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INTRODUCTION
LANDSCAPE

GregoryofNyssawasborninabout335ADintheRomanprovinceof
Cappadocia,asomewhatbarrenregiontothenortheastofmodernTurkey.It
hadbeenannexedbytheemperorTiberius(1437AD)inAD17onthe
depositionofthelastnativeking,Archelaus,inthatyear.Initiallygovernedbya
prefect,likeJudaeainthetimeofChrist,itroseinstatusinAD72andenjoyed
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theadvantagesofbeingaconsularprovince,andsoitremaineduntilitsdivision
bytheemperorValensin371/2aneventfraughtwithconsiderable
consequencesbothforGregoryhimselfandforhisfriendandnamesake,
GregoryofNazianzus.

AstoCappadociasreligioushistorypriortotheadventoftheChristiangospel,
weareremarkablyillinformed.AreferenceinGregoryofNazianzusoration
18:5onthedeathofhisfatherrathersuggeststhatthereexistedinCappadocia
asectnamedHypsistarians,towhichhisfatherbelonged1.Itappearstoderive
fromtheappellationofGodasHighestandmaywellrepresentanattemptto
offeranunderstandingofGodwhichwouldpleaseJewsandPagansalikea
sortoffashionablesyncretismwhichcouldbeappliedtoAdonaiandZeus
indifferently.Ifthisisthecase,itsuggeststhatthereexistedforcesin
Cappadocia,wellbeforethearrivalofChristianity,whichfavouredagenerous
attitudetothesurroundingculture.

TheCappadociansmentionedinthesecondchapterofActswerethefirst
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Christiansthere,andwemustassumefromtheopeningverseof1Peterthatthe
faithcontinuedthereperhapsahundredyearslater.Further,inhis
EcclesiasticalHistory6.11,EusebiusmentionsacertainAlexanderwho
previouslyhadbeenbishopinthelandoftheCappadociansandsubsequently
becamebishopof

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Jerusalem,inwhichplaceheordainedOrigen.Clearlytherewassomeformof
organizedChurchinCappadociawellbeforethemiddleofthethirdcentury,
beforethearrivalfromCaesareasometimeinthe250softheApostleof
Cappadocia,GregorytheWonderworker.

Eventhegraphicandlaudatoryaccountofhispioneeringexploitslefttousby
GregoryofNyssa,2shouldnotbeallowedtoobscuretheimportanceofthe
conversionofCappadociapriortothearrivalofGregoryThaumaturgos.Even
so,whatheactuallydiscoveredwhenhearrivedinCappadociaishardforusat
thisdistanceoftimetoreconstruct,aboveallbecauseofthepaucityofour
evidence.YetGregoryThaumaturgosisinterestingandimportantfortwo
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reasons:(1)Hebroughtwithhimtheteachingsandtheologyofhismaster,
Origen,whodiednotlongafter254intheaftermathoftheDecianpersecution
(250251).Origensinfluence,everywherepresentinthewritingsofGregoryof
Nyssa,isdoubtlessdueinnosmallmeasuretoGregoryThaumaturgos3(2)
Gregory(theWonderworker)wasresponsiblefortheconversiontothefaithof
MacrinatheElder,thepaternalgrandmotherofGregoryofNyssa.Inthecourse
ofhisletters,BasiloftenreferswithgreatrespecttothissameMacrinathe
Elder.4

GregoryofNyssahimselfcamefromalargefamily5oftenchildren,fiveboys
andfivegirls.Ofhisfivesistersweknowthenameofonlyoneforcertain,
MacrinatheYounger.(TheTheosebeia,mentionedbyGregoryofNazianzusin

hisLetter197.6asbeinga wasinallprobabilityGregoryofNyssaswife,
nothissister.)Herinfluenceuponherbrotherwasconsiderable.Hewroteher
LifeandusedherdeathbedasthesettingforhisdialogueOntheSouland
Resurrection,hisownversionofPlatosPhaedo.SocratesbecomesMacrina,
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talkingtoherbrotheraboutthenatureofthesoulandofitsdestinyafterdeath,
andabouttherelationshipbetweenthePlatonicbeliefinthenaturalimmateriality
ofthesoulwiththeChristianbeliefintheresurrectionofthebody.

WeknowthenamesofallbutoneoftheboysofthefamilyBasil,Peter(later
bishopofSebasteinArmenia),Naucratias(killedbyaboar),Gregoryhimself
andthemissingfifthbrother.Thefamilywasdistinguishedandpropertied,
Christianandcultivated.6Basilcertainlyenjoyedthebenefitofanextensive
universityeducationunderthemostcelebratedrhetorsorprofessional
teachersofthedayLibanius,inConstantinople7andHimeriusatAthens,
wherehespenttheyearsfrom351356inthecompanyofhissoulfriend,
GregoryofNazianzus.

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OnthefaceofitGregorysowneducationwasfarlesscosmopolitan.
Apparentlyheattendednoneofthegreatuniversitiesoftheday,andwas
entirelydependentuponBasilforhisculturalandphilosophicaltraining.Ina
lettertothesophist,Libanius(number13),GregorymentionsBasilasthepupil
ofLibaniusandashisownfatherandmaster.Thisbeingthecaseitmustbe
admittedthatBasildidaverycompetentjobintraininghisyoungerbrother.
Gregorymayhavelackedsomeofhisgreatbrothersflairasaleader,andhis
politicalsenseinthedifficultyearspriortothesecondecumenicalcouncilof
Constantinople,butheisnowayinferiortohimeitherinhisuseofsophisticated
languageorinhispowersofspeculativethoughtandspiritualinsight.Whatis
surprisingisthefactthat,althoughhelackedthetrainingandexpertiseofBasil,
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hemovedsomuchmoresympatheticallyinthethoughtworldofhisday.

OnseveraloccasionsinhistreatisesBasilexpresseshisuneasewiththe
pointlessnessofmuchcontemporaryeducationanattitudeweneverfindinhis
youngerbrother,exceptwhenhewishestoattributehereticalopinionstothe
influenceofAristotle.8Wemustassumenotonlythathehadasubtlermind,but
thathehadathisdisposalsourcesofinformation,intheshapeofalibrary,
whichenabledhimtosupplementhisownlesselaborateeducation,althoughany
attempttoreconstructitspossiblecontentsisdoomedtofailurefromlackof
evidence.Indeed,oneofthepeculiaritiesofGregoryfromourpointofviewis
thealmosttotalabsenceinhimofreferenceto,ordirectcitationfrom,hisnon
ChristiansourcesamarkedcontrastwithAugustineintheWest,whoseems
attimestobeeagertodisplayhispaganculture,aboveallintheCityofGod.

InanothersignificantrespectGregorydifferedfromhisbrother.Basilwasnot
onlyamonkhimself,healsofindsaplaceasoneofthegreatestofallmonastic
legislators,whoseinfluencestretcheswellbeyondCappadocia.Heleftbehind
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himtwosetsofRules,LongerandShorter,togetherwithacollectionof
aphorisms,knownastheMoralia.Asfarasoursourcesgo,wecanbefairly
certainthatdespitehisevidentsympathyforandunderstandingofthemonastic
andasceticlife,GregoryofNyssawasneveramonkhimself.Atsomepointhe
married,9amoveheseemstohaveregretted,andwasthereforebarredfroma
monasticvocation.HiswifesnamewasprobablyTheosebeia.Italsoappears
fromaletterwrittentohimbyhisfriend,GregoryofNazianzus,thatatsome
periodbetween362and371,hebecameateacherofpublicspeaking(rhetor)
and,further,wasmuchinlovewithhischosenprofession:Youhadrather

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bethoughtofasarhetorthanasaChristian(Letter11)wroteGregory
Nazianzus.Itisslightlyironicaltofindthemostrhetoricallyselfconsciousofall
theCappadocianscriticizinghisfriendandnamesakeforjustthisparticular
weakness,especiallywhenhisownlettercontainstwoquotationsfromHesiod
andfromEuripides,writersnevercitedbyGregoryofNyssahimself.

Bethatasitmay,otherforceswereatwork,whichbroughtthiselegantand
retiredlifetoanend.In372theemperorValens,nofriendofBasil,dividedthe
provinceofCappadociainhalf,givingittwocapitals,atCaesarea(modern
Kayseri)andTyana.ThismeantinpracticethatBasilssphereofinfluencewas
greatlyreducedand,inordertocompensateforthisreductioninauthority,he
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createdatleasttwonewdiocesesatSasimaandNyssa,towhichheappointed
hisfriendandhisbrotherrespectively.Itcanhardlybesaidthateither
appointmentwashappy.

GregoryofNazianzusspentpracticallynotimeinhissee,whichwas
exceedinglyminute,thoughhispossessionofitwasusedagainsthimatthe
councilofConstantinoplein381.In380thestronglyproNiceneSpaniard,
Theodosius,becameemperorinplaceoftheArianValens,andshortly
afterwardshadGregorymadearchbishopofConstantinople,inplaceofthe
ArianDemophilus,apositionhewasnotlongallowedtoenjoy.Gregoryhad
contravened,itwasmaliciouslyalleged,canon15ofNicaea,whichhad
forbiddentranslationfromonebishoprictoanother,andhewasforcedto
resign.EventhenhedidnotreturntoSasima,aplaceheevidentlyregarded
withgreatdisgust,ashehimselftellsusinhisPoemaboutHisLife(atPG
37.1059,lines439445).Instead,hespenttheremainingyearsofhislife
administeringtheseeofNazianzus,orphanedbythedeathofhisfatherin374.
GregoryofNyssawashardlymoresuccessfulasabishop.Basilhaslittlebut
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pityandcontemptforhisyoungerbrothersinadequaciesinhisnewpost.10

FortunatelyhisbrothersstricturescouldnotreachbeyondthegraveandBasils
deathinJanuaryof379maynothavebeenwhollyunwelcometoGregory.We
knownothingofhisactivitiesatthecouncilofthe150Fathersheldat
Constantinoplein381butevidentlyhisabilitiesandorthodoxymadeadeep
impressiononboththeemperorandontheotherFathers.Threefactsreinforce
thisimpression.HewaschosentodeliverthefuneralorationonMeletius,
bishopofAntioch,thefirstpresidentofthecouncil,whohaddiedinthecourse
ofthefirstsession.Then,afterthecloseofthecouncil,hewasselectedtobe
oneofthepromotersoftheorthodox

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teaching,aboveallonthedeityoftheHolyGhost,intheRomanprovinceof
Pontus.11Finally,ataslightlylaterdate,hewasselectedtodeliverfuneral
orationsontheemperorslittledaughter,Pulcheria,andhiswifeF(P)
Flaccilla.12ThesethreeassignmentsindicatethehighregardinwhichGregorys
rhetoricalabilitieswereheldinbothreligiousandsecularcircles.

Theperiodupto386,followingBasilsdeath,wasfilledwithintense,literary
activity.Itistothesesevenyearsthatwemustdatehiselaboratereplytothe
extremeArian,Eunomius.Further,heproducedacontinuation(andpartial
correction)ofhisbrotherscommentaryHomiliesontheSixDaysof
Creation(InHexameron)withhisownworkofthesamenameandhisOnthe
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MakingofMan,eachwiththeircharacteristicGregoriansearchfororderand

connexion( and )inthedivineactivity.Finally,wehavealsohis


deathbeddialoguewithMacrina,calledOntheSoulandResurrection,which
issurelyintendedtoremindusofthedeathofSocrates,movinglyrecordedin
Platosdialogue,thePhaedo.

AllthesegreatworksillustratetwosidesofGregoryscharacter.Hewasclearly
amandeeplydevotedtohisfamily,abovealltohisbrotherandsister.Yetthis
verydevotionwascertainlynotuncritical,andthiscriticalspiritfoundparticular
expressioninhissubtlecorrectionsandmodificationsofhisbrotherswritings.
ForalthoughBasilknewmuchaboutcontemporaryscienceandphilosophya
factwhichisevidentbyacursoryreadingofhisnineHomiliesontheSixDays
ofCreationheadoptsadistinctlyguarded,ifnotactuallyhostile,stance
towardsit.Forhimitisthevainlearningofthisworld.Gregory,ontheother
hand,despitehismorelimitedandapparentlyinferiorlearningandformal
education,ismoresympatheticthanishisbrothertocultureand,aboveall,to
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philosophy.

Twoillustrationswillhelptounderlinethispoint.Atanearlierstageinhislife,
whileBasilwasstillalive,Gregoryundertooktheimportanttaskofgivinga
theoreticaljustificationofthemonasticlife,forwhichhisbrotherhadcomposed
histwosetsofRules.ThisGregorydidinhisearliestknownwritingOn
Virginity,inthecourseofwhichheofferedanaccountoftheprincipleson
whichtheconsecratedliferests.Partofthestrengthandcomplexityofthis
fascinatingworkresultsfromthefactthatitisneverquiteclearforwhom
preciselyitwasmeant.Norisitclearwhetherbyvirginity,Gregorymeansthe
physicalconditionofbeingavirgin,orthestateofinteriordispositionofpurity
ofheartandselfmasteryasGregory,onoccasion,suggests,forexamplein
chapters7and15.Inthe

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formercaseitisrestrictedtothereligious,inthelatteritispotentiallyopento
everyone.Evenso,asanexplorationoftheprinciplesuponwhichthepractice
mustrest,itisaveryvaluableexercise.

Second,intheirrespectiveaccountsoftheexegesisofGenesis1,Basilis
remarkableforhisknowledgeofthevariousabstrusephysicaltheoriesthatthe
astronomersandcosmologiesofthedayofferedtoaccountforthebeginning
andstructureofthephysicaluniverse.Gregoryisclearlyfarmoreinterestedin
tryingtodiscoverwithinthescripturalnarrativetheinnerconnectionofevents,
theakolouthia.13ForGregory,Mosesaccountoftheorderofcreationis
itselfdominatedbyabeliefintheprogressivedevelopmentoftheuniverseand
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theworkoftheexegeteistodiscoverthisordertaxis.

Gregorysbeliefintheorderednatureofrealityimpliesanunwillingnessto
believeinsuddeneruptionsofthedivineintotheworld,andalackofstresson
themiraculous,supernaturalelementinreligion.Bothnature,andthegrowthof
theindividualtowardsperfectionandtowardsGod,areconceivedinan
orderedandorderlyfashion.ButitalsoreflectssomethingoftheStoicbeliefin
thesameprincipleandintheomnipresenceofadetectableorderintheworld
system.SomethingofGregorysinsistenceontheomnipresenceofGodinthe
worldandhisinterpretationofpsalm138/9illustrateshisdebttoaformof
StoicisingPlatonism,whichbelievedintheexistenceofauniversal,spiritual
principle,thesouloftheworld.

BACKGROUND1

Gregorysinterestin,andinfluenceby,theclassicalworldoflateantiquitywas
bynomeansrestrictedtorhetoricandfinewriting,towhichreferencehas
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alreadybeenmade.InhisworkOntheChristianDiscipline14heobserves
thathehadbeencriticizedbysomepeopleforhavingabandonedthegracethat
comesfromaboveinfavourofsecularlearningandlogic.Despitehisrejection
ofthisaccusation,itisclearthathewasdeeplyinfluencedbythisculture,
althoughtheactualextentofthisishardtoassess.

Ontheonehand,itisindeedtruethatverbatimquotationsfromclassical
writersarefewinnumber.OneunacknowledgedpassagefromPlutarchoccurs
inaveryunexpectedplace,althoughitmayhavebeenliftedfromEusebius
giganticcompilationPreparationfortheGospel.15Ontheotherhand,the
absenceofactualquotations

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from,orreferencesto,classicalphilosophersdoesnotitselfnecessarilyindicate
anylackofinfluence.Bothintheformalcharacterofhiswritingsandinthe
assumed,ifunexpressed,premisesonwhichtheyrest,theinfluenceofGreek
philosophy,aboveallthatofPlato,iseverywhereevident.16Itwouldbea
mistake,however,toregardhimasamereuncriticalcopierofthepast,asortof
philosophicalmagpie.

Hisknowledge,however,wasnotaccompaniedbyaconsciousefforttocreate
asystemofhisown.Someofhiswritingsappeartolackthesortofself
consistencywenormallydemandofaprofessionalphilosopher(evenifwedo
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notalwaysfindit).Hisusageofthephilosophicallanguageof ,being,is
slipperyand,further,itneedstoberememberedinthisconnexionthatmuchof
hiswritingwasprovokedbydogmaticthreats,ashesawthem,andnotsimply
byapurelytheologicaldesiretoexplorethebasisofthecreed.Threeof
GregorysbasictheologicalandphilosophicalprincipleshaveahomeinPlato:
(1)Gregorybelieves,asdoesPlato,inthegoodnessofbeingand,more
precisely,inthegoodnessofGod.Thecoincidenceofgoodnessandreality,of
beingandvalue,meansthatPlatoandthemembersofhisschoolregardevilas
insomesenseunrealthereisnoideaofeviltocorrespondwiththeideaof
thegood.EvilinthePlatonistframework,therefore,hardlyexistsatallandits
shadowyexistenceisattributedtohumanfreedom.17Inthetenthbookofhis
Republichesumsuphispositionasfollows:Thecause(sc.ofevil)isthe
chooserGodisguiltless.ThedesiretoexonerateGodfromallresponsibility
forevilisamarkedcharacterofthewholeChristianPlatonisttradition.For
Origen,GregoryandAugustineGodisgood,just,wiseandpowerful,andevil
istheeffectofcreatedhumanchoices.ForPlatoandhislaterinterpreter,
Plotinus,evilexistssomewherebetweenrealityandunreality.Thisisclearly
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statedbyPlotinusatEnnead1.8.318andanyappearanceofpowerandreality
itmaypossesswilldisappearattheendwhenGodwillbeallinall[cf.ICor.
15,28].(2)SidebysidewiththismetaphysicaloptimismbothPlato,hisgreat
thirdcenturyADinterpreter,Plotinus,andGregoryalsobelievedinthebeauty
ofbeingandofGod.ThisisveryclearlybroughtoutinhisdialogueOntheSoul
andResurrection,andbyPlatoinhistwodialoguesTheBanquetandThe
Phaedrus,inbothofwhich,unliketheRepublic,beautyratherthangoodnessis
treatedasthedominantfeatureofthedivinenature/ultimatereality.Inallthree
writersthisconceptionoftheUltimateimposesbothadriveandanobligation
onall

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derivativebeings.ThebeautyoftheAbsoluteinPlatoisalsotheultimateobject
ofdesireandcanbeattainedbyalifeofselfcontrolandascesis.Inother
words,theascentofthehilloftheLordisnotautomatic,andneedstobe
harnessedapointwhichsomelazyadmirersofPlatofailtonotice.Likecan
onlybeknownbylikeanditisonlybyourassimilationtothesupremelylovely
thatweshallbeabletoattainuntothevisionthatmakethhappy(cf.Plotinus,
Ennead1.6.7.3).InaverysimilarveinGregorywritesasfollows:

ForBeautyhasinitsownnatureanattractivenessforeveryonewholooksatit.
So,ifthesoulbecomescleanofallevil,itwillexistentirelyinbeauty.Thedivine
isbeautifulbyitsownnature.Thesoulwillbejoinedtothedivinethrough
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purity,adheringtothatwhichispropertoit.19

Forbothwritersthedesireforthelovelywhichweallpossessisnotrealized
automatically,butdependsuponourfreedomforitsactualization.(3)Asa
corollarytothisethico/mysticalprogrammewealsofindinwritersofthe
Platonicschoolabasicbeliefthatthewayupwardisbothdemandingand,atthe
sametime,areturntoorigins.AttheendoftheRepublicPlatospeaksof
alwayskeepingtotheupwardpath(621C).StPaul,too,atPhilippians3,14,
hasthistosay:Ipressonwardtothegoalfortheprizeoftheupwardcallof
GodinChristJesus.Gregorysownvisionisafusionofthetwo.Hislanguage,
aboveallinhistwogreattreatisesonthespirituallife,theOntheLifeofMoses
andCommentaryontheSongofSongs,ispepperedwithasimilarimageryof
ascentanabasis.But,whereasforStPaulthisdesiredgoalisnewandcan
onlyberealizedinChristandwiththehelpofgrace,forPlatoitisareturntoa
blessedbeginningandthereisnomentionoftheneedfordivineaidorevenofa
divinelyinspiredpattern.Gregory,whileadmittingtheimportanceofChrist,says
littleoftheimportanceofimitatinghimandprefersthemoreclassicalformulaof
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imitatingGod,whichowesmuchtoapassageinPlatosTheaetetus176,
wherethatidealissuccincdyexpressed.ThePaulinestressonthecentralityof
graceandhumanfragilityislessmarkedinGregory.

ThewillingnessandabilityonthepartofmanyChristianwriterstocolonize
Platoandthewholeclassicaltradition,enabledtheChurchtospeakwitha
moreeducatedandcertainvoicetotheincreasinglylargenumberofChristians
whosebackgroundwasgentileratherthanJewish.Theappealtopagansbyuse
oftheirownauthorsandideashadalreadyfoundaplaceintheapologeticsof
St

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Paul,inActs17,whichprovidedbothjustificationandamodelforthe
Apologistsofthesecondcentury,aboveallJustinMartyrinhistwoApologies.

Towardstheendofthesecondcentury,ClementofAlexandriaand,inthethird
century,Origen(185254),realisedonlytoowellthethreatposedbythe
pseudophilosophyofGnosticism.Theformerwasthoroughlyconversantwith
theliteratureofGreece,whileOrigenwasmoreaphilosopherandhadstudied
underAmmoniusSaccas,anotedPlatonistinAlexandria(cf.Eusebius,
EcclesiasticalHistoryvi.19,78).

Thisendeavourtousephilosophyasanallyforexploringthemessageofthe
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gospelwasnoteverywhereregardedasdesirable.SomeChristians,whowere
reallyilliterateorwho,likeTertullian,tookuptheircause,protestedagainstthis
alliance.Heandtheysawinthisculturalopennessandfriendshipforphilosophy
abetrayaloftheprimalspiritoftheNewTestament,withitsappealtothe
uneducatedandpoorofthisworld.StPaulhimself,despitehiswiderculture,
hadprotestedagainstanyattempttoturnthegospelofChristintoanyformof
philosophy,andhiswordsinICorinthians1,concerningthefoolishnessofGod
andthewisdomofthisworld,becameasortoftextforthegospelof
irrationalismpreachedbyTertullian.What,heasksinhisApology(chapter
46)havethephilosopherandChristianincommon,thediscipleofGreeceand
thediscipleofheaven?.

ButifthesimpleChristianwasopposedtomarriagebetweenfaithand
philosophy,marriagedidnotrecommenditselfeither,tothecultureddespisers
oftheGospelwhoresentedtheattemptmadebytheenemytopillagetherich
fieldsofpaganpoetry,rhetoricandphilosophyintheinterestsofabarbarian
faithacurious,butnotaltogetherunknown,alliancebetweentheculturednon
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believerandtheuncultivatedbeliever.

Thisreal,andattimeshighlyarticulatehostility,onthepartofthepagan
intelligentsiatowardsthevampireactivitiesofmensuchasOrigen,hadfound
earlyexpressioninthesecondcenturyfromCelsusinhisTrueAccountand,in
thelatethirdandearlyfourthcentury,fromthearchcritic,Porphyry,inhisvast
fifteenvolumeworkAgainsttheChristians,producedtogiveintellectual
backingtothepaganreactionunderDiocletianinthebeginningofthefourth
century.Hostilitycametoaheadduringtheshortreignofthelastovertlypagan
emperor,Julian,TheApostate(361363)ironicallytheonlyfourthcentury
emperortohavebeenbaptizedinhisyouth.

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Hisinsistencethatonlyprofessingpagansshouldbeallowedtoteachthe
classicsofGreecewasinconformitywithearlierpaganobjectionstothecultural
imperialismofChristians.ThedifferencelayinthefactthatJulianwasableto
imposehiswillandthathiswasthefirstattemptmadetoimposeareligioustest
uponprofessors.Juliansattemptisalsoofinterestbecauseitofferstocreate
outofHellenismareligionandnotsimplyaculture.

ThismoveonthepartofJulianhadtheeffectofmakingthinkingChristians
seriouslyquestiontheroletheclassicsshouldtakewithinaChristiancontext.
Gregorysbrother,Basil,movedtothedefenceofhispositionbycompilinga
collectionofpassageswithGregoryofNazianzusbetween356/8,knownasthe
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Philocalia,drawnfromOrigensworks.Thisworkwasintendedtodisplayto
theintelligentChristian,andperhapsalsotothepagan,thatevenwithinthe
Churchtherehadexistedthoughtfulwritersand,further,thattheprofessionof
Christiandidnotautomaticallyinvolveapolicyofintellectualisolation.The
extractswerelargelydrawnfromOrigenstreatiseOnFirstPrinciplesand
offeredtoshowtheintelligentChristianapproachtofreedomandthe
interpretationoftheBible.

Basilalso,perhapsforthebenefitofhisnephews,wroteafurtherwork,To
YoungMenontheValueofClassicalLiterature.20Hetriestovindicatethe
useofHomerbytheyoung,onthegroundthatithasexcellentmorallessons.
LikePlatoandPlutarch,thereadingofHomerandtheotherpoetswas
defendedonmoral,notaesthetic,grounds.Theultimatecriterion,asBasiloften
indicates,isusefulness,bywhichismeanthelpingtowardstherealisationof
good,moralattitudesinthereader.Butitcannotinhonestybesaidthathis
attitudetowardspaganlearningandcultureisparticularlyenthusiastic.
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Thisdefensiveandrathercautiousattitudetotherichesofantiquityis,atthe
sametime,bothinstructiveandironic.Instructivebecauseitisamixturebothof
awarenessofthedangersinherentinanuncriticalabsorptionofthespiritof
Hellenism,withatthesametimeanevidentaffectionforHellenism.Ironic,forit
meansthatdespiteJulian,anddespitethecoolnessofmensuchasChrysostom
andEpiphanius,thecultureandphilosophyoftheancientworld,withthedemise
ofpurelypaganfacultiesofphilosophyinAthensandAlexandriainthefifthand
sixthcenturies,founditsmostenduringhomewithintheaustereifdiscriminating
embraceoftheChurch.

Somethingofthisreserveandtheconsequentneedtorework

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theinheritanceiseverywhereevident.ApassageinparttwoofGregoryof
NyssasOntheLifeofMoseslistsseveralareasofagreementand
disagreementbetweenChristianityandHellenismonthenatureofGodandof
thenatureanddestinyofthehumanspirit.Soinsection40Gregorywrites:

Paganphilosophysaysthatthesoulisimmortalthisisapiousoffspring.Butit
alsosaysthatsoulspassfrombodiestobodiesandarechangedfromarational
toanirrationalnature.Thisisafleshlyandalienforeskin.Andtherearemany
suchexamples.Itsaysthereisagod,butthinksofhimasmaterial.It
acknowledgeshimascreator,butsaysheneededmatterforcreation.
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AglanceatapagancatechismwrittenbySallustiusasapropagandaweapon
fortheemperorJulianin362,illustrateswellthesortofdistinctionsthatGregory
makesbetweenhiscosmologyandthatofhiscultivatednonChristian
contemporaries.InOnGodsandtheWorldSallustiusinsists,inthemannerof
PlatosTimaeus,upontheeternityofmatterandofthephysicaluniverse(cf.
sectionvii)andinsectionxxonthedoctrineoftransmigrationofsouls,of
metempsychosis.Thecomparisonbetweenthetwosystemshighlightsthebasic
differencebetweenthem.ForGregory,Godisaboveallandpreeminently
creator,intotalcontroloftheworldbothspiritualandmaterial.ForSallustius,
andindeedforthewholePlatonisttradition,Godisnotcreator.Soulsare
eternalandsoismatter.

Inanswertothequestionoftenasked,HowPlatonicwasGregory?,the
answermustbealways,ItalldependsonwhatismeantbyPlatonism.The
Christiandoctrineofcreationisindeedquiteunplatonic,inallitsforms.Yetthe
beliefinthespiritualityofthesoulandtheexistenceofasupreme,changeless
spiritisonethatGregoryshareswithhisPlatonicinheritance.
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BACKGROUND2

AlthoughGregoryofNyssa,hisbrother,Basil,andtheirfriend,Gregoryof
Nazianzus,thesocalledCappadocianFathers,allcamefromacultivated,
wealthyandorthodoxmilieu,itisamistaketosupposethattheyweretypicalof
theirfellowcountrymen.Cappadocianotonlyhadareputationforbeingrather
boorishthePseudoLucianhadoncerathercruellyobservedinhisepigram43
thatitwasasdifficulttoteachatortoisetoflyastoteachaCappadocianto
speakGreek.

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Cappadociahadalsoproducedseveraldistinguishedheretics.Amongthese
wereUlphilas(c.311383),theapostleoftheGothsandaconvincedArian.
HewasofCappadocianancestry,andhadbeenordainedbishopin
ConstantinoplebytheArian,EusebiusofNicomedia,beforesettingoutinc.
341/2formissionaryworkamongtheGoths.But,ofmoreimmediaterelevance
forourpresentpurposes,Eunomius,theextremeAriananddiscipleofAetius,
alsocamefromCappadocia.Betweenthemtheyhadendeavouredtoproduce
aversionofChristianitywhich,undertheguiseofanextremelylogicalform,
endedbyreducingtheSontothestatusofacreature.Itistrue,ofcourse,that
theyendeavouredtoconcealtheirpositionbynearlyqualifyingitoutof
existence,butanyreaderofchapter28ofEunomiusApologywillseethat
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someformofcreaturelinessisascribedtothegenerateSon.

BothAetiusandEunomiusweremenofgreatlogicalpowers,skilleddebaters
whoinspiredsuchamixtureofreverenceandterrorintheeyesoftheir
opponentsthattheempressPlacillaherselfwasunwillingtoexposeher
husband,Theodosius,tothesubtleargumentsofEunomius.Boththesewriters
assumedthatthenatureofGodwascapableofexactdefinition,inwordsthat
couldbeunderstoodbyall.TheybelievedthereforeintheavailabilityofGod
andinhisexpressibility.TheyalsoofferedadefinitionofGodwhich,if
accepted,wouldnecessarilyexcludetheSonfromtheDeity.ForthemGod
wasunbegottenoringenerate.Hewastheabsolutebeginningofeverything,
includingtheSon.ByexcludingfromtheideaofGodthenotionoffatherhood,

theAnomoeans(socalledfromtheirinsistencethattheSonwasunlike(=
inGreek)thesupremeGod)wereeasilyabletoexcludetheSonfromequality
withtheFather.Whatpreciselylayattherootoftheirpositionisnotquite
clear.21Claimingtohaveaninsightintothedivinenatureandofbeingableto
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definethatinsightexactlyasabsoluteprimary,underivedbeing,hadtwodistinct
effects.Tobeginwith,itdidappeartobringtheirteachingintolinewithcertain
OldTestamentpassages,notablyExodus3.14.Butitalsoautomatically
excludedtheSonfromequalitywithGod.Suchapositioncouldinnowaybe
reconciledtotheaffirmationofNicaeathattheSonwasveryGodfromvery
God,begottennotmade,andofonesubstancewiththeFather.

TheCappadocianreplytothischallenge,aboveallthatwhichwefindinBasil
andGregoryofNyssa,wasdisarminglysimpleandinmanywayseffective.It
amounted,ineffect,toastrongassertionof

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thedivineincomprehensibilityandthereforeoftheimpossibilityoffindingan
adequatedefinitionofhisinnernature.InmakingsuchaclaimtheCappadocians
werenotexactlybreakingnewground.Plato,sometimesthoughtofasa
prophetofrationalism,hadalsoamysticstraininhiswritings.Inapassagefrom
hisdialogue,Timaeus,22whichlaterbecamehighlypopular,heinsistedthatit
washardtoknowanddifficulttodeclaretoallthenatureofgod.And,inan
equallyfamouspassagefrombookvioftheRepublic,heinsistedthattheidea
oftheGoodwasbeyondmindandbeing.

Thistendencytowardswhatcametobecalledapophaticism,receivedgreat
impulsefromthewritingsofthefirstcenturyADJew,Philo,whoseelaborate,
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allegoricalcommentaryonGenesisinsistedthatGodwasincomprehensible.23
ClementofAlexandria(c.150215AD)continuedthisapophatictradition,
affirmingtheinadequacyofthehumanmindinthefaceofGod.Butuntilthetime
ofwhichwespeak,incomprehensibilityasatechnicaltermhadnotentered
significantlyintotheologicaldebates.Ironically,itseemstohavebeena
favouredtermoftheheretic,Arms.Itoccursattheopeningofhisdogmatic
poem,theThalia.Itwaslaterdroppedbyhisfollowersasbeingopentothe
objectionthattheaffirmationofthedivineincomprehensibilitydidnotitself
excludetheSonfromthedeity.IfGodistotallyunknowable,thenanythingor
nothingmightbepredicatedofhim.

GregoryofNyssa,however,doesnotsimplyappealtoalongtraditioninhis
rejectionoftheargumentsofAetiusandEunomius.Hewastoomuchofa
rationalistforthattypeoftraditionalism.Hedoesofferanargumentforthe
divineincomprehensibility,whichdependsonbeliefinthedivineinfinity.Itis
importanttodistinguishbetweenthesetwonotions.Theformer,weaker,claim
thatGodcannotbeknownrefers,aboveall,totheweaknessofthehuman
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mind,facedwiththedivinemajesty.Thelatter,stronger,claiminsistsratheron
theintrinsicdivinemysteriousnesswhich,becauseitisthesourceofallandcan
belimitedbynone,islimitless.Inmakingthisassertionabouttheinfinityof
perfectbeing,GregoryisdepartingfromthereceivedwisdombothofOrigen
andPlato.Boththesewriters,whileaffirmingthedifficultyofknowingGod,
continuedtoregardabsenceoflimitandformasadefect.ForPlato,indeed,the
absenceofformorshapewassomethingindicativeoffailureandevil,and
matterwhichawaitedtheimpositionofformfromthedivinearchitect.

AlthoughitistruethatPlotinus(205270AD)had,inall

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probability,thoughtoftheOneasinfinite,24heisinthis,asinmanyotherways,
scarcelytypicaloflaterPlatonistsandwasregardedbysomeofthemasa
heretic.Moreover,itoccursinhimfromhisownexperienceofecstasy,inwhich
thedistinctionbetweensubjectandobjectdisappear.GregoryofNyssas
assertionofthedivineinfinity,however,ismorearesultofcontroversyand
perhapsoftradition,althoughinmanyways,onceaccepted,itdidinfactplaya
greatroleinhisownaccountofthespirituallife.Importantthoughthismove
wasonhispartindispellingtheexaggeratedscholasticismoftheAnomoeans,it
wasitselfopentogravedifficultieswhichhisenemieswerenotslowtoexploit,
aboveall,tothechargeofagnosticism,towhichInowturn.Itwasonlynatural
thatcriticsoftheCappadocianresponseshouldseizeuponagnosticismasthe
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dangertowhichthestressonthedivineinfinityandincomprehensibilityexposed
Christianbelievers.

BothBasilinhisLetter234,andGregoryofNyssainContraEunomium
3.1.109,informusthatEunomiusquotedJohn4.22Youworshipwhatyoudo
notknow,againsttheirclaimthatGodcouldnotbeknown.Tothischarge
Basilrepliesbyelaboratingadistinctionwhichwastohaveadistinguished
future.Hearguesthatalthoughtheinnernature,orousia,ofGodisinaccessible
tous,wecanknowagooddealabouthisactivitiesenergeiaiisthename
theCappadociansgavetotheminsofarastheyaffectus.Gregoryoffersa
similardistinctioninhisattempttowrestlewiththeseeminglyintractable
problemposedbyMatthew5.8:Blessedarethepureinheart,fortheyshall
seeGod.ThishedoesinhisHomily6OntheBeatitudes.

AfurthermechanismdevelopedbytheCappadociansfordealingwiththe
EunomianchallengewastoclaimthattheideasofIngeneracyandSonship
didnotapplytothedivinenatureassuch,butonlytothefirstandsecond
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personsoftheTrinityrespectively.Themysterious,incomprehensible,infinite
andeternalnatureofGodwaspossessedequallybyallthreepersons.Inother
words,insomesensetheFather,SonandSpiritsharedorparticipatedinthe
natureofGod.Butdidthismovenotleadtotheunhappyconclusionthatthe
divinenaturewasanabstractcategoryinwhichallthreepersonshadapart,and
thatthereforetherewerethreeGods?Inotherwordsthequestioncomestobe
raised,HowdidtheCappadociansunderstandthehomoousiosofthecreed
ofNicaea?WasGodforthemthenameofapersonandthereforesingular,
orwasgodthenameofaclass,towhichthreemembers

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belonged?Inthefirstcase,therewasadangerofreducingthepersonsofthe
Trinitytopredicatesofoneperson,aheresyconnectedwiththenameofa
secondcenturyLibyanwriter,Sabelliusinthelatter,theoppositedangerof
tritheismrearedupbeforethem.

GregoryofNyssawassharplyawareofthesecondpossibility,perhapsasan
inferencefromsomeofhisownwritings.Afterall,hadhenotarguedinContra

Eunomiumi.227thatthethreepersonsoftheTrinitysharedinthesame
evenasdidPeter,JamesandJohninhumannature?Hewasconstrainedto
composeatreatiseinordertorefutethecharge,entitledToAblabius,OnNot
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ThreeGods.InthisworkGregoryarguesthatthewordGoddoesnotrefer
tothedivinenaturebutonlytoitsactivities.Theseactivitieswereseenas
connectedwithdifferingetymologiesgiventothewordtheosintheancient
world:seeing,fromtheGreekwordforsee,theoreinrunningfromthe
Greekwordforrunning,theeinandorderingfromthewordforsettingin
place,tithenai.Theycouldnotrefertotheinnersanctuaryofthedivine
existence,butservedonlytounderlinehismodeofaction.Gregorysother
replyfailstosupplyacompletelysatisfactoryanswertotheproblemofwhat
statusweshouldgivetothewordGod.But,onbalance,itdoesseemtoimply
thatGregorywasapluralistinhisaccountofthedivinenature,thatis,heseems
tohavegivenagenericsensetothewordandideaunderlyingit.Hisattemptsto
evadetheconsequencesofhisownlogicandoftheexamplesheoffershardly
satisfy,anymorethandoeshisideaofconcreteuniversal,whichheusesto
suggestthemorerealistnatureofthedivine.

THESYSTEMOFGREGORY
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Somerecentattemptshavebeenmadetoimposeamoreuniformstructureon
Gregorystheology.Thisisaperilousproceedingforseveralreasons.Mostof
hiswritingsareoccasional,thatis,writteninresponsetoparticularchallenges
heandtheChurchfeltthemselvescalledontoface.Thismeansinpracticethat
wesometimesfindhimusingquiteinconsistentmodelsinhisdesiretodisposeof
objectionstohisownparticularunderstandingofthegospel.

Amostinstructiveexampleofthisfacetofhisapproachoccursinhiseffortto
disposeoftheobjectionsmadetohisandBasilsdefenceofthedeityofthe
Son.Asweshallseelater,theycanbothbeseentobeassimilatingtheideaof
godtoageneralconcept,towhatAristotleinhisCategoriesviicallssecond
substance.This

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meansthatFather,SonandHolyGhostbelongtotheclassGodinmuchthe
samewayasPeter,PaulandJohnbelongtotheclassMan.Theobvious
drawbacktothismovewasthatitseemedtoleadtotritheism.Itisnot
altogetherclearifBasilappreciatedthisdifficulty.GregoryofNyssacertainly
did.Hedefendedhispositionbycomposingashortanddensetreatisecalled
ToAblabius,OnNotThreeGods.Itisnotwhollysuccessful,partlybecause
Gregoryendeavourstooperatewithanideaofsubstancewhichbelongsneither
toPlatonortoAristotle.Evenso,despiteitsevidentshortcomings,itisabold
attemptandhedidfacethequestionseriously.

Itisalsotruetosaythathewasnotaprofessionalphilosopher,inthesensein
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whichsuchatermmightbeappliedtoeitherPlotinus(205270)ortoProclus
(412/3485).Buteventhey,foralltheirphilosophicaloutlook,regarded
themselvesasprimarilypurveyorsofPlatonism.Evenso,tocallGregorysimply
asophist,thatis,merelyafinewriterwithlittleornointerestinanythingbut
expression,hardlydoeshimfulljustice.Thoughnotatechnicalphilosopher,like
PlotinusorProclus,hewasfarmoreinterestedandconsiderableasa
philosophereitherthanhisbrother,Basil,orthanAthanasius(297(?)373).

Twofurtherconsiderationsneedtobeweighed:(1)Thereismuchinhimthat
owesmuchtowhatiscalledToposforschungandGeistesgeschichte,thatis,
totheparticulargenreinwhichhewroteandtothehistoryofideas.Buthis
writingismorethanacollectionofillassortedplumesborrowedfromforeign
birdsandnotreworkedintoacoherence.Thereisapowerfulmindbehindall
thiswhichrefusestobedissolvedintoapickerupoflearningscrumbs.(2)
Hewasalsoamanwho,judgingbyhiswritings,modifiedhisviewswiththe
progressoftime.Thislastfactalonemakesitdifficulttoextracttheessenceof
histhoughtbyarandomselectionoftextsfromhiswritings.Evenso,the
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challengepresentedbyanefforttosystematizeGregorysideasisonefacedby
anyseriousattempttocometogripswithanyancient(ormodern)author.Ifthe
socalleddiachronicapproachwastheonlyoneavailable,thatis,anapproach
whichisstrictlychronologicalinitshandlingofthedata,thenitwouldbevery
hard,somewouldsayimpossible,totalkabout,forexample,Thephilosophy
ofPlatooraboutThesystemofStAugustine.TheearliersocalledSocratic
dialoguesofPlato,theLachesandtheEuthyphroare,bothinformand
content,strikinglydifferentfromtheLaws.Doesthismeanthatitisimpossible
to

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createasystematicaccountoftheteachingsofPlato?Some,ofcourse,would
sayquitefirmly,Yes.Butnotall.Adiscerniblecontinuityremains.

StAugustinepresentsasimilarchallengeforthewouldbesystematizer,
althoughforAugustinethesituationisbothharderandeasier.Itisharder
becausetheamountofmaterialtobedigestediscolossaleasierbecausewe
cantracehismentaldevelopmentwithmuchgreatersurenessthanwecanthat
ofmostancientthinkers,simplybecauseweknowinwhatorderandwhenhe
wrotehisvariousworksbecausehetellsushimselfinhisRetractationsofc.
427AD.
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ForthepurposesoftheensuingsketchIassumethatitislicittoviewGregorys
writingsandthoughtglobally,withoutdenyingthatwiththeprogressoftimethe
expressionofhisviews,ifnothisactualviews,wasmodified,partlyunderthe
pressureofoutsidechallenges,partlythroughthedifferentaudienceshehadin
mind.Itisalsoworthremarkingthatmostofhiswriting,withtheexceptionof
OnVirginity,belongstothelastfifteenyearsofhislife.Greatwritersleavetheir
footprintsintheirworkswhicharerecognizablewhatevertheparticular
challengestheyarefacing.

GregorysideaofGod,withwhichwebegin,representsinanoriginalwaythe
conflationofthreequitedistinctelements:thebiblical,thephilosophicandthe
doctrinal.HeshareswiththeBiblecertainprimaryideas,someofwhich,
althoughnotall,findaparallelinthephilosophicaltraditioninwhichhealso
stands.Godforhimisutterlyreal,reallyreal,anideawhichfindsitsmost
definiteexpressionintherevelationmadetoMosesattheburningbush,Iam
whoIam[Exodus3.14].Godisalsomorallyperfect.Onealoneisgood,
yourfatherinheaven[Mark10,18].
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However,thelocationoftheAbsoluteintherealmsbeyondbeinginRepublic
509andofthesupremepositionofthatwhichisinTimaeus28,arenottoo
farfromthebiblicalexpressions.Althoughitremainstruethat,forPlato,the
Goodisusuallyexpressedintheneuterandthereforeasapersonal,later
Platonists,suchasAlcinous,spokeofgodassupremeandperfect.Again,
Platoswholeconcerntoelevatethegoodasthesupremevalue,andhis
insistencebothintheRepublicandtheLawsonthemoralsuperiorityofthe
god/theabsolute,bringshimintolinewiththebiblicalrevelation.Inotherwords,
aswasstatedabove,GregorysharesthePlatonicconvictionoftheunityof
beingandvalue.

Thisfusionofideas,takenfromtwoopensystems,isfurther

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highlightedbytheeaseandtheapparentindiscriminatenesswithwhichGregory
movesfrompersonaltoimpersonallanguage,inhisreferencestoGodandthe
divinenature.So,oneofhisfavouriteexpressionsforGodisGodwhois
aboveall,probablyanechoofRomans9,5.25Anequallyfavouriteexpression

istheneuter ,thedivine,perhapsinallusiontoActs17,29but,more
probably,totheGreekphilosophicaltraditionbeginningwithThalesinthesixth
centuryBC.26AfurtherillustrationoftheapparentinsoucianceofGregoryto
thissortofdistinctioncanbeseeninhisindifferencetotheuseofthemasculine
ortheneuterinhisreferencetoGodasHewhois(morebiblical)andThat
whichis(morePlatonist).
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TothisfairlytraditionalcompromiseGregoryaddsthreefurtherelementswhich
elevatehistheologywellbeyondtheOrigenismitotherwiseembodies:(1)For
Gregory,Godiscreatorofall.Thisservestodistinguishhimfromthe
perceptionsofPlatonismandtheBiblealike.Theformerknewonlyof
informationoremanationthelatterofaformofinformation,withapossible
doctrineofcreationfromnothing(2)ThedefenceofNiceneorthodoxyandthe
consequentcontroversywithEunomiusforcedtheChurchtorethinkitsinherited
understandingofthedivinenatureintwodistinct,thoughconnected,ways.In
ordertooffsettheextravagantclaimsofEunomiustograspthedivinenaturein
itsentiretybymeansofadefinition,Gregory(andhisbrotherBasilbeforehim)
arguedthat,asthedivinenaturewasinfinite,itcouldneverbeadequately
controlledbythehumanmind.27HisargumentwasthatGodbeingthecreator,
hemustbetheinexhaustiblesourceofallbeingandmust,therefore,beinfinitein
thestrictsense(3)Afurtherreasonformakingthisimportantandrelatively
novelandunconventionalclaimlayinGregorysargumentthatthedivine
goodness,unlikeallcreatedformsofgoodness,hadnothingtolimititandmust,
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asaconsequence,beinfinite.Forhim,therefore,boththefactofGodsbeing
thesourceofrealityandtheobjectofallourmoralstriving,ledtotheimportant
conclusionthatGodwasinfinite(cf.ContraEunomium,1.168274).

Whatevermaybethejudgmentmadeuponthevalidityofthesearguments,it
stillremainstruethathisinsistencenotonlyhelpedtomouldthewholeofhis
ownspiritualtheologyaroundthecatchwordepektasis,anounderivedinpart
fromPhilippians3.13,butit,moreimportantly,marksabreakwithtraditional
classicalmetaphysics.Thispointhasbeenusefullymadeinamonographby
Professor

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E.Muehlenberg.28Thismeans,ineffect,thatalthoughPlotinusandGregoryare
unitedinraisingthedivine/absoluteabovelimit,GregorysGodremains
neverthelessmorepersonalthantheOneeveris.29

ThisisaveryclearexampleofthewayinwhichGregoryuses,butatthesame
distanceshimselffrom,themetaphysicalstructuresofhisownday.ForPlotinus,
aboveallinEnneads2.9.and6.7,thesupremeprincipleoftheOneis
resolutelyexaltedabovethesecondhypostasisofMind/Spirit/Being.Itisthe
sourceofexistenceandconsciousnessyet,atthesametime,isquitedistinct
fromandexaltedaboveboth.ForGregory,ontheotherhand,Godisboth
infiniteandutterlytranscendentwhile,atthesametime,remainingfirmlyinthe
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classofbeingandofmind.GregorysGod,therefore,isalwaysaconscious
beingaswellasbeingthesourceofconsciousnessandbeingtoothers.This
crossingofthebarriersbetweenthetwohypostasesofPlotinusneednotbe
intentionalonthepartofGregory.However,perhapsbecauseofhisdoctrineof
creation,itseemstohavebeenimportanttohimtoinsistthatdespitethe
immensegulfbetweentheinfinite,incomprehensiblecreatorandthefiniteworld
thatcomesfromhim,itispossibleevensotobridgethegapthatseparatesthe
twobymeansofthedoctrineofimage.Philosophicalpuristsseethisfeatureof
Gregoryswholeapproachasagoodexampleofhisignoranceor,worse,ofhis
indifferencetotheclaimsofphilosophicalcoherence.30Itisperhapsfairerto
seeinGregoryanattempttoexpresstheimportanttruth,muchinsistedonlater,
thatGodisindeedlikeusor,better,wearelikeGod,beingmadeafterhis
imageandlikeness.Yet,evenso,thereexistsbetweenGodandtheworlda
vastchasmwhichnorealitycantraversebyitself,excepttheSonofGodfor
oursalvation.ThewholedebatesurroundingthecouncilofNicaea(325)had
beenfoughtonpreciselythisissueWerethereanyintermediatesbetween
Godandtheworld?.Tothisquestionhadcometheclearanswer,None
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whatever.Yet,despitetheabsenceofintermediaries,itwasclearthatwecan
havesomeknowledgeofGodandarecalledtohisimitation.

IfthecouncilofNicaeahadbeenresponsibleforGregorysargumenttothe
divineinfinity,itwasalsoresponsible,aswehaveseen,forhisattemptto
provideawayofunderstandingthedivinenaturewhichwillallowhimtosay
thatalthoughtherearethreehypostasesorpersonsinGodthereisstillonlyone
God.ThisattemptbyGregorytoshowhowthreeintoonecangoisasecond

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exampleofthewayinwhichChristiandoctrineencouragedhimtorethinkhis
understandingofdivineunity.

InthetreatiseToAblabius,OnNotThreeGods,hearguesthatnumberdoes
notapplywithinthedivinerealm.31Sohecanwrite:

Onlythosethingsareenumeratedbyaddition,whichareseentobeindividually
circumscribed.Thiscircumscriptionisnotedbybodilyappearance,bysize,by
placeandbydistinctionofformandcolour.Whatisobservedtotranscend
thesethings,isbeyondcircumscriptionbymeansofthesecategories.Whatis
notcircumscribedcannotbenumberedandwhatisnotnumberedcannotbe
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observedinquantities.

(GNO3.1.53.614)

Further,allthreepersonsshareinaconcrete,notsimplyalogical,universaland
becauseallthreepersonsactasonetheyarethereforetobethoughtofasone.
ClearlyGregoryiswrestlingwithanintractableproblem.Butattheheartofitis
theimportantconvictionthatinChristianitytheabsoluteisnotsimplyan
undifferentiatedmonad,butissomehowthree.ThedoctrineoftheTrinityin
otherwordsupsetsthephilosophicalpositionheldfromthetimeofParmenides
inthesixthcenturyBCthatsinglenessandsimplicityisinallcircumstancesprior
to,andpreferableto,multiplicity.TheChristianGodisunique,butheisnot
absolutelysimple.

THESPIRITUALTEACHINGOFGREGORY,BETWEEN
CIRCULARITYANDFREEDOM
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Thegreatestspiritualgeniusesofthewesternworld,priortothearrivalofthe
gospel,hadinvestedmuchintheideathatthelifeoftheindividualhumanbeing
wouldintheend,afteritspurifyingpilgrimagehereonearth,onceagainreturn
toitsheavenlyhomeland.ForwriterssuchasPlatoinhisdialoguethe
Phaedrus,andforPlotinusinEnnead6.9,thebeginningoftheprocesswasthe
sameastheend.Evenifthiscircularvisionappearedtocanceloutanythought
ofprogressinanyabsolutesense,neitherwriterwasdoingviolencetothe
ancientdisbeliefinthepossibilityordesirabilityofprogress.Inapassagein
Ennead6.9.9.21Plotinus,echoingPlato,writesasfollows:Thisstate[sc.of
happiness]isthefirstandthefinal,becausefromGoditcomes,itsgoodlies
There,andonceturnedtoGodagainitiswhatitwas.Itisnotabsolutelyclear
whatistheplaceoffreedominallthis.Itisnotclearifthedesignsofan

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overreachingprovidencearesuchastobecancelledoutbytheobstinacyof
humanresistanceorwhether,intheend,ourreturnisassuredwhateverthe
actionofthehumanmind.TojudgefromPlotinustreatmentofprovidencein
Ennead3.2,itwouldappearthatallshallbewellofnecessity.

HowdoChristianwritersreactwiththeirstressontheseriousnessofthe
moralityandonthecentralityoffreedom?InOrigenscasetheneedtoinsiston
freedomwaspartiallyoccasionedbythechallengeofferedbythedeterminism
oftheGnostics.Wefindthistension,aboveallbetweenfreedomandnecessity,
inOrigen.Ononehand,itwouldbehardtofindawriterinwhomtheclaimsof
freedomareassertedmoreeloquentlyandfrequentlythanhim.Somemodern
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writersseeinhimthephilosopher/theologianoffreedomparexcellence .Itis
doubtlesstruethatmuchofhislibertarianismisoccasionedbyhisdetermined
resistancetothepredestinationismoftheGnostics.However,itisimpossibleto
dismisshisstatementselsewhereasmerelycontroversial.Sohewritesinhis
treatiseOnPrayer[29.15]:ForGoddoesnotwishthatgoodshouldbelongto
anyonebynecessitybutwillingly(myitalics).AgainOrigeninsiststhat
freedomistheconditionofthepossibilityofallvirtue.Takeawayfreedom,he
writesinAgainstCelsus4.3,andyoutakeawayvirtue.32Ontheotherhand,
Origenalsoexposeshisunderstandingofthenatureofhumandestinywithinthe
contextofanovertlycyclicalapprehensionofhumandestiny.ForOrigen,
followingStPaulsbeliefexpressedatICor.15,2428,Godwillintheendbe
allinallthefinalstateofthehumanracewillsimplyreplicateitsinitialcondition.
ThiscircularvisionisneatlyencapsulatedinhisdogmatictreatiseOnFirst
Principles1.6.2,wherehewrites,Semperenimsimilisestfinisinitiis,The
endisalwayslikethebeginnings.Thereisclearlyanunresolvedtensionhere.
Thelineargospelofprogressandfreedomishardtobringintoharmonywitha
cyclicaldoctrineofreturn.
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MuchofOrigenspatterningandpuzzlementistakenoverbyGregory.Indeed,
forGregoryfreedomis,ifanything,morestronglyemphasisedthaninhis
master.ForGregorytheimageofGodinmanresidesprincipallyinhisfree
willratherthaninhisintellectualabilities.InhisAddressonReligious
Education(sometimescalledtheCatecheticalOration)hewritesasfollows
(chapter5)about:

themostexcellentandpreciousofblessingsImeanthegiftoflibertyandfree
will.Forwerehumanlifegovernedby

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necessity,theimagewouldbefalsifiedinthatrespect.What,therefore,in
everyrespectismadesimilartothedivinemustcertainlypossessfreewilland
libertybynature.

ButasinOrigen,soherealso,thisstronglibertarianismismodifiedbyacyclical
approachtospiritualdestiny.Againwecansensethemarkedinfluencebothof
classicismandofICorinthians15,2428.Nowhereisthenotionofa
necessaryreturntobeginningsforallmoreconstantlyinsistedonthaninhis
writings.GermanusofConstantinople(c.640c.733)andothersadoptedthe
desperateremedyofendeavouringtoremovefromhistextevidenceofhis
universalism.Butwithoutsuccess.Indeed,inatleastonepassageinthe
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Addresshegoesasfarastospeakoftheultimatesalvationevenofthedevil:
Hefreedmanfromevilandhealedtheveryauthorofevilhimself(chapter26).

Tothisincongruousmixtureoflibertarianismandapokatastasisor
universalismGregoryaddsathirdelement,epectasis.Thiswordderives,in
Gregorysvision,fromthewordsofStPaulinPhilippians3.13,wherePaul
writesofhimselfasstretchingoutahead.Forhim,asforthePlatonictradition,
theaimoflifeistheimitationofGod(cf.Plato,Theaetetus176).AsforPlato
alsothisidealismwasprimarilyconceivedonmorallines.ButwhereasforPlato
theproposedidealwasconceivedinfinite,attainableterms,forGregory,God
beinginfinite,therecouldbenopointofrestorattainment.Thisrather
exhaustingapproachtotheproblemofChristianperfectionisoutlinedinthe
prologueofGregorysOntheLifeofMoses:

Since,then,thosewhoknowwhatisgoodbynaturedesireparticipationinit,
andsincethisgoodhasnolimit,theparticipantsdesireitselfnecessarilyhasno
stoppingplacebutstretchesoutwiththelimitless.
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(section7)

ForGregorytherearenoabsoluteendsinthespirituallife,eitherhereor
hereafter,onlynewbeginnings.

GregorysmodificationofhisinheritedOrigenismcanbeseenattwosignificant
andinterconnectedjunctures:(1)Althoughheclearlyacceptsthetraditionaland
classicalbeliefinthecircularityofhumanprogressbacktobeginnings,Gregory
rejectstheOrigenisticbeliefinthepreexistenceofthehumansoul.Onseveral
occasionsinhisdogmatictreatisesheexplicitlydistinguisheshisviewfrom

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thatofan(unnamed)writerwhohadbelievedinthedoctrineofthefallofsouls.
Itisofcoursepossiblethatsomeotherwriterismeant.ButgrantedGregorys
habitualreverenceforOrigenandthefactthatthelatteriscommonlyaccredited
withsuchviews,itissurelylikelythathehasOrigeninmind33(2)Inhis
accountofhumanadvanceinthelifeofthespiritOrigenseemsonthewholeto
believethatthereisaneverpresentpossibilityofrelapseintosin.ForGregory,
however,asDanielouhasargued,itispossibletoarriveataconditionofspirit
whereupwardmobilityistheonlyoptionopentothecreatedspirit,angelicor
human.Thesecontrastingperspectivesarewellillustratedbytwopassagesfrom
theauthorsinquestion.InOrigens27thHomilyonNumbers(section12in
CWS,p.263)Origenarguesfortherealnecessityoftemptationswhich,he
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says,arebroughttoitasakindofprotectionanddefence.Andagain,For
temptationsaresomingledwithvirtuesthatnovirtueseemstobeseemlyor
possiblewithoutthem(p.265).

GregorysOntheLifeofMosespresentsadifferentpicture.Fromsection219
onwards,mainlyinthediscussionofeternalprogress,thethoughtofarelapse
intosinseemstobeentirelymissing.BrooksOtis(1958)drawsattentiontothe
differencebetweenthetwospiritualitieswhenhewritesthatOrigensthoughtis
governedbytheeverpresentpossibilityoftemptationandsin,while
Gregorysisconcernedalmostexclusivelywiththesinlesslifeofthesavedand
theblessed.

How,ifatall,isitpossibletoaccountforthisdifferenceofemphasis,whereall
elseunderlinessimilarities?ThemostplausibleexplanationisthatforOrigen,sin
hasitsrootsintheideaofanoninfiniteGod.Thismeansthatwecancometo
anendinourknowledgeofGod,toapointwherethereisnogoingbeyond.
Oncearrivedthere,hereorhereafter,wearevulnerabletobothboredomand
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satiety34simplybecausethereisnowherefurthertoadvance.ForOrigen,
therefore,sinisatrootanintellectualfailure,orratherthewearinesswhich
arisesinthemindfromabsenceofnewworldstoconquer,andthecreated
spirit,whetherangelicorhuman,seekssatisfactionelsewhere,outsideGod.

ControversywiththeAnomoeans,whobelievedinthepossibilityofa
comprehensivedefinitionofthedivinenature,however,togetherwithhisown
experience,ledGregoryofNyssa,aswehaveseen,totheconclusionthatGod
isinfiniteandbecauseinfinite,beyondthereachofthehumanmindandonlyto
beapproachedthroughthemediumoffaith.35Sin,therefore,forGregorywas
lessamatterof

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intellectualfailureasithadbeenforthePlatonictradition.Thecauseofsininus
isneverstatedtobeboredom.RatherGregoryarguesinhisattempttodeal
withtheintractableproblemoftheoriginofsin,inchapter6ofhisCatechetical
Oration,thatsinderives(a)fromthedevilsjealousyofmankindand(b)from
thedevilsdeceitfullyminglingevilwithmansfreewillandthusinsomemeasure
quenchingandobscuringGodsblessing.

ItisthroughourfreedomthatwearebroughtclosesttoGodandthroughour
freedomthatwebetrayhim.Thisperhapshelpstoaccountfortheextraordinary
emphasislaidonvirtuebyGregoryinhisaccountofspiritualprogress.Likeness
toGodispresentedtothereaderattheopeningoftheOntheLifeofMosesas
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theaimoftheChristianlife,andthisisseenaslargelyamatteroftheinformed
will,everstrivingtorealisewithinitselfthatgreaterassimilationtoGodwho,
beingbynatureinfinite,alwayspermitsoffurtherefforts.Thedifficultyinthis
accountistodiscernatwhatpointinitspilgrimagethecreatedwill,whilealways
remainingmutable,iscapableonlyofupwardmobility.Itisapparentfromthe
endofthisworkthatMosesdoesarriveatastage,beyondwhichthereisno
possibilityofsin.Ontheotherhand,ifthatisthecase,howarewetoaccount
forthefallofSatan,whofellthroughenvy,yetwascreatedasperfectasa
spiritualcreaturecanbe?Whyshouldthecreatedspiritnotfallintoasimilar
fault,envyingthoseinhighermansionsthantheoneheinhabits?

Whatemerges,though,aboveallfromthiscomparison,isthatneitherOrigen
norGregorysharedaviewoffreedomofthetypeenvisagedbyStAugustine
towardstheendofhislife,perhapsasaresultofhiscontroversywithPelagius.
Hecametothesombreconclusion,thatashumannatureisconstitutedafterthe
fall,wehardlypossessfreedomatall,onlytheshadowofit.Augustine
supposesthatweneverlosethepowerofchoice(=liberumarbitrium)butonly
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thepowertochoosewell(=libertas).Butwhatwewantcanneverbegood
until,thatis,gracereleasesinusthepowertodogood.Thenweacquirethe
abilitynottosin.Onlyinheavenshallwebeperfectlyfree,thatis,incapableof
sinning,andthatbygrace.36

InasenseGregoryoccupiesamediantpositionbetweenOrigenandAugustine.
ForOrigen,eveninthelifeafterdeath,thereisalwaysapossibilityofchange
andofsinforGregory,mutabilityisthepermanentconditionofthecreated
spiritforGregoryafteraperiod,upwardmobilitybecomestheonlypossibility.
For

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Augustine,thewillbecomescapableundergraceofneversinningatall,butonly
afterdeath.Changeinthislifeoftimeremainsaneverpresentpossibility.

Afinalissueoughttobeaddressed.WhatpartinGregorysschemeisplayed
bythepersonofChrist?SomethingofGregorystreatmentoftherelationof
divineandhumaninChristisdiscussedinchapter2,butasidefromhis
treatmentoftheinterrelationshipofGodandmanitmustbeadmittedthatwe
missinGregorythewarmChristocentricpietythatwefindinStPaulandinlater
medievalspirituality.

ThenearestapproachwefindtosuchanattitudeoccursinGregorystreatise
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OnPerfection.There,anaccurateknowledgeofthetitlesofChristbecomes
lessasourceofdeeperknowledge,thanagatewaytogreaterassimilationto
him.GregorytakesusthroughlargelyPaulineexpressions,unapproachable
light[1Tim.6,16],highpriest[Heb.4,14],Passover[1Cor.5,7]andthe
rest,andgoesontoshowhowtheycanbeappropriatedbytheserious
Christian.ThisissurelyanearlyformoftheimitationofChrist,thoughalmost
entirelyindependentoftheSynopticgospels.Gregorywritesthatthepurposeof
thisknowledgeistoenableustorefashionourlivesinvirtueafterthepatternof

thesupremelyvirtuousChrist.Thenotionof ,thatis,patternwhichalso
figureslargelyinclassicalauthors,asWernerJaegerhaspointedout,is
everywhereprominent.AseverinGregorytheaccentonvirtue,andon
knowledgeasthekeytovirtue,iseverywheredominant,ratherthanasavalue
tobepursuedforitself,asitseemstobeinPlotinus.

OfthedivinesideofChristthereislittletalkandgraceisnotmuchmentioned,
exceptasausefulaidtothepracticeofvirtue.Neitherdowehearmuchabout
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therolethesacramentsplayintheprocessofgrowthintheaccountofChristian
lifeinhisasceticalworks.Virtueandthesacramentsarerarelybroughtintoany
closerelationshipwitheachother.What,however,isstrangestisthatwhileon
onehandthethreemajortheophaniesintheOntheLifeofMosesoccurinan
incarnationalcontextthefirstattheburningbushisthemostobvious(Life
ii.19ff.)theyseemunaccompaniedbyanystrongorparticulardevotiontothe
divinepersonofChrist.NotunlikeStAugustineinthisrespect,Gregoryrarely,
ifever,addresseshimselftoChrist,althoughunlikeAugustineheissparinginhis
addresstoGodaswell,butthismayresultfromthemoreimpersonaltoneofhis
writing.AugustinesaddresstoGodisa

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featureprimarilyoftheConfessionsbutitalsooccursattheendhisgreatwork,
OntheTrinity.

Gregorysreticenceonthissubjectmayspringfromseveralcauses.Partlyitis
duetoanaturalreserve,notableinmostoftheGreekfathers,toexpresshis
ownpersonalexperiencesonreligiousmatters.Butitisalsoworthremarking
thatforthevastmajorityofthecultivatedwritersoftheChristianEast,thestress
inspiritualitylayratheronthesearchforGodthanonChrist.Thesacred
humanity,eveninauthorswhodefendedthedivinityoftheSaviour,wastreated
moreasagatewaytoGodthanasanendinhimself.Thisapproachto
spiritualitystandsinmarkedcontrasttothepersonaldevotiontoJesus,evident
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bothintheEastintheJesusPrayerandintheWestintheChristocentrismof
suchdiversewritersasStBernard,JulianofNorwich,StFrancisofAssissiand
StIgnatiusLoyola.
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2
DOCTRINALISSUES
1.AGAINSTEUNOMIUS1.156182

Introduction

Althoughnowadays,largelythroughtheprolificwritingsofJ.Danilou1and
H.vonBalthasar,2wethinkofGregoryprimarilyasaspiritualtheologian,itis
helpfulandimportanttorememberthatthishasnotalwaysbeenthecase.Much
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ofhispopularityisduetothefargreateraccessibilityofhiswritings,whichuntil
1920werelargelyavailableonlyinthePatrologiaGraeca4445.Itwasin
thatyearthataseriesofeditionsofhiswritingsbegantoappearunderthe
editorshipofWernerJaeger,whoclearlyregardedGregoryasacontinuatorof
theclassicaltradition,tothestudyofwhichhehaddevotedhiswholescholarly
endeavours.TheactualextentofGregorysindebtednesstothattraditionhas
beenthesubjectofmuchcontroversy,ashasalreadybeensuggested,andit
wouldbefairtosaythatJaegertendedtooverstressit.Butwhateverreserve
onemayfeelabouttheextentofclassicalinfluenceinGregory,thevalueofthe
greateditionpilotedbyJaeger(andalas,stillincomplete)isnotopento
question.Jaegersopeningcontributiontotheserieswashisowneditionofthe
AgainstEunomius,towhichwenowturn.

EunomiuswasafellowcountrymanofGregory.Itishardforustoformajust
estimateofhim.3Inmostofoursurvivingsources,whichcomelargelyfromthe
pensofthosewhowon,heisuniformlyvilified.Aboveall,thisistrueinthe
extensivepreambletohisworkthatoccupiesthefirst150sectionsofJaegers
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edition.ItisindeedmildlysurprisingtofindamanofGregoryscalibredevoting
somuchtimetoassassinatingEunomiuscharacter.Onecanonlysurmisethat
theanimusheengenderedinGregoryandBasil4arose

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