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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie
Human Nature in Gregory of Nyssa. Philosophical Background and Theological Significance.
Leiden-Boston-Köln: Brill 2000. XII, 271 S. gr.8 = Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, 46. Lw. hfl 150.-. ISBN 90-04-11530-7.
The central purpose of this solidly researched and carefully written thesis is to offer an exploration of the precise meaning Gregory assigns to the model of community of nature which he employs in his discussion of both the divine unity and that of human nature.
In the course of his thesis Zachhuber makes the interesting and provocative suggestion that the Cappadocians were innovative in explaining the homousios of Nicaea by means of a coordinate, as distinct from a derivative model. In other words it is membership of the same class rather than derivation from the same source that confers upon the Son and Spirit both equality with the Father, and unity in the deity.
This is an interesting theory, but it hardly explains why the Son and Spirit were thought to be divine in the first place. The derivative model favoured by Origen and Athanasius does. Further both Nazianzus and Nyssen never abandon completely the derivative model. The former continues to prefer to account for the divine unity as at orat. 29,3; 40,43; 42,15 by appealing to the idea of the Father as the source of being and unity in the deity, as does the Nyssen at orat. 3 (GNO III.IV.13.20 ff.).
Gregor of Nyssa had previously attempted to justify the language of three in one by appealing to the logical model of membership of the same class. Despite his own apparent distaste for Aristotle he had used a model, derived from the Categories of Aristotle. Following him he had argued that that as Peter, James and John share the same logos tes usias and were therefore equal, so too the three members of the Trinity (cf. C.E.1.227 Ad. Ablab. GNO III,1,7-8 were equal. This illustration was to raise serious problems as is evident from his treatise Ad Ablabium, Quod non sunt tres Dei. In the course of it Gregory of Nyssa endeavours, with some measure of success, to extricate himself from the charge of tritheism, to which his language gave rise.
But what is this unity of human nature, which is used to illustrate the divine persons? Is Gregory's idea of human and divine nature, as Harnack seems to have supposed, simply a form of Aristotelianism which leads straight to tritheism, or is there more to it?
Z. explores the philosophical and dogmatic backgrounds to Gregorian usage with commendable ferocity and ingenuity. In so doing he exposes a number of peculiarities in Gregory's thought. If, for example, the primal man of Genesis 1,26 becomes plural is this a form of fall? What is the katholu antropos of de hominis opificio 16? It is the puzzles that a precise analysis of Gregory's meanings generates that leads Z. to his conclusions. It might have been useful in his discussion of this issue to have referred to precisely the same difficulty, that is the fusion of moral evil and natural necessity that both lead to the plurality of Mind/Spirit in Plotinus Ennead 5.1.
Z's conclusions can be briefly stated as follows. They are interesting, if hardly revolutionary. He repeats on several occasions his conviction that it is a mistake to look in Gregory for a systematic theology or, what in fact comes to the same thing, a clearly articulated philosophical standpoint from which his own theology may be inferred. So, for example, he tries to show that the notion of physis in Gregory is not to be understood monolithically. Though he clearly thinks that Gregory is no 'real' philosopher, he rates him more highly than do others.
The particular value of this work is that it distinguished out the differing paradigms with which Gregory is operating and shows their radical inconsistency. Gregory's understanding of salvation is sometimes humanistic, that is it employs moral and ascetical categories, and a times it is 'physical' in the sense Harnack understood that term, above all in his frequent use of the one sheep to stand for the whole of human nature as at Contra Eunomium 3.10,11 and 'Adv.Ap.16 (III.I,152.2 ff.). What Z. sees as the main flaw is the failure to coordinate these two differing models of salvation. This is doubtless true. Yet any attempt to explore the subject of the salvation of the human race is bound to arrive at a similar impasse sooner or later.