Friday, January 30, 2009

Gregory Nazianzen - An early theory of doctrinal development


While reading Gregory Nazianzen’s “Fifth Theological Oration – On The Holy Spirit”, I noticed something I had previously overlooked: a theory of doctrinal development. The design of this particular oration was to set forth and defend the full divinity of the Holy Spirit as the third member of the Godhead against the teachings of the Eunomians (ahomoian Arians) and Macedonians (also called the Pneumatomachians). Embedded in his apologia, concerning a perceived “silence of Scripture” on this issue, is what I now believe to be a theory of DD.

Nazianzen sets the stage of his discourse with this:

But of the wise men amongst ourselves, some have conceived of him [the Holy Spirit] as an Activity, some as a Creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call Him, out of reverence for Scripture, they say, as though it did not make the matter clear either way. And therefore they neither worship Him nor treat Him with dishonor, but take up a neutral position, or rather a very miserable one, with respect to Him. And of those who consider Him to be God, some are orthodox in mind only, while others venture to be so with the lips also. And I have heard of some who are even more clever, and measure Deity; and these agree with us that there are Three Conceptions; but they have separated these from one another so completely as to make one of them infinite both in essence and power, and the second in power but not in essence, and the third circumscribed in both; thus imitating in another way those who call them the Creator, the Co-operator, and the Minister, and consider that the same order and dignity which belongs to these names is also a sequence in the facts. (Gregory Nazianzen, Fifth Theological Oration – On The Holy Spirit, V – English trans., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second series, 7.318.)

One can clearly discern from the above that during this stage of Christian history a considerable amount of doctrinal diversity existed among Christians concerning the Holy Spirit. In paragraph XXI, Nazianzen sheds some light on why this was so:

Over and over again you turn upon us the silence of Scripture. But that it is not a strange doctrine, nor an afterthought, but acknowledged and plainly set forth both by the ancients and many of our own day, is already demonstrated by many persons who have treated of this subject, and who have handled the Holy Scriptures, not with indifference or as a mere pastime, but have gone beneath the letter and looked into the inner meaning, and have been deemed worthy to see the hidden beauty, and have been irradiated by the light of knowledge. We, however in our turn will briefly prove it as far as may be, in order not to seem to be over-curious or improperly ambitious, building on another’s foundation. But since the fact, that Scripture does not very clearly or very often write Him God in express words (as it does first the Father and afterwards the Son), becomes to you an occasion of blasphemy and of this excessive wordiness and impiety, we will release you from this inconvenience by a short discussion of things and names, and especially of their use in Holy Scripture. (p. 324)

And then in paragraph XXIV:

Since, then, there is so much difference in terms and things, why are you such a slave to the letter, and a partisan of the Jewish wisdom, and a follower of syllables at the expense of facts? But if, when you said twice five or twice seven, I concluded from your words that you meant Ten or Fourteen; or if, when you spoke of a rational and mortal animal, that you meant Man, should you think me to be talking nonsense? Surely not, because I should be merely repeating your own meaning; for words do not belong more to the speaker of them than to him who called them forth. As, then, in this case, I should have been looking, not so much at the terms used, as at the thoughts they were meant to convey; so neither, if I found something else either not at all or not clearly expressed in the Words of Scripture to be included in the meaning, should I avoid giving it utterance, out of fear of your sophistical trick about terms. In this way, then, we shall hold our own against the semi-orthodox — among whom I may not count you. For since you deny the Titles of the Son, which are so many and so clear, it is quite evident that even if you learnt a great many more and clearer ones you would not be moved to reverence. But now I will take up the argument again a little way further back, and shew you, though you are so clever, the reason for this entire system of secrecy. (p. 325)

In the remaining paragraphs (XXV-XXXIII), Nazianzen goes on to explain “the reason for this entire system of system of secrecy”. He starts by comparing,

Now the two Testaments, or, on account of the wide fame of the matter, two Earthquakes; the one from idols to the Law, the other from the Law to the Gospel. And we are taught in the Gospel of a third earthquake, namely, from this Earth to that which cannot be shaken or moved. Now the two Testaments are alike in this respect, that the change was not made on a sudden, nor at the first movement of the endeavor… And therefore like a Tutor or Physician He partly removes and partly condones ancestral habits, conceding some little of what tended to pleasure, just as medical men do with their patients, that their medicine may be taken, being artfully blended with what is nice. For it is no very easy matter to change from those habits which custom and use have made honorable. For instance, the first cut off the idol, but left the sacrifices; the second, while it destroyed the sacrifices did not forbid circumcision. Then, when once men had submitted to the curtailment, they also yielded that which had been conceded to them; in the first instance the sacrifices, in the second circumcision; and became instead of Gentiles, Jews, and instead of Jews, Christians, being beguiled into the Gospel by gradual changes… To this I may compare the case of Theology except that it proceeds the reverse way. For in the case by which I have illustrated it the change is made by successive subtractions; whereas here perfection is reached by additions. For the matter stands thus. The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated. For this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the Disciples, measuring Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him, at the beginning of the Gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues. And indeed it is by little and little that He is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully. I will ask the Father, He says, and He will send you another Comforter, even the spirit of Truth. This He said that He might not seem to be a rival God, or to make His discourses to them by another authority. Again, He shall send Him, but it is in My Name. He leaves out the I will ask, but He keeps the Shall send, then again, I will send, — His own dignity. Then shall come, the authority of the Spirit. (pp. 325, 326)

This theme of “gradual additions” as unfolded in the Scriptures is then applied to the development of doctrine:

I will add another point to what I have said; one which may readily have come into the mind of some others, but which I think a fruit of my own thought. Our Savior had some things which, He said, could not be borne at that time by His disciples (though they were filled with many teachings), perhaps for the reasons I have mentioned; and therefore they were hidden. And again He said that all things should be taught us by the Spirit when He should come to dwell amongst us. (p. 326)

He ends the oration with:

Finally, then, it seems best to me to let the images and the shadows go, as being deceitful and very far short of the truth; and clinging myself to the more reverent conception, and resting upon few words, using the guidance of the Holy Ghost, keeping to the end as my genuine comrade and companion the enlightenment which I have received from Him, and passing through this world to persuade all others also to the best of my power to worship Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the One Godhead and Power. To Him belongs all glory and honor and might for ever and ever. Amen. (p. 328)

Via “the guidance” and “the enlightenment” of the Holy Spirit, the “hidden meaning” and “inner beauty” of the Scriptures is gradually unfolded unto the Church when She is ready to bear it.

I am now persuaded that we have before us a theory of doctrnal development; but am I the only one with this opinion? Some research earlier today yielded the following:

To explain the lateness of His [the Holy Spirit] recognition as God he [Nazianzen] produces a highly original theory of doctrinal development. (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1960, second edition, p. 261.)

And from the pen of one of the brightest Eastern Orthodox scholars of our age we read:

Revelation has been accomplished and the mystery of the Trinity is manifest. However, it has still not been fully absorbed by man. Man must penetrate the mystery until “that which has been desired for us is completely revealed.” Gregory predicts that when we go inside, the Bridegroom will know what to teach and that to say to the souls which have entered. He will communicate with us and give us the most absolute and perfect knowledge…

Although the divinity of the Spirit is not explicitly proclaimed in Scripture, there is much solemn evidence of this. Gregory explains the reticence of Scripture on the doctrine of the Spirit by showing that revelation takes place in economic stages.

The spiritual experience of the Church is also a form of revelation, and through this experience the Spirit makes clear His own dignity. (George Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, online document -http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/fathers_florovsky_1.htm#_Toc3723870.)


Grace and peace,

David

[Note: All bold emphasis in the provided citations is mine.]

8 comments:

Chris said...

Hi David,

I see here a doctrine of "reserve" (or "accommodation"), a doctrine of "spiritual interpretation", and an affirmation of a disciplina arcani (none of which are unusual among the ECFs). What I don't see is a doctrine of on-going doctrinal development in the cumulative, Newmanesque sense.

Nazianzen seems to perceive revelation as something that happened in three stages: the Old Testament period, the New Testament period, and the post-New Testament period. These he identifies with the Father, Son, and Spirit, respectively. In the Church Age the Gospel is complete because we have the illumination of the Spirit. What he does not say is that authoritative tradition will continue to accumulate or develop.

Best,

-Chris

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

Good to see back at AF; how is the job hunting going?

You posted:

>>I see here a doctrine of "reserve" (or "accommodation"), a doctrine of "spiritual interpretation", and an affirmation of a disciplina arcani (none of which are unusual among the ECFs). What I don't see is a doctrine of on-going doctrinal development in the cumulative, Newmanesque sense.>>

Me: Yes and no. First, Newman had to address another 1500 years of development; second, the notion of organic growth/development is present in many of the CFs (when I get the time, I will create a new thread with the appropriate citations).

>>Nazianzen seems to perceive revelation as something that happened in three stages: the Old Testament period, the New Testament period, and the post-New Testament period. These he identifies with the Father, Son, and Spirit, respectively. In the Church Age the Gospel is complete because we have the illumination of the Spirit.>>

Me: Complete in an ‘objective’, ‘material’ sense; yet the same HS who inspired the NT authors, is now at work in Christ’s mystical body—the Church.

>>What he does not say is that authoritative tradition will continue to accumulate or develop.>>

Me: Nazianzen’s period is quite unique (IMHO), for you have competing councils and creeds vying for authoritative status. The ‘full’ impact of Nicea had to wait until Constantinople at which time it became authoritative for Catholic Christians, and then it began to be appealed to as such.


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

Hi David, Chris,

Certainly St. Gregory allows for development of doctrine. But Chris denies that this extends beyond the Church Age, "because we have the illumination of the Spirit."

But I thought there was one passage which pointed to the probability that Gregory saw the pattern observed between the Testaments and the coming of the Holy Spirit as one which is continuing:

"Now the two Testaments are alike in this respect, that the change was not made on a sudden, nor at the first movement of the endeavor… And therefore like a Tutor or Physician He partly removes and partly condones ancestral habits, conceding some little of what tended to pleasure, just as medical men do with their patients, that their medicine may be taken, being artfully blended with what is nice. For it is no very easy matter to change from those habits which custom and use have made honorable. For instance, the first cut off the idol, but left the sacrifices; the second, while it destroyed the sacrifices did not forbid circumcision. Then, when once men had submitted to the curtailment, they also yielded that which had been conceded to them; in the first instance the sacrifices, in the second circumcision; and became instead of Gentiles, Jews, and instead of Jews, Christians, being beguiled into the Gospel by gradual changes… To this I may compare the case of Theology except that it proceeds the reverse way."

To what does Nazianzen refer when he compares the biblical pattern to "the case of Theology". It seems most likely to me that he was indeed referring to the ongoing activity of the Church in pondering upon the truths revealed not without the light of the Holy Ghost, but prompted by interpretations of Sacred Scripture that could not be definitively refuted, but which seemed incompatible with the Church's faith.

I could be reading my own theories into St. Gregory, but I cannot imagine what else he means by saying "To this I may compare the case of Theology..." That does not sound like Church Age to me, and yet he still sees the necessity of progression.

It would appear that Orthodox scholarship seems to be going the same direction as the First Vatican Council which observed: "...let the understanding, the knowledge, and wisdom of individuals as of all, of one man as of the whole Church, grow and progress strongly with the passage of the ages and the centuries..." Session III, ch. 4, Denz. 1800

To the quote above are added admonitions which prohibit unbridled license in theological speculation. But the Catholics are accused of promoting theological development simply so they could promote novelties such as the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, and the Assumption of Mary.

But it would seem that Orthodoxy, which cannot be accused of promoting false progress on the same ground, makes room for perceiving Nazianzen as recognizing theological progress in the Church and using a stronger word than development. Calling it revelation, I repeat the quote David gave us from (Fr.?)Florovsky: "The spiritual experience of the Church is also a form of revelation, and through this experience the Spirit makes clear His own dignity".

Wow...I think we need more of this kind of material to help our Mormon friends understand that while believing that Christ's coming completely filled the cup of information that will be necessary for our salvation, that this in no way implies a lessening of the activity of the revelation of God to man by His Spirit through the Church. We say that revelation is closed because we have all the information. We say that revelation continues because we have yet to understand it all.

Filter Boy

David Waltz said...

Hi Filter Boy,

You wrote:

>>Certainly St. Gregory allows for development of doctrine. But Chris denies that this extends beyond the Church Age, "because we have the illumination of the Spirit.">>

Me: But the Church Age does not end until our Lord’s return (i.e. the “Second Coming”).

I quoted the following from Nazianzen which suggests to me that there is indeed doctrinal development during the Church Age:


I will add another point to what I have said; one which may readily have come into the mind of some others, but which I think a fruit of my own thought. Our Savior had some things which, He said, could not be borne at that time by His disciples (though they were filled with many teachings), perhaps for the reasons I have mentioned; and therefore they were hidden. And again He said that all things should be taught us by the Spirit when He should come to dwell amongst us. (p. 326)

You also said:

>>Wow...I think we need more of this kind of material to help our Mormon friends understand that while believing that Christ's coming completely filled the cup of information that will be necessary for our salvation, that this in no way implies a lessening of the activity of the revelation of God to man by His Spirit through the Church. We say that revelation is closed because we have all the information. We say that revelation continues because we have yet to understand it all.>>

Me: I was thinking the exact same thing…


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Filter Boy would like to be known as "Editor Boy".

Unfortunately, the blogosphere does not allow for editing. I could see immediately the need to clarify the meaning of "church age". I took Chris to mean the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, or at most the death of the last Apostle.

I certainly agree, as I think I indicated that this particular Eastern Father thought that the Spirit continues to help the Church develop, if not reveal, truths that have not been explicitly taught in the past.

On one side we are accused of permitting this for allowing unscriptural noveties. On the other we are accused of teaching that God no longer speaks to us. I think Newman actually found his Via Media, but not until he came to Rome! Heh,

Editor Boy

Jay Dyer said...

This is great: can I post this at Nicenetruth?

jay

Jay Dyer said...

Metroplolitan John Zizioulas makes this same analysis of development in his essay on the Cappadocian Contribution.

Jay

David Waltz said...

Hello Jay,

You asked the following:

>>This is great: can I post this at Nicenetruth?>>

By all means—post away.

You also wrote:

>> Metroplolitan John Zizioulas makes this same analysis of development in his essay on the Cappadocian Contribution.>>

Is that in his book, Being As Communion, or some other treatment?


Grace and peace,

David