on 24 December 2015
Published in 1969, this study by Rosemary Radford Ruether (later to become one of the best-known feminist theologians of the 1980s and 1990s) remains both interesting and readable. While it consists partly of a biographical study of Gregory of Nazianzus, the fourth-century theologian, its significance is much wider, in that it contains many valuable insights into the relationship between Christianity and classical culture in the early church, and holds up Gregory as one who sought to reconcile with one another both the ancient educational traditions of rhetoric and philosophy (traditionally, by Plato and his successor philosophers, seen as antithetical because rhetoric seemed to value practical persuasion and political success over absolute philosophical truth) and the new, 'barbarian' Christian philosophy with a pagan culture traditionally devoted to worship of many gods rather than the one God of the Bible.
Gregory achieved this dual reconciliation, Ruether argues, not by a theoretical synthesis but by a life-long pursuit of a mixed life devoted both to philosophy (now reinterpreted as Christian doctrine and spirituality) and rhetoric, to theological argument and church politics (reluctant though he often was to accept responsibility in the latter sphere). Unconscious of the profound philosophical (especially Platonic) influences on his Christian thought, he developed a cosmology and an understanding of the goals of human life, based on asceticism and a quest for the vision of God, which brought together Platonic, gnostic, and biblical elements, and in his use of rhetoric brilliantly turns the tables on practitioners of the classical art by arguing that only Christianity provides a subject matter worthy of rhetoric—pagan praises of the gods and heroes being empty show by contrast.
Some of the book is taken up by detailed illustrations of Gregory's use of rhetorical figures of speech and thought; this will perhaps be of less interest to readers without a classical training. Of greater general interest is Gregory's use of the conventions of classical speech-making in his orations in praise of his brother Caesarius, his friend Basil, and others. These sections of the book precede the final two chapters in which his use of philosophy in the development of his ascetic Christian outlook and his attitudes towards literature and philosophy are discussed.
While Gregory is not always admirable—his rhetoric can sometimes be heavy-handed, and his philosophy is popular and uncritical—Ruether writes with admiration for the humanity that characterizes his life and outlook, and for the synthesis of theory and practice to which, by experience, he attained. Much has been written about Gregory since 1969, and the study of ancient philosophy, rhetoric, and culture have changed in many ways, not least through the influence of critical perspectives such as the feminism which Ruether's own later writing was to exemplify; but, as an introduction to Gregory and his intellectual world, this excellent book has stood the test of time and still deserves to be widely read by beginners and specialists.
on 22 April 2010
Who is Gregory of Nanzanien?The true person emerges in this very interesting book.The other two cappadocians dont figure very greatly ,so this book tries to approach Gregory through his life ,his style and his temperament.I do not read greek ,so just to warn ,there are some passages which pass one by if you are non greek reader ,but Gregory does emerge ,and so does his inner dialogue with hellenism and christianity.His relation to Julian tyhe Apostate is tantalising.One would love to see that relationship explored .