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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie
Douleur et transfiguration. Une lecture du cheminement spirituel de saint Grégoire de Nazianze.
Paris: Cerf 2006. 467 S. m. Tab. 8° = Cogitatio Fidei, 251. Kart. EUR 47,00. ISBN 2-204-08085-3.
It is not easy reviewing Molac’s study by applying criteria usually employed for topics regarding the ancient world, namely for researches concerning early Christianity and its literary and theological forms. In spite of M.’s sentence (13), with which we agree, that he will use the philological method, because the vocabulary of an (ancient) author is the vehicle of the most important guidelines of his thought, the agenda he employs in the second part of his book (which we shall consider soon) does not recall eo ipso a philological method. We might rather say, that M., on the contrary, presents a meditation, a spiritual consideration of some aspects of Gregory of Nazianzus’ Christian thought, not a research founded on historical data. The book is divided into three parts which consider Gre-gory’s anthropology, his use of the Holy Scripture, and the features of his personality: it is in those subjects, M. argues, that Gregory’s ›spiritual progress‹ is contained.
Due to his premises, M. considers it necessary, particularly in the first part of his work, to disregard, nay, to exclude any deep influence and any presence, even the smallest, of philosophy in Gregory’s thought. Yet, this statement is in no way justified, and sounds somehow as a petitio principii, as if there were an opposition between philosophy (which should mean Greek rationality) and Christian spirituality, and in such case we had to exclude philosophy. However, the most perceptive scholars of ancient Christianity do not think that such an opposition existed or had to exist; in particular, Gregory’s well-known epithet, in the Byzantine era, was ›the Theologian‹ – which testifies that Christian spirituality and Platonic philosophy (whose presence in the Cappadocians’ works is, pace M., indeniable) can stay together. Indeed Gregory does not abandon the traditio fidei even though he employs the devices of Greek philosophy (notwithstanding that at pp. 72–76 Platonic influence is, of course, denied by M.). As a consequence, references to Christian ›philosophers‹, as Clement and Origen, are few and do not receive due attention, or are missing, despite their fundamental importance the Cappadocians’ thought and (why not?) spirituality.
As we said, M.’s research is threefold. The first part, which studies Gregory’s anthropology, is not the best, since M. considers the most obvious sentences of Gregory here and does not explain in a thorough way the theological issues of the subject: for instance, the discussion of man as ›image of the image‹ is short and unsatisfying (19–30). Likewise, the problems of the Christology, which opposed Gregory to Apollinarius (68–72) might have been investigated at greater length.
The best, and surely the most innovative, part of the book is the second one, devoted to explaining in which way and to which aims Gregory used Scripture (163–304). Indeed M., different to the usual scholary procedure, does not examine the exegetical method, but the presence, in Gregory’s works, of the various Biblical books, and persuasively shows what they and their authors (i. e., the historical personalities) offered Gregory’s spirituality. History of salvation, M. maintains, is embodied in some Christian models; the most important are Moses, Elias and Paul. For example, Moses and Elias appeared together with Christ in the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor just because they embodied the idea of Christian life, spirituality and asceticism. For this reason M. studies the scriptural quotations in the various corpora of Gregory’s works: the orations delivered when he lived at Nazianzus, those of the Constantinopolitan period, the dogmatic poems, the moral ones, and finally the epistles. A great number of cross references and schemes explain the aim of the employment of this or that scriptural book.
The third part is different, because it wants to draw a spiritual biography of Gregory, considering his actual life. The problems are examined by a similar method: as in the second part where the presence of the biblical books was taken into account, here M. examines the presence of those words which have a particular emotive meaning, again following the division into orations, poems and letters. This subject is à la page nowadays: quite numerous are the studies (mainly of anglophone scholars, as Mc Guckin, van Dam and others) that, though occasionally forcing the text in a psychological attempt interpretation, aim at tracing and clearing Gregory’s relations with the members of his family or with his friends. In this ›biography‹ M. mainly follows Bernardi.
The bibliography employed by M. is somehow not exhaustive. Certainly, nowadays no scholar can afford a complete bibliography, due to the increasing number of the studies, but a good part of bibliography which is registered at the end appears not to have been used. For instance, the whole first part, devoted to Gregory’s philosophy, never quotes A. M. Malingrey’s work, though now it is a bit dated. Greek words, unfortunately, are often uncorrect (and this flaw is more and more increasing among scientific studies), but sometimes mistakes affect even the spelling of French scholars.
To sum up, we can say that M. has a strong feeling for Gregory, and thanks to it he explores and clarifies his spirituality and his personality, though the method sometimes appears to be not totally satisfactory. And lastly, it is not clear what the relation between the title of the book and its content is.