Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Nathan Howard: The Vita Macrinae as Theological Invective

After his older brother Basil died in 379, Gregory of Nyssa carried on the family’s battle against the anti-Nicene Eunomius of Cyzicus during the 380s. In the style of traditional rhetorical invective, Gregory’s Contra Eunomium challenged the character of Eunomius as well as his misguided attacks on Basil. But in a less blatant display of theological invective, Gregory castigated Eunomius as unworthy of understanding the nature of the Trinity or of disputing with and maligning Basil. In what amounts to a biography with polemical overtones, Gregory praised his own family members, through the leadership of Macrina, as having experienced Christ in the wilderness and thus having discerned his nature. The family itself serves as a metaphor for the complementary members of the Trinity. When this text is considered in the context of the early 380s, it was not simply upholding Macrina and her family as legitimate exponents of doctrine, but also it implicitly drew a contrast between them and the worldly Eunomius. The implication for the discerning reader was that Eunomius did not come from a position suitable for experiencing the nature of Christ or for challenging the theological truths laid forth by members of Macrina’s ascetically trained family.

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