Shortly after 360, Eunomius published his Apology ; Basil of Caesarea answered it around 364-365. Some fifteen years later, Eunomius published his own answer to Basil, the Apology of Apology, but Basil died almost at the very time of this publication. So, it is Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, who takes the burden of refuting Eunomius’ books.
In the cover-letter (Ep. 29) he sends to his brother Peter with Contra Eunomium I, Gregory presents his writing as a defence of Basil’s memory against the slanders of Eunomius; in the three books of his Contra Eunomium, Gregory repeatedly appeals to the tutelary figure of Basil, calling him “our master”, “the Great”, etc. A cursory reading of Gregory’s books clearly shows that he is continuing with Basil’s positions, and defends not only his memory but also his theological positions against their common adversary.
Of course, the Nyssen does not only repeat his brothers’ arguments: he also expands and completes Basil’s refutation. For example, Basil has very shortly explained the controversial verse of Pr 8:22; in book I, Gregory resumes Basil’s interpretation but in book III, he develops a new, personal and rather long explanation. The Nyssen also reuses Basil’s exegetical interpretations, but takes them outside Contra Eunomium, especially in Basil’s homilies, for example on Jn 1 or on Pr 1.
However, we can also identify theological, exegetical or philosophical points where Gregory departs from Basil’s position. A well known example – but difficult to interpret – is the definition of substance in Basil, Contra Eunomium, II, 4, and the citation by Gregory in Contra Eunomium III.5.22, with the addition of a crucial negation (“by essential being, I am <not> here referring to the physical substance”). A cursory investigation through both Contra Eunomium will bring forth other discrepancies.
In this paper, I shall first present the construction of the holy figure of Basil and his function in the refutation of Eunomius; secondly, I will study how Gregory reuses Basil’s material, especially in the field of exegesis; lastly, I shall try to list the discrepancies and evolutions from Basil to Gregory as regards Trinitarian Theology.