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Reviewed by:
  • Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity
  • Lynne Spellman
Andrew Radde-Gallwitz. Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xxi + 261. Cloth, $100.00.

In this study, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz argues that Basil and Gregory develop an understanding of divine simplicity which does not require that God be identical with the properties of God or that these be identical with one another. Their motivation is that they want to hold that we cannot, in all eternity, know God's essence and yet that we have knowledge of God. Radde-Gallwitz argues that, for Basil and especially Gregory, in addition to our "conceptualizations" (epinoiai), we also have knowledge of propria, properties necessarily connected to God's essence.

In the early chapters, Radde-Gallwitz surveys the background to the Cappadocians, beginning with the second century. He argues that in early Christianity the requirement for divine simplicity is not an intrusion from Greek philosophy but arises from reflection on the apparent inconsistency of the God revealed in scripture. So, for example, Marcion holds that God has only one attribute, namely goodness, a view that led him to reject the [End Page 117] Hebrew Scriptures. But even without moral inconsistency, a concern for the unchangeability of God sometimes produced a parallel maneuver, dividing God's attributes between a "first" and "second" God, namely, Christ.

After discussing Clement, for whom God is both simple and ineffable, and a chapter on the background to thinking of God as ingenerate, Radde-Gallwitz turns to Eunomius's ongoing dispute with Basil and Gregory. For Radde-Gallwitz, Eunomius does not develop his view that the essence of God is ingeneracy in order to subordinate the Son to the Father (that the view is "Neo-Arian" is instead a consequence) (96), but because he thinks that to honor God we must be able to know God and, in a line of thought traceable to Plato's Meno, we can be said to know God only if we know God's essence.

For Eunomius, to have only "conceptualizations" of God, as he believed the Cappadocians to hold, would be not to know God. Of course Eunomius is also concerned to be true to scripture. Thus, he concluded that the other titles of God, for example, light or life, must signify the same simple entity as ingeneracy, a claim which, as he did not distinguish meaning from reference, led him to understand simplicity in terms of identity. The "transformation" of divine simplicity Radde-Gallwitz attributes to the Cappadocians is a transformation in relation to Eunomius (as well as Augustine, Aquinas, and contemporary discussions), but it is also a return to the original Christian concerns regarding divine simplicity.

Radde-Gallwitz's account of Basil and Gregory is too complex to do justice to here. Conceptualization is, says Gregory, "the way we find out things we do not know, using what is connected and consequent upon our first idea of a subject to discover what lies beyond" (177). The Cappadocians argue that ingeneracy is an epinoia formed by reflection upon scripture. But their key move, Radde-Gallwitz believes, is to say that although we cannot know God's essence, we can have knowledge of God because (even though Gregory is not entirely consistent in his terminology) God's substance is distinguished from God's nature or essence. What Basil and Gregory claim is that goodness, light, life, power, wisdom, and so on, are propria, "unique identifying properties" which are part of God's substance. As such, they are "inseparably linked to the divine nature but distinct in some sense from it" and "necessarily joined" to one another (184–85).

Radde-Gallwitz does not address Gregory's exceedingly interesting proposal that the way we see God is in the mirror which is ourselves (as in Homily 6, in On the Beatitudes). He does discuss how for Gregory we naturally desire the good and so begin from notions of God that are innate. Moral development and knowledge advance together because it is by acquiring the virtues that we become better able to...


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pp. 117-118
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