Monday, August 10, 2015

Gregory the Theologian's Praise of Philosophy

The following excerpt comes from Oration 25, "In Praise of Heron the Philosopher", delivered in 380 A.D. by St. Gregory of Nazianzus on behalf of Maximus the Cynic, a convert to Christianity initially admired by Gregory, but not so much after being betrayed by him when he attempted to consecrate himself Archbishop of Constantinople over Gregory. The opening lines of this homily is one of the best patristic defenses of philosophy when used for its proper purpose, that is, not for doing theology but for communicating theology reasonably and living a life of virtue, since Gregory most admired Maximus for his strong defense of Orthodoxy against heresy and his virtuous life. Philosophy, for Gregory, is above all living according to the teachings of Christ, without distraction or deviation, and imitating His love for others, and has nothing to do with intellectual speculations. A true philosopher is a supremely free being in Christ, because he is free from the shackles of the passions and sin. Once this take place, we can "philosophize about God", as Gregory explains in his Five Theological Orations, and this is the highest form of philosophy, which is essentially the communication of empirical theology.

I shall praise the philosopher, even though I am not feeling well, because it is the philosophic thing to do. The praise, moreover, will be highly deserved since he is truly a lover of wisdom while I am but her devoted servant. I therefore have in fact good reason to offer praise: if in no other way, I can at the very least show my philosophic bent by expressing my admiration for a philosopher. My reasoning is that we must either engage in philosophy ourselves, or else hold it in high regard. Otherwise, we may very well find ourselves completely cut off from the good and adjudged guilty of unreason even though we were endowed with reason at birth and through logic avidly pursue the Logos. Let the man accept our praise, as he does everything else, in a philosophic spirit and receive our accolades with good grace. Since we know that the philosopher shrinks from public recognition and, further, that no words of ours could add anything to the facts and might even, because of their inadequacy, diminish his standing, our object in praising him is not to indulge him but to improve ourselves. The goal is one that philosophy will not now reject since her earnest efforts are in fact directed towards a betterment of our lives. And first among her benefactions is the praise of good things, for praise is the offspring of ardent devotion, and devotion of virtue, and virtue of blessedness, the pinnacle of our aspirations and the one to which the earnest man directs all his actions.

Read the rest here.