Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview

Rowan A. Greer


The Leaven and the lamb
Christ and Gregory of Nyssa's Vision of Human Destiny

It is a common, indeed virtually a universal experience to find the writings preserved from the early church obscure and inaccessible; the reader has the sense of entering an unfamiliar landscape. What explains this experience is in part the simple fact that the conventions of the world view of late antiquity are both different from and sometimes offensive to our own, tied as it is to the empirical and committed to giving primacy to the world of our own experience. But it is also true that much of the theology of the fourth and fifth centuries looks like futile quibbling about inconsequential details. Is the Son of God one in being with the Father (homoousios) or like in being to the Father (homoiousios)? Is the incarnate Lord to be recognized as one out of two natures or one in two natures? Indeed, the dogmas that are the product of the first four general councils of the church, held between 325 and 451, appear to be a kind of esoteric mathematics. The Trinity is one substance and three persons, so that three times one equals one. And Christ's person is two natures in one person, so that one plus one equals one. In order to understand what the fathers of the church were saying it is necessary not only to recognize the initial difficulties I am mentioning but also to penetrate them. It is as though we encountered an obscure poem: understanding comes only by the willing suspension of disbelief that allows us to enter the conventions of the poem in order to interpret it.

Theology in the fourth and fifth centuries, as I have implied, revolved around two controversies about the identity of Christ. The Christ of the Arians was neither divine nor human, but imagined as the first of God's creatures, a sort of gigantic archangel through whom God created the rest

____________________
Rowan A. Greer is Professor of Early Christian Literature at Yale University.

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