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Lewis Ayres begins by noting the absence of genealogies of the development of the doctrine of deification, but quickly adds that we have, as a place to begin, a number of careful studies on Gregory of Nyssa. Still, scholars are divided on whether or not Gregory would have supported such a doctrine. For instance, Jules Gross makes Gregory a proponent of theosis, whereas Ekkhard Mühlenberg says that the distinction he draws between God and the world precludes it. Ayres positions himself against Mühlenberg, arguing that Gregory's understanding of the way that the human person mirrors the divine life preserves the distinction between created and Creator while at the same time taking place within the divine life in such a way that it can be properly called theosis. In his own words, "For Gregory, any talk of 'union' with the divine life is always understood within the context of the absolute distinction between Creator and creation and the incomprehensibility of the divine action" (377). In short, Divine transcendence does not render deification impossible.
My estimation of this article as that Ayres accomplishes what he sets out to do, but I am predisposed to agree with what he argues here, namely that with Gregory we have the makings of an excellent theology of theosis. On the other hand, I would hardly go so far as Ayres to call this "sophisticated" (394). The author himself admits that at best we get with Gregory an insistence that the absolute transcendence of God is precisely what makes immanence possible, and that this aporia does nothing else but throw our minds back upon the Scripture's insistence that the transcendent God is immanent to the Universe. Ayres does not recognize (1) that what we have here is an exercise in apophatic theology, where two contradictory statements unite in a paradox that, in turn, casts the mind upon biblical assertions that only start the process over again. Nor (2) does Ayres draw out the sanctifying role of Christ as the one who mediates immanence to transcendence by changing the cellular structure of the communicant. Perhaps I should not expect so much out of an historical theologian. Ayres is a good place to begin, but we should not end there.
Paul S. Russell, "St Ephraem's Carmina Nisibena 33: A Hymn on Paganism's Place in the Word," St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 49:4 (2005): 395-415.
The following article would be of particular interest to those studying ancient hymnography, Patristics, martyrology, and David Dault. Paul Russell has translated a hymn by Ephraem the Syrian. He begins by making two biographical observations that bear upon our interest. First, Ephraem's life was punctuated not by wars that displaced him from his homeland nor his exile, but by the experience of being born into a world where he feared for his life to dying in a world where Christianity was the religion of the empire. The second has to do with the composition of the hymn itself. Russell begins by noting a hymn to three Syrian martyrs available in English. He recognizes that some of the details may be obscured by the genre, but nonetheless insists that they are historically reliable accounts. The hymn under discussion, Russell says, was designed to follow the accounts of the martyrs lives, probably both being sung successively at a festival. The translation of the hymn (which argues that paganism is self-destructive) is followed with commentary.
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