Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenismby Jaroslav Pelikan (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 82, Number 4, October 1996
- pp. 679-681
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BOOK REVIEWS679 child with the phantasm of her brother. Reading it from this perspective, we have two polyvalent images, her lost baby and her long-missed dead brother. The dream of the dead brother Dinocrates has to be read through the prism of a lost, but still living child, much in the manner in which MUler uses the figure of Perpetua's father to gloss dream number one. Ifthis is a genuine autobiographical memoir (though I think such phrases are genetically anachronistic in late antique rhetoric), we should resist reading the dreams with a powerful a priori seeking for some coherent consistent thesis throughout. We must allow for the play of self-contradiction, paradox, allegory, and lexical polyvalence, and not conflate the "I" of this narrative with contemporary ideas of the individual. It is the particularity of these absolutely crucial details, the syntax of the Latinity, the tone of voice, the contradiction, and aporia that we lose when we construct such a totaHzing hermeneutic system. Lest it appear as I close that I believe this not an important book, let me dispel that impression at once. I find much of the volume compelling, Professor Miller's readings often persuasive and lucidly written. I do not, however, find the discussion in the chapter on the Passio Perpetuae, though it is thoughtprovoking ,equal to other discussions in this volume. However,we are indebted to Professor Miller's learning for showing how these autobiographical dreams can be the rich repositories for personal and cultural phenomenon of late antique men and women, and for her intelligent insight into the dream world of late antiquity . I shall certainly return to this book often and strongly recommend it. Thomas J. Heffernan University ofTennessee Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis ofNatural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism. By Jaroslav Pelikan. [Gifford Lectures at Aberdeen, 1992-1993] (New Haven: Yale University Press. 1993. Pp. xvi, 368. $42.50 cloth; $17.00 paperback.) This book seeks an understanding of the natural theology and classical background of the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa). The author adds a fourth person to this triad in the person of Macrina, whose role as an interlocutor in Nyssa's writings is taken as proof of actual input by this exceptionally well-educated woman (p. 108). The title beUes the fact that the book's primary focus is on these figures. Pelikan is preoccupied with the Cappadocians' use of apophatic method in theology f. 92), that is,the analysis ofthe idea of God through his negative attributes. In linguistic terms, this meant negation by use of the alpha privative in Greek words like "formless," "impalpable," "invisible," inasmuch as "all language about the divine is inadequate" (p. 44). Put another way, it is a system of first determining terminologically what God is not: everything from his impassibility to the view that He is "One who is truly above all names" (p. 213). This is the reverse ofkat- 680BOOK REVIEWS aphasis or "affirmation of divine attributes," a characteristic, for example, of Greek myth. But apophasis is in essence a negative epistemology that controls metaphor and analogy, and eliminates myth with its corollary, the need for allegorical interpretation. Pelikan's analysis takes the "Hellenism" of the Cappadocians as its starting point. For him this cultural category is bound up primarily with the Greek philosophical tradition, although the Greek Hellënismos was in the fourth century generally conceded to have a broader scope, embracing everything from pagan temple ritual to the pre-philosophical content of the paideia (the primary texts of Greek education in grammar and rhetoric like the Homeric poems, the tragedians, historians, etc.}. It is unlikely that the Cappadocians' anthropology (as opposed to theology) can have failed to have been shaped by this (so for example Pelikan's discussion of the term arete, "exceUence"). But the reader should be aware that the discussion stresses the philosophical background of the three men and Macrina. The body of the work is not, thankfully, a neat essay with an a priori thesis and all loose ends tied together. Rather it is an empirical analysis based on a thorough reading of the Cappadocian...