Of Thorns and Roses:The Logic of Belief in Gregory Nazianzen
In the twentieth century some significant secondary literature concerningGregory Nazianzen has emphasized either his attacks on philosophy or theabsence in his works of a rationale for the relationship between philosophyand theology. At times these apparent weaknesses are explained as integral tohis rhetorical education and interests, almost as if all rhetoricians are theopposite of philosophers.
Gregory of Nazianzus: Rhe-tor and Philosopher,
the most influential monograph to deal specifically withthese questions in the last few years, does depict Nazianzen's rationale forrelating philosophy and theology. Yet she concludes that "we would be wrongif we were to suppose that Gregory either acknowledges or is aware of anydependence of Christianity on those [philosophical] traditions," even thoughhe loved and studied them. For her the Cappadocian stands in the line of Christian apologists who saw both Greek philosophy and religion as
Two approaches can be followed in testing Ruether's conclusion: first, adescription of general comments which Nazianzen made about philosophy,and then a closer study of how he used it in argument. Although Gregory wascritical of philosophy, he did suggest ways in which it could be employed. Thebasic principle is stated apothegmatically in at least two places within hiswork, "Avoid the thorns; pluck the roses."
That is hardly a clear guide, but itdoes suggest the manner in which his sharp attacks on philosophy are to beunderstood.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in Washington, D.C. on 28 December 1982. I wish to thank the Andrew W.Mellon Foundation and The Catholic University of America for a Post-Doctoral ResearchFellowship in 1981-1982 which offered the time and support for unhindered study of Nazianzen.1. Marcel Guignet,
S. Grégoire de Nazianze et la rhétorique
(Paris, 1911), Eugene Fleury,
S.Grégoire de Nazianze et son temps
(Paris, 1930), and Jean Plagnieux,
S. Grégoire de Nazianze Théologien: Etudes de science religieuse
(Paris, 1952) tend to describe Nazianzenas a technical rhetorician rather than a sophisticated philosopher.
Gregory of Nazianzus: Rhetor and Philosopher
(Oxford, 1969), pp. 174and 167.
1.61. Greek text with Latin translation in Jacques Paul Migne,
Patrologiaecursus completus series graeca
(Paris, 1862), vol. 37, col. 1581 (Hereafter cited as
de vita sua
Mr. Norris is professor of Christian doctrine in the Emmanuel School of
Johnson City, Tennessee.