Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gregory of Nazianzus, I (PTT)

Gregory the Theologian is a fascinating figure. b. ca. 329/30, the son of the bishop of Nazianzus, also Gregory. He studied rhetoric, visited Palestine and Alexandria, and spent 348-58 studying in Athens with Basil; he returned a few years later than Basil to Cappadocia, was forcibly ordained by his father on Christmas 361, but then fled. He later returned home after the threat of schism, and assumed his father's role. Appointed by Basil, for political purposes, as Bishop of Sasima in 372. Gregory slinked off to Seleucia to avoid running Nazianzus; In 379 he went to Constantinople to lead the Nicene Christians there, and in 381 presided over the council of Constantinople after Meletius' death. During the council he resigned his episcopacy, unhappy with the council's handling of Antioch, the Macedonians, and attacked by an Egyptian delegation over the legitimacy of his position. Ironically, for a staunch pro-Nicene theologian, Gregory thought Constantinople 381 didn't go far enough in asserting the Spirit's divinity, and was unhappy with the outcome. He retired to a private life, and died ca. 390. Nonetheless, his orations become the most copied Byzantine manuscripts, after the Scriptures themselves.

His later years are dedicated in part to combating Apollinarius and his teachings. It is something of a modern misreading of Apollinarius to be wondering whether the Apollinarian Christ has enough requisite 'parts' to be fully human. For Apollinarius the issue is the unity of the subject, Christ, and the impact of the communicatio idiomatum of the two natures. The great problem with Apollinarius is that he extends the communicatio too far: the two natures share in each other's properties, so that he reads texts about Christ's humanity and/or divinity univocally as of not only the one subject, but virtually of the one nature. This is the kind of univocal reading that Alexander opposed Arius for, Athanasius the Eusebians, and Basil the Heterousians. Gregory's Letter to Cledonius is really the definitive word on the topic: “If anyone has set his hope on a man without a mind, he is completely mindless and not worthy of being saved in his entirety. The unassumed is the unhealed; what is united to God, that is also saved” (Ep 101 (.5 in Wickham, .31 in Gallay), quoted in Behr, p405).

In our next post we'll consider the Theological Orations in more detail.

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