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Language and theology in St Gregory of Nyssa

Neamţu, Mihail G. (2002) Language and theology in St Gregory of Nyssa. Masters thesis, Durham University.



This MA thesis focuses on the work of one of the most influential and authoritative theologians of the early Church: St Gregory of Nyssa (†396). My topic of research consists in the relationship between language and theology, as it shaped in Gregory’s polemical works against the radical Arians, in particular against Eunomius of Cyzicus (†395).The first chapter tackles the historical side of the controversy and provides the chronology of the dogmatic disputes on the dogma of Trinity following the Council of Nicaea (325). The second chapters illustrate the conflict being at stake between two theological methodologies: Gregory's grammar of thought is scriptural, whereas Eunomius' theology is much more philosophical and inflexible in its terms. Eunomius claimed that one can know God by his essence in the concept of 'ingenerate'. On the contrary, for Gregory of Nyssa, God 'is above all names'. For him, language and sexuality are realitites of the post-lapsarian world, which made human mind opaque and the exercise of interpretation indispensable. Gregory included also the episode of Babel in the genealogy of our linguistic finitude. The third and the fourth chapters focus on the relationship between language and theological knowledge in St Gregory's third book Contra Eunomium. All words used in human language - including Eunomius' concept of agennetos – have complementary meanings, since no one can describe the essence of an object or of any part of reality. On this basis, Gregory develops his 'theory of relativity' of names, which can never befit God's majesty and glory. In the last chapter, under the heading 'Pragmatics of Language', I investigate the immediate consequences of Gregory's 'theory of relativity'. Speech is treated as a sphere, which resembles the creative power of the hypostatic Word. Therefore, rhetoric becomes the perfect tool for his pastoral concern in doing theology. By choosing rhetoric, Gregory is free to start his theological argument from anywhere, since theology is a discourse about God's redemptive economy. In conclusion, I try to emphasise the actuality of Gregory's theory of names and its importance for the contemporary debates in the Church on thorny issues as Trinitarian theology or gender. I also evaluate Gregory of Nyssa's self-consistency in positive terms.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2002
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2012 11:41

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