Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reason and Wisdom in Gregory of Nyssa

Here Polycarp (Joel) continues to write about Logos and Sophia. I will respond to some of his ideas in a future post.

Earlier I wrote,
    English readers are cut off from the diverse ways that this passage could be read at the time it was written. We are cut off from how this passage is read in other modern European languages. The English translations are also committed to an interpretation which is foreign to a Jewish understanding of the text.
An example of this can be found in the following passage. Gregroy of Nyssa wrote,
    The existence of God's Word* and Spirit is unlikely to be contested either by the Greek whose notions are those common to mankind or by the Jew with his notions derived from Scripture. Byt the dispensation by which the divine Word became man will be rejected by both alike as an incredible and improper thing to affirm about God. So on this issue we will have to take a different starting-point in order to conivince our opponents.

    They believe that all things were created by the reason and wisdom of him who constructed the whole universe - unless they have difficulty in believing even that! But if they will not grant that reason and wisdom govern the structure of things, that would amount to setting up unreason and unskillfulness as ruling principle of the universe. And that is surely both absurd and impious; so there can be absolutely no question about their admitting that reason and wisdom govern existing things,

    * Gregory's argument depends on the two meanings of the Greek word, Logos - reason and word. In translation a choice between them has to be made. Also where the personal sense of 'divine Word' seems uppermost we have used a capital W and the masculine rather than the neuter pronoun - distinctions not present in the Greek.
Documents in Early Christian thought By Maurice F. Wiles, Mark Santer page 101

Gregory of Nyssa says that the Greeks and the Jews believe in reason and wisdom, that is logos and sophia, but they do not believe that they could become man. Without some understanding of the origin of the reference to logos, as the alter ego of sophia, this passage would not be clear.

We have to know that logos and sophia are a pair, and understand that the passage in John is ambiguous in the Greek, not actually saying unambiguously that "he," the man Jesus, was the logos.

Whatever we believe that this passage says, we have to accept that others have to this text and, with equal honesty, understood something different.

Thanks to David Reimer for mentioning the works of Maurice Wiles.



J. L. Watts said...

Thanks, Suzanne, for carrying on with the conversation. I have not read much of Gregory of N. Perhaps I should.

Thanks again.

Peter Kirk said...

I wonder if there is any relevance to 1 Corinthians 12:8 where among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, indeed first among them, are listed "the word (logos) of wisdom (sophia) ... the word of knowledge".