St Gregory the Theologian: Oration 38

In the winter of A.D. 380-381, St Gregory the Theologian, recently appointed Archbishop of Constantinople, delivered at the Church of the Holy Apostles his famous Epiphany Homilies—Orations 38, 39, and 40. Scholars debate whether the church in Constantinople had at this time adopted the Roman custom of celebrating the Feast of the Nativity on December 25th. If it did, then Oration 38 was most likely preached on Christmas Day and Orations 39 and 40 preached on the vigil and day of the Epiphany; if it did not, then Oration 38 was most perhaps delivered on January 4th. The Epiphany Orations, writes Christopher Beeley, contain St Gregory’s “most comprehensive treatment of Christian theology and spirituality” (Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, p. 43). Unlike the Five Theological Orations, delivered some six months earlier at the house church of the Anastasia and which were composed specifically to address and refute the heresies of Eunomianism and Pneumatomachianism, the Epiphany Orations represent Gregory’s ordinary preaching of the gospel. His intent is to proclaim the Nicene faith in its fullness to a city long dominated by Neo-Arian theology. Of course, there is nothing ordinary about these remarkable homilies.

The focus of Oration 38 is the birth of Jesus Christ, yet this birth quickly leads Gregory into a comprehensive proclamation of the story of the divine Savior who has accomplished the salvation of the world. He who is eternally begotten of the Father without a mother is born into the world apart from the agency of a father: “The motherless one becomes fatherless” (38.2). He who is Being has come into being, “that the one who has given us being might also grant us well-being; or rather, as we fell from well-being through evil, he might bring us back again to himself through incarnation” (38.3). The goal of the incarnation is the reconciliation of humanity and its Creator and restoration to new life within the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

After this announcement, St Gregory offers a brief reflection on the nature of God. As the Lord declared to Moses on Mt Sinai, he is “he who is”:

God always was and is and will be, or rather always “is,” for “was” and “will be” belong to our divided time and transitory nature; but he is always “he who is,” and he gave himself this name when he consulted with Moses on the mountain. For holding everything together in himself, he possesses being, neither beginning nor ending. He is like a kind of boundless and limitless sea of being, surpassing all thought and time and nature. He is only sketched by the mind, and this in a very indistinct and mediocre way, not from things pertaining to himself but from things around him. Impressions are gathered from here and there into one particular representation of the truth, which flees before it is grasped and escapes before it is understood. It illumines the directive faculty in us, when indeed we have been purified, and its appearance is like a swift bolt of lightning that does not remain. It seems to me that insofar as it is graspable, the divine draws [us] toward itself, for what is completely ungraspable is unhoped for and unsought. Yet one wonders at the ungraspable, and one desires more intensely the object of wonder, and being desired it purifies, and purifying it makes deiform, and with those who have become such he converses as with those close to him,—I speak with vehement boldness—God is united with gods, and he is thus known, perhaps as much as he already knows those who are known to him. (38.7)

While later Byzantine writers would come to speak of God as “beyond Being,” St Gregory is happy to identify God as Being, though clearly transcending all created being. Met John Zizioulas follows St Gregory at this point:

The doctrine of God does indeed take us beyond the common nature of things, but this does not mean that we cannot use the concept of being when dealing with God. “Apophaticism” does not mean that we have surpassed the concept of being or gone beyond ontology. … The verb “to be” is not only permissible in discussion of God, but it applies most directly and uniquely to God, for God is “the one who truly is.” “Being” applies primarily to God, so theology is the true ontology. God is not beyond or above the concept of “being, but he is the genuine, the true, “being.” (Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, p. 55)

In his Theological Orations Gregory directly claims, against his Eunomian opponents, that the essence of God is incomprehensible and unknowable. In Oration 28 he describes how he himself once attempted, like Moses, to ascend the holy mountain to comprehend God in his entirety; but his attempt ended in failure. He discovered that his mind could not grasp and master the divine essence; he could not pierce the veil and enter the Holy of Holies. Sheltering behind the rock that is the incarnate Christ, he could only see the backside of God, the divine glory manifested in the works of his creation (28.3). Yet in that contemplative moment he does see God, however imperfectly and partially.

Gregory must surely have known the distinction between the divine essence and energies, as articulated by his good friend St Basil the Great, yet he does not explicitly invoke it in his writings in the context of our knowledge of and deification in God (at least not in the homilies I have read). On the one hand he denies that the essence of God can be comprehended and fully grasped; on the other hand, he also wants to say that we can apprehend God, however partially and imperfectly, in his glory and majesty. If God were totally ungraspable, we would and could not hope to enter into true communion with him and thus be deified. Perhaps we might put the matter thus: God truly communicates himself to man; but he communicates himself precisely as ineffable mystery, dazzling the mind and filling the heart with an unquenchable thirst to know the unknowable God more fully. St Gregory’s is a qualified apophaticism: “For indeed on the mountain itself God appears to human beings, as he himself descends from his own height while leading us up from the lowliness below, that the Incomprehensible may be comprehended at least in the measure possible and as far as is safe for mortal nature” (45.11).

That God cannot be perfectly grasped by the creaturely mind flows from the infinite nature of the divine being. “For the divine is without limits,” Gregory explains, “and difficult to contemplate, and this alone is entirely graspable in it, namely that it is without limits” (38.7). This recognition of the infinity of the divine being flows from Gregory’s contemplative experience of God and his philosophical reflection on the radical transcendence of the God who has made the world from out of nothing. To encounter God is to encounter the eternal Creator who surpasses all limits and who thus voids all attempts to define and master him. As corporeal beings, we live in time. If we look to the past, all we can say is that God is without beginning; if we look to the future, all we can say is that God is immortal; if we apprehend the past and future simultaneously, all we can say is God is eternal. But this is just a species of negative abstraction. “For eternity is neither time nor some part of time, nor is it measurable, but what is time for us, measured by the movement of the sun, is for everlasting beings eternity, since it is coextensive with these beings, as if it were a kind of movement and interval of time” (38.8).

At this point Gregory recalls that this is a Christmas sermon, not a philosophical disquisition. “Our concern here,” he declaims, “is not ‘theology’ [God as he is in himself] but ‘economy’ [God as self-revealed in the narrative of salvation and the works of creation]. When I say ‘God,’ I mean Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (38.9). St Gregory the Theologian is principally interested in the living God of the gospel, not the deity of the philosophers. I am reminded of Pascal’s famous memorial: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars.” Gregory is certainly capable of reflecting on the God of theology, as we will see when we come to the Theological Orations; but my impression is that his heart lies with the God of the economy, the God who has entered time and space to accomplish the salvation of humanity.

Gregory then begins to reflect on God’s original creation of humanity, a creature composed of spirit and matter, made in the divine image (which Gregory identifies with the rational mind), teleologically inclined to “see and experience the radiance of God” (38.11). The human being was placed in paradise and honored with the gift of self-determination—hence the purpose of the tree of knowledge: God did not forbid the fruit of this tree out of envy but only for the good of the human being, to be given to him at the proper time after he had grown in spiritual maturity. But the human being ignored the commandment, ate the fruit, and was banished from paradise. Man was clothed in the tunics of skin (“that is perhaps the more coarse and mortal and rebellious flesh” [38.12]) and for the first knew shame and alienation. Communion with God was broken. We were cut off from the tree of life. Death became a gift of sorts, in that it put a temporal limit on our iniquity and evil.

After trying various remedies to correct and heal the human condition and restore humanity to himself, God chose the most wondrous remedy of all. This profound passage deserves to be quoted in full:

It was the Word of God himself, the one who is before the ages, the invisible, the ungraspable, the incorporeal, the Principle from the Principle, the light from the light, the source of life and immortality, the imprint of the archetypal beauty, the immutable seal, the undistorted image, the definition and explanation of the Father. He approaches his own image and bears flesh because of my flesh and mingles himself with a rational soul because of my soul, purifying like by like. And in all things he becomes a human being, except sin. He was conceived by the Virgin, who was purified beforehand in both soul and flesh by the Spirit, for it was necessary that procreation be honored and that virginity be honored more. He comes forth, God with what he has assumed, one from two opposites, flesh and spirit, the one deifying and the other deified. O new mixture! O the paradoxical blending! He who is comes into being, and the uncreated is created, and the uncontained is contained, through the intervention of the rational soul, which mediates between the divinity and the coarseness of flesh. The one who enriches becomes poor; he is made poor in my flesh, that I might be enriched through his divinity. The full one empties himself; for he empties himself of his own glory for a short time, that I may participate in his fullness. What is the wealth of his goodness? What is this mystery concerning me? I participated in the [divine] image, and I did not keep it; he participates in my flesh both to save the image and to make the flesh immortal. He shares with us a second communion, much more paradoxical than the first; then he gave us a share in what is superior, now he shares in what is inferior. This is more godlike than the first; this, to those who can understand, is more exalted. (38.13)

Humanity is destined for eternal communion with God, for theosis, yet because of the consequences of the Fall, fulfillment of this destiny has become impossible. The unexpected and miraculous solution is the Incarnation: the infinite Deity enters into the world he has made and becomes a human being. St Gregory speaks of this process as a self-emptying, a kenosis, not a putting aside of his divinity—how could he cease to be God?—but the humble acceptance of a life lived under the conditions of poverty, suffering, and death. The eternal Son personally appropriates a human mode of existence, thereby effecting its healing and re-opening the way to eternal life. One of St Gregory’s favorite ways of speaking of the Incarnation is that of mixture and blending. Divinity and flesh are united, blended in the one Christ, but this blending does not compromise the integrity of either the divine or human nature. It is, rather, a powerful way for Gregory to speak of the perichoretic unity of the divine and human in the one Jesus Christ. “The two are one thing through the blending,” the Theologian declares (Ep 101.28). Gregory thus presents us with a powerful and dynamic narrative understanding of the Incarnation: the Son of God has become the Son of Man. This understanding can only be expressed in the language of paradox: “I myself will proclaim the power of this day. The fleshless one takes flesh, the Word is made coarse, the invisible one is seen, the impalpable one is touched, the timeless one makes a beginning, the Son of God becomes Son of Man, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and for the ages’ [Heb 13:8]” (38.2).

Beeley comments on Gregory’s use of the metaphor of blending to speak of the union of God and man in Jesus Christ:

The language of blending would later be condemned at Chalcedon, on the prompting of the Antiochenes, for seeming to compromise the transcendence of the Son’s divine nature. In Gregory’s usage, however, it helpfully conveys both the narrative movement of the incarnation and also the mysterious union between God and humanity in Jesus: first there was the eternal Son of God, and then he took on the full reality of a human being, mixing it with himself to make one incarnate Lord. In Gregory’s view, the real danger lies not in compromising the integrity of these two realities, as the Antiochenes would argue, but rather in the opposite direction: the blending should not be misunderstood as being anything less than a real union. If our humanity is not fully united to God in Christ, then he is in fact two different sons and we have not been divinized in the incarnation. (p. 131)

Question: What does Gregory mean when he says that Christ’s rational mind mediates the union of divinity and humanity in Christ? Apparently Gregory borrowed this conception from Origen, from whom the the divine assumption of the human soul was the linchpin for the eternal Word’s union with the human body, given the dualistic separation between divinity and created matter (see Christopher Beeley, The Unity of Christ, p. 34). But given what I have read so far, Gregory does not appear to have shared Origen’s dualism at this point.

St Gregory is well aware of how scandalous the Incarnation is to many of his hearers. It contradicts pre-conceived notions of impassible deity and apparently demeans the Creator, perhaps even proving that Jesus cannot be considered homoousios with God the Father. Gregory’s response to all such accusations is the miracle of incarnate grace (38.14): in love and compassion God searches out the one lost sheep; in love and compassion he eats with tax collectors and makes them his disciples; in love and compassion he girds himself and washes the feet of his friends; in love and compassion he suffers the agony of the cross. What is his profit in all of this? The salvation of sinners! Gregory does not hesitate, therefore, to attribute to the divine Son the passions of creaturely existence: “He was sent, but as human, for he was twofold. For he was tired and hungry and thirsty and endured agony and wept through the law of the body, but if he underwent these things also as God, what of it?” (38.15). Gregory was acquainted with the dualistic christologies of Diodore and other Antiochene theologians, who were keen to protect impassible deity from corporeal engagement with the world; but he is persuaded that the salvation of humanity depends on God’s personal appropriation of fallen human nature and thus his experience of deprivation and suffering.

In his book Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography, Fr John McGuckin comments that “this movement of God’s compassion, however, must be consistently referred to the context of his economic salvation. It does not reveal theological verities per se” (p. 339). McGuckin’s concern is that the long list of Christ’s creaturely limitations might be employed, as they evidently were so employed by the Neo-Arians, to deny his full divinity. “All the references to Christ being sent, or being subordinate, or suchlike,” McGuckin continues, “must be taken in reference to the human nature the Word of God adopted” (p. 339). But I do not read Gregory as being particularly concerned in this homily about this problem. I am struck, rather, by his emphatic, albeit paradoxical, assertion of God’s physical involvement in the economy of salvation: God hungers, God thirsts, God suffers, God dies. Gregory’s proclamation of the gospel exhibits a strong unitive christology in the Alexandrian tradition. He seems to be willing to risk the censure of Eunomians and Antiochenes alike.

Christology and soteriology are interwined and inseparable in the thought of St Gregory, and at the heart of both is theosis. The Nazianzen coined the term and made it the center of his theology. The Incarnate Son is the fulfillment of the divinization of human nature, as clearly stated in his Fourth Theological Oration:

He was actually subject as a slave to flesh, to birth, and to our human experiences; for our liberation, held captive as we are by sin, he was subject to all that he saved. What does the lowliness of Man possess higher than involvement with God, than being made God as a result of this intermingling, than being so “visited by the dayspring from on high” that “the holy thing which is born” has been called “Son of the most high” and that there has been “bestowed on it the name which is above every name”? What could that be but “God”? What of the “bowing of every knee” to the one who “was made empty on our account,” who blended the “divine image” with a “slave’s form”? What of the “acknowledgement by all the house of Israel that God made him both Lord and Christ”? (Or 30.3)

Beeley explains the decisive importance of theosis for Gregory:

For Gregory, the purpose and rationale of the incarnation is to bring about our divinization, which has been interrupted by the fall; and conversely, the basis of our divinization is the incarnation of Christ. Yet we are saved and divinized not merely as an extrinsic effect of the incarnation; the human Jesus is himself the first instance and the archetype of our divinization, the one in whose own theosis Christians participate and are thus saved. The determining factor in Gregory’s doctrine of salvation, then, and the key for understanding the work of Christ, is the identity of Christ—who Christ is in order to restore the divinization of humanity. This means that he does not separate the doctrine of Christ from the narrative story of his works of creation, salvation and consummation, since that narrative forms the basis for understanding Christ’s identity. Gregory’s Christology and his soteriology are thus inseparably involved with each other, and in a sense amount to the same thing. (Gregory of Nazianzus, pp. 121-122)

Our deification is our participation in the life, passion, death, and glorification of the Son of God. “I must be buried with Christ,” declares Gregory, “arise with Christ, be a joint heir with Christ, become a son of God, be called God himself!” (7.23).

Gregory concludes Oration 38 by inviting his hearers into the story of redemption. The birth of the Savior is not just something that happened hundreds of years ago. It is contemporaneous with us now in the festal celebration. Today we are in Bethlehem:

Now welcome for me his conception and leap for joy, if not indeed like John in the womb, then like David when the ark came to rest. Be awed at the census record through which you have been recorded in heaven, and revere the birth through which you have been released from the bonds of birth, and honor little Bethlehem, which has brought you back to paradise, and bow before the manger through which you who were without reason have been fed by the Word. Know, like the ox, your owner—Isaiah exhorts you—and like the donkey know your master’s crib, whether you are among those who are pure and under the law and chew the cud of the Word and are prepared for sacrifice, or whether up to now you are among the impure and unfit for food or sacrifice and belong to the Gentiles. Run after the star, and bring gifts with the magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a king and a God and one dead for your sake. With the shepherds give glory, with the angels sing hymns, with the archangels dance. Let there be a common celebration of the heavenly and earthly powers. (38.17)

The kerygmatic and liturgical incorporation of Gregory’s hearers into the narrative of the crucified and risen Christ is their conversion and sanctification, their theosis. No longer need they, need we, live by the Adamic story of despair, sin, violence, and death. A new future has been opened by Christmas, a future into which we may now step by baptism and faith. Here is the power of St Gregory the Theologians’s evangelical preaching.

(Go to Oration 39)

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11 Responses to St Gregory the Theologian: Oration 38

  1. Mary says:

    Just as an FYI: Edith Humphrey says the following about Perichoresis, and given the meaning of the term chorbishop, for example, in Catholic hierarchy, I tend to agree with her: “Contrary to the common wisdom, the term perichōrēsis does not come from the root noun chōros (meaning “chorus,” as in Greek tragedy, or “dance”) but from chōra (meaning “place”). Perichōrēsis therefore means “going around and beyond one’s place” or “making room for.” The word refers to the reciprocity, alternation and interpenetration of the Persons of the Trinity. It was not meant to evoke anything so frivolous as a democratic round-dance, but is used to describe the great mystery by which Persons of the holy Trinity occupy the same “space,” yet are “near and towards” each other, in their distinctness. So the talk that we hear in some places about the “dance of the Trinity,” and our entering blithely into that dance, is mistaken.”….from The Great Tradition–A Great Labor


  2. Your gentle criticism of McGuckin’s interpretation of St. Gregory seems right to me. The former goes a bit too far in saying: “… this movement of God’s compassion, however, must be consistently referred to the context of his economic salvation. It does not reveal theological verities per se“. If St. Gregory were saying that, the question would naturally arise: In what sense, then, does the Incarnate Son reveal something about what God is, not just what God does? If the answer were: “In no sense; God’s essence is unknowable,” that would be going further than Gregory intends. What-God-is may be “incomprehensible,” in the sense that we can’t take it all in; but if we claim it’s altogether unknowable, it follows that what God does for us tells us nothing about what he is. And that seems incompatible with 1 John.


  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Michael, you raise a question that I am constantly posing in my mind as I read St Gregory’s orations. We will no doubt discuss it more fully when we get to the Theological Orations, where Gregory discusses divine incomprehensibility at some length as he seeks to refute the curious claim of Eunomius that the divine essence is fully knowable. But note the sentence in the long (and important) block quotation that I cited: “It seems to me that insofar as it is graspable, the divine draws [us] toward itself, for what is completely ungraspable is unhoped for and unsought.” Folks, correct me here if I’m wrong, but isn’t Gregory here saying that God must be in some measure graspable knowable by us; otherwise, we would not desire him. This long block quotation is very important, it seems to me, and I welcome everyone’s exegesis of it. It needs to be compared to Gregory’s discussion in Oration 28 of Moses’s encounter with God, but in anticipation of that comparison I cited the sentence from Oration 45: “For indeed on the mountain itself God appears to human beings, as he himself descends from his own height while leading us up from the lowliness below, that the Incomprehensible may be comprehended at least in the measure possible and as far as is safe for mortal nature” (45.11). Gregory does not appear to think of the divine incomprehensibility as absolute, yet compare this passage from Oration 28:

    “To know God is hard, to describe him impossible, a a pagan philosopher [Plato] taught–subtly suggesting, I think, by the word ‘difficult’ his own apprehension, yet avoiding our test of it by claiming it was impossible to describe. No–to tell of God is not possible, so my argument runs, but to know him is even less possible. For language may show the known if not adequately, at least faintly, to a person not totally deaf and dull of mind. But mentally to grasp so great a matter is utterly beyond real possibility even so far as the very elevated and devout are concerned, never mind slack and sinking souls. This truth applies to every creature born, to all beings whose view of reality is blocked by this gloom, this gross portion of flesh. Whether higher, incorporeal natures can grasp it, I do not know. They may, perhaps, through their proximity to God and their illumination by light in its fullness know God if not with total clarity, at least more completely, more distinctly than we do, their degree of clarity varying proportionally with their rank.”

    What I am struggling with is, How do we properly conceive the relationship between the immanent and economic Trinity in the thought of St Gregory? Has God not made himself *known* in Jesus Christ precisely as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Both Torrance and Zizioulas assert that we cannot know “what” God is but we are given to know “who” God is. Does this way of putting things adequately express St Gregory’s view?


  4. Mary says:

    We can do more with what I am about to say as we go along and I am not here and now prepared to present long demonstration text blocks since this is a preliminary reaction, however I am comfortable enough on this ground to say three things that I think are central to this particular examination of texts:

    1. This first is an informed and experiential opinion/assertion: In the spirit of Mike’s question and beginning with St. Gregory Nyssa and his Life of Moses which is the great head water of all ensuing contemplation and exposition of the stages of the spiritual life, I can comfortably say without question that theology and economy cannot be separated, and should not really even be separated long enough to discuss them academically, for once the concepts are taken out of the context of their natural perichoresis they lose their power to illuminate the transcendent divinity which is the sole purpose of divine economy in any event. They fact that we do separate them simply underscores our poverty as creatures to express the inexpressible, and our valiant efforts to do so.

    2. The second follows with the observation that in the writings of all the greatest masters of the spiritual prayer of union, which is the existential pinnacle of human participation in the divine, there is an ultimate reference to profound and sense-less darkness at that moment of union. Nikitas Stithatos, who was the spiritual disciple of St. Symeon the New Theologian, refers to this emptying of the senses and the conscious intellect as the light that is darkness. These teachings reverberate then down through the centuries, and it is here that we would have to pick up texts as we go along rather than have me writing a 50 page essay here. But this darkness has its genesis in the Life of Moses, the real experiences between the holy father Moses and God, as they have been recorded.

    3. Finally I would say that St. Gregory Nazianzus was called a theologian precisely because he was known to have experienced this mystical state of union in his lifetime and it was and is believed that his insights into both the imminent and transcendent divinity were a product of these moments of intense and active participation in the divine while at prayer…not just in thinking-about God, but in direct communication with the Indwelling. So that is why I would suggest that as we discuss these questions of overshadowing and illumination, for that is essentially what they are, that we do not lose sight of the spiritual interaction between creature and Creator that is the very purpose of talking about God at all. St. Gregory must be numbered not only among the greatest of the patristic fathers, but also among the most adept of the holy desert fathers as well.


  5. I agree with Mary’s suggestion in her 2nd comment: “So that is why I would suggest that as we discuss these questions of overshadowing and illumination, for that is essentially what they are, that we do not lose sight of the spiritual interaction between creature and Creator that is the very purpose of talking about God at all.” I am most definitely not a theologian, but I have lived with one for over 36 years and some things have rubbed off. However, what most interests me is the interaction between “creature (me) and Creator (God)”.

    My second thought is addressed to Fr. Aidan’s question in his last post:” Both Torrance and Zizioulas assert that we cannot know “what” God is but we are given to know “who” God is. Does this way of putting things adequately express St Gregory’s view?”. I think we will have to wait for an answer to that question, as I can find no answer in what you have quoted from St. Gregory in this article.


  6. Mary says:

    …as to knowing the “what” of anything…
    Which is part of the reason that our ability to name things is so momentous.
    There had to have been some intuitive sense of the ultimate impenetrability of all substance/essence on the part of those educated men of Nazianzan’s time. I find it strange that each generation seems to “discover” that we seem to be hardwired to intuit the impenetrability of essence, and yet it always comes as a surprise. Now back to the actual text. I apologize for the bunny trail and will let it go at this. But I think it is important.


  7. Fr. Aidan, I’m no expert in the thought of St. Gregory the Theologian, I’ve just read bits of him here and there since my college days. So I’ll stick to my competency and just give my thoughts as a philosopher on the what/who distinction you ask about.

    Knowing who someone is entails knowing something of what they are: personal. To be personal is to have the capacities inherent to personhood: intellect, free will, and love. Every Christian theologian will say, if only by analogy, that God is personal; indeed ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, are personal metaphors used by the God-Man himself. So when it’s said that what-God-is is “unknowable’, I take that as relative, not absolute. I take it to mean that we will never be able to “comprehend” (i.e. wrap our minds around) God because his being is infinite and our minds are finite. Thus we will never be able to give an adequate conceptual account of what-God-is–a fact which is endless grist for the unbelieving philosopher’s mill. But it hardly follows that we have no epistemic access to what-God-is. Leaving aside theses of natural theology, Christians have such access by faith when they profess the central doctrines of Christianity. The economic Trinity reveals the immanent, truly if not completely.

    It’s easy, though, to forget or downplay that in a world where skepticism and relativism, even about science, suffuse the very air we breathe. Thus Mary cites a blog post about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP), called “Why You Can’t Ever Know Anything,” as evidence for “the ultimate impenetrability of all substance/essence.” On her account, it’s not just that God’s essence is unknowable; all essence is unknowable. Of course, all HUP tells us is that you can’t measure the position and velocity of a subatomic particle without changing them, so that you can never know them precisely. That’s a far cry from saying you can’t know what anything is. But as I learned in my undergraduate days, some people (albeit for radically different reasons) welcome the idea that you can’t know what anything is. So they jump to that non-sequitur. That’s a problem hardly limited to theological apophaticism, but it’s as much as danger in theology as anywhere else.


  8. Mary says:

    I agree with you wholly Michael. I was pointing to the fact that Creation is a viable explanation for all impenetrable material. Even science, at its edges, must always yield in all honesty to the fact that much of what it can show us about the world is taken by observation and then, a faithful extrapolation from those observations. The Word takes us beyond that in an interpenetration/theosis that allows us to partake in the divine experience. That we will ever be able to create from nothing?…I expect that is not ever likely . Without faith and prayer, even that promised theosis will be of most limited occurrence or personal value. With St. Gregory, I don’t think we need to probe too far to find expression of just that. I have engaged in more isogesis than exogesis to this point but as I noted earlier, I think the points I’ve made are fair and there’s evidence in the corpus as I know it to touch these things lightly first.


  9. Mary says:

    I was wondering if there’s more to say here about the difference in thinking between those of Alexandria and those of Antioch? I was hoping you might say more, Father…Is there a tendency in the reformed and evangelical non-Catholic world to favor one approach over the other?


  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I’m sure we will have a lot more to say about the differences between Antioch and Alexandria, especially when we get to the Gregory’s Theological Orations and anti-Apollinarian epistles. But let me throw out this appetizer: St Gregory was perhaps the single most important influence on the christology of St Cyril of Alexandria (at least that is the thesis of Christopher Beeley).


  11. Mary says:

    More than Beeley have indicated the same, though perhaps more in a manner of ‘goes without saying’, but the more I read about Beeley’s text, and the more you say about it…the more I want to read it. I have it marked in googlebooks. Also I believe I’ve read more of SS. Cyril and Maximos than any other of the patristic fathers, besides St. Symeon, so I am looking forward to all of this very much. I have the McGuckin text but I’d trade it readily for Beeley …well…maybe.


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