not be enough for us, unless we also proved it by our acts; for action is the proof of disposition.

And perhaps it would not be wrong to assume this also, that by the art of His love for man He gauges our obedience, and measures all by comparison with His own Sufferings, so that He may know our condition by His own, and how much is demanded of us, and how much we yield, taking into the account, along with our environment, our weakness also. For if the Light shining through the veil upon the darkness, that is upon this life, was persecuted by the other darkness (I mean, the Evil   [p 312]  One and the Tempter), how much more will the darkness be persecuted, as being weaker than it? And what marvel is it, that though He entirely escaped, we have been, at any rate in part, overtaken? For it is a more wonderful thing that He should have been chased than that we should have been captured;—at least to the minds of all who reason aright on the subject. I will add yet another passage to those I have mentioned, because I think that it clearly tends to the same sense. I mean “In that He hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.” But God will be all in all in the time of restitution; not in the sense that the Father alone will Be; and the Son be wholly resolved into Him, like a torch into a great pyre, from which it was reft away for a little space, and then put back (for I would not have even the Sabellians injured by such an expression); but the entire Godhead when we shall be no longer divided (as we now are by movements and passions), and containing nothing at all of God, or very little, but shall be entirely like.

I want to make three brief observations about this passage.

First, Gregory reads the activities of Christ in the economy of salvation  in terms of their soteriological import, namely Christ as our representative. Why was the Son submissive? Because we were not submissive, so he was submissive on our behalf and presents that submission to the Father. Gregory makes very clear that he doesn’t think the acts of submission are to be read back into the life of the Trinity: “For in His character of the Word He was neither obedient nor disobedient. For such expressions belong to servants, and inferiors, and the one applies to the better sort of them, while the other belongs to those who deserve punishment.”

Secondly, along these same lines, it seems that Gregory views all the acts of the Son in the economy of salvation as acts of the same kind. So, being submissive is the same as, for example, when he is called “cursed” or “sin.” As he says, “But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body.” So, in as much as one would not read “curse” or “sin” back into the divine life, so too one must not read—on Gregory’s account—acts of submission back into the divine life. These are all, connected to my first point, soteriological acts. As Gregory says elsewhere, these acts demonstrate the divine love for humankind—φιλανθρωπία (philanthrōpia) (see Oration 38.13–15). The answer to the question “Why is Christ submissive” is never “because it is a peculiar feature of his nature [or even hypostasis] to be submissive”. It is always because “God so loved the world…”

Thirdly, Gregory interprets the possibility of future submission of the Son to God the Father in terms of Paul’s statement in terms of Colossians 3:11, though the Browne and Swallow translation is wholly inadequate at this point as it doesn’t even attempt to render what is clearly in the Greek. Here is Wickham’s translation: “What he [Paul] predicates of ‘God’ without further specification in this passage [1 Corinthians 15:28], he elsewhere assigns clearly to Christ. I quote: ‘Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all in all.'” (Wickham, On God and Christ, 98). That is, Gregory reads 1 Corinthians 15:28 in light of Colossians 3:11. He seems to think that there would be a contradiction between the passages unless they are read with the same subject. In 1 Corinthians 15:28, the subject is “God” unqualified, but in Colossians 3:11, Christ is specified as the one who will be all in all. So, Gregory concludes, this cannot mean that in the future the Son will be submissive to the Father, but that all will be all in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (NB: this is why it is good to 1) know Greek and 2) read up-to-date translations!)

Ekphrasis and Epistemology in Gregory of Nazianzus

I recently participated in a competition where I had to take the conference paper I delivered at the 2015 International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford and turn it into a poster. It was an interesting exercise and I enjoyed it more than I originally thought I would. So here is my poster that represents my paper, “Ekphrasis and Epistemology in Gregory of Nazianzus.”

Ekphrasis Poster


One Swallow Does Not a Platonist Make

In his book Image, Word and God in the Early Christian Centuries, Mark Edwards makes the following observation about Philo:

Philo is counted among the middle Platonists—he is indeed the author of more than half the extant writings which fall under this description—but he was also a Jew and a sedulously observant one, the legatee of a wisdom centuries older than the oldest traditions of Greece. Commentarie on the first five books of the Septuagint make up the greater part of his work, and the few surviving texts that are not exegetic are celebrations of peculiarly austere modes of discipleship or vindications of the Jewish people in the teeth of oppression and mockery. ‘Platonist’ is therefore not the best term for him if a Platonist is one who professes to navigate by resaons alone with Plato as his lodestar.”

That last line is particularly interesting. Is that a sufficient definition of what is means to be a ‘platonist’? I’ve been wondering about how to identify platonists for a while now and still am undecided. Besides Edwards’s, I’ve come up with the following options:

  1. School Adherence: This would mean that one is a Platonist if and only if one is associated with a Platonic school. This has the benefit of clear boundary markers but requires a type of “apostolic” succession to succeed. This would mean that there have been no platonists anymore after the closing of the school by Justinian (or maybe even earlier with the death of Philo of Larissa).
  2. Doctrinal Aggregate: By this I mean one determines what a “true” Platonist believes—perhaps identified with Plato himself—and judge everyone else according to this standard. Again, this seems to make it easy for establishing clear boundary markers, but there are problems. First, if “everything Plato believed” is the standard then, historically, Plato was the only Platonists. However, there are many who not only call themselves Platonists but hold to many of the same beliefs as Plato. Must one hold to everything Plato believed? If not, then at what point would one cease to be a platonist? Must one hold to at least three-quarters of Platonic doctrine? One-half? Three-eighths? Is one shared doctrine enough to establish one’s platonism? Platonism on this account then seems to become a vague concept (like baldness): everyone knows it when they see it but there is no clear marker of when one goes from not-platonist to platonist. If one wants to use platonism as an adjective to map out various thinkers, I think one would have a very confused map on this account.
  3. Conceptual Convergence: By convergence, I mean that two people could hold similar beliefs for different reasons and never know anything about the other person. There is much to this that I like. Individuals are allowed the freedom to articulate their own beliefs without needing to have some genealogy of influence. Even if we know, for example, that Philo knew the doctrines of Plato, it does not mean that he merely passively received beliefs. I’ve actually experienced something like this myself in the past. I was working on a paper for a class only to find—after the whole thing was over—that another author whom I did not read ended up saying what I was trying to say all along (and did a better job of it, too!).
  4. Ur-Platonism: Ur-Platonism is the term coined by Lloyd Gerson in his book From Plato to Platonism. Here he argues that all Platonists can be subsumed under this category that is marked by a commitment to anti-materialism, anti-mechanism, anti-nominalism, anti-relativism, and anti-skepticism. This is also an idea I find attractive but haven’t gotten into Gerson’s book so it’s hard for me to evaluate here. Some of the reviews I’ve read suggested that it may not fit nicely into the actual history of Platonism, but if there are only a few exceptions to his rule it could still be a profitable heuristic.

Are there any other options that I’m missing?

Scholia on Gregory of Nazianzus

A helpful resource on the commentators on Gregory of Nazianzus is Jan Sajdak’s Historia Critica Scholiastarum et Commentartorum Gregorii Nazianzeni (freely available in PDF here). At the end of the work, Sajdak has a wonderful table that lists Gregory’s works and shows which commentators commented on which work. So, if you want to know what others thought of Gregory’s work it lets you know where to look! I excerpted the relevant pages for your researching pleasure.

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Not Your Father’s Enthymeme

I first learned about enthymeme’s from Frederick Norris’s excellent commentary on Gregory of Nazianzus’s Theological Orations, Faith Gives Fullness to Reasoning, which needs to be reprinted in paperback for the general betterment of humankind. Norris defines an enthymeme as a rhetorical syllogism: a syllogism that has one of its premises unstated as it is assumed to be supplied by the audience. But this “missing premise” definition is, at least according to James Allen in his book Inference from Signs: Ancient Debates about the Nature of Evidence, not really what an enthymeme is about.

It would be a mistake to picture the orator trimming  premisses from full-blown categorical syllogisms that he has first framed before his mind’s eye in order to present them in the form suitable to the rhetorical occasion (p. 24).

Inference from SignsSo then what is an enthymeme? And why is one of the premises so often missing?

Enthymemes are the rhetorical counterpart to dialectic’s syllogisms (likewise, paradigms are the rhetorical counterpart to induction) (p. 19). However, they are not concerned with valid deduction, but reputable (ἔνδοξος) arguments (p. 20). An enthymeme is further divided between 1) enthymemes from likelihoods and 2) enthymemes from signs (Rhet. 1.2 [70a9–11; 1357a32–3]), the former being a more reputable form of enthymematic argument (p. 23). What is a likelihood? That, Aristotle says (Rhet. 1.2, 1357a34), is “something people know comes to be or not for the most part” (p. 23).

An enthymeme from likelihoods is an argument bringing a particular case under an acknowledged general rule permitting exceptions (1357a34–b1) (p. 23).

What is a sign? For Aristotle (An. pr. 2.27, 70a7), a sign is “a premiss that is or is such as to be reputable (ἔνδοξος)” (p. 23). In an enthymeme from signs,

the sign—a particular fact or alleged fact—is put forward as a ground for the conclusion of which the orator wishes to convince his audience (p. 23).

How does this affect the shape of the enthymeme? Allen says (p. 25) that

In an enthymeme from likelihoods the crucial element on which the argument turns is the generalization under which the particular item in question is being brought. This must in all cases be stated, while the minor premiss, which states that the subject term of the major premiss belongs to the item under discussion, can and often will go without saying. And it is the generalization stated in the major premiss that is also the potential object of controversy. An orator who needs to oppose an argument from likelihood will try to show that his opponent’s conclusion is not likely because it is based on a generalization that is false or in some way not appropriate to the case at hand . . . By contrast, he will treat the syllogistic structure of this argument and the truth of its minor premiss as unproblematic. This is what it is to treat an argument as an argument from likelihood, and to evaluate its merits and faults as such.

In the case of an argument from signs, on the other hand, the new element on which the argument is seen to hinge will be the new piece of evidence to which the orator wishes to direct his auditors’ attention and which counts as evidence against a background of uncontroversial assumptions. If we concentrate for the moment on the relatively simple case of the valid first-figure sign-inference [i.e., Barbara], it is clear that the sign functions as a ground in this way in virtue of what we should call a covering generalization (cf. An. pr. 1.32, 47a16–27). And it is this covering generalization, e.g. that the feverish are ill, formulated in the major premiss, that is typically treated as part of the background of uncontentious assumptions in virtue of which the sign is able to serve as evidence for the conclusion at issue. For this reason, it can and typically will be omitted in the presentation of the sign-inference.

So, Allen is arguing that a missing premise is not the definition of an enthymeme, but a characteristic of it. What premise is assumed (and so missing), depends on the type of enthymematic argument being pursued. If one is arguing from likelihood, the minor premise may be assumed (and so not explicitly stated), whereas if one argues from a sign, then the major premise may be assumed (and so not explicitly stated).

Interestingly, only one type of sign-inference is valid, which Aristotle calls a token (τεκμήριον). This takes the Barbara form. Aristotle’s example is:

P1: All those with fever are ill.
P2: This man has fever (the sign)
C: Therefore he is ill

The two other sign-inferences (not given a technical name but associated with Cesare and Darapti respectively) Aristotle says are invalid, but according to Allen, they are still enthymemes (Rhet. 1357a27–32; b5, 14, 22; cf. 1403a11) (pp. 28, 30). This adds to his argument that it is wrong to define an enthymeme merely as a syllogism with one of the premises because some enthymemes are not valid syllogisms but are still, in Allen’s argument, reputable (ἔνδοξος, though Aristotle does not specifically state this) (p. 30).

Theology within Quotation Marks

In his essay “Philosophy within Quotation Marks,” reprinted in Method and Metaphysics: Essays in Ancient Philosophy I (Oxford: OUP, 2011), 23–42, Jonathan Barnes weighs in on a disputatio (his word) between Jacques Brunschwig and Pierre Aubenque about the legitimacy of a non-philosophical historian of philosophy. At the end of his essays, Barnes doesn’t draw a conclusion but offers four “glosses,” the first (p. 42) of which is:

First, though I am convinced that a good interpreter of philosophy will philosophize, I do not think that in this respect the history of philosophy is a special sort of discipline. On the contrary, everything I have said about the history of philosophy can be said, mutatis mutandi, about any other sort of interpretation whatsoever. Indeed, so far as I can see there are no interesting differences between the interpretation of ancient philosophy and the interpretation of ancient geometry—or the interpretation of yesterday’s Times. There are certain practical difficulties which confront interpreters of other stripes. But that does not show any essential difference between the interpretation of philosophical texts and the interpretation of non-philosophical texts. An historian of philosophy ought to philosophize because any interpreter ought to be ready to invoke material reasons in favour of his interpretations.

Since I am a historian of theology, I’m led to ask: do historians of theology have to theologize if only “to invoke material reasons in favor if his (or her!) interpretation?” Barnes would seem to say “yes,” but this doesn’t surprise me if one is working in the history of ideas. But what about studies of late antiquity outside of the history of ideas? Is theologizing excluded from this, or is it necessary constituent of it, at least in the sense that Barnes has articulated in his last sentence?


Is Lack of Evidence the End or the Beginning?

One of the many things that I appreciated about Markschies book Christian Theology and Its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire is his willingness to refrain from speculation where there isn’t any evidence. Many times he would begin to say something about the lack of evidence for something and I would expect him to then give some sort of qualified speculative guess only to be sadly disappointed. I was shocked to see someone just stop and admit that we don’t—and probably—can’t know.

A German friend said that this is not uncommon for German historians. A lack of evidence is where a German historian ends and where German biblical scholars begin. He was joking—I think. Anyways, what to do with absence of evidence is a constant struggle that I have not only as I do history but also in life in general. I find that I am daily confronted with a striking absence of evidence from which I am supposed to draw some sort of conclusion. How should I go about that? Or, is there a point at which I must stop and say, “this far and no further”? A little bit of evidence is a dangerous thing if one does not know how to move from that little bit of information to conclude something for which one has no direct evidence.

Of course, this has been a problem since the beginning of time (sorry, currently grading papers…). Actually, I should say this is a problem that has been addressed in various ways in classical Greek literature. The first that comes to mind is the eikos argument in the rhetorical tradition. I’ve written on this before, but briefly put, the eikos argument is an argument from probability. Is it more likely that so and so, being of a certain character type, did X than Y? An early example of this is Homer’s Hymn to Hermes, in which he relates a story of Hermes stealing some cattle from Apollo who subsequently takes him to court (i.e., before Zeus). In an elaborate speech, Hermes characterizes himself as a small and weak child, asking the judge if he looks like (ἔοικα) a mighty man who herds cattle. Hermes is arguing that he couldn’t have stolen the cattle because only a mighty man could do such a thing, and he looks nothing like a mighty man. We might think this type of reasoning is weak and rhetorically manipulative, but it’s a persistent form of argument that is not difficult to find. I think the contemporary title for it is “the internet.”

Inference from SignsThis question was also addressed extensively by the philosophical schools. James Allen, in his book Inference from Signs: Ancient Debates about the Nature of Evidence, gives good summaries of how various philosophical schools (Aristotle, the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Skeptics, and the medical schools [Rationalists and Empiricists]) answered this question. I’m excited to jump into this book and see the different approaches to “inference from signs.” I’ll blog about it if I’m able.


On Death

My last post was unusually personal for my blog, but I have been thinking about death more than usual lately. Early Christian authors often reflect on death and dying, more so than I think we do today.

For example, Gregory of Nazianzus’s wrote four funeral orations: three were for his family (his brother Caesarius, his sister Gorgonia, and his father Gregory), and one—and perhaps one of his greatest orations—was for his friend Basil of Caesarea. Gregory also wrote many epitaphs for himself and others. Two-hundred fifty-four are preserved in the Palantine MS and are translated in volume II, book 8 of the Loeb Greek Anthology.

Also, this year The Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies is co-sponsoring with The Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine (Mundelein Seminary) and the Chicago Theological Initiative a colloquium On Christian Dying. The colloquium will take place on March 17–18. Here is the schedule:

Thursday, March 17th
9:30—12:00 Gilbert Meilaender (Valparaiso University)
Paul L. Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas)
Michel Barnes (Marquette University)
12:00—2:00 Lunch
2:00—4:30 Sheryl Overmyer (DePaul University)
Cyril O’Regan (University of Notre Dame)
Marcus Plested (Marquette University)
5:00—7:00 Dinner
7:30—9:00 Public Lecture
John Cavadini (University of Notre Dame)
Friday, March 18th
9:30—12:00 Brian E. Daley (University of Notre Dame)
Brent Waters (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)
Mark McIntosh (Loyola University Chicago)
12:00—1:30 Lunch
1:30—4:00 Marc Cortez (Wheaton College)
Cherith Fee Nordling (Northern Seminary)
David Luy (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

[N.B.– The colloquium is limited to 75 people, but the public lecture by John Cavadini is free and open to the public; I will be posting more information on that in the near future]

To be honest, when I heard of the topic for the colloquium last year, I wasn’t that excited. However, as my grandfather’s passing drew near, I began to realize how little death and dying is discussed in contemporary theology. There are exceptions, but it seems to me that it doesn’t occupy the attention of modern theologians as much as it did early Christian writers. It seems to me that a theology that neglects death and dying isn’t doing it’s job.

Finally, here is a interview with Dr. Ellen Muehlberger on the topic of death and repentance in early Christianity that is worth a listen.

On My Grandfather’s Passing

Last week I attended my grandfather’s funeral and had the chance to speak for a few minutes. I had the blessing of having both set of grandparents for most of my life, only to lose them in the last ten years. In many ways, what I said about my grandfather applies to them all. I forgot some of what I wanted to say when I spoke, so here is a slightly expanded version of what I said:

I was told to be brief, so I will be succinct—just like my grandpa.*

One of the saddest stories I’ve ever read is Lord of the Rings. Sad because you get to walk with Frodo through the good, the bad, and, sometimes, the very very boring. Then Frodo boards the ship and sails into the west. You turn the last page and close the book. His story is done.

Now I only knew my grandpa for a third of his life, so I had to learn to walk with him through the stories that he and other people told me about his life. Stories of growing up on a farm in Indiana. Stories of meeting my grandma. Stories of serving as a cook and driving the chaplain around in Korea (and even getting kissed by Debbie Reynolds). Stories of starting a family, of living with a wife, four daughters, a mother-in-law, and a sister-in-law—all at the same time! Stories of working day and night to provide for his family.

Then there are the stories that I remember. Stories of our vacations to see him in Tennessee. Of moving back to Michigan—I vividly remember helping my grandparents move into their new house. Of mentoring my cousin and helping him get his life back on track before his untimely death in 2007. Of his love for the Detroit Tigers: listening to the radio broadcast of the game and keeping his own stats even when he was at the stadium! Or the time he called my dad in the final minutes of the 2000 NCAA mens basketball championship to tell him that Tigers started spring training. Then there was that subtle smirk that would appear when he asked you if you knew of or about “X”, which meant he was about to tell a joke. And finally, the stories of the sudden death of his wife and of his battle against cancer.

But now he has turned the last page and closed the book. His story is done.

Actually, if you knew my grandpa, you would know that he would say that his story is not done. You see, at the end of Lord of the Rings, Frodo says goodbye to his friend Sam, the one who has travelled with him through the good, the bad, and the boring. When Frodo boards the ship and sails to the undying lands in the West, Sam returns home and starts a family. But those who read the appendices know that after Sam has lived his life and grown old, he too boards a ship and sails to the undying lands in the West.

If you knew my grandpa, you would know that he would say that if you know Jesus, you too will one day board a ship and sail to undying lands as he has. My grandpa would say that his story isn’t done. His story has just begun.

*My grandfather was never succinct.