Sunday, October 31, 2010

East and West.

I've been doing some outside reading for my Early Christian Thought: Eastern Fathers class at HDS. After reading the letters of Cyril of Alexandria which respond to the (heretical) teachings of Nestorius, my questions seemed endless. I've picked up Justo Gonzalez's A History of Christian Thought and Jaroslav Pelikan's Christianity and Classic Culture; The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Helenism. I know some might scoff at Gonzalez's work, especially for its simplicity, but I like to think of him as accessible. Nothing that I have read thus far has even remotely failed to offer great insights into the development of Christian doctrine, despite his narrative-like prose. I want to get more deeply into J.N.D. Kelly's classic text Early Christian Doctrines, but I only have so much time for outside reading.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the following excerpt from Pelikan this evening. Enjoy.

"It has become a truism of the comparative intellectual history of the Middle Ages to observe that Byzantium never had an Augustine and that this constituted a fundamental difference between East and West. Whether that represents a disadvantage or an advantage for the East is a matter of considerable dispute in both East and West. Although no one figure among later Greek Christian thinkers occupied the same heights that Augustine of Hippo did among the later Latins, the truism needs qualification in important ways. For if it means that there has never been in the Christian East a theological-philosophical genius worthy of being placed alongside Augustine for sheer creativity and power as an individual intellectual virtuoso (whether heretical or orthodox), it is mistaken, because Origen of Alexandria, who was born circa 185 and died circa 254, does deserve to be counted as his peer. But if the chief emphasis lies, as it probably should, on Augustine's position in the century after the "peace of the church" under Constantine and after the codification, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, of the faith that Augustine transmitted to the Latin Middle Ages with his own special stamp upon it then his place in Western Christian history has its counterpart in the joint achievement of three Eastern Christian thinkers belonging to the generation immediately following that of Nicaea and preceding that of Augustine: Basil of Caesrea, who died in 379; his brother Gregory of Nyssa ("Nyssen"), who died circa 395; and Gregory of Nazianzus ("Nazianzen"), who died in 389 - often grouped as the Three Cappadocians. Together the Cappadocians did occupy a place in what Endre von Ivanka has called "early Byzantine intellectual life" - after Constantine, Nicaea, and Athanasius but before Justinian, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and the Iconoclastic controversy - that suggests intriguing analogues to the place of Augustine in the Western Middle Ages."

- Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture, 5-6.

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