Friday, 20 March 2015

Johannes Aakjær Steenbuch: Gregory of Nyssa's criticism of political power and domination.

"If God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God's?" (In Eccl. 336,20), asks Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395 AD) in his famous attack on slavery. As other early Christian thinkers who recommended withdrawal from the public sphere, Gregory was critical of political power and domination. But Gregory takes his criticism a step further. The inherent wrongness in the exercise of political power, which Gregory identifies with illegitimate domination, follows not only from the anthropological idea that humanity as a whole is created in the image of the infinite God, but also from the demand to follow the example of Christ, on the one hand, and a rejection of a 'realist' conception of socioethical justice, on the other. More could be done, however, to gain a systematic and principled understanding of Gregory's many attacks on political power. This short communication will discuss the above quoted passage from In Eccl. 336, and Con. Eun. 1.1.526-527 where Gregory argues that "[i]t would equal to tyranny not to assign authority to a superiority of being, but to divide the creation that by nature has equal value", and a few passages from Gregory's first and fourth sermons on the Beatitudes.

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