Review: Gregory of Nyssa, “Homily on the Lord’s Prayer”

Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Our Father . Text, translation and notes by Christian Boudignon and Matthieu Cassin, translated by Josette Seguin (†), Christian Boudignon and Matthieu Cassin. Collection “Christian Sources” No. 596, Cerf, Paris, 2018, 570 p.

The Homilies on the Our Father of Saint Gregory of Nyssa are one of his most important works, as indicated by the importance of the manuscript tradition, its ancient insertion in the florilèges, and the appreciations on it by the patrologists, including Lenain de Tillemont, who saw it as “one of his finest works”.

The five homilies contained in the collection most probably date from between 385 and 390 and were probably pronounced at Nyssa, Cappadocia, where Gregory was the bishop.
It seems that they were addressed to an audience made up of all types of faithful: beside very simple considerations on the activity of the farmers or the shopkeepers probably speaking for a part of the audience (beginning of the Homily I ) or a commentary that prefers to consider “bread of today” rather than “supersubstantial bread”, there is a high theological passage on the Trinity.

The first homily is devoted to considerations of prayer in general. It explains why most men neglect prayer and why, however, they would need to pray; why without prayer sin invades the life of man; how prayer protects from sin; why it is appropriate to give thanks to God for His gifts. It also explains what one should not do when one prays: to multiply the vain words, to ask for things in accordance with the passions, to make demands against the enemies (except when it comes to the devil and the demons), to ask for material things rather than spiritual goods.

The following four homilies comment on the words of the prayer, but it is not a rigorous commentary of the text: some terms are freely reformulated, the digressions are numerous, and the comments are sometimes surprising. The reason is that the homilies are essentially intended to provide the faithful with spiritual guidance, and that exegesis is at the service of this mainly pastoral purpose.

Gregory’s teaching is entirely directed towards the transformation of man, whose vocation is to acquire a resemblance to God who unites him to Him, makes him an adopted son of God and deifies him. The Christian, for that reason, must detach himself from the world, remove from him the powers of evil, purify himself from passions, and acquire the virtues, which results from his efforts, but also from the grace that God gives him in answer to his prayer.
A vast introduction of almost 300 pages presents, in a first part due to Matthieu Cassin, the dating, the circumstances and the aim of the text (pp. 11-36); in a second part, due to Christian Boudignon, an analysis of the content of the homilies – structure, sources, themes, reception (pp. 37-184) – and in a third part, due to Matthieu Cassin, the history of the text ( pp. 184-270). The translation is the joint work of the two authors who took as their basis a dissertation by Josette Seguin (†).
This volume first proposes a new critical edition of the Greek text, which, based on a larger handwritten base, improves, on more than two hundred points (listed on pages 261-270), that which was published in 1992 by JF Gallahan in the Gregorii Nysseni Opera vol. VII.2 and which until now was authoritative.

All the corrections made here to this last edition, however, are not indisputable and do not render it obsolete, as is shown by a passage from the Trinitarian discourse contained in Homily III which, opposed to pneumatomaques, deals with the divinity of the Saint- Spirit, whose central part concerns more particularly the hypostatic properties of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (pp. 422-427 in this volume):

“The peculiarity of the Father is not to exist from a cause: it is not proper in the case of the Son and the Spirit. For the Son came from the Father, according to what the Scripture says, and the Spirit is from God and proceeds from the Father (ὅ τε γὰρ υἱὸς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐξῆλθε, καθώς φησιν ἡ γραφὴ, καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται). But as the fact of existing without a cause, since it belongs only to the Father, can not adapt to the Son or the Spirit, so, on the contrary, the fact of existing from a cause, which is proper to the Son and the Spirit, can not be recognized in the Father as to nature. On the other hand, as it is common for the Son and the Spirit not to be ungendered, so that no confusion is found about the substratum, we can again discover that the difference between their properties is unmixed, so that and what is common is saved, and what is clean is not confused.

For the monogenous Son is named from the Father by the divine Scripture and the Word stops his property to this point, while the Holy Spirit, the Scripture and the said from the Father, and further testifies that he is [from] the Son (Ὁ γὰρ μονογενὴς υἱὸς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς παρὰ τῆς ἁγίας γραφῆς ὀνομάζεται καὶ μέχρι τούτου ὁ λόγος ἵστησιν αὐτῷ τὸ ἰδίωμα, τὸ δὲ ἅγιον πνεῦμα καὶ ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς λέγεται, καὶ [ἐκ] τοῦ υἱοῦ εἶναι προσμαρτυρεῖται). Indeed, if someone does not have the Spirit of Christ (πνεῦμα Χριστοῦ), it is said, it is not of him. So the Spirit that is from God is the Spirit of Christ (τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα τὸ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ὂν καὶ Χριστοῦ πνεῦμά ἐστιν). Whereas the Son, who is from God, is not and is not said further from the Spirit, and this consequence of the relation is not convertible as if we could equivalently convert the proposition into bringing it back to the previous one and, as we say the Spirit of Christ, also name the Christ, “the Spirit” (ὥσπερ Χριστοῦ τὸ πνεῦμα λέγομεν, οὕτω καὶ τοῦ πνεύματος Χριστὸν ὀνομάσαι). Therefore, since this property distinguishes them from each other clearly and without confusion, while their identity as to activity (κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν). testifies to the community of their nature, the righteous conception about the divinity is affirmed on both sides, so that the Trinity is enumerated by the hypostases without being broken up into elements of different natures. “

In his introduction, Christian Boudignon devotes a long comment to this passage (pp. 155-168), animated from the beginning by the idea that we find an expression of the Filioque in the sentence: “For the monogenous Son is named after of the Father by the divine Scripture and the Word stops his property to this point, while the Holy Spirit, the Scripture and the said from the Father, and further testifies that he is [from] the Son (καὶ [ἐκ] τοῦ υἱοῦ εἶναι προσμαρτυρεῖται) “. The publishers have decided to publish the text and the translation without the square brackets we have put here following the edition of Callahan (in GNO VII-2, p.43) for the preposition ἐκ and for its French translation ( from). Callahan had put these hooks because the preposition ἐκ is here problematic in several respects. On the one hand, it is present in some manuscripts and absent in others. In some manuscripts where she was present, she was erased or crossed out. One can certainly suppose that this is the intervention of unscrupulous copyists, unfavorable to the Latin doctrine of Filioque, who wanted to eliminate what could appear to his supporters as a patristic attestation of it. It is true that the preposition is present in the oldest manuscripts, including the archetype (of the 9th century) and also in a quotation in the anthology entitled Doctrina Patrum (late 7th century), at a time when the quarrel Filioque was not yet engaged. The editors of this volume have chosen to favor this old certificate, and to avoid brackets, which, moreover, are not part of the signs used in their critical edition. That said, the problem is not so simple. The majority of publishers (including Callahan) and previous commentators of this text, including Catholics and Protestants (including D. Petau, K. Holl, Jaeger W., C. Moreschini, Brugarolas Brufau), implementing the principles of internal criticism, have noted that the presence of the ἐκ (from) about the Holy Spirit in relation to the Son (in the place where we put the brackets) is incoherent with respect to Gregory’s context and thought of Nyssa, and therefore can not be of his hand. Thus its effacement by some copyists would not result from a theological position hostile to a content likely to support the doctrine of Filioque, but the concern to restore the text its consistency with the thought of Gregory, not such that ‘it is’ dreamed’, as C. Boudignon very slightly asserts (p.160), but as it can be induced from the context, but also found in other similar texts appearing in other works of the great Cappadocian. The presence of the preposition in the archetype (the oldest known manuscript, from which all the others derive, copied nearly five centuries after the writing of the work) would be the result of an error of a copyist, which would have been reproduced in the manuscripts of the same family (and can be borrowed from older manuscripts). This error would not result from a lack of thought, but from the desire to establish in the second segment of the sentence a textual equilibrium with the first segment. The previous editors of the text have thus taken the position that, like Krabinger or Oehler, the preposition is to be deleted, or, like Callahan, to put it in brackets to indicate both its presence in many manuscripts (whose archetype itself and the dubious character of his attribution to Gregory of Nyssa himself (see the preface of Callahan to his edition, GNO VII-2, pp. X-XIV, and especially his remark, p. As regards the tradition of the text itself, it must be concluded that the ἐκ belongs to the text insofar as we can be guided by strictly palaeographic proofs, but, secondly, it is very difficult to justify its presence in the text. from the point of view of Grégoire’s argumentation, as Jaeger has pointed out: This is true, it seems to me, even if we carefully exclude the later doctrinal meaning of ἐκ and consider, as it should, a sense q Gregory himself could give it to him. I have therefore concluded that the ἐκ does not belong to Gregory’s original text, despite the paleographic evidence, and I placed it in square brackets in this edition “).

In his commentary, C. Boudignon could have kept to these remarks that a serious study of the Trinitarian doctrine of Gregory of Nyssa in its entirety would certainly have led to confirm. But in a development reminiscent of passionate positions and the biased argumentation of Latinophrones in the hottest of the quarrel over the Filioque, he makes every effort to not only justify the text with the preposition but to give it a straightforward meaning. Filioque. On the one hand he grossly accuses his predecessors – whose scientific qualities are nevertheless recognized – of “blindness” and obsession (p.159), resorts to a psychological argument that should not find its place here (Callahan would have been “Impressed by the prestige of Jaeger” [160]), and trivial comparisons (the entry and exit of Avignon [p.161]) that are not up to the subject or the seriousness of the collection. Accusing Jaeger of having wanted to treat a philological problem theologically and claiming to treat it philologically himself, and noting that until then “the old Filioque quarrel has polluted debates” (p. a few lines later, without fear of contradicting oneself, not only in purely theological considerations but in abusive inferences which very clearly testify to a commitment in favor of the Filioque. On the other hand, he adds a dose to the meaning of the sentence in which, according to this edition, the ἐκ is written: Gregory according to him implies that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in an immediate manner and from the Son in a mediate way, whereas nothing in the text allows to induce this. One finds certainly in another work of Grégoire, the Ad Ablabium , GNO III-1, p. 56, the affirmation of a mediation of the Son, but this claim has resulted in extensive comments (especially from Gregory II of Cyprus in his criticism of John latinophrone Bekkos positions) which show that the διὰ (τοῦ υἱοῦ ) is not identifiable with ἐκ (τοῦ υἱοῦ), and that it is not the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, but of its manifestation (in time and in eternity) by the Son. And especially the present text has no relation with that of the Ad Ablabium , the two contexts being different. In the passage of Homily III that we have in mind, most scholars who have studied the text are right to exclude the ἐκ (derived from) as not corresponding to the logic of the text and to the very position likely Gregory: should read “while the Holy Spirit, Scripture and the words from the Father, and further demonstrates that it is [Spirit] of the Son (καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ εἶναι προσμαρτυρεῖται)” because it is and refers clearly to the formula that Gregory quotes twice in this passage: “the Spirit of Christ” (formula found in Rom 8, 9, but also in an epistle of St. Peter [1 P 1, 11] , which publishers could have pointed out since Gregory mentions “the Scripture” and not specifically St. Paul). It should be noted, moreover, that in the beginning of the text we have quoted (as in several other passages of his works), Gregory clearly states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, without any mention of any intervention of the Son in this procession that gives him existence.

In his so-called demonstration, C. Boudignon multiplies the peremptory assertions and abusive inductions or deductions, as for example p. 163: “We are thus dealing with a schema of logical division, first between the cause and the cause, then within the cause of what comes immediately from the cause and what comes from it mediately. This is exactly the logic of the text of the context of this passage “; or p. 165: “the fact that one can not reverse the words” Spirit of Christ “and say” Christ of the Spirit “shows the anteriority of being of the Son over the Spirit, who is secondarily from the Son” ; or p. 166: “The relation of the Father to the Son is that of the Son to the Spirit. As the Father is the cause of the Son, the Son is the cause of the Spirit. Nevertheless it is always the Father who is the primary cause of the Spirit, while Christ is the cause, this second time, of the Spirit “; or ibid : “In being the cause of the Spirit, Christ acquires an ontological anteriority over the Spirit just as the Father had an ontological authority over the Son”. The author presents here statements which are entirely in keeping with the purest Latin theology of Filioquistism, but which are strictly unrelated to the Trinitarian doctrine of St. Gregory of Nyssa, and can not even logically be deduced or induced from the text itself. including ἐκ.

The comment of C. Boudignon still calls for other remarks:
– Contrary to what he asserts (pp. 161 and 167), Gregory’s thought in the text in question, whether or not the ἐκ is placed there, has nothing to do with the deployment of the Trinity that Gregory Nazianzen describes in his famous Speech XXIX, 2, SC 250 p. 180.

Very questionable also, is the following statement (pp. 167-168), based on the above abusive claims: “We are in a continuous movement that causes what is without cause to separate from what is caused, and that the cause then separates itself between what is directly attached to the cause and what is indirectly attached to it. This causality does not hinder the divinity of the one who is caused: the Father is the cause of the Son without the Son being less God. Likewise, the Son is the second cause of the Spirit, but the Spirit is none the less God. This presentation of the Spirit from the Son, himself from the Father, resumes a Neoplatonic-inspired pattern: the Soul of the World or third hypostasis in Plotinus is the pouring out of all the energy of the Intelligence or second hypostasis, itself spilling of all the energy of the One or first hypostasis. This is what Gregory says when he speaks about the Son and the Spirit, this energy identity or activity τῆς δὲ κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν ταὐτότητος τὸ κοι νὸν μαρτυρούσης τῆς φύσεως, “their identity, as to the activity, testifies of the community of their nature “, so that we can draw a pious understanding of the divinity. We do not understand this sudden reference to the energy or activity that is identical between the three hypostases if we are not precisely in this neoplatonic transmission of the activated between the hypostases. “

We can first contrast this with what V. Lossky wrote in 1944 against a lasting fashion, which consists in considering that the Trinitarian doctrine of the Greek Fathers is influenced by Neoplatonism: “The plotinian trinity comprises three hypostases. consubstantial: the One, the Intelligence, and the Soul of the world. Their consubstantiality does not rise to the trinitarian antinomy of Christian dogma: it presents itself as a decreasing hierarchy and realized thanks to the incessant flow of the hypostases which pass into each other, reflect each other. This shows us once again how false is the method of historians who wish to express the thought of the Fathers of the Church, interpreting the terms which it uses in the sense of Hellenistic philosophy “( Mystical Theology of the Church of Orient , Pais, 1944, 48).

Secondly, it can be noted that the Trinitarian thought of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa developed, in their controversy with Eunome, against Neoplatonism, which strongly influenced the thought of Neoplatonism, and not in the line of this current. philosophical.

In relation to the two preceding remarks, one can thirdly note that it is not by virtue of the transmission ( a fortiori Neoplatonic) of the activity between the hypostases that the identity of energy between them is affirmed. As Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea did before him, against the pneumatomaques who deny the deity of the Holy Spirit, Gregory of Nyssa, by affirming with reference to the Father, the Son and the Spirit that “their identity as to to energy bears witness to the community of their nature “, simply states that if the Spirit has the same energy as the Son and the Father, then it has the same power as them (energy being the manifestation of a power), and if it has the same power as them, then it has the same nature as them (the power being that of a nature), the sentence quoted previously (p. in connection with a preceding sentence of the same section (p.418) evoking Christ and the Spirit: “So one is their activity (ἐνέργεια) and their power (δύναμις). Because all activity is the realization of a power. therefore, if activity and power are one, how is it possible to conjecture a difference of nature in those in whom we find no difference of power or activity? […] Now it has been shown before […] that nature is the same for the Father and the Son […]. So that if the Son is united according to nature to the Father and it has been shown that the Holy Spirit is not alien to the nature of the Son because of the identity of their activities, therefore, he was demonstrated that the nature of the Holy Trinity is one. “

For more details on the positions of Eunome and the three Cappadocians, I refer to my study Theology of divine energies , Cerf, Paris, 2010, p. 145-232; p. 183-232 for Gregory of Nyssa) where I write in particular about Gregory of Nyssa: “The triad essence – power – energy meets several times in the reflections of Gregory on God. Gregory puts the divine energy (or the divine energies) in relation to the divine power and essence. He emphasizes that the essence and the power preexist the energies ( Contra Eunomium , II, 150), this preexistence having to be understood not in a temporal sense but in a sense logical and ontological, the essence being the foundation. This conception does not imply any hierarchical connotation in Gregory and can not be considered as related to neo-Platonic thought; on the contrary, Gregory affirms his conception by opposing that of Eunome, which, in relation to the notions of essence and energy, very clearly establishes a hierarchy between the three hypostases of the Trinity, and is related by this idea of ​​a degradation of divinity, to neo-Platonism. “

Jean-Claude Larchet