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Of Thorns and Roses

Of Thorns and Roses

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Published by akimel
by Frederick Norris
by Frederick Norris

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Published by: akimel on Jan 24, 2013
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Of Thorns and Roses:The Logic of Belief in Gregory Nazianzen
FREDERICK
W.
NORRIS
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.
1
Rosemary Ruether's
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
blasphemous.
2
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."
3
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.
2.
Rosemary Ruether,
Gregory of Nazianzus: Rhetor and Philosopher 
(Oxford, 1969), pp. 174and 167.
3.
ad Seleucum
1.61. Greek text with Latin translation in Jacques Paul Migne,
Patrologiaecursus completus series graeca
(Paris, 1862), vol. 37, col. 1581 (Hereafter cited as
PG)
and
de vita sua
1.472;
PG
37, 1062.
 Mr. Norris is professor of Christian doctrine in the Emmanuel School of 
 Religion,
Johnson City, Tennessee.
455
 
456CHURCH HISTORYWhen he warned of the thorns, he could appear to find nearly allphilosophies dangerous. He insisted that certain Greek thinkers were like theplagues of Egypt. He dismissed the general speculation about principles of anarchy or polyarchy in relation to God as "the sport of the children of Hellas" and on one occasion refused to enrich Christian arguments with whathe called the "oil of sinners." In most cases, however, his criticism is quitespecific. Plato often receives harsh treatment, but only at particular points.Gregory was wary of his bewitching eloquence and condemned his theory of ideas, his teaching about the transmigration of souls, his doctrine of remembrance, and his description of the soul's erotic love for physical bodies.Nazianzen warned that Socrates's concern for beauty was tainted by hisinterest in boys and castigated Plato for his gluttony.
4
Aristotle also was rebuked. What he brought forth as art was bad art.Following him one was liable to become lost in a logical labyrinth. Christiansmust remember "to philosophize in the manner of fishermen, not in themanner of Aristotle." That teacher's view of happiness which requiredexternal well-being could not be correct. His petty doctrine of providence, hisartificial system, his discourses on the mortality of the soul, and hishumanism should be attacked.
5
Other philosophers did not fare much better Epicurus's atheism, hisunphilosophic view of pleasure, and his teachings about atoms made himobjectionable. Plotinus's doctrine of overflowing good in his discourses on theFirst and Second Causes was unworthy as a metaphor for the Trinity. TheStoics could be haughty and the Cynics both greedy and vulgar. TheHermetic literature indicated that its author had not grasped the incomprehensibility of God. In fact the writer craftily said that it was difficult tocomprehend God and impossible to express his nature in words. Such aposition was taken skillfully. The philosopher appeared to have graspedGod's nature and could not be faulted when he failed to define it ForGregory, however, the truth lay not in the difficulty of stating the nature of God, but in the absolute inability to comprehend it fully. Nazianzen wasquite critical of the philosophical pretensions which he saw in the emperorJulian and his teachers. In terms of logic, he indicated that he foundPyrrhon's objections, pretexts, and antitheses to be sophistic sayings andChrysippus's use of syllogisms to be unintelligible.
6
4
Oration
(hereafter,
Or 
) 32 26,
PG
36, 201
Or 
29 2,
PG
36, 76
Or 
31 6,
PG
36, 140
Or 
27 10,
PG
36,
24-28
Or 
32 15,
PG
36,
189-192
Or 
4 72,
PG
35, 6615
Or 
32 25, PG 36, 201
de
virtute
48-49,
PG
37, 684
Or 
23 12, PG
35,1164
Ep 32, PG 37,69
Or 
27 10, PG 36,
24-28
6 Or 4 72,
PG
35, 661,
Or 
27 10,
PG
36,
24-28
Or 
28 8,
PG
36,
33-36
Or 
29 2,
PG
36, 76
Or 
4 72,
PG
35, 661
Or 
27 10,
PG
36,
24-28
Or 
28 4,
PG
36,
29-32 Although mostcommentators attribute
the
citation
in
Or 
28 4 to
Plato's
Timaeus,
28c,
Jean Pépin,"Grégoire
de
Nazianzen, Lecteur
de la
Littérature
hermétique,"
Vigiliae Christianae
36
(1982)
251-260,
demonstrated that
the
citation occurs almost word
for
word
in the
Hermetic writings
See
André
Festugière,
Corpus
Hermeticum,
vol 3 (Pans, 1954), fr 1 1,
ρ 2,1-2
Or 
4 43-44,
PG 
35, 568 and 570
Or 
32 25, PG 36, 201
 
OF THORNS AND ROSES
457
Yet philosophy was not entirely thorns. When Plato spoke of the sun asholding the same position among material objects as God does among objectsof thought, he said something quite important even though he was a heathenauthor. Indeed Plato was probably one of the philosophers Gregory had inmind when he praised the more advanced Greek thinkers who believed in onefundamental principle and attacked both polytheism and demons. Plato orcontemporary Platonists who spoke of Spirit as the mind of the world wereamong the philosophers whom the Theologian viewed as closest to theChristian position.
7
It may have been a phrase from Aristotle about Spirit as the external mindwhich received the same praise. For Gregory both Aristotle and Menanderwere correct to see the vices as next-door neighbors to virtues. The Cynicsshould be honored for their rejection of material goods, while Chrysippus, thePeripatetics, and the Stoics—as well as Plato—were right when they arguedfor justice and taught that it is a duty to accept wrong rather than inflict it.Some heathen philosopher, unnamed by Nazianzen and unknown to me, wascommended because he asked: "What gave movement to these [things innature] and drives their ceaseless and unhindered motion?"
8
The rose garden is much larger than what has been described here.Gottwald, in his inaugural dissertation at Vratislava in 1906, goes beyond thetitle
De Gregorio Nazianzeno Platonico
by systematizing a number of doctrines in which Gregory used philosophical language and concepts fromvarious schools of thought in the ancient period. The net he casts is too fine,but his work does indicate how deeply Gregory was involved in his times.
9
The suggestion of dependence is strong, although in fairness to Ruether, suchlists do not in themselves demand that Gregory "acknowledged" thatdependence.We do have, however, expansions of Gregory's maxim about philosophywhich are clearer on the positive side. In his praise of Basil, Nazianzen says:I take it all intelligent men agree that among human advantages educationholds first place. I refer not only to our nobler form of it which disdains all theambitious ornaments of rhetoric and attaches itself only to salvation and thebeauty of spiritual contemplation, but also to that external culture which many
*
Christians by an error of judgment scorn as treacherous and dangerous and asturning us away from God. The heavens, the earth, the air, and all such things arenot to be condemned because some have wrongly interpreted them and veneratethe creatures of God in place of God. On the contrary, we select from them what isuseful both for life and enjoyment and we avoid what is dangerous, not opposing
7.
Or.
28.30;
PG
36, 69-72.
Or.
31.15-16;
PG
36, 149-152.
Or.
31.5; PG 36, 137.8. Ibid.
Or.
43.64;
PG
36,
580-581.
Or.
43.60;
PG
36, 573-575.
Or.
4.43;
PG
35, 568 and 570.
Or.
28.16;
PG
36, 45-48.9. Ricardus Gottwald,
De Gregorio Nazianzeno Platonica
(Vratislaviae, 1906). HeinrichDörrie, "Gregors [Gregor von Nyssa] Theologie auf dem Hintergrunde der neuplatonischenMetaphysik,"
Gregor von Nyssa und die Philosophie
(Leiden, 1976), p. 21, correctlycriticizes Gottwald's work as improper. Gottwald did depend too heavily on single words.But parts of his investigation can be appropriated by more critical studies.

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