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Letter 35

Letter 35

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Published by akimel
St Gregory of Nyssa
St Gregory of Nyssa

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Published by: akimel on Mar 16, 2014
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04/01/2014

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
 

247natural
energeia 
,of which only that which does not exist was deprived.
4.
For that which shares in any substance will also share naturallyand completely in the power that manifests it. For the true Wordpresides over the natural limits of substances…L

 
35
ETERHISOWNBROTHERONTHEDIVINEOUSIA ANDHYPOSTASIS 
118
This letter is found in some 36 mss. of St Basil’s works, where it bears thetitle:
(Basil) To his brother Gregory on the di 
  ff  
erence between ousia and hypostasis.
Itis letter 38 in the Benedictine numeration of Basil’s letters. It is also foundin some 10 mss of St Gregory of Nyssa’s works, divided into two text fam-ilies: Group A, comprising the mss: Vat. 446, Old Royal XVI, D I, Par.503; and Group B, comprising the mss: Mon. 370, Mon 107, Par. 585,586, Matr. 4864, Urb. 9. The title in the group A mss. is:
(Gregory) To his own brother Peter, on the divine ousia and hypostasis 
,and in Group B:
(Gregory)To his own brother Peter, on the di 
  ff  
erence between ousia and hypostasis.
Anders Cavallin demonstrated in his 1944 thesis
119
that Gregory was notthe recipient of this letter but its author. S. Rudberg, H. Dörries, and  J. Quasten all accepted Cavallin’s arguments, which were based on a studynot of the theological contents of the letter, in which Basil and Gregoryare in complete accord, but of particular ways of wording and expressionwhich indicate Gregory’s authorship. Paul J. Fedwick reviewed, corrobo-rated and extended Cavallin’s
ndings; these notes are mostly taken fromhis article.
120
Although no critical edition of this letter has appeared in GNO to date,Fedwick, in the above article, 41–46, collated Courtonne’s edition of theBasilian text with Vat. 446 (= ‘E’ in the introduction to
letter 33
 ) proto-type of Group A, and Mon. 370 (= ‘O’, idem) as the archetype of GroupB. Group A was shown to have more a
nity with the Basilian transmis-sion. The readings of these two groups are shorter and more di
cult, andso carry a greater warrant of authenticity. In particular Fedwick found thatthe omissions in E coincide with one Basilian ms.: Laur. Med. IV, 16(10th/11thcent). He also noted examples in Group B of liberal editorial-izing on the part of the scribe, especially in the form of the drasticallyrecast introduction. He concludes that ‘the text of Mon. 370 should be
118
Mss.: VPBM, LC, ed.: Courtonne II, 29–30, Def. 2.256–259, cf. Fedwick in
OCP
article shortly cited, 41–46; tr.: NPNF 2ndser. 8.137–141.
119
Studien zu den Briefen des Hl. Basilius 
(Lund: Gleerupska universitetsbokhandeln,1944), pp. 71
ff 
.
120
‘A commentary of Gregory of Nyssa or the 38thLetter of Basil of Caesarea’,
Orientalia Christiana Periodica
44 (1978), 31–51. For Fedwick’s de
nitive summary of the textual transmission see ‘**GrNys 2/38’, BBV 1.620–623.
 
248
 
 

considered a gloss from the use of which...one should prescind in the lit-erary and doctrinal study’ of this letter. In working on this translation, Ifound that almost none of the omissions in E were corroborated in O.Other variants in E proved too insigni
cant to a
ff 
ect the translation.Consequently Courtonne’s edition, with the exception of the title, is fol-lowed here.As with
letter 33
, the present letter may be readily classed as a smalldogmatic treatise. But also like that letter it is not unreasonable that hav-ing been so long published among Basil’s letters, it should now be given aplace here among Gregory’s letters. Of special interest is the fact that,according to the inscription, Gregory sent this letter to his brother, Peter.But what are we to make of: ‘For this reason, that even you may not suc-cumb to similar notions’ (
35.1c
 )?
121
Can such a caution apply to Peter?
Letters 5
and
33
furnish some background. Eustathius of Sebasteia hadfor many years been a friend of Emmelia’s family, and a great spiritualin
uence on her children and on monastic communities throughout Pontus,being as frequent a visitor to Annisa as his travels along the
Via Pontica 
allowed. The drawn-out rupture with Eustathius over his doctrinal dissem-bling was possibly the most painful event of Basil’s troubled episcopate.Basil himself visited Annisa for the last time in 375/376, and it is notdi
cult to discern that part of his agenda was to explain to his own sib-lings the theological and political issues of this new situation with respectto Eustathius, and to secure and con
rm their allegiance. Meanwhile, inNyssa, Gregory of Nyssa became the special target of Eustathius’ politicking.It is tempting to date this letter to the period after Gregory’s restorationto his see, 378–380, while Peter was still the monastic superior at Annisa,for there is no particular sign in this letter that Gregory is writing to abishop. Alternatively Gregory may have furnished his brother with this let-ter when he became bishop in Sebasteia, in order to arm himself in deal-ing with the legacy of disputatiousness left behind by Eusthathius. Whetherthe letter is dated earlier or later, Gregory at any rate means to fortify hisbrother doctrinally and theologically, by providing this short treatise as adoctrinal
vademecum
. Regrettably, the original opening has probably droppedout.This letter has been called ‘the
locus classicus 
for the Cappadocian analy-sis of the terms
oÈs¤a
and
ÍpÒstasiw
’.
122
The distinctions between theseterms had by no means been clear at an earlier period, the two wordssometimes being thought of as synonymous, e.g., St Athanasius’ usage in
 Against the Arians
3.65, 4.33,
To the Bishops of Africa
4. Indeed the whole his-tory of the Arian con
ict to no small extent re
ects the vicissitudes of 
121
In itself, this sentence is enough to cast doubt on Gregory as the recipient.Basil may have had certain worries over his brother, but a fear that he wasinsu
ciently trained in discourse or lacked precision in theological analysis, was notone of them. Indeed Gregory of Nyssa surpassed his brother in powers of theo-logical speculation.
122
M. V. Anastos, ‘Basil’s
Katå EÈnom¤ou
, a critical analysis’, p. 107, n. 135.
 

 

249
semantics concerning these two terms. The turning point came at the synodat Alexandria presided over by Athanasius in 362, when this confusion wasadmitted, and it was recognized that parties who bristled at each otherover terms (Old Nicenes v. Easterners working with a Greek terminologyformed by Origen) were really confessing the same faith. It was proposedeirenically that all talk of either one or three hypostases should be avoided.That of course could only be a stopgap measure. The Neo-nicene front,consolidated by Basil, Meletius and Eusebius of Samosata in the late 360sand 370s, recognized that amid ongoing misunderstandings and controver-sies these terms required clari
cation. Basil articulated the distinction of theterms in 373 in letter 225, worked out in relation to Eustathius of Sebasteia,and in 375 in letter 214 to Count Terentius, worked out in relation to thestrife between old Nicenes and Neo-nicenes in Antioch. Thereafter, theNeo-nicenes made these clari
ed de
nitions its special platform. The pre-sent letter is the culmination of the doctrinal development that followedthe council of 362 and triumphed in the council of 381, in which Gregoryof Nyssa was prominent. Compare Gregory’s treatment of
hypostasis
in let-ter
5,
and of
ousia
and hypostasis in letter
24
. In Gregory’s exposition here,
oÈs¤a
refers to ‘essence’ or ‘substance’, in the same register as ‘nature’,
ÍpÒstasiw
refers to ‘subsistence’, an individual subject or identity, assimi-lated in the West and eventually in the East to the term ‘person’. Henceforthin speaking of the Holy Trinity, the formula is one
ousia
of the divinenature, and three
hypostases
under the names of the Father, the Son andHoly Spirit. In this translation
oÈs¤a
is rendered ‘substance’, and
ÍpÒstasiw
is transliterated as ‘hypostasis’
.
Gregory himself scarcely adverts to the his-torical problems of terminology (
35.1a–b
 ). Consequently, in
35.6–8
, he hasto resort to other means, not without value, to explain the potential ambi-guity of Heb 1.3.The eight divisions of the letter appearing in the earlier editions aremaintained here; sub-versi
cation is supplied using letters of the alphabet.
To Peter his own brother on the divine ousia and hypostasis 
123
1a.
Since many fail to distinguish in the mystic dogmas
124
the sub-stance, which is common, from the principle of the hypostases, theyfall into ambivalent notions and think that it makes no di
ff 
erence atall whether they say ‘substance’ or ‘hypostasis’.
1b.
Consequentlysome
125
who accept such notions uncritically are happy to speak of 
123
This is more ‘di
cult’ title in the mss. of Group A:
toË aÈtoË prÚw P°trontÚn ‡dion édelfÚn per‹ t
w ye¤aw oÈs¤aw ka‹ Ípostãsevw
. It to refer to the termsof Heb 1.3 discussed at length in 33.6–8.
124
t«n mustik«n dogmãtvn
, i.e. of the holy Trinity, rooted in the liturgy of Baptism.
125
E.g. some old Nicenes, and ‘Marcellans’, whose premise is God’s one substance.

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