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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Elm, Susanna


Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church. Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome.


Berkeley u. a.: University of California Press 2012. XX, 553 S. m. 1 Kt. = Transformation of the Classical Heritage, 49. Geb. £ 52,00. ISBN 978-0-520-26930-9.


Claudio Moreschini

This well executed well-informed and well-written volume focuses on a period of particular importance of IV century history, although it is not longer than ten years (and perhaps even shorter). Such a period embraces the events from the ultimate establishment of Emperor Constantius as the only Augustus (and therefore autocrator also for the Christian faith), Julian’s rebellion and his short reign (361–363), and the few years when the effects of his decisions and of his measures were still perceived by the Christians (363–365). Emperor Julian is the ›son of Hellenism‹, who is surrounded by many pagan figures and scholars, such as Themistius, Libanius, Salustius. On the other side one can locate Julian’s enemy – who was yet so similar to him in many respects – Gregory of Nazianzus, the rhetor, as he still was in those years, who contributed so much to impress the label of ›Apostate‹ on Julian. Gregory had personally met Julian not so many years earlier, in Athens, and he described him so vividly, as no one else did. Susanna Elm’s historical method has much in common with many other books which come from the same cultural milieu, such as those written by Mc Guckin, or those of van Dam, McCormack and others, who published in the same series as E. (›Transformation of the Classical Heritage‹), directed and characterized by Peter Brown’s method. E. herself has already published many contributions to Gregory of Nazianzus. She con­-sid­ers pagans and Christians indifferently as members of the same Late Antique society. The ›sons of Hellenism‹ and the ›Fathers of the Church‹ are two faces of the same cultural phenomenon, the dual­ism between pagan paideia and Christian faith, which are so often considered alone, cannot determine in toto the characters of members of the same society. Therefore Gregory of Nazianzus is as much a ›son of Hellenism‹ as Julian. Gregory opposes his defense of Chris­tianity to the hard defense of Hellenism, which was Julian’s ideal, but common to both was the defense of the logoi, of the idea of God, of the world, of the Roman Empire and of Greek paideia (although this was not exactly the reason why »Gregory of Nazianzus was honored as Gregory the Theologian«, as is said on p. 335). What is most important is that the function of the Christian bishop (which was the ideal to which Gregory conformed) was that of a political (not only religious) leadership, and »the model of late Roman Chris­tian leadership is rooted not so much in the prescriptions of the New Testament and their Jewish antecedents, however constructed, but in the social reality of Greek-Roman elite men« (483). Such being the Christian bishop in Late Antiquity, E. convincingly reconsiders Gregory of Nazianzus, whom the communis opinio de­-scribes as an irresolute, sensible, touchy character (5 ss.).
E.’s description of the ›Weltanschauung‹ of these ›sons of Hel­-len­ism‹ fits Julian well, who is excellently interpreted, and the part of the book dedicated to him can be considered as a thorough study of the Apostate. Its conclusion is appropriate: »Julian’s vision for Rome was new […] His vision was an attack, but, much more than that (our italics), a consistent system that merged everything, from the highest one to the selection of magistrates […] into one well-ordered, harmonious whole […] and in so doing engaged numerous elements of Christianity, which at that moment was establishing a comprehensive vision of its own« (335). The description of Gregory (the book is constructed as a diptych, whose parts alternate between Julian and Gregory) is not likewise successful, also because the book takes into account only the first years of Gregory’s literary career, until 365 (orations 5 and 6). Moreover, in 365 Gregory was not yet bishop, so that the criteria which, according to E., guided a bishop, did not fit him entirely. The description of Gregory’s Christian milieu is convincing, but some reasons for disagreeing still exist. E. accepts Brennecke’s interpretation of Homeism as the State religion, imposed by the Emperor Constance after a long struggle against the supporters of Athanasius (279–281), and confirmed by Julian’s hostility against it. As Brennecke outlines, the Christian martyrs of Julian’s reign were most likely Homoeans, but acknowl­edgement of the Homoean faith, assured by the Roman State, did not prevent the opposition of the Homoians and the Nicenes. Athanasius certainly did not accept the will of the Emperor and his religious counselors; if Gregory the Elder and Basil’s superior, the bi­-shop Dianius, had signed the symbol of the Council of Constantinople, Basil, who participated in it, refused to do so. Basil and Gregory were, on the contrary, Homoiousians; as was the bishop of Const antinople, Macedonius. E. also proposes a new interpretation of Gregory’s ›philosophy‹: she considers Gregory’s philosophy as effective philosophy, while according to the communis opinio it was the Cappadocian name for Christian theology and asceticism, as stated by an old study by A. M. Malingrey. E.’s interpretation seems convincing, but a discussion of the meaning of philosophia would have been useful (on the question see also our article on ›Gregory of Nazianzus and Philosophy‹, in: Ch. A. Beeley (ed.), Rereading Gregory of Nazianzus, Washington 2012, 103–122; a miscellaneous book in which a contribution by E. can also be found). Once this meaning of philosophy is ascertained, according to Gregory the philosopher is the iatròs of the soul (166 ss.); the bishop who is also a philosopher must »lead the true philosophical life of active involvement in the affairs of the politeia for the benefit of the oikumene of the Romans now Christian« (8; see also p. 12 n. 35 and p. 172 ss.); philosophy and paideia stay together, as is natural for a Greek (36). The second oration is interpreted in its entirety through philosophy (155 ss.). Philosophy united with political leadership is Gregory’s aim (264–265): in all that the religious side of a Christian bishop appears somehow underestimated.
Also very good is the description of the Nazianzus’ milieu and its characters. New (and right!) is the political explanation for Gregory’s so-called ›flight‹ to eremitism together with Basil (160): a good ruler must be invoked, must not offer himself. All the same, E.’s interpretation of the ›tyranny‹ (as Gregory called it) of his father, Gregory the Elder (158 ss.) is convincing. Such tyranny is never introduced in the first three orations, it appears only when the problem of the succession to the bishopric of Nazianzus, and the consecration of Gregory the rhetor, arises (188 ss.). Also interesting is the individuation of Gregory the Elder’s opposers in Nazianzus (201) and of Gregory himself (223): they were not monks (indeed, there is no evidence of them), but the men of letters who lived in Nazianzus (206). Gregory wants to separate himself from his father’s simplicity, yet he does not condemn him for having signed the Constantinople symbol of 360. E. describes Gregory’s life and milieu in Nazianzus; she considers the meaning of the term oikeiosis (176 ss.), whereas theosis seems to be a word of great weight, invented by Gregory himself (177): yet ›to af­-filiate man with God‹ (176) is neither theosis nor homoiosis, nor am I sure that ›neither concept is prima facie Platonic‹ (178 and 178 n. 111) (if it is not Platonic, it was Middle- and Neoplatonic); is oikeiosis actually a political philosophy (215)?
In her conviction that the intellectual milieu of the East was common to pagans and Christians, E. sometimes proposes some historical reconstructions which are not as sure as she thinks – and she accompanies some of her hypothesis with a ›may‹. It is also right to consider the role of the so-called ›haeretics‹ in the cultural life of the East (228 ss.), but some details of their presence are not as sure as it seems to E.: for instance, the philosophical life of Aetius and Eunomius (239 ss.) and their presence near Julian (213 ss.). The assertion that the Cappadocian Fathers’ polemic against Aetius and Eunomius also involves contempt for their low social conditions is right, but it is not sure that both were already known to Gregory in Nazianzus (258 ss.), or that they were those who gave rise to disorders in the community at Nazianzus, which Gregory describes at greater length in his second oration. In my opinion Gregory has clear knowledge and a definite idea of the Trinitarian problems only in Constantinople. Nor can I find what are the issues of an anti­eunomian polemic in oration 2: there is nothing of what is going to appear in the Theological orations. E. rightly asserts (259) that oration 2 is against the false leaders, but they could have been many, not only Eunomians. Exact and convincing, if not completely new, is the reconstruction of Gregory’s aims in the Invectivae in Iulianum, and of his referring to the followers and friends of Julian and Procopius, in opposition to Valens.
Some historical interpretations of Gregory’s milieu are also uncertain. Following a hypothesis by Mc Lynn, E. supposes (56.150) that Lucifer of Caralis and Eusebius of Vercelli were the two Occidentals returning to their sees crossing Cappadocia in 362. It is true that in oration 43,28–29 Gregory hints at the presence of two archiereis there, but the events were connected to the enmity be­-tween Basil and Bishop Eusebius: we are therefore in about 365, and Lucifer and Eusebius of Vercelli had already returned home by that time. At p. 57 E. accepts, with others, the authenticity of Julian’s epistle 32, which invites »the Great Basil« to the court, but Bidez (37) does not think that this Basil is to be identified with the future bi­shop of Caesarea (see also p. 68: I also suggest taking into account the recent book by F. Fatti, Giuliano a Cesarea. La politica ecclesiastica del principe apostata, Rome 2009). At p. 102 it is stated that Aetius was famous for his commentary on Aristotle’s Categories – but he was simply accused of having employed the logic method (labeled as ›Aristotelian‹) for his Syntagmation – nor are there strictly Aristotelian tenets in his theology.
Some details, only to show how attentively I read the book: p. 5. Homousios is not exactly ›in essence one‹; p. 6 n. 19. Taddaeus, not Tomas, Sinko. At p. 181 n. 123 anekrathe does not have an eucharis­tic, but, I think, a christological flavour. At p. 321 archieròs must be corrected to archiereus; p. 186 hypostaseis = gradations?; p. 237 Eusebius of Sebaste is probably Eustathius of Sebaste.
Some oddities typical of modern trends (not exclusively of E.): the common life of Basil and Gregory in Athens has an ›erotic aspect‹ (24 n. 33); it is not clear what Gregory of Nyssa asserts about the masculinity of Eunomius and himself (242 n. 113).
In conclusion, this is a first rank study, essential for comprehension of Julian and Gregory of Nazianzus. It is rich in information, hypotheses and proposals; it is beautifully written; it masters the bibliography – even the Italian and French ones, which is very rare nowadays. Even rarer are the misprints. Rich indexes are present.