Thursday, 30 June 2011

Robin Orton - ‘Physical' soteriology in Gregory of Nyssa: a response to Reinhold Hübner

In Die Einheit des Leibes Christi bei Gregor von Nyssa (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974) Reinhold M. Hübner argues that Gregory’s soteriology was not primarily ‘physical’. By this he means that is that it is not, as earlier scholars had argued, based on the fundamental identity between Christ’s human nature and the human nature of those who are to be saved (that is, with the Church as the Body of Christ or, more widely, with the whole human race conceived as an ontic unity.)  Rather, he claims, Gregory sees the Church primarily as a new creation in the Spirit, with its unity based not on any ‘physical’ identity with the body of Christ but solely on faith and virtue. He also argues that, for Gregory, the soteriological agent, the ρχή of the salvation of humankind,  is not Christ’s human nature, but rather what he calls the ‘Logos-Dynamis’, the divine principle, operating in our human bodies.
It will be argued that the evidence which Hübner adduces for challenging the ‘physicalist’ (or, perhaps better, ’solidarist’) interpretation of Gregory’s soteriology is not very convincing. Hübner concedes that there are passages in Gregory’s oratio catechetica which clearly suggest a ‘solidarist’ soteriology; it will be argued that his attempt to explain these away is unpersuasive. So far as the soteriological role of the Logos is concerned, it will be argued that Hübner’s attempt to defend this on the basis of a passage from chapter 32 of the oratio catechetica is based on a misinterpretation of the context and purpose of that passage. 

Finally, it will be tentatively suggested that from the theological point of view Hübner’s attempt to read Gregory in a way that excludes or at any rate downplays exclude one particular soteriological motif is unnecessarily negative and restrictive. 

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